Memories from Turkey 2: The curious case of Pakistan

“What was the best thing about Turkey?

This is the most popular question since my return; and perhaps the toughest to answer. The most accurate answer would be its homeliness. From the point of landing into the country, to those sad moments when I was flying back, there was not a single time when I felt as if I am in a foreign land among some unknown foreign people. It is my country, these are my people – this was the feeling with me, throughout my stay; every day, every night.

Ok, I’ll admit I had this bias of my personal admiration for Turkish culture and people even before the trip but what I witnessed was more than surprising.  After what Pakistan has been upto for so many years and the mess we have created, not just for others, but for ourselves as well, I do not live in a fool’s paradise to believe there would be people who would welcome me, being a Pakistani. Therefore, even knowing of cultural, historic, economic and geo-political affiliations of Pakistan and Turkey of the past, I did not went in expecting smiles for being a citizen of an old friend and neighbour.

With this mindset, after landing, I went into the hotel I had booked in Istanbul and handed a red and a green passport at the reception. The receptionist ignored the red passport (surprising me), looked at the green one, then looked at me, then looked at the passport again, smiled and surprising me even more, said “Pakistan, brother?”. This was not all. The time I was filling in the form, he started murmuring with the helper telling him about Pakistan – which I could hardly understand but I could recall he mentioned Karachi, Benazir, Mughals and Koftay.

Aur yahan aata hay kahani main twist….

This was not one incident. Wherever I went in Turkey, whoever I communicate with, there was Pakistan over there one way or the other. Soon I managed to get over the surprise-effect and started finding Pakistan in everything I did. I realised very soon that they know about Pakistan, they know how we live and they love us. Why? This still remains unanswered.

I would not try to be judgemental as my trip was a short and limited one, therefore, I would only document my interpersonal observations. I consider my exposure limited because (i) I travelled only in the Western and South Western region which has a deep influence of Europe and Greece (ii) Istanbul being a modern urban and tourism capital has a very diverse culture and is closer to Europe than to Asia (iii) I think people on East would have a much better knowledge of Pakistan.  But, I would say my experiences are mixed. A very few of them confuse us to be Arab, another few of them more exposed to Europe and working in tourist centric cities like Istanbul don’t know much about the cultural similarities but MOST of them know about Turk-Pak-Persian cultural similarities, historical attachments and political/economic affiliations.

Are Pakistanis not Arab ?

ALL the people I communicated with knew about Pakistan and Pakistanis. There were a couple of them who thought we are Arabs – not because of ignorance but because of the image we have developed of ourselves. My wife wears a head-scarf (out of her own will and much deserved liberty) and a couple of shopkeepers started talking to her in Arabic and were surprised to know later that she was not an Arab but a Pakistani and that Pakistanis are not Arab.

Few days later in Istanbul again, at a restaurant, the waiter who was told we’re from Pakistan, came and said something in Arabic.

waiter: (Looking at our faces) “Why don’t you know Arabic?

me: “Because we have nothing to do with Arabic.

waiter: “So, Pakistanis are not Arab?

me: “Hell NO brother. We are thousands of mile away from the Arab world. We have more in common with Persians and you guys than with the Arabs

He left without saying anything but giving me a ‘chal-rehn-day’ look, and rightly so.

They know us and our lifestyle….

Driving in Turkey

Driving in Turkey

Down South, almost everyone respected Pakistan. I drove for like 1000 KM and this was perhaps the best thing I have did since March 16th when I left Pakistan. It refreshed all those good memories. The landscape is a replica of what Pakistan is around M2, around GT Road, around Islamabad-Pindi and Faisalabad. The driving habits are completely Pakistani – no one would care of turning the indicator on before they turn and none would care for the speed limits. I don’t mean this is what I liked, but there was a feeling of independence and being at home when driving, just like I feel carefree driving on M2.

Turkish Tea
Turkish Tea

Whoever I met greeted me with ‘Merhaba‘ (Turkish cultural equivalent to AoA) but after knowing I’m from Pakistan, offered me Turkish tea (instead of Apple tea they offer to tourists, Turkish tea is like Pakistani tea minus milk) said ‘Khuda Hafiz‘ when leaving instead of the Turkish version. At a restaurant, the guy after knowing that I am from Pakistan arranged chaar-pai and chatai sitting instead of the table-chair they offer to gora tourists.

As you move away from Istanbul, even the domestic architectural styles appear similar to what we have in Pakistan. Ofcourse there are difference because of changed weather conditions but overall style is very similar.
As you move away from Istanbul, even the domestic architectural styles appear similar to what we have in Pakistan. Ofcourse there are difference because of changed weather conditions but overall style is very similar.

The waiters always served chilli sauce with food instead of mayonnaise they offer to gora tourists. When I asked one of them, why this, he told me that he knows that Indians and Pakistanis like spices. I noticed that the waiters always brought the bill back to me and I finally asked one of them in Bodrum, “Why me! she ordered the food?” and he said, “Brother, don’t men pay for food in our countries?”

