A DAY AT THE KONTOR
Trip Start Jun 20, 2008
22Trip End Dec 18, 2008
And so, I began my latest job, in Turkey, working eighty hours a week in a restaurant which no customers come into. Here is a sample, taken from one day of work, of what I do there:
At five p.m., after my afternoon break, I show up for my seven-hour evening shift. There are no customers. I wash all the dirty glasses that have accumulated in our bar.
Our restaurant is in Kemer, Turkey, a modern town full of bored tourists and busy workers and a lifestyle that makes you desire a lot. There are walled-in hotels, beach chairs that cost $4 to lay on, aggressive salesmen hassling people to buy things, girls in swimsuits, Turkish studs with their hair gelled up pointily, unhappy businessmen showing off their Mercedes's and self-grandeur, and lots of cigarette smoking, and lots of loud, clunky music.
In my relatively peaceful restaurant, I pour myself juice. No customers. I put on one of my favorite rock CD's and listen to it in its entirety.
I put on salsa music. Its positive beats contrast with the harsher booms of Kemer's pop/electrical scene. Ferhat, the youthful pizza-baker with skin like Arabia's sands, comes out of the kitchen. He steps his feet past one another, and turns a 360. He dances like he, himself, is a groovy wave of the music. His smile has stars on the ends; unlike most Turks I've met, he doesn't drink alcohol nor smoke and would probably prefer to drink tea at a street cafe somewhere.
I eat my dinner, which consists of potatoes in a sauce, eaten over rice. Then, our first customers come in.
First, the waiter Shuqru goes to talk to them.
This nineteen-year-old, dark-purplish-skinned boy gels his hair up in front and out in the back, so he sometimes resembles a fish. He only speaks Turkish, but he smiles his adorable, big-nosed smile with everyone. He holds little, Russian girls' hands to lead them around; he gives shoulder massages to male Swedish guests; he has me draw elaborate tattoos on his biceps; and he has conversations with people he can't talk to.
Now, he turns to me and waves downward, motioning for me to come. I reach the customers, a young couple either from Russia or Great Britain or Northern Europe. Shuqru is a master at understanding the Turkish customers, but I help him out here. The couple says it wants two glasses of Merlot.
I'm the barman in addition to a server, but I'm a bad barman. Do we even have a Merlot? I'm not sure, but I think that's a red wine. I couldn't tell you the difference between a Merlot and a Cabernet, and maybe even a Monet. I think one of them is a painter, though. "We have that," I tell the couple.
Shuqru and I, for help in serving our two customers two drinks, turn to a third server: Bulent.
Bulent - unlike Shuqru; unlike even Ferhat, who used to be a quick-fisted, lightweight boxer; but like most men in wealthy Kemer - knows that personal validity is often weighed by financial success or how many Russian girlfriends one has had. But, twenty-three-year-old Bulent is still just a student and a server. Thus, he lays low and acts cool. He's chubby, with powerless eyes, like a teddy bear. Revealing bear-thick chest hair, he keeps his top button unbuttoned. But, in the 100-plus F broiling heat of Kemer, he constantly wips sweat off his face with napkins.
It takes the three of us a full three minutes of searching in our small bar, to find the wine. Then, we argue over how to serve it for two more minutes. I suggest letting the couple taste it first, Shuqru shakes his nose and chirps in disagreement, and Bulent points out to me that the cork is floating in the bottle. Shuqru serves it his way. Is a Turkish house wine the same thing as a Merlot? I don't know. After a moment, I check on the wine-sipping couple, "Is everything all right?" whcih probably wasn't necessary.
In comparison to waiters in the efficient United States, we don't get much done. I guess that's why we get paid $700 a month to work 300 hours, only about $2.50 an hour. We're given places to live, but they're tiny and full of people.
We do get free food and drink, however, in Turkey. ... and, come to think of it, restaurants in the States only pay their servers $2.50 an hour, too. Also, working in Turkey is fun.
At eight, a Ukrainian named Helen comes in. She's our fourth server/barwoman. She's very funny. She recites Russian poetry with the pride of a schoolgirl, and she flirts with the giant frog we have standing in the front of the restaurant. When I asked her what her hobbies are in Turkey, she said, "Working at Mr. Frog Restaurant," because she'd make much more money in Ukraine.
At nine, our boss comes. He's a very good boss. He puts on some reggae music.
"Can you give me, give me just a little smile. That's all I ask from you. (Is that too much?) Sunshine, sunshine reggae. Let the good vibes get a lot stronger." - reggae song
Hopefully, a lot of customers will come in tonight!