Ten years after my first visit to Turkey, I returned again. This time is was North Cyprus, which was largely untouched by mass tourism, making it the perfect holiday destination. We travelled in a small group and stayed in a remote hotel just outside Kyrenia. We spent much of our time exploring ancient Roman cities, Crusader castles and Byzantine churches, all of which fulfilled the promise they held. However, as we travelled across the island, it was the raw beauty of the landscape, which took my breath away. The lush green pastures set against a brilliant blue sky perfectly showcased the orange and lemon groves, epitomising a land of milk and honey.
After an exhausting itinerary of ancient ruins and isolated beaches, our guide arranged for us to visit the capital, Nicosia. We set off early and our first stop was the Mevlevi Museum where we learnt more about Rumi (the mystical poet) and the Whirling Dervishes. I was mesmerised by Rumi’s philosophy, beliefs and passion for God and as the tour drew to a close, headed to the museum gift shop, determined to buy a book about the great man. Sadly, the gift shop had few books in English and I had to settle for fridge magnets.
By now, the sun was high and the heat oppressive. That, coupled with the swarming crowds made a return to our hotel particularly appealing and everyone in the group opted to return with the guide. However, unlike the others, I was entranced with Nicosia because it was the antithesis of the ancient ruins we’d spent the best part of a week exploring and I was mesmerised by a glimpse of local life in a hot, bustling and dusty city. I longed to stay on alone and explore, but was nervous about returning on a local bus. Public buses in Nicosia were unmarked vehicles operated by individuals (not companies), with handwritten destinations displayed in the windscreen. There were no timetables and passengers were advised to wait at central landmarks until a vehicle appeared. Sensibility warned of the obvious dangers and I shared my concerns with the guide, who primly reminded me that Nicosia was perfectly safe. However, the notion of boarding a stranger’s vehicle, in a foreign country, with no language skills, was sufficient cause for concern and I decided to return to the coach to retrieve my sunglasses, before I made a decision.
As we walked to the coach, I asked the guide for key Turkish words and phrases I could use if I decided to stay on in Nicosia. However, even as I did so, I knew I was deluding myself and would be returning to the hotel with everyone else. I wasn’t prepared to run the risk of returning alone, but also didn’t want to ask one of my travelling companions to join me, as I wanted time alone. As we piled onto the coach, I headed straight to my seat to retrieve my sunglasses, only to find it empty. Puzzled, I searched under the seat and even behind it, but the sunglasses were nowhere to be found.
By now, the coach had begun to move and was snaking its way through the heavy lunchtime traffic, as I tried to think back to when I’d last worn my sunglasses. I knew I had them when we arrived at the Mevlevi Museum, but couldn’t recall seeing them after that. As the coach continued to crawl through the traffic, my heart began to race and my stomach churned, urging me to ask the driver to stop. However, I fought my instincts because although I thought I may have left them in the museum, I had no certainty. Nonetheless, the inner turmoil persisted and before I knew it, I was on my feet and approached the guide, explaining my predicament. She didn’t try to hide her irritation, but asked the driver to stop and accompanied me to the museum, which was only a short walk away.
As we approached the museum, my heart sank when I saw the gates were locked. The guide consulted the plaque on the wall and explained the museum was closed for lunch and would reopen in an hour. I immediately made a decision to stay in Nicosia and wait for the museum to reopen. I returned to the coach and collected my bag and cheerfully waved away the concerns of the group, reassuring them I’d be fine. As I stepped off the coach, I noticed the inner turbulence had subsided and I was at peace. I knew I’d made the right decision.
As I watched the coach disappear from sight, I wondered whether God had used my sunglasses as a ploy to keep me in Nicosia. After all, it was what I had longed to do, but had lacked the courage. Now that I was here, a delicious sense of freedom enveloped me and I was excited at the prospect of exploring at leisure. However, firstly I had to try to find my sunglasses, so I retraced my steps along the route we’d taken, in the vain hope I’d left them at one of the other sites we’d visited, that morning.
As I began my search, I thought back to Istanbul, where ten years earlier I’d also lost my sunglasses during a visit to the Blue Mosque and had never recovered them. I thought about the coincidences and wondered why events were repeating themselves. I even wondered if my loss was a punishment for being short with one of my travelling companions at breakfast, but felt God’s quiet voice (within) reassure me I had done nothing wrong. That gave me a better perspective and much as I regretted the loss, I was philosophical and used the proximity to the bazaar to buy a cheap replacement. I knew my purchase would mitigate the disappointment I fully expected at the Mevlevi Museum, as well as see me through the remainder of the holiday.
As the lunch period drew to an end, I returned to the museum with doubts clouding my mind. Suddenly, it seemed preposterous that my sunglasses would be recovered at the museum and the little voice in my head insisted my search would be futile. However, I was determined to see it through, irrespective of the outcome. The museum gates were still locked by the time I arrived and I stood at the entrance waiting for someone to appear.
A few minutes later, I saw the lady from the museum gift shop approach and I stepped forward to greet her, motioning to my eyes and said “sunglasses”. She looked at me blankly for a moment and then her face broke into a smile and she nodded. I held my breath as I followed her into the gift shop, where she walked behind the counter, pulled open a drawer and handed me back my sunglasses. I was stunned as I realised I had never expected to see them again. I thanked her profusely and was about to leave when I remembered the replacement pair I’d bought earlier. Instinctively, I reached into my bag, pulled them out and handed them to her, as a goodwill gesture. At first she didn’t understand what I was doing, but then squealed with delight, when she realised she’d been given a gift.
I left the museum in jubilation. I knew God had been the architect of events. I returned to the caravanserai, where I found a table in the shade and ordered a late lunch. I sat for hours reflecting and marveling at the layers of rich meaning behind one episode. I knew God had used my sunglasses to keep me in Nicosia, for many different reasons. Firstly, it was what I’d longed to do, but was fearful of the dangers. God intervened and forced me off the coach, through the pretext of my sunglasses. Suddenly, my fear vanished and I ended up enjoying a wonderful day in Nicosia. Then, God reminded me not to prejudge outcomes; even where circumstances are identical. Deep down, I’d never expected to recover my sunglasses in Nicosia, because I’d never recovered them in Istanbul. Finally, God expunged a belief from my childhood that if I lost something, it was punishment for a misdeed.
After spending a long day in Nicosia, I prepared to return to the hotel and realised I had no fear about using a local bus. I knew that the God who had gone to such trouble to keep me in Nicosia, would ensure I returned safely, as indeed He did. The following day, as we set off for another day of excursions, my travelling companions enquired about the outcome of my search. When I shared the good news, one of them quipped that the sunglasses must have been “really expensive” for me to have stayed behind. I smiled and said nothing. The sunglasses were indeed very valuable, just not in monetary terms.
This story is a post-script to a story, which took place ten years earlier in Istanbul. Only God in His infinite wisdom can know the full meaning behind events and the connection between Istanbul and Nicosia. However, I invite you to read Love in Istanbul and draw your own conclusions.