Turkey Does Not Taste Like Chicken: The Story

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Middle East » Turkey
July 1st 2008
Published: August 17th 2008
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Poverty and Boredom should not be combined in extremities....
After coming home to small Hocomo from the hip college town of Columbia MO, I was becoming desperate for adventure. It was almost eating at me like the raven maddens Poe....I had to do something. I had to make plans. What were my plans? What was I going to do for a whole summer? I need to pay bills I need to get out of here I need to stop wasting my time time time time is wasting wasting wasting I cant be bored I cant waste a summer I will go mad mad mad mad mad mad mad... Every second of changing my mind was making it worse, increasing the tension, increasing my madness....
Where and what could I do that would get me out of here but that I could do without spending money? Impossible? No....it couldn't be...I would think of something....days and nights...nights and days....
Au pairs - don't they sometimes go overseas - and get paid? to babysit? Let's research!

I browsed the site. I see a heading "We Want Au Pair For The ENGLISH!"
The family is in Istanbul. I sign up a free account, leave my email address, maybe there are more families just like them, in Greece, Italy, or Ireland, that want an au pair for the english too. And maybe they will contact me.
Two days later - I am getting emails - some from the US, one from Turkey - it reads -

Hello Tracey,

You have already added us to your list. We are Turkish family with 2 daughters and living in istanbul.

If you are 'interested I would like to know:

1) When can you come? There are regular flihts from USA to Istanbul everday.

2) How long can you stay?

3) Will you cover your flight ticket?

4) What is your minimum expected salary?


Yasemin adds me on facebook and on Skype. I get a call from her and her husband on Skype. With a lot of difficulty....I think we manage to kind of arrange something...until I tell them it would be better understood if we went through email. This is what I'm sure that we DID agree to over the phone:
-the job was 40-45 hours per week
-I offered my minimum expected salary at $200 per week
-I could not pay the flight ticket, so they would buy the flight ticket for me at the agreement that I would work off %50 of the purchase price over the period of 10 weeks.

I confirmed this through email.
I trusted them, and my basis was because they were willing to bear an expensive flight ticket on my behalf. I thought it was a huge risk on their part. I looked through their albums on facebook and they looked like a nice family. Everything matched. I even asked about the origin of her name when she spelled it differently in different emails, I asked for references, and I made sure the emails were coming from where they were said to be coming from. You know, to be safe.
I expected to be with the daughters, specifically the 4-year old Melis, most of the day, have the evenings and weekends to myself, unless I chose and participated to be around the family, after all, I would be living with them! Wouldn't I be spending every night there? Wouldn't I be speaking english and looking after the girls all of the time while I was there and their parents were not?

So I left in about a week or two...St.Louis-Cincinnati (missed a flight - delayed a day - lost my cellphone)-New York (5 hour rain delay -c/e missed flight)-Milan(another 5 hour rain delay c/e missed flight)-Istanbul(lost baggage)

I arrived at midnight a lot lot later than expected and Yasemin's husband had waited at the airport (surprised he was still there) to pick me up in his Mercedes.

He was what I expected him to look like, his name was Hakan. He drove me through the greater part of Istanbul. He told me much of the history of Istanbul, asked if I was familiar about the Byzantine Empire, pointed out the many mosques, buildings and palaces. I asked him what he did and his eyes heightened and he heightened his shoulders up behind the wheel, "What do I do" he rhetorically stated. "Well Tracey I am the Director of one of the largest companies in the world Borusan Mannesmann....." la le laaaa boring.... I think he said something about manufacturing pipes and he's a contractor for finding materials for the pipes around the country and the world. He pointed out the place he worked, in the midst of the financial capital of Istanbul, told me we would be at his house in 20 minutes but his commute through traffic in the morning would be about 2 hours. eek

He asked me what I thought about Istanbul that night. As we crossed the bridge packed with fisherman in the moonlight, the lit up mosques, valleys and hills with random lights still on and reflecting on the sea - there's no doubt "I am young, and I could be saying this too soon, but I think this must be the most beautiful city in the world" I could feel him beaming with pride.

