At the end of a few days, I can say that I’m not in love with Panama.
However, I’ve had a lovely few first days here, on no small parts thanks to my host, who has been infinitely kind, solicitous, patient and generous.
I have not explored the city, nor have I taken any pictures, so Panama posts will have to wait. In the meantime, let’s wrap up the Turkey saga and get me out of detainment, shall we?
I woke up in the morning, treated myself to another cold shower, (amazing what can come to be luxurious in a short amount of time) and, uncertain about the motivation of the cops to get me to the airport on time, began pacing around the facility, in a state of high anxiety about making my plane, and generally trying to hide from over-solicitous Persians.
I finally sat in a corner of the canteen and tried to read the last few Agatha Christie short stories but they were dreadful, (apparently at one point late in her career she published a book of Christmas stories and poems for children, but the main characters were all middle aged. Do you know what children do NOT care about? Boring adults. Do you know what adults do NOT care about? Maudlin, moralistic tales about middle aged people without any discernible emotional depth or nuance) and I was keyed up, and wound up mostly staring at the clock and fretting, and sometimes staring out the window at the skyline and feeling sad.
Suddenly someone was shouting for American Sarah! American Sarah! And things began to move very fast. The guard said I had to get my things RIGHT NOW because the police were waiting. So I had to quick quick quick gather my things- no time to say goodbye. I shoved two dresses I knew I wouldn’t need anymore for the ladies who were there just with the clothes on their backs into someone’s hands and was hurried out. The guard hovered impatiently while I repacked a few things in my suitcases. (Mystery- one of my bags was on the other side of the baggage room from where It’d had been the night before. Had someone been through it? Was anything missing? No time to tell.) “Go!” she hollered. “Go go go! They’re waiting!”
This struck me as unfair because it had been about three minutes since they told me to get going, and they’d told me the night before that I’d be leaving an hour later than it was, but no time to argue. I had to struggle to get my two bags down four flights of stairs while a guard, who looked exactly like a picture you might find in the dictionary next to “thug,” stood at the bottom of the stairs and watched me with undisguised impatience, and barked at me to hurry.
This was in jarring contrast to every experience I’ve ever had with Turkish men, who are infallibly chivalrous, even the creepy/rapey ones. I’ve never even been able to walk from the grocery store with laden shopping bags without someone offering to carry them for me, much less struggle with two heavy suitcases at once down (let alone up!) multiple flights of stairs.
At the bottom of the stairs were four men who were handcuffed together in twos.
Throughout this whole thing, I’m grateful for small blessings- I was never handcuffed. File that under benefits of being (outwardly) docile in a paternalistic society.
We were all led outside to a van. Then men were put in first, all together in the back row. Each only had a small bag which were tossed in the front. The thug then looked at me and gestured. I struggled to hoist the smaller bag in, (I really need to start lifting weights) and then stood by and smiled blankly until he gave up and hoisted the monster 32 kilo bag up and into the van.
I thanked him sweetly and clambered aboard and sat in the row in front of the men, and asked them where they were from. A nice old man said Georgia, had I ever heard of it? And then asked me if I was Bulgarian. No, American, I replied. A ripple of surprise went through the men. You look Bulgarian!
Don’t get many Americans in detention, I suppose.
I turned to ask another where he was from and the man opened his mouth to answer when the thug poked his head in and barked at me to move to the front row, well away from the other prisoners.
I gave them an apologetic look and moved.
There wasn’t much to see on the journey to the airport, but I got a glimpse, by fuck-my-life Bakırköy- what wouldn’t I give to stroll through the horrible streets of Bakırköy and have to take a jam packed metrobus home late at night again!- of the cargo ships lined up to enter the Bosporus, and it almost broke my heart.
At the airport I was on my own to get my bags out, but as soon as they were on the ground, two of the handcuffed men, including the nice old fella, who, in different circumstances I would be offering my arm to make sure he navigated the ferry ramp all right, awkwardly grabbed a suitcase handle in each handcuffed hand, and stubbornly, despite my protestations, rolled them through security.
I stared at the thug, hard. He met my eye briefly and then looked away. We were met at the other end of the metal detectors by another guard, and it was clear I would be separated from the men. The other guard looked a scootch more avuncular, (a toad would look a scootch more avuncular, though) and I said a silent prayer, “please let me go with the new guy!”
As was part and parcel with all my silent prayers throughout all this, it went unanswered, and thuggy and I went off together, cutting all the lines to get my baggage checked. The baggage check man asked why I was being deported and thuggy said, disdainfully, “çapulling,” which kind of made me want to scream, because, yes, actually, I am a çapulcu, but I was found innocent in a court of law of çapulling, dick- I’m out on a visa technicality.
I checked a bag and pulled out some money on the assumption I had to pay for the second one. “All set!” the baggage man said, with a smile. (quite a few Turkish airline employees were involved in protests and strikes, and at that moment, with his smile and knowing look, I knew I was in friendly territory again, after 5 days.)
“Don’t I have to pay for the second one?”
He looked confused.
“No, no. You get two free bags!”
“Oh! I thought I had to pay for one.”
“No no! You’re fine.” Thuggy gestured and we walked towards the visa counter.
“You know how it works, right? You can’t come back for three years!” The baggage man said, with sympathy.
“We’ll see,” I said more bravely than I felt. “Guruşuruz!”
After the visa line I asked very nicely if I could go to the duty free for a minute.
“Ahhh…” the guard said knowingly. “Perfume.”
“Yes. Perfume,” I said.
“Okay- that is your gate. You need to go right from duty free to your gate. This-” he indicated a sticker on my passport, “means I know exactly where you are. I am watching you.”
That was the last I saw of thuggy, or of Turkey.
Since I began writing this saga, I’ve gotten a fair share of trolling, both in the comments, (and by the way, anyone is welcome to disagree with me or even hate me in the comments, but unless you do so in a cogent, thoughtful manner, I will count it as trolling and you will be marked as a spammer, never to bother me again.) and in the Reddit thread that leads to one of my blogs, and even on facebook. Many of the comments, after some vitriol, lead down to some approximation of “a foreigner doesn’t belong at the protests.”
I see the point; we are guests of the country, they are not our politics, etc.
However, I respectfully disagree.
I believe civil disobedience is a basic human right. I believe citizens should have the right to assemble, and voice their opposition to the government. I believe police should not be encouraged to attack their citizens. I believe in the international laws that govern things like not shooting gas canisters at people’s heads. I believe in freedom of press, and that journalists should never be imprisoned for decades for insulting the Prime Minister. And I believe in standing up for what you believe in. I was taught that turning a blind eye to injustice is morally wrong. Perhaps my presence at the protests marks a lack of imagination on my part- I couldn’t think of anything more productive in the face of insanity than to be a warm body, bear witness, take pictures, and write.
I regret not leaving for home three minutes sooner on that fateful night, or not stopping to ask my questions a few streets down where it was safer.
I do not regret my involvement at all.
To all of you who talked to me, chanted with me, marched with me, squirted stuff in my eyes when I was overwhelmed, and kept (or tried to keep) me safe: thank you. It was an honor.