Fifteen hours – for some, it sounds like a horrendously long bus ride from Skopje, Macedonia to Istanbul, Turkey. Yet, it was the shortest bus ride during my six-month solo backpacking trip in China and Southeast-Central Europe.
Six months ago in early March this year, I quit my well-paying job in Malaysia and packed my bags to set out on a grand adventure (that was what I envisioned). To cut a long story short, I felt more alive than ever except for a few hiccups here and there along the way.
Three weeks before my flight from Istanbul to return to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, my family and friends’ worries became reality. When it happened, all I can say was ‘Perhaps, Lady Luck ain’t smiling down’.
It wasn’t a case of getting mugged. The painful near-rape experience in Kosovo ruined my trip and became a nightmare. It happened too quickly and I was shocked.
Since I was due to return home soon, I did not want to cause trouble and left for Skopje early morning after the traumatising episode. The incident didn’t dawn on me until a few days later when I realised what happened. I hated myself because I did not lodge a police report.
Being alone on the road meant I could not share it with anyone because I felt too embarrassed. I made numerous Skype calls back home and cried secretly in the hostel.
Finally, I have to leave and travel to Istanbul for my flight back home soon. Sobbing quietly during the 15-hour bus journey, I couldn’t wait to reach my hostel in Istanbul just so I can hide and do not have to face the world. Last minute change of plans, when I found two couchsurfing hosts in Istanbul.
Just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, I was clearly wrong. Another traumatising episode happened on this Wicked Wednesday, exactly a week after the first incident. As my first host stayed far from the city centre, I had to take two buses to reach his house. On the way, as the bus that I was in, stopped some 100 metres away from a pedestrian bridge, a terrifying accident happened.
Before it happened, I was trying hard to hold back my tears in the public. As I was looking out the window to my left, I saw a truck rammed into the pedestrian bridge with a loud ‘Bang’ and it collapsed. A few people fell from the bridge.
The accident was shocking and it was the last straw that pulled me down. I started crying in the bus that caught the attention of the driver and other passengers. Some offered me bottle water and tried their best to console me. They were strangers, but their acts of sincere kindness gave me reassurance that there are Good Samaritans out there.
When I finally reached my destination, I felt depressed. It was in the outskirts and all I did was starved myself and cried. I left after two days when I sensed negative vibes from my host. I was sceptical to meet my second host after the not-so-happy encounter with the first host.
The first meeting with my second host wasn’t as smooth as I had expected. I could not control myself and started crying when he, Serkan, came over to greet me. He was afraid and concerned at the same time. Minutes later, I met another couchsurfer, Kristina from Germany, and then, we took a cab back to Serkan’s place. Again, I cried when Kristina exchanged greetings with me.
Little did I know, they changed my perception on how I viewed the traumatising incidents. As I could no longer hold back my emotions, I poured my hearts out to them. Understanding perfectly describes Kristina, while, Serkan is generous and warm-hearted.
They persuaded me to eat, to the extent of looking after me whenever they are around especially Serkan. Days after ‘torturing’ myself through starvation and self-blaming for what has happened to me, I decided to put an end to it.
Both might not realised how their simple actions can bring me tears of joy but I found peace and serenity whenever they are around. While millions throng to Istanbul for the glitzy Grand Bazaar and historically beautiful Hagia Sophia, Istanbul is different to me.
A simple act of giving me bottle water, Kristina passing me a packet of tissue and Serkan’s heart-warming words of ‘I just want to help’ meant a lot to me. If it weren’t for their unbelievable generosity, I might be crying home onboard in the flight back to Malaysia. Istanbul is the place where I broke down in front of strangers and also, learnt to accept the past.
Picture: The balcony (I cried here) overlooking other apartments in Koca Mustafa Pasa in Serkan’s house.
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