Friday, 31 July 2015

Hospitality: the City vs. the Village

by Ayesha Tarek
Photo credit: Eric Lafforgue/Flickr

In January of this year I was in rural Punjab conducting fieldwork on a study called Women’s Work in Agriculture and Nutrition, prior to that I was interviewing adolescents and their families in lower income areas of Karachi for a study called Being an Adolescent in Karachi. As a surveyor I was introduced to interview respondents by a local resource person in both settings and although my position as a researcher was the same in both sites I noticed a stark difference in how people treated strangers between the two sites.

In rural-Southern Punjab people’s candour, warmth, and kindness were prominent. Even though majority of the interview respondents belonged to poor socio-economic backgrounds, they welcomed our survey team into their homes and were generous with their time and resources. People left what work they were doing to sit and answer our questions. Although we did most of the questioning, a common question put to us was, “Khaney mein kya leingey?” (What will you have to eat?) Even though we declined most of the time, respondents often brought dishes full of gravy or fruit at the end of the interview.

After experiencing such generosity at the first household we interviewed I assumed that the family’s hospitality would outweigh others, but I was mistaken. People behaved similarly in all the houses we visited. Forty year-old Amina helped to put things into perspective; she told us it wasn’t just about being a good host but also a matter of status and what was expected by other people in the village. Amina lives in a village located near Bahawalpur district. She is separated from her husband and resides with her brother and his family. “We can’t let you go without eating”, she said, while peeling another kinnow for us, “You are our guest. What will people say? Families who don’t welcome their guests are not respected. This is why we save money and keep it in case any guest arrives unannounced and there isn’t any food in the house.”

On the other hand while conducting interviews in Karachi, we as fieldworkers were looked at with suspicion and doubt in most sites. We couldn’t readily walk into people’s homes until they saw a familiar face, which is why our resource person, always a resident of the area we were working in, had to convince them first, gain their consent, and then we could proceed. At times even the resource person was unable to gain people’s trust and we had to move on to another eligible household.

In Karachi upon entering respondents’ homes some families offered us refreshments, but most did not. Many respondents were preoccupied either with household chores or getting ready to go to work, asking us to rush through the interview. Some had to travel long distances to get to work, whilst others had a tight schedule. When interviewing female members of the household, a male member often stood alongside her to see what we were talking about. It became apparent that in the city people had far less time for anything outside of their daily routine mainly because they had to get to work, which wasn't always the case for people in rural areas. But a striking difference remains in people’s temperament and how much time they have for others between rural and urban settings.

So why is there such a strong dissimilarity; can this variation be attributed to norms or what has become the people’s attitude?

It is quite common to value what is scarce and devalue what is ample in quantity. Could it be due to the abundance of strangers in the city, which is why they are valued in the villages? Or is it because residents of cities are habitually creating spaces and building boundaries? In what perhaps once started as a pursuit to safeguard family has now turned into a norm. Is the rising crime rate being used as an excuse to become unreceptive and alienate outsiders?