This is about one very long night when I finally got around to read excerpts of the Holy Bible!
I was excited to see Istanbul for the first time; the only city that spreads into two continents and 60% of the population is young. But it turns out, that the only smell I got of it was the one from a Marlboro pack with Turkish writing on it – that has to be rationalized just like in war times – and a cold Turkish meal at the Ataturk Airport customs.
It´s true! I was locked away in a c. 8 x 4 m room, under surveillance, with no windows, no mirrors, together with 7 other women mostly from Cazaquistán, and having a vague idea for how long. I thought (wrongly) that just like my German friend I was able to enter Turkey with my identity card for three days, as we all belong to the very same European Community – the one in fact, that Turkey wants to join in. It turns out that rules for EU citizens don´t apply equally and there are side treatises between countries. And so, I found myself in a limbo, 5 meters away from Turkish ground, in a place where human beings are detained under questionable dignity conditions. It was my mistake in the first place but, I don´t understand how come I was controlled by the Turkish Airlines and allowed on board if they know that I would later not qualify to enter Turkey. Despite all the controlling, searching, scanning I was accepted on board with it turned out to be the “wrong” document.
So, when I got to Ataturk Airport my documents and ticket were taken away from me for what I supposed to be verification procedure as, despite Istanbul being one of the most multicultural cities in the world and though I fluently speak four languages and understand six, no one at customs spoke anything except for Turkish. Finally, when the airport official returns, he manages two words in English: ticket back. Fortunately, a woman working for the concurrent company of Turkish Airlines shows up and finally communicates with and understands us. And so I am told, that I would be shipped back home first thing in the morning but, must be detained in customs for the whole night. The person I was traveling with had been given permission to enter Turkey but had decided to stay with me until I was safely sent back home. This turned out to be illegal. He was obliged to enter Turkey with no delay, with the option of re booking his ticket and also to go back if he wished. But, when we asked in which flight they were to ship me back, the official answered that it was not possible to reveal such information (though he had the papers in his hands). With some persuasion it was only possible to know that I would be leaving around 8.40 in the morning as a policeman came to separate us and take me away.
So, let me tell you what else happens in no man´s land, if you happen to make the same mistake as I did. Your documents are taken away from you, you are separated from the people you are with, you are searched once more and your things listed and some objects apprehended (though they represented no problem when you went on board!). You are told that someone will take care of your luggage, though in the end it was lost!
In no man´s land, you are addressed as a criminal in a authoritative, aggressive way, you are mocked for the things you carry with you as they empty your personal bag and you are mocked for the answers you give to their questions. When I answered what my profession was, the women officers rolled their eyes and exchange comments in total amusement and disbelief, later I understood why. Furthermore, sleep becomes impossible, as you are stuck in 24hour illuminated room, under camera surveillance, with no windows, you are vaguely told that you will get a flight (but not the details, though they know it). Whenever you ask a question or information regarding what´s happening and your situation you are only told not to worry in a condescending way!!!
Despite all this – in clear violation of how you should be handled in a decent manner – I was still feeling sort of confident as I kept saying to myself: “Here am I, in a country that wants to join the EU. There´s absolutely nothing to worry about!” But, once I entered the room and the door was locked behind me, and as I addressed the women sitting and waiting there, a vague feeling of panic started to grow in me. Though I don´t speak Russian, I realized that some women were there for ten, six, two days already. The room was stinky, badly ventilated, dirty and the walls were ironically covered with “welcome-to-Turkey” posters! I saw no towels and no products for personal hygiene, except for hand soap. And so my confidence of sorting the misunderstanding quickly, was shaken. I though to myself, how many stories have I heard on the news about “lost” people, bureaucratic papers, and impotent embassy work… A strange thought crossed my mind, for seconds I wished I was an American citizen… so you see how shaken I was, I was loosing confidence on getting a safe flight back home and of having my documents returned to me.
I tried not to think too much, to settle and “make friends”. There was water and the Holy Bible to read, in case one wanted to reflect upon one´s live, I assumed!
Fortunately, I ended up, without knowing, friends with the woman controlling the “cigarette distribution”. Thank god!!!!!! One was at least allowed to smoke and I was definitely on the right side of the gang, otherwise I would have gone totally nuts and might have trashed a couple of things around! And so my friends, this is how I got to smoke at the expenses of the Turkish government!!! After a couple of smokes, I started to see things a bit different! This was in fact a great experience, how many people get to live it, what doesn´t kill you makes you stronger, etc, I was working on cheering myself up again. God bless Marlboro! (even if I usually hate it and absolutely don´t smoke it) Well…
Conversation – through mimic and in a mix of languages – was rolling and this was pure gold experience! These women… there were all there for “business”… I said my name and asked one her name and she said I could call her Sabrine, Natasha, Joana, I could choose, because she had many names and three passports!!!! I begun to understand a bit more about the world… This was definitely not boring at all! Though, in Turkey´s eyes, I was a second class citizen and a sinner in urgent need of moral rescue, I was definitely not bored!
Fortunately, they did manage to ship me back home first thing in the morning, though without my luggage, which they lost!!! But I was so happy to set foot in Germany and to be fetched from the plane in a polite and friendly manner by the German Police, you couldn´t believe. And once home and after Korinna´s full “welcome back” treatment which included Schnitzel with Kartoffeln, a Becks and Kuchen for desert I was completely healed and feeling home again!!! Still, I wonder about all those women, and what has happened to them…