Driven Crazy
flexibility, humor

Driven Crazy


It became apparent to me the first time I lived overseas that things would go smoother if I took myself less seriously. Thinking of my daily objectives as immutable, acting as a focused, determined American, was simply not working. In the Yemen Arab Republic, and to a lesser extent in Costa Rica, it did not matter if I mailed a letter today or tomorrow, finished a report this week or next, set up a meeting in July or in August. By being insistent, I was only making myself unhappy. The best plan was to approach each day with a tentative agenda and be pleased if a third to a half of what I wanted to do actually got accomplished.

I carried that wisdom to Turkey, but every new country provides unexpected challenges.

Sankar has a full-time driver assigned to him. This young man picks him up in a leased, black Mercedes Benz each morning, navigates European Istanbul’s narrow streets, crosses the traffic-choked Bosphorus bridge to Asia, and delivers him to his 3M office. Sometimes Sankar has appointments during the work day, but often Umit is free from 9 am until 5:30 pm, when they reverse this journey.

“Do you need Umit today?” Sankar will ask me. “He isn’t doing anything.” Indeed before I arrived, Umit often told Sankar he was bored, eager for more to do. I knew when I got here that, in addition to getting settled and building a new life here, I would have to help Umit fill his work day. And that is how I acquired a driver.

At first, it wasn’t such a big deal. I was shopping for sheets, towels, storage containers, clothes hangars, and quickly discovered that the best place to buy them was at IKEA, located some distance from our apartment. I didn’t know how to get to the grocery store. Umit navigated the highways, walked the byways of IKEA with me and taught me the Turkish words for important food items (basil = feslegen; the “g” is silent)

But now my major shopping expeditions are finished and my daily routine has become quite mundane. Each day I get up, write and answer correspondence for awhile, and then I like to go for a run and perhaps get a few groceries. There isn’t much else to do; like many other European countries, Turkey is now in vacation mode. Language classes, a professional women’s group, even job hunting, will not start up until September, and the high humidity discourages me from doing much exploring.

I need a car to get to the health club and the grocery store, and that involves a driver. Umit drops me at the door of the health club and waits outside for me, surely sweating more than I. At the grocery store, he is happy to push the cart for me, and he bags the items while I pay and carries them out to the car.

Although Umit always tries to open the car door for me, I usually beat him to it. And I generally refuse to let him carry my groceries up to our third floor apartment. Two impulses are at work here, my ancient feminism and my newfound concern about seeming old and frail.

I tell Sankar that I feel silly making Umit come all the way from Asia each day so I can run a mile at the club. Sankar doesn’t understand; he was raised with servants. For him, Umit represents transportion to Work, but when I use a driver, I hear my mother’s voice, “Who do you think you are?”

We could purchase a car for me, and I wouldn’t have to be driven around. But parking spaces are almost nonexistent; everyone tells me the same thing, “You can drive here, but you can’t park.” The one time I drove to a shopping area not far from our apartment, I found a tiny parking slot in front of a high-end beauty/makeup salon and was obliged to go in and purchase something (a tube of lipstick: 58 Turkish lira, about $40) before leaving my car there.

I could take a taxi, although that would also be hiring a driver. Or I could use public transport and walk from bus stops to my destinations, but that is considered highly variable and inconvenient, and we’d still have the problem of keeping Umit busy.

Today it hit me that I have invited a person into my life to a far greater degree than I invite most people back home. I will be with Umit nearly every time I go out in Istanbul for the entire time I live here. For a moment I felt a kind of trapped despair.

But flexibility is the name of the game for me here. For now, I’ll try not to take myself too seriously, but I’ll do my best to view my daily errands as worthy of the full-time salaried attention of another human being.

2 thoughts on “Driven Crazy

  1. Sue, consider Umit part of the “gift” you’ve been given to help you learn more about the world. I remember when I lived with a family in Germany back in 1974, they had a driver and a housekeeper. It felt very odd for these people to “wait on” me, and I shared the same weird feeling you’re having now. Tara

  2. When Gauss’s parents lived in South Africa, a woman who cleaned other homes in the neighborhood contacted them as soon as they moved in, asking for work as a housekeeper. Like you, Gauss’s mother had no job and no children to take care of and felt awkward about hiring someone to do something she could do very nicely for herself.

    The woman was persistent, and Luisa eventually caved. Luisa got used to it, and the woman was really happy to have the income. So next time you feel uncomfortable, look at it from Umit’s perspective: decent income and nice people to work for!

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