Hospitality – The strong dissimilarity between rural and urban Pakistanis

Published: August 16, 2015

Pakistan is a lot more than what the world perceives it to be; we are kind, generous and hospitable people.

Earlier 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 on 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 their work to sit and respond to our questions. Although we did most of the questioning, a common question put to us was,

“Khaney mein kya leingey?”

(What would you like to eat?)

Even though we declined most of the time, respondents often brought dishes full of gravy or fruits 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 that 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 orange 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 seen 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, 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 with either 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 that wasn’t a part of their daily routine, mainly because they had to get to work, which wasn’t always the case for people in rural areas. However, a striking difference remains in people’s temperament and how much time they have for others between the rural and urban settings.

In the rural sector, people in the village make everyone a part of their home, their family and their community. In the city, we as people are divided into different groups according to class, caste and kinship, building barriers against one another.  Although these barriers also exist in the villages, the concepts of community and family are much more enforced in the rural sector. It is a norm that has been followed for generations. Residents of villages are a close knit community that protects and supports one another. They are unified and treat each other as their own.

On the other hand, in the urban sector people are more inclined towards individualistic behaviour, thinking and looking out for one’s own welfare. Some people may call us selfish and arrogant, but we associate such behaviour with intelligence and shrewdness, resulting in our victory. We put our own needs, wants and beliefs over others, giving our convenience, success, and what benefits us the utmost priority.

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?

This post originally appeared here.

Ayesha Tarek

Ayesha Tarek

The author is an aspiring writer and works as a Monitoring and Evaluation Officer at Creative Associates International.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.