About the Author: Lindsey Zuluaga serves as a Consular Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Two weeks ago, I arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta on Friday morning, July 17 to begin a day of visa interviews for Indonesians. As a consular officer, I spend most of my day on the visa line. But from the crowd huddled around the TV in the waiting room, I could tell it might not be a typical day -- Indonesian TV was reporting explosions at two luxury hotels in Jakarta. No cause was yet determined, and with a full load of interviews scheduled and a room full of applicants, we tried to focus on the task at hand.
This was harder than I thought, as news coverage of the events in the background was constantly blaring, and emails from my public affairs colleagues every few minutes confirmed that these were bombs, not just explosions, and likely terrorist attacks. As soon as we learned that American citizens could potentially be among the victims, Consul General Jeff Tunis pulled some of my colleagues off the visa line and immediately sent them to the scene. I was one of just three consular officers asked to stay and finish the heavy load of interviews.
All day, everyone in the consular section provided assistance to Americans, whether at the bombing site, at local hospitals locating and assisting American victims of the blasts, or at the embassy compound, where we provided emergency passports and tracked down Americans whose families called for information about their loved ones’ welfare and whereabouts. Of the fifty people injured by the Jakarta blasts, six were Americans, but there were no U.S. fatalities.
The next day I went to the Metropolitan Medical Center Hospital in downtown Jakarta to check on American victims. I walked through the hospital entrance to find a waiting room of chaos -- reporters fishing for stories, cameramen snapping photos, family members looking for loved ones, and hospital staff trying to keep order in the midst of it all. The receptionists were hesitant to let us into the hospital, and I had to convince them I was not a journalist. Eventually, I met several American victims with their family and friends in their hospital rooms. One person had a fractured leg and burns all over his body, and I was taken aback to see him drawn up in his bed with so many bandages. Another American was just coming out of surgery to have shrapnel removed from her shoulder, and I visited her in the ICU. She was barely able to sit up, and clearly traumatized. Both were quietly eating breakfast at a hotel café when the bombs struck.
Some needed to be medically evacuated out of the country for additional medical care, and were apprehensive about the procedure. I tried to reassure them, and worked with my colleagues to process and deliver emergency passports, although some could barely manage to sign the forms because of their injuries. We also ensured that all personal effects that were retrieved from the bombing sites were returned to the victims.
The Jakarta bombings were tragic. Nine people lost their lives, and many others were severely injured. My heart is still in my stomach when I think about it. But I am proud that our embassy was there right away to help our countrymen in their time of need. As I was heading out the hospital door at the end of the day, one of the victims leaned over to me and said, “Thanks for everything. I don’t think I would have been able to go through this without the embassy’s help.” Comments like these make service so rewarding.