There is an emotion beyond sadness, beyond anger, beyond hope.

This past weekend, a quick trip to Istanbul meant light travelling – hand luggage would do. But with 2 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, and an approaching winter, I wanted to use my baggage allowance instead to take some donations and that if I had an overwhelming response, I’d ask Turkish airlines to transport it in kind (Turkish airlines has previously volunteered to fly cargo collected for refugees). 

Working some years ago for UNICEF, I have a fairly good idea of how humanitarian missions work, and also where donations go. Usually an organization will make an administrative cut – between 10-25%. Then, they will purchase new supplies or pay staff to provide some degree of service. This is why a lot of organisations ask for money, while others are prepared to accept clothes, medicine, food and other supplies which they will distribute and use any financial donations to meet operational costs. That’s what I was looking for – a local group working directly with refugees, where supplies would get to whoever needed it, as quickly as possible.

There is an emotion beyond anything I’ve experienced when I walked into the room in Istanbul’s Fatih district of a small local organization. On the faces of the Syrians there – no sadness, no anger, no hope. Just faces of emptiness. There is nothing that prepares you for meeting the faces of those who are suffering. I don’t know how those working or volunteering there can find the reserve to work in a place with so many stories that may never have a happy ending, and to continue to do so day after day.

There was an elderly lady in a wheelchair, you could see her lifetime was limited. She could have been in Syria, enjoying her end of days, but instead she was alone in a grey, cold, rainy Istanbul, in a centre with makeshift medical facilities, surrounded by other strangers with that same expression of nothing. They are supposed to be the luckier ones.

When you sit in London, and you’re in the news, you know what’s going on. You know the facts. You know the numbers, you see the pictures and sometimes you hear personal stories, like this. Days earlier I erred on the side of caution to keep a jacket that I ‘might’ wear. That doesn’t matter anymore when huge injustices create so many without. To paraphrase a recent quote, whatever material things you may have, use it, share it, and by doing that you share yourself, you share your humanity that in our intermittent world of short attention spans, status updates and Instagram posts, is just as fleeting.  

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Brand Turkey. Part 2

I’m a Monocle fan. My first reaction upon holding this beautifully feeling, presented magazine was – there isn’t anything here, its all just branding! But lo = open the cover and the pages feel nice, look nice, its a treat to hold, read and the little cartoons are the little details that so many other magazines just overlook. This is important to me, being someone who has been known to quote “life is made up of details…”  Every month, that magazine takes me away from the cubicle of Ankara life and transports me somewhere luxurious, sophisticated…generally a happier place from the unnecessary frustrations of daily existence here. Even better is being on the road, and Monocle connects back into the curious, informed, fun,  hob-nobbing, happy,  jetting crowd.

Editor Tyler Brule likes to talk about country ‘brands’ quite a bit, and naturally I think about ‘brand Turkey.’ While brand Istanbul has plenty of chances to shine because of its location, history and ‘hub’ nature, the rest of Turkey holds onto the hem of Istanbul’s skirts, like the younger sibling tugging for attention.

A small leap away are the Gulf countries, heavily investing into airports versus oil money, a major new brand strategy, so what is Turkey doing? Well I can tell you what Turkey is NOT doing. Case Study: Turkish Airlines.

In 2005 when I moved to Turkey and Turkish Airlines was the most convenient carrier to fly, I was impressed with the fresh Turkuaz cabin interior, a contrast to the glorified bus-set variety which existed when the airline was still under state control. The staff was good looking, friendly and could all speak English. The food was fresh, decent and there was none of the greasy hair stains on the windows.

Does this look like an interior you'd like to fly in? from as737700 on flickr.

In 5 years, some of the Captains have such poor English that I cringe (I teach English from time to time and have a hard time understanding what is being said, save for having basically memorized all the flight announcements). While the cabin crew have largely remained nice looking, there is definitley a gap. Some are gracious, warm, friendly while others pride themselves their position, behaving as if its a priveilge for you to be served by their duty free shopping selves.

Next comes the lounge in Istanbul. Is it really necessary for ALL the TV’s to show the same channel, all with volumes turned up? Air conditioning is haphazard and with the two major walls glass (ie most of the daylight hours= greenhouse), please turn on the AC instead cutting costs. Where is the subtlety and the ‘loungeing’ aspect of being in the lounge? It wasn’t like this 5 years ago… Even the SAS operated lounge at crazy Heathrow is able to give that “pause” feeling.

Aran Cafe tempts you away from the lounge in Munich airport

The best innovation in the lounge (and I’m being sarcastic here) has got to be the recent decision to get rid of the free wireless. Perfect! So what are the benefits of the lounge? There is a free (!) massage chair and shuttle to the aircraft, but thats about it. Unless you are taking an early morning flight, you can wish away your flight leaving or arriving on time. Now with Lufthansa flying from Ankara to pretty much everywhere via Munich, the jump to German counterparts seems more tempting. Munich airport also, is like a playground. How is it with so many best case examples, Turkish Airlines or airport operators aren’t able to get it together?