By the time I am posting this, I feel much better. At least not suicidal, so please don’t worry. It even sounds a bit dramatic to me already, which is a good sign for my life, but I kept the original version written on November 25th 2021 at a 14-hours long flight from Mexico City to Istanbul with a ruined heart.
I am devastated. My loved ones are healthy. I look healthy. But I am dead inside. I have never wanted not to wake up in the morning. It is a story of a silly mistake, and sadly, a story about my biggest joy in life. It is a story about traveling.
Lately, I was very stressed in New York. Not finding a job offer, classes, the research project going very slow, and not being sure whether I should just give up on everything and enjoy my last months in New York… So, I was not in the mood for travel. I felt more like a soldier. Also, I did not want to leave beautiful New York, smiling everyday as it never did during the pandemic. But when I learned that the Thanksgiving break would be an entire 10 days for me, my reflexes took over. As they say, maybe it was in my blood, but I desperately wanted to use this time to see a new part of the world. Also, I recently got a job offer which I really liked, so finally, there was a reason to celebrate!
So, I did. As an international student in New York, my visa would expire at the end of December 2021 and I would need to stay inside the US, so it was my only chance to see somewhere in Latin America. Amongst all, flights to Cancun – Mexico looked perfectly affordable. The destination was close to Chichen Itza, a wonder of the world, also very close to so many beautiful cenotes, natural limestone cave pools with a magical look. I pitched the idea to two Turkish friends, Yahya and Sinan and we booked tickets for a 6-days long trip right there and then. This spontaneity felt amazing, with a hint of anxiousness as my default mode for anything. I didn’t know what was yet to come then. This is how horror stories start anyway.
A Colombian friend, Julian, was sitting with us when we booked the tickets. He was very interested especially in the cenotes and booked separate tickets to join us for the weekend.
We landed in Cancun in the afternoon on Friday, November 19th. Hot and humid air encapsulated us the moment we stepped out of the airport. We hopped on the car rental shuttle and after a long journey that felt like we were almost heading to Cancun city center, we arrived at the car rental place. The first hiccup of the trip happened there. We needed to book car insurance, especially in a country where we were told many horror stories about car theft, so we decided to get full coverage. Funny enough, our beloved Turkish Lira was plummeting so badly that our credit card limit was not sufficient for the deposit. We left Cancun with almost no insurance and a rusty start, and headed to Valladolid for our first night.
Lovely Valladolid surprised us very much even at midnight. It had small, colorful houses beautifully aligned on the narrow cobblestone streets, reminiscent of cute little European towns. We walked under the lights and shadows of the city and went back to sleep to prepare for the long day waiting for us.
We headed to the ultimate highlight of the trip on that first morning. Chichen Itza is a UNESCO world heritage site, dating back to 600-1500 A.D. and famous with its geometrical wonder El Castillo pyramid. So lucky we were, we beat the crowds and visited the site under an amazing sunlight. I was baffled with how the sun rays were playing the shadows game with the ruins. I kept jumping around, apparently with my camera bag which I stupidly left open with my passport in. Why did I take my passport with me? Well, it was the first day of our trip and I thought of the risk of being stopped by the police and having no ID on me. Why did I leave the pocket that had the passport open? I have no idea. Have I noticed the passport being gone? No. In fact, I realized that it was gone only after 2 days and nights, multiple periods of heavy rain, and thousands of other people beating the grounds of the park. I dropped my passport in the middle of an ancient wilderness, and the Mayan city swallowed it with grace.
After that day, I thought I wouldn’t put it in my bag anymore, because I didn’t need it. It didn’t occur to me to check if it existed anywhere in the first place. I just believed that I left it back in the room. I traveled to so many countries, never ever something happened to my passport. I was so blindly confident.
Now typing this all down now, I feel even worse about how amazing this trip was. We were so lucky with the sunshine after expecting a whole week of rain, and absolutely loved everywhere we visited. More importantly, we enjoyed each other’s company a lot. While I was happily gazing at the magical Cenote Ik Kil, wandering the beautiful ruins in Coba, how privileged to feel stressed about not spending enough time for school or job search. If the beginning of the trip wasn’t this smooth, it would not hurt this much to spoil the memory of it.
What happened on day 3 then? Well, our friend Julian needed to leave on Monday, the night we went to the Playa Del Carmen. This lovely beach city felt like a good escape after many days of walking under the sun, and our apartment was so comfortable. It even had a private exit to the beach, which we immediately decided to check out for the sunrise the next day.
