Queen of the Castle

Sunday morning I wake up with a busy mind and a desire to get lost. I grab a cappuccino freddo and set out on foot towards a distant castle, somewhere on the island. Dodging motorbikes, I ascend a road along the edge of a cliff, looking down at the maze of houses below, stretching out to the ocean. Indeed I get lost, looking for a path that will lead me to the castle. After making countless wrong turns, I realize the path I’m looking for isn’t a road, but a narrow staircase pathway. What seemingly is an entrance to a house is really a secret stairway leading to a quaint village on a beach.

Winding stairs take me through houses, roads, shops and I emerge from the descending stairs upon a breathtaking view. A whitewashed village resembling a Kasbah is built into the rocky cliffs above the ocean. The white houses stretch down through the mountains to the pebbled beach where sleepy stores and restaurants are scattered on the secluded beach. I wander through the town aimlessly, in and out of tiny restaurants, bakeries, markets made for small town life, getting lost in another world. Another hidden stairway winds up the mountain to the castle, I follow it into a house, startling a Greek family eating lunch, apologizing profusely in a strange language. Rerouting, I try another path, climbing up through windmills, the dry, thorny, crackled olive landscape.

I walk past the point of people, up a narrow zig zag path, up a hill to the castle in the sky. Wind whips through my hair as I trudge the path to this medieval structure high above the whitewashed coastal paradise, emerging out of a rock hill. I look out over the misty blue ocean that fades into the sky in all directions. The quietness consumes me as I exhale a week’s worth of exhaustion, emotion, and contemplation. I ask the distant mountains of Turkey my countless questions without answers, looking to the clean lines of the coast where the peaceful water meets the rocky mountainous slope for guidance. Why do some people live as refugees in metal containers while others live comfortably in mansions?

Reaching my destination, a place of past power, now an ancient relic overcome by weeds, I explore an abandoned castle looking over the island of Leros. I peek into a shrine, climb up into the towers, down through the dark, damp rock dungeons. I settle on a rock wall in the hazy sun and finally find some peace. How do I write about my first week here? How do I tell the stories and struggles of people suck in a refugee camp, struggles so complicated and dynamic that I barely understand myself?

I think about the faces and personalities of people I’ve met here, the faces that light up when I show up to the camp each morning to teach yoga. The uncried tears finally come in the silence of an ancient castle, high above the island. I cry, releasing the things I don’t understand, things I can’t change. I accept that I don’t know why, I don’t have the answers, and that’s alright, I don’t need to know. I find some peace in the unknown.

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