Maths Teacher Tuğba Ünverdi (2): Our Pakistani friends considered us no different than their own family members

Mathematics teacher Tuğba Ünverdi (1): While teaching what I knew in Pakistan, I also learned what I did not know
June 23, 2021
A week of hotel adventure and a beautiful dream
June 25, 2021

Maths Teacher Tuğba Ünverdi (2): Our Pakistani friends considered us no different than their own family members

Tuğba Ünverdi (left) with her husband and children at their landlord's house in Lahore.

We share the second and last part of the interview which we published yesterday. In this part, we talked with Mrs. Tuğba about her life in Lahore and Karachi, besides what she went through during her departure from Pakistan.

I think you went to Lahore after Khairpur Mirs. What did you do there?

PakTurk Schools in Pakistan were first opened by converting villa-type houses into school buildings. When we went to Lahore, purpose-built and detached school buildings were just being built. The school was opened on the completed floors of the building; some parts of the school were under construction. After one year, we moved the girls’ college to another building, but it was not enough. The number of our students kept on increasing every year. Negotiations were being made for the land next to the building we had moved to open a separate girls’ college. The land was requested from the provincial government, but this request has not yet been approved.

I had climbed on the roof of the school with my students and talked about the school project. We had prayed for the land to be allotted to our institutions. I had even said to the children who had been in the grade 8 at that time, “Maybe you will graduate from there when the girls’ college is built.” They didn’t think it possible. They said, “We’ll finish school by then.” Because things move very slowly there. They could not even imagine that they would be able to study in that building. Two years later, a building was built on that land and Lahore PakTurk Asifa Irfan Girls’ College was opened. The students I had talked to on that day graduated from high school there.

There was an exquisite story behind the allotment of school plot, right?

Yes, at that time there was an incident like this: Some male students in college jumped from the boundary wall to the garden of the adjacent residence to escape from the dormitory. When the incident was repeated several times, the owner of the residence visited the school with a bit of anger to complain. The principal gave him a tour of the school and also explained the services rendered there. Upon that, the Pakistani gentleman who had come for complaint said, “I want to support you too” and in time, had the girls’ college built on the land our friends found. The college was named after his mother.

We had a very nice dialogue with our landlady in Lahore. Her grandmother was Turkish, and she was from Qatar. She took great care of us. She used to cook dolma – grapevine or other vegetable stuffed with a mixture of rice and minced meat – and sarma – vegetable wraps with rice filling – for us. She would also add some Pakistani spices. She had a special affection for Turkish nationals because of her grandmother. She and her husband were very nice people. Their children were not in Pakistan. (The children of most of the people above a certain income level in Pakistan live in different countries abroad.) They considered us as their own children. They loved our first child Kübra very much. Uncle used to take her out to the street, he would show her around. We had a very nice interaction. We went to visit them in the following years. Whenever we visited Lahore, we used to visit them first.


How was your pregnancy and delivery? Was it hard being away from your family?

Kübra was born in Lahore in 2008 and Enes was born in Karachi in 2013. When Kübra was born, my mother-in-law was already in Lahore. We went to the hospital with a friend. When I held Kübra in my arms for the first time, I wondered and said to myself, “If a mother’s love for her child is such a feeling, I am amazed by how my mother could consent for sending me here!” I did not experience a very difficult process. I attended classes at school until the last two days before giving birth. Already at that time, there was a winter holiday for three weeks, it coincided with that holiday. I started school again when Kübra was 37 days old. We found a babysitter; she was an elderly lady. At that time, the only baby in the school was Kübra, and since the school did not have a baby room, she and her babysitter had to stay in my husband’s office. Later, when other babies came, the need increased and a baby room was arranged in the school. I used to visit Kübra between classes to take care of her.

No one from Turkey could come to attend me when Enes was born. When we were to go to the hospital, my friend from another city came to accompany me, even though her own child was still very young. We had friendships beyond siblinghood. Just then, our beloved landlady fell ill and was hospitalized. When I went to visit her, she said to me, “Don’t worry, I’ll help you,” despite her own illness. Another student’s mother was also very caring towards me. Her child was a student who come to Karachi from another city to study at a university. We used to meet as families. That parent always assured me by saying, “Don’t worry, I’m here with you. Don’t you ever feel yourself alone, I’ll help.” She had sewn a bag-full of clothes for Enes as a birthday present. She cared for him as if she were sewing for her own grandchild. Thankfully, Allah Almighty made it easy for me in that way.

