It’s probably not all that remarkable that a young American went to Pakistan and found fascinating the traditions that define daily life there, from the calls to prayer to the garishly decorated transport trucks.
Not all that remarkable, except that somewhere along the trip the young girl turned from tourist to commentator, conducting formal interviews with 10 Pakistani women she met.
This was the experience of Chiara Angela Kovarik, a Mendota Heights teenager who with her parents spent a month in Pakistan in summer 2001. Now, at 17, she has published her work in a 174-page book titled “Interviews with Muslim Women of Pakistan.”
The book offers a fresh take on the nation that has become a complicated partner in the war on terror. The interviews, conducted when Kovarik was just 13, are intimate and friendly. The women are opinionated and bold, and perhaps because of Kovarik’s age at the time, come off as unguarded.
A translator bridged the gap between the women’s Urdu and Kovarik’s English. Establishing each interview was itself a dance of cultural differences and gender roles.
Kovarik first asked permission to speak to the women. Many said no. The ones who agreed spoke with husbands or brothers present, and sometimes spoke only after the men tried to answer Kovarik’s questions. “Surprisingly the women were very open about everything,” said Kovarik.
The book started as something of a dare from her father, Tom Kovarik, who noticed his daughter’s curiosity and casually threw out a suggestion: “Why not write a book?”
“At first I thought, ‘What are you talking about?’ ” Kovarik recalled, laughing. “But then I thought, ‘Well, that’s a really good idea because these women have thoughts and ideas and they’re not going to be heard.’ ”
Her book, published by Syren Book Company of Minneapolis, came out last month in a first printing of 800. A second printing of 400 books has been ordered. It’s available at Amazon, Itasca Books, Borders, and Barnes and Noble.
So how does an American teenager who plays varsity tennis and track find time to write? “It took a lot of time,” she said.
It may help with things yet to come: Kovarik, a senior at Visitation school in Mendota Heights, hopes to attend Stanford or Georgetown next year to study international relations.
She’s been to 22 countries. She speaks the native language of her Italian mother, Maria Teresa Olivari, a cardiologist. Her family went to Pakistan at the invitation of a colleague of her father, who works as a database administrator for the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Her conclusion about Pakistani women: They want more opportunities for jobs and education but they don’t see themselves as oppressed. She said, “It seems to me like these women are struggling, especially in the modern era, to get their voices out.”