I was at Ataturk Airport when the terrorist attacks happened
It can, and it does happen to you
There is a very fine line between fiction and news. We read about catastrophes, we are moved by them, aware of them- but when we close the newspaper or turn off the TV, we enclose the fatal event in the box where it belongs. Catastrophes happen in a parallel universe, far away from our ordinary daily existence.
It is as if it could never happen to us. As if the victims had been notified in advance, as if they were expecting it.
It was the 28th of June 2016, another day of my ordinary life. I am in Ataturk airport on my way to Mumbai. I knew the airport well, I had spent all of my layovers from Spain to Armenia waiting in its lounges. Everything is normal: I am reading a book, I stand up, queue for the toilet, smile at the cleaning lady, return to my book. *Your flight is delayed*. Oh well, it happens. Suddenly, my phone buzzes. It’s probably my mum wishing me a safe flight.
The Guardian. Suicide bombing. Ataturk Airport.
By the time I realised that I was a character in this fiction play, the First Act had already started. These terrible things that feel like they occur a million miles away in a parallel universe- they can happen to us.
I look around, trying to make sense of the situation. People are staring at their phones with alarmed looks, urgently calling their families. I can hear someone shouting something in Turkish, or maybe it was Hindi, or Arabic. Phones ringing, buzzing, more shouting, more moving around, tension building up around the headline “Breaking news: 10 dead and 40 injured in ‘suicide bomb attack'”.
I was alone in Ataturk Airport, stood motionless, not knowing what to do. I found myself desperately looking at an airport map, trying to figure out where I was, where the attack had been, anxious, shaking, in suspense, because of the fact that I was where I shouldn’t have been, yet somehow, I was still here.
In the midst of the escalating chaos, security guards started to rope off the area, telling people in Turkish and broken English not to move, warning us that we must stay here because an incident had occurred.
There was more yelling in Turkish, and people began to get more nervous: sitting down, standing up, talking frantically amongst each other. I had no one. No one to yell at, no one to talk to- the only thing I could hold on to was my phone, constantly refreshing my news apps to get more information of what was going on. Little by little, information came through, telling me of the multiple attacks and three suicide bombers in the departures and arrivals area. 20, 25, 30, 40 dead. 100, 150, 180, 200 wounded. Pictures started to appear. I couldn’t get out of my head that, a couple of hours ago, I had been in the departures area of the airport as well.
We were in the transit area, so we were safe, but we were also stuck. Being so close and so isolated at the same time only increased the tension: on the one hand I wanted to run away, but on the other hand I didn’t want to be any closer to the chaos going on meters away from us.
It is ironic how, even though we were there, all the information was coming from outside. The same information that people sitting in their homes were getting. Those people were probably shocked, moved, like I had been when I read about these sort of issues before. What you can never imagine is that one day you might be reading this news on your phone while sitting meters away from the dead.
We remained there for hours until the airport reopened and our flight left. Stuck in our seats, stuck to our phones, answering hysteric phone calls, sending messages, reading the news, trying to figure out whether to feel scared or lucky.
I still haven’t figured it out. Am I lucky because I was so close, yet nothing happened to me? Or should we be scared because the threat is real, and it can indeed happen to us? I guess there is no answer apart from saying that life goes on… but you must be aware that it can happen to you although you’ll never be prepared for it.