The next day, I woke up from my bed in the corner of the playroom, walked out of the bathroom, and ran into the housekeeper and almost gave her a heart attack. I didn't know what to do because Yasemin and Hakan told me she doesn't speak any english. But she stutters out "He he Hell-o How are you?" in a thick Georgian accent.
Melis was at her last week of school that week and I only got to play and speak with her in the evenings. Alyssa was an adorable 1-year old, so I helped the housekeeper, Samil-RA! take care of her during the day. Yasemin and Melis would both leave at about 8 in the morning, and Yasemin would return at about 6-7 pm. And when she got home, she was going to take me out to see things. Poor Melis hardly got any sleep, I don't know how she made it through the week, Yasemin would wake her up to go with us, and we would return back at about 12 or 1 from getting ice cream or walking around the bay.
I wasn't sure the relationship Yasemin and I had. She seemed very nice and like a friend. But she was always complaining to me about Samilra, about how she could never do anything right, how she said she was clever, but she was always breaking things, and she thinks she could hurt her children, and how she thinks she was "sick" and "something is wrong in her head". This bothered me, cause I liked Samilra and I thought she was being really overworked. She was reliable, she knew how to take care of things around the small apartment, and she was up when we got up and up when we went to bed, but was always nice.
Now, girls gossip to get closer to a person...and I was thinking, maybe this is just Yasemin's way of trying to connect with me and be my friend. But then I kept thinking and worrying that she is not going to her friends that speak Turkish and saying the same things about me to them. Maybe she is telling them that I am ignorant and sick or lazy because I don't speak Turkish and I don't always understand them or what they expect of me.
I just had this feeling that she was trying to be on my side, but for her own advantage.....I don't know.
I guess it also bothered me that it seemed she was a different person, the person that was yelling at Samilra, and the person that was talking sweetly to me.
The first week Hakan showed me what he would pay me: about $117 per week, and he asked if I would like less than that (meaning he wanted to know if I would like him to save some money for me). That's very kind, ...but no thanks. Would I like them to hold my passport or my computer in their safe? NO thanks, I'll hold onto it. That's very kind, but I might need to USE it.

My Birthday! Friday the 13th! 21 years old!

Wow....who else gets to turn 21 on a Friday the 13th...I consider that pretty lucky!!! I've been looking forward to this for years! That's one reason why I spent so long deciding whether or not to go to Turkey....I would miss all my friends celebrating with me on the perfect day. It only happens once in a rare person's lifetime! But the day was pretty much normal...for a day in Istanbul...hahaha I did tell Samilra it was my birthday. And Yasemin sent me an e-card. Yasemin bought me a chocolate cake, and Yasemin and Hakan bought me a travel book about Istanbul. It was after midnight when we got back from wherever ~ and I was exhausted laid down on my bed. Then Yasemin knocks on the door and says "Tracey! Chocolate cake!!!" So I had to get up and go to the living room, while she tried to wake up Melis, who was in a very deep sleep, and ended up carrying her to the living room. Yasemin lit some candles..we waited...I had to make sure Alysa didn't hit herself on the table (they warned me several times), Alysa picked up a candle and hot wax went all over her arm. Alyssa was screaming cause of the hot wax, it was late at night, Yasemin was mad at Samilra again and yelling at her in the kitchen, Melis was still sleeping on the couch, it was 1 oclock in the morning - past my birthday (in Turkey anyway) - and I just wanted it to end. But 30 min. later they brought in the cake, and after some pics, and blowing out the candles twice, I could go to bed.
Well, I imagined it could have been better...but Oh well, I'll pretend the next Friday the 13th is mine....

So by this time, I had found out there were rules for me. I had one day off a week, which ended in the afternoon. I couldn't go out in the evenings unless it was with someone they gave me permission to go out with; and that only person that first 3 weeks was Yasemin's brother Olsan.

They paid me the first 2 weeks. The third week we left Istanbul for Antalya, to visit Yasemin's relatives.
This was really awkward for me. But I tried to play games with Melis and her cousins, but if Melis didn't understand me she got mad and would hit me several times, so I got fed up with it, grabbed her hand, and slapped her. Then she ran to her father. I immediately got attacked for hitting his child, and it must be something that I am doing wrong in order for her to want to hit me.
But then her mother came to me with a different opinion: I had every right to hit her back, but she said she had talked to Melis and said that she had given me permission to grab and sink my nails into her arm everytime she ticks me off.
Great job, cause then Melis took to doing that to me INSTEAD of hitting me all of the time. I had scratches all up and down my arm.

