Going cold Turkey

Posted on December 30, 2016

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On Christmas Eve morning I bolted upright in bed from a panic attack. My heart was racing fast and the bed sheets were damp from sweat. Today I was packing up my London flat once more and hitting the airport with no return date. There was a feeling of trepidation because as much as I wanted to move I  really didn’t want a repeat of the last 16 months.

In July this year, just a few days shy of Turkey’s failed military coup, I handed in my notice at TRT World as an anchor/correspondent. Ironically it wasn’t the sight of tanks rolling down the city roads, gunfire, the fighter jets tearing through the Turkish skies. It’s been the slow and steady build up of living and working in the Middle East for a start up channel that has sapped my energy for very little return; and quite frankly i’d had enough. Like a pressure cooker the voice in my head one day started screaming, “Leave! What on earth are you still doing here?”. I’d been off sick for a week. Working too many hours. My voice had gone AWOL and 2000mg of antibiotics were my only hope.

The last 16th months at TRT World have had real highs and some extreme lows. A bad deployment to Diyarbakir in the south a few weeks after landing in Istanbul with a naive understanding of Turkish politics left me with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I was sent to report on a PKK rally. When my team and I arrived, the city was on fire. A curfew was in place and bombs and bullets were going off like fireworks. Despite my carefree attitude to travel I am not a risk taker. My safety is always my top priority. After three days stuck in one location my crew and i were told to leave. Our journey became an unhappy accident – we got stuck on a highway driving out of the city with two landmines on the road that were less than 10 feet from me. It was the real life Hurtlocker except i wasn’t wearing the bomb disposal outfit. In fact I wasn’t in any protective gear. Situations change fast in hostile places. My experience at the border for TRT World has had an indelible impact on how much danger I am willing to expose myself to in the line of duty. It’s unnecessary and it’s foolish. My team was the ninth deployment. Everyone else had covered stories about the pistachio nut industry, baklava and rug making. My team got all the frickin action and subsequently no one was sent back to the border for several months.

December then brought a stupidly tough and exhausting deployment to Saudi Arabia – that’s one way to make Turkey look like Disneyland. Then a stint in the Ankara bureau in February saw me back on the front line following a suicide attack! Two days in, the second bombing in the capital was claimed by a faction of the PKK which targeted the heart of the State – its police and military HQ. We were on site 30 minutes after the explosion reporting until 1am, carnage and confusion everywhere. We rushed to the site so fast I didn’t even have time to put socks on. All I remember of that night was how goddamn cold my bloody feet were in slip on shoes. My team and I continued to file for the next ten days across bulletins.

I literally ticked every journalistic box in my 16 months and all this without hostile environment training which only came in April of this year. I don’t regret accepting the job, adrenaline is what i thrive on and I’m glad I got to experience some incredible breaking news. But the way some deployments and the fallout from those deployments were handled were sloppy, unprofessional and downright frustrating.

Settling in Turkey is not for me. I knew it after the second month. Istanbul is a tough city to live in if you’re over 40, a non Turkish woman with neither a boyfriend or a husband. I’m glad I did my time. But I will never ever repeat it. The factors for my leaving are varied: mainly gender equality issues, attitudes towards non married western women. Loneliness. Impossible to meet ex pat men my age bracket, there are far and few between. The lack of green spaces, the lazy half-hearted attitude towards the environmental, a subject I am passionate about. Pollution and smoking in abundance everywhere. I think the way to survive that city is to be able to leave every two months. Staying put will make you bonkers. Yes Istanbul is beautiful to visit, but i don’t want to live there.

I have loved working with the very talented and committed ex pat staff at TRT World. They were like family. A core group of us socialised together and that i believe can make it harder to leave. Then there were the secular Turks in and out of work who I adore and have huge respect for. I felt very sad leaving them behind, because unless I go back to Turkey it’s unlikely we will meet again. Visas are tough to obtain and expensive.

TRT World has some brilliant minds and talent in its ranks and although some key people have left I really hope management takes better care of those who have stayed. The channel is still not global despite promises of launches. The international news coverage that’s being done really needs to be seen! Another factor for leaving. We went 24 hours after the coup attempt and for what? A vanity project that no one outside of Turkey could see? Plus I was personally unhappy editorially with our domestic coverage immediately after the coup attempt. It’s what pushed me to bring my move date forward.

It’s taken the best part of two months to feel like myself again after returning to London. I’ve seen three theatre productions, visited numerous galleries, eaten global food and taken long walks through my favourite parks. But London is expensive and I’m currently unemployed. So I can’t stay at home either not without haemorrhaging money.

This December i’m literally going cold Turkey from broadcasting. I’m hanging up my mic for a pair of fins for six months. I need a sabbatical and I really want to do something that makes me feel better about myself and the world. War, war, war has exhausted me. As the song goes: “What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!”

In July I signed up for an internship (I’m paying for the privilege) with an international charity – GVI – helping to collect data on climate change diving daily for marine biologists off the islands of Fiji. I start in January. In the meantime I’m making a pit stop in Middle Earth – New Zealand.

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