We split 2 double beds as 4 people by then, so it was also my first time to roll around a bed comfortably after many days. In Turkish, we have a saying called “keyif pezevengi” directly translating to “joy pimp”, the one who is enjoying the moment excessively. I was exactly that. For a while. Julian texted us that he needed to pay a fine for forgetting the immigration form they had handed us at the entry to Mexico. My papers were in my backpack at the car, parked further down in a shopping mall which we considered safe. I joined Yahya, our only driver of the trip, to bring the car. After I got the backpack and my clothes, I pulled out everything over the bed. I was looking for one thing that I subconsciously felt was far away from me at that moment. It was weird that I haven’t spotted my passport for so many days and foolish that I haven’t checked.
Before telling what happened next, I need to tell why it was and still is the end of the world for me. I am not the only person who lost their passport in a foreign country. However, my home was New York, and I would not be able to travel back to the US without a new passport and a visa. My visa was about to expire in a month anyway, so by the time I’d have a new passport, I would not have enough time to apply for a new visa. I was in the middle of conversations to extend my immigration status for the job offer, but now, I didn’t know if it would be approved without a valid visa. I don’t even mention the cost of this whole thing for my student budget, which will come bit by bit. Internet reception was bad and trying to get guidance for the visa situation was a nightmare. I had put so much effort into so many things and desperately wanted to find a job, mostly because I wanted to validate myself as a capable person of doing things that I studied for. More importantly, New York was home, and the idea of being away felt terrible.
Back to the apartment at Playa Del Carmen. First possibility I thought was that I had sent it to New York along with Julian since I remembered asking him to carry something for me. It was the best scenario, because then he would ship it to me with express service. After he landed, he told me that it was not with him. Then we searched every pocket of everything over and over. Nothing. I told the guys that we needed to head out and take some fresh air. We then realized that our hotel happened to be on the corner of the bustling night clubs of the city. Amazing location in some other conditions. Walking through the mixed beats of Astronaut in the Ocean and Dua Lipa with laser lights, I felt like an alien. Non-existent. We walked down to the beach. Such a beautiful full moon, so many lovely places with laughter and a black hole growing inside me.
When we were back home, I took a shower, telling guys that I didn’t know when the next time I would take a shower would be. Then I sat on my computer and chartered a “disaster recovery plan”. I wish I kept that piece of paper. Not surprisingly, I just lost it somewhere. It would go as:
1) Julian to call and ask: Cenote Ik Kil, 2 supermarkets we went in Valladolid, Chichen Itza
2) Hotel in Valladolid to inform me whether the police found a passport in Valladolid
3) Call Fulbright to ask how to get a new visa and could they send me an updated form with my job offer
4) Call the embassy to ask for what to do, just crying to them
So, at the very end, I needed to travel to the Turkish Embassy in Mexico City, which was more than 24 hours by drive. I was so wise not taking any other ID with myself, in case I’d lose them. Passport was enough… So, I could not take the plane, but the bus could be a chance. With the help of my Mexican friend from New York, Axel, I decided to take the bus from Campeche, which was 5 hours away from us by drive and 17 hours to Mexico City by bus.
I had a dream that night which was certainly not related to this passport thing at all. When I woke up, I just remembered how dire my situation was and got disappointed at myself for sleeping peacefully. We went down for the sunrise, everybody feeling weird but trying to act normal. We watched the fishermen preparing their boats for the morning with a beautiful sunrise on the horizon. Then we went back to pack our stuff and hit the road to arrive in Campeche on time for the bus.
My plan started working out. Julian told me that the cenote found nothing and Chichen Itza phone was simply a tour company which advised to go check with them on the site. We were passing through there anyway, so we decided to stop by and ask for it. Our journey as detectives started with this. In the meantime, Yahya found a connection for me in the Turkish embassy, who I will keep anonymous as the “embassy guy”. He was super helpful to tell me the ugly truth that a new passport would take more than 3 weeks in Mexico, which was literally the week before my program would end. The worst-case scenario of going back to Turkey and potentially not going back to New York started to shape there.
The car park at Chichen Itza was full. Sinan and I walked for 10 minutes to the park while Yahya waited at the car. That walk was full of hope, at least for me. When we entered the crowd, the hope started dying slowly. There was no lost and found section or a single person that could communicate in English, which I don’t mean to complain with vigor but just to give a taste of the setting. We managed to find a small office, the “officina de cultura”. They told us a straight no, there was no lost passport. In fact, it seemed like there was no track of lost anything. Okay, we said, and went back empty-handed.