The rest of the vacation with Yasemin's relatives was morning to night, breaks from the pool to go to the playground, and meals were "Tracey, can you eat quicker???"

After a week, we left to go to the beach resort at Sidye for another week.

Melis wanted her hair braided like mine. So I braided it and it looked very cute. But she started screaming and crying. Which was getting everyone's attention who was trying to relax at the beach. Her parents saw and immediately assumed I did something wrong so I tried to tell them. I was actually fed up. I was very tired. I said "If I acted that way in public, my father wouldn't take me anywhere."
Hakan says "How do you feel now?" (Strange question, I know...)
"Embarrassed..." I said.
This got us into an argument of which I just ran away, crying. I couldn't take anymore. The arguments are never civilized, they start to attack me as a person, they attack me personally, and harshly, and rudely. I just couldn't take it. Actually about every day of that week I had spent crying at some point, away from them though.
I think they found out. They started to let me have a little bit more freedom, starting at 12 am - 2 am, and then from 4- 6 pm and still the 12 am - 2 am for the beach nightclub. I wasn't getting days off anymore though, but I didn't bring it up, cause I was on vacation with them. I hadn't gotten paid for the last two weeks either, but we were on vacation. I could not WAIT to get back to Istanbul!

One of the days, I was watching Melis in the kiddie pool (I was in there with her, but she had been in there a long time.) She was stepping out of it, and then she noticed her foot was bleeding and started crying. She didn't want to put her shoe on, and didn't want to walk, so I picked her up and carried her to the other side of the resort, to the doctor. When the doctor finally came, she put the gross yellow/red stuff all over it and stuck a band-aid on it. Melis still did not want to walk. My shoulders and back were aching - she is not a small girl! But I carried her to the ocean where her parents were. As soon as Yasemin saw her daughter and her foot, she slapped her face!
"Why did you slap her?!!"
Yasemin says, "Cause she must have been doing something wrong to hurt herself."

The next day, Hakan had reserved a lounge chair on the boardwalk, but it was the boardwalk strictly for children aged "16 and older". When the authorities came over and said that -because of Melis and Alysa - we could not be on the boardwalk, there was a bunch of arguing in Turkish between Hakan, Yasemin, and 5 other authorities. At one point, Hakan turns to me and says, "Soon, I want you to take them to the spot where Melis hurt her foot in the pool."
The next day, instead of reserving, we just went to the other boardwalk and took a Belgium lady's lounge chair. When she came for it, Yasemin sat back on her lounge chair, soaking in the sun and drinking her diet coke, and argued her to the point of tears, that since she did not leave anything personal - hence "risk and return" - she did not deserve the chair. The Belgium lady just gave up, shaking with anger, after Yasemin called her some names...

The Climax ~ Finally!

After three weeks of no pay - no days off - I finally got up the nerve to mention it. With all others in the house gone, Yasemin came in to speak with me. She said that she and Hakan were afraid that I was going to leave, so there was a need for different arrangements. They wanted the money of the flight ticket that they had paid to bring me there. Therefore, they talked and decided they would continue paying me once I had worked off the flight ticket. As for days off, perhaps it would be better to take a day off on Tuesday or Wednesday, and they could arrange someone to go out with me, and they could give me permission to have Olsan (her brother) go to the beach with them on the weekends. We could work something out, I could be happy.
Yasemin has a way with giving a sweet smile and acting pleasant. We started to chat, I hoped things could be less tense, I really wanted them to be. But we got in a discussion about her friend's au pair. And I didn't think it was fair. They never never let her out of the house. And I told her it is the same with the housemaids, I don't think it is fair the way they treat them. They are up when we are up, I never see them sleep, always work, always called on. It just wasn't fair.
That's when she said, "Leave then Tracey. Get on a plane and go home."
"Okay." I said. So I started packing my stuff. While she sat there in the same position, and stared me down, her face noooo longer pleasant AT ALL.
I was really nervous. "Will you just sit there as I pack my stuff?" I ask, daringly.
THATS WHEN she LUNGED at me! I was scared out of my mind at her so I was actually going to grab the necessities and get out of there. She was screaming "GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!!! TAKE NOTHING WITH YOU!!! YOU CAN SELL YOURSELF FOR ALL I CARE!!!" She GRABBED my arms and tightened them against me. Trying to fight against her, to get loose, she was trying to get my purse and my phone. I was refusing to loosen my grip so she used her mouth and started biting and knawing at my hands. I let go, pried one of my arms loose, and hit her across the mouth! But it didn't work, she moved like a rock and was twice my size in weight. I managed to run, run, run, out of her house, while she screamed at me " YOU HIT ME!!! NOW I CAN CALL THE POLICE! YOU WILL GO TO JAIL! YOU WILL NEVER GET YOUR PASSPORT BACK! I"M CALLING THE POLICE!!"

