00:01 Prathap Nair
This is Record of Change, a podcast that documents how people’s lives are being shaped by the coronavirus pandemic.
I’m Prathap Nair, your host for this episode.
Today, we’re talking to Didem Tali, a journalist and multimedia producer who lives in Istanbul.
Didem, in her own words, is a multi-hyphenated millennial cliché - we will let her explain what that really entails.
In the millennial tradition of turning crises into opportunities, Didem has embraced the lockdown.
Didem has issues related to ADHD and says she has developed new coping mechanisms during the lockdown.
We will also hear about Turkey’s healthcare system and its handling of the pandemic.
00:44 Didem Tali
My name is Didem Tali.
I’m a multihyphenated journalist and media producer.
I work for a lot of traditional media outlets that are mainly based in the U S and the UK.
And I also make documentary films and I am an editorial and communication consultant.
I'm working as a Managing Editor for the New York based Contently.
And I do undertake research and sociological analysis projects for nonprofits and companies.
And I'm working on a novel.
01:21 Prathap Nair
I wanted to ask you to explain where you are right now.
And I wanted to, you know, paint me a visual picture.
01:29 Didem Tali
I've been working from home for almost all my career.
So I have a dedicated office in my flat.
So right now I'm in my office.
I have a beautiful two bedroom flat in the Asian part of Istanbul in a modern neighborhood, which is a trendy neighborhood there.
I have a lot of things that I want from life, such as my pilates and yoga studios and my vegan buffets and my handmade gourmet chocolates here.
Have I mentioned, I'm a millennial hipster cliché?
So it's a very beautiful little neighborhood by the sea.
And even though right now, it's actually a really crowded neighborhood and it's a very popular neighborhood, especially
among young people, because it has lots of beautiful and trendy cafes and restaurants scene and entertainment scene.
And my flat is decorated with a lot of house plants.
And I am a parent to a row of cacti and succulents, and I have a lot of cat shaped pillows in my house right now.
I have a few impressionist paintings on my wall, and I have some bookshelves, even though I
recently moved on from physical books and favoring more and more electronic books, a lot of candles.
I've been ramping up my house decoration because it looks like we're going to be spending more and more time indoors.
So we might as well have a nicer environment.
03:03 Prathap Nair
Thanks for the beautiful picture that you painted of your neighborhood and your flat.
So when this pandemic hit, when the COVID cases started going up, when countries started waking up to the fact that this is
the new reality, and that there is going to be a lockdown, where were you before and where were you right when it happened?
03:22 Didem Tali
Actually when the current pace started picking up and then this…., when we decided to go
into lock down, I was in Bodrum, which is a beautiful Mediterranean resort town and Southern Turkey.
And I arrived in Bodrum thinking that, okay, this is not ideal, but there's this illness and it seems increasingly serious, but it did not occur to me at that time.
I think it was late February that things would just pick up so quickly and change so drastically.
I just started to check out little available scientific research about the COVID.
Then just caught up with the developments around the world and just check statistics and facts and numbers.
And I concluded that, okay we can't really afford doing much else.
And in, in the hotel, it was the low season time.
Obviously there weren't a lot of guests, so it hasn't been very difficult to keep a distance, but there were a few tourists
and suddenly when everyone was talking about the massages and or the weather or the food that they were eating to, suddenly,
I could just hear in all the foreign languages; English, Turkish, Russian, Romanian, German - COVID COVID COVID COVID COVID.
And I thought, okay, the color of their everyday conversations is just changing.
05:11 Prathap Nair
Could you give me a picture of how a regular day for you was before the lockdown?
could you take me through a pre pandemic day?
05:29 Didem Tali
Because, as I said, I’m a multihyphenate millennial doing many different things.
I don't really have that a very typical day.
I have maybe multiple typical days, some days it's research and I am just relentlessly on the phone and
emailing back and forth and writing down ideas or interviewing sometimes in person, sometimes on the phone.
And sometimes I have very long filming days.
These days typically look like if I'm filming in Istanbul, I pack up and charge all my camera and gifts at night, and then I
pack everything and then spent the entire day probably just running around, doing the interviews, shooting B-rolls and so on.
And then, possibly coming home with a backache because the gear is too heavy and I’m a single woman team because I'm just producing everything on my own.
And I'm also doing a lot of editorial and communication consulting.
And these projects are all different in nature, but for some clients I'm conducting research and sociological analysis.
And for some clients I'm publishing B2B magazines and blogs.
And those days would resemble a bit more of a typical home office day that I just
wake up and grab my coffee and get dressed and just sit in my office most of the day.
Because I'm lucky enough to work from home for my entire career.
