Building a bridge


“Judy O’Bannon’s Foreign Exchange: TURKEY Bridge Under Construction”

7:30 p.m. Nov. 27

WFYI (Channel 20)

She traveled to India and returned with a TV show about the “oneness” of us all. In Serbia, she looked at how people in a war-torn country retain their culture.

And now, following her trip to Turkey, former Indiana first lady Judy O’Bannon attempts to build a bridge between their culture and ours with a show called “Judy O’Bannon’s Foreign Exchange: TURKEY Bridge Under Construction.”

“We were going over there to build a bridge,” said Gary Harrison, who produced the 30-minute program and was part of the Indiana contingent that visited Turkey for 10 days in July. “They need to get to know us; we need to get to know them. There are poisonous stereotypes in the air. How do you get rid of them? Face-to-face encounters are the best way.”

O’Bannon, Harrison and others took the trip at the invitation of the Indianapolis-based Holy Dove Foundation, which promotes understanding between Muslims and Westerners. What they found in Turkey, which is 98 percent Muslim, are people who “live at a crossroads, at a mingling place of different cultures,” O’Bannon said. “And they have for generations.”

“What does that mean when at one time this was the center of all Christian spiritual belief in the world and now it’s 98 percent Muslim?” she asked. “What does that mean when people run up against entirely different thought and a nation is transformed?”

During the trip, they recorded people praying in a mosque, mingling in marketplaces and enjoying life at home. They ate with a different family every night and came away with an appreciation of what they saw and heard. Among the people they’ll introduce viewers to is a politician who does calligraphy and the staff of a Jewish museum in a country where Jews make up 1 percent of the population.

Turkey straddles Europe and Asia, and O’Bannon said what surprised her most was “the openness of the religious cultures.”

Harrison was impressed with “the warmth and the gentleness of the people. I guess the trip worked for me. I have very warm feelings about all these people. It’s bad to be surprised by the goodness of people, but I guess that’s what I’d say.”

O’Bannon and Harrison have been working together for several years on her WFYI show “Communities Building Community.” In the beginning, they traveled around Indiana to find people doing good work. They’ve branched out more recently to show how people in other countries live and think. Their next stop is Moldova.

The goal, O’Bannon said, is to get viewers “to start talking and asking questions. I think ideas are exciting. I think this presidential campaign got people talking ideas more than we have for a long time. I don’t want it to stop. Learn new things. Ask questions. Dare. Risk. Think.”