I have interviewed around 5 Bangladeshi women who are pensioners and one would assume, when doing a narrative interview with them, they would turn out to be the longest out of all the interviews conducted but they weren’t! One of the first challenges I was presented with was ensuring I was able to convey the questions in Bengali to the women, providing them with as much context as possible. Before starting with the interviews, the women would enquire about the project and ask me many personal questions about where my family is from in Bangladesh and how I became involved in the project. Once this segment of the pre-interview was over the women made themselves comfortable and we were able to start the interview.
The interviews with these women were fascinating because I could see their hesitation initially and had assumed that would disappear during the course of the interview but the women kept their responses very short, brief and were not too keen to elaborate. As the researcher and interviewer this made it rather difficult for me but as an ‘insider’ doing research on Bangladeshis I could understand their hesitation and reluctance. It stemmed from various places: I think it had much to do with the women never having had the opportunity to process their migratory experiences to Britain, as many of them joined their husbands in the UK after many years of marriage and having lived in Bangladesh on their own, including, for some, raising the children on their own in Bangladesh.
The sudden interest by a stranger in wanting to learn about their narratives and journeys is another reason why I think the women struggled to open up. It certainly did comfort them that I am Bengali but that also added to the cultural etiquette of not exposing too much of yourself, even if it may just be a life story. The women never had questions posed about their insights and once they did move to the UK they became preoccupied with motherhood, adjusting to the new environment and also learning how to navigate the new culture in their lives. The interviews were never longer than half an hour and I always felt like I hadn’t asked enough questions but it was after bidding them farewell that I would realise that the women were sharing what they wanted, even if it was limited.
As a researcher and in this instance as an ‘insider’ also, I have learnt that as much as I may be hoping for elaborate and ‘in depth’ data for the research the interviewees should always be in charge of the interview. The women centred their narratives and journeys according to their comfort zones, their memories and essentially how much they wanted to share with us. They showcased the complexity of interviewing people who have narratives to share about their lives but on their terms and not the researchers.
Photo: Elections – “A group of Bengali women vote in 1992 – when the BNP stood in Tower Hamlets – many for the first time, following a drive made by groups including ‘Women Unite Against Racism.’ This was formed when local women found themselves to be three or four in meetings of over a hundred men and decided that, rather than be patronized as token females, they preferred to reach out to empower and support those women who might not otherwise vote.”