Homemaker Ayşegül Akyıldız, who went to Pakistan with her two children and her husband when the PakTurk Schools were under duress, especially tried to stand by the university students there. Mrs. Ayşegül, who rushed to facilitate the students in all of their material and moral needs during the difficult times in Pakistan, almost became the students’ “mom in a foreign land”. The get-togethers she hosted at her house and their conversations with laughter and tears have been cherished as unforgettable times that seem to work the medicinal effect upon the students’ “longing for their own mothers back home”.
Gamze Çiçek, one of the university students mentioned in this article, had told about Mrs. Akyildiz in her article published in our website on March 19, 2021 without telling her name but by labelling her as ‘our mom in a foreign land’.
Mrs. Ayşegül told us about the “bittersweet days” she spent in Pakistan “with an emphasis on the sweet tastes left in her mind.”
– Could you briefly describe your life before going to Pakistan?
My family originally hails from Gümüşhane province. I studied in an early childhood education degree program at a university in Amasya. I met my husband after graduation. He was teaching in a Central Asian country at that time. My family did not want to send me abroad first. They also did not consent for me to get married at that time. While I was a student, I used to hear about the educational services abroad. In particular, there was a lot of talk about the schools in the Central Asia. I wished to go abroad but, when my family did not agree for that, I started teaching in the kindergarten of a private school. On the other hand, I tried to persuade my family for going abroad. They finally consented for that after a year. I got married in the summer of 2003 and migrated to a Central Asian country.
-What was the nature of your work in the Central Asia?
I could not teach there. Our two children – a girl and a boy – were born there. As homemakers, we had different activities including occasional kermises and weekly tea talks. Since I did not know the local language there, I was mostly meeting with Turkish friends and local friends who could speak Turkish. The people I met had serious interest in and curiosity about Islam and the tenets of faith.
-How did your families react when you told them you were going to Pakistan?
Frankly speaking, I could not tell my family about it at first. They would not oppose but certainly be upset because of the hardships there. We told my husband’s parents, however. They were also very upset, but they said “There must be a wisdom behind your decision!” and consented. Indeed, my conversations with my family on the phone were generally based on greetings and updates about the children and us. It would suffice to say, “Everything is fine, we are fine, and the children are fine.” They did not ask either, as we had never mentioned to them about migrating somewhere else. When I migrated from Pakistan to an African country, I finally told my parents where I was. I wanted them to know, even if they would be upset. They were already aware of the troubles the likes of us suffered for the last couple of years. They knew we were not able to return to Turkey soon. If we ever returned there, anything could happen to us. They were obliged to consent.
I SAW NIGHTMARES WITH LIZARDS SCURRYING ON WALLS
– Did you seek to know more about Pakistan before going there? How were your first impressions?
I never knew about Pakistan. I searched on the Internet a bit before going there. It was said to be a very hot country with insects and lizards infesting houses. Some of the friends I spoke to said similar things. I was very upset when I learnt those, because I really feared insects and pests. My husband kept on comforting me, ‘There are friends there too, we will live the same way they live. Let’s pray. May Allah Almighty make things easy for us.” It was a big problem for me, but in time I really get used to everything.
Before even going there, I ran my own patience thin by thinking “How on earth will I be able to survive there?” I made life harder for myself. I kept on seeing nightmares with lizards scurrying on walls. When we finally went to Pakistan, that was – alhamdulillah – not the case. Actually, yes, lizards sneaked our house and they were larger than what I had thought. I used to think, “We have a small crocodile in our house.” In that sense, I had a bit of a hard time as the first few months proved exhausting for me. My husband and children were going to the school and I was isolating myself in a room until the evening. I could not do any housework because the house was large and, bearing in mind the distance from a room to the kitchen, I was very afraid of coming across a lizard around a corner. The first month passed like this, then I got used to it.
It was so nice that Pakistan was a Muslim country. It made me very happy that our children heard the recitation of the azaan five times a day. They had not had the opportunity to hear that for over 10 years. It was also very nice that many women wore hijab. Earlier, I used to think it would not be easy for my daughter to dress according to the Islamic injunctions but, when she went to Pakistan, she decided to wear the hijab herself within a year because all of his friends wore headscarves. Pakistanis had a local dress called shalwar kameez and my daughter was very impressed. My son was so young still, but he used to go with his father to the prayers at a mosque near our house. We had a shalwar kameez sewed for him too. Our migration to Pakistan was nothing but Allah Almighty’s grace and favour on us. Our children started performing their prayers regularly. They learned many things by observing them in a Muslim society.
