In the second part of our interview with Zübeyde Koçyiğit, who taught Islamiat at PakTurk Schools, you will read about her years in Lahore and Islamabad, and her departure from Pakistan. Mrs. Zübeyde, who had to leave for Canada after the revocation of her visa in November 2016 due to the Turkish government’s pressure on the Government of Pakistan, said, “While leaving Pakistan, I was wearing the very same headscarf which I had been wearing when I had arrived there. When I arrived in Pakistan, I was married for nine days. I used to say to my Pakistani friends, “I came here for the honeymoon”. It was a ‘honeymoon’ that lasted 12.5 years for me.”
-Where did you go after Quetta?
Our next place of duty was Lahore, a city not far from the Indian border. With a population of 11 million, Lahore was much hotter than Quetta, our previous place of duty. Lahore was a large city which was also more agreeable and easier to adjust. The extremely hot and humid climate there gave us a hard time in the beginning. After Quetta, it felt as if we had arrived in a new country. The climate, people, culture, and even the language was different.
We had loaded our household goods on a truck and taken a 2.5 hour flight from Quetta to Lahore ourselves. We had also rented a house which our colleagues had recommended to us but which we had not seen before. When my husband returned after unloading the household goods, he said to me, “Do not ask anything about the goods, and please do not comment about the house!” Actually, we had not many goods in our house. Later, I learned that the truck hauling our household goods had been looted by dacoits on the way and all boxes were upturned. When I saw them, all our items were heaped haphazardly in the house. When you looked at the house from outside, it looked orderly, but the cabinets were mouldy. The house seemed to crumble at any time. Of course, there were better houses, but we had no financial means for renting those. When we could not find another house, we decided to clean that house and live there. While cleaning the kitchen, it took a single flicker of the duster to disturb a cockroach nest and send tens of cockroaches scattering across the kitchen. I still remember that sight.
During our first days in that house with disappointing facilities, we had further hardship due to heat. Power outages were frequent. Whenever it was the time for ‘load-shedding’, we used to get into our car and take a tour until the lights came back. After living in that house for nearly a month, we had to move to another place despite its distance from the residences of our colleagues. While leaving the first house, the landlord expressed a reason and did not pay us the security deposit we had given him at the time of rent agreement. Later, according to what the landlord told my husband, some robbers stopped him on the street on the day when we vacated his house, pointed a gun on his head, and robbed him of his mobile phone which cost equal to the security deposit.
As teachers, all of us had the same financial limitations, but we solved our problems in solidarity. We would always share all what brought from Turkey. We would not be able to savour if a food item we had was not available with another family. Among the much cherished Turkish delicacies which we were not able to find were olives, feta cheese, bulgur, parsley, and many others. While returning from the summer vacation, we tried our best to pack our bags with the things we liked eating – and also drinking like the Turkish blend of tea – to the maximum allowed weight. The tea blends in Pakistan had a peculiar and strong tang.
WE USED TO PREPARE FOOD FOR TEN FOR ONLY ONE!
When you want to cook a meal in your own country or when you think of tasting a special delicacy, you know you can buy the ingredients from the market right around the corner, but you cannot do that in Pakistan. Maybe you can find it if a friend has that. Anyway, whatever came from Turkey would be consumed within 3-4 months. Sometimes we found them, most of the times we could not find them, but they tasted delicious whenever we could find. When we could not find them, we longed for them. One way or another, time passed and lives went on.
-Regarding Hizmet, what activities did you do in Lahore?
I could not start teaching immediately. We used to meet one another in our teaching community and organize programs. When we started to meet with our local friends, we only had our Aunt Zeenat, a Pakistani lady, in our group. Aunt Zeenat was the wife of Uncle Iftikhar, whom we had met by synchronicity on an Eid al-Adha. She was 65 or older. For almost two years, she was the only attendee to our group conversations. She would come with a copy of The Words from the Risale-e-Nur Collection, and we would also get prepared for the discussion even though we still had to polish our English skills. Aunt Zeenat would read, and we would suggest explanations. While she came all by herself, we would prepare refreshments for ten. Sometimes, the idea would strike us, “Why on earth do we prepare so much for only one person?” but – after two years – thanks to our sincere Aunt Zeenat, eight more Pakistani ladies started to grace our group conversations.
Initially, we used to call our guests and tell them, “This week, we will do this-and-this.” Yet, a day came, and they started calling us saying, “We are at Aunt So-and-So’s house this week. This many people are expected.” I still cherish the way they phoned at us and explained these as the moments I felt the happiest.
Later, I also started teaching. I used to teach Islamiat to grades 1 to 5 in the primary school. I was also the vice principal. We used to organize different programs with the parents. Every week, we had our Class Moms convention. During those conventions, our colleagues used to come and brief the parents about their children’s progress and explained to them how they could support their learning at home. We would also discuss with the parents about living our lives in essence with spirituality. When they first came to know about the Jawshan prayer, the parents were immensely moved. We ordered some copies of the Jawshan from Turkey for those who wanted to have their personal copies to recite at home.