The hotel guy from Valladolid kept telling me that he’d be at the station soon and raised expectations. Then, I received a voice record from him saying that the police didn’t find it in Valladolid. In the meantime, the embassy guy told me that I could get a police report and fly with that to Mexico City, which changed our destination from Campeche to Cancun for me to take the 2 AM flight. There was one last stop we could check, Izamal, which was the small town we visited for the night after Chichen Itza. So, we went there. It was funny that I was upset to see Izamal at night the first time we were there, since it was famous with its yellow painted walls as a daylight feast. In fact, one of the most amazing pictures of the Mexico trip happened to be this random shot I took just after the police officers had left, more details about that now.
The restaurant we had stopped for dinner in Izamal already told my friend Julian that they didn’t find a passport, but we went there anyway. I also thought that I could file the police report there, so I might have as well checked it quickly. The people at the restaurant helped us tremendously. They didn’t speak English at all except the young daughter who spoke just a little but managed to call the police to come and visit us there. There, we started doing something we should have done way earlier. We started checking out the videos and pictures closely. There, in one of the videos from Chichen Itza that I was randomly jumping around, we spotted the passport in my camera bag. An entirely open pocket. A maroon, innocent notebook trying to resist the stupid Goliath and stick to the little space it had in that pocket. That was the moment everything changed for me. By then, I was moderately calm and trying to look from the bright side, because I had no clue how this had happened and could not really blame myself. But after seeing that video, and how inattentive I was, I got really mad. I wanted to destroy myself. There is no word I can describe how painful that was, and still is. The black hole inside me swallowed a big chunk of my soul.
If we looked at this video before, we would probably try to enter Chichen Itza ruins the first time we were there to look for the passport, or what was left of it after 3 days of rain and sunshine. The wreck of a passport was still better than no passport.
Waiting in Izamal took a long time. When the police finally arrived, they told us that for me to file a police report, I needed to travel to Merida as the biggest city nearby. It was the opposite direction, so we just drove back to Chichen Itza. This time, we all entered the park 1.5 hours before closing. This part perhaps is the most momentary scene of the whole search, because it was literally mission impossible. My friend Yahya said rightfully that it was “samanlikta igne aramak” which is a Turkish idiom translated to “looking for a needle in a barn”. We narrowed down our search to the sections we visited after that video footage that showed my passport in my bag. We tried our best to trace back all the paths I could have taken. Dug up some leaves. Looked under the rocks. We asked at least half of the sellers there, and they were surprised to hear that we were looking for a passport that was lost in the park 3 days ago. Their pitiful “no ” was literally saying “if it is not found so far, you don’t have a chance”. I am still thinking that it is somewhere there. Perhaps if we had more time, we could really try to dig into some of the parts that were full of leaves and rocks, and eventually find it. We did the best we could in the available time. Perhaps someone found it and gave it to their tour guide, who then gave it to the police somewhere. Least likely scenario, perhaps someone just took it. As all these possibilities stood valid, it was even more impossible to find it. We literally looked for my passport under the leaves of Chichen Itza. If I am ever back to normal, I know that I will laugh at this hard.
After Chichen Itza, it was pretty much it. There was no other lead. The only way for me was to go to Mexico City. I tried to call Fulbright, both the ones in Turkey and New York, but nobody picked up. If Yahya were to drive me to Cancun that evening, he would probably fall asleep on their way back to Tulum, where our hotel was at that night. So, I decided to take another flight the other day at noon, and we drove to Tulum to rest for the night.
That last part of the drive was pretty silent, at least for me. I can’t compare this to the most terrifying disasters people could have, like having a traffic accident and losing a loved one in the car you drive or making a simple mistake in a machinery system that could burn an entire factory or spread radiation from a nuclear plant to an entire town. But we all experience pain in the spectrum that is known to us, and for me, this was not any different than all these most horrible scenarios. I will explain in a minute what losing this passport now means for my future. At that moment in the car, I was still not aware of the full extent of the disaster. I was disappointed at myself for such a stupid mistake, the unknown amount of paperwork waiting for me, the fortune that flight tickets to Istanbul and back to New York would cost and ruining my friends’ vacation. This was not me. Or I was not who I thought I was anymore. I thought I should have punished myself. Not traveling for a very long time, not doing anything fun but only working my ass off, not “trying to do my best” only but literally chaining myself to whatever I needed to work on, day and night, cutting sugar and not drinking alcohol anymore, because maybe they were poisoning what is left of my working brain.
