Selviye Koç is one of the education volunteers who went abroad with the concern of ‘escaping the decay generated by comfort’ while teaching in very conducive circumstances in Turkey. We talked about the life of emigration with Koç, who had long lived in the Black Sea region and had difficulty adjusting to Pakistan but wept for days when she was compelled to leave.
During the phase that started with the opening of the PakTurk Schools in the mid-1990s, hundreds of people from different regions of Turkey volunteered to participate in the educational activities across Pakistan. That was a completely different country which they were not accustomed to in terms of climate, language, culture, living conditions and cuisine. Idealistic educators, who set out with good intentions such as serving people for the sake of Allah and raising well-equipped generations, performed their duties with love and enthusiasm, despite all the differences and difficulties. The Koç family, who decided to leave the cool, fresh, lush-green clime of the Black Sea Region to live in the hot and humid geography of Pakistan, are among those volunteers. Both Turkish teachers, Selviye and Necati Koç left behind their comfortable lives in Turkey and settled in Pakistan with their three children. While setting out on their journey, they knew very little about their destination. As they lived, they also loved, got used to, and got attached to Pakistan. “I miss those beautiful people, not places!” says Teacher Selviye, while talking about the years she spent there. Within the impossibility of putting everything in words, Selviye Koç answered our questions.
-Can you briefly describe your life before going to Pakistan? When and where were you born? Your family, education etc.?
I was born in 1974 in Samsun. I graduated from Erciyes University Turkish Language and Literature Department in 1998. From that date until 2012, I taught Turkish language and literature at a university exam prep tutorial centre. I have three children. My husband is a Turkish teacher too.
– How and when did you decide to go to Pakistan? What were the reactions of your family and your social circle?
When I was in the tutorial centre one day in March 2012, I made a firm decision that we as a family should go abroad and serve through education there. It turned out that my husband had thought the same things on the same day. When we came home in the evening, we said to each other at the same time, “We should go abroad now.” Because everything in Turkey was very nice and comfortable. We were thinking, “We should go somewhere we are needed before comfort leads us to decay.” We made the necessary applications immediately and it became clear in June that we would go to Pakistan. We had a big problem: We had not told our families yet. At that time, we were living in Trabzon.
WHEN I REVEALED OUR DECISION, MY MOM WEPT AND MY FATHER STAYED SILENT
I am the youngest of four siblings and the only daughter of my parents. Our family ties are very strong. We thought my parents would have a hard time accepting our decision. I talked to my brothers to see how we would be able to explain our decision without making my parents sad. Just that week, our students had taken the university entrance exam. We took a 2-day leave from the tutorial centre and went from Trabzon to Samsun. My parents were both happy and curious about our arrival. All siblings gathered under one roof. It seemed my mother sensed it strong. “Did something happen, why are you all here now?” She asked, but her question was very difficult to answer. When we revealed our decision, my mother started weeping, and my father preferred not to speak. It was perhaps one of the most difficult moments for me. As someone who chose to spend every vacation with my family, upsetting my parents was the last thing I wanted to do. Yet, I had to follow my dreams.
What kind of preparations did you make before you set off on your journey? May you share the feelings and thoughts you had during that process?
It did not take long for us to get ready. We cleared our house by handing out some of the items and leaving some others to my parents’ house. We no longer had a home. Later, we attended seminars in Istanbul on how to teach Turkish to foreigners. We were ready to go to Pakistan, both materially and spiritually, with our tickets and luggage.
-When did you leave for Pakistan? What were your first impressions?
We set out on August 18, 2012. We boarded a flight from England with a stopover in Istanbul to Islamabad. It was almost empty in front of our departure gate; there were only six or seven people waiting. My children were 11, 7 and 3 years old at that time. For them, that separation was not easy. However, we always told to our children: “If we are together as a family, we can overcome any problem by Allah’s leave.”
The things we had known about Pakistan were basically what we had watched on the Samanyolu TV globetrotting show Ayna. Yet we noticed the extremely pungent smell of spices on the plane. We were very excited. I remember I could not sleep along the way. When we got off the plane at noon, it seemed like we were facing the oven of a bakery; we felt faint by the hot air licking our face.
OUR FIRST NIGHT IN PAKISTAN WAS LIKE A NIGHTMARE!
We picked our luggage from the carousel, walked to the exit, but could not see anyone who was there to receive us. We were unable to use our phones to make a call and there was nobody in sight who looked like Turkish. My husband explained to one of the porters in sign language there that he needed to make a call. He took his phone and called a school administrator. It turned out they had been waiting for us at night. Fortunately, the school administrator immediately arrived and took us to our accommodation. Our first night in Pakistan was a nightmare due to the extremely hot weather, humidity and mosquitoes.
We had a fast-spinning ceiling fan above us but it just slapped the hot air back on our faces; we were not dying, but were almost unconscious. We thought we should go under the water and cool ourselves, but the water flowing from the tap was so hot that I thought I had turned on the hot water. Whichever dial I turned, it sent hot water running. We opened the windows for cool air, it turned out we had made a terrible mistake. Although there were mosquito nets on the window panes, mosquitoes filled the room. We closed the window when we noticed it, but it was too late. While lying unconscious due to tiredness and heat, the flies received a large blood donation from us! When I woke up around 3 a.m., I saw my body was freckled with bites. I counted them all that night, there were more than 150 bites. It turned out that the house was by a stream with dirty water. That first night was an agonizing lesson for us.
Power cuts made life very difficult. To minimize this, houses had uninterrupted power supplies (UPS) running on batteries that could power a ceiling lamp and a fan in each room. This prevented us fainting from heat. We stayed in that house for 28 days. The house we later rented was small but useful and thankfully cooler as it was on the ground floor.