I guess you worked in Karachi after Lahore…

We learned that we were appointed to work in Karachi while we were on summer vacation in Turkey. At that time, there was a group of students who came to the Turkish Olympiad gala in Kayseri. We invited them to my parents’ house for breakfast. I remember talking with the students from Karachi about the city and what kind of a place it was. When we got back from vacation, we packed our stuff and moved from Lahore to Karachi. Our landlord and his family in Karachi were very nice too. Some of their children were also abroad. Uncle had gone to visit his son in Australia and stayed for a while. When he was to leave, his son said to him, “Dad, stay a little longer,” and Uncle replied, “You are my son here, but I also have a son in Pakistan, I have to go.” When the uncle came, he said, “I told my son like that”. Such was our interaction. We stayed in Karachi for 6.5 years and always lived in the same house.


I learned Urdu thanks to our babysitter. Knowing the local language makes life even easier. Students become more expressive and supporting. One of my students had shyly said, “Since my mother does not speak English, we are hesitant to invite you to our house.” I had replied, “It’s not a problem, my mom does not know English either,” to comfort the student. When I learned the local language, communicating with the parents became easier.

Tuğba Ünverdi (centre) prepares Turkish pickles with her Pakistani students.

What kind of activities would you do with students outside of school? Can you explain the outcomes of these?

Sometimes we would do reading programs at my own home or in the dormitory. The students still talk about those times when we call one another. They would arrange a roster and take turns helping with the housework. In fact, my students who graduated and started their profession would come to those programs as guests. I’ll never forget, an old student of mine had come to visit me with her new-born baby. We had put the baby to sleep in Enes’ crib. Sending a girl for an overnight stay is not considered normal in Pakistan. It is also very difficult to the parents’ permission for their children to stay in dormitories. Family elders have the right to speak over their daughters. It may not be enough to get permission from the mother, father, uncle, brother, grandfather, etc. In some families everyone has to give permission. If a Pakistani family sends their daughter to a dormitory, it means a great show of trust. Not easy, at all. That student of mine had come with her baby, who was not yet forty days old. It was very significant. I invited her, but I didn’t think she would be able to come. She stayed with us for a few nights, we took care of her baby and we arranged our schedule accordingly. People really trusted us a lot. When invited, they would send their children.

During the winter break in December, we had two-week academic and moral retreats. Since my husband used to have similar programs in the dormitory with his own students at that time, the house would remain for me and my students’ use. I and a group of my students had organized a program. On the last day, I wanted to invite their mothers. Students would be the hosts, and their mothers would be the guests. The elders we respected would say to us, “If your students enter the kitchen with you and help you there, it means they have learnt the essence of service.” I divided tasks among students in the morning. They cleaned all over the house, entered the kitchen and prepared treats. While they were together, they were also learning some things from our culture. For example, we had pickles that I had prepared for our family at home. The kids also ate it and enjoyed it very much. In Pakistan, pickles are usually marinated in spice and oil. When I saw that they had enjoyed eating pickles, I told them, “Let me teach you how to make pickles in our style.” We prepared the ingredients and made pickles together. We also cooked maqluba for the visiting mothers. Our communication with the parents, who came to our house and sat at the table together with us, improved and it still continues. Sometimes the students say, “Teacher, my mother is asking about you,” and call me on video. Nothing done is forgotten. May Allah grant us to attain his divine pleasure.


How did the people of Pakistan view the Turkish culture, food and traditions?

My students liked the börek; they loved the potato pies the most. They also have a snack named samosa, which they deep-fry by wrapping meat and vegetables fillings in phyllo. It looks like a pastry. In every function, the students used to say, “Ma’am, would you please bake a borek for us?” They liked maqluba very much, but a student of mine said, “Your meals are like hospital food, they have no seasoning. Wouldn’t it be nice if you cooked the maqluba a little bit spicier?” Our meals tasted bland to them because they were used to very spicy food. When I cooked maqluba for them, I used to fry fresh chili pepper and mix it with rice.

At first, they thought that everyone in Turkey dressed in hijab like us. I brought one of my students to Turkey during the summer vacation, and she had a great shock at the airport. Everyone wears shalwar kameez in Pakistan. They thought that our traditional clothes were topcoats, skirts and scarves. After the appearance of the Turkish drama series on the Pakistani TV channels, their perspectives towards Turkey changed a lot. Television series themed on modern and secular life changed the profile of Turkey in their minds.

What did you experience in the process of leaving Pakistan? How did the students and their families react to this situation?

