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.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Please be kind, rewind

There have been a few things on this trip that I haven’t had a chance to write about, so I’m trying now to catch up.
On our way back to Dhaka from the Fisheries, we stopped and visited two Social Businesses, Grameen Danone Foods (Dannon Yogurt) and a Grameen GC Eye Hospital in Bogra. Grameen Danone Foods was conceived after Frank Riboud, Chairman and CEO of Groupe Danone and Professor Yunus met in Paris in 2005. In February 2007, the plant in Bogra produced its first yogurts. This partnership is working to reduce poverty by a unique proximity business model that will provide daily healthy nutrition to the poor of Bangladesh. Grameen Danone Foods Ltd. is the first investment supported by “danone communities,” an investment fund, created to support businesses that aim to be sustainable, but make social and societal goals their objective. And yes, we were given samples. I liked the Mango flavored best.
Operating right next door is one of the two Grameen GC Eye Hospitals. One of their main objectives is to ensure quality eye care treatment which is affordable the people. We also learned that the hospital operates camps where they visit the rural areas and offer eye examinations. One camp costs 4,000 takas, and our group took up a collection and donated 5,500 takas for a future camp. I especially know how important eye care is as I broke my glasses the first week of the trip and have been using reading glasses to be able to function. It’s no fun not being able to read without them!

But I have nothing to wear!

When we came back from our week-long trip to the villages and the fisheries, almost every piece of clothing that I brought with me was disgustingly dirty. I sent it to the laundry Sunday night and was told it would be done Monday evening. This normally would not have concerned me, but I  remembered that Dr. Ahmed's brother-in-law's party for his 7 year old son's milestone event was at 8:00 p.m. Since this was a formal event, I at least needed a clean pair of long pants and a top. At 4:00 p.m. with no sign of clean laundry in sight, I quickly put Plan B into place and went to the bizarre which is on the ground floor of our hotel.  I knew this would probably be a challenge because I am much larger is size than the traditional Bengali. The sales clerks spoke a little English and I kept say "big", much to their amusement. Finally I was handed an outfit (salwar kameez) and sent to a very tiny dressing room. As the sweat was pouring off me, I did manage to squeeze my oversized American body into the outfit. However, the clerk pointed out that I had the pants on backwards!  I'm sure they were thinking, silly American. But I decided it would do the trick and made the purchase for 875 takas.
As the party time approached, I donned my outfit and was ready to go. It actually didn't look too bad, and I received a few compliments. Things sometimes have a strange way of working out.

One big fish story

After our stay in the villages we traveled to the Grameen Fisheries. These  ponds were taken over from the Bangladeshi government because they were "derelict, full of debris and the aquatic vegetation was unfit for the fish culture". Grameen cleaned up the ponds and turned them over to the villagers to fish in them and take the fish to market. The objective is to make the villagers self sufficient, plus provide a constant food source. Many of them have no other income generating activity. The villagers catch the fish and take them to market. From the water they load about a dozen large barrels with fish and make the 1 1/2 hour trip to market.They receive 50 percent of the profit and Grameen gets the other 50 percent. Grameen's share is reinvested in the production of hatchlings, so there will continue to be fish in the ponds.
  While at the fisheries, while we were watching the men haul the nets in filled with fish, a local villager approached me and ask where I was from. "America," I replied. Then she asked if she could shake my hand, to which I graciously agreed.

Monday, July 19, 2010

It takes a village

Our trip to the villages was an experience that I'll never forget. The people there have very little, but they open their homes and are very hospitable. At the Center Meetings, which are held in buildings that are very hot, several of the women would fan us as they realized we were getting extremely hot. The Center Meetings bring together the women borrowers to make their installment payments on a weekly basis. We heard numerous storiess of how the loans helped them improve their lives. We talked with old borrowers, new borrowers, scholarship and high education loan recipients. All seemed to echo the same sentiment that Grameen Bank has helped them tremendously.
  Check out the article in Newsweek. The Poor Always Pay.

The lady next to me is named Joomla.She has been a mentor to new borrowers of Grameen Bank. You could tell by the way people acted that she was a very respected by the other villagers.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

I've adapted!

