After my day at the Alhambra, I took a quiet stroll down the hill and along the lanes of the Albayzin. The setting sun meant that the tapas bars were all opening up for business, the flamenco performances were about to start and the masses were retiring to get a drink or two.
I started my day with a yummy gelato and I was keen to end my day with a sugary treat too. Lunch was a piece of jam sandwich and some snacks I managed to get my hands on from the convenience shop not too far away from the hostel. (Now that I think about the haphazard meals I had, combined with the amount of walking I did during the trip, I finally understand why my pants started to fall off by the time I got back to Manchester!)
I wasn’t in the mood for any more kebabs or tapas, or gelatos for that matter, so I was just roaming around trying to find what will take my fancy. I ended up walking by a Turkish dessert shop, a shop I have passed by a number of times for the previous 2 days. I would always look into the shop and smile at the old lady at the counter because well, dessert shops are always a good place to peek in and feel happy about, right? (:
I looked inside, made eye contact with the old lady and smiled. I finally decided to patronise her shop (hey, Turkish desserts are quite a treat!) so I stepped in.
“Assalamualaikum.” (May peace be upon you.)
“Waalaikumsalam.” (May peace be upon you too.)
We were both trying to find a point of departure to proceed with the conversation but I realised quickly that she couldn’t speak English. Well, that’s going to be a problem because I can’t speak Turkish, Spanish OR Arabic.
Yet the communication that followed made me believe in the beauty of human relationships and its ability to transcend the spoken form.
– Of course we did fall upon the social conventions of buyer-seller communication. –
The language of smiles, twinkle of the eyes, basic sounds and hand gestures allowed us to establish an understanding that a) yes, I was alone, b) I just visited the Alhambra, c) I am Muslim too, d) I was proud of the hijab and e) I wanted to buy some food.
She wrapped the baklava and kunefe after I pointed them out, all the while having a wide smile on her face. She charged me lesser than normal and before I left the shop, she said a short prayer for me.
Till today, I don’t quite know what prayer she said for me but it didn’t matter. All I know is that I was tired from the day and she gave me respite in the form of social warmth. She showed me that there is always beauty around and the kindness of strangers is a sacred gift for the traveller.
I ate the desserts in the quiet of my room but I knew I wasn’t alone. There are angels everywhere.
I needed to recount this incident, today especially, because I am starting to feel jaded. I think it’s a common occurrence when things don’t really fall nicely into place. It’s like a kind of cognitive dissonance – a discomfort experienced when simultaneously holding two or more conflicting ideas, beliefs, values or emotional reactions. I needed to believe in beauty and hope again, and narrative recounts are always a good way to let the lessons sink in.
I know I am strong and I know I am capable. It’s just that re-entry can, indeed, be a pain sometimes.