WE HAD NOTHING TO HIDE. WE DID EVERYTHING, EVEN WORSHIP, TOGETHER
There were Pakistani philanthropic gentlemen and ladies who supported the construction of the schools and dormitories. At different occasions, we appealed to their charitable support for meeting the accommodation and education needs of our students with limited means. Our schools expanded with their support.
Our Pakistani friends witnessed all our conditions including our personal worship, our duties at the school, and our volunteer activities in humanitarian assistance drives. We had nothing to hide from them. We used to dine and worship together, share the inspirations from our souls with one another, and strive for leading our lives in line with Rasulullah’s (sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam) Sunnah. On Fridays, we would sit around maqluba tables. No matter if people or names change, pictures do not. There were many people who dedicated their hearts to this picture, and we witnessed that.
I had frequent health conditions in Pakistan. I was also poisoned many times there. In Lahore, I contracted ‘dengue fever’ which had similar symptoms with malaria. After recovering from that illness, I started feeling body aches without any known reason. We visited doctors – one of whom was the personal physician to the then-Chief Minister – and they could not find anything wrong with me. Eventually, I was given a check-up at the Shaukat Khanum Hospital and it was found that I had an inflammation on my spinal cord originating from a sort of tuberculosis (TB). The physicians told me that the treatment would last for two years. I had to follow an entirely organic and natural diet. Throughout those two years, I cooked my own food and even baked my own bread.
-What was the impact of the negative decisions taken against the Hizmet Movement in Turkey for you in Pakistan?
We lived in Lahore for 8.5 years. Meanwhile, my husband was also the secretary general of a businessmen association for some time in Lahore. Due to that, the then Chief Minister of the Punjab province used to solicit my husband’s proficiency in interpretation and translation mostly for his official trade and investment contacts with Turkey. Since the chief minister did not wish to have any other interpreters other than my husband for that, a time came and we started visiting his residence so frequently that one might mistake us as members of his family. We were the only couple who were invited to his grandchild’s birthday party from outside. I had also had an exquisite friendship with his daughter. Following the incidents starting from the summer of 2016 and onwards, such invitations ceased.
MY HUSBAND USED TO SAY, ‘WELL, NOW IT SEEMS WE WILL DIE AND BE BURIED IN PAKISTAN.”
In 2014, I started working as the head of Islamiat department for primary schools at the head office of the PakTurk Schools. I used to attend to the primary school Islamiat classes as an observer. I had also started writing a series of Islamiat textbooks which we had considered as much needed in our schools. Meanwhile, my husband had founded an educational consultancy firm in Islamabad and signed agreements with several universities from different countries to provide education and career services to the Pakistani students who aspired for having their higher education at prestigious universities abroad. As years went by, we considered ourselves as permanent in Pakistan. My husband even used to say, “Well, now it seems we will die in Pakistan and – Insha’Allah – they will bury us here.”
During the last phase before leaving Pakistan, I also had developed an interest in intercultural dialogue activities. One day, two of my neighbours – who worked in a foreign embassy in Islamabad – came to visit me at our new residence. Coming along with a hot cake of their own baking as a home warming gift and beaming with smiles as warm as the cake itself, they wished to welcome me. I told them I worked in PakTurk Schools and that I was authoring a textbook. They sympathized with me by saying, “We are so sad for the hardships faced by the employees of the PakTurk Schools.” Just like everyone, they too were aware of the unfair conditions.
THE WIFE OF A HIGH-RANKED OFFICIAL MESSAGED: “SEND US YOUR BANK ACCOUNT NUMBER”
Until that period, Pakistanis who had close interest in Turkey also included many high-ranked officials who showed our schools and us close attention. That was why, whenever they visited, we also frequently met the spouses of those high-ranked officials. During the month of Ramadan in 2016, a lady, at whose house I attended to the tarawih prayers in some late evenings and whom I visited frequently at different other occasions, started asking us now and then whether we were going to the school or not. She kept on warning us by saying, “Do not go there!” In November 2016, a list of teachers whose visas had been revoked was circulated by the government. I and my husband were not in that list, but – even though we did not work in the school – our names were included in another list soon. On the day I learnt this, I received a message on my phone from that lady. She had written something like, “We are extremely sad about the circumstances, but we will also help you. Please send us your bank account number.” At that time when I was feeling extremely upset and did not know what to do, I felt additionally upset because of that message which almost reduced the intensity of the ordeal as if it was an entirely financial issue. I mentioned about that message to my husband and we jointly wrote a message to that lady kindly and in this context: “We do not have any financial expectation from you. Whether we will be here or not, our only request is not to have our schools transferred to someone else but to have them allowed to operate as they are…”
-Alright, what did you experience in the subsequent phase of leaving Pakistan?
