Four days in and we are already so far from where we started. And we don’t mean geographically. Yes, we are in a foreign land, with new people and in a unique blend of culture. In Turkey, our group of three is working outside of our areas of expertise to help Doğa Derneği, a nature conservation society with a passionate and powerful mission. So, how are we so far from where we started? Well, even though we are so far from anything we know, the country and the city already feel familiar. We have all picked up some Turkish words and customs-you greet everyone with a hug and a peck on the cheek—yes, guys too. 🙂 We have a favorite cafe, for morning and evening, and we know and love the food. But most of all we have settled into a rhythm of work, as a team and with our client. Let’s talk some about our client.
On day one of our project we met with representatives of all the non-profits that the SSC teams would be working with. Engin Yilmaz, the Executive Director of Doğa Derneği was there to introduce himself, Doğa, and the project. A more passionate and unassuming personality with such understated charisma is hard to find. After the opening lunch with the larger group of SSC and clients we headed off with Engin. Instead of the Doğa office, which is a small two room apartment befitting an 80’s Silicon Valley startup, we went to a cafe in Kizilay Square, the heart of downtown Ankara.
Over the next three hours, as Engin spoke about the mission of Doğa and the work they do, multiple things happened. Our jaws dropped would be one way of saying it. Here were the three of us, coming to Ankara as veritable blank slates, never before experiencing the culture, language, and most importantly—with no ecology or environmental science background. The importance of their mission, the magnitude of their challenges and critical need for success dawned on us. This organization is both intimidating and exciting. Their passion is unparalleled. Their team is simultaneously working around local barriers to raise awareness for biodiversity and doing key conservation research in active war zones. In short, they’re an incredible organization who, with limited resources is putting forth Herculean efforts to save the fragile ecosystems and species impacted by war, negligence, hunting, and unchecked human greed.
But another realization that has struck us in the past three days is how instantly passionate we have become, not only for our cause, but for the species and key biodiversity areas we are working to protect. The simultaneously exciting and intimidating brain dump on the ecology of Turkey, the biodiversity conservation challenges Turkish non-profits face, and the unique projects they’ve taken on to save their country’s species is all put into further perspective when we learn that Turkey is only second in the world in biodiversity behind the Amazon Rainforest.
We also recently learned that explorer John C. Frémont christened the San Francisco Bay “Chrysopylae”, or Golden Gate because it reminded him of the Golden Horn, the ancient harbor in what now is Istanbul, Turkey. San Francisco, also like Turkey, has a Mediterranean climate so many of the grasses and plants here are similar to what we see back home. It seems that Turkey and our homes in the San Francisco Bay Area are entwined and perhaps that’s also why we already feel so much at home, so passionate about the important work Doğa Derneği is doing, and so dedicated to make a lasting difference to benefit biodiversity and environmental preservation in Turkey.
Even though we have very different personalities, backgrounds and experiences, we have earned a level of trust and respect for one another in a very short amount of time. Through morning power walks, dodging “taksis”and buses, collectively learning as many Turkish phrases as possible, and our ritual morning coffee and tea, our team has had an opportunity to build new friendships which has made for an easy transition to our workplace interactions. During our working sessions, we expand upon each other’s thoughts and ideas for a better output than we would have come up with individually. While we are only in the first week of our project, we all feel that we will be involved with Doğa long after we leave our home in Ankara and return to our homes in the Bay Area. We can’t wait for all the next few weeks will have in store!