On Concepts of Security


My emergency packing list included a laundry cord which doubled as a tourniquet  a quick-clot pack for heavy bleeding, a compact bag of First-Aid I routinely brought camping, my square scarf from Tajikistan (both for its multipurpose utility and for good luck—it was a gift). I’d had also stashed my knife, just in case.  Later, I amended my grab-and-run bag to include overnight items should I get stuck in another district or if transportation were to shut down again.

Fortunately, I nor anyone else I was ever near needed the precautions I’d packed but in light of last night’s brief occupation and 6 months of rising terrorism, there is no such thing as ‘predictable’ anymore. Public transportation systems, iconic places, grandiose symbols of ‘Western-ism’ like malls. What’s in a target? You can be safe, but you can’t avoid everything. On the off chance that I ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time… 

Despite barely sleeping last night, I was up early. I ate breakfast with the owner of the building and a cook on the rooftop terrace. Trying to gauge the situation, I asked if he thought he would go out into the city today. “Look into the street,” the owner told me. I looked down. Normally, it would have been almost uncomfortably crowded, especially in the peak of the summer like this. Instead, I saw a street cleaner, a man on a morning stroll with his hands clasped behind his back, and a beggar. He didn’t wait for me to answer, ‘There are three people in the street. If there are three people, there can be ten. If there can be 10, there can be fifty. And if there can be fifty, then five hundred. If that is possible, a thousand, a million can go out in the street in peace.” He stopped. “Yes, I will go out today.” He was right. 

Last night, I met a 19 year old Russian boy whom I took under my wing temporarily. He was backpacking alone and probably had little idea what he’d just landed into aside from that it wasn’t good. He recognized me from the Passport Control line (due to heightened but still inefficient security measures, it took nearly 3 hours to get through).  My initial plans to go to Taksim were no clearly stomped off the books, so I offered to show him around some of the [safer] places in the immediate vicinity of the hostel the next afternoon after people were starting to emerge.  

I failed to take into account increased security measures throughout the city as well. There were two security stations with metal detectors which caught me off guard. The first, I hadn’t expected. The second I hadn’t remembered. How suspicious would it look for a girl in frilled blouse to be carrying things someone would normally only carry in the wilderness? I noticed the bag inspection came before walking through the detector, and moved my camera to the top of my bag. If they overlooked my more bizarre items, I was hoping they could attribute the failed metal detector test to the camera. 

I unzipped the pockets myself to demonstrate that I had nothing to hide, and handed over my passport discretely sliding my Boğaziçi ID on the page with my most recent visa, a colorful purple gradient and printed in Russian. I offered that as well, knowing it was unnecessary, but gained trust by my transparency. I mustered my most innocent smile and chit-chatted with the two officers, calmly using every maneuver possible to maintain the eye contact of the two guards: one woman, one man. I was lucky. They both liked me. The knife was wrapped, so the metal of it hadn’t drawn any undue attention as their fingers roughed over it. Part of me was relieved, but the other part of me was equally concerned. Shouldn’t they have caught that? 

  Afterward, I went back to where I was staying, made my emergency bag metal detector friendly by removing the things that would cause me the most trouble explaining, and re-packed it so that even my camping gadgets would seem inconspicuous.  It was expertly arranged into in a slim single-shoulder sling backpack. I wore it through the rest my time in the city — undeterred —as any unassuming student would. As I always had.

I’m still not sure if it feels more surreal in hindsight, or in the moment. After all, these were safe places I was bracing myself to move through today. I’m hesitant to say ‘formerly’ because after all, I was fine. Then again, would this morning have felt like years ago if it were?  It’s naïve to take security for granted. Today we woke up, and the busiest streets were quiet. How deceiving that is when some people’s worst nightmares have already begun. People will be hunted today.

(Journal excerpt from 16.7.2016)

The Basilica Cistern is a thoughtful place. Last time I was here, I reflected this in post:

Day 10: The Basilica Cistern.

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