»I really can’t understand buying shoes while in quarantine«

Between March and June 2020, Jean-Jacques Rousseau fellow Pınar Öğünç made 35 interviews with people from Turkey, mainly workers, to write about structural problems, inequalities of their sector which became more visible in these harsh times. Five of them were translated to make them available to an international non-Turkish speaking readership.

31-year-old Nazlı works at a delivery company. The same thing happened again – we had corresponded a week ago and by the time we met, she was let go from her job. This is not a coincidence – this is how »flexible working« is experienced in the private sector during the pandemic. Nazlı talks about the precautions that were not taken, but more importantly, asks ethical questions specific to these times that we are living in. Non-essential e-commerce orders increase the virus risk for the workers in this sector and how being forced to work under these circumstances damage their souls.

What left me unemployed? Let’s just say »customer satisfaction«. I have been working in a delivery company for over a year and a half. Supermarket workers, delivery workers, we are all under risk and we are well aware of this. But no precautions are taken, nothing. Actually, the owner of the franchise I work at went to Germany and came back; she kept coming to work despite our warnings to stay in quarantine. She risked all of us, saying »I’m doing great, I feel great.« As the number of cases increased, I said, »Let’s take precautions. Let’s at least impose social distance as they do in the supermarkets.« She told me that I wouldn’t be able to impose this on the customers. On the other hand, the general management is making announcements that all the branches are being disinfected regularly. We never saw this disinfection. They sent out an e-mail on March 19, which I’m sure someone working at the general management sent from home in their pyjamas. The e-mail said that we were serving the public just like the health care workers, we were doing something sacred. Kind of back patting. They wrote »sacred« in red, which I found to be infuriating.

»The young are trying to make a living! The young are in factories, at the bank, at the delivery company, at the supermarket. The young are bringing death home.«

Shortly thereafter, everybody received a mask and a pair of gloves. One set! We later learned that the general management was selling these to the branches. The packaging for shipping is sold to the branches – the masks and the gloves were treated in exactly the same way. You are completely at the mercy of the manager of the branch. We received rumors about workers getting sick at different branches. But you look and see that people at that location are still working, they are still open.

And if you could only see what we deliver at such a time. Clothing, shoes… Can you believe I experienced something like this: Someone bought a pair of small sewing scissors and they wanted to return it because they were not satisfied with the color and they asked for a courier to be sent to their home. People are so ruthless, so selfish. I was fired for something similar. A customer came by to return a dress she had bought. She came in through the door, already complaining. Someone directed her to the correct place. »You all have the virus, how could I come over there,« she said. Apparently we have the virus. Then you should not come. I was talking to my friend next to me and I laughed at something. She started screaming, »How can you laugh at me.« I naturally defended myself and my manager came. The woman, irritated, said, »Quickly, fire her.«

When the woman left, the manager told me this would not work out. She said I was very aggressive. »We are under risk. Dresses or whatever, we are serving people’s luxury, we are all feeling tense,« I said. We come to work every day as if we are going to our deaths, we carry death in our hands, if the customer is stressed, then we are even more stressed, we are even more tense than the customers. The next day, another customer came by – I didn’t have a phone number for this customer so we couldn’t get a hold of her and the shoes she ordered could not be delivered. Although I calmly responded to her, she began to yell at me, »Don’t treat me like an idiot, of course I know that.« Then my manager called me over and told me that I was fired. The worst part was that I worked for two more days after I was fired. I wanted to finish off the month so that my paycheck would be paid in full. Those two days were horrible.

My colleagues who are doing the distribution are treated like this all the time. They are treated like they have the virus, people tell them to drop off the parcels on the ground, they are sprayed with disinfectants. This is what is absurd. If you are so tense, then why are you ordering things. There is an application, »Dolap« where you can buy things second hand, a lot of people are using that application nowadays. If we were delivering medical supplies to hospitals, I would say yes, we are doing something for humanity. Then my job would be sacred. But no. They are selling their children’s old toys. I really can’t understand buying shoes while in quarantine. I left this line of work but there are thousands of people working in delivery services. People should not do shopping just for the sake of it during this time, they should comprehend that.

I’m 31 years old. I have a sister who is 25, we live together in Istanbul. My family is in Adana. My sister was also working at Migros, a supermarket, and I asked her to leave her job. There are thousands of people you encounter in a day there, we could not take the risk. Now both of us are unemployed. We could not expect anything from the family, they are both retired. We were able to sustain ourselves here. I could pay a month’s rent and the bills with my last paycheck and the rest is dark. I know that the rate of unemployment will be fifteen times what it is now. That’s why I said that I would work despite the risk. We could not go back to Adana even if we wanted to because of the travel restrictions. We are stranded here without money.

They are playing with our mental health. How could I stay home? I would go to work with two transfers, if they look at the street at seven thirty, they would see people rushing to work. The metrobus is crowded. I see people trying to sell simit and flowers on the empty streets, people living off of daily wages. Those staying home, the 30% are doing online shopping in quarantine. The class-based discrimination has become so manifest that it is not an issue of health, it is now a class conflict. That’s what it feels like to me. The minister says, »The young should stay at home.« The young are trying to make a living! The young are in factories, at the bank, at the delivery company, at the supermarket. The young are bringing death home. We are the baits that have been laid out, we are the ones who should be infected with the virus and die. But we are going to keep the economy alive until we die! The government does not want to stop the e-commerce, you see it. They even gave a tax discount. This is the case everywhere.

»Shortly thereafter, everybody received a mask and a pair of gloves. One set!«

I studied to become a construction technician. I actually wanted to be a theatre actress, that’s what I had come to Istanbul for. It didn’t work out because of financial concerns. I did things that would keep my economy alive, not myself. I worked many jobs including jobs as a construction auditor, real estate agent, sales associate, waitress since I was 20. I think the cost of living in this country is fatigue. Unable to see tomorrow, I don’t expect anything from the future. This virus picked at old wounds. The economic difficulty, unemployment, all of it. I had already lost my hope in this country and the people here, I was never able to be on the same boat as them. I have already given up on my dreams. This is why I don’t want to be quiet when faced with injustice, I want to speak up like this…

The day we spoke, the number of cases was 18,135 and the number of deaths was 356.

*The unforeseeable state of emergency launched by a virus with a global reach, has made visible the already-existing inequalities of capitalism, deepening the gaps; many say that nothing can remain the same after this. Is that true? Why would everything not remain the same? While this order of things, which owes its existence to colonialism, sexist divisions of labor and precisely that deep inequity, has our souls and bodies enveloped, just like this ominous virus – is it possible to recover from it? Women, men, workers, clerks, the unemployed, the white-collar workers, the blue-collar workers, those claim that the era of »collars« is over, freelancers, those working from home, those still working, those being forced to work, those in quarantine, those who cannot see their future, and those who are fatigued by what they see in their future. Why did we begin this long series of articles? Because we need to hear each other’s voices, to hear about each other’s troubles and to look for our remedies through and within the remedies of others.


Translation by Merve Unsal