Before my tribal experience I would have said I was morning person. I love a spot of sleep and I would always prefer an early night with a bright start. But the reality of waking up with a film crew at the bottom of your bed changes all that quite quickly. No alarm clocks, no electricity and the responsibility of preparing the breakfast for 9 people was all a bit too much for me on my first week. I got it wrong. A lot. Waking at the wrong time, collecting the wrong wood for the fire and not putting the bedding away properly. As I woke up on my first proper day as a tribal wife it dawned on me, this small tent would my home for the next month. The women were so quiet and spent most of their time either cooking or sitting back letting the men talk.
About a week in I hit an real low point. I couldn’t get my head around the pace of their lifestyle. Ambling around shepherding the goats and camels can be slow moving. When I’d first arrived the camera crew were with us all the time, we’d be filming the first time I did everything. I really loved them being there because I had people I could be surprised with and encouraged by, I felt less afraid. There was a conscious moment when the translator was told not to spend too much time with me, it was felt that I would integrate better if I had to communicate by myself. I was getting there, slowly but surely, picking up the odd word and using sign language.
I mainly fitted in with the men, Sedat, their son, was the same age as me and quickly became my pal. We laughed and larked about a lot feeding the idea that whilst I was there I was meant to be his wife. I wasn’t a very good wife, I helped with a bit of cooking but I was more interested in the boys stuff. A few days in and I was driving their tractor up and down the hillside, Sedat thought it was hilarious that a woman was driving. He even took me shooting and I shot a magnum rifle, probably the first and last time I will use a firearm. At the beginning I was everything I was in the UK, loud, opinionated and showing off in front of the camera.
But something had to change, I wasn’t there to be Sedat’s mate I was there to be a tribal wife and the women certainly weren’t sleeping, eating and messing around as much as I was. It was time to become one of the women and gain their trust. For me this meant coming out of my comfort zone. Before living with the Yoruk, I couldn’t cook, I had no experience of preparing food for anyone but myself. My tribal mother Janet along with her daughter Aysel helped me learn to make bread and clean up. This is where the whole experience changed for me. My most embarrassing TV moment is crying when I couldn’t make bread, people were laughing at me. But I needed that. The experience wasn’t about adventure like it was for Bruce Parry it is about the reality of what it meant to be a Yoruk woman.
Once I got to grips with the pace of life and expectations, we longed for moments when the men would be gone. I remember when they had gone to town we had a whole day to ourselves where we listened to music on an old radio, dancing and laughing. One thing’s for sure: I’m shit at Turkish dancing. But actually it worked in my favour. Being bad at everything was really funny, all of our humour had to come making mistakes because we had no language for making excuses for ourselves. I slipped, dropped and fumbled my way into being a tribal wife. Goats were slaughtered in my name and another was born and named after me. I herded camels and got the evil eye from a man at a wedding.
When I’d arrived I was immediately stripped of the UK clothes that I trotted up the mountain in, I was to cover my hair, arms and legs at all times. If I was to fit in I wasn’t to even wear my own pyjama’s to bed and being on the mountainside without a shower all the shower gel and shampoo in my backpack became obsolete. It’s surprising how quickly you get used to not showering. The only time I washed my body was about 3 weeks in before a wedding. I was handed a bucket and took a stroll of the other side of the mountain for my privacy.
Of course I got completely naked and, enjoying the mountain air, soaped myself up singing a bit of Kelly Clarkson (I spent a lot of time singing when I was on my own, only later to hear that the sound traveled down the valley to the production camp). Whilst standing their starker’s, out of nowhere a motorbike with 2 men on appeared over the otherwise deserted mountain plateau. Surprised, I laughed and waved. These chaps stayed with us for the following week, staring at me as if I was an alien, only the 3 of us knew they’d seen me naked. I have no idea who thought felt more uncomfortable about it, but it was probably them.
Looking back at the footage it seems as though I was in a faraway land. But in so many ways the lessons I learned from the Gok family were things I needed back home. I never had a family like that to look after me back in England. I can honestly say I have never felt to accepted and so loved. Saying goodbye was tough, wonder if I will ever see these people again. I hope so.