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Monday, September 12, 2011

The Day After the Day of Terror: An Ex-Pat's View

Where were you on September 12, 2001?
Me?  I was in Istanbul, Turkey. No not on vacay.  I lived there.
We got the 9/11 news late in the day due to time difference. Your "9:15 a.m." was our "4:15 p.m."  I certainly remember where I was exactly the moment I got a text from my spouse telling me to "turn on CNN now" and tell him what's going on as he was out in the hinterlands at a new auto plant with no internet yet.

 I can more vividly remember The Next Day.

The Next Day in Turkey as ex-pat Americans was scary.  Not that I was afraid in ANY way of the Turks I had grown to know and to love.

By 9 p.m. on 9/11, my landlord, who had built the lux apartment complex where we lived so his entire family could stay together (including the"Buyuk Anne" (Grandma) who cried rivers when I had to take my blond haired 2 year old away when we moved) had prepared and delivered us an entire meal.  The guy who leaned in the window to deliver my fresh cooler water was convinced we must have lost our entire family in the tragedy although we knew no one in the vicinity.  When we gathered that night around CNN with a couple of other families, my favorite pizza guy showed up with 5 free ones, "just because."  It was truly a day we were all Americans.
this is a painting of the hill in "Etiler" the area on the European side where we lived.  I lived in the orange/brown building on the left, near the bottom.

But the next hit me.  I was literally thousands of miles from home, in a country that was 99% Muslim although with a secular government, with my kids who rode a bus for 45 minutes out to their International school.  The school sat on an open plain of sorts, a lovely campus in the middle of nowhere.  What a nice target.

The school and American consulate (and French, British, Spanish, Australian, Canadian and Israeli ones) got us all together on 9/12/01 and spoke very frankly.  The children of all the foreign consuls plus countless executive kids attended this school and they were treating the threat of "copy cat" activity seriously.  They were installing guards at every bus stop in the city (there were a lot of these), at every entrance and the already heavy security was being beefed up further.  "not to worry your children are safe.."  that was scary.

But I learned a lot about Turks then.  They don't suffer terrorists very long or with much sympathy.  Yes, their methods are not ours.  No Turkish prison is not a place you ever want to see the inside of.  It's that way for a reason. The responsibility they have for the safety of their citizens and guests is something they do not take lightly.  So we lived the rest of the next year and a half making friends with the serious dudes in uniform holding semi automatic weapons at the bus stops.  No lie.

These are not perfect people.  Genocide mars their history, just ask the Greeks and Armenians.  I'm not trying to candy-coat their past.  But I am fairly confident that all large nations can not throw stones.  Ask our own native peoples who thought they were just getting a friendly gift of blankets.  The Turkish culture is WAY older than ours (one of the oldest) so they've just had more years to screw up.

I did feel safe once I got past my panic attack about the school.  And although my exit from Turkey was a skosh ignominious involving a mix up with Turkish Gendarme and me cussing out my husband's Turkish boss (funny story really, will save for next time) I still miss the place.

It is magical, fabulous, frustrating, exhausting, exhilarating, beautiful and horrible all at once.  If you EVER consider going, let me know.  One of my dearest friends there owns and runs an amazing boutique travel agency.  She has booked countless tours for my family and many of my friends.

Turkey is NOT "The Orient Express" any more than America is "Deliverance" or "Gangs of New York" or even "Sex in the City"  not the REAL America.

honor today as you did yesterday. The Day After The Day Americans realized we are not invincible.


Tina Donahue said...

Insightful blog, Liz. I'll admit, before I read it, the strongest picture in my mind of Turkey was the one based on "Midnight Express". Gawd - was that movie awful or what?

Liz said...

sort of the way Europeans view America after watching "Talledaga Nights" or "Vacation" or any number of me, I know.

Kellie Kamryn said...

Thanks for sharing that. I think we all have stories of what we went through the days following...

Kenzie Michaels said...

It's always nice to see how those in other countries view our tragedy. Great post Liz!

jean hart stewart said...

This blog really touched me. Preconceptions are so dangerous. I wish everyone would examine their prejudices more. My WIP had the opening scene in old Istanbul and I researched quite a bit for that, and found this most interesting.

Marianne Stephens said...

It was scary enough to be in the US and not understand what happened. Your story of being in Turkey at the time gives a very different viewpoint.
Yes...we're more vigilant now and will always have to be.

Cynthia Arsuaga said...

Great post Liz. Hubby and I took a cruise of the Eastern Med with the final two days in Istanbul a couple years after 9/11. That was an interesting port call. Going to the airport and seeing military holding their automatic weapons on the long road to the airport certainly made us concerned. Wasn't expecting it, but once inside we felt safe. Did make for an interesting trip. Can't imagine living outside the States during that time. Being in the military, we are (or should say hubby) more conscious of our surroundings when we travel.

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