“I can’t forget Khairpur, I’m still sad”

A quarter of a century lived in Pakistan on humble means (1)
March 26, 2021
A quarter of a century lived in Pakistan on humble means and unforgettable friendships (2)
March 30, 2021

“I can’t forget Khairpur, I’m still sad”

Esra Yıldırım, who worked at PakTurk Schools as a Mathematics teacher, wrote about Khairpur Mirs, of which songs still resonate in her ears, and described her students to whom she said goodbye in tears.

It was 2010 and I had just graduated from the university. In those years, the love and enthusiasm for working in the Hizmet-inspired schools abroad had peaked in me thanks to a program called Sıfır Merkez (Ground Zero), which I used to listen on the radio. Meanwhile, I was also thinking “Do I deserve to be there?” Since my elder sister had been studying abroad, my parents simply said, “One offering from one house is enough!” and I started the profession by teaching at the exam prep and tutorial centres in Turkey first.

During the two years I worked there, my prayer was persistent: “O Lord! Grant me that opportunity too!” One day I wrote an application to the administration and stated that I wanted to work abroad. The deputy principal of my institution called me and was avuncular as he smiled, “Miss, what are you doing?” I was a maths teacher in that institution and they had invested a lot of effort into my professional development. That year I had taught to the fast-track class of a high-achievers group of science high school students and I was to continue like that. However, from then on, I wished I should not have a permanent residence with walls painted in glitter colours. All what I could fit into my suitcase would suffice me…

Finally, it was vouchsafed for me and my Pakistan adventure started. I was very excited when I got off the plane. The country smelled of spices and I was also very curious to know: “I wonder how the people of Pakistan are like?”

Esra teacher at the tea party with her students…

Students prayed before entering the classrooms

The first morning I went to school and before taking my first ever class, I saw students reciting prayers. All students in different faiths entered their classrooms with prayers. This touched me so much and also filled me with surprise and peace. The Muslim students sometimes recited the Surah Inshirah and sometimes other supplications.

After an 8-month English course, I was appointed to the school where I would work. Hence started my 3 years in Islamabad blended with lessons, students, and home visits… Two years after getting married, my husband said he wished to work in a smaller city. Having lived and worked in Islamabad for 5 years, he thought the change would be refreshing. We would go to Khairpur Mirs, which we would never forget in our lives. Yes, Khairpur Mirs, for which we still shed tears whenever we hear songs from there…  

We arrived in Khairpur Mirs after the summer vacation. Whenever we mentioned the name Khairpur, we would simply say, “There must be something auspicious with this city to be named like this,” implying the English meaning, “the Abode of Auspiciousness” 😊. Our school was set up in a single-storey U-shaped former government hostel building and operated within the chain of the PakTurk educational institutions which had a history of 18 years until then. Finding a house and settling down, we soon got used to the scorching temperatures peaking up to 55 degrees and the frequent power cuts.

I memorized the names of my 33 students at that moment

Finally, the school was opened. I was to teach to two different branches. I arranged a schedule for meeting and greeting my students. They welcomed me on that day with flowers, cake and gifts. “Welcome!” the students said, “We have been waiting for you so long!” I learnt they had no homeroom teacher for an entire year. They had missed having a homeroom teacher so much that I cried a river on our first meeting.

The school building and the room where we held our tea parties were so old and plain… Yet, I still remember the sparkle and excitement in my students’ eyes there. They were 33 in total and I memorized their names on that day at that very moment. The students were very surprised, “Teacher, how come you have managed to know our names by heart right away?” Actually, I was surprised too; I simply did not know how strong a bond of love had formed among us that all of my students had been immediately etched in my mind with their names and faces.

A large segment of the city lacked a covered sewage system; used water would simply stream through the ditches under the outer doors, but we would not sense any foul odour. The heat was stifling and scorching. The power outages were so frequent that even the generator would eventually malfunction and reject to work, leading us to eventually sleep in our car for the night. At times, we would remain in the car for up to 9 hours. We would say, “Thank God, our car is air-conditioned!” We would not be able to stay at home without a revolving fan or an air conditioner blasting at full speed. That was why, we had pillows and bed sheets always ready in the car.

Our student had seen us sleeping in the car

One day, one of our students, who was also the son of our houseowner, had seen us sleeping in our car. We would drape the windows, but he still noticed us as he passed by the door early in the morning. He expressed his embarrassment and asked us why we had not told them about it earlier…

Power and water cuts did not seem like a problem to us at that time. Each time I spent with my students removed all things negative. Then came the month of November in 2016… We were told we had been ordered to leave the country with immediate effect. That was a very difficult time. Everyone, from the students to the janitors, was weeping. Everyone cried rivers. One of my students said, “Ma’am, we know you. I apologize for what has been done to you.” She wept and we broke into tears…

Esra Yıldırım with her beloved students…

We were three Turkish educationist families there. The parents held a farewell program for us. Some of them had brought gold rings and necklaces. When we asked them “Why did you do such a thing?” they replied, “You must have lots of burden. We thought we should give you a valuable and beautiful gift that could meet your needs.” Some parents wanted to provide us financial support. They were extremely upset as they asked us, “Where and how will you go?” That was how Allama Muhammad Iqbal’s grandchildren were no different in gallantry and altruism than their grandparents who had rushed to the help of Anatolia during the days of the Battle of Gallipoli: Their hands and hearts smelled of sincerity…

Life will go on even while I lack them!

Whoever wished to speak on the occasion would almost immediately choke and burst into weeping. I had 38 students, and I gave each of them something from my belongings to leave them with a memory from myself. What I had gone through there really changed my perspective on life. After that day, everything has seemed so redundant that I say even for the things called as essential, “Life will go on even while I lack them”… Even though my students have already graduated, we still keep in touch.

I can never ever forget Khairpur Mirs, of which songs still resonate in my mind, and my sisters and brothers there. I feel sad as I say “We had a lot of work to be done together. We left a lot of things unfinished”…

I am still; oh, I am still so sad…

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