Traveling teaches lessons that cannot be learned through books or teachers. Back in October 2013, I stepped out of Pakistan, all alone, for the first time and the feeling was quite similar to that of a young adult asked to find his/her own ways in an unknown maze. It was a journey undertaken to cover the second Turk-Arab Youth Congress at Istanbul, Turkey as a student journalist and to draft reports of the sessions conducted over there. Unlike exchange programs and other international fellowships, during which students travel in a group, I happened to be the only Pakistani leaving for the congress. It was excitingly scary to give myself a chance for self-exploration. At the same time it was a comforting thought that Pakistan has brotherly relations with Turkey. As soon as I landed at Istanbul Atatürk Airport, surprises started to embrace me one by one.
1-Green Passport received with a warm smile
I was amazed to encounter a pleasant smile at the airport as the officer stamped my passport and found out that I was coming from Pakistan. Our passport is stigmatized (usually) and doesn’t receive a positive glare in many parts of the world. A welcoming gesture wasn’t expected, but I was fortunate to find friendly signs right from the beginning of my adventure to explore Istanbul within a week.
2-Turks won’t let you drag your luggage for yourself
Yes! They simply won’t- no matter how much you assure them that you can easily drag your luggage. Even upon my insistence the logistical team of the congress and even the students who were a part of the administration asked me to let them drag my luggage. They go an extra mile to make sure that their scale of hospitality doesn’t get disturbed.
3-They are good at speaking German and Arabic
They are not well-versed in English and other than the native Turkish language they are more eloquent in German and can comprehend Arabic better off. Even at the airport, people find it difficult to speak English. This gave me an idea that shopping wouldn’t be an easy task due to the language barrier.
4-They don’t let you get bored
They accompany you and talk to you while you are waiting for either a vehicle or a person. Turks are curious to know about Pakistanis and Pakistan. The sad part is that most of them don’t know that Islamabad is in Pakistan, but they do know a lot about Islamabad (at least).
5-The traffic – it’s awful
The first thing that came across my mind while sitting in the van and traveling for good 2 hours to reach the hotel from the airport was that – why does the Chief Minister of Punjab want to make Lahore look like Istanbul? In my opinion, Lahore already looks like Istanbul when it comes to traffic jams during inter-city traveling.
6-While shopping it’s a must to visit everyone’s shop if you are a Pakistani (even window shopping)
The interestingly hilarious surprises came my way during shopping. While I was out in the city with one of my friends from Lithuania, I forgot to take off the name identity tag provided by the congress which included my name on it. Shopkeepers started calling out my name to invite me in their shops and that is the perfect pronunciation of my name, I’ve heard from any stranger so for! (Maybe because my name is an Arabic word, they were quite familiar with it) Anyhow, upon knowing that I am a Pakistani they started offering discounts and gave additional nuts along with Turkish tea at a cafe. Almost all the shopkeepers wanted me to visit their shops as soon as they knew about my nationality.
Above all, there was a thumbs up each time I said: “I am from Pakistan!” Istanbul startled me with its unprecedented hospitality along with the amazing feeling generated through the authentic smiles that brightened their faces upon hearing the name of ‘Pakistan’.