We arrived at our fancy hotel in Tulum, which was supposed to be one of the highlights of the trip. It was on a very touristy but bustling street with people flooding in restaurants and had a great rooftop pool. The guy at the reception prepared 3 welcome drinks for us. In a normal situation, I would make fun of the situation by posting a story and saying how I got all the welcome drinks, because my other two friends do not drink alcohol. Didn’t even touch the glasses, just asked for where the police station was. The officers right at the corner of the hotel told us to go to a main office in downtown Tulum, just 5-10 minutes driving distance. My friends dropped me there, but I wanted to enter alone in case they would ask for their details as well and complicate things. Without any surprise, the guy didn’t speak any English. I called my friend Axel who generously offered help many times. He translated that I needed to pay about 45 US dollars to get the document right there or come back in the morning. Axel told me that it sounded a bit fishy to him that there was a cost in the evening but not in the morning, but I didn’t have the luxury of being stingy at that moment. A younger guy with a Nike t-shirt and jeans, completely unimaginable for someone to wear at a public office in Turkey, asked for me to type down my statement in Google Translate and then beautified it in Spanish. While sitting and waiting, I tried to take some pictures of the police officers chatting right behind me or the first guy I talked to who was working on an old computer which I remembered from my childhood when there was WindowsXP (at least not 98). I was a little bit worried in case they would realize I was taking pictures and get mad, and more importantly, surprised how I was still functioning kind of normal and making fun of the situation.
I finally got the paper in Spanish, paid their money, and met with my friends outside. We went to the hotel, completely drained. I booked my ticket to Cancun the other day, took a shower and went to sleep. That was the first moment that a wave of tears hit me at the sink which was separated from my friends with a wall. I didn’t let the tears go. I didn’t have the luxury of making people upset anymore, but then the moment I opened my mouth, I just wanted to cry. So, I just kept my mouth shut and buried my head in my computer until going to bed.
As I said in the beginning, that morning was the first morning ever I wanted not to wake up. I know that when I think about it later, I will laugh at myself and think why I exaggerated this much. But I couldn’t help feeling this way. I woke up multiple times in the dark night, tried to go back to sleep, and didn’t even allow myself to dream of a miracle or going back in time because I wouldn’t deserve it.
Before hitting the road to Cancun, we checked out the rooftop of the hotel for a few minutes. Maybe it was because I was feeling blue, but I was disappointed to see what we found there. The rooftop itself was asas in pictures with a nice pool, but the view I expected was a stainless greenery as we saw on the pictures. Instead, there were patches of uglly, concrete construction sites here and there. It reminded me of how Turkey’s beautiful nature was destroyed by hotels and resorts and now it was Tulum’s fate. In fact, everywhere we visited including Valladolid and Izamal, we saw very few tourists and almost nobody spoke English. We thought that all these cities were in a transition phase from being local and untouched to touristy and spoiled and if we were ever back in here, it would be completely different. That view from the rooftop just reinforced that bitter feeling. Or as I said, maybe I was playing the drama queen. There was too much drama for my body to handle, I needed to spread around.
On the road to Cancun, guys played some music. A song by Humeyra, an old Turkish singer, that I really loved played and the lyrics hit me so badly. I didn’t ask them to change the song. I just wanted it to go on forever. I let only a few teardrops go, unnoticed, because I was sending emails and texts constantly and burying my head to my phone. Then we arrived, faster than I expected. That was it. I was alone after that. I was happy that finally the guys would be released from me. Saying goodbye was tough. Even when I think about it now, I get a lump in my throat. First time we visited Tulum for Julian’s last night, we all bought matching hats. When I had packed the first time for the Campeche plan, I did not take it with me since it wasn’t essential. But then, I figured, I needed to have something with me to remind me how blessed I was by my friends, so this time, I decided to take it to the plane.
