Istanbul, November 1986
I had no idea what my next move would be. I was penniless,
wandering the narrow streets near Istanbul’s main post office, where my post
box did not hold a hoped-for bank draft from my mother. At the Sirkeci ferry
terminal, I bumped into an old friend. Richard was working at Bosphorus
University teaching preparatory English to first year students. His colleague,
Mr. Sunal, had a daughter who was attending a new private school, and two
British teachers there had just quit. The school had only opened two months
earlier and they were on a frantic search to find replacement teachers. Richard gave me Mr. Sunal's number and urged me to call immediately if I was
interested in the job.
I tried the number that evening and he enthusiastically told me
to contact a Dr. Godfrey, the man responsible for hiring at the high school. I
was on the phone with Godfrey's assistant at 9:00 am the following morning, and
in a strong south London accent she brusquely told me I could see Dr. Godfrey in
two days’ time. I was surprised to hear that the address she gave me was not in
Istanbul at all, but on Buyukada, an island in the Sea of Marmara, a two-hour
ferry ride away.
On the morning of the interview, I rummaged through my pockets,
looking for change, I begged Joy for a few lira and managed to scrape up the
return boat fare. I made my way to Kadiköy harbour and boarded the ferry that
would take me across the Sea of Marmara to meet Dr. Godfrey. I was worried he
would ask for a CV and teaching diploma; all I had was a fake, a letter-sized
teaching “certificate”. The fresh sea air and the cries of the hovering sea
gulls helped steady my nerves. The ferry horn sounded a long blast signaling
our approach to Buyukada and centuries old, elegant wooden buildings came into
view. They told of the time Buyukada was home to the elite of the Ottoman
Empire. It was still the summer refuge for well to-do Istanbul residents,
notably the Armenian and Jewish communities, seeking respite from Istanbul's
grimy, humid summer air.
Cars were prohibited on the island and ornate, horse-drawn
phaetons were stationed, waiting at the dock for customers. Bicycles and the
odd donkey cart were the only other means of transportation
A short walk brought me to a modest building. At the top of a
flight of stairs, I timidly knocked, and the door cracked open as far as the
safety chain would allow. A suspicious pair of eyes looked me up and down over
half glasses. I mumbled that I was there for an interview and Dr. Godfrey
ushered me in. He was short man in his 60s, wearing baggy trousers, a shapeless
cardigan and, of all things, a hairpiece; I tried not to stare. He led me
through a narrow hallway into a dingy, unkempt living room.
Papers and books covered the large wooden table, which nearly
filled the room. Heavy curtains covered the closed windows and blocking out the
sun and the fresh air. In the darkened stuffy room, I could just make out
bookcases an religious icons hanging on the walls. My host stood barely 5 ft.
tall in his plaid carpet slippers. A reddish, ill-fitting toupée topped off his
Dr. Godfrey clearly enunciated every syllable as he spoke.
“Would you caaare foooo some teeeeea?”, he asked.
I accepted, hoping there’d be a bite to eat served along with
it, as I was faint from hunger. He returned with a pot of tea with cups and
saucers on a tray.
“I could add a drop of whiskey, if you’d fancy a wee dram”, he
added enticingly. I refused, knowing that even a sip would incapacitate me. I
drank my tea slowly and nibbled on the one dry biscuit he’d placed on my
I hadn’t had a job interview in over two decades and now I was
steeling myself to be interrogated for a position for which I had no
qualifications or experience. Dr. Godfrey did not in fact initiate an
interview, but appeared to want to talk about himself.
He claimed he was a Catholic priest on an indefinite sabbatical
and that he had a doctorate in education. He'd been a school director in Malawi
where he said he’d used el-ec-TRI-city in the form of a cattle prodder to
After what seemed like hours, the doctor still had not asked me
a single question about my experience or myself. I was squirming in my seat, waiting
for the inevitable axe to fall, but he continued his monologue. He eventually
touched on the Educational Foundation that had hired him to recruit foreign
teachers, but he drifted back to his life story for another hour or so at which
point I was forced to interrupt to say that the last ferry to Istanbul was
leaving shortly and that my wife and five children were expecting me back home.
He seemed taken aback by the size of my family and mumbled something under his
breath before asking me the dreaded question...
“Have you any documents?”
I handed over my bogus “diploma” which claimed I was a qualified ESL teacher.
“Is this all you have?” His voice trailed off... “All right,
we'll have to manage...”
He wrote down an address and handed it to me.
“You can start on Monday. Be at the teachers’ lodgement by 7:30 a.m. sharp. You’ll meet the other teachers there and a bus will take you to the school. Dress appropriately and please keep to yourself and say as little as possible to the others. They will be very curious about you, of that I’m quite sure...”
I was, as the Brits would say, "gobsmacked".
Out on the street, I felt relieved to be out of that
claustrophobic apartment and breathing fresh air again. The reality of what had
just happened began to dawn on me, but I dared not think of what I'd be facing
come Monday morning.
Months later Dr. Godfrey confided that he'd taken a chance on me
based on my refusal of the “wee dram”. He was sick of the British alcoholics
whose absenteeism had caused him no end of trouble. But as it turned out, my
fake teaching certificate was the least of the Foundation’s problems. Three
years after I started there, in 1989, Dr. Godfrey, whose many degrees and
diplomas were no more legitimate than my certificate, absconded with over
$250,000 of the Foundation’s money.
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