I always had those little luxuries of just going for a long lunch, or taking a long walk by the sea during the late afternoon or sometimes just
taking a day off and taking a boat to the Princess Island in Istanbul, or organizing some trips and sometimes going away on a sailing trip.
Which is one luxury we have access in Istanbul or having a museum day, you know, all those amazing privileges
that are brought by being able to work on a flexible schedule from home, but they are gone, unfortunately.
So now it's all still life.
Let's talk about your still life.
07:56 Didem Tali
So I am right now, much more of a typical home officer than I used to be.
Okay, when you're working from home, how is it different from working outside in the cafe?
Are you feeling yourself more productive?
Is there any difference, uh, in the way that you're dealing with your life right now, when you are locked up?
08:20 Didem Tali
So I immediately decided that since I would be at home for a long period of
time - and I'm already used to working from home - so I had certain routines and rituals in place.
So maybe it wasn't as painful for me to transition into just being at home all the time.
But it occurred to me pretty early on that I need to have very strict routines and..
I need to have some kind of a ritual that signals that okay, day is starting right now and the day is over right now.
I would get dressed and put makeup on and put shoes on as if I'm going out on a dinner
date, because I realized that you're going to have at least like six months at home, mostly.
You might as well just identify between what's day and what's night, you know.
Do, did you find any coping mechanisms?
You said that you put on makeup and do dress up every day?
That sounds like a really good coping mechanism.
09:28 Didem Tali
So when you put makeup, it feels like you're putting on war paint.
I definitely think that there's some kind of emotional, evolutionary satisfaction that I personally get from putting some makeup.
I'm not gonna aim to look like Kim Kardashian or something.
I'll just put red lipstick and maybe a little bit of blush or something, but still that moment
you have, uh, you're facing yourself in the mirror and you're looking at yourself in the eye.
And I..I read somewhere that it actually releases Oxytocin as well, which is the bonding hormone, especially,
if you're able to say a few kind words to yourself in front of the mirror - so I definitely do that.
10:19 Prathap Nair
Your work involved a lot of travel, you were going around the world, but now you're cooped up at home.
How was work affected because of the lockdown on the pandemic?
I feel like I don't really have a right to complain because..
of course, my livelihood was impacted and I had to cancel, so many projects, but at the end of
the day, I'm probably one of the luckier ones that I still have stable work and stable income.
That being said, I canceled around six international strips.
And it's not pretty.
I cancelled so many projects.
I was preparing to have one of my busiest and most hectic and exciting years, and it turned out to be pretty much the exact opposite.
And yeah, you see, one of my things is that I have pretty terrible ADHD, so it manifests and every corner of my life, including
my work projects, I'm doing so many different things that are not necessarily looking like they're connected to each other.
11:32 Prathap Nair
Has it somehow flared up in this pandemic and in this lockdown period, your ADHD, has it affected you in any way?
11:41 Didem Tali
It's probably a little bit more difficult for a hyperactive person to be indoors all the time.
And I knew that would be a very big challenge for me.
And I have a particularly severe case.
At this level, according to my psychiatric, it's a disability.
Um, I, a lot of people, particularly of women have an inattentive type ADHD and I'm hyperactive as well.
I'm physically hyperactive.
I need to be out and around, like, doing something.
Just, I don't know if I don't do anything, I just pick my hair or just fidget toys and I'm that person, unfortunately.
So I had to, I realize that this would be probably slightly more challenging for someone of my profile to just be indoors all the time.
So I decided to just give a, try to dancing at home, like free dancing.
I don't know if this sounds like a wannabe Tim Ferris thing, but, I decided to that it was actually my closing of the day ceremony.
I woke up putting my war paint, my makeup, like my nice and groomed clothes, then doing my hair and that signal the beginning of the day for me.
And then I would just dance.
However long I wanted, but I set myself a limit.
I'm gonna dance for at least six songs.
So sometimes it would be 10 songs or so just freely moving around Zumba moves and… I do practice what's called, shamonic shaking.
I just put some eyepatch on and just shake and move as a ritual.
And so this was my end of the day ritual once dance, and I just took a shower, I knew that, okay, the day is over.
Now I can just have a dinner and watch something on Netflix or whatever.
13:47 Prathap Nair
You live with your husband Sebastian.
Is he a great company to be around during this lockdown?
How do you guys, uh, for example, when you're dancing, what does he do?
Does he participate?
13:59 Didem Tali
He just watches me because he's just not the type of person who finds it easy to do these rituals, but actually he's been great.
And I think we're probably a bit luckier than average because we've been both freelancers
for much of our careers and have been working from home for a long period of time.
So we’re kind of used to each other's company in that way.
I have no idea how I would survive without him.
I've been hearing about reports of people who don't find it as easy going as we do.