I entered the airport. My flight was with VivaAerobus, which I thought was the Spirit of Mexico. Without any exaggeration, it was the longest check in line I’ve ever seen in my life. The human labyrinth in front of the counters was packed so densely and from the moment that it went out of the bordered area, the line would continue until the restrooms at the edge of the big rectangular hall. I had 2 hours for the flight and unexpectedly I waited on that massive line only for 1 hour. I passed the security and went to the gate. All I ate that day was one cookie. I wasn’t hungry but I knew that I needed to eat. So, I got a big burrito and a giant bottle of water, my last Mexican meal of the trip. Had two bites only. It was delicious but I didn’t even want to chew anything. Also, I had a ton of emails and voice recordings to send when I had a bit of stable internet connection there. After boarding the plane for my 12 PM flight, I started writing this. Could not finish. Closed my eyes. Thought about New York. Thought about the sunset view of the Financial District from the West Village. Thought about running in Central Park. Thought about my favorite ice cream place. Thought about my fairy lights and my MoMA desk calendar. I don’t believe in spiritual things. But funny enough, I reminded myself during this entire fall to cherish every moment of this beautiful city. Every day I ran in Central Park under the beautiful fall colors, I felt grateful. Sincerely. Purely. I wanted to see an NBA game, host friends at my apartment, skate in Bryant Park, watch a Broadway show. And I didn’t postpone, did it all. I was mad at myself for not spending enough time on looking for a job or working on my thesis. But I did what I wanted to do the most and didn’t regret it. Somewhat, I felt like maybe the universe was helping me to feel as grateful as possible. I felt serene. The only thing that still punched me in the stomach was the people. People I shared all these great memories with. When I went to New York the first time, I had postponed my travel as much as possible to spend the most time with my friends and family in Turkey which I had a hard time leaving. Now, I felt the same, and even worse because it was so unexpected. I felt awful how I didn’t feel a bit of joy to get back to my friends in Turkey and was devastated with leaving the ones that I knew only for a year. I felt awful how easy it was for me to love and care for people, because I thought life was full of leaving or being left behind by loved ones.
Flying across the country, I should take a moment to say that I did love Mexico. Yucatan is a lovely land. There is so much more I wanted to see here. I hope I can come back again. Everyone I met tried to do their best to help us, from people running restaurants to the police famous for bribing tourists. Amazing natural beauty. Amazing history. Amazing food, especially the fruit shakes.
OK so it gets more dramatic after here. I landed in Mexico City. My uncle had a friend named Elizabeth who had worked with them in the US before. She cancelled her doctor appointment to come and pick me up from the airport and drive to the embassy. When I arrived at the exit, she had 7 minutes to come to the airport. Everything happened in those 7 minutes. I received two emails back-to-back from Fulbright Turkey and IIE. For the record, IIE stands for International Institute of Education, which is the Fulbright body in the US. They both said “you cannot get a new visa, you have to finish your program from Turkey, you need to arrange shipping your stuff with your friends, we are sorry but there is nothing to do”. Then I lost it. All my game plan was that I would get a new passport as soon as possible to apply for a new visa even if it would cost me a fortune on plane tickets. I had my full trust in Fulbright that they would help me as much as they could. What should have I done then? Would it be easier to shut me down like that if I was in Turkey? If I stayed in Mexico, would they eventually allow me to apply for a new visa because I would be stuck here? Was it better for me to go nuts and search everywhere we searched so many times repeatedly? Could school help me with this? Was it worth it all? I had only 2 hours before the embassy closes to execute the main plan I had. I was trying to communicate with Elizabeth. I was trying to reach out to Fulbright only a few hours before the Thanksgiving break.
I honestly don’t remember the last time that I cried as hard as this much. Even worse, I called my mom. I was not able to stop crying and utter more than a few words at a time. She begged for me not to cry. She thought I would faint right there, without anyone around me. She told me that nothing was more important than my health. I knew. But I couldn’t stop. I held this for so long. I just needed to crack at some point. Elizabeth called me, then I needed to hang up on my mom like that and hop on her car. I continued crying and told everything to her. The traffic in Mexico City was horrible and seemed like we wouldn’t be able to make it on time. I needed to send emails to school and Fulbright before it was officially Thanksgiving. I needed to make sure that the embassy guy would wait for me. I needed to print two bad wording photos and book my ticket to get a temporary passport from the embassy, but my card kept being rejected for fraud alert and the photo studio that Google Maps showed constantly changed direction. It was a total nightmare. I felt so helpless. When Elizabeth parked near the photo studio, there were only 15 minutes before the embassy closes. We couldn’t find the photo studio. She kept asking local people and they all said different places. Finally, we found it inside an apartment with a sign outside as small as a jar label, and printed photos. There were 10 minutes left before the embassy closes, and the location was only 11 minutes walking distance which I could run in 5 minutes. I told Elizabeth that I needed to run and with a heavy backpack, regular sneakers, the hat in one hand, the phone in the other, no bra, sweating like hell being overdressed with the thickest clothes I had from the flight, I started running the no traffic lights streets of Mexico City.
