If I’d stayed with my first job in Turkey as the cultural attaché of the Consulate-General of the Netherlands in Istanbul, things might have turned out very differently, but I made the ‘faux pas’ of simultaneously publishing the odd article in a newspaper. Soon I was told I had to choose: diplomacy or journalism.
I embraced a new career writing about this turbulent country and its neighbours at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. And, (naively, I admit) I did not anticipate I would witness much human cruelty and violence, given and received.
The 1991 Gulf War had just happened. I travelled to Iraq and drank in countless new impressions. The helplessness of the refugees from Saddam Hussein’s regime was quickly succeeded by a great period of Iraqi Kurdish hope, their first free elections, then strife and bloodshed. Kurds in Turkey rebelled, and were crushed viciously. That same period also saw the exhilaration of the Soviet Union’s collapse, which quickly yielded to fear, hunger and displacement. Overall, the 1990s were a miserable time in this part of the world.
As a young journalist no doubt I made many mistakes. The biggest one was to think that all that I encountered would not have any impact on me.
I stood with people in front of their burning hovels, while they tried to rescue a few blankets and clothes. I remember villagers’ faces, distorted with fear when soldiers chased them out of their houses (followed by me, running after them with my camera, my heart in my throat, unable to take any picture). I waded through rivers with refugees, their belongings packed on a donkeys’ backs; gave away my winter coat to others when they were knee -deep in the icy mud. I jotted down the words of parents, devastated by the discovery of the tortured body of their son on the banks of a lake. A whistle-blower was blown up by a car bomb the day before I was to interview him. When the window of my Istanbul home were rattled by a blast and I saw huge columns of acrid, yellow smoke go up -suicide bombs- I pushed my 6-month old baby into her sister’s arms to run to the places of devastation as everyone else ran the other way. And there is much more.
In hindsight, I must have exhausted my capacity for taking in other people痴 sorrow in the 1999 earthquake in and around Istanbul, which buried more than 40,000 people under the rubble of their badly built apartment blocks. But I didn’t recognise it, no. I kept on working for another ten years. I now see how my reporter’s work became more and more of a struggle. I also see how, during that same decade, I tentatively started looking for methods to heal the collateral damage from my life.
Dealing with issues old and new, made me recognise that from a young age on I’ve been wide open to other people’s troubles. I always internalised them and then tried to solve them. In fact, that’s how I approached journalism too, as a way to help solve the problems of the subjects of my stories.
When I finally quit journalism there were practical reasons, of course. Child rearing and reporting are hard to combine. I had already published two non-fiction books about Turkey, and now I felt like doing something new. I started writing fiction, a childhood dream. My debut novel, Happy Hour, appeared in Dutch in 2009. I published English-language short stories and a children’s book. My second novel, De Nederlandse Bruid (A Bride from Holland) is coming out this Fall. And I’m working on an English language novel.
I’ve had to learn to write fiction, which is very different from writing down the facts. But I have also invested time in healing. I’ve gone through any number of methods and therapists. Along the way I decided that I’d be my own healer. I mixed and mashed the various remedies I went to study: Neuro-Linguistic Programming in Istanbul, EFT, Leo Angart’s sight training in Hamburg, Nick Arrizza’s Mind Resonance Process, Peter Grunwald’s Eye-Body method, lectures by neuroscientist Dr. Candace Pert, cell biologist Dr. Bruce Lipton, an introduction to psychology from Prof. Paul Bloom at Yale, and, in Barcelona, my current favorite set of mind-body work tools, Dr. Bradley Nelson’s Emotion and Body Codes. I found my way by studying, experimenting and synthesising. And it has worked. I am happier now than I’ve ever been. Above all, I can listen to other people without immediately being swamped by their emotions. Not because I have a protective shield around me behind which I hide. No, I feel stronger, better defended within.
But guess what? I still want to solve other people’s problems. Or rather, help them solve their own problems. A small but growing stream of people, referred by others who’ve already come to see me, have begun to ask for my help. I feel grateful and privileged when I can relieve pain, mental blocks, relationship problems and a range of other issues for my fellow humans and, believe it or not, animals too.
So, in a way, this posting marks my coming out. I am relaunching myself, in my own mind at least, not just as a novelist but also as a trouble-shooter in the psychological and psychosomatic field. I have experienced first hand how mind and body influence each other, so that’s the principal interface on which I work.
There you have it. Once, reluctantly, I had to decide between writing and working for a government. This time, I don’t want to choose. I write novels about conflicts between people, and work my magic to try resolve those between mind and body. Yes. Conflict is my business. Still.