A Productive First Week of Fieldwork in Islamabad…

It is truly a blessing to witness the sun glaze the mountains in Islamabad, when I leave the lodges just several minutes before it’s time to set. My mind is rushing with so many thoughts about all I have to do, and all the people I have to meet, and at the moment in particular, another critical “informant” I must convene, but I cannot forget to take in the surroundings as well. Just like when you hear the Azaan, five times a day, no matter where you are in Pakistan, you stop and take a moment to listen, meditate, forget everything, and just remember God.

Some of the best field interviews are those where we meet at coffee shops and hotels. I had several in my exploratory trip last winter. But you need to manage eating, drinking, writing, and you can’t always feel comfortable recording, because of the background noise of people and expresso machines. The final two days of the week I was blessed to enjoy brilliant conversations with brilliant seasoned development practitioners, those who also aligned with my own views on the most sustainable development approaches. Yesterday, I met with the CEO of NRSP as a follow up from our Monday meeting. We had lunch at the beautiful Serena hotel. It was nice casual conversation, but part of me wishes I could have recorded it as well because the material was golden. Tried my best to take good notes on the stuff that could be on the record and I returned home to record my own thoughts. I think these are moments most memorable, ones you will cherish.

On Friday, (yesterday), the day started off slow and not as planned unfortunately, but then it picked up. That’s another norm here in Pakistan, something I learned last winter too, you just have to be ready for anything and immediately available and flexible, especially for your key informants (unless you are already in a meeting of course). I met the CEO of the Sarhad Rural Support Program (SRSP), another key organization I needed to link with. He happened to be in Islamabad for one day, at a coffee shop in the Koshar market, which was very lively in the evening when I arrived. He gave me so much of his time too and the insights were also brilliant. I couldn’t believe who I was sitting across from, (similar to other meetings). A leading Pakistan development expert and humanitarian award winner. I had the opportunity for a casual conversation, amid which he asked me what I like about Pakistan. I don’t think I answered it in the way I wanted to, but did my best to speak from my heart.

I enjoyed the meetings with people at coffee shops and restaurants, but I also enjoyed going to their offices or headquarters. Both are an enriching part of the fieldwork experience.

Later I visited an old family friend for dinner, who is a very well known here in Islamabad. People come in and out of his home on a daily basis. What was just supposed to be a dinner turned out to be a place that earned me 4-5 more key contacts either by phone or in person. I particularly appreciated being connected to a key contact I have been trying to reach for almost a year. It looks like what started off as a slow day became productive after all.

Got to keep the energy and stamina going because it is only the first week and so many contacts are rolling in all at once. But overall, I am satisfied with how things are going and I had a very strong first week in Islamabad.

One thing for sure: something that my mother told me on a video call last night, seeing the smiles on my face and sensing the immense joy in my voice, it does appear I am generally a lot happier in Pakistan than in the US. Or perhaps it is quite possible I am just happier outside the States. But sometimes at the end of the day, things are so challenging with the work, just letting yourself release those emotions and tears in the evening can be consoling during a tough fieldwork assignment. Regardless, if it hasn’t been clear enough, Pakistan has a very special place in my heart, so much more to learn, so much trust to earn, and I am already dismayed that I am leaving in a little less than 3 months. 🙂

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