Everyone I talked to, did ask me:  ”have you moved from Pakistan and now settled abroad?” Being curious, I finally asked one of them how every one of you guess this and he told me (i) “we know Pakistanis don’t speak very good English” (ii) “you can’t wear a thick leather coat like this in hot Pakistan“.

One of the corner-shop guy (similar to pan-cigerette khokha in Pakistan) when asked for a cup of Turkish Tea asked me if I need milk. This was surprising. I asked him why did you say that and he replied with a question saying, “Are you not a Pakistani or Indian?”. This one really surprised me. We started chatting and he told me there used to be lot of Pakistani immigrants working in Turkey back in 1970s. He added that he could almost communicate on a basic level in Urdu back then with his Pakistani friends and recalled a few words for me very nicely. I can still recall his “chai lelo” with a cute smile on his face, handing over my cup of tea.

This shows they have a good understanding of now just our culture but the lifestyle in Pakistan.

Bazaars and Traders….

Ceramics for sale in Grand Bazaar Istanbul - some of them come from Pakistan, I was told.

Ceramics for sale in Grand Bazaar Istanbul - some of them come from Pakistan, I was told.

Garments for sale in Grand Bazaar, Istanbul which had a 'Made in Pakistan' tag.

Garments for sale in Grand Bazaar, Istanbul which had a 'Made in Pakistan' tag.

In traditional Turkish bazaars like the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, every shopkeeper admires Pakistan for the finest quality of ceramics, carpets, textile stuff and handicrafts it supplied at low costs. They told me horrible stories of how cheap and sub standard Chinese stuff is infiltrating in market. One of the guys said, “How can they make this stuff when they know nothing about this stuff. This has roots in our culture and traditions. This is not making a calculator or a car. Pakistanis and Persians used to supply us best quality stuff at good cost but now these Chinese are ruining up everything”. One of them showed me a few bags and shirts with Made in Pakistan tag. Since Turkey attracts a huge number of tourists, these guys have a chance to sell this stuff at very good prices to gora tourists than the producers in countries like Pakistan.

One street-marketer carpet guys quit promoting his stuff to me as soon as I told him I’m from Pakistan. When asked what happened, he told me I know you won’t buy this when you can get the same or better back home for less than half price. We get these from either Iran or Pakistan.”

Present-day Pakistan and Turkish people…

Many of them knew about Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad and almost everyone asked me about how are things after the floods with keen interest. This was indeed heart-warming. For a country like UK, which has Pakistan’s second largest overseas community numbering around 700,000; not more than a couple had been courteous enough to ask me “how are things back home?” This moved me. *shahrukh-khan-walay-jazbaat-ansoo-roll-in-eyes* I noticed banners and posters by NGOs and the state to promote donations for flood relief in Pakistan. Istanbul is also filled with banners asking citizens to send Qurbani Eid donation to Pakistan.

Turkish Kebab

Turkish Kebab

Turkish Tikka

Turkish Tikka

The face of Pakistan in Turkey is undoubtedly Benazir Bhutto – everyone knows her and loves her. One can find her books translated to Turkish at every book stall, her posters on the street poster sellers. Lest I forget, the first person to correctly identify me as a Pakistani was this Turkish-jayala guy. Bhutto, Bhutto, Benazir. We love her. I love Benazir Bhutto, he said waving me good-bye. 

Benazir Bhutto - the face of Pakistan in Turkey.
Benazir Bhutto – the face of Pakistan in Turkey.

I was pleasantly surprised in those sad times checking in for my flight back to London when the security-lady opened my bad, noticed packs of Turkish tea, looked at me, smiled and said, “Pakistani?”. “How do you know?”, I asked. She did not search any further and said, “Butto, Benazir Butto“, with a sad expression perhaps trying to express her love and share her sorrow at the same time.

I met this guy named Orhan, who was a restaurant owner in Bodrum who insisted to have some chit-chat over a cup of tea after he was told that I’m a Pakistani.

Orhan: “How are you finding Turkey?”

me: “I’m loving it and feeling like home here.”

Orhan: “This is your country, brother. You know we had military and economic and trade agreements. We are same people.”

me: “Ofcourse, we are. We have much more in common than the differences.”

Orhan: “But brother, what is this, what is the problem in Pakistan. This is 21st century, why can Pakistan not understand this? – why do they want to go back to pre historic times?”

me: “My brother, we have not been fortunate enough to seperate religion from politics yet. But hopefully, soon, very soon!”

Orhan gave me a big smile, followed by a hug saying, “I’m proud of you my brother“. When my wife tried to pay the bill, he felt offended and completely rejected to accept that, while his wife said, “Turkish hospitality for Pakistani friends.”

Turkish version of 'qeemay wala naan'

Turkish version of 'qeemay wala naan'

I think I travelled and explore Turkey well beyond what’s possible in a short trip. Went to many places, met many people. There is no doubt about the fact that they know us and they love us. Why ? There is perhaps no known answers. Perhaps, just because we are Pakistanis. And mind you, not even another Pakistani or Pakistan itself would love you aaj-kal for this reason alone – and this is why I am so in love with Turkey.


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