I was in the same city as a suicide bomber. I was lying in my bed with my laptop up and running, still in my pajamas and last night's makeup when a man walked down a busy street and blew himself up. I didn't hear anything, didn't know anything had happened, just continued with my lazy morning routine while five people died.
I want to be very clear about this; my goal is not to take the spotlight off a horrible thing that happened and train it on myself. I just want to explain the event from an outsider's perspective, because as much as many of my fellow students wanted to feel like Istanbul was our home, that isn't the case. We were mere guests in a country with an incredibly fascinating and potentially deadly power struggle taking place right before our eyes.
Living in Istanbul can only be described as life-changing, but not all changes are the result of positive events. The Istiklal Street bombing is a major example of this. I can't say how it changed many of my friends, and I definitely can't speak of the damage it caused to the families of the dead and the wounded, but I know how it affected me.
One thought, something I'm not particularly proud of, was on how this would affect me. Would my university make me come home now? And was I in danger? The answer to those questions are no, and yes of course. I live in a city of 15 million people. There are idiot drivers, holes and cliffs with no guard rails, and yes, people who are scared and hateful enough to kill themselves and others in an attempt to spread their message. Of course I was in danger. We're all in danger. It's part of the whole, you know, being alive thing.
I can't say I immediately felt the weight of the situation we were in. Part of that was because I'd known something was going to happen that day. We'd received an email from the embassy earlier in week telling us to stay away from public transportation and high population areas (right, in Istanbul. Did I mention the city has 15 million people? Avoid high population areas my ass). So somehow the whole situation was predictable, and yet the most horrible, shocking thing. I didn't actually feel the reality until I'd made my way to Salvador that night and saw the faces of my fellow exchange homies. Our conversation went plenty of places that night, but naturally it spent plenty of time on what happened. There was a blankness there that hadn't always been present, and I realized it was in me as well. A disconnect from what was happening as we were enlightened to what kind of political climate we'd gotten ourselves involved in. That was when I found out about the video, already on Youtube, of the explosion. I don't know what kind of sick curiosity exists in all of us that we watched it at one point or another, but I knew I had to see it. And that's what really brought it home. I won't describe what happened, partly because I'd rather not think about it and partly because that would be an incredibly shitty thing to do, but it hit me right in the sternum. Right in the center of my chest.
And it made me realize that I wanted to stay.
I could have easily taken one look at this video, this horrible thing that happened in a place that I've walked by every weekend, and run for home. My university would repay my tuition, I'd hop on a plane, and I'd be safe within a couple of days. I could have done that, but I didn't want to. None of my friend group wanted to. We made the decision to stick around, to keep experiencing the good and bad that Istanbul was offering us.
Looking back now, I'm glad we did.