Quayyum Raja’s Unfolding Life : Chapter 2
“FIRST JOURNEY ABROAD”
I was in Secondary School when my family suggested I should join my eldest brother Nazir Raja in Amsterdam Holland. On the one hand, I was excited. On the other hand, I was sad leaving me widowed mother though a brother and younger sister were at home to look after her.
A cousin Raja Amratullah Khan and I took a plane to Damascus on 15 of May 1975. We wanted to stay in Turkey for a few days before going to Holland. This was my first ever air journey. Amratullah Khan was 12 years older than me, but he was somewhat hesitant though very calculating. Whenever we had to talk to someone, he would push me to go first. I didn’t like it but it worked out well for me as it gave me more experience and confidence to communicate with foreigners. Amratullah Khan used the same tactics when we arrived at Damascus immigration desk. As I submitted my Pakistsni passport to a young immigration officer, he said with a smile “welcome.” This was a good sign. Then he said Pakistan is our brother. “We love Ali Bhutto.” Amratullah Khan was now overjoyed and submitted his passport as well. We took a taxi from airport to go to a Bus Station which would take us to Halab. I could recall the word Halab mentioned in our Islamic Studies text book. It excited me even more that we were in a place where our beloved Prophet led a caravan on behalf of would be his wife who assigned him a business trip. We didn’t have Syrian currency. So, when I gave fare to a tax driver in USD, I expected some money back but the taxi driver said to me that I should give him and Allah would give me. I retorted that Allah selected Arabic language for Arabs. So better he asked Allah himself. He laughed and said you are a brother and you don’t need to pay. I told him he could keep the change as a brother and we left. When we arrived at the bus station, I saw a big sign board stating “HALAB.” I felt honoured for being in Syria, where our Prophet went on behalf of her wife before marrying her. I was too young at that time and couldn’t make as good observations as I can do now. I wish I can go again.
Spending some hours in Halab, we took a bus to Antakya, a bordering city between Syria and Turkey. It is a populous city that was conquered by the most famous Arab military leader, Khalid ibn Walid, but it was taken back by Turkey in 1939. Its Turkish name was Antioch. Everything went smoothly at the border. As soon as we entered Turkey, we went to a bank to change the currency. I submitted a US travel check. The bank lady asked me for passport. As soon as she saw my Pakistani passport, she took with a smile and kissed it. She said “we love Pakistan.” I discovered later that it was due to military support Pakistan gave to Turkey over the Cyprus crisis with Greek in 1973. I was surprised that a few years later in 1979 during my second trip to Turkey, the most Turkish banks would refuse to cash in the travel checks in the name of any Pakistani. The perception changed because the countless Pakistani agents stationed in Turkey for human trafficking, cheated the Turkish banks by submitting fake checks. My checks were genuine and I felt dismayed when a doubt was cast on me because of the disgusting behavior of some Pakistani human traffickers. When in Istanbul, Amratullah Khan met with an old friend who said he needed a bank statement for some business and requested him to lend him travel check for a few days. In those days, only $500 was permitted to take out from Pakistan. Amratullah Khan gave all his travel checks to his friend named Sarwar Khan of Bihal, Khuiratta and asked me to do the same. I smelt something bad about this man and I refused to give my travel checks. Amratullah Khan eventually persuaded me saying his friend was a good man but I still kept $100 . That cruel friend of Amratullah named Sarwar Khan, possessing a British passport bought an air ticket and returned to Pakistan leaving his friend Amratullah penniless in the middle of the world. I asked Amratullah Khan if his judgement of his friend was right or that of mine. Amratullah Khan had no word. The one hundred USD I had hidden saved us. I sent a telegram to my brother Nazir Raja, who sent me more than enough money. We flew to Frankfurt. We stayed there only one day as I was impatient to rejoin my brother in Amsterdam.
We took a train from Frankfurt to Amsterdam one morning in June 1975 and arrived in the afternoon. When Amratullah Khan guessed that the Dutch immigration officers entered the train, he gave me his passport and pretended to be in deep sleep. His passport and visa were absolutely genuine and I just didn’t know why he was avoiding talking to immigration every time. Two Dutch immigration officers entered our cabin and said: “Passaport.” I gave both passports to the immigration officers, who checked the visa and inscribed entry stamp. As soon as the immigration officers left, Amratullah opened his eyes, smiled and said: “it was so easy.” I said, “ja, because I have to talk every time.”
our train reached Amsterdam in the afternoon. I told Amratullah Khan to get off and he said, “make sure it is Amsterdam.” I shouted “for God’s sake, come down. The train is going to move.”
The taxi stand was just outside the railway station. As we spoke to the taxi driver, we noticed the difference of language. The Dutch, though a small nation with a 16 million population, they were very proud of their language and history. They would correct and tell us to pronounce the names of the places in Dutch if and when we called them in English. The taxi took about half an hour to reach Bijlmermeer, also called Bijlmer. My brother lived in a building named Geinweik. There were countless buildings in the town. Every building had its own garage, park, market and a bus stop. As the taxi driver dropped us in front of the garage, we saw a Bangali looking couple coming out from the market, but we later discovered that they were from Surinam. A man was holding one side of a bag of goods and his wife from the other side of the bag. They looked like an ideal young couple. As soon as the lady looket at us, she shouted: “Nazir ka baya” (Nazir’s brother). I looked very much like my brother and the lady who turned out to be my brother’s neighbor, was absolutely sure who I were. The couple took us to my brother and the reunion still vibrates my heart.
The town Biljmer was developed in 1960 to accommodate increasing population, mainly from a Dutch colony of Surinam. The town failed to make social cohesion and the tower types buildings were replaced with lower size flats, following the Bijlmer disaster, when a cargo plane crashed into two blocks of the building in 1992. I was not in Holland at that time but I heard in the news.
Language Learning Method
I stayed two years with my brother in Amsterdam before returning home. Since there were no mobile phones in those days, Amsterdam Square was the meeting point for friends. It seemed as if Amsterdam was built on a sea and lakes as water would run from under many buildings with large poles underneath. One can’t help being impressed by the construction skills of the Dutch. There were parks everywhere. The transport system was very good and economical. Passengers could buy either zonal or city transport cards, which could be used as many times for trams and buses as one wanted to. Amsterdam is called an international city of flowers.
I learnt formal gramatical Dutch language in school. My young Dutch female teacher was pregnant. Therefore, very cleverly, she would encourage discussions between students, sitting herself at her desk and enjoy interactions. The students who would speak too much made too many mistakes. She said she was surprised I was reticent but my answers were often correct. She asked me how I was learning. I said “kijken, horen, denken en spreken” (looking, listening, thinking and speaking). My amused teacher said “moie” (beautiful) She called it “Gayoom method.” The Dutch people find it hard to say Q and replace it with G, which is خ in Urdu. The language school days in Amsterdam were memorable. I found the Dutch people very welcoming, charming, inspiring and uplifting. They were delighted that I was learning their language and encouraged me to improve it. My interest in Dutch language earned me many local friends. Some of them used to take me home. Within a few months, I could converse very well in Dutch. The Dutch were very studious, punctual and disciplined people. These were some of the qualities which led this small nation to be counted for among the successful and modern developed nations of the century. Sometimes I miss Holland and I wish I could go there again. I carry on some of the social values I learnt during my formative years in Holland. I have very pleasant memories of this lovely land of Netherlands, which will always be remembered by me with respect and admiration.
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