At this moment- I have never ever ever ever - and I don't think I ever ever will be - I hope not - been this scared- I'm surprised that I did not pass out from being so scared, from not being able to breathe, or from taking so many short breaths - I could not even cry.

I ran to the 4th floor of the same apartment building. My only hope and chance was with Olsan, Yasemin's brother. I knock frantically and they open the door; I must have been frantic because Yasemin's mother yells "OLSAN!!!" Olsan comes out, and I run to his room. Yasemin comes and pounds at the door. I lock myself in Olsan's room. I hear screaming and yelling in Turkish. Yasemin yells things like "I SHOULD CALL THE POLICE!!", she is yelling at me to come out. I run into Olsan's bathroom and lock the door for double protection and start pacing back and forth back and forth back and forth and praying praying praying. Yasemin pounds at Olsan's door, I don't know whether she says "I AM GOING TO KILL YOU" or " SHE IS GOING TO KILL YOU" either way, I'm still scared. Olsan is yelling at her, I hear pounding, rumbling in the hall, glass is breaking - really! GLASS is breaking! Olsan is protecting me!!!

I am just praying praying to God, God save me please. God save me. If you save me, If I will see my family again (I feared I would never see my family again, being so far away, and me being in SO much freaking trouble!) I swear I will put my passport in a safe spot and never travel again......

After she gave up, I suppose, from what I could hear from the bathroom. I stayed locked inside there for another hour or so until I calmed down enough to confront Olsan in his room. I stayed there for another hour or so until Hakan came home. He talked with me in the living room.
I wanted to die I was so nervous.
He wanted $500 before I could go home, and he said he would hold my computer or my passport until I gave it to him. "It is your choice."
He continued to say such things such as "Who do you think you are? We do not trust you...you are an evil bad person...We are better than you, I am better than you...."......and I just had to bite my tongue.
As soon as I got to my computer, to call my parents and tell them I had to get home ASAP, Hakan entered the room and demanded to speak with them.
He sat down with an egotistical era as he told my father "Yes, are you Tracey's father? I am going to say a few points of the situation and I would appreciate it if you would just add a "yes" or an "mm" now and then so I know that you are listening.."
I was furious that he was talking to my father in that way, and worried about what my mother was thinking, that she was probably dying of shock and speechless, for he was negotiating with me like a calmly and smoothly like a terrorist (or like that German movie "Funny Games"~that was his tone of voice). (My dad told me later that he made my mother leave the room.)
My dad was sending me money the next morning and I was to leave right away. (I would have been out of there that night if possible, but I was up the whole night on hold with the airline, trying to change my flight itenerary.)

When 8:30 came, (Western Union opens at 9:00), I went to the bank and paced in front of the doors until they opened. But then I needed my passport to recieve the money. I had to go back to the apartment and ask Yasemin for my passport. She refused to give it to me until I told her I needed it to get money. Then she demanded that she drive me there, when it was 2 blocks away. The last thing I wanted to do was be in a closed area with her so I insisted on walking, so she said she would take my computer then and ran back into the apartment. I went anyway, got the money, and returned, but Yasemin had left. A little relieved, I gave the money to her mom and went for my bags, but then found she had taken my computer.

I left anyway. I was getting out of there, I hadn't slept or ate in 48 hours and there was no way in HELL I was staying in that house!

