I am four days* away from having my blog disabled, if I choose not to renew its platform's annual subscription fees.
Writing is my soul's desire and I would proudly call myself a writer before I call myself a sister, daughter or friend.
Those whom you think I may offend, would understand, because to know me is to know that this is the only one craft and purpose with which God has gifted me.
As the final hour comes closer day by day, minute by minute, hour by hour, my enthusiasm for blogging does not wane- but it is not bolstered either.
As you know, I am presently living in Turkey and if you have not been living under a rock (I hate using cliche idioms- my craft is better than that) then you know that Turkey is at a seminal point in its history following the military coup that happened one month ago.
Consequently, and to the detriment of blogging, crackdowns have been....
What you (write) and say can be used and held against you in a court of law.
Even though, I have never commented on this country's politics and I have no ambition to do so in the near future to the point where what I say could garner 'attention', I am still apprehensive to write during this time of heavy surveillance.
No one knows how your words could be (mis)interpreted.
However, like I said, I am a writer who privileges the blogging format of long form narrative essays.
This experience of surviving a military coup, though not my most dramatic life experience only because my life has ,at many times, seemed like a series of scenes ripped from a Tarantino script, still deserves a comprehensive narrative no matter the consequences.
I seriously doubt that anyone gives a f*&#$ what an island girl from the Caribbean whose audience reach is _ has to say. Fingers crossed.
Friday 15th July 2016
I was en-route to Istanbul on the highway as the coup started. Though Istanbul was not my final destination, it was necessary to go there in order to connect on to Antalya. Samuel Eto'o's charity match, which would see the likes of Messi, Neymar, Luis Suarez, Maradona to name a few was slated for that weekend. I could not think about missing an opportunity to see these stars play. So, I took the plunge, at the very last minute, and gave in to my love of football deciding to travel on the night before the game.
When the night was still young, I had ploughed through thousands of commuters at ASTI in Ankara searching feverishly for a coach service to Istanbul. Looking at the platform monitor I along with hundreds scoured the screen for an Istanbul final destination that would hopefully be leaving that night.
I found one, the last one and booked it! It was an accomplishment for me because with little to no Turkish I had out screamed and out maneuvered Turkish commuters trying to get the attention of the same ticket agent.
Ten minutes to board, I walked through the boarding gates noticing all the while, the heavy military presence at certain entry points.
Through the departure gates, I boarded the coach, unable to find my seat number. A man- an employee with the coach, entering 30 seconds behind me- sensing my growing frustration and my disorientation, sternly but gently told me where to sit, warning me as he did so: "Do not move."
No sooner than I had taken my seat down, along with a few other commuters in front of me , had a man, who I had then assumed a hawker, since there were thousands of them at ASTI every day selling every inconceivable thing, stood at the door of the coach screaming something which was incomprehensible to me.
However, it got a sudden and unusual reaction from the commuters to the front of me: they all ran to the front of the coach.
Even then I thought, Damn that must be some really nice ice cold water he must be selling.
Yet the pulling out of cell phones, furrowed foreheads and looks of confusion indicated something else.
Must be another terror attack I thought.
But having lived here through numerous attacks, I knew that not even that would warrant such a reaction from these commuters.
Since the very first run of attacks, I had been completely bowled over by how resilient and calm Turkish people had appeared during those incidents.
Indeed, you would be fool hardy to rely on the behaviour of Turkish people for any indication of when a terror attack had taken place because in my estimation there was never any.
So this reaction was fortuitous of the unprecedented night and days to come.
Ben bu yaz Turkce....I this summer turkish....(will learn)
We drove off.
We drove off into the darkness of asphalt and laybys and flyovers.
My sister who had kept from my parents my whereabouts, called frantically to tell me the news, which I still did not know.
I remained calm as she told me, while the coach attendants starting their evening snack service, politely asking each commuter, "Tea, coffee, juice?"
What else could I have done?
The scene seemed so fucking schizo.
