The great surprise in the reading retreat

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The great surprise in the reading retreat

In the second episode of his memoirs, education volunteer Osman Arslanhan narrates his moving to Kayseri for a better school, the surprising news he received in the reading retreat, and his travel to Pakistan.

In those days when communication and transportation were difficult, my family did not approve of leaving my school and going to a more distant city (I was going to go to the downtown Kayseri from Bünyan district). However, with the support of my brother, my parents consented for my transfer. It was then the time to get my transfer certificate from the school.

We entered the room of Aziz Soylu, the deputy principal of my school. He complimented my father, asked him about my elder brother, and talked about me for some time as well. Mr. Soylu would appreciate me. When we explained to him our request, he first did not want to let me go. Yet, he still got my transfer certificate issued and handed it to my father, saying, “If he does not like or cannot get used to where he has to go, he may come back!” After this advice, we asked our leave and went out. The document in my hand then meant a new city, a new dorm, and a new school for me.

When we reached Kayseri, we first went to the dormitory where I was intended to stay. That 28-student cute dormitory with its two-storey building adjacent to a small mosque in the sugar factory compound had left a soothing first impression on me. My dorm tutor referred us to our second place of visit: the Merkez Imam-Hatip High School. When we entered the Principal’s Office, it was teeming with a crowd. We handed the principal my admission documents and after a short while, he called me and my father and said, “Alright, let’s admit you to the Gemihli Imam-Hatip High School,” meaning the extension branch of the Merkez Imam-Hatip High School. It was very far from my dorm. My father showed his unease and requested, “Sir, that will be so far for us. My son will have to change four buses back-and-forth. May you please arrange him a seat in this school?” The principal pointed at the crowd and tried to persuade my father saying, “All of these people are waiting for their children’s admission. The student strength in each class have already risen to 60. Gemihli will be a comfortable place for him.” My father was adamant: “Sir, please examine his documents once again. Do you really deem your suggestion proper? My son’s still young and he’s new to the city. He cannot cope in a distant school.” The principal thought for a while and later initialled my documents saying, “Go and see Mr. Osman Koc…”

Osman Arslanhan with his fellow students in Kayseri…

That meant I would become the 56th student in the Classroom 8C. Moreover, my adventure in that school would continue for five more years.

‘I must go abroad at all costs’

It was at that dormitory where I was first acquainted with Hizmet Movement, and the more I learned what it meant, the more my admiration for the Movement grew. The next few years would bring radical changes worldwide. The Soviet Union had collapsed and the Hizmet volunteers migrated to the newly-independent countries, helped our cognates in need, and opened schools by bringing volunteer tutors and teachers from Turkey. My former tutors and elders too were among those education volunteers. The more I observed them, the more I became enthusiastic about this sublime vision, and I kept on thinking, “I must go abroad at all costs.”

I eventually graduated from the high school in 1993 and, along with a group of friends, attended to a reading retreat held in the Şeker Dormitory for Boys. One of my friends had received the news about his selection among the students to have their higher education in Pakistan. He made preparations and went to Istanbul. A week later, they called and told me that there was still a slot in the list of students to have higher education in Pakistan. They asked me if I was interested in going to Pakistan for that purpose.

After a swift and intense meeting traffic and also thanks to my elder brother’s support, my family consented. A week later, I was holding my passport and my ticket to Istanbul.

‘You will be there’

In the night of that day, I and my two friends were to travel to Istanbul by bus. Tens of friends had showed up at the terminal to see us off. Saying farewell to them and watching the way they ran along as the bus reversed in the departure bay had made three of us burst into tears in loud sobs. That searing pang of separation would remain with me for many years.

Osman Arslanhan, in the days before going to Pakistan …

We became acquainted with the other friends in our group at a place – where Fethullah Gülen Hodjaefendi too stayed – during our nearly one-month sojourn in Istanbul. We had applied for the Pakistani visa and started waiting for the response. Meanwhile, we also attended to the lectures and discussions, listened to sermons, and sometimes – as if we were the hosts ourselves – assisted tasks such as setting tables and moving furniture with joy and enthusiasm. On the other hand, we frequently asked questions to our elders wishing to know more about Pakistan. One day, one of our friends asked, “Is there anything regarding Hizmet in that country?” to one of our tutors and got a succinct reply: “You will be there.” This response not only vexed us, but also made us realize we had shouldered a solemn responsibility.

A hard-to-digest change!

September 9, 1993 marked our first landing in Karachi, a hot, humid and crowded city where small cars plied right-hand in dense traffic. We were to take a flight to Islamabad from there. We had been prepared as 11 students – 1 for master’s and 10 for bachelor’s programs – and only 10 of us could reach our destination.

Islamabad greeted us with an entirely different atmosphere. Besides a lush-green environment, distinctive architecture, and sincere and all-smiles people, an extremely hot and humid weather, spicy food, and a language we did not know meant deep and hard-to-digest changes for us.

As the house 474 in G10 became our new home, it also bore the distinction of an edifying and inclusive cultural centre frequented by people from all walks of life and a guild where Arslan Sahib delivered his weekly lectures. The seeds of the PakTurk Schools were taking roots right at that spot. Towards the end of 1994, the person who would set the foundations was about to join us…

To be continued…

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