the luckiest of unlucky days
29.1.10 - 2.2.10 0 °C
There are four kinds of jobs in this world: the Usual Suspects, the Fucking Awesome, the Plain Jane, and the FMFLIWTD, or 'Fuck My Fucking Life, I Want To Die.' The Usual Suspects are what children dream of being but few of us do: doctors, lawyers, teachers. The Fucking Awesome are what adults dream of being but few of us do: travel writers / photographers, professional food critics, pilots on international airlines. The Plain Janes are the jobs most people have, the ones we stay in for too long and complain about: office jobs. You know the type. The latter category is rare but important because the FMFLIWTD jobs are so appallingly horrific they cannot be grouped into any other category. Importing electronics into Turkey as a non-Turkish-speaking, blond female falls into this category.
It is a very specific niche and one that requires bewildering forgetfulness. Leaving a laptop at home before moving to Istanbul for an academic exchange was the shining moment that defined me as Unfit For Life and catapulted me into the Turkish importing business.
The best comparison for this field is opening a bank account in India, with one important difference. It is chaotic, the pace seems frenetic yet somehow nothing is accomplished, and they take all your money (the crucial difference being that in this case you don't get your money back).
The Turkish bureaucracy surrounding the import of electronics is so complicated and confusing that it would be comical were it not so expensive. I will elaborate. In order to allow my laptop into the country one of the preconditions is that it is opened, inspected, and approved for import. This requires piles of paperwork and approximately two hours of listening to Turkish men discuss things (which sounds an awful lot like fighting even when discussing happy things like kittens or sunshine), paying for my mess of documents to be officially stamped, taking said mess across town (remember we are talking about the second largest city in the WORLD here) so my package can be inspected and my mess signed, going back to the building of fighting Turks to show them the signature, purchasing a release form and paying more arbitrary fees, then going home. Although the process is far from over it is past working hours and there is no more I can do.
This unpleasant process takes DAYS. It is not over; it may never really be over, because just when you think you understand what is happening, why it is happening, and the next steps, there are more. Oh, I have to go back to kargo to pay for another signature? Oh, the man whose signature I need isn't here? Oh, you need me to promise my first born child? Whatever - take him - I just want this to be DONE.
Add to the suffocating bureaucracy and impressive disorganization the fact that this amateur importer is a blond female, from Canada no less, who speaks enough Turkish to order a meal, say it's delicious, count to ten, and then leave. In this case my being blond and pathetic worked in my favour and kind souls stepped out of the blur of paperwork and arguing men to help.
Note: blond hair is like catnip for Turkish men. They love it and will do anything to be near it. This, and the fact that the Turks are one of the nicest and most helpful people I've encountered meant that while traumatic, this process was possible. Without my angels I'm sure I'd never see my laptop again.
As mentioned, the process of becoming an electronics importer in Turkey is not short. The bureaucracy took three full days of my time in Istanbul and the stress probably took a year or two off my life expectancy.
Day 1 had me in the rain at airport customs with a letter I'd received from FedEx written in Turkish, which actually told me to go to the Kargo office across town. Damn you Babblefish. Enter Angel #1 who drove me there, spoke to them on my behalf, took me to the ATM so I could pay the first of many fees, then drove me over to the Asian side to the suburb beside mine so it would be easier for me to get home. He eased me into this nightmare with patience and Turkish bread that he bought while we were stuck in traffic, all the while when he should have been at work. His English was poor so we passed about three hours in his car flipping through my English - Turkish dictionary and miming our thoughts. You don't get much more angelic than that.
On day 2 I was more prepared and brought a Turkish friend I'd made on the weekend who could help me and my mess of paperwork navigate the system. Neither of us were mentally prepared for the utter tsunami of bureaucracy that lay ahead. Despite his frustration, Angel #2 was gracious enough to refer to me as a lucky charm because people went out of their way to help us, including another ride from airport customs to the Kargo office and back, and a pair of Fantas while we waited there. He realized the irony and made a more fitting comment: I am a lucky charm for everyone except myself. Awesome.
Day 3. The tsunami has passed. It is time to clean up and move on. Back to Kargo solo for one more necessary signature (but it's free this time!). I will hand over some more Lira then collect my laptop and leave this place and short-lived profession forever. Unfortunately, I need a signature from a man who is not here so find myself writing this account to pass the time while seated at a large desk behind the counter where the other importers are forced to line up. I am being served complementary çay and kahve while I wait. It's been two hours. The end may finally be near, insha'Allah.
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The signature goes on the yellow form. I don't have a yellow form in my mess of paperwork. Men are exchanging worried looks and tsk'ing at each other. Fuck my fucking life, I want to die.
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The man signed the red form instead. Hearing Tamam. Finished. causes a rush of endorphins that makes my knees go weak and my eyes well up. That moment redefines my notion of relief. Of all my angels I think that man has done me the biggest favour with that small decision.