If I had known what I might have to endure in the villages, I probably would not have made the trip. Nothing could have really prepared me for our stay in the villages. We stayed at the Branch Manager's residence, where 4 of us shared two beds and one "squatty potty". We also were so disgustingly dirty by day 2, that we took bucket baths on the rooftop at night. We slept with mosquito nets surrounding our beds, and the blackouts also occur in the village, but can last up to 2 hours or more. So when Shamima called to check in on us and asked how our accomodations were and how we were doing, my reply was repeatedly--"we're adapting."

But being in the country at the villages is so much different than the city. It is greener. The air is less polluted and it definately is much quieter. We returned from country this afternoon once again to the noise, dirt, pollution that is Dhaka.

Tomorrow is sort of an off day for everyone as we can rest up before going back to Grameen Bank Headquarters for another meeting on Tuesday.

I've done more things on this trip that I would have never thought possible. I am truly adapting.
Our group in the village where we stayed.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

One down, three to go

I can't believe we left home one week ago. I think most have adjusted to the heat, noise, and smell. We are even getting used to the crazy traffic....well sorta. You would not believe how people drive here!

Today we traveled to visit Grameen Water Veolia. It's only 35 kilometers from Dhaka, but due to the traffic it took us 3 way! Veolia Water has partnered with Grameen to build this water purification plant. You don't drink the water in Bangladesh because it contains arsenic. The plant has only been open for one year and they hope to be able to build 5 more in the next ten years.

Tomorrow we leave for the villages. We will be in groups of four along with an interpreter. We actually stay at the Branch Managers residence, so we will have a roof over our heads. We will be talking with the village people and hear their stories of how Grameen helped them and made their lives easier.

We return to Dhaka on July 18th.  We will not have internet access in the village, so I'm sure I'll  have plenty of stories to tell when I get back.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Well worth the walk!

Walking to Grameen Bank today was brutal due to the heat, but it was well worth the effort. Today we met Professor Mohammed Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank. We learned only two days ago that he would be in town and would briefly visit with the interns. We also had our pictures taken with him as a group and individually. The NKU group went first. Although many of us looked like drowned rats due to the heat, it will be something I'm sure many of us won't forget. It's not every day you get to meet a Nobel Peace Prize winner. I hope to get a copy of the pics from one of the students and will post it when I do.

I think I mentioned the random power outages in an earlier post. Dr.Yunus spoke briefly this morning, and while answering questions the power went out. Everyone is so used to it now and business continued as if nothing had happened. The power usually returns in a minute or less.
                                                                                                          Grameen Bank from hotel rooftop
The rest of the group went shopping. I think there will be plenty of time to do that later as we still have over three weeks to go. So I am chilling at the hotel just taking it easy.

We also learned today that we will not be going to the villages tomorrow as originally planned. It seems this country is soccer crazy and the World Cup finals are tomorrow night. All the drivers want to watch it as well, so our trip tomorrow will be a day trip to one of the social business activities, the Grameen Veolia Water Ltd. That trip was planned later, but now will substitute and the plan now is to leave for the villages on Monday.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A big day at Grameen Bank

We are going to Grameen Bank headquarters again today to meet Prof. Yunus. I hope to be able to get some pictures today. We first thought we weren't going to get meet him but he's back in town for some meetings so we're going to get to see him briefly.

Life has been good so far. Not much rain. It's hot and humid and we will be walking to the bank. Not sure what we are doing this afternoon as it is open time. Tomorrow we leave for the village and there will be not internet access for 5 days. It should be interesting.

