Fatih Çapar, who – besides the difficulties he faced in Pakistan where he went to study at a university – discovered different climes that touched the human soul, wrote about his travels there. Çapar, who also worked as a journalist in Islamabad, narrated his observations on life in Pakistan.
I made a deliberate choice by going to Pakistan. I will not delve into it now as the story of the choices may be discussed later. Due to those choices, my first year in Pakistan passed with ‘why’s and ‘what if’s. If I am asked, “What are the best years in a person’s life?”, I think that my answer will be the span of 13 years – between the ages 21 and 34 – I spent in Pakistan. Of course, on the days I spent with ‘what if’s, I could not imagine there would be different climes that touched the human soul, and that I would experience them all in Pakistan.
It is known that life is difficult everywhere in poor countries with ill fortune. Being a worker has always been termed as difficult; yet, you should come and talk about it to the Pakistani workers. No matter what profession comes to mind, like being a butcher, a teacher, or a police officer, you experience the extremes in the negative sense in Pakistan.
Well, of course, being a student was difficult too. Let me tell you my first impressions before moving on to my adventures on board of local means of transportation. As a group of six students, we landed in Karachi on the night of August 23, 2006. We were welcomed by the dorm supervisors, our seniors in country experience 😊. We were to become student mentors and dorm supervisors like them first. We were greeted in such a way that we could not forget the words of our senior friend, who had been there to receive us, until we got completely used to Pakistan. How noteworthily that saintly person (!) remarked as he greeted us: “May Allah save you”! Afterwards, we went to the dormitory where we were to stay. Mr. Saintly Person shoot a video of us on his latest model mobile phone, smiling and also taking snapshots of our glum expressions. God knows how we stared at him then, because we heard he had his phone snatched on the street two months after that telephonic welcome he had given to us.
We thought we would always drive in the air-conditioned taxis
What a great blessing it was when we took a ride from the airport to the dormitory in air-conditioned taxis. As I watched the road from the window, I saw the buses and the three-wheeled moto-taxis called the rickshaws, which attracted the attention of the fresh inductees to the country. I thought we would never get on those and would always travel in the air-conditioned taxis. Two friends stayed in Karachi. Two others were to go to Quetta, and I and another friend were told to go to Khairpur Mirs. We said goodbye to our friends who were bound for Quetta. The saintly person was in his best form, as he spoke again: “May Allah help them,” and added, “Explosions never stop in that city.” I wondered what he had to say after us. I turned to him and asked, “Well, brother, what kind of a place is Khairpur Mirs, then?” He said nothing else but “Oh, our school in Khairpur has a very nice playground.” I had asked him that question to know if we could breathe there or if we would be able to find a sky above our heads or if that place was a part of the world.
Hence, our journey to Khairpur Mirs started. We got on the train: On board, there were two Turkish families (one fresh and one veteran one), my friend and too many suitcases to count. We were warned beforehand. The train would stop in Khairpur Mirs for only two minutes. “Be prepared for that,” they said, “Make sure you stack the suitcases in front of the door beforehand.” Of course, we fell asleep. Someone said, “Come on! We arrived in Khairpur!” Oh my God! The train was moving, and they told us to get off! The women and the children were the first to disembark. We followed by throwing the suitcases on the platform one after another. There was a distance of at least 50 metres between the suitcases and those who had gotten out first. We collected the suitcases and loaded them on the much-popular rickshaws. At that moment I thought I was going to get into a rickshaw, but it was not meant to be: Our dormitory’s warden, who arrived on his motorcycle, gestured and said, “Jump back!” Eventually, we settled in the dormitory. I had very nice days there. However, I will only tell you about my first impressions in this article.
I never loosened my grip on the iron bars of the buses
In the days that followed, I rode in rickshaws many more times. I never knew they were a blessing! They surely helped me raise in spiritual ranks by compelling me to frequently contemplate about death during each overtake, sudden brake, drive through a bump on the road at full speed and bounce to hit my head on the roof. Terribly exhilarating!
Next year, I moved to Karachi and enrolled in the university there. The campus was quite far from our dormitory. As three friends, we would go to the university together. We had to take the bus since we could not afford the taxi fare. A thorough trauma 😊 Words fail me whenever I try to describe the buses. The iron bars you grasped tightly to save yourself from falling were so greasy and grimy that you simply would not wish to touch them much longer. Once I decided not to wrap my fingers around the bar, so I clung to it with a finger only. I managed holding on that way nicely for some time. Suddenly, the driver stepped on the brake so hard that I ran all the way to the front. I never left those beautiful iron bars once again. I liked the way people on the bus helped one another. Especially those who sat would ask those standing to hand over their baggage for easy travel. Later I realized that was the way it should have been: If you had something in your hand and could not cling to any bar, you faced the risk for a rocket ride forward in the event of a sudden brake. That was why I held people’s handbags for them when I had been able to find a seat on the bus. Once I found a seat in the back of the bus. Someone got on the bus with two live chickens in his hands. Our eyes met and the forthcoming episode hit me like a lightning. I turned my eyes to the other side and the man handed the chickens to another sitting passenger.
The incredible abilities of the bus conductors
Getting on and off the bus were two separate forms of torture. The buses would mostly not come to a complete halt; they simply slowed down. First you held on to the iron bar by the door, ran one or two steps along the bus and then swung yourself in to get on the moving vehicle. Likewise, when getting off the bus, you clung to bar, watched your steps as the ground kept on sliding under your feet and stepped on the pavement running. Of course, women were privileged. There was a female-only compartment in the front of the bus. When the women were to get off the bus, the driver would turn gentlemanly. Once, a police constable got on the bus and sat in the seat before mine. I looked at his hair: he had dyed his hair in henna and came out without washing the caked cosmetics. For a moment I wondered if the water or electricity was cut off that he had to go to work without washing his hair.
The bus conductors were incredibly talented kids. They skilfully moved in the corridors of the jam-packed buses to collect the fare from each passenger ‘on board’. You could see the conductors on top of the buses and chatting with the passengers as they collected the fare or leaning inside from a window and asking you pay for your ride. As I have said, whatever profession you do, you will live the extreme form of it in Pakistan. Someone used to say, “This is Turkey where everything is possible.” In those days, I understood what that expression really meant: That was indeed Pakistan where everything was possible. No matter if the physical conditions in Pakistan hit some as tangible challenges, it is impossible not to Pakistan once you come to know about the people that power the country. We miss Pakistan with all its hues and colours and look forward to seeing the days when we may visit there once again.