Living the East Meets West Dream

One of the many assignments required of us in my MA program was a feature that had to be of a publishing standard. The intention naturally was to pitch and try to get it published in a commercial UK based publication. My piece was on my experiences in Turkey in the summer of 2011.

I was quite excited when HuffingtonpostUK accepted my pitch and asked for a copy. Although it did not make it to their website I can hold my chest up high knowing they considered my story. Following is my final copy:

 

Setting foot outside my country for the first time to a place as wonderful as Turkey, to meet a girl I have only known through the internet seemed like a great idea when I was planning this vacation five months ago. Now punch-drunk-love for real on a bus to Kuşadası, my mind was exhausted from traveling and the experience of landing in Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen international airport.

After 20 hours of cheap airline food and excitement if you find out from a local travel agent that Bulgarian girls are known to con men to get their money, nobody can blame you for having thoughts of just dropping the façade and going back home.

I had simply taken a leap of faith and set out to find my free spirited friend from Bulgaria, our rendezvous point Istanbul! But now that I had made it to this rock, conquered the finances, navigated through the visa issues unique to Pakistanis, taken leave from work, now what? Will she even come?

I was going to spend four days exploring Kuşadası, an offbeat resort town on the western coast of Turkey before returning to Istanbul to meet her. Why couldn’t I have just gone to Dubai or Bangkok instead? As comical as my predicament sounded, especially being a Pakistani, it seemed too late to turn back now.

 

Kuşadası an offbeat trail

The hotel Asia Apart in Kuşadası didn’t look much and was the cheapest single room I could find on Expedia.com. But to my intense surprise this fact worked out for my benefit, for being small and family-run meant that the patrons were treated warmly as if guests in a household.

While visiting historic sites like Ephesus, St John’s church and St Mary’s shrine in the dry-sunny Mediterranean weather was something I had never done before, enjoying a cold lager by the harbor close to sunset and reflecting on these visits was truly an out of world experience for me (alcohol is prohibited in my country for all practical purposes).

Thus after the hectic events of the past few days it was finally beginning to feel like a vacation.

I have known Gergana for 10 years. We met in an online chat room and continued to stay in touch over emails. Skype came later on. We practically grew up together and even though we haven’t met I knew so much about this person at the other end of the world.

After four days of enjoying a utopian time in a rustic Kuşadası, it was time to return to Istanbul and pick my friend from the bus station.

This was it.

 

Feeling Just Right in Istanbul

Now Istanbul with its unique geography has an exotic aura unlike any other cosmopolitan city center in the world. I remember being nervous waiting in the arrivals section but when our eyes met, the abstract nature of our relationship vanished. We hugged and exchanged formalities, a bit dumbstruck at first that this was finally happening.

After freshening up we had a nice dinner in an upscale restaurant that had a magnificent view; facing the iconic Istanbul skyline, above rows upon rows of city lights, in the distance the two mosques shimmering in their mighty splendor and the Bosphorus strait separating Asia from Europe. Some blessed soul out there was blazing fireworks which were periodically lighting up the night sky next to a full golden moon. I hungrily absorbed every bit of it and realized that our story was turning out to be a blend of ‘East meets West’ in every sense of the term.

She told me she had just two days before returning back to Sofia or before her dad who was already apprehensive about the mysterious Pakistani phone codes in the bills discovered where she had been. Often at times I would guide her about in places we would visit, pay for her bus fare and among other things look after her. There were many amusing similarities between my strange European friend and Pakistani women. Nevertheless our odd combination would often raise eyebrows.

At other times there were small things about her that were both annoying and fascinating; like a strong distaste for throwing cigarette butts on the road or leaving empty bottles behind.

By far our best moment together was walking hand in hand, over the Galata Bridge when the weather was a nice blend of chill and sweat of a sleepy Istanbul summer night. And though our parting was rather prosaic, both of us having accepted the magic of it all lay in the moment, I had an emotional breakdown when I returned home.

An Afterthought

My family has a construction business back home and does rather well. I however have always known that my future lay somewhere else. Taking this vacation gave me the strength to leave it all behind and pursue a career in creative writing.

As for me and Gergana, it does not matter what happens next perhaps we will meet again perhaps we won’t. The important thing is that we shared some incredible moments. Our relationship is pure and free from deceit something only a lucky few get to experience in such a grand fashion.

 

The End

What do You Remember of Your Time on Earth?

Remember one of my earlier post? where I shared my experience of Eid holidays and one particular ‘first day of eid’ where me and my friends hit the streets late at night and went exploring some legacy hotels around Karachi? well, that very same day some thing else happened, which at the time was making the blog post seemed inappropriate and out of place so I didn’t mention it… However now, as is the case with most (I daresay all) of my posts coming from the depths of my twisted mind, I feel that that single event has finally found a post of its own.