A military coup had just started on the same highway, on which I was speeding full throttle, dead straight into the coup's epicenter... while being served tea and cake.
"What are you going to do, Pet?"
What can I do, Patrice? "I am going to have to sit this out and see what happens and then go from there, because they are not turning around."
As I said it, it finally dawned on me that when the news of the coup had been revealed to them-the Turkish people on the coach and the coach employees, we still had the time to turn back to ASTI. In fact, we had not even left ASTI yet.
Still, they pulled out the Station knowing this.
I did. I kicked myself for not having had the discipline to learn Turkish to a proficiency that would have made me wiser to what the man, the presumed hawker, was screaming at the front of the bus.
If I had understood his utterances, then I would have walked myself off that coach immediately and not gone a step farther out of Ankara.
The Loo, Anyone?
After an unimpeded few hours we came to a dead stop around 4am in the morning just outside Istanbul.
Traffic backed up for miles and miles and miles comprised Coaches, family cars, vans, large delivery trucks and lorries.
As the sun rose across the Istanbul skies, the peace and serenity that usually greets earth's morning was not appreciated by anyone stuck on that highway that dawn.
The frustration of being so near but yet so far was unbearable: the dawn of a new day- the usual tell-tale sign for overnight commuters of having reached the final destination of Istanbul from Ankara, now suffered as a curse.
Still, many took the time to stand outside of their coaches and cars etc. enjoying the crisp morning breeze, smoke a cigarette or two and just chat with whomever was open to conversation.
There were no signs of hysteria or fear.
However, sooner rather than later, I noticed the frantic search by a few young women hoping to relieve themselves discreetly and away from the gaze of miles and miles stranded commuters.
To do so, they crossed over to the other side of the highway- leading out of Istanbul. It was now completely void of any traffic. Also its banks, to the right, had a steep hill with a plateau of trees and shrubbery; to the left, a ravine also skirted by trees and shrubs.
The women chose the hill with the plateau. Carefully looking for the best spot, so as not to be seen, success was indicated with a frantic shimmy and a squat.
Those like me sitting in large coaches it was impossible not to see their location though not necessarily their actions.
Soon a steady stream of women (in pairs or groups) followed.
They conscientiously carried bottles of water and baby wipes, while very few- nothing.
Knowing that soon I would have to answer my call of nature too, I suddenly grew very very scared.
I had chosen, unlike many others, to stay inside the coach in these early hours of the morning, not because I was scared of the military coup, but because I knew that I was the only black person on this highway for miles and miles.
I really did not want to go through the stares or any harassment. America is always to blame in situations like these and most people associated black with either Africa or America and usually America first.
I therefore thought that out of site equaled out of mind.
However, as my anxiety increased so did the weight of my bladder.
I had to get off the coach.
Arming myself with toilet paper, keys as a makeshift knife and bottled water, I called my friend Steven to help ease the anxiety.
As I guessed it, stepping onto the highway drew copious stares. Furthermore, unlike the other women, who had gone to the loo in pairs or groups, I was alone.
Since everyone by now had deciphered that any woman going to the other side of highway was doing so for 'personal' reasons, by me making that trek too, the same assumption would be made putting me in a very vulnerable position.
Any man or group of men could follow me too and take full advantage of the situation.
Calling Steven was my safety net. I would put him on speaker as I used the 'loo' so that anyone approaching me would think that I was not alone even though clearly I was not with anyone.
However that plan would have to wait until I could navigate the highway barriers. I never knew that they were so damn high. Trust me I can't even run to catch a bus, so how on earth was I, on my own, going to get over these damn things. And not only that, two sets of them and one with a ditch.
Talking on the phone with Steven I tried to look calm and 'cool', like I was talking casually. My feet shifting from side to side as if I was keeping leg cramps at bay when I was really trying to hold my urine.
"You should go now," Steven advised. "Just get over the metal bars and I will stay on the phone with you."
