In the movie Terminal, Tom Hanks’ character Viktor Navorski arrives to JFK to go back home. Sadly, he finds out that because of a military coup in his country, he will be trapped in the airport indefinitely, neither being able to enter or exit USA. Thus starts his tragicomic story…
I woke up in my dorm bed at a hostel in Lombok island at 7:00 a.m. to the constant buzzing of my mobile phone. When I checked it, I realized I had tons of messages from my foreigner friends, asking if all my loved ones are ok. My initial thought was there has been another terror attack in Istanbul, since a heartbreaking tragedy has taken place at the Ataturk Airport just two weeks ago. I opened a local news website with shaky hands, my heart pounding. For a few minutes it was impossible for me to understand what the hell was going on. Military… Clashes… The opposition condemned the attempt.
Another headline “Coup D’etat attempt! Erdogan called the citizens to the streets to defend the democracy.”
“Hold on… what!??”
Turkey is a country which had enough of its share and suffered a great deal from military coups. When the last one happened in 1980, I was only 3 years old. I don’t remember much about that era, but I have one clear memory: The sun is about the set and my cousin being a teenager back that time, holding me in his arms and running back home, trying to make it before the curfew starts. We pass among the armed soldiers and military vehicles. He is sweating and even today I can remember the feeling I caught in his eyes: fear.
I immediately started to call my family and friends. My brother in Izmir (the third biggest city of Turkey, located by the Aegean sea) told me nothing is happening. Everything is calm. Ok, that’s weird…
Then I started call my friends in Istanbul and Ankara. They were terrified. The sonic booms of F16 planes were making the windows shake, they were hearing clashes nearby their apartments. I saw President Erdogan’s face on a cell phone screen, making FaceTime with a reporter. Really?
Then the army started to get into news channels. My friend’s husband who is a journalist in Turkey’s most read newspaper got trapped in the newspaper building. We were desperate to hear back from him. But I still can not connect the dots. How the hell this has happened?
I spoke to my mother and immediately picked up how broken she sounded as she was telling me to pick myself a country to live because things in Turkey won’t be going any better soon.
After digging into news channels and social media frantically, finally I get a clear picture. A click within the army was trying to take over the administration. It wasn’t not supported by the rest of the armed forces and the privates they have used to take over governmental and media buildings were thinking that they were taking part in a drill.
My first reaction was to change my ticket and return immediately. This idea of mine has been strictly opposed by my loved ones. “There is no flight safety at the moment. Better to stay put.”
What do you mean “there is no flight safety”? It is 2016. Yesterday everybody was posting about Pokémon GO on Facebook, making jokes and sharing vacation pictures, and today there is no flight safety in my country? Are you kidding me?
I followed Twitter, Facebook, international and local news channels whole day long. I was in Lombok to get a tour to Komodo National Park. I realized I had no interest to see the dragons anymore. All I want to do is, stay beside my computer and trying to understand what has been happening while I was sleeping.
I have been backpacking in Southeast Asia for the last 9 months. Since the situation in my home country and throughout the world is very complicated lately, I always check the news before sharing a post or a selfie in my social media accounts. You don’t want to be that person waving from a tropical island when hundreds of people have just perished in a suicide attack.
So, cutting your ties with the world and not following the news is not an option although it is a very tempting one, since you are making the journey of your lifetime.
The best you can do is try to stay calm and try not to get overwhelmed emotionally. I must stay, it is not easy… If you are a human being with a little empathy, it is very hard to enjoy your day while a lot of people are suffering at the other side of the world. But I never thought of something like this.
Now millions of questions were meandering in my mind in light speed. What will happen in my country? Is everyone safe? I have a ticket back to Istanbul in august. Would I be allowed to go back? Am I to end up like Viktor Navorski, without a valid passport and a country?
Although I have been traveling solo for very long, I have never felt this lonely. The fellow travelers around me a were just expressing how they were sorry. That was very kind of them but I had no one to share the grief and agony in me. There was no way for a Norwegian or a Dutch to understand what has been going on with me.
I was feeling isolated and I didn’t want to face the world and try to answer their questions at all. Here is what I posted on Facebook as a status update in the heat of the events:
Since 36 hours I shut myself down in the hotel room and I am not leaving out. For 9 months I have been away from my country and my loved ones but I have never felt this much lonely. What am I gonna speak about with other people? Is it even possible for them to understand me? The French hotel owner is showing me the picture of the man laying in front of a tank and saying “Wow, so good...” In his vocabulary this is an act of civil disobedience. How can I tell him that those guys took over the streets, attacked the young guys aged 18-19 thinking that it was a drill and mob lynched them. How can I tell them that the Baghdat street was taken over with the chants of Tekbirs until morning?.. Will they understand? For them it just “Aaah so crazy man...” For them Turkey is just another middle eastern country-which now I think they may be right. When I say that I am Turkish, they have a hard time believing me. “Where did you learn English?”, “Are your parents religious, if so how they are letting you travel alone?”, “Are you going to cover your head when you return to your country? are few questions I had to deal with almost daily. How is it possible for them to understand the situation?
I have been thinking how my friends should have been afraid when they hear the sonic booms and clashing sounds, all night long, sleepless... I have been thinking how my mother should have been upset that as a person devoted her life to improve this country she is now telling me “pick yourself a new country...”
You tell me not to come back but I can’t live like this here. You can not travel the world feeling upset from afar. I check the news before I share a picture everyday. What am I supposed to do? Squeeze a selfie in between a bombing and a coup?
You tell me not to come back but this is also a not a way to be…
Sending all my love to my friends who survived last night in one piece but with their souls and hearts shattered into pieces...
If you are familiar with Turkish politics, you already know that our democracy is actually a “democrazy” and things have been dramatically changing in the past 10-15 years.
But whether you are a fan of Erdogan or not, nobody in the right mind would see the coup attempt as a way to go. First it is not a democratic act, second we are all old enough to know that coups mean a big blow on personal liberties, politics and economy. So no one backed it up in Turkey. Not even the biggest enemies of the ruling party, AKP.
Luckily, it has failed. But what is next for Turkey? Will this attempt give Erdogan the excuse to change the regime and strengthen his position? Are his supporters even more encouraged, knowing that they won’t be judged because of their actions? Most likely.
I am planning to go back in August for a brief amount time before starting to travel through South America. What will happen until then, nobody knows. But there is one thing I am certain of, it’s extremely painful to travel when things are not well in your country. Watching from afar and concerning about your friends and family. Island hopping feels just wrong… So so very wrong. Hopefully by the time I go back, things would be settled and I will step into the Turkish soil with the feelings of longing and joy, not with fear and confusion. But, if I ever find myself trapped in an international airport I decided not to take it in the hard way. I will try to stop and smell the flowers, I mean the perfume testers…