The showcased Turkish teacher on an Islamabad-Sukkur flight

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The showcased Turkish teacher on an Islamabad-Sukkur flight

Teacher Orhan is an education volunteer who arrived in Pakistan after his heartfelt reply to a question in 2006. His journey started with worry and tears, but continued with colourful memories in Pakistan. He smiles as he fondly remembers the time a Pakistani showcased him to all passengers on a Sukkur-bound domestic flight.

My emigrant life started in a February with my positive reply to the question, “There’s a need for a teacher abroad. Would you consider it?” When I was told we would be going to Pakistan, I called my wife immediately. When she heard the news, she suddenly went silent and burst into tears. I still cannot forget that instant. Our greatest worry was ‘how to persuade our families’. Yet, Allah eased things and they accepted our decision. We started having preparations for travelling to Pakistan. It was 2006 and while running from pillar to post to ‘sell the car, cancel the credit cards, clear the instalments, pay the service dues of the house, and receive the friends’ and relatives’ blessings’, it felt for a while as if we were marching towards death and telling our last goodbyes.

In the meantime, we ran searches on the Internet about Pakistan. In those days, there were travel advisories for potential visitors to Pakistan saying, “Never enter the country without receiving such-and-such vaccinations” and that made us more worried… Eventually, we found ourselves at the airport on August 10, 2016. Our parents and loved ones were there to see us off, and the winds of separation started blowing faster. When we walked along the passport control and turned back to wave at those we left behind, I faced the very truth of what ‘migration’ really meant. I was asking to myself, “Why are they there and us here? What’s the point of having this journey?” As we boarded on our flight, these questions kept on swarming my mind, and this introspection continued throughout the journey.

‘Where are we? Why are we here?’

When we boarded off the plane, we encountered an airport terminal with scant facilities. People wore different clothes, the temperature was 50 degrees, and my wife and child kept on wailing, “Where are we? Why are we here? I didn’t like this place!” When these emotions piled one upon another, I felt stifled and made a silent prayer: “O Allah! Let there be a reason and let the plane which flew us here take us back right at this moment.” Of course, such a thing did not happen and despite all pessimism, we entered Pakistan.

No matter if our first impressions were pessimistic, we tried to get accustomed to the peculiar conditions of migration and the country’s milieu. The breakfast culture in Pakistan is different than ours; soon we learned we would not be able to find our daily cravings like white cheese, black olives, and Turkish tea blend. Pakistan is a hot country with limited means; there’s no isolation in houses made of stacked bricks. Naturally, this lets extreme heat into the houses during summers and frequently invites geckos inside the residence. Moreover, possibly due to extremity of heat, the insects are larger than those we see in our home country. It soon became ordinary for us to jump at our home with a shriek every evening as we tried our best for getting accustomed to the country. A sudden sight of a good-sized gecko on the wall and scurrying insects in any room really made our hair stand on end. Those days passed in anxiety with the fear of ‘anything may come out from anywhere at any time’.

‘They treated us no different than their bosom buddies’

Despite some negative aspects as I have mentioned, the people of Pakistan have always been warm, receptive, optimistic, and loving towards the people of Turkey. They treated us with maximum acceptance and helped us as if we were their long-time bosom buddies.

I would like to relate some memorable incidents which exhibit this fact very clearly: 15 days after my arrival in Pakistan, I and my colleagues travelled to a compound which was assigned to the academics and students of the University of Peshawar for academic and social retreat programs. It was built at a location that was more than 2000 metres high with constant precipitation like Turkey’s Black Sea Region and required one to wear two thick sweaters to ward off cold and humidity. Yet, it was also a superb opportunity for us to engage in reading far from Pakistan’s prominent heat. Just like us, the academics from the University were there to have their holiday with their families. While following our schedule of events, we would also attend to the congregational prayers led by the academics in the central mosque there.

Invocations attracted academics’ attention

Whenever the congregation dispersed after each Prayer, we would stay a bit longer in the mosque to recite our voluntary invocations. Sometimes, some Pakistani academics also waited to hear us reciting the invocations. One day, they asked us out of curiosity, “Who are you? Where are you from? What are you doing here?” We told them we were teachers working in the PakTurk Schools and that we organized such educational retreats among ourselves every summer. After listening to us with full attention, they told us about their wish to host all of us for a dinner in the compound.

We accepted their invitation and during the dinner, we shared with them our thoughts and feelings about Fethullah Gülen Hodjaefendi, who inspired the founding of schools similar to the PakTurk educational institutions worldwide, the Hizmet Movement, and the pressing need for supporting the academic and ethical upbringing of the youth. At the end of the function, the academics there extended another invitation to us by asking, “If we gather other academics at our University, will you be able to narrate these to them as well?” Consequently, we had the opportunity to organize and deliver common programs with the University of Peshawar and some academics there.

A ceremony with 10 rounds

I experienced yet another unforgettable incident during a flight from Islamabad to Sukkur with a stopover in Lahore. I was to travel from Sukkur to the nearby city Khairpur Mirs to visit our school there. Before taking off from Lahore, a large group of people who knew one another boarded on the plane. As our plane gained altitude, the Pakistani gentleman sitting next to me asked me the usual question: “Where are you from?” When I replied, “From Turkey,” he burst into a show of brotherly love saying, “O Brother! Friend!” and called out to his friends on board while pointing at me. He stood up, called out, “Waqar!” and pointed at me saying, “Turkish!” I stood up and greeted his friend. Just as I was about to sit, he shouted, “Shahzad!” and pointed at me saying, “Turkish!” I stood up and greeted Mr. Shahzad. This point-and-greet ceremony must have taken 10 rounds until everyone in the cabin heard about me. Since his English needed brushing, the gentleman stood up to bring someone fluent as the interpreter. He gave me his phone number, insisting that he would be glad to help me and I was free to call him round the clock.

‘You should act as elder brothers to the people of Pakistan’

As our aircraft was descending to land in Sukkur, someone from the friendly group came to me and said, “We love you due to the Ottoman Sultanate.” I realized then that the services rendered by our ancestors were not forgotten; rather, they grew into a permanent love.

The speech made by the rector of a Pakistani university during one of our traditional iftar dinners in the month of Ramazan is still fresh and significant as a memory with me to highlight how the people of Pakistan cherish the people of Turkey. After the dinner, he turned to us and said, “We have a colonial past, but you did not experience colonialism. This is why, as the people of Turkey, you should lead us and we should follow. You should act as elder brothers to the people of Pakistan.”

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