This is a subject I’ve been reluctant to talk about and even more reluctant to write about. Thinking about the experience gives me a little twinge of frustration, regret and embarrassment.
I’ll start at the beginning.
I once ran away from home to be a nanny in Istanbul. I was tired of college. I was bored and looking for an adventure.
I was not looking to go to Istanbul, but this particular family found me on an au pair website and we began to discuss the possibility of me moving there for the summer. My stepfather did a background check on the family. I video chatted with the parents and their two seemingly-delightful girls: ages six and ten.
“We’ll treat you like our own daughter,” they said.
“We will pick you up at the airport and show you around Istanbul,” they promised.
These were lies.
When I arrived at the Istanbul Ataturk Airport there was no one waiting for me. I had the phone number of the family, but when I tried to call them from a payphone, the call would not go through. I was stranded.
After a half hour of searching for them, I gave up, sat on the cold hard floor of the greeting area with my suitcase and cried. I don’t remember being scared. I just remember being really tired. More tired than I’ve ever felt. Too tired to be as scared as I should have been.
I was probably sitting there, attracting the wary glances of strangers, for the better part of an hour before I heard the most wonderful sound in the world: my name.
I looked up and a middle-aged man was standing over me, smiling. He was not the father. He was not anyone I recognized from the pictures the family had sent me.
“Are you here to pick me up?” I asked, hopefully.
He shrugged. “No. English. No,” he responded, shaking his head, but he was still smiling.
I stood up. “Kendra,” I said to confirm that I was indeed the pathetic girl he’d been sent to fetch.
“Ercan,” (pronounced Ehrd-jhan) he said, pointing at himself. “Driver.” Then he took my suitcase and began to lead me in the direction of the parking garage.
Yes, he was a stranger. Yes, I was told never to get in a car with people I didn’t know. But I got in the car with this man.
Lucky for me, he was not a serial killer. He actually was the family driver, and the only person in the house that I would actually take a liking to during my stay.
The family was not home when I got to the house, but the staff was. There was a cook. He always yelled at me (in Turkish) and then, when he got frustrated that I couldn’t understand, he would inexplicably offer me a bowl of cherries. There were also two maids, two other nannies (for their young son), and a gardener. None of them spoke English.
When the family did come home, they offered no explanation as to why they did not pick me up at the airport, but they wasted no time in putting me to work. After showing me my tiny cramped bedroom at the bottom of the house, I was ushered upstairs where they said they were throwing a barbecue in my honor. I should have known already not to believe anything they said.
Really, my arriving was just another excuse to throw a party around the pool with all of their friends. I barely even got a chance to eat because I was chasing around the two girls, who were immediately a handful and a half.
Over the next month, I would be put through a rollercoaster ride of homesickness, amazement at the beauty of Istanbul, and frustration at a family that obviously could not care less about my well being (even when I was nearly hospitalized due to food poisoning). What saved me from going insane was my friendships with a the other nannies in the neighborhood. They all agreed, my family was the worst.
I left too soon. Looking back, I wish I had stayed longer instead of hopping a flight back to the safety of my home. I hope to make my way back to Turkey in the next couple of years and see it through a traveler’s eyes and not a nanny’s. Next time I will do it right.