I arrived at the embassy. Trying to figure out what to do with this building that was closed like a cube, I ended up entering a hall opened through a small door and speaking to that embassy guy through a glass shield located inside. I asked just for 5 more minutes to book the flight, and the guy allowed me to do so while he went back into the building to scan the other materials. At the car, I had tried buying the ticket with my mom’s card since my card kept giving errors. Turkish Lira was at its worst in history on that day. When she had sent me the SMS with 3D secure password and the amount of the ticket in, my hands started to shake. I knew that they would not accept me to pay this back to them. I knew that she probably never spent this much money on anything in her life. Helplessly, I entered the password to complete the transaction, but it was declined. The ticket would cost more than $20.000 TRY, which exceeded her card limit on top of whatever she already spent with the card. My family’s digital literacy is not the best, so they would not think about increasing the limit immediately. They told me that they could ask for someone with a higher card limit. It broke my heart. How fair was the situation I put them in? I was always proud of not asking any money from them for my education or traveling in my entire life. I felt like the universe was playing a game with me then, as if I was ever a special person for the universe to have specific revenge plans for.
The only moment I got lucky in this “journey” was when I had a stable phone connection and called my bank directly from the embassy. They told me that the transaction was now authorized, and I could try again. Indeed, I finally could purchase the ticket with my card. I was finally over with everything and trying to send the tickets to the embassy’s email address. Suddenly, an old Turkish man, an “amca”, walked into the entrance benefiting from the door that stayed open after I had entered. He said he came to Mexico City alone that morning to travel and the police got his 500 USD. Also, he hated the hotel he booked, so he asked the embassy guy to track down those police officers and send him back to Turkey that night. It was a funny moment that I would say “only can happen in Turkey” or that small simulation of Turkey in Mexico City. I waited for about 20 minutes while the embassy guy explained how they wouldn’t be able to help the stubborn old guy, who weirdly claimed that he came there for traveling alone but didn’t speak any language and insisted on being put on a nonexistent flight back to Turkey that night and getting the embassy guy’s phone number to call him whenever he needed help. I was impressed by the embassy guy’s patience towards the blunt requests of this stubborn man, who then brought his cab driver for the embassy guy to translate all they have spoken, a female driver which was personally interesting to me given the fame of Mexico City for female harassment on the streets and having female-only carriages in public transportation.
After the guy disappeared and everything was complete, the guy handed me off a thin, pink notebook that said “temporary passport” on it. I thanked him for waiting extra for me. I already had many unanswered calls and a long Uber ride ahead but was completely out of breath after that long run. I asked for a cup of water if he had any. He brought me a bottle of water and wished me “gecmis olsun” whole heartedly. He was mad at me back then when I called him to say that I couldn’t book my tickets yet in Elizabeth’s car, telling me something about how his boss was also mad at him for some reason, which I couldn’t understand in that rush. There, I thought he understood my situation. Pity, that I hated the most, had to be my mantra for a while. Maybe I deserved it. Or maybe I needed it. I believed that pity was nothing but a filter that people look at themselves through, and it was the only angel I could look at myself for so many days by then.
Embassies are usually in pretty neighborhoods, so was this one. I walked for about 10-15 minutes while calling my cousin first who had just arrived in New York and was waiting to meet me there for her Thanksgiving break. Then I called my mom to let her know that it was over, and I was heading to the hotel, not crying anymore. Then finally, I called an Uber to get to my hotel, which was in 1 hour and 40 minutes walking distance.
I haven’t seen the famous landmarks of Mexico City, but I’d say I had a good tour of the city. It reminded me that I didn’t miss the rat race of Istanbul at all. But on that ride, the city did have a beautiful sunset. The sky was completely pink, and the clouds were nicely rounded together. Sitting there and just watching that romantic pink would give me another round of tears, I knew. So, I tried to do something that would force myself to stay resilient and started preparing a voice recording to send my friends to explain the situation. I was exhausted from explaining to many people already, but still wanted my friends to know what happened. Not because I narcissistically thought that they would feel devastated, but just to tell them that I would feel terrible about them suddenly disappearing from my life. The first recording took four trials because my voice would break. I managed to record for a good 5 minutes but started breaking again at the end. Then I recorded a sequel to finish what I wanted to say. Pity, that I hate, was all the air I could breathe under my mask.
