I thought the offer of free room, food and drinks in exchange for work at the hotel in Kusadasi, Turkey sounded too good to be true.
There were so many warning bells going off in my head when I accepted the job, and unlike the good (and safe) traveler I normally am, I ignored every single sign.
The owner of Otel Panorama, Murat, needed help. I needed to not spend money to get me back on budget. I accepted the gig in order to have two weeks being money-free.
Instead, my time in Kusadasi ended up being the most stressful week of my life. I felt scared. Alone. Unsure of who I could trust. If I could trust anyone.
The day before I started my job, a group of us from the hotel went to a restaurant at Murat’s recommendation. Claire, a red-headed Aussie who he had tried to get to work there, and two girls from the Fez Tour and I walked down to the water at sunset to enjoy dinner.
As the sun lit the sky fire red and orange, we sipped on drinks and dinner, breathing in the Aegean town’s beauty.
It was there I met Ashleika, a great girl from Wales who had worked at the hotel and who had been fired by Murat after two weeks. His excuse? “It’s not working.”
Reality? He had wanted her and she had wanted someone else. When he found out, he canned her.
It was also there I met Mustafa — his brother owned the place — and he walked around taking orders and hitting on his female clientele.
(Mustafa is another story …)
As we were leaving, he produced a card and handed it to me, explaining since I was working for Murat, I would get 50 percent off all of my tabs.
Well, damn. That’s a good deal.
I walked back to the hotel that night with a smile on my face. I was excited to spend two weeks in Kusadasi. I was looking forward to meeting cool travelers, not spending money, and unpacking my bag.
Everything is not as it seems.
My first day of work sent shivers down my spine.
Murat had gone out the night before with Claire and a few other people (he liked her and wanted to do lord-knows-what with her), so he slept nearly the entire day, leaving me to fend for myself.
About midday, he woke up, reeking of booze, white shirt buttoned wrong and gaping at the belly, beady eyes barely opened and slicked back hair, grimy.
He told me to go and get lunch on the terrace, and grabbed my hand to lead me up the stairs.
Ugh, holding my hand? Gross.
“Let’s take the elevator,” I suggested.
He held my hand tighter, guiding me with a little more force towards the stairs.
“Murat, it’s six flights of stairs. I have a bad knee. Let’s take the elevator,” I said again.
He refused, leading me up the steps.
As we rounded the second flight of stairs, Murat (who has a wife and child that LIVE at the hotel) cornered me.
I could smell the alcohol seeping through his dirty pores as he backed me against the wall, one arm against the railing on one side of me, one arm against the wall on the other, and him directly in front of me.
And then he tried to kiss me.
I dodged it, his filthy lips grazing my cheek, his hand ruffling my hair.Then, I continued walking up the stairs, ignoring it when he smacked my ass.
Anger shot through my veins.
Hit him, D. Slap him across his gross face. Tell him to F off.
I did none of those things. Instead, I resolved that if he tried anything again, I would fight back, and then quit.
But, the groundwork for my hatred of him had already been laid. Every time I looked at him that day, my face betrayed my calm, shooting him looks of disgust.
Working there was ruined.
The next day, I had planned a World Cup party on the terrace.
After six hours of working during the day, Murat told me I could leave for a little and go relax. I went straight to the restaurant to find Ash. She was someone I could talk to. Someone who, even though I barely knew her, would listen.
After an hour sitting seaside sipping on cold Effes, I went back up to the hotel, promising after the game I would come back down and hang out with her.
We had about 10 guests watching the game. I served them beer, making tick marks on a sheet of paper each time I popped a cold one and delivered it to the futbol viewers.
We all had drinks. It was fun.
After the game, Nathan, a sweet guy from Australia, and I decided to head out to grab another drink. We stopped in at the restaurant to say hi to Ash (and Mustafa) and have a quick drink. When Mustafa invited us to the beach, we declined.
“No guy invites someone to the beach at night without motives,” Nate said. At first I didn’t think it was true, but later I realized just how right he was.
I came up with some pithy excuse why we couldn’t go, and then Nate and I headed out to some discos on the aptly named Bar Street.
He and I danced until the wee hours of the morning. Then, we headed back to the hotel and grabbed a beer on the terrace.
Nothing happened between us. Unless you count curling up on the cushions together.
I knew better than to sleep there, so I retreated to my room at 5 a.m.
The next morning, I went downstairs to start work.
“Good morning, Boss,” I said, plopping down on the seat next to him outside.
He wouldn’t look at me, he just smoked his Marlboro Red, staring out into the street in front of us.
“Did you have breakfast yet?” He asked.
“No …” I began.
“Well, go eat breakfast and then go pack your bags and move out of the private room and into the dorm.”
“What? Why?” I questioned him.
“It isn’t working,” he said.
“What have I done?” I asked, anger and frustration leaking out of my body.
“You are not on holiday and you are acting like you are,” he replied.
I questioned him some more and then realized it wasn’t worth it. I wasn’t going to fight for a job I didn’t even like with a boss who was clearly shady.
I went to my room, gathered my stuff, moved everything to the dingy dorm room and went back downstairs so he could fill out my passport information and I could pay him for the three nights I spent there before my “employment” started.
“You gave away drinks last night.”
“What? No, I didn’t. I would never do that.”
“I know you did. You didn’t mark down everyone’s drinks.”
We went through the tabs and I argued. Fought for myself. Not because I wanted to work there, but because I wanted to show I was honest and would never cheat him.
He was having none of it.
I left, tears spilling from my eyes, and headed down to the restaurant to Ash and Mustafa.
I needed someone to tell me I hadn’t done anything wrong.
I re-told the events of the morning to Ash who had said my getting canned had nothing to do with my work and everything to do with Nathan.
“That slime ball has cameras on the terrace. He knew you two were up there. Once you were with him, he figured you were worthless to him.”
It made sense.
Mustafa announced he was going to take me to the beach for the afternoon to get my mind off of the drama at the hotel. I agreed. (Again, the Mustafa story is coming … soon).
After we returned from the beach I went back to the hotel and messaged my parents and some friends, telling them the story. When I re-told it, it didn’t seem so bad.
Except things would only get worse …