Hüseyin Yılmaz, who went to Pakistan years ago to study at a university there, wrote down one of his unforgettable travel memories. There are moments full of fatigue, insomnia, fear, weapons and anxiety on this long journey which started from Kayseri to catch up with the classes and continued to Islamabad and Lahore via Istanbul.
My trips to and from Pakistan were often packed with thrill and adventure. If they asked, “Tell us about ten days in your life you cannot forget!”, I guess half of my replies would be about the adventures I had while traveling to and from Pakistan. I felt like writing one of them.
It was when I was a university student in Pakistan. I was also working as a mentor in a dormitory of the PakTurk Schools. We expected the summer vacation to arrive in two months at the university that year. I don’t remember if the reason was safety or the hot weather, but a week later, they said, “Classes are be off for the summer vacation”. We neither had our final exams nor took any other test. I was happy to be going to Turkey and visiting my family and I was worried that I would forget everything as I would not be able to study during the summer. This was how I went to Turkey. My return ticket was purchased to a week after the starting date of the classes. This proved an issue for me. That week, a friend called me from Pakistan and said, “Classes have started, and the teachers are on fast track to cover the course topics. You need to come right away!” I guessed I would face such a circumstance but my ticket had been purchased and I could make no changes in my flight plan.
It was the day to return to Pakistan. I took an intercity bus journey from Kayseri with my friend Hasan, who was a student in Pakistan like me. We studied at the same university. After a 13-hour journey, we arrived in Istanbul. The bus from Kayseri would reach Istanbul around 9 or 10 am and the international flights would usually depart around 5 or 6 pm. We would spend 8 to 9 hours sitting in the waiting lounge at the airport. Not only these, we would also have luggage problems every time. On our way from Pakistan to Turkey, we used to fill our luggage with mangoes, pineapples, coconuts and wooden handicraft as gifts to relatives and friends in our hometowns. On our way back from Turkey, we used to pack our luggage with souvenirs, Turkish tea blend, feta cheese, black olives and so on which we could not find in Pakistan back then. These meant overweight luggage and additional problems at the time of baggage check-in at the airport. We used to try our best to convince the check-in personnel to avoid paying for the extra weight. We used to have heavier hand baggage besides the luggage checked-in for the cargo. This weight would become a separate hassle for us at the waiting lounges before getting on the aircraft.
Brother Ramazan told us to jump over the boundary wall!
It was time for the flight and I could not sleep properly, including the time spent in bus ride. I don’t remember if I slept during the five- or six-hour flight, but usually journeys are difficult for me because I cannot properly.
We landed in Islamabad, and we still had a five-hour bus journey to Lahore ahead of us. We met Brother Ahmet, who was the vice principal of the Lahore PakTurk Schools. He told us ‘we should postpone going to Lahore for a while’ because the dormitory and the school had moved to the new but half-constructed building that year, and they were yet to arrange a place for the mentors there. Brother Ahmet said, “Stay in Islamabad for a few days and we’ll arrange a place.” We told him that was out of question as we would not afford missing classes at the university. He then said, “Well, stay for tonight, we’ll see what we can do tomorrow.” We said again, “It’s impossible, we can’t miss tomorrow’s class either!” “What can we going to do? You have no proper place to stay there!” he exasperated.
Meanwhile, we saw Brother Ramazan, who too lived in Lahore and had come to the Islamabad Airport to meet someone. We explained the situation to him. Thankfully he said “Stay at my place” and gave us the keys by saying “I have some work in Islamabad for a few days”. He also added, “The landlord bolts the outer gate. That’s why you have to jump over the wall and open the gate yourself.” When we said his landlord might misunderstand this situation, Brother Ramazan said, “I’ll call and let him know.” We got the keys and set off for Lahore. You may think the adventure ends here, but it’s just beginning!
After a five-hour journey, we arrived in Lahore extremely tired. We had been on the road for over 24 hours. We took a taxi from the bus station and set off towards Brother Ramazan’s house. It was around 3 am. The taxi driver was dozing off while driving. I kept on waking him up saying, “Don’t sleep!” He laughed and said, “This is my bedtime!” I asked him, “Why are you working if you are feeling sleepy?” and he replied, “I will drop you and go to sleep!” We were near our destination. The taxi driver kept on protesting, “Are we there already? You didn’t tell me your place was this far!” Shortly later, we reached.
A gun-toting man shouted at me: “Come here!”
