BLIND SPOT > Sarai Sierra: A passage to Turkey

BELGİN AKALTAN - belgin.akaltan@hdn.com.tr

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The end of the journey for Sarai Serrai whose body was flown home Friday.

The end of the journey for Sarai Serrai whose body was flown home Friday.

The mystery surrounding New York mom Sarai Sierra’s murder has not yet been solved. Like everybody else, I’m trying to figure out what went wrong. In no way do I want to say anything that might offend her memory or her family.

If she had not been murdered, she would probably be telling her kids and relatives of her trip right now, showing her photographs to them. None of us would have heard her name... She would have been one of the happy 25 million tourists who visit Turkey. But something went wrong, she encountered brutality; under what circumstances, how and why, we do not yet know. Was her murderer(s) a pervert, a thief, a sniffer, a criminal she met through the web or is the reality something completely different from any option we’ve imagined so far?

This might be far-fetched, but I see some kind of a parallelism, albeit perhaps a rough one, with what happened to the young British schoolmistress Adela Quested in the book “A Passage to India” and Sierra’s ill-fated journey to Turkey.

Probably they both began with the same intentions. They wanted to discover and experience a new place. Not the ordinary but the “real” thing… Coming from the other side of the world, they were both offered an incredibly rich supply. Adela wanted to see the real India; Sierra was here to photograph the city from her special point of view. Then some kind of a fascination begins at this stage…

In the book “A Passage to India,” which later became a film, Adela Quested makes a trip to the “Marabar Caves.” She later describes it in court, as that she remembers an echo, an echo in the cave that has disconcerted her so much that she temporarily became unhinged. She was in shock.

Most probably as a first time overseas traveler Sierra experienced her own shock while in Istanbul. She found too many attractions, people were kind to her, she was able to contact her followers and meet some of them who probably looked up to her with admiration. She was able to take photos full-time, go around the city on her own schedule, travel to two other European destinations and come back which all put her, I imagine, in a different dimension.

There is a trait in travelling persons, not the hardened travelers but rather newcomers to the travelling scene…

One starts acting differently while travelling. It happens to me also. I have mostly seen it in travelling Americans: You switch into a different mood or mode. This is probably due to the fact that while travelling you encounter the most professional of service staff. There are people around you who smile at you, talk to you extremely nicely. The taxi driver opens doors for you, helps with your luggage. The airport is another highly civilized venue where you also meet the best serving staff or other passengers who have similar feelings, who are on their best behavior. (Well, generally…) The airline personnel is there to make you more comfortable; hotels, restaurants, guides, museums, wherever you go, you are served, made to feel at ease, given information, entertained… Moreover, if you meet a few good people, then you are completely immersed in this positivity. You see a silly smile on the face of tourists all the time – that must be the reflection of this traveling mood, this ecstasy.

You are exposed to so much of this affirmative air that you start thinking differently, your perception gets blurred. You also become positive, letting go of all negative thoughts. You gradually drop off your personal safety measures. Then you completely let them go… For example you leave your bag unattended, first for short periods and then the period of confidence extends. You see no harm trusting a person you have just met, you feel confident to explore new places regardless of the time of day or location. When somebody offers you something, you take it without a second thought.

I don’t know if there is a scientific explanation behind letting your guard down or relaxing your basic safety measures.

This is what probably led to Sierra’s tragic end. She was happy, she was achieving what she wanted and she was having positive experiences. She probably met her murder or murderers, or maybe she never met them, but was attacked from behind, while she thought she was in a safe place.

I’m only imagining what Sierra felt. She was 33 years old with two kids, which means she gave birth to them in her early 20s. It is reported she had marital problems. She had newly discovered a love and talent for photography and in one year she had amassed thousands of followers on Instagram. She was just trying to find herself. And she did it, she was being herself. What bliss.

Who would ever think a fatal attack or anything bad could happen in such a dreamlike attitude? Most probably Sierra didn’t either.



