Nautilus

How ISIS Broke My Questionnaire

I walk into Starbucks in Achrafieh, Beirut and feel all eyes on me. I tug at my top self-consciously, probably making things worse, and wonder a) do I look like an easy Westerner; b) do I look like a ragamuffin (in comparison to the groomed Lebanese); c) are my shoes weird for this country (I think so); or d) have I got something on my face? This feeling says as much about my state of mind as it does about anyone’s judgement, and I know from past fieldwork that the self-consciousness lessens over time. But it’s early days, so even my order is whispered and has to be repeated, shrivelling inside.

Then I find an empty seat too quickly, so that I don’t notice I’m actually boxed in and can’t easily approach anyone at all. This is all going fairly disastrously. Coffee will surely help, I think; but after drinking it I can’t say I feel any better. The girl over the way is stuck into her Kindle and won’t make eye contact. There’s a man making rather too much eye contact and I don’t want to speak to him. There are two old men, deep in a discussion I don’t want to interrupt. There is a haughty and very sexy woman I feel shabby even looking at, tapping at her diamante iPhone with long red clicky nails.

The longer I sit there the worse it gets, as I’ve been looking around for far too long and then not doing anything. Do I move onto the next cafe? That’s admitting defeat and I know it won’t be any easier anywhere else. One last look around and I spy a lovely pretty face, sitting by herself, looking out of the window. I go over and she smiles up. “I’m sorry to interrupt, do you speak English?” I say, in English, pathetically. She nods. “Are you Lebanese?” Another nod. “I’m doing some research…”

What happens when the material, the subject matter, is itself responsive to the conditions of investigation?

My first questionnaire: 119 to go—if I am to get the requisite numbers for statistical analysis, according to psychology colleagues. I myself am there for the anthropological research experience,

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