EVEN IF THEY ARE HARD IN REAL TIME, THEY TURN INTO BITTERSWEET MEMORIES AT LAST
– When you went to Pakistan, what was the situation there in terms of the Hizmet Movement?
The troubles had increased. Our colleagues were looking forward to having their visas extended. We found ourselves amidst those troubles. The state authorities who reportedly said, ‘Don’t worry, nothing will happen. We will protect you”, changed their stance suddenly and said in the end, “Leave the country within three days”. We had gone to Pakistan with the intention of staying there for a long time.
-What did you do during those times of trouble?
There were some female university students who had come from Turkey to study in Pakistan. When Turkish teachers and their families had to leave the country, I volunteered to assist those students. Even though I could not do anything spiritual, I tried to be there for them, in rain or shine. They used to visit me on Saturdays. We used to prepare breakfast together. We spent our time together and tried to make the best of it. In those days, those students were undergoing a very tough process. All the families they knew were preparing to leave the country. Even while I myself was struggling against my emotions in those days, that was much more painful for them to see the families leave. They were caught in uncertain circumstances away from their own families. It was actually a tough time for everyone. Although it was difficult undergoing that experience in real time, it remained with us as a bittersweet memory.
-Although you say you could not do much for them, those students have never forgotten you. They call you “their mom in a foreign land”.
We endeavoured to support the students in all their financial and moral needs. They were indeed striving to ease their longing for their own families by meeting us. I used to tell them ‘Come early in the morning, let’s prepare the breakfast together.’ They wanted to spend time because ours was like their own home. Especially in our last year there, both we and the girls were hit with financial crunch. I tried my best not to make them sense anything. Whenever they came, I set the table from the things we had at our home. Sometimes I used to call them on weekdays, but they also had their own schools and particular duties. They volunteered as tutors in their dormitory. They could not always leave the dormitory where they were staying.
WE WITNESSED THE DAY WHEN THE SCHOOLS WERE DRAPED IN ANOTHER FLAG
I think I could not do much but, when observed from their perspective, it seems it meant a lot for them. When I think about it now, I say “I wish I could meet them more, I wish I could call them every day.” I did not think I had left such an indelible impact on them. One of the girls there also got married and now she works with her husband. She always says, “How beautiful those days were, sister!” I do not know; it means Almighty Allah deployed us in their support due to their utter need.
What did you experience during that period of hardship?
We witnessed the transference of our schools in Pakistan and how they draped flags of another insignia on them. Those who live in Turkey know what happened to the likes of such schools in Turkey. Since I witnessed it in Pakistan, I sensed it in the most hurting manner. It was very sad that the schools were handed over and that we were not allowed to enter them in any way. When we came to Africa, our colleagues drove us from the airport directly to the guesthouse in the campus of the Turkish school. I started weeping. Words do not suffice to tell how great a blessing it is that the schools here are still open and we can enter them. It came to my mind there that, centuries ago, Najashi took care of the first Muslim refugees. I wept there.
One night, a friend of ours who cared about our family made an insistent advice, saying, “You should leave your home for a while, even if cautiously.” We did not know where to go or what to do. We did not even pack a suitcase for ourselves. We simply took our passports and left the house. We have been recently talking to our kids about that night. They thought they were going to a shopping mall and would tour the city until the morning. We left the house but we were not safe outside, either. There were police everywhere. You’re out in the middle of the night, they can ask you anything, they can detain you. It was difficult to be in that situation at that moment, but when I remember it now, I say “I am glad we experienced its bittersweet taste.” Maybe those days will reappear before our eyes as moving images in the hereafter, we do not know. At that moment, the girls came to my mind. I was thinking, “We are leaving, but what are they going to do?”