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Notice on comments

Dan Keegan

2/11/2013 7:39:19 AM

An American woman was murdered on Turkish soil, and the Turkish law enforcement agencies don't seem to have a clue. Or, at least, that is what they want us to believe. The primary figure in this, Taylon, has carefully covered all of his bases. He may come from a "good family" and "earned a Master's Degree abroad", but he is unemployed. Whoever was involved in the murder of Sarai knew exactly when she planned to leave Turkey. It seems to me that, Taylon, would be privvy to that information.


2/10/2013 6:17:10 PM

I agree with those who said the article is simplistic, overly-romantic and, regarding travel as a tourist, downright inaccurate. There is still a lot of mystery behind the Sarai Sierra story. However, as an American who has traveled to "exotic" cities, Ms. Sarai made some serious mistakes. (Traveling alone was not one of them.) Her mistake was living an extended period in a very questionable neighborhood. Second, she made connections with strangers over the internet - in a foreign city no less.

andrea dealmagro

2/10/2013 3:28:34 PM

Sakara me: The New York Post, the tabloid publishing all the rubbish about the victim, is owned by Rupert Murdoch who loves to print non-sense to sell newspapers in all the English-speaking countries. In my opinion, NYP is sensationalist and often unscrupulous. If you want earnest news, do not read the Post. I don't know if the information in question is correct but I'd take everything the NYP prints with a grain of salt (distrust).


2/10/2013 11:49:29 AM

Belgin, You've spent the entire article speculating how this innocent woman died and how it's likely that her own naivety lead to her demise. The truth is, we have no idea where she died, how she died or what exactly she was doing in Istanbul. Taking pictures on an Ipad does not constitute professional photography. Meeting male strangers on the internet and then arranging to meet them several months later is not 'Alice in wonderland' it is near adultery and not travel-inspired naivety.

Heidi Brandow

2/10/2013 11:45:03 AM

I find your assertion to be an oversimplification of an otherwise complex and tragic situation. Considering the details of her death and information regarding her killer(s) remains under investigation, to make such an assumption is as naive as the image portrayed in this article. Such an assertion further victimizes Sierra and her family. The fact remains: Sierra was a victim of violence and regardless of her travel sensibilities, such an act cannot be condoned.

Dan Keegan

2/10/2013 9:17:30 AM

This is a very beautiful, and thoughtful, article I've read on this whole matter. It is infused with sensitivity, and presented compassionately. We need more insightful journalists such as this in our complex and, sometimes, very cruel world. That having been said, I really think that it is time for the Turkish law enforcement agencies to get off of their hands, and make an arrest in this matter. The argument that Taylon "came from a good family, and earned a Master's Degree abroad" is weak.

andrea dealmagro

2/10/2013 12:29:24 AM

Good insight into the experience of travelling to unknown places. When it comes to people, appearances are sometimes deceiving. A criminal can actually be attractive and charming.

sakara me

2/9/2013 8:22:34 PM

the dead woman more like out of MIDNIGHT EXPRESS and THE PASSENGER: married woman who went bankrupt in 2005....somehow...gets $ to visit the other side of the world, where she winds up having sex in a public toilet (bankruptcy and public toilet sex the latest usa news info)

sam stevens

2/9/2013 7:18:13 PM

This is way out of order the girl is barely cold & you romanticise about her. Please stop referring to her as 'MOM' how very down market & common ! Use her name & show some respect, difficult for Turkish men to do that but at least a professional journalist should do so.

C B Mays

2/9/2013 5:28:48 PM

I do not accept your premise that enjoying one's travels and dropping one's guard is primarily an American phenomenon. You seem to imply that Americans are treated so badly at home, and have so many negative experiences, etc that when they get to a friendly place, and are treated kindly, it becomes a dreamlike experience which leads them to throw all caution to the wind. I would agree that some people, of all nationalities are naive, and should not travel alone to any location.
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