Monday, August 2, 2010

Birthday Bangladeshi style

Birthday's at my age are kinda just another day, but not this year. We started the day with our wrap-up meeting at Grameen Headquarters, plus a meeting on Social Business. After that we left for Coffee World and Pizza Corner for a birthday celebration. It was alot of fun, and our translator and friend Russell joined the party. I noticed at one point Russell was gone and I thought he had left the table to take a phone call. A few minutes later he returned with flowers for me.  He is such a sweet guy. Bert, how are you going to top this?

I know I won't forget this birthday. Despite not being with my friends and family back home it was a memorable day.

Sheer panic!

Last week was a whirlwind of a week, even though Tuesday ended up being a day off from Grameen activities. It was however a holy day (and night) in the city of Dhaka and they prayed all night long. We hear the prayers daily through the speakers, as one is very near the hotel. It was difficult to sleep that night and we had to get up early for a trip to Utrail to visit some of Dr. Ahmed’s relatives. They had invited us to their summer home and it was a nice treat to get away from the city.

I could do this every day!

The summer home was very nice and the scenery was beautiful.We traveled one hour by van, then two hours by ferry and then another 20 minutes to our final destination. We enjoyed the serenity, good company and good food during our visit. Later in the afternoon we took a boat ride near the village. This was my third boat ride of the trip, so I am getting to be a pro at getting on and off.

Catching the ferry back was an adventure in itself. We were late to the ferry, getting there around 10 p.m. The ferry was already taking off so they stopped it and there was a three foot jump from the dock to the ferry. The boys jumped it but there was no way all of the women could do it. So the driver said he was going to quickly put the ferry up to the dock and we need to go through the gate.

The problem was that it happened too fast. Dr. Ahmed, her mother in law,  and several of us made it through the gate with only about a foot gate between the dock and the ferry, while the ferry was picking up speed. Three of the group were left on the dock. So they ran after the ferry and jumped over the side which was about a four foot drop onto people who were sitting. You have to realize  that the ferry is five floors and there were about 200 people watching this happen. They were apparently yelling at the ferry to slow down.
We were all fine and it was really funny and exciting. Considering that probably most people on the ferry had not seen many foreigners and here we are jumping onto the boat as it is speeding away, we must have looked crazy.

The Long and Winding Road

This past Saturday we traveled to Sylhet to visit the tea estates and spend the night. As you may know it takes a long time to get from point A to point B in this country. We left Dhaka at 7 a.m. and didn't arrive at our destination until after 2 p.m.  The reason for the long travel times is the roads, traffic, and waits at fill-up stations.

The countryside is beautiful and we saw some monkeys as we were traveling through the Lowacherra National Park Before arriving at the Tea Resort where we were staying we stopped at an orchid estate. The manager said there were approximately 100,000 plants . While not all in bloom, it was still quite beautiful.We stayed in bungelows and after lunch the group took a tour around. I unfortunately got sick on something I ate and stayed behind to rest.

Sunday morning after a slight delay due to van problems, we started our trek toward the Madhabkunda Waterfall. This waterfall is famous in Bangladesh and is popular with busloads of Bangladeshi tourists. It was  raining when we arrived, but nonetheless an awesome sight.
After eating lunch at the resturant at the waterfall, we continued our journey. Our next stop was at a cousins of Shamima who had built a large bungelow on the hillside. It was amazing and the view was awesome. Although you can't see the mountains very well, India is just beyond the mountains. I could sit and looking at this view for days drinking my tea!

One more stop before beginning the long journey home. We got the chance to see a tea processing plant to learn exactly how the tea leaves are made into the tea. It was all very interesting.
I'm not quite sure when we departed our last site, but the trip home was long and grueling. We arrived back at the hotel at 4 a.m. Monday. We knew we would be getting back late, but no one anticipated this later. However it was worth the trip.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Being Resourceful

Another busy day as we traveled several hours outside of Dhaka to visit another example of Grameen Shikkha, this time in a village. About 20 pre-school youngsters were awaiting our arrival inside a Center House and saluted each one of us and we entered and took a seat on the floor. They sang songs and recited poems for us. One of their songs was “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”. These youngsters attend for 2 ½ hours each day for six days a week. This pre-school is a combination of borrowers and non-borrowers children, with as in most cases, the borrowers get priority. The funding for this program comes from Grameen and UNICEF.

The second stop of the day was Grameen Kalyan which is a health clinic for villagers. Dr. Moinur gave us a brief overview and then a tour of the facility. The delivery room, where they perform up to 10 deliveries a month was very primitive. If a woman has complications during the pregnancy or delivery, she is sent to the nearest hospital which is approximately an hour away. The most common diseases he treats are hypertension and diabetes. While were visiting, a young boy who had fallen and cut open his head, came in for treatment.

The other two stops on this trip exposed us to Grameen Shakti, which means “energy” with examples of solar power and turning cow dung into methane gas to use for cooking purposes. The solar panel is wired to a battery and in the evenings, the battery can provide up to 4 hours of electricity. These villagers are very resourceful and they take advantage of what Grameen has to offer in making their lives better.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Knitwear and Knowledge

After two off days for the weekend, we traveled to Grameen Knitwear Ltd. to see how the garment industry operates in the Export Protected Zone. Production started in 1999 and has doubled since then. There are 2, 718 employees working in three main production departments. This facility does not sell locally, but exports 50% to Germany, 45% to other European countries and 5% to the US. Each of us received a shirt. Mine has a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Our second stop of the day was a Slum School visit. These youngsters, 10-12 years old are offered a few hours of education a day, as the rest of the time is spent working to help support their families. They introduced themselves and sang songs and performed dances for us. I was really impressed when they sang “We shall overcome” in English. I can appreciate the fact that Grameen Shikkha, a sister organization of Grameen Bank is trying to help these children achieve their dreams. They told us how they wanted to be doctors, teachers, businessmen, and computer engineers. We also visited one of their homes and saw the sari that two boys were working on. It would take them 7 days to complete one and they would earn 900 takas which is equal to approximately $12.80 in US currency.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The innocent faces of poverty

Today we visited the NGO (non-government organization) Padakhep to learn more about urban replication of the Grameen Bank program. One of their programs is for the Street Children of Dhaka who are orphaned, lost or even abandoned. This drop-in center has 25 day residents and 40 night residents. The day residents actually have a place to return to at night where they sleep. The drop in center offers non-formal education and some vocational training so that they might learn a trade before they turn 18 and can no longer utilize the center.
We asked a staff member at the center about a memorable success story of a child who had stayed at the drop in center  and she told us how one boy learned the tailoring trade. Now he has his own tailor business and many of staff from the drop-in center have their clothes made by him.

It is heartbreaking to see these youngsters, some as young as 8 eight years old, who have nothing.  But despite their stark existence, there were still smiles and they enjoyed singing and dancing for us. They also taught us a unique handshake. It always amazes me that those who have so little, give everthing they have without any hesitation or reservations.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Taking turns

It only seems fair that I take my turn in being sick. About half of our group has had one ailment or another in the two and half weeks we have been here. I thought I felt good enough this morning to go, but my body told me otherwise. I am bummed that I missed the tour of a garment factory and some serious shopping at Aarongs, but it was best that I stayed behind and rested in close proximty of a bathroom. Last night's dinner was probably a little more spicy than I am used to, so I'll need to be more careful in the remaining weeks. I can say the Cipro and Immodium does help tremendously! I am feeling much better than this morning and plan to be back in action tomorrow.