Day 4 and still going

We visited Old Dhaka where we saw some century old mosques. Pictured with me is Shamima Ahmed who I work with at NKU and coordinated this trip. She grew up in Bangladesh. We went to her family's home where we had a traditional Bengali lunch.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Visit Bangladesh before tourists come

I actually rode in one of these today! That's probably something the tourists would never do!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

First Impressions

I've discovered in a few short hours that things here will take some getting used to. These are rickshaws, a form of public transportation. They share the streets with cars, buses, truck and anything else on wheels. These were parked outside the hotel waiting for passengers. We'll see if I am brave enough to try to ride in one.:)

Grameen Bank headquarters visit

We walked about half a mile to the Grameen Bank headquarters today for our orientation meeting. We saw several informational videos and were briefed on our village stay which will begin on Sunday. On our walk to Grameen Bank, you would not believe how people would stare at us and we were walking along. I realize that I am a minority in this country and no matter where you go, minorities always stand out.Also the smell is very pungent as there are open sewers which run beside the sidewalk. Trash in piled in heaps as well. One woman was picking through the trash. It's a common site here.
   We have had several members of our group not feeling so well. The heat, the smell, the food is causing a few problems. So far I have been fine. I have been careful to eat food that is not too spicy and drinking plenty of water. Hopefully I didn't just jinx myself by saying that. :)
  Tomorrow we are doing a day trip to a village to see how things work, and get a chance to talk to some of the borrowers. I am looking forward to it.
  My body seems to be aclimated to the time change. I had a good night's sleep and am not feeling too tired yet. Since we are getting up early, I will probably go to bed fairly early again.
   There is so much to process and tell. I will write more later.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Leaving on a jet plane

Sunday July 4th we left Cincinnati at 12:13 p.m. We flew first to Chicago to catch a flight to Frankfurt. Then to Mumbai and finally Dhaka at 5:30 a.m. The flights from Chicago to Frankfurt and Frankfurt to Mumbai were the two longest legs of the journey at about 8 hours each. We had security checkpoints at each stop and sometimes the lines were long, This morning when we got into the Dhaka airport, Dr. Ahmed's brother-in-law helped us get through the immigration process much quicker.

We have checked into the Grand Prince Hotel. Today is a day of rest and relaxation. Tomorrow we go to the Grameen Bank headquarter for our orientation. It is about a half mile here, so we will be walking, as you would not believe the traffic. I hope to be posting pictures soon.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

And then there were 4

   I began the countdown when there were 41 days, now there are only 4. It's been such a crazy week in the office trying to get things down before leaving.  My to-do lists are getting shorter, which is always a good sign. One more shopping trip this Saturday and then I can try to fit it all in the suitcase. :)
  The group gathered at Shamima's this past Sunday for lunch. She prepared some traditional Bengali dishes which were all quite good. I will just have to remember, "na jhal" which means not spicy. We also learned that we will only be spending 5 days in the villages. We will be divided into three groups and sent to three different villages, so we can compare stories when we re-convene. 
  After our visit to the villages, we will be visiting various social business activities that Grameen has also established.  Our weekends will be free, so depending on the weather and transportation, we might venture out to see other sights.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Making a list, checking it twice!

Egad! Only 12 days to go and I've got to start creating lists to make sure I have everything covered. A list for things to buy, a list of things to pack,  a list of things that needs to be completed at work, a list of things Bert can and cannot do while I'm gone. :) I can't believe that the time has almost come. It seems the days are flying by!  One of my colleagues gave me a three pack of Charmin to Go. I'm sure that will come in handy. I am hoping this weekend I can get lots of things accomplished. Time will tell.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

To roll or not to roll, that is the question.

Packing is never fun when you are planning a trip. Now I am dealing with what to take to survive for an entire month. I've been reading articles about rolling your clothes together and somehow it will come out less wrinkled. I still have not quite figured that one out. The spare bedroom has become packing central. Everything I think I want to take is now on the bed. Is it just me or does it look like more stuff then will fit in the suitcases? I still have plenty of time to pack and re-pack, and get it just right....or at least try! :)

Monday, June 7, 2010

They said there'd be no math!

The temperature in Bangladesh is recorded in Celsius. So to convert it to Farenheit you must know the mathematical formula. I actually had to look this up, because if you thought I'd remember something like this from my high school math courses, you'd be wrong.Take the temperature and mulitply it by 1.8 and then add 32 to that number.
  They also use the metric system, and I've learned that the hotel is 1 kilometer from the Grameen Bank headquarters where we will be spending some