real men smoke cigarettes

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May 11th 2012
Published: May 11th 2012
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I am very pleased with my research team. They are super organized and are getting through all necessary interviews quicker than expected (which means I get to go back to my oasis in Jakarta a day early). I also don’t feel like I have to hover over them to make sure everything goes according to protocol. The research capacity here in Indonesia is quite high.

But as in other countries, data collection is often an uncomfortable process. My research manager called yesterday evening to say he was going straight home rather than meeting me for a debrief meeting because he just spent the last couple of hours doing an interview while sitting next to a chicken coop and was not smelling so nice.

Yesterday morning I sat in on a focus group with women from a community. We were all on a thin mat on a concrete floor in a very warm community room. I was uncomfortably warm and had to step out into the humid “fresh” air a few times. They were all dressed in hijab and long pants and tops. One had brought her daughter, who looked about 6 years old. She watched me closely the entire time as she entertained herself, but was too shy to play with me. A guy on a bicycle with a kids’ ride rigged to the front stopped outside of the building, and I tried to convince the little girl to ride on it, but she hid behind a pillar at the entrance.

After the FGD, my team went to the mosque to pray. They do this at least 3-4 times per day while I am with them. While they did that, 2 women pulled me in the direction of their homes. One woman introduced me to her husband. Another pulled me down a concrete alley between the backs of houses to her own. Her mother and aunt were on the floor in one room eating their lunch. They were shocked to see me stroll up unexpectedly, but seemed happy to have a visitor.

The woman brought me into her room, which was a small concrete building that reeked of mold. As soon as we stepped through the doorway she removed her hijab, and her hair was plastered with sweat underneath. She laid out a mat on the floor and invited me to sit down. She appeared to be a seamstress, as she had 2 sewing machines and lots of thread and other materials. She chattered away at me in Bahasa with a big smile on her face. I had absolutely no clue what she was saying, but I said to her in English, “I have no idea what you are saying to me, but I am going to keep smiling and nodding because you seem happy I am here.” She continued talking and laughing.

We sat there for a few minutes, and she managed to say “single mother” in English and that she had 2 children. I think she told me what became of their father, but I have no idea what she said. After several minutes I got up to leave to meet my team again and escape the hot, moldy room. I stepped outside to put my shoes back on, and she quickly put her hijab back on. We walked back to the mosque, and people looked at us as we walked by, some of them smiling, some of the kids hiding when I motioned hello to them. The heat was almost unbearable, but that little visit to these women’s homes made it absolutely worth it, as this was the real Indonesia.

I took half of my team to lunch while we waited for the other half to finish their morning interviews, and of all places they chose A&W for fried chicken (and rice, not fries). We talked about the interviews so far, and how there is a perception that “real men” smoke cigarettes. They told me that one woman during her interview said she does not allow her son to smoke in her home but wants him to smoke outside because she doesn’t want him to be too girly. My fieldworkers also told me that if a man is smoking in a public place against the city’s policy, only a woman could ask him to stop. Men will not argue with a woman because it is seen as disrespectful, unless she is a real nag or he is in a powerful position, such as a boss or government official.

We also talked about religion in Indonesia. 85% are Muslims, the rest are Protestants, Catholics, Buddhists, Hindus, Confucists, and “believers.” My one fieldwoker told me not to tell anyone I am Jewish, just that I am a believer. She told me many of the Muslims hate Jews, perhaps because Indonesian Muslims have formed an alliance recently with Middle Eastern Muslims who are anti-Israel. I usually do not advertise my religious upbringing when traveling unless asked directly, but apparently here it is just better if I say I am a Christian or a believer. I felt a pit in my stomach during that conversation, because it’s been a long time since I have been the target of anti-Semitism directly. My Muslim field worker was very gentle about the whole conversation, however. It was clear she doesn’t know why some Muslims are so scared of Jews. I decided not to pursue the conversation any further.

On a lighter note, I also sat in on an interview with a high-ranking police officer yesterday. I strolled into the police station with my male field worker. Several officers were outside smoking (right under no smoking signs), playing some sort of board game, and giving each other shoulder massages. Like any other male-dominated office in any part of the world, I immediately felt objectified. Although I couldn’t understand what they were saying, several of them eyed me up and down and flirted with me with a few English words but mostly in Bahasa. Luckily we were quickly moved into our interview.

Halfway through the discussion, some officers lined up outside the window of the office we were in and started their stretches in the courtyard, counting to 10 for each position in loud, husky voices. I was sitting there trying not to laugh as I realized what a comedy my life is sometimes.


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