There were once five photographs on the wall of a cubicle.
Washington DC, 2010: I’m 23 years-old, working my first salaried job. The company inhabits the 20th floor of a dimly lit office building. Other than our organization’s staff, I only ever see military personnel ride the elevator. It makes me wonder what happens on the other floors. My office is windowless, dark round angular room. And my desk is tucked onto one if its side. It’s a pseudo cubical that positions my back towards every other living being. I feel like a horse with blinders. Or a falcon wearing a hood. Work days almost always go beyond 12 hours. And I don’t mind. I live in a youth hostel and I’m in no rush to return. For breakfast I eat a bag of carrots. For lunch, a bag of english muffins. For dinner, a bag of popcorn. My life feels like the ingredients of my meals. Bagged, uncomplicated, and flavorless.
Everything, except for the the five photographs hanging in my cubicle.
Eastern Turkey, 2009: For safety reasons, the bus drives in the middle of the road. Weather, time, and neglect have eaten the sides of the highway, biting chunks out of it like ants would to toast. The center is what remains reliably whole. I’m riding a local community bus called a dolmus (which in Turkish means, thing that has been stuffed). I enjoy the slow pace and the time it affords to think. This is the second year of my Fulbright scholarship, and I’ve been awarded an opportunity to present my research in rural universities along Turkey’s eastern borders. The dolmus skirts Georgia, Armenia, Iran, and Iraq. Police stop us at check-points every few hours. They ask to see our passports. I stare out the windows in a trance, snapping photos of the countryside, the shepherds, the fields upon fields of bee boxes. When I return to Istanbul, I print out my photos and assemble them in albums - to say thank you to my teachers and friends. Five of the photos I tuck them into a book to keep for myself.
We fast forward, to an ice-breaker before a team meeting in 2010. The prompt is: “if you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be?”
My mind jumps to the five photos hanging in my cubicle. There are certainly better places than these photos. Places that aren’t covered in snow nine months a year. Places with smooth roads. But in that moment, I can’t think of those places.
Each teammate takes their turn. They say, a beautiful beach town in Mozambique. I see one of my photos, an ancient 1,000 year-old ruin. A family cabin. I see another photo of a tent surrounded by beehives. It’s my turn. “I’d be living with nomadic beekeepers in Eastern Turkey,” I say out-loud.
And that’s it. It’s the first time I experience what it’s like to proclaim something utterly ridiculous to a group of people. And then have that thing completely consume you. Five months, several anxiety attacks, and one assignment in Egypt during the Arab Spring later, in 2011, I move to a small city in Eastern Turkey called Kars. How I get there is its own story, involving bird wings, a vulture restaurant, and the Hunger Games. But what ends up happening, is I start documenting ancient beekeeping traditions and the honey lore of the historic Silk Road. I receive a National Geographic Explorer Grant. I launch a honey tasting trekking company. And I proceed to live in the region for five more years.
From there, it’s a longer story. And I might tell it to you sometime. There was a cheese and honey mafia, the secret police, protests, friendship, loss, bears, a Suzuki, the not-so-secret police, military zones, the world’s largest statue of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, borders, love, heart-break, mud volcanos, a car accident, a train, an investigation, a wedding, a marathon, the desert, medical training, depression, a kestrel, so much honey, and my final return six years later back to Denver, CO. The truth is, maybe three people in the world know the whole story. But last month while staring 2,000 feet down a canyon wall in Utah, I decided I will try to tell it. And it’s all because of you.
Denver CO, 2018: Now we’re here. I run House of Pod, a beautiful podcast production company, podcast incubation hub, and educational center right in the heart of Denver. We’re out to build a better world through better listening, and we’re doing it by creating extremely supportive and openly accessible recording studios and working environments for aspiring and active podcasters. We offer trainings, consultations, and full production packages for companies and individuals interested in helping to have their stories heard.
Outside of honey hunting and five photographs in a cubicle, I’ve had some remarkable professional opportunities that have prepared me for my current role. I’ve had the pleasure of working for the Aspen Institute, Unreasonable Group, Re:Vision, 350.org, WorldBoston, Narrative 4, Ashoka, National Geographic, and my own company Balyolu: The Honey Road. I’ve also had the chance to produce and consult for Gimlet Creative, PRX, Radiotopia, and This is Love. My jobs have always involved storytelling and creative direction in some way, and I remain bent on increasing awareness around the environment, conservation, social justice, and the great cosmic wonder that is the human brain.
So, if you have a story that you need help telling, drop me a line. I can’t wait to hear it.