-Where was your first place of duty?
We started to work in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. I was teaching at the girls’ college and at that time, our school was in a large villa. For example, one of the classrooms where I taught was one of the kitchens of the house. We would occasionally go out and sit in the garden with the students, because it went dark inside whenever the power was gone.
– What were the most favourite and most difficult things for you in Pakistan?
The conditions were a bit tougher as compared to the life we got used to in Turkey. However, the students were very cute, approachable and intelligent. We started to get along with the local teachers without knowing their language. The food issue was very difficult in the first days. All three of my children were at different schools, and that was very tiring for me. While in Turkey, my eldest daughter had been keen on learning English. We had contracted a local teacher to give her private English lessons. My second daughter was a bit reluctant, but the teachers at her school helped her get used to things. Maybe it was my 3-year-old daughter who had the least difficulty. She could easily learn both English and Urdu. However, I was the hardest hit. I was trying to teach Turkish to students without knowing English. Since my husband’s school was far away, he would leave in the morning and return in the evening. I was handling the tasks such as grocery shopping by myself during the day.
PAKISTAN IS MY SECOND HOMELAND THAT I STILL MISS
Those were tough and beautiful times. We felt we were refreshed with a new excitement. Professionally, we were experiencing the differences of transition from teaching in tutorial centre to teaching in a school.
We had very good friendships and we still keep in touch with them. We have friends, students, and teachers about whom we say, “It was nice to know them”. I do not have the slightest regret for having gone to Pakistan. For me, Pakistan is like the second homeland which I still miss and love.
-How many years did you live in that country? Can you tell us about your duties and the cities where you lived?
As a family, we lived in Pakistan for 4.5 years. Both I and my husband worked in the schools in Islamabad during that period. Towards the end of the first year, we moved to our campus school. It was a five-story building with a beautiful garden. The top floor was the girls’ dormitory. We were very relieved as all teachers and students.
-How were your relations with the people of Pakistan, especially with the students and their parents?
I mostly taught to the secondary school classes. We taught the lessons to our students in spacious classrooms. We made them participate in activities in the playground after the school and play games. It was very cute that they learned Turkish quickly and started speaking immediately. My first students were in the 7th grade. We were doing unit-appropriate activities with them. Especially in the “festivals” unit, we prepared a candy basket with the children, took it to each classroom and offered the other students candies and cologne as per tradition. It was very nice for the students to visit the teachers’ room and say ‘Happy Eid!’. Finally, we sent the children to the principal’s room and advised them to ask for Eidi from the principal. Mr. Principal gave pocket money to both of the students. The whole class was so happy that it really felt like a festival. For each unit, we would think, “What can we do differently this time?” and make plans. Those were the days when we were very happy even though it was tiring.
Did your feelings and opinions change over time when you first came to the country? How?
Before I came to Pakistan, the only name I knew about the country was Muhammad Iqbal. It was a country that I had loved without knowing, and which I continued to love as I got to know. Of course, there were aspects with which I struggled. It was my second contact with a different culture, because my husband is of Bosnian origin. I knew that even though we were of the same faith, the cultural differences between people were also important. Living in Pakistan was an important experience for me to get to know the Muslim World. It was very sad that artificial divides such as sectarian differences among the people led to sporadic bloodshed. Occasionally, the schools were even closed due to security concerns.
I hardly got used to the food, but I cannot say that I am used to all of them. I do not think our palate tastes match well. They especially use a lot of spices as compared to the Turkish cuisine. However, it is a delicious country with plenty of vegetables and fruits.
– What were the feelings and attitudes of the people of Pakistan towards the Turkish schools and teachers?
The attitude of our students and parents to the schools was very positive. Parents were very welcoming and very hospitable during their visits. We knew very exquisite people. Rather than places, I am unable to forget about the people, especially my students, in Pakistan. I love them all and still miss them so much.
WE HAD INSTALLED AIR CONDITIONERS IN CLASSES WITH OUR OWN MONEY
– When and for what reason did you leave Pakistan?
When in 2016 the repercussions of the tragic events in Turkey reached to Pakistan, the officials did not extend our visas and the Pakistani government started to pressurize us to leave the country. It was an unsettling process for us. When in November 2016 they ordered, “Leave the country within three days!” everyone inevitably panicked. That panic was more for our schools and students than for ourselves. Our schools were the fruits of toil and sweat of many years. Just think: Instead of buying a second air conditioner in our houses, we had donated amounts to have air conditioners installed in classrooms and dormitories so that our students would be comfortable. Some friends even donated smart boards for the students to have them receive a more modern education.
We were one of the five families who decided on their destination, bought their tickets and left the country first. Of course, it was not easy to leave. Every day was passing in tears with students, parents, teachers. In the playground, in the classroom, in the corridor; wherever they saw us, the students would weep, “Teacher, don’t go!” I cannot forget their words, their sobs.
As Turkish teachers, we turned into weeping walls. Every time, someone would come, say consoling things, hug us and weep. Students prepared cards, as they wished to present us mementos and gifts. It was a difficult time.
With sadness and tears, we cleared our house, which we had set up with enthusiasm, left our dreams along with the half of our hearts behind, and took a flight to Africa.
How do you continue your life in the country where you are now?
After staying in Uganda for almost 4 years, we arrived in England about 5 months ago. There were a lot of things we wanted to do about Pakistan. Our plans, our dreams … They were all left unfinished because of someone’s ambitions and envy. I know that there is no fault of the people in what happened.