I admit, I had sort of a panic moment at the beginning of the week. Too many things to arrange on very short notice, and they all seemed impossible to begin with. I complained to my colleagues at the office: ‘I was hired by an Indonesian TV crew to arrange all sorts of things for them to film, but how can I arrange for them to shoot in top tourist attractions and on all sorts of other locations in one week? There is nothing even scheduled for tomorrow! Why did I say yes to this job?’
Well, the fact was, I did say yes, and I had to at least give it all a shot. It was Monday afternoon. I decided to call the Istanbul Park racing circuit again, to ask if they had arranged anything yet for the TV crew to come. No, no permission yet, but they would definitely call me soon. Yeah, right. And Aya Sophia? I learned on Monday morning where to get the official permission and that it would take three days to get it. I called again. ‘I need it sooner, what can I do?’ ‘Send an email to the boss, that might help.’ Yeah, right.
I decided to call the TV crew and meet with them, to talk about what would be possible and what would not be possible. But then an email came in from the boss of the Aya Sofya press office. Attached was an official letter giving permission to film inside! All I had to do was call a man called Halil to set a time. I called this Halil, and he said: ‘You can come tomorrow morning at 9 o’clock’. Hurray! Then a phone call came in: Istanbul Park. If the crew could be at the circuit at 3 in the afternoon, then they could drive at the circuit and interview the general manager. Would that be acceptable? You bet!
And then it all came together quickly. I again called the Aya Sofya press office, which is actually the press office for many historic sites in Istanbul, and asked if the boss could get me urgent permission to film in Topkapi Palace too. Yes, an hour later the official letter was in my mailbox. Belly dance show? Few calls: yes, your crew can come tomorrow night! Interview with an actor? Come to the theatre and you can interview him after the play!
Mind you: it’s essential to speak Turkish. Not only because not everybody speaks English (not even all educated people) but also because it’s just appreciated. I did most of it without help, may I mention that? I even did some interpreting during the recording of interviews.
Many people think Turkey is a crazy jungle of bureaucracy. And even though I don’t have the worst bureaucratic experiences here, I was afraid bureaucracy would kill me. At first because of the time pressure: the crew contacted me five days before they arrived in Istanbul, and the list of things to fix came three days before that. Second: usually I arrange things for my own stories, now it was for others, who relied totally on me to make their expensive trip a success. Luckily I could quickly find out which procedures to follow to arrange what. I reached the right persons, and doors opened relatively easily.
Another nice example was the Grand Bazaar. The cameraman couldn’t even enter without permission when we just showed up. But I did send a fax to the Bazaar’s management, and I asked around in the Bazaar where their office was. Narrow street, small stairs, a heavy door, a woman behind a desk. ‘You sent a fax? On Friday? Let me check.’ Ten seconds later, she found my fax. She called security, talked shortly, turned to me and said: ‘Go ahead, no security will bother you any more.’ True: the camera man could immediately enter. When security came while the crew was filming, all I had to say was ‘This is the Indonesian TV crew’, and we got a smile and a good luck wish.
Today the crew leaves Istanbul. They fly to the south-eastern city of Diyarbakir, where they will work with somebody I recommended. Then they go to Ankara. That is, if I manage to fulfil their biggest wish: an interview with first lady Hayrünissa Gül. Hard nut to crack, but I’m working on it! Turkish bureaucracy has so far made me confident!