Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Natural Disasters and the News

When you live overseas one of the first things that you may notice (I did) was how inaccurate or ego-centric North American media can be.

When I lived in Korea, I got worried emails and calls almost weekly about the riots (I worked directly across from the National Assembly my first year there and the worst their riots ever did was cause me a delay in getting home, no worse than the spring Cherry Blossom Festival) or the constant threat of kidnapping or bombing from North Korea (which was mostly posturing by one side or the other to look meaner than the other). News reports made it seem to most North Americans that Korea was a place of serious unrest and that it was just a matter of time before I died from it all as a lone white face in the crowd (there are multitudes of foreigners living happily and safely in South Korea, by the way).

When I moved to the Middle Eastern country of Oman, I also got regular calls and emails worrying about the imminent invasion or danger (this was right around the time of the second Gulf War... please excuse my ignorance in not knowing which Operation it was... I'm Canadian, not American and not all that interested in the technicalities of battles etc, instead I simply worry about the folks involved and am grateful for their sacrifices) from the anti-air firing of one kind or another. Sure, times were more precarious and I was in the Gulf region, but I was way down in the south of it and my sweet lifestyle wasn't altered a bit. I wasn't treated less for being North American or white... I was respected as a woman and a foreigner and I loved being there (would move back in a heart beat if the opportunity arose). Media in North America planted a seed though that ALL the Middle East was oppressive and dangerous. It just wasn't true and I STILL find myself defending the beautiful people I met there.

Now I live in Turkey and some of the attitudes about the people are similar to that of Middle Eastern people (which Turks are not, by the way. They do not consider themselves Middle Eastern and, in fact, they are much more aligned with Eastern Europe than the Middle East). But that is not the biggest misconception. The biggest so far is that Turkey is a small place. It's not. Turkey is a HUGE country. Just the past Sunday, a massive but shallow earthquake struck the Van region in the east of Turkey (most news agencies led with the headline that a massive and destructive earthquake hit Turkey and my inbox got flooded with concerns. I know, I know... the public is also responsible to educate themselves and should have looked a little more deeply, but it wouldn't hurt the media to at least mention that it was in the far east of the country). Van is more than 1,000 km from where I live and I didn't feel the slightest tremor. I also didn't feel last year's closer earthquake in Sivas (I was in the air on my way to Antalya at the time). Nor did the bombing that happened in Ankara (my actual city) hurt anyone I knew nor was it heard or felt anywhere near me (although, that did shake me up more as it was closer to home for sure).

I guess what I am saying, folks, is that when the news throws some scandalous headline your way, PLEASE read a little deeper, find out a little more before you panic. Also, I'd like you to think about how you can help the victims of the earthquake in Van. Connect to the Turkish Embassy or Consulate in your country and see if you can do something, donate money or find out if international organizations are helping out. Turkey is mobilizing wonderfully, starting blood drives, clothing drives, medical drives, food drives and so on. The area that was affected is very close to the Iranian border and it is VERY cold in the winter. Winter seems to be coming early this year and tens of thousands of people are currently without homes, clothes and basic survival needs. Even my students are pitching in, we are helping to spear-head a drive for basic needs at school with the fifth grade. We need more help than just this country and her loyal foreigners can give. Please send aid if you have the means or the time at all.

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