The world went white when my head slammed into the ground with a resounding WHACK! right after my shoulder smacked into the rocky soil. When I opened my eyes, my right boot was still caught in the stirrup, and the white Arab mare who’d unseated me- for reasons none of us was able to figure out- was determined to get rid of me as quickly as possible. A few kicks later and I had a fractured rib, a broken front tooth, a badly bruised shoulder, a cut face, a nearly broken jaw and a bunch of very concerned young Muslim Turkish men surrounding me as I pulled myself up onto all fours to try to get my breath and my bearings.
I knew something was broken inside my body, but no idea how badly. I gingerly turned my neck side to side to see if anything was broken in my neck. I spat, concerned I might see blood. I didn’t which was good news. Sore, angry, but not broken. My abdomen was another thing entirely. My first instinct was to get back on the horse, but this wasn’t an option at all. Omer, my guide, and the others in the crew bundled me immediately into a car and we hurtled to the nearest private hospitel in Goreme, Turkey.
The good news was that the ER nurse was female and spoke excellent English. She heard me when I explained my injuries and I was immediately bundled off to an MRI of my head. I spent the day getting multiple x-ray and tests to ensure my fractured rib hadn’t punctured my lung. This was the first time an ER tended to my concussion FIRST rather than not at all. The riding crew never left my side. Despite my insistence, they never fed me jokes (they failed to see the humor- I do, if for no other reason that laughter helps me relax, and tense body increases pain and I was in plenty of it). They were happy I didn’t blame them or the horse (of course not!). They didn’t leave until I was in a room for the night, and came back that evening with all my things, much more willing to laugh with me.
Above all this hospital was supremely well prepared for such emergencies. The specialists took incredibly good care of me from one test to another, from sonograms to xrays for hours to ensure no internal bleeding. What gave me the highest level of comfort was the efficiency of the care. I was assigned a translator: a Syrian refugee there from Aleppo, a fireman named Muhammed, a 42 year old man who attached himself to my hand as soon as I came in covered with blood from a long cut on my face. He never left my side, ensured that every doctor and nurse understood what I needed and that I got it right away or that I understood why I couldn’t have it.
Muhammed is, of course, Muslim. He landed in Turkey a few years ago before the worst of Syria’s troubles with the clothing on his back and no language skills. His wife, pregnant with his fourth child and in labor, had her hand held by a nurse for hours, a sight he never forgot, for the comfort it gave her and the gratitude he felt for the care. Today Muhammed does the same work for this hospital. A kind and generous man, he never left my side until his translated medical reports were in my hands when I left, in the good hands of my riding group’s young men, to go to a local hotel.
I will share more of this journey, but for now, I only wish to point out that Muhammed was a perfect reminder of what we in America tend to forget in our condemnation of what we don’t understand. That many many men who are also Muslim, who are also well trained, who come out of Syria and are refugees, have huge hearts, have families, and are dedicated servants to giving back when they are given a second chance. For example, Muhammed’s eldest daughter is studying to be a doctor, his second, to be an artist. In today’s Syria, this would be impossible. In every single way in my time in Turkey I was surrounded by young Muslim men who went out of their way to be kind, to take care of me, to ensure my health and safety, and to create a family for me to return to when I go back.
In fact, before I wrote this article, I answered an email from Ismail, one of these young men, who just wrote to make sure I had arrived safely. I’ve rarely felt more welcomed, safer, nor more part of a larger family than in Turkey.
This is why I travel. I spent ten amazing days in Cappadocia and Goreme Turkey- not doing an adventure trip as planned, but having an adventure of an entirely different sort. The kind that expands the heart, underscores why I say every time I step on a plane I am heading out to meet more of my family, and why travel is our greatest teacher.
I may be in recovery with some broken bits and pieces, but I returned to America with my heart widened exponentially, my soul deeply satisfied and my family expanded.