“Aren’t you afraid to travel alone?”
I often get asked this question for traversing Latin America. A woman in bandit-land that is Mexico. I must be out of my mind.
Rather than a land of delicious food, great museums and beautiful towns filled with the kindest of people, in most people’s imagination Mexico conjures horror stories of kidnappings and drug-gang murders.
“It’s quite safe as long as you don’t go around doing stupid shit,” I reply with a shrug.
But I must confess. This is no off-hand reply. It’s crafted with precision to mask my luck in having managed to stay safe, despite doing stupid shit. Like wondering the streets of Mexico City alone at 2 AM with five shots of mescal in your belly. Don’t do that. After all, it would be naïve to say that Mexico is Denmark.
The story I’d like to tell today begins in San Miguel de Allende, my beloved town of crazies and artists. But I will start this tale toward its tail end, which happened in Tel Aviv: my favorite startup city of… crazies.
Last Saturday, the first Turkish horror movie to make it outside the country’s borders screened at the Utopia Film Festival at the Tel Aviv Cinematque. Baskın, directed by Can Evrenol premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in September and will arrive in Turkey on January 1, 2016.
The film’s director happened to be a friend of a friend of a friend, so I was recruited as part of the team to entertain the Turkish guest in Israel. Yes, Tel Aviv is like that. We embrace all who come. Even makers of bloody movies.
I am not a horror-movie buff. In fact Baskın was the first movie of its genre that I watched on my own volition. But if you spend two days partying with a movie director, you go watch his movie. It’s the rule.
I won’t reveal too much of what happens in Baskın—you can watch the trailer—but it certainly had me duck at the sight of a knife-yielding hell-master licking the guts of his victims.
Meeting Can for the first time, we acted as any normal person encountering a stranger: we compared facebooks to look for common friends. Turns out he happened to know another Turkish filmmaker, whom I had met on a rainy, dark night in Mexico. Finding out that we shared Ferhat as a common friend entertained us for about thirty seconds as I told the story of our encounter in Mexico. I didn’t mention that the night I met Ferhat, I couldn’t sleep due to nightmarish thoughts. If Can had been there, he could have filmed a horror film about a lone traveler in Mexico who gets mixed up with the wrong crowd.
After three days of Tel Aviv-style debauchery that included dancing at The Breakfast Club, calamari eating at Goocha, and who knows what at The Buxa (I left early), Can boarded his return flight to Istanbul. A few hours later, he texted a photo of himself sitting next to Ferhat on the plane. Coincidence?
In There are no Accidents: Synchronicity and the Stories of Our Lives, Robert H. Hopchke urges people to approach coincidences in our lives with openness, interest, and seriousness:
Meaningful coincidences … give credence to [Carl] Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious, the notion that all human beings share on a psychological and spiritual level a connection with all other humans on the planet.
But was my encounter with these Turkish film makers just a coincidence or a synchronicity worth probing? Hopchke believes that events must be of a symbolic nature, have a deep emotional impact, and occur at a transformative period in our lives in order to qualify as meaningful moments of synchronicity. To be sure, the story had to be retold: I had to return back to that night of fright in Mexico.
It was a rainy Friday evening in July in San Miguel de Allende. Hung-over from partying the night before with my creative writing buddies, I spread under the blankets in my pajamas by 9 pm. That’s when I started doing stupid shit.
I had received a message from a Turkish man who happened to be in San Miguel de Allende. We had no friends in common. I had no idea who he was except that his name was Ferhat and lurked less than a kilometer away. It was the first time I came across a fellow Turk since two months of traveling. I was intrigued.
As part of the avoiding stupid shit strategy that guides my solo-travels, my golden rule of meeting random men off the Internet is to do so at a public place, preferably in daylight.
Somehow, though, the wisdom escaped me as I lay half awake chatting to Ferhat. He informed me that he was a filmmaker and in Mexico as a guest of the Guanajuato International Film Festival. It was his last night in town. Couldn’t we meet up and grab a beer.
I barely had the energy to move my limbs let alone go out drinking beer. So I did what any sane, collected young woman would do: I invited him to my home.
As an aside for women traveling alone, inviting strange men to your house on a dark rainy night in small town Mexico when your roommates are drunk at an art exhibition falls into the “stupid shit” category.
“I’m too tired to change out of my pajamas. Come over, we’ll have tea,” I typed to top it off.
Between the time I texted Ferhat my address until he showed up at my door was half an hour of pure mental horror. I had willingly handed my location to a man with whom I had exchanged two minutes of Internet talk. What was I thinking?
With the sudden doze of energy provided by that great drug adrenalin, I paced around the house, cursing my foolishness. A potential Turkish bandido was about to charge into my quiet home. I googled for the equivalent of 911 in Mexico (it’s 060).
Horrors of traveling alone
Peaking through the curtain, I watched Ferhat get out of a cab and walk towards the garden gate. He seemed normal enough. On the way to the door I banged my toe.
He took a seat at the kitchen table. I offered him some coffee liqueur and poured myself a shot in a skull shaped glass. Tea wasn’t gonna cut it.
The next hour or so is a blur. Sipping our black liquors, we exchanged awkward words I could not pay attention to. The entire time my little brain was focused on getting the stranger out of my house. I didn’t even think to ask him the name of the film he directed. What I do remember is locking the door in haste after he exited.
Ferhat sent me a few cordial greetings after that scary night in San Miguel but I replied in cold, one-word negativities or not all. As far as I was concerned, he was still a potential bandido out to get me. Not until I watched Can’s version of a horror story on a Tel Aviv white screen was I able to face my prejudice towards Ferhat and speak to him as a person rather than a threat.
Perhaps watching Baskın (and the sleepless night that ensued) served as my punishment for judging Ferhat before meeting him. The meaning of the coincidence was clear when I finally watched his films that depicts childhood innocence and the kindness of strangers with artistry.
As for whether my story remains a coincidence or an example of meaningful moments of synchronicities that occur in our lives, I think it qualifies for the latter. It forced me to think about the dangers of turning into a skeptic in a judgmental world as I transition from a social butterfly to an introverted writer.
As for you, I hope it provided an entertaining read. Now go watch some movies and let me know what you think 😉