F*ing clueless

Nothing is predictable. This is something I should know by now. I used to marvel at people’s ability to navigate the seemingly impenetrable public transportation system. How did they know? How did they learn?

I used to think that this knowledge was something written into the Turkish DNA code. Kind of like Turkish women’s ability to wear towering heels day in and day out with no clear impact on their feet’s wellbeing. Or perhaps, the Turkish male’s genetic predisposition to çay. I swear their bladders have, over millennia, grown to accommodate pots of black çay.

Maybe not. The more Turkish I learn, the more I realize that people are as confused as I am. Elderly women ask the dolmus driver if his route will take them to their destination. They’re occasionally surprised (as am I) by a diversion from a normal route, to which the driver shrugs and says something vaguely translating to “Tough shit.”

At work, I used to think that I was the only one who spent her days wandering like an overmedicated mental patient through the labyrinth of rules, paperwork and unwritten understanding.

I have just come to realize: I am not alone.

I don’t know what to make of this revelation. I have a deep pity for my friends here, who like me, spend day after day, clueless. We wait in vain for shreds of information that inevitably trickle down the rumor mill. And, while their command of Turkish gives them the opportunity to obtain bits of information that I simply can’t access alone, they are rarely better informed than I.

Because I always assumed my obliviousness was due to my (poor) Turkish, I constantly asked questions. I dug through emails and spent hours on google translate attempting to piece together the fragments of office policy/politics that sat idly in the bowels of my spam box.

This past month there was an election at my university. Every five years or so, the administration changes. The incumbent must run a campaign and defend his/her position from potential usurpers. And, the time has come here at my university for a changing of the guard.

From top to bottom, the old are out and the new are in.

The former director of my department is a comical, lighthearted man who, quite interestingly, decided to leave his lucrative job at a respected university a few years ago and backpack around Iran and later South America. When funds ran out, he came back and was appointed into a vacant spot in our university. That was in January.

He’s been ousted. I have not personally spoken with this new director, so perhaps its a bit early for me to say, but his initial impact has me wondering.A few days ago a meeting was called to announce his “resignation” and to introduce us to his replacement.

The new director sat stoically as our former director graciously and animatedly greeted him. He made no eye contact with any of the twenty-or-so employees, mumbled a greeting, shook hands half-heartedly and awkwardly kissed the former director, and made a bee-line out of the meeting room.

Not a good first impression.

I soon found out that the friendly Vice Rector who had advocated for me and my colleague upon our arrival here, has been ousted. As has the Rector who heavily promoted a stronger English program.

This all would have been frustrating enough, but I am in the middle of a paperwork nightmare. My American colleague, the Patient, ripped a tendon in the back of her knee, and possibly also ripped her calf muscle in addition to a hairline fracture on her knee, all in a freak poolside accident. She has been on medical leave, but there is a problem.

In Turkey, with a note from the doctor, you can take 10 days leave on an injury. After 10 days, a second report can be issued to extend the home rest. The Patient’s second leave was written as 20 days, but regulations stipulate that a second leave report can only be 10 days long. After 10 days, the Patient must submit yet another report, this time by a panel of doctors, who explain her condition and recommend her for 30 days of home rest. The problem is, our contracts end June 31 (no that’s not a typo, I know there are only 30 days in June…) Back in February, we made an effort to change the contract to reflect the end of our Fulbright grant period (and our health insurance) which is June 15.

“Yes, yes” I was told, “yes, yes we will change the date, it is not a problem.” Well, our contract currently stands at June 31, 2011. The Patient has plans to leave in just over a week, but her second 10-day leave expires tomorrow. There is no point in summoning a panel of doctors to get her 4 more days of sick leave rather than just resign and leave.

The resignation request has been met with discussions of the length of the contract. Circular discussions in broken Turkish follow a path something like this:

Me: “Yes, but getting a panel of doctors together for this is difficult and tiring. We don’t want to do it.”
Staff member: “Yes, but this is required.”
Me: “But, its not happening.”
Staff member: “But, it is required.”
Me: “What if she resigns?”
Staff member: Looks at me confused for a moment. “But the contract goes to June 31.”
Me: “Not if she resigns.”
Staff member: “She needs a 30- day medical leave report.”

Repeat loop.

It may seem I’m pretty on top of this, but it is solely due to an amazing colleague who sat down with me and the department secretary (a dear woman who has a coronary every time I break protocol… who knew leaving the country required a letter of consent from the Univeristy’s Rector…?) and the kind woman explained the situation. The one question nobody, not the department secretary, English department director, personel staff, or director of personel and payroll, could answer was: What if we just ignore the contract.

I realize that this screams unprofessionalism, and perhaps its not the best idea for me to be advertising this, but what if we just ignore the paperwork?

I was met with blank stares.

Ignore the protocol? But the rules! The rules!

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