My hotel room in Mexico City was pretty. I just wrapped myself around a blanket and started talking to everyone one by one, my mom, my dad, my aunt, my uncle. I drafted a long e-mail for IIE, claiming that even if there was only one week of school left for me, I deserved going back to school in person. As I write this right now, I am on my plane back to Istanbul and don’t know what their final response will be. But in fact, I do know it. Once Fulbright says something, it is what it is, and there is no way back. But I will fight for sure because this is what I do. I usually end up jumping on rivers even if there is no bridge, without thinking whether it wouldn’t work at all to stay on this side. It is usually dumb, because I often get drowned or even if I make it to the other side, I end up not thinking that it worth battling in the water for so long. But once in a full moon, someone grabs my arm and pulls me to the other side, and you never know when such miracles happen. So, it is not me who can turn things around, but something may come along for me, and I have to reach as far as I can to catch it.
Enough drama. Back to Mexico. My hotel was about a 30 minutes walking distance to some of the main sights in the city, but I was so exhausted and spent hours on all that communication. I at least needed to get some water. My friend Sinan called me while I walked the random streets of Mexico City and allowed myself to get lost a little. I saw a few nice sculptures and a cute building. I got my water. And I talked about what may lie ahead of me with Sinan. That conversation made me realize that as much as leaving the place that I called home, not being ready to start a new life in Turkey was terrifying me. It made me realize that the best thing for me was to start something new as soon as possible rather than my mind and my heart staying in limbo which would kill me slowly over time. I could tell from his voice that he was very upset too. Thinking about how wholeheartedly those two helped me makes me feel so much pain and gratitude at the same time. It tastes sweet and sour in a way that I never experienced before.
After that, my night was stable. I went to bed, woke up twice that night, had the same existential crisis that I had the night before, waited for my alarm half-awake, put my clothes on and called an Uber. I was at the airport way earlier than I expected. I sat down and continued my game plan. I talked to the company that I had the job offer from and filled out the work authorization form, so that it was ready. Funny enough, I would do this the week before I went to Mexico, but IIE did not answer some details I had about the form, so I waited. If they had answered, I could have submitted it already and perhaps have it already approved by the time I lost my passport. When I think about all these possibilities, it drives me crazy. But life has always been full of those and stakes being higher in this one does not really change that “you never know”.
I am one of those maniacs who hate failure, that’s a fact. I hate it the most when it opens the floor for people to speculate. Why did I not tell them in advance? Why did I not call this or that? My favorites were, why did I not announce a bounty for the passport, in a semi-corrupt country that I didn’t even speak the language of and for a large area that included a UNESCO world heritage. My second favorite was why I didn’t lie to Fulbright that I had COVID or something and in the meantime tried to get my work authorization approved. Some more naïve ones were that I could have passed through the land border, or I could have just tried the New York flight no matter what. At some point, I just said “yes, why not” to all of them, knowing why it wouldn’t work, but just allowing myself to be crucified because I thought I deserved it. I know it sounds dark. It will not go on forever. Most of my friends and my family let me feel my pain and just told me that they were there for me no matter what. I appreciate that. I really do.
This is supposed to be a “travel story” so technically, the moment that I left Mexico, this story was over. The Mexico City plane stops in Cancun for two hours and by then, I already started feeling better. I had very limited reception there, but I still tried to make jokes about a guy trying to bribe the flight attendant if they let him leave the plane to have one cigarette. I functioned normally, hell yeah! Also, I have a dear friend who will pick me up from the airport, take me where I need to go, and more importantly not let me be alone. It means so much to me. My mom is still worried that I am so upset that I could faint any moment, so she will also be happy that there is someone with me. Knowing that I spent an entire day on a cookie and less than half of a burrito, she may be right.
Stories that are remembered are usually “a small step for someone, but a big one for the world”. This one is probably the biggest one I have had so far in my life, but as ordinary as a drop in the ocean for the world. I don’t think this story is worth being remembered. But it is worth being told, because it has so many people’s genuine feelings, sacrifices and kindness. It is a thank you. Maybe it will be a new start.
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