These were words my mother often said when I was a child, I suppose mostly in reference to the patterns (or lack thereof) I was forming that didn’t quite fit her expectations, either of me or of the larger family. In other words, I was to buckle up an mind my peas and queues to do what I purportedly and innately already knew. Well, my mother would be the only at this stage in my life to attest to what she expected of me and how I actually am today.
Truth be told, I’ve had front row seats for two revolutions and each time I can’t help remembering the words of my mother. Of course, revolutions in real life can hardly be compared to childhood experiences, or as they say in Spanish, “Nada que ver.” Three days ago, I was with my family Istanbul at their international airport for what was supposed to be a short night as we exchanged one flight for another. We landed at 11 pm and were to board our next flight at around 3 in the morning. An hour after settling down and almost falling asleep, I awoke suddenly to a rush of people fleeing. The image that came to mind was of a flock of doves at a square when a child goes running into the mix. I opened my eyes to see only foreigners, no Turkish people anywhere in sight, when I could have sworn I’d seen many an hour earlier. My kids were awake and saying they had heard gunshots from within the building. The people all had looks of fear or bewilderment. Nobody seemed to know what was happening. We looked out the window of the airport at the Tarmac below or to see a few soldiers walking hear or there. Not many and seemingly not to anxious. Of course everyone was thinking ‘terroriest’ given the attack at this same airport only 2 weeks earlier. But since nobody knew Turkish, nor was there any report over the PA to say what’s was happening, we were left to our imaginations and the speculations of anyone willing to share them.
Occasionally a distant gunshot could be heard, mostly soldiers shooting in air to apparently fend off a crowd of civilians. But soon the tides had turned, and the civilian crowd had grown and was pursuing the soldiers, who though armed, fled in the other direction. The crowd consisted mostly of men, some were employees judging from the badges around their necks, and many waving the Turkish flag. I’m not sure when someone suggested this was a coup in progress, or if it wasn’t until the next morning that we fully realized what was happening. Around 1 a.m. we settled back down to catch a wink, again, unawares of what all was going on, only to be awakened by a loud boom as two or three jets swooshed by the airport at near ground level. The windows rattled profusely, as if ready to shatter. The jet flew by two or three more times in the next two hours. It was very unsettling, to be sure. Again, nobody seemed to know what was happening more what the proper response should be – flee for safety, consider leaving the airport, or stay put – which is what the majority of us did. At one point the ground shook from a rather extensive explosion.
Nobody slept much that night and the next morning the airport was filled with non-Turkish travelers, all of us rattled, tired, hungry and confused. The news was on…in Turkish…though nobody seemed able to translate. Eventually we learned that a coup had been attempted but had failed. Some of the military had instigated the effort while the police and others had not gone along. It was later learned that the president had used Twitter or Facebook to appeal to the populace to gather en masse at the airport and downtown in opposition to the coup and to show their support of the democratically elected president. We learned that in 10 minutes over three million people had filled the streets and some had gathered in the airport – likely those who had suddenly fled when I first awoke. Furthermore, we were told, the mosques ushered calls of prayer during the night to alert the people to gather. Oddly, neither of these facts seemed to make the news reports when the event was reported around the world. In short, the general public had risked their lives in show of support of their elected president, good bad or otherwise.
For my family and me, the confusion extended throughout the next day. We had hoped only to change planes and be on our way to Madrid, where we had hoped to spend two days of sightseeint. But the airport in Istanbul was in chaos. We saw the janitors and a few shop employees show up, but absolutely no security nor airlines officials from Turkisih Air. OF course we all wondered and worried what to do next…would our tickets be honored, would we leave soon, how long would we be left in limbo??? My daughters observed several people ‘helping themselves’ to goods in the sandwich shops. Fortunately, this was a rarity but the temptations and opportunities were real. After lunch we met our first of only a few employees from Turkish Airlines. The news was not good as it was sketchy and inconsistent. Nobody really seemed to know too much nor where nor how to proceed in order to get on with life and travels.
If there was ray of sunshine in the midst of this ordeal, we met some wonderful people from various countries. One was a German young man who shared some accurate details of the coup. Another was an Egyptian family who lived in Saudi Arabia where both worked as doctors. For much of the afternoon, we stood in line with the son and father in an isolated part of the airport – standing in line for three+ hours – as we waited to update our tickets for the next flight to Madrid. We had no phone service and our only means of communication with our daughters was through this family’s cell phone. We learned later that the Mrs had fed our girls as dinner time had come and gone. This family was helpful in the next stages as we decided to spend the night in a hotel at the ailrines’ expense, but which meant getting a visa to enter the country as US citizens. It cost $30 per person and a couple more hours of standing in one line or another trying to jump the hoops we were told to pursuit. We arrived at the hotel around 11 pm but had to awake at 3:30 a.m. in order to arrive at the airport with enough time to get through customs and security. I thought the roads would be empty but learned that many of the Turkish people had stayed up all night celebrating the victory of their elected president.
We had no trouble getting through security as our luggage had been checked through to Madrid when leaving Athens, Greece. The flight to Madrid was unevenly, though one of great relief. We were disappointed, however, to learn that one of our two checked bags did not arrive. Ugh! Yet all things considered, we were glad to have our health and lives in tact.
Thanks be to God.