I tried to unlock the outer gate of the house with the key, but I could not. I jumped over the gate thinking, ‘I guess Brother Ramazan meant this’. I tried to open the gate from the inside but still couldn’t succeed. This time, at 3 am, I reached for the doorbell from inside and rang it so the landlord would not misunderstand. Hasan was waiting outside. I rang the bell several times. However, no one opened the door. After a while a woman looked out and said something without opening the window. She went inside. I thought, ‘Okay, she must have said ‘go upstairs’’. The door was not opened. I waited for a while. I thought to myself, ‘I guess she didn’t think the door had been locked’
I rang the bell once more. Suddenly I saw a man coming from the outside. He was wearing a sleeveless undershirt and a shalwar, and was carrying a pistol. He shouted “Come here!” as he pointed at me with the gun. At that moment, you cannot predict whether he will squeeze the trigger or have a talk. I got a little scared, but jumped out over the gate again, my legs shaking all the time. The man asked, “What are you doing here?” At that moment, I thanked Allah saying “Oh, the man will talk, he will not shoot the gun!”
I told him “Mr. Ramazan gave us his keys and said we could jump over the boundary wall and enter the house.” He did not believe us and he said, “I will take you to the police station! You are thieves!” I tried to explain it again, “Look, we have this many luggage. Our passports are here. You may see from the stamps that we entered Pakistan a few hours ago. Is it ever possible to arrive for theft like this?” Meanwhile, some women came out of the house. Someone told the man, “He knows a little Urdu. He’s Pathan I suppose. He’s got a lot of keys and he tried to open the gate.”
The street watchman rushed toting a Kalashnikov
Pathans are a nation mostly living in Pakistan’s frontier provinces with Afghanistan. People in Lahore are mostly Punjabis and are somewhat wary of Pathans. I kept on trying to explain my problem by saying “Mr. Ramazan told us so”. The man said, “Ramadan said such a thing to you. Okay, he may be an idiot and you do what he says. You are even more idiot than him!” Meanwhile, eight or ten people gathered around us. The street watchman came with a Kalashnikov in his hand. The man holding the pistol fumed at the street watchman, “These guys were entering a house! Where have you been?” saying. We told everything to make people believe: “Look! Here are three- or four-piece luggage and two laptops. Can someone enter a house for theft in this way?” We showed them the luggage stickers and said “Look at the date! We just arrived! The man with the gun seized our passports and said, “We’re going to the police station!”
Meanwhile, they asked, “Who are you?” We said “We are students!” and showed them our IDs. The men, who had not believed all they had been told until then, calmed when they saw our student IDs. The man with the gun said to the resident woman, “These are nice boys, but I don’t understand what they are doing here!” We, too, were trying to explain ourselves in sloppy Urdu after all that travel fatigue. I could not the gist of the matter due to that stress, fatigue and fear, I kept on saying “Ramadan said …”. Later I realized and I asked, “Doesn’t Ramadan live in the upper portion of this house?” The man said, “No, only two elderly ladies live in this house.” It was then I realized we had come to the wrong house. I said, “The house we meant must be the house at the beginning of the other street.”
‘Sorry, we scared you at this hour!’
Hasan stayed with the people in front of that house. I walked to the next house with the street watchman. We rang the bell of Brother Ramazan’s residence. The landlady opened the gate and said “Come in”. I said to her, “Please tell this gentleman that Ramazan is your tenant.” Otherwise, Hasan and our luggage were detained in front of the other house. She said, “Yes, Ramazan is my tenant, he phoned me about your arrival.” Later, I returned with the street watchman and told this to those waiting in front of our first ‘break-in’. Everyone laughed at us. The two ladies living in that house had been so frightened that they were eventually relieved. I apologized, “I’m so sorry we scared you at this hour.” The man who rushed with a gun said, “Don’t do anything like this again!” As if it was our hobby to scare people at night. 😊 “Why should we do this again?” I said back. Anyway, we took our luggage and went to Brother Ramazan’s residence. It was time for the morning prayer. We offer our prayer and went to bed. We couldn’t go to school the next day because we couldn’t sleep until the morning.
The next day, Brother Ramazan came and asked, “What did you do yesterday?” We said, “We cooked chicken in the pressure cooker!” He laughed and said, “I’m not saying that! You broke into someone else’s house!” We asked him, “We weren’t going to tell you, who told you?” It turns out the landlady told him, we laughed for some time. “The exterior of the house was not before the summer. They painted it in the summer. I had thought even for a while, ‘I wonder if they will be confused’ It happened!” he said.
We had a memory of an unforgettable journey passed with fear, stress and fatigue. All in all, it ended with a smile on our faces.
To be continued…