I read people like, oh my God, I didn't know my partner before we started living together and locked down…but I
feel that spending such an intense and long period of time might accelerate the natural evolution of a relationship.
I think if there are some fault lines in the relationship, if there are some grievances or unaddressed
issues or concerns, they are probably gonna come to the surface when you're spending so much time together.
And I feel that if your relationship is based on solid foundations, if it's meant to be a longterm and healthy
relationship, you probably start appreciating your partner loving them even more when you're just stuck together.
15:48 Prathap Nair
15:50 Didem Tali
And it's been, yeah, I don't want to do this so much lovey-dovey partner gushing right now, but it's been definitely the latter for me.
So that needs to be acknowledged.
16:00 Didem Tali
I mean, having a long-term and healthy life partner definitely makes everything so much easier.
16:10 Prathap Nair
Yeah, yeah, sure, sure.
Little mercies, right?
16:13 Didem Tali
16:20 Prathap Nair
And how is, how is the mood in Istanbul Didem?
Does anyone in your circle have COVID?
How is it, how are people behaving to COVID?
Are they keeping social distancing, are they wearing masks?
How is it to be in Istanbul right now?
16:34 Didem Tali
So despite the easing of the lockdowns and regulations, I've been still cautious.
I'm not going out unless I absolutely have to or I take some responsible day trips here and there and just mainly
outdoors, but we had a good progress with a good progress with the cases, but they've been on the rise again.
So a lot of people are quite worried…
17:01 Prathap Nair
Yeah, it seems like, the second wave is on us.
So we just had a big religious festival Eid, Kurban Bayramı and in the Christian world, this would be the equivalent of Christmas or Easter.
And there were no lockdowns for this period.
So I am expecting to see a spike in the number of the cases in the coming two weeks.
I have to say Turkey has an excellent public health system, especially given the country's resources.
And it's a country that still experiencing a lot of very typical developmental problems, but we have a wonderful public health universal public health care system.
And all the treatments and testing and everything related to COVID, they have been all absolutely free for everyone, even if you're not a citizen.
So in that case, we get a lot of cutting edge, great hospitals, in that case it hasn't been a strain like a lot of other countries.
I am definitely confident in the healthcare system.
Of course, it's not flawless.
And we have a lot of other obvious issues.
It's under-resourced and people have their cynicism, but I think that it's such a pity that even someone like me
who has never supported this government, I'm always happy to acknowledge that we have a great healthcare system.
I've been around the world.
I been intimately analyzing a lot of the other healthcare systems around the world in both advanced economies and emerging markets.
And I can see that Turkey really, especially considering its level of economic development, got this one thing right.
19:01 Didem Tali
But still I think it’s such a shame because to me, something like this would have been at great opportunity to reduce the polarization
and restore some trust in the government because, I feel that in a lot of the rest of the world, there was a synergy and a moment of solidarity within
the committees brought by COVID, people collecting in my neighborhood every day at 9:00 PM for healthcare workers, cannot not give you goosebumps.
Suddenly we all started to appreciate each other from the janitor to the delivery persons.
There's a sense of solidarity..
19:48 Didem Tali
Absolutely so, and Turkey right now is the most polarized, one of the most polarized countries in the world.
And I thought, especially given how great the healthcare system is, this would be a,
this could be a great opportunity to reduce those polarizations and restore trust.
I'm happy to acknowledge the country has a very good healthcare system.
And I'm seeing this compared to so many places that I've lived and traveled then, but it's just such a pity that we decided to go in a different direction.
I wish we were able to match the greatness of other things.
This quite optimized health care system, given a country of, I think about a country of fair GDP per capita with around $10,000,
I wish we could optimize other freedoms and other resources they have, but unfortunately, it's not going to be the case.
Are there any rules on masks?
Should people be wearing masks outdoors?
20:57 Didem Tali
So I believe it's still mandatory to wear masks and people have been largely following that, but of course there are
going to be people who are not happy with that and not going to be super disciplined with their habits of social distancing and so on.
But actually, I would say in the places that I've been so far, I've seen most people trying to adhere to it, but then I'm, to be honest, not going up that much.
I also heard the reports that during the holidays, the religious holidays beaches were packed and people were acting irresponsibly.
21:35 Prathap Nair
Um, well then any, disruption to supplies, for example, here, pasta, flour, things like that, were in short supply for a longtime.
21:45 Didem Tali
I think that's a very German thing to do, to be honest.
There was this really funny moment.
There were some days they would announce a weekend lockdown on Fridays and people in my neighborhood definitely have their priorities straight.
So I'm living in front of a supermarket and, uh, corner shop that sells booze basically…and, after the lockdown was announced, there
were some people buying water and basic necessities from the supermarket, and there was a massive queue in front of the booze shop.
This was the experience and other parts of the world also.
