The heavy rain has been beating the borders with Syria since early morning. We’ve slept in a small mosque in Iskenderum that night, but got kicked out by the police soon after the first prayer call and so we were already on the road that we call home when everything went down.
We’ve been riding this wave of luck for months as a somewhat clumsy surfer, but somewhere deep inside, as cliché as it sounds, I knew this charm would run out and we’d hit the shore. I could only hope it would be a sandy beach where we’d get stranded instead of sharp black rocks, towering over wild, cold, treacherous water.
Hitchhiking to Gaziantep
Except for getting up early, we did everything as usually; we drank coffee and enjoyed the fresh bathrooms of the gas station where we made a friend the previous night, ate some crackers, shaked hands and we were off, ready to face whatever future lied ahead of us.
First, a trio of teachers drove us to Dörtyol (“Fourways”); a language teacher, a mathematician and an astrophysicist, heading for their lectures.
We had a chai at the next gas station (for here, many cars really use gas instead of petrol), talked to a young Syrian about atrocities of the war and before we knew it, we were in another car, this time two friends going to pick their friend up from the Adana airport; oh, how wonderful is it to have a Turkish friend! I don’t care what they told you on TV, I haven’t seen a culture where people’d be more helpful and community oriented than here.
They left us at a rest stop with good wishes and we ran across the empty highway, laughing, happy to be alive, happy to be together, shaping our own grand adventure.
The breaking point
The first car stopped. In Turkey, it is easy, safe and comfortable to hitchhike in general (in fact, it is a big part of the local students culture, girls and boys alike), but in rainy weather, everyone will pick you up.
This driver was going to Antakya which we’d left the day before and we waved him goodbye, positive that we’d soon get another ride.
Should we have taken this car to the next cross-section? Maybe. If we would, perhaps we’d be eating the famous baklava of Antep now instead of me lying in bed broken in two, held together by a newly purchased corset. Or maybe we’d be dead.
The second car, a white combi with a big trunk, stops. The driver has short white hair and his eyes are moving fast. He is going further than us, all the way to Mardin.
He waits for us to jump in and within five minutes, proudly announces he is a terrorist from the PKK. Okay, we reply; we know better than to argue with a crazy man. A Turkish driver would not stop for you, he continues spitefully. He is wrong, but we don’t object. We like both Turkish and Kurdish people – all of them have helped us a great deal, gave us food and shelter. Most of them blamed the other one for all kinds of hardships, when in fact, politicians are to blame.
The rain gets stronger; the highway is full of water and there is little traffic. While inquiring about the prices of electronics in Europe, the man shakes the steering wheel in a strange way and suddenly turns it full to the left.
And that is it.
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I cannot unsee how his hands turn the wheel. I have the guardrail in front of my eyes, I see it getting closer, slowly. I grab the headrest in front of me and hold on for dear life while the car slides silently in the water, white, turning as a ballerina.
I feel the headrest give in and have time to think, I should have grabbed the seat instead. The metallic bars glide out as candles from a birthday cake.
It was my birthday two days earlier.
And then I am flying in the air, my body exiting by the backdoor while my mind is watching calmly, not thinking anything of what is happening to us. Everything goes very slowly now; I am there, supervising the occurrences, but I have no thoughts, no judgments, no emotions. I feel the wet tarmac as a slide under my back. My skin must be getting ripped up, but I feel no pain, only interest. Later I wonder if that is what perfect samadhi (meditation) looks like. I am hoping the friction will stop me soon but I see the guardrail coming for me. I believe for a moment I will just swoosh below to the soft grass.
Then I hit the post.
Finally, I am laying in the grass, rain is falling on me, I am dirty but I don’t know about it. I evaluate the situation. The pain starts. Am I hurting enough to scream or is it not so serious? I don’t want to bother anyone, but then I think, almost happily, what the heck, I just had a car crash, it is appropriate to scream and it won’t bother anyone. I move my fingers and my toes; not so bad! I turn on my belly, it hurts less. In fact, it doesn’t hurt so bad and I figure I didn’t break anything. I hear my husband screaming, good, so he is alive. He comes running to me, he is fine.
Some people have already stopped to help us, I see their feet. F. covers me with our sleeping mat, for which I am grateful.
Hastane, ambulans, lütfen! I scream. Screaming helps me to deal with the pain. F. gathers our stuff – the backpacks, he makes sure to take my camera (he knows me well), I’d cry over it more than about a broken bone.
Then we wait; I say:
I don’t want to hitchhike in East Turkey anymore, let’s take a bus to Karadeniz and cross to Georgia, I’ve had enough. That guy did it on purpose because we are tourists and tomorrow is Erdogan’s referendum.