I went out in search of a phone, and a lady in a supermarket let me use the phone for one call. I called my friend Attung, but not recognizing the number, he hung up. I sat down in a cafe and ordered a drink and kindly, desperately asked the waiter to lend me his phone. I called another friend Sahin and briefly told him what had happened, where I was at, where I was going. He said he would get somebody to pick me up, but I told him I had a hotel in Sultanahmet, and I had a flight leaving in two days.
I went out and negotiated with a cab to get me to the European side of Istanbul so I could take the tram to Sultanahmet. I got off at Sultanahmet with all my bags and looked for a cheap hotel (It's the cheap part of Istanbul, but also the touristy side, so I thought I'd have the best chance there.) I rented a night at Hotel Atlantis, took a shower, and tried, but I couldn't sleep.
I walked around the area, reminding myself again how beautiful Istanbul was, changing my state of mind. This really was the best side of it. I soaked in everything. But.....it's not a good place for a girl to walk around by herself. I went back to the hotel at 8:00 and slept until 8:00 am the next day. It was the last day in Istanbul and I needed to get my computer back. I had about 20 lira....not enough to get to the other side of Istanbul and back. I got on the train to the port - 1.5 lira - and then took a boat to the Asian side - 1.5 lira.
When I got to the bus station, I asked where Bagdat Chadessi (Bagdat Street) was. An official looked certain he knew what I was talking about and put me on a bus. I looked around places that were familiar to me, until....we started going on the bridge, back to the European side. I asked the bus driver for a pen and paper and wrote down "Bagdat Chadessi".
He looks at me and motions back the way we came, and I nod...
He was a great excellent amazing bus driver man though. He found english speakers on his bus to translate between us, and I went on all of his rounds with him. He even took me to Istanbul University, illustrating that I should bend down when we go by police because I have "no passaport!" - and he showed me around to the farthest point he could, before the security guards could come after me.
We tried to communicate nonverbally, and I gave him the number of a friend that I was trying to get to on Bagdat Street. He called him on his cellphone! Attung's brother picks up the phone! But then we lose his call! The busdriver looks at his phone and says "Bite!" ("Finished" - His phone doesn't have any more minutes.)
But luckily, Attung's brother calls back and they jibber in Turkish....we get back on the bus. When we make it back to the station, I wait with the bus driver and a security guard in an office until....like a dream~ I see Attung!!! I am so glad to see him!!!
He has arrived with a friend, and then we pick up Ismet. Just hours earlier, I felt I was the loneliest person in the world, and now..... I just felt really lucky.
But we had to get back my computer. I called Yasemin from Attung's cellphone and with his support, apologized and admitted I was wrong for everything, and if I could please come by and pick up my computer and say goodbye to the kids.
I was shaking as I went to her apartment. She opened the door, handed me the computer and immediately started "Tracey, I just want you to know, that I think you are a very very sick person. You are sick. You need to see a doctor Tracey....." I just nod and try to get in an apology when I can, for being sick. Meanwhile-
Melis comes up to me and hugs me, smiling, she is glad to see me, I am glad to see her. I really will miss her. I tell her I have to go home and tears well up in her eyes. Alysa is squealing and keeps grabbing me and hugging me around the leg. Melis glares at Alysa and pushes her off (they are always fighting for attention 😊 ). Alysa starts squealing and spinning around in circles. Melis and I look at her and laugh, then Melis smiles at me and says "She's crazy! Alyssa is crazy!"
This really sets Yasemin off, to hear Melis speaking english, and the kids looking so glad to see me. She says "You know Tracey, my friend's au pair, they told her if she wasn't happy, she could leave, and she said she was very happy."
I said "Good for her."
"No! I believe you! She did a good thing though Tracey, and you did a bad thing! You should have lied, you should have said you were happy. We could have been happy together. WE could have been HAPPY!!!" she screams.
I can only agree and apologize again and again and again as I take leave...

I get back in Attung's car and we go to one of their favorite hang-outs and meet their friends. I love that I am with Attung and all of his friends, Sahin, Ismet, everyone, but I'm just not feeling that social...just kind of, really really depressed.
But it was good for me to be there with them. They showed me how to make a pipe, a hookah, and we smoked different flavors like peach, apple, and cappuccino. We were there all night, and then Attung's friend Kerem, gave me a ride to my hotel to pick up my bags, and then drove me to the airport and saw me off, and wishing me a quick return to Istanbul. :*

On a last note:

I want to return to Istanbul one day soon!
I really really really miss Melis and Alysa!!! ;(
I want to wish the best to Samil-RA!!! in Georgia now~ We are praying for your country! Miss you Samilra!!!

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