They say great analysts are not taught, they are nurtured. Over time I have certainly been nurtured by the best. Beyond the camera, lights, make up rooms, high heels and news headlines I knew I had much more in common with Asha Tanna when I first co-analysed news headlines with her in London.
I had long admired her intergrity, focus and balance in discussing grassroots issues with particular focus on vulnerable groups around the globe. When she let slip of her Tanzanian roots and her background in primatology, we were off chatting away about our love for scuba diving, travel and our cultural backgrounds. Asha talks to me on Tribal Sands:
DG: Asha you have a long standing career in journalism, can you tell us how you got into it?
AT: I actually wanted to be a scientist when I was at school. I loved chemistry and was fascinated by lab culture believe it or not. I had aspirations to work in disease research but my passion started to waiver when I was assigned to a different chemistry teacher who sucked the joy out of science for me. It took more than 20 years for me to return to science. I signed up for a Primatology Masters at Roehampton University and graduated in 2012.
I’ve always been curious about the world and a love of writing pushed me towards wanting to be a print journalist. I began working for free for various newspapers and publications from the age of 15 during school holidays to try to build a portfolio and to get some work experience.
There’s no point having all the qualifications if you have no real experience in the workplace. Basics like turning up on time or learning to work in a team and watching and absorbing from more senior people is vital.
DG: What have been your most memorable moments in journalism?
AT: There’s no one particular moment that has stood out. Everyday continues to be exciting and a challenge even 17 years on. We are in an age of 24-hour and breaking news and as a presenter and correspondent you have the great privilege of covering stories as they unfold in front of you. There is no better job.
DG: We share a passion for wildlife, you are of course a qualified Primatologist, what led down that road?
AT: Career evolution. In this game you have to be able to adapt if you want to survive. The financial crash happened. As a freelance journalist I saw my income dry up overnight. It was worrying I could not get enough shifts to make ends meet in print, radio or television. At first I contemplated leaving the industry altogether but then decided to re-train in science to try to get a specialism. I had no idea if it would work out. But my plan B was to use the new qualification in some way if the journalism work didn’t pick up.
DG: You travelled around Tanzania this year, a trip you described as a ‘right of passage’ why was this trip important to you?
AT: I am half Tanzanian-Indian. My father was born and grew up in Mwanza until the age of 17. He arrived in Britain in the 1960s where he settled. It was important for me to visit the country he is from.. I wanted to share my adventure with him virtually and through photos as he was unable to make the trip with me. I love Africa. I have been going back and forth to the continent for many years. It was just a matter of time for me to hit TZ. 2015s trip was phenomenal. I went on safari in The Serengeti, hiked Kilimanjaro to the summit and went diving in Zanzibar, Pemba and Dar es Salaam.
DG: More and more women are embarking on solo travels, equally there are some risks associated with solo travel particularly in some countries, what would be your advice to women travelling alone?
AT: Every woman travelling on her own should be careful no matter where it is. I don’t believe there is such a thing as a safe country. Opportunists are everywhere. I have certain guidelines I have set myself to make sure I don’t put myself at risk and have a more enjoyable adventure.
Here’s my top tips:
- I read up as much as possible about the place I am visiting. I usually take a guide book which has good local maps inside it. Book some cheap clean digs for the first 2 nights so I can get my bearings.
- Where possible I try to find contacts before I leave who know people on the ground in case of emergencies. Email them ahead of the trip or try to meet/call them when I land.
- I store the numbers of the British Embassy or Consulate in my phone.
- I don’t drink alcohol.. Bottle water only so my drink is never spiked.
- Nightlife is shelved when I travel unless I make a travel buddy I trust. I usually make sure I am back at my digs or close by when night falls.
- I always pick rooms with a secure door that locks and that’s no higher than the second floor in case I have to jump out of a window (fire, break in, terror attack).
- Head torch is with me at night and close to hand incase of a power cut.
- A good book when I need to switch off
- Nail brush to scrub hands clean so I don’t get sick when eating food on the road with my hands and hand sanitiser same reason.
- Bandana to cover my face from traffic pollution/bad smells/ swarms of flies if you’re in the rainforest/ also keeps the hair out of my face and sweat off my neck.
DG: London, Paris or New York which city would you settle in?
AT: I currently live in Istanbul. But I would love to live in Asia for a while and somewhere in Africa for at least a year. Out of the three cities listed New York would be my choice, it is as diverse and multicultural as London. I am a Londoner so been there done that. Paris is fun to visit but not sure I could cope full time with the French way of life (too much smoking for a start!)
DG: You have now moved to Istanbul, one of my favourite cities not least because it crosses 2 continents. What has been your experience of the city?
AT: It’s been a very mixed bag to be honest. Visiting a city is a completely different experience to living in one. It is a beautiful city with incredible architecture but I have found personally that the attitude here is more Middle Eastern than European. Time keeping, drawn out bureaucracy, no one speaks English and as an ex pat you are over charged for many things not least rent.
It is not a city for the less intrepid. And I have to say it can be incredibly lonely if you are over 35. It is a young person’s playground. It is very hard to meet locals in my age group because the vast majority of people do not speak English and live out of the city centre in the suburbs.
DG: What have been your experiences of travelling as a vegetarian around the world?
AT: Well firstly I am an aspirational vegetarian. I will eat meat now and again and I do eat seafood. I generally stick to veggie food when I travel as there is less risk of food poisoning. I want to eat more plants and less animal bi-products for both ethical as well as health reasons but it is not always possible. One way to ensure this is to cook and I do a lot of this at home.
DG: Nothing beats the experience of seeing African gorillas in the wild, what was your experience of these magical extinct animals
AT: I went to Rwanda to see the mountain gorillas in 2014. It was a trip of a lifetime, not least because it coincided with the 25 anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. A country ravaged by war and healing from its mistakes.. The mountain gorillas are a critically endangered species to see them in their natural habitat was a dream. The group I trekked to see was Susa. 39 individuals with twins among the infants. It will stay with me forever. Equally a trip to Congo allowed me to glimpse orphaned infant gorillas across a river where they are cared for by NGOs. Seeing animals in the wild is one of the most incredible things any human being can do. I’ve been spoilt over the last few years I ticked off grizzly bears, a blue whale, leopards, Asian elephants, organutans and gibbons all in their indigenous countries.
DG: Favourite music.
AT: Music depends on mood, but sometimes there is the need for silence too.
DG: Asha thank you for talking to me on Tribal Sands
January 2016, all rights reserved.