Terrorism is one of those things that doesn’t happen to you. It only happens on CNN in faraway places. Except it can. This is my story of the Ankara February 2016 bombing that killed 28 and wounded 61.
My friend Ezgi had been telling me for a week about a famous doner place, knowing my love for the meat wrap. So we agreed to meet in the vibrant downtown district of Kizlay at 6:00 pm, accompanied by her friend. The dinner was normal, we talked about my trip. My confession that I loved Ankara was greeted by two high fives. We talked about boys they liked. We talked about family. Ezgi billed this doner as the best in Ankara, her friend went a step farther claiming it was the best in all of Turkey. It lived up to the hype, the doner was fantastic. It was a large portion and cheap. I was in love. I could eat at this outdoor café for the rest of my life.
With just a couple bites left, there was a great noise. One I had never heard before and one I hope you never have to. It was like all the 4th of July fireworks in my life combined into one. It was so powerful the ground shook. Everyone in the cafe stopped eating and looked at each other. It was as if we were all simultaneously looking for an explanation, other than the obvious. It could have been a… I had nothing. There was no way around the fact that it was a large explosion of some variety.
The friend said she wanted to go look and got up from the table. I thought this was a poor idea and remained seated. Soon Ezgi got up saying she didn’t want her friend to be alone, I joined. Once we turned the corner nothing apparent had happened. Then, like a winter swell on Hawaii’s North Shore, a wave of people starting sprinting towards us. And I do mean sprinting. Everyone was screaming, crying and scared. I ran as fast as I ever have in my life. Flashes of Carl Lewis in his prime. I was now almost leading the pack, running with no real aim. Just running.
Before long, I look up and see another wave of people running towards us. No one is sure where the bomb is, and if there are more. To avoid a stampede I cut down an alley. Then I hear a crackling sound. I assume gun fire in an ISIS style attack. I ran harder and faster still. I wish someone would have got my 40 time. It is amazing what the body can do under extreme duress. It turned out there was no gunman, but I didn’t know that. I was quite literally running for my life.
I eventually stopped running for fear I was going to run into another attack. I slipped into a bookstore and hid towards the back. The owner was telling everyone to be calm and settle down. I asked him what was going on. He said there was a bomb and the government was now on the radio warning of a second wave of attacks.
By now the night air was full of sirens and I could see smoke rising not far off. It turns out the bomb was about 1,500 feet from us when it exploded. I lost my friends in the madness, I was alone with no idea of what to do. I was staying at another friends place, about a 45 minute walk away. I tried to get a cab but they were all full. Not to mention traffic was gridlocked. So I started walking. Soldiers were running around with assault rifles yelling commands on the main street. Almost no one else was walking, but what choice did I have? I just wanted to get back to my friend’s house. I texted my loved ones and told them what was happening. I wanted them to know I loved them if something happened.
Nothing else did happen. I made it home, cracked a beer and watched Netflix with my host. Such a normal end to an unforgettable night. I want to extend my heartfelt sympathies to the 28 people who are never coming home. God bless Ankara.