22:32 Didem Tali
Another ritual that I had was Sebastian cooked a really fancy meal every Sunday and Saturday.
So that was pretty nice because also that was something to ritualize that okay, the week is over, now, it's the weekend.
I know you can't tell.
I know it feels like it's irrelevant, but now - good food and wine, and you can relax for two days.
So you created these little rituals for yourself?
I inspired him to dress well as well.
I mean, obviously he's German, so he doesn't have my sense of style or refined sense of high fashion, you know, but every little helps.
23:20 Prathap Nair
So, Didem, how do you foresee your projects will pan out in the future?
23:29 Didem Tali
I really don't know at this point.
Sometimes I get really upset about thinking, is this it like, is this the end of my journalism career?
Because obviously I have other things going on.
I have some plans already.
I'm finally able to work on another short documentary.
I'm following a collective of Syrian refugee women who are opening up their food and healthy eating enterprise right now.
And I'm gonna follow them.
That's going to be one project that still gives me a lot of excitement.
And I have some ongoing consulting and editorial engagements going on, which are great and stimulating projects.
But I have no idea when I'm going to be able to get back to my traditional reporting and foreign correspondence.
So don't know, really, I sometimes I try to stay optimistic, but sometimes I feel like there are careers that just stifle a cough and die.
Because well one problem is that I read that about 3000 creative jobs in the U S are being lost every day and being a
journalist, working for the English language media that's of course our careers are very much adjacent to the US economy.
So I feel like a lot of us will have to start from scratch because a lot of our editorial
contacts are laid off or gone or they are having an election coming up this year, fingers crossed.
So there is not going to be a massive amount of interest in the rest of the world, but hopefully there are always going to be interesting stories for us to tell.
And I just think that no matter what happens, we are gonna find a way to carve our own paths and do our things.
25:43 Prathap Nair
How do you think the world will look like Didem after we regain all our freedoms.
Do you have any thoughts on that?
25:50 Didem Tali
I am very worried about the implication of COVID on the authoritarianism.
It's already been a global trend that manifested in my part of world as well.
Actually, I would say we were the flag carriers as the first western nation to succumb to the increasingly rising archetype of the charismatic populist leader.
And we see that in times of uncertainty that’s a very attractive premise for lots of people.
And I describe authoritarianism as a preexisting condition for COVID to thrive.
So there is no lockdown in Turkey right now.
26:43 Didem Tali
Not right now, but I'm not sure how the cases are going to be.
I feel that the second wave is loading.
I mean, numbers are rising slowly.
I think an issue that’s as big as public health is that people just don't trust the data anymore.
They don't trust the government.
As far as I could tell Germany, for example, certain countries have allowed travelers.
And I could see that there were countries in that list that actually did way worse than Turkey
that had way poorer healthcare system and had many more cases and, um, sketchy things going on.
But Turkey wasn't in that list that was allowed.
And when I heard that I was a bit angry because I know that Germany has certain tendencies.
Sometimes I feel that Germans have hostile attitudes towards Turkey.
So I was a little bit angry with that when I heard that, because I interpreted that as a manifestation of racism.
But then I thought, sure, we have a great healthcare system and it's been handled relatively well, but they just don't trust the figures.
They don't trust the data.
Can you blame them?
28:09 Prathap Nair
Yeah, I know what you mean.
I just have one question.
What do you think the immediate future for us is going to look like for the next three months?
You think the status quo is going to remain the same?
28:21 Didem Tali
I think most of us are still going to be in the survival mode.
I'm just taking it one day, one project at a time, really.
And I am just revising my plans and my options every week.
So it's just so difficult to say how things are gonna to look like in three months, because it's difficult to be shocked nowadays.
28:48 Prathap Nair
It's like nothing can shock us anymore.
Did you see that news piece about Emirates offering funeral services for their loyalty members?
Actually I think I saw it on your Twitter when you shared it.
I thought every day I'm seeing more and more headlines that just capture that absurdity of, yeah, okay - another previously unsaid sentence in human history.
Emirates is gonna fund your funeral if you die of COVID.
That is just so late-stage capitalism.
That's late stage capitalism.
29:32 Didem Tali
That level of absurdity can only happen with this kind of a neoliberal global economy.
29:40 Prathap Nair
So yeah on that note, thank you very much for your time.
29:45 Didem Tali
Thank you so much for your interest in my millennials, cliché life and habits.
29:52 Prathap Nair
That was Didem Tali.
We will check back with her in the second season.
Next week, a couple from Hong Kong left for Canada to sit out the pandemic as the virus raged in China.
But soon enough, circumstances forced them to return to Hong Kong.
In the process, the virus they wanted to avoid caught up with them on the plane.
The story of Wenni and Dominic.
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