"I will try Steven. I will"
Every time I felt the will to do it, it suddenly left me as I took a step to the metal barriers. Instantly my confidence would be deflated and my anxiety, the opposite.
I wondered if Steven was getting agitated by my fearfulness. I know he probably was, but thank God, he never showed it.
Suddenly and without me even having to think about, I placed my ass on the barrier and swung my legs over, clutching my phone between left shoulder blade and my chin.
I continued this maneuver successfully and gracefully twice more. Crossing calmly over to the other side of the highway I chose the ravine with the blanket cover of trees.
Although there were buildings off to the side and the front, I knew that they were empty.
Still talking with Steven on speaker phone, I did my business, cleaned up and walked out with my phone still pinned to my shoulder by my chin.
I can't believe I did all that and still managed not to drop my phone.
Walking out of the ravine, the day seemed beautiful. Not daring to look at my captive audience of a few hundred people, I crossed over to the other side and again sat and swung myself over each metal barrier.
"Mission Accomplished, Steven!"
The Hottest Day Ever!!
A journey that should have lasted 5 hours, took 20.
Around 10 am, the coach, along with a million other cars, jeeps, vans and lorries started their engines.
Of course many people through out the interim of the shutdown till the time we started back our journey, had decided to walk it.
Yes that's right. Many with their suitcases and bags and bundles, took full advantage of the early morning crisp hours and decided to walk their way into Istanbul.
We could not have been too far off because it was at 9 am or so that I saw airplanes taking off directly ahead of me. We were within miles of the airport.
As the coach stated we went almost at what felt like full speed ahead for 200 feet and then stopped again.
You cannot be kidding me, I thought.
After a 10 minute engine idle, the engine was turned off.
Frustration was audible.
We really aren't going a-n-y-w-h-e-r-e today, aren't we?
I hunkered down in my seat and let my head fall on the window.
A fleck of red in the distance caught my attention. Someone standing on what seemed like scaffolding or a cleaning rig, the ones used to clean skyscrapper windows, was doing their best to wrestle against the wind trying to place a flag over one of the bars of the scaffolding.
Success achieved, a huge Turkish flag with the unmistakable crescent moon and star laid there emphasising the democratic choice of the Turkish people and not the military coup.
This was the first real visible sign that the coup had failed. Even though Steven had told me about the turn of events, while I was attempting Mission Impossible, I still had no real confirmation because I was not online to see media or social media.
Democracy had 'rained' supreme; if only it had done so literally on the day, life would have been much easier because the humidity was life threatening.
After some time, we started again and this time to my surprise never stopped.
Rolling into ESENLER it was busy, but not as chaotic as I have seen it before.
I exited the coach hoping and praying that it would be a quick commute to my hotel.
Another hour and a half of waiting ensued as a result of my friend in Istanbul taking their dead ass fucking time to pick me up.
I argued with them while waiting for them on the phone.
"Are you kidding me!!!!!! 20 hours and you cant be here on time?"
"What time? You never knew when you were going to reach?"
Point taken, but the misery of sitting tight and still for 20 hours, using the bathroom publicly compounded by the worst humidity this island girl has ever felt- that is no exaggeration- did not go hand in hand with rationale.
Miserable was not the word for me, and I could tell on the faces of the commuters waiting on loved ones to pick them up, or even worse yet, taxis to make it into the ESENLER shared my state of mind too. Especially the younger ones.
A beautiful toddler dressed in three quarter pants and a white t-shirt, cute as a button, was red as a chili pepper. And while he did not throw any tantrums, his misery was evidenced by a smashing of both hands and a shaking of his head as his hopes with every passing car, for the taxi that his parents booked to arrive, was dashed again and again and again.
Watching him go through the cycle over and over unbeknownst to my omnipotent presence, made me think about The Omnipotent's Opinion on this scene.
I smiled at the realisation that we as human beings are so vulnerable to the slightest change of course; impossible to forecast.
* I started writing this post on August 1st and it has taken me this long to post. Life happens. Forgive me :)