Turkey, a country I long to visit, has unfortunately received a lot of negative publicity recently with two horrific events occurring within a day of each other. First, on Friday, February 1 a suicide bomber detonated a bomb at the American embassy in the Turkish capital of Ankara. Second, the body of a missing American mother was discovered in Turkey on Saturday, February 2. Reports indicate that she had been murdered. Although both events were completely tragic, sadly in today’s era of utter madness and uncertainty, both could have happened anywhere.
When I first heard about the disappearance of Sarai Sierra I sincerely hoped that she would be found alive. She had apparently traveled to Turkey for a once in a lifetime trip. Back in New York she was a budding photographer and had amassed a large number of followers on her Instagram account. On the day her flight was to arrive back at Newark Airport from Istanbul, she never appeared. Her family contacted the airline to learn that she had never boarded the flight in Turkey, which is when fear set in. Family members contacted the hostel where she stayed and it was discovered that her passport and other belongings were still there. For anyone who has ever traveled internationally, you know that you can neither exit nor enter a new country without a passport. It is a traveler’s lifeline, with nothing being more important. One of the last things she had planned to do in Istanbul was take a photo of the Galata Bridge, a landmark that spans Istanbul’s Golden Horn.
After her disappearance had made the global news, Sierra’s husband and brother traveled to Turkey to aid in the search. It was then that more mysterious information about Sierra became known. Her family stated that her trip to Turkey was her first time overseas. Investigators revealed that during her time in Turkey she had made side trips to Germany and Holland. For me, red flags came up immediately when I read this. A person who has never left their home country before travels alone halfway around the world and then while there, hops on a plane and travels to two different European countries in the span of just a couple of days? And let’s face it, Germany or Holland are not a quick jaunt from Turkey. Secondly, when her case first made the headlines, her family had only ever said she traveled to Turkey, never mentioning Holland or Germany, but then it seemed once it was in the newspapers, they claimed they always knew exactly where she had been and that it had been preplanned. To have done all of that traveling seems incredibly adventuresome, and especially for someone who had never ventured outside of the United States before. Also, I understand the desire to pack in as much in a trip as possible but once again, Turkey, Germany and Holland? They seem the oddest of combinations. The other pecuilar matter is that reports said she went to Turkey with only her ipad and phone for picture taking. Although this hasn’t been concretely confirmed, I found this strange. You travel somewhere for the sole purpose of taking incredible photographs and you don’t go there with an actual camera?
Investigators also discovered that Sierra had exchanged online messages with a Turkish man who was reportedly the last person Sierra to have contact with in Istanbul before she was murdered. Although he has not been charged with anything, numerous other persons have been questioned in connection with the case although to date no one has been charged with her murder. While yes, I have met some incredible people during my travels, if I was a woman traveling alone, I would not do anything to potentially compromise my safety, most especially meeting someone who I met online. To me, it is better to come across as cold and uninviting when traveling alone than to risk bringing danger upon myself by being “too” anything.
As the entire country and culture of Turkey has been attacked by nameless individuals in the comments section of news reports on Sierra’s disappearance and murder, a radical leftist group carried out a suicide bombing at the United States Embassy in the Turkish capital of Ankara. A Turkish guard was killed and a Turkish journalist was wounded in the attack. Although one may equate suicide bombings with Asian countries, haven’t past events shown that these horrific acts of violence can happen anywhere in the Western world? London, 2005; New York City, 2001, Madrid, 2004. While Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country, it has no official religion, a fact unbeknownst to many. It’s also the bridge that connects Asia and Europe, a country and culture whose ties are to both continents and whose history dates back thousands of years. Lastly, Istanbul has a relatively low crime rate for a city of its size with most of it non-violent in nature.
While some would say, “well, I’m never going to travel there” after hearing about the embassy bombing, or question, “why would a woman travel alone to a country like that,” think of the facts and stories in both cases (and any case really). It’s much easier to stereotype and generalize than to actually take the time to make an informed opinion. But please do. The informed population of the world will thank you for it.