Two things happened in rapid succession: 1) Vera was born and 2) I was given notice that I had been fired from Izmitkilbasa University for not returning to work. The notice that I had been fired came in an email that confused me. Returning to work? But I was not supposed to return to work until mid-July.
In the week before flying back to the United States, I had met with the Dean of Arts and Sciences expressly to have a form signed that would extend my maternity leave 30 days beyond the government mandated four months. The thirty days were a part of my contract as they were annually-given vacation days. I had left the form with her to sign and in that meeting she also indicated to me that my contract would not be renewed.
"Full-time will be a lot for you with a new baby. Why not part time?" she asked.
"Well, I would like to work full-time."
"We have had 9 full-time faculty go on maternity leave this year alone. It's hard on the university. I would suggest you think seriously abut part-time."
She was trying to prepare me, but what abut the form? How stupid I had been about that form? I found a photocopy of the correct form but without her signature. Idiocy, I should not have left the form with her, but should have insisted on her signing it then and there and then personally walked it along. What had I been thinking?
"Yes, I will take care of it," she had said, but she had not taken care of it.
Drafting my response letter had taken some time. My father, who is a retired lawyer, had helped me draft the thing, and I was proud of the result. We had many facts via email correspondence to verify that when I had left Turkey repeatedly in emails to our department head, to the Dean, and to HR. I had said I would return in mid-July. This missing form was a technicality on which they sought to hang me. In an email they had also claimed that I had missed a departmental meeting, but in all my email accounts, I had received no notice of such a meeting.
When Vera and I came back to Turkey, she was just ten weeks old and the rising credit card debt loomed large. Would the Turkish government really pay me four months of my pay or would there be some bureaucratic hitch that I could not get out of, some blasted form that I had neglected to fill out. I called HR more than once and was reassured that all the proper paper work had been completed.
My levels of trust of those around me had dropped to new lows. There was a running commentary of criticism for Vera not being breast fed. Would you like to breast feed at your parents' house with your father working in an office next door? I felt outraged that Mustafa and his friends would even deign to criticize me. If Mustafa had just asked the friends to leave, then maybe I would not have gone back to the States to have the baby; then, maybe I would have had Vera in a more comfortable, more private living situation.
Mustafa's roommate, Huseyin, had a girlfriend who spoke English after spending a few years in Ocean City, Maryland. She loved children and was available for babysitting whenever. Babysitter? A babysitter was the last thing I needed or wanted. I just wanted enough money to stay home with Vera for another six months. Once the maternity leave money came through and I paid my debt, perhaps I could live cheaply enough as long as I could live cheaply enough, as long as I could contain my rage against Mustafa. Much of it was unfair, but so much of it was unbridled and uncontained.
"You need to save, save, save--now is the time, because you don't know how you will feel when the baby comes, maybe you won't want to work, maybe you will just want to work part-time, who knows?" said Mustafa.
Everyone was talking to me in a new way than before. The distance between me and other people had narrowed and people who before did not seem to care too much now had an opinion on my and my baby's well-being.
Another popular thing to give advice on was the dangers of leaving the windows open. July in Istanbul, and there is not a Turk around who does not stop to tell me that leaving multiple windows open in the apartment is dangerous for the baby because of the cross breeze.
There are even some who race through the apartment closing the windows if Vera and I are there alone. But Vera is usually below window level, so she is not directly in the cross breeze. Huseyin's girlfriend is among those closing windows and talking of how bad this is for Vera. It is odd and confusing to experience this synchronized view of baby care when in the U.S. the battle over how to take care of a baby is anything but synchronized.
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