We were in Karachi during the last phase of events. We thought about our students first. There were students whom we sent for higher education in various universities of Turkey and we were worried they would face something negative. When we were seeing off our students, we had presented to them a small chest with the soil and flag of Pakistan in it. It meant ‘complete your education and come back to serve your country’. When the problems started in Turkey in 2016, we decided to meet with the families of the students, thinking that it would be better for them to come back. We said they could come and continue their education in Pakistan. Because we could no longer support them as we had promised to their parents. It was the summer vacation already.

Teacher Tuğba, still lives in Bosnia and Herzegovina with her husband and children…

One of our students was on vacation, but she was going to return to her school. I cannot forget what her father said when we spoke to her family. “Stop thinking about my daughter and tell me, how are you?” he said. We had our troubles too. There were rumours our visas would not be extended. Those words uttered by her father made me very emotional. It was very valuable for us that he put our troubles ahead of his own child’s experiences.


Everyone working at the PakTurk Schools was told by the official authorities to leave Pakistan within three days. Since my husband did not work at the PakTurk Schools at that time, we had valid visas. This was why we did not have to leave immediately. I did not experience the stress of having to leave the country within three days, but we tried to solve the problems of our friends and relieve their anxiety. I used to take high school classes at the PakTurk College in Karachi. There was very little time left for the end-of-year exams held by the provincial examination board. We were doing the last revisions. I did not want to let my students down, so we finished the revision of the semester’s work together. At that time, I was the only Turkish national in the school. It was then that I experienced the feeling of loneliness the most. It was very difficult for me at that time. It turned out that making a place liveable was possible with the presence of our friends with whom I shared the same vision and emotions. We were back to the beginning again and I became the only Turkish female teacher in the school.

Later, I did not start teaching there in the next academic year. Even though I stopped working, my husband continued in another school. We were not thinking of leaving because we had valid visas. Of course, we did not know that the conditions would become so difficult. We wanted to be with the people we knew and we loved the country too. However, our passports were about to expire. The Turkish Consulate in Karachi would not renew our passports and we were eventually compelled to leave. We arrived in Bosnia and Herzegovina on February 28, 2018.

What did Pakistan add to your life? What did you learn from there?

I can say that I learned most of the things in my life in Pakistan. I stayed there for 11.5 years. I experienced novelties at every stage of my life. I was single and I got married while I was there. I gained my teaching experience there. It was there I learned about motherhood and being able to maintain everything with the responsibility that came with motherhood. One looks at life differently until the university years. The time you graduate, you also start to mature. I had them all in Pakistan. I enjoyed a lot from teaching students who looked you in the eye with love. That’s why Pakistan was very different. My children were born and raised there. There is a saying, “A person’s childhood is his or her homeland”. For us, Turkey was the homeland and Pakistan was the ‘second homeland’ as our place of migration, but our children have not seen it that way. They still consider Pakistan as their homeland. Their first memories, teachers, and school life all started there. Already from infancy they grew up at the school. They loved their friends and teachers very much.


Homeland also means a place where you dream of returning one day, right?

Yes, it does. Children always talk about Pakistan. They say, “One day, we will go there again and we will do this or we will eat this” and so on. It’s always there in their dreams. “Mom, what is Sister Shamshad doing these days?” Kübra asked me just the other day. Shamshad was a student of mine. I asked Kübra “Why did you ask about her out of the blue, my dear?” She said, “When I say Pakistan, you always think of your students.” Our lives round-the-clock were spent with the school and the home visits after school. Kübra used to get angry with me when I didn’t take her to the parent visits. She would say, “You eat shami kabab there and I cannot eat if you do not take me there!” The children embraced the country in every aspect.

The difficulties we experienced upset our students and parents the same as it did to us. They say they pray that one day we can return to our country. In the process of leaving, a parent of one of my students had come from another city to say goodbye and she had also brought gifts. The family had also talked to our landlord in the garden. Our landlord said, “You don’t know their language (very different languages are spoken in different cities) they don’t know yours. How do you get along?” I really felt that love from heart to heart in that process. There is a love among people that cannot be expressed verbally, perhaps even without words. The school here has students from Pakistan. We meet sometimes. We feel close to every Pakistani we see, like our own nation, without feeling any foreignness. We loved Pakistan very much and we wouldn’t have left if they hadn’t said ‘leave’ to us. In our prayers, we live in the hope that one day we will be able to visit Pakistan again and see our loved ones there.



Part One: Mathematics teacher Tuğba Ünverdi (1): While teaching what I knew in Pakistan, I also learned what I did not know

Oh hi there 👋 It’s nice to meet you.

If you want to be informed about new content

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.


No Comment.