This blog will be a collection of some short interesting events which most of you will find boring and perhaps a few will take it as food for thought.

Finger Licking ‘Cute’??!

Hmmm… that day right after finishing the Dog Day Afternoon and finalizing the night scene with mates, I made the significant effort of getting out of my stupor to fetch dinner from a nearby KFC outlet. As tedious as the task was, coming from a man fed up of doing the routine family scene all day and bored out of his mind, I decided to make the effort of driving to the nearby joint. Ordered a Zinger Xtreme! the only sandwich I like at KFC, took the receipt and was hanging around idle around the counter when I heard some laughter coming behind the silver shelves. I shifted a bit to my right so I could see the origin of this levity. It really wasn’t something extraordinary, two  KFC serving personnel, a boy and a girl standing relaxed in a corner in their uniform and gossiping about god knows what, they were very comfortable with each other gauging by their mannerism,  but most important of all they were… Happy. Happily chatting away and going about their conversation oblivious to who ever is watching or whatever is going around them. These two young people belonging to the lower income segment of my hypocritical society, not giving a fuck about the taboos, societal norms or there financial constraints and instead working on the first day of Eid-ul-Fitr, a national holiday, a public holiday all over the moslem world!,, making the most of it…there was something soothing about watching these two., it actually brought a smile on my face and put me in a good mood for the rest of that night.

A Club Night in Istanbul

A guy gets out of a club on the European side of Istanbul. The name of the club is Cuba. He has a bottle of beer in one hand and an Eastern European girl is walking by his side. The two are in an apparent haze of  joy and longing for one another, momentarily forgetting the discomfort of spending two nights together and seeing each other in person for the first time in eight years… momentarily forgetting the awful verbal abuses exchanged in the past couple of hours, momentarily forgetting that this is their last night together for another eight years or maybe never again, momentarily forgetting that one of them is from Eastern Europe and the other is from Pakistan, a distant land plagued with extremism, violent political storms and a crippling economy frozen in time.

The boy stops at an ATM, not getting jack shit of the alphabet appearing on the screen but manages to get some lira out. They hail a taxi and head out into the night. The girl doesn’t want to go to the hotel, she wants to do something else, it is 3am in the morning on a Saturday…. They stopped the taxi over the Galata bridge conntecting old Istanbul with the new Istanbul with a river flowing in between. As the taxi drives off, they both start walking across the bridge, the weather is just the perfect blend of chill and sweat. There

The Galata Bridge

conversation is limited to pleasentaries, they do not talk much but admire the beauty of the night of a summertime Istanbul. Along the ledge of  the bridge there are people of different races fishing together unconcerned about who walks by, what time it is or whether tonight is even a good night for fishing…. Our strange couple walks among these fisherman, pass a local policeman and just stare out. It truly is a beautiful night. Or is it? There is an invisible almost palpable wall between them. The two wished they could understand what it all meant…

Yaser

“…-and this, my good students is why it is important for a company to have greater share of equity rather then liability” the professor summarizes as I finish taking the last of my notes from a finance lecture eons ago.

A Job well done I looked to my right, my buddy was dozing off oblivious to what is going on around him.

“You!!”

I looked up and turned a shade of bright red on finding the entire class staring at me and my friend.

“You!!” the professor yelled once again

“How many times have I told you not to sleep in my lectures! I understand that you are working a night shift, I understand that you are working 12 hours a day, I understand that you are in need..,but this is disrespectful and simply not tolerable. If you can’t keep pace with the rest of us maybe you should just quit!” —

After the end of the lecture my friend and I went outside for a cigarette, decided to bunk the rest of the day, smoked a joint and decided to check out Empress Market in Saddar. It was probably another one of those crazy things I have done. The idea seemed very interesting and thats exactly what we did.

During the course of the afternoon, we traveled all across Saddar in a public bus, stoned out of our minds, checked out pet animals in Empress Market, visited a friend in Gulistan-e-Johar for some PS3 street fighting gaming, there was also an instance of me throwing up in the toilet, another instance of us rolling joints on top of a bridge in rush hour traffic, and ending up in Askari three where another friend was waiting for us…

We spent the entire night listening to trance, grilling chicken on his roof top and ofcourse rolling more joints. During one of these random sessions I remember him telling me something:

“Man, I am trying, I am trying to keep everything in balance but the way that bitch discouraged me this morning I say fuck it! you know what I think, maybe she is right, I should just stop studying and concentrate on my work”

He dropped out of university after trying to complete the program for 3 consecutive years. One of the most original people I have ever met. Hats off to you buddy. God be with you.

I don’t know what it all means. But if I was to die suddenly, unfortunately, at this very instance and was facing God who is asking me;

“Son what do you remember of your time on Earth, don’t think just tell me the first few things that come to your mind.” These are few of the events I will tell Him…

…And then I’ll hum this tune 🙂 :