Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Do you eat rice?

Amakan house
Today, my research team - an interpreter/research assistant, my daughter and I - visited an amakan village on the other side of the city. It's called an amakan village because the walls of the houses are made of amakan (bamboo). The walls are lightweight and well-suited to rapid construction and demolition - a key criterion of temporary housing. At its peak, the village housed over 200 households (roughly 1000 men, women and children survivors of Typhoon Sendong). Only 62 families currently reside there. The remaining families are scheduled to move into permanent relocation housing by April or June of this year.

Amakan houses and empty spaces where amakan houses once stood
The answers of the residents to my research questions were fascinating. It is not their answers, however, that I want to share in this post; it is their questions.

At the end of each interview and focus group discussion, I ask respondents what (if any) questions they have for me. About half of the respondents don't have any questions and prefer to move on with the rest of their day. Of the respondents who elect to pose questions, most inquire about the research itself or how I am enjoying life in the Philippines. If Ada is with me, then I am often asked "lalaki or babae?" (boy or girl), "how many months?", and "is the father Pinoy?". This 'second interview' typically lasts only several minutes.

Today, the second interview was much longer. There was a back and forth of questions, a comedic  performance, a round of pass-the-baby, and peals of laughter. I tried to answer the questions as fully and truthfully as I could but I didn't have all the answers. Here's a smattering of their queries.

They inquired about the Canadian climate and weather:
  • What kind of precipitation is there in Canada?
  • How cold is it?
  • Do you like snow and cold?
  • What are the seasons in Canada?
  • Do people freeze in the wintertime?
Other questions delved into family and personal matters:
  • Do you have more children?
  • How old are you?
  • Where do you stay here in the Philippines?
  • When did you arrive in the Philippines?
  • Where is your husband? What does he do here?
  • What is your husband's job? Does he have a salary here in the Philippines?
Then, there were the food questions:
  • Do you eat rice?
  • Why don't you eat rice three times a day?
  • What do you eat?
  • Is it true that there are people in the USA who only eat fruits and vegetables and bread?
  • What is your favourite Filipino food?
There were questions about social issues in Canada:
  • Are there poor people in Canada?
  • Is there a social safety net for poor people and unemployed people in Canada? Does the government provide them with free housing?
  • How does the welfare system work?
And, some questions about transportation:
  • How long does it take to get to the United States? By car? By plane?
  • Are there buses in Canada?
  • How do people travel long distances in Canada?
Other inquiries focused on their observations of foreigners (i.e. white) in the Philippines:
  • Why do foreign men like Filipina women? 
  • Why do foreigners always walk [instead of taking a motorella, jeepney, habal-habal (motorbike)]  even when it is so hot and only 7 to 10 pisos?
  • Why do American men walk so fast - like this [imitation of a man taking enormous strides]? His Filipina wife has to walk so fast just to keep up [imitation of a women hurrying around taking four or five tiny steps just to keep up with the husband], and she's usually pregnant [arm gestures to indicate a pregnant belly].
The questions you ask can reveal a lot about you, perhaps even more than the response. It's an issue I've considered in the process of designing and carrying out my research. In asking respondents to take a turn as the interviewer, I can learn about values, stereotypes, cultural biases, among other things. And, in answering questions, I can satisfy their curiosity and hopefully help to nurture cross-cultural understanding.

And now my closing questions to you:
  • How would you have answered the above questions?
  • What question(s) do you have?

1 comment:

  1. Hi Chris,
    I like your approach ... I have found turning the interviewer/interviewee roles around very helpful, and usually learned that people had quite different concerns than I did (eg: at a gender and trade workshop in Latin America, the first question put to me was what did I think about US practice of spraying toxic chemicals on coca production areas, thereby rendering the land useless for 7 years). Will you be able to share your tentative findings/conclusions with the community to get some feedback?