Everyone whose visa was revoked was applying somewhere to be able to leave the country. Just imagine: They were ordered to leave within three days! Everyone – some after 20 years and some after 10 years in Pakistan – strived for packing up to leave within three days. Indeed, what can you take along with yourself under such a circumstance? You will certainly leave with a single suitcase from the place where you arrived with a single suitcase. However, no one wished to leave. All of us waited until the last moment, hoping ‘something will change and we all will remain.” We kept on praying and tried to boost one another’s morale. My husband had his Canadian visa. We applied for myself too, but during that limited period of time, no reply arrived. Eventually, we decided to go to Bosnia and Herzegovina. While gathering our items for packing; I was setting some of them aside, thinking we would return one day. My husband told me, “This departure seems to have no return. Get prepared accordingly!” All of our friends and colleagues would leave eventually; so, I did not know to whom I should trust our belongings that we had to leave behind. Our future was bleak, our financial means were slim, and it was not certain what sort of a lifestyle awaited us in our next destination. Those were extremely hard times. My husband frequently said to me, “Leaving here safe and sound is the most important thing for us!” When we finally boarded on the plane, we breathed easy. However, our next minutes were dense in sorrow. I looked at my husband. He was weeping and saying, “Now I leave by myself, but leaving friends behind breaks my heart so much!”
NONE OF OUR FRIENDS WISHED TO LEAVE PAKISTAN
While leaving for Pakistan, I was wearing a particular headscarf, and I donned the same while leaving from Pakistan. I left there in that state. I still keep that headscarf as a memento of emigration. While it was a symbol of joy and elation while going to Pakistan, now I wear it whenever I feel extremely blue. When I arrived in Pakistan, I had been married for nine days. I used to say to my Pakistani friends, “I came here for my honeymoon!” It proved to be a ‘honeymoon’ that lasted for 12.5 years for me.
The incidents that happened after departure broke our hearts further. For instance, the abduction of the Kacmaz family. Even though many shocking incidents had been experienced during the departure phase, none of us considered such a heartrending incident would take place there as well.
Actually, no one wished to leave Pakistan. Eventually, everyone was compelled to leave. If we had not been sent out of Pakistan and if we had been given a chance to choose, none of us would have left. As for me, leaving Pakistan is much different than leaving Turkey. It is like leaving a place which you know as your ‘second homeland’. We chanted ‘Jeevai Jeevai Pakistan’ for years. It hurt a lot when the right to remain there was not granted when we kept on saying, ‘Long Live Pakistan’.
We still keep in touch with friends from there. When one of those families had come to Canada, they had also visited us at our home. We had broken into tears when we had seen them at that moment. I do not wish to remember painful memories. I do not wish the place of Pakistan and the people over there to have their places changed in my heart.
-How do you make a living in your current country of residence?
We left Pakistan in January 2017 and went to Bosnia and Herzegovina. A month later, my husband took a flight to Canada, and we applied for family reunion visa. Exactly a year later, in January 2018, my Canadian visa was issued and I managed to unite with my husband. Nowadays, I and my husband shop according to the grocery and other orders arriving from a smartphone app and distribute the goods to homes.
‘I HAVE MET AN URDU-SPEAKING TURK FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE’
-What are Pakistan’s impacts and contributions to your personal life? Is there anything you say “If I had not gone there, I would not have known or learnt it”?
Most important of all, I learnt Urdu. When they ask me how I managed to learn it, I say, “You must be among the living.” My husband had hurt his foot and he had to remain at home for 40 days. I had to do the outdoor chores all by myself. One day, I was to go to the open-air bazaar and buy some spinach. I asked my husband what word was used in Urdu for spinach. He told me, “It’s ‘palaak’” It had to be pronounced a bit guttural as well. Anyway, repeating the word under my breath, I went to the bazaar. There were some other greeneries which resembled spinach. It was hard to tell them one from another. I went to the vendor who sold his greeneries from a donkey cart, and told him to give me “paghal”. He was startled and glared at me. He asked me in Urdu, “What do you want?” and I replied, “paghal”. The man mumbled something to himself angrily and started filling a plastic bag with some greenery. Noticing this, the woman next to me spoke to me in English and asked me what I wanted to buy. I replied, “Spinach”. She turned to the vendor and explained something to him in Urdu. While talking about me, I noticed she also had used the word, “bechara” which meant helpless.
I bought the spinach and returned home. I explained the bazaar incident to my husband. He asked me, “What did the man do when you said ‘paghal’ to him?” I replied, “He stopped and glared at me.” Only then I could learn ‘paghal’ meant crazy or retarded. Instead of saying ‘palaak’ – which meant spinach – I had said ‘paghal’. That was the first unpleasant word I learnt in Urdu. Sometimes the students addressed one another by saying ‘paghal’. One day, I called one of them aside and advised, “This word you use is not a pleasant one at all.” From then on, the students thought I knew Urdu and they never spoke Urdu in my presence.
I learnt Urdu at last. There are many Pakistani immigrants in our current neighbourhood. There was a Pakistani employee at a supermarket and when I saw her, I inadvertently started speaking Urdu with her. She was extremely surprised and asked me where I had learnt Urdu. She also said, “This is the first time, I’m meeting a Turk who knows Urdu.” She was elated and we came to know each other. Sometimes I and my husband speak in Urdu to each other in order not to forget Urdu.
There are many people from many different countries here. Whenever I sense I will hear something negative against Pakistanis, I turn defensive. Both I and my husband miss Pakistan a lot.