Saturday May 12, 2012

PITTSFIELD

What matters? Oh, families matter every where: This came to mind when I met with my editor, Kevin Moran, and his family on my first day in Pittsfield.

In Pakistan, especially in the rural areas, people believe that Americans and other Western people don't care about family and that they send their parents to old-age homes because it's "a burden" to care for them. I thought the same thing before I visited the United States.

Last year, I spent time in Chicago and Washington, D.C. That was a short visit, but I got a chance to meet with Steve Edwards (a broadcaster with Chicago Public Radio) and his family. When I visited his home, I saw family pictures displayed on the walls -- a number of which were pictures of his extended family, including his uncle, grandfather and other relatives.

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Steve Edwards' family gave me second thoughts about the Pakistani people's perceptions of Americans and their sense of family, but I wasn't sure about the rest of American families.

I was interviewed for this fellowship by Katie Rudolph, the program manager at the Alfred Friendly Press Fellow ship. After the interview, she asked about my family. And she told me about her family.

In rural areas of Pakistan, most people live with members of their extended family under the same roof. They treat their extended family like immediate family members.


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Most of the time, I get a reaction of "Wow!" when I tell my American friends that I, my parents, brothers and sisters live in the same house. And then they ask, how many rooms do you have in the house? Is it crowded?

I tell them it's difficult sometimes, but love, tolerance and compromise make it easy. In urban areas of Pakistan, most people live with their immediate family only.

During my journalism course in Washington, D.C., it surprised me when my professor, Randy Smith, was talking proudly about his son, who is studying law at Georgetown University.

Meeting with people in Chi cago and in Washington, I thought that people in urban areas would be inspired by the multicultural aspect of cities and that they would adopt an extended family system from other parts of the world. But when I came to Pittsfield, I saw the real American society and found that people here have the same feelings and emotions for their families as in the rest of the world.

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On April 3, around 5:30, I was walking past my editor Kevin Moran's house, and I saw that his wife, Melanie, was standing at the front door along with their sweet daughter, Reese. I stopped to say hello, and Melanie told me they were waiting for Kevin to come home. I was really, really surprised because it was the idealistic situation. In most Bollywood and Pakistani films, directors shoot that homecoming scene to explain the extreme love of a wife for her husband. I realized that that idealistic feeling and emotion exists in American life.

For Easter Sunday, I was invited by Kevin to participate in their gathering and to meet his family. It was a great op portunity for me to observe a local family gathering, and it was an amazing experience to see Kevin's parents and in-laws around one table. During the discussion, I got the im pression that his family meets regularly or at least they are in touch with each other. For a while, I was thinking nothing is different from Pakistan: Our families also get together to celebrate religious festivals called Eids, our Muslim holidays that happen twice a year.

In the newsroom, everyone is asking about my family be cause they know it's difficult to live away from them. I also have noticed that most of my colleagues display family pictures at their desks.

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My colleague Maggie But ton from The Berkshire Eagle newsroom has shared that she misses her son, who is studying in New Hampshire, "terribly." I asked another Eagle colleague, David LeClair, about his major weekend activities, and he told me that he goes to his mother's home because she is older and she needs his help to prepare dinner and do chores around the house.

Yes, it's true that most adult children in America don't live with their extended family, but it doesn't mean they don't care for their parents.

It is enough to prove to me that Americans love their families and they have the same emotional attachments with their families like any other part of the world.

On the weekend, I was listening to "My Life," the book by President Clinton. In the first two to three chapters, he was just discussing his extended family, which indicates that the leaders of this country have the same feeling for their families like any common man around the globe.

Adnan Rashid lives in Swat, Pakistan. He is studying journalism at The Berkshire Eagle through the Alfred Friendly and Daniel Pearl fellowship program. To reach Adnan: arashid@berkshireeagle.com, or on Twitter @adnanswat.