Me at the top of Fort Kot Diji in District Khairpur of Northern Sindh.
My Dearest Friends,
So, it has been a long time since I wrote here or even visited these pages.
My previous posts noted travel overseas for my doctoral field research. So I guess I have a good excuse for the long hiatus.
And I only recently returned from 5 months of fieldwork in Pakistan which included extensive within country travels. I actually came back exactly three weeks ago and have been transitioning and picking up the pieces.
The adjustment from the fieldwork has been harder than I imagined it would be, which is why it took me three weeks to return to my blog space and even to begin writing a post.
There would be moments during my time in Pakistan and even when I came back that I would go to my page and just think about the many things I want to write. But I couldn’t get myself to type anything…. It is more than a mental block, or maybe the mental block that exists is impacting me at an emotional and physical level as well.
Although I did blog some of my experiences while in Pakistan on my other website: www.elsatkhwaja.com, with everything so fast paced in the field, I couldn’t find the time to write/blog as much as I wanted during my trip.
But I would always be thinking about what I want to write and all that I have to share. I am trying to bring back the habit of writing, because only through practice are we able to maintain a healthy habit and improve our skills.
I have so much to share, and I think that the overwhelming feeling and pressure I am putting on myself has prevented me from writing as well. This has partly to do with the perfectionist in me. Partly because of all the amazing things I experienced in Pakistan and how it has affected me at a very deep level.
It is a challenge for every perfectionist to START something. Part of the scientist or creative within you wishes you had the power to just enter a code, and it could magically transform into EVERYTHING you envision, as beautiful as it sits in your mind and soul. You don’t want to let it go from where it’s settled because you know it may lose its beauty and value. And ultimately nothing seems to translate onto the page exactly the way you imagine and feel it.
And it is especially very difficult to even attempt it after experiencing something so magnificent. You want to hold it in your heart as long as you can, while the beauty of the memories are still fresh and present, because of the fear that it won’t come out the way you imagined it and you won’t be able to do justice to it, the way you should. It isn’t so much about the potential criticism you could receive, but that it won’t be presented the way you understand or feel it.
When I returned from my Pakistan fieldwork, I went for a jog in my neighborhood for the first time, perhaps on my second morning back. Jogging outside, as I have noted in previous posts, has become another form of remembrance of God for me, among other things. It’s hard to believe that over five months ago, I was jogging in this same neighborhood to relieve the anxiety and uncertainty, and to reflect on how I was actually going to pull off my fieldwork ambitions and goals in Pakistan.
I was here again on these streets…with a great amount of gratitude, reflecting on how I actually pulled it off and at moments still wondering if it actually did happen. But still, for the past several weeks, I felt a numbness, and as I said, it has been taking longer for some reason to warm up again to my surroundings and for all the work I need to do. In the beginning it felt as if a part of me is still in Pakistan …(although that may be the typical ABCD dilemma) … Especially when I am getting flashbacks of my amazing time in the four major cities, Islamabad, Peshawar, Lahore, Karachi, and especially going into interior Sindh to engage with rural communities, like in Sukkur and Thar…
And now I am scared to even touch or look through anything I was able to acquire from there. I don’t fully understand why it is taking me so long to come back, and to review and revisit all my belongings. I haven’t even opened or looked through the many souvenirs and gifts I got for my friends and family. This experience took so much out of me, but it gave me a lot in return…much of which I will only fully understand over time…. but that is why I have the energy and the heart to keep moving and take this to the finish…
The remaining journey in this doctorate is looking quite rough and overwhelming…but I recall trying to convince myself (at times during my jogs before traveling to Pakistan) that if I actually accomplish just a third of what I aimed to do in my fieldwork in Pakistan, I could do anything. And I was able to achieve the majority of my targets. And the fact that there were many items left hanging, was actually a sign that it was indeed a successful fieldwork experience.
Even against all odds… with a sincere heart and faith, everything is possible. And even though I feel I could not accomplish many things or so many things were left hanging, it is important to celebrate the positive aspects of it. I was able to travel so much, see so much, and conduct more than 100 field research interviews this round which concluded with a grand total of over 150 interviews, which was well over my target!
I may have noted this in a previous post: every time I have completed a milestone in my PhD, I run a “victory lap”. Similar to other “victory laps” I have done in the past, I celebrate the “Wow, I actually did it!” 🙂
Indeed a small milestone has been achieved… And during this particular “victory lap,” I thought about every face I saw, every person I engaged, every bridge that formed, and every place I traveled… and although I have felt an immense sense of responsibility, there is also some room for other emotions, like humility, pride, compassion, gratitude and determination… It is clear that ETK is not ETK without a purpose, and an important mission…
The few times I came back to this website and particularly at this moment, as I wrote this post, I would always get this overwhelming sensation of freedom and safety. I feel free and safe here, whether someone reads me or not. I hope these emotions can bring me back to writing again, because I have so much write and share and I will only feel fully free when I let it go…
It may take me a while to share all the highlights of my experiences, due to my focus on getting some pace and momentum to the data analysis stage of my research.
But Spring is now here and I’ve been warming up…And I’m ready to kick ass and rock the remainder of this incredible journey!
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” – Mark Twain
Peace, warmth, and blessings,