Within five minutes, the doctors arrive and load me in the car. They fix my neck, but I can move my head just fine. Soon I am being driven to the emergency. I feel every bump and moan.
Yavaş, yavaş, F. says. The two paramedics who are with me in the back laugh and talk. I smile at them and say teşekürler, or maybe I just think I do.
Turkish healthcare in action
The public hospital in Osmaniye is big and modern. Nurses run around and I get a tomography and X ray taken immediately. They turn me on my side and disinfect my back – it hurts more than scratching off the skin itself. The staff looks content and encouraging, my husband a bit relieved. I like that better than to see him crying in the rain, my dear, emotional husband. There is nothing left but to relax and let other people do their job, but I am certain this accident hit him harder than me.
Apparently, the hospital is full of Syrian war victims, but I only see a small curious boy smiling at me and a veiled woman, maybe his granny. Then it’s just the white squares of the roof.
They lay me down in the emergency room and a man tries to take my blood. I wish for painkillers. Do they need me conscious for something?
The man gives up trying to get something out of my right arm. My Turkish is not enough to explain him, hey, my friend, the blood will never flow because I have low tension, like a dead girl even when I’m healthy.
He realizes it and tries the left hand. It flows and we both smile, two humans connected by an accident. He is 34 years old, almost like my husband. His wife is 27 as me. They have two daughters, I have none, but I feel he treats me as he’d like his wife to be treated. Kindness is more important than a common language.
I feel safe and happy. I am alive.
The neurosurgeon arrives. He explains I’ve broken my spine and fractured my pelvis, but he reassures me that the bones didn’t move and a surgery is not necessary. Whew! I like him immediately.
He says I have to stay for four hours and then I can go, but I have nowhere to go, I am just a bum. Besides, I can’t imagine I will stand up today. I mention I have an insurance, they can pay for this (thank you for having my back, Allianz!), but it doesn’t seem to phase them, these people don’t care about money. Okay then, relax, you can stay here as much as needed.
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In the meanwhile, police officers, both uniformed and in civilian clothes, try to interrogate us. We don’t speak Turkish and they don’t speak English; araba kazası is what goes on repeat, a car accident.
Later, a woman interrogates us in my room with perfect English. She has visited Bratislava (my hometown) and couchsurfed and is friendly to us.
You shouldn’t trust the Kurdish, she remarks and seems to regret it right after. I mention my good experience with Kurdish drivers, maybe not a wise decision, but I am not worried because I have nothing to hide. They check our luggage, try to coerce F. to fill a form in Turkish, but he can’t understand a word and in the end they give up. We are just tourists who got a ride from the wrong person.
After the accident
At first I am getting morphine and feel warmth in my toes and soft foamy waves of sound washing over my ears, but later the pain is not bad at all and I get used to two injections of paracetamol daily.
Students measure my tension and temperature, one day some people give me a rose, wishing me speedy recovery.
I stay in the hospital for five days and in the meanwhile, F. manages to find a place to rent with the help of a young Azeri student.
Then one day they release me, an ambulance takes us to our new home – I have to stay in bed for one month – and four men manage to carry me upstairs without dropping me.
Our new neighbors bring us a breakfast, tea and sugar, a gas cooker during the next days.
It is hard to tell now, one week after the accident, what we will do next. At first I felt like going back home to Slovakia, but now I don’t want to anymore. Slovakia is expensive and I would have to find a place to rent, hustle to get a job fast and wait endlessly for appointments at specialist doctors. Perhaps I prefer to consult a Turkish doc privately…
I don’t want to decide this just yet. I will wait for what the doctor tells me in two weeks and act accordingly. My health is our priority now, but maybe we can settle, heal and recover in another country all the same. Georgia gives you one year of tourist visa which is plenty.
As for hitchhiking, I will do it again. I must, otherwise I will get stuck with this fear and trauma forever. I have to face my fears – besides, bus drivers can have accidents too. I will always use the safety belt from now on, I was lucky once and it is enough.
Do I still think the driver wanted to harm us? I don´t know. It would be stupid of him and cause him trouble too. Sincerely, I couldn´t care less about what happened to him – I have no idea and won´t be trying to find out. Somehow, I don´t feel any anger or hatred towards him, just indifference.
I am not in pain. I am not careless, but I am optimistic. These are my thoughts right now: I learned I am not invincible, I am fragile and mortal and my time here is limited. I don’t want to waste it.
I got pushed to the wall and forced to count my blessings – I know them all too well now.
Did you have a car accident? What experience have opened your eyes as to how precious your life is? Tell me in the comments!
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We were hitchhiking from Europe to India and we have no idea what will happen next! Stick around to find out along with us.