Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Tandoori Research

Greetings from a ‘tandoor!’ It is scorching hot here! Every day feels hotter than the day before. I cannot stand the heat. I can feel the sweat in my clothes every day. Thank goodness for showers. Cold, freezing showers, I mean.

On Sunday, I went to go live with Nano (maternal grandmother). I like visiting her. She, along with my two khalas (mother’s sisters), one mamu (mother’s brother), and mami (mamu’s wife) live together in Mansehra. I figured it would be a good excuse to escape Qalandarabad for a few days, spend time with my second half of family relatives, and begin my sociological research.

As part of my independent study in sociology with Professor Christensen in the upcoming fall semester, I am researching what it means to have dual identities. More specifically, I am interested in knowing the views of college students about Pakistanis living in America. I want to compare a 200-sample from Hazara University, located in the ‘conservative’ Mansehra, and Punjab University, located in the ‘liberal’ Lahore. This study first and foremost stems from personal curiosity, as I am also a Pakistani living in America. Secondly, I am interested in learning how intersections of gender, geographical location, and ideological beliefs of a place impact one’s perception of native-born Pakistanis who have either acquired a second, American citizenship or are willfully choosing to live in America for a majority of their lifetime. I am hoping that this research sheds some light on the complexities of dual nationalities.

On Monday, Baba came to Nano’s house at 9:30 a.m. to pick me up. With 200 copies of my already-prepared survey in hand, I left the house looking forward to a great day ahead of me. This would be my first time visiting Hazara University, for I had only heard of the institution in conversation with people. We had scheduled a meeting with the Vice Chancellor—equivalent of an American university or college president—at 10 a.m., but of course we had to wait 45 minutes for our turn. Once we got Vice Chancellor's permission from his office, we were free to roam the campus on our own. But we didn’t want to do that. On such a large campus, how would we ever find students from different departments to take my survey? And I wanted as diverse a sample as possible. Thankfully, two students, both of whom were campus proctors, were assigned to assist us. They were very cooperative and patient.

As we visited each classroom, I introduced myself and explained, in English, what my research was about. Each participating student had to sign a consent form. It was an interesting experience visiting these classrooms with Baba and the two proctors. Even though I am a confident public speaker, I still felt pressured in two opposite directions. According to Baba’s expectations, I had to be very formal and proper, only making eye contact with the female students and remembering not to smile at the male students—because doing so would mean I am leading them on for "something." Then there was pressure from my audience; all of the students that sat before me were approximately my age even though some looked older. The twenty-some pairs of eyes, some from behind burqas, in every classroom felt like twenty-some pairs of video camera lens, all zoomed in. I felt as though I was being monitored, and that there was no room for errors. My every word, my every gesture would be memorialized for better or for worse—so I had to be perfect. Thankfully, I was able to cool my nerves. Mr. Coch, my sixth grade teacher, always used to say that whenever we are nervous of public speaking, always imagine a room full of mirrors. That way, you are practically talking to yourself. As I explained to every student what their commitment entailed by taking my survey, I was reminded of my very first class presentation ever. It was in Mr. Coch’s class. We had to make a 10-minute “speech” about any topic of our choice. I, of course, chose a random thing to research: the lady slipper—it’s a rare flower that grows in arid areas. Every time I spoke to the Hazara students, for some reason random facts about the lady slipper hovered in the back of my mind. Weird, much?

Luckily, I was able to survey 200 students all in one day. These surveys would provide me quantitative data in my research. To obtain qualitative data, I had to conduct interviews. Thanks to Prof. Riley's Research and Methods class, I am an aspiring researcher. On Monday night, I looked through every survey (it took 2 hours!) and selected 4 boys and 4 girls for interviews. There was no formal criterion for selection; I simply chose students based on their interesting or odd choice of responses to some of my questions. On Tuesday, I again went to Hazara University with Baba, who picked me up from Nano’s house. This time, only one of the proctors was available to assist us. We had difficulty finding the selected students so we referred to plan B: randomly selecting other students who had taken the survey. I was able to conduct 4 interviews on Tuesday and 4 on Wednesday. Each interviewee received a monetary token of appreciation for their time. With money in the equation, you bet everyone wanted to be interviewed.

I am now back in Bandi Dhudan. It is about 2:40 a.m. and I am about to sleep soon. My mami is expected to deliver a baby tonight so Baba and I are waiting for the phone to ring with some good news.

By the way, a tandoor is an open-top cylindrical oven in which rotis are cooked. Google some images. :)


  1. Your comments about balancing in that intersection are very insightful. I wonder if you sense that Pakistani students you were talking to are also balancing between two (or more) worlds. Although they've grown up in Pakistan, perhaps their education and access to technology, have given them perspectives that are more global than those of their parents and elders. Although your current focus is Pakistan, I'm reminded of my years as an American woman in Mexico, where I was expected by my Mexican husband to avoid eye contact and socialization with non-family males. As a teacher, I had a robust interaction with both young men and women. This led to even more "robust" tension with husband and in-laws. Times have changed, of course, in the cities. But, as you point out, in more rural areas, change is seen as threatening to traditional values. KEEP COOL :)

  2. Hi Ms. Kathryn. Actually, during my interactions with the students at Hazara University, I did sense they were more "advanced." Almost every student had a cell phone, they were all texting and using the Internet as if it were second nature to them - and it was. I definitely think access to technology, and especially a connection with the rest of the world through the Internet (i.e. Facebook) has allowed these students to be up to date.

    I think there are a lot of similarities with the conservative social culture of Mexico and Pakistan - and perhaps all other non-Western cultures. I think it's interesting to note that the West perceives the lack of gender mixing as "oppression" where as non-Western countries perceive it as a threat to family honor. The social standards are very polarized.

  3. So I'm reading these in reverse order, and wondering why you felt unaccomplished in your most recent post. You got 200 surveys done in one day and 8 interviews! That's fantastic! I can't wait to hear how the interviews (and surveys) went!