WE SAT TOGETHER AND WEPT …
We were one of the last four families left in Pakistan; almost immediately, two more families had to leave. The girls were extremely sad and they kept on weeping. I had consoled them by saying, “Do not be sad, we are here and we will remain here.” However, a fortnight after saying those words, we too had to leave Pakistan. Our visas had expired and the authorities did not extend them. While going to the girls to tell them that we would be leaving, I felt an indescribable agony. We experienced many things, but informing them about our approaching departure cut the deepest. While entering the dormitory, my feet were trembling and I was practically retracing my steps. That was because the girls had their morale high due to our presence there. Our assurance for remaining there no doubt helped to sustain their hope. Actually, at the very moment they saw me, they understood from my disposition what I had to say. They wailed, “Sister, please do not tell us you too are leaving!” It was certainly an extremely painful night. We sat together and wept and wept…
They too knew there was nothing else to do. All praise to Allah, all of them graduated from their universities. Some of them returned to their parents’ homes and many of them started teaching in different countries.
How was the attitude of the people of Pakistan towards the events?
Our Pakistani friends helped us a lot during those times of trouble. They helped us sell our household items. They provided us financial and moral support. That night, when we left our homes, a local acquaintance of ours said without fear, “Come stay with us as long as you want.” When we got there, we only wept mutually. Neither they knew our language, nor did we know theirs. The first hour passed like that. The daughter of the house, a PakTurk student, told her family about the condition of the schools and the problems we had. First, we simply wept; later, we managed to have a conversation thanks to the student who interpreted for us. When we decided to return home after three days, our hosts said, “Don’t go, it’s dangerous for you outside”. May Allah bless that family a thousand times! Not only them, but an overwhelming majority of people in Pakistan were like that. If you committed a mistake in the traffic, the police would not say anything when they saw you were Turkish; they would let you pass. They loved not only us, but all Turks. Those people really tried to take care of us. They did their best. When the commandments were ‘from high above’, no efforts could come enough to revert the flow.
-You were one of the last families left behind. What did you experience during the process of leaving the country?
When we were seeing off our friends and colleagues, we used to wait at the airport until the plane took off to make sure they departed safely and to protect them if anything happened. Yet, what would two or three people be able to do for protection, if anything happened? We would not be able to do anything if the police made an attempt. Since it was the only thing we could do, we said to ourselves, “Let’s do that at least.” We had seen off dozens of families and finally remained back in Pakistan as four families. We were also upset with each family’s departure. It was never an easy thing. We were at the airport almost every week. Again, Almighty Allah instilled us with the peace of reassurance and the spirit of tranquillity. He boosted our strength and willpower. No matter how much we wept every time, we replenished our pledge, “We will stay here”.
THE WORLD TALKS ABOUT CORONAVIRUS, AFRICA HAS MALARIA
My son was 9 years old then. He had no friends left. Our neighbour’s son was 2.5 years old. Eventually, we drove our neighbours to the airport as well. My son had burst into tears so much so that all of us were wept at how he wept. I asked my son Ahmet, “Why are you weeping, my son? He was so younger than you. He was not one of your friends.” He wept and said, “Mom, I considered him as my brother. With whom will I play from now?” Only a young child was left for Ahmet as his playmate. We were extremely sad at that time too. Actually, it did not last long. Two weeks after that farewell at the airport, we too left Pakistan.
Allah Almighty does not abandon anyone to constant trouble. Even though they may be divine tests, none of those hardships are in vain. We know this. If the troubles disappear and if our schools are handed back to us, we will return to Pakistan again.
-You mostly have memories about leaving Pakistan. What about your impressions of the life there?
Local teachers used to invite us to their homes. I used to eat the local food even though they were extremely spicy. My husband and I were used to interacting with different cultures in the Central Asia. We also ate those hot and spicy dishes in Pakistan. The fact we did not find their culture strange made our Pakistani friends glad. The family in whose house we stayed for some time always used to drink their tea with milk. They used to offer the same to us, and we used to drink it so without any reservation. Almighty Allah made things easier for us. For breakfast, they used to prepare an oily bread called paratha. It was rich in oil, but there was nothing to do. Whenever they served, we ate parathas and drank cups of milk tea, alhamdulillah. You can feel the kindness in those people’s warm disposition.
-How’s your life in Africa?
Africa is not such an easy geography either. Right now, everyone in the world is talking about the coronavirus but, here in Africa, malaria is a more common and a more dangerous disease. I contracted and recovered from both malaria and corona virus. I thought I was going to die of malaria. Our colleagues come here by knowing such risks. It’s nice we are here. We do not regret being here at all.
Gamze Çiçek’s article about Ayşegül Akyıldız: Our Mom who made us forget our troubles in a foreign country…