Last Friday I had my Turkish language test scheduled. I was a little stressed, because even though I chat with dozens of applicants every day in the language, that’s not the “right sort” of Turkish to do well on the test. So at lunchtime, I grabbed a salad from the cafeteria and went back to my desk for a last-minute cram session instead of joining 2 of my friends for lunch.
I was knee-deep into trying to remember the difference between “istirah,” “istikraz,” “istikbal,” “istiklal,” “istikrar,” and “istidam” when there was a deep, echoing boom. Instinctually, I knew there had been an explosion, and I automatically swiveled to the window in time to see the cloud of dust and debris sweep across my line of sight. Academically, though, my brain insisted that I must have heard cargo falling off the back of a truck. Surely, my mind reasoned, there couldn’t have been an explosion. Not here. Not in Ankara.
But there was, and at that moment so much changed. I was under my desk within seconds, and was in a safe area the rest of the afternoon. About 5 or 10 minutes in, I was madly surfing Twitter for updates and realized that this wasn’t just an explosion, it was a bomb.
I’ve found that when one is calling from a crisis situation, it’s always best to start with “I’m ok.” The second sentence is where you can get into “but I was bitten by a cobra” or “but I’m in a foreign country with no pants,” but you avert a lot of heart attacks if you open with “I’m ok.” On Friday, I woke up my parents at too-early-o-clock with what no parent wants to hear: “I’m ok, but there’s been a bomb. I don’t know much more, I’ll call again when I can.”
Obviously, my Turkish test was cancelled. It’s funny how what once was the most important, stressful part of my Friday now seems utterly inconsequential.
To take a more serious turn though, the reason I and many of my coworkers are safe today is because of the heroic actions of one of our local guard staff, Mustafa Akarsu, at 1:13 p.m. on Friday. Mustafa Bey was killed by the suicide bomber that attacked the Embassy. Directly because of his actions between 1 and 1:13 p.m., my two erstwhile lunch companions escaped serious harm.
Mustafa Akarsu (the photo above is of him with his son Sami) had over 22 years of service as a local guard at the Embassy. He was in the process of applying to immigrate to the United States on the strength of that service, so that his children could be educated in the U.S. He left behind his wife, a 19-year-old, and a 14-year-old. His dream was for his children to receive an education in the U.S.
U.S. Embassy Ankara has set up a fund to collect donations for Mustafa’s family. It is our goal to be able to fund his children’s education in the United States. There is a Turkish donation account through Garanti Bank, but we’ve also set up an Indiegogo page to coordinate international contributions. You can visit the page and contribute here: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/mustafa-akarsu-family-fund .
I know that the Foreign Service community and the Blogosphere are vast and well-networked. If you can, I ask that you please go to the Indiegogo page and donate, and pass the word along. Too often the work of locally employed staff is overshadowed or goes unremarked-upon. Mustafa went above and beyond his job to prevent the suicide bomber from gaining access to the Embassy, and in doing so prevented a much larger loss of life.
I went to the burial service on Saturday with several coworkers. There are two things about the bombing that I will never forget: a phone call from a friend during the attack, and the face of Mustafa’s son, Sami, at his father’s grave. Saturday was a day full of a lot of tears.
This week life has both slowly gone back to normal and changed in ways both expected and unexpected. We may have been targeted by a suicide bomber, but people still want to get visas. I imagine over time I’ll stop jumping every time a door slams, or carrying my cell phone around the office with me, but for now that’s my status quo.
I’m just so glad it wasn’t so much worse, and I’m so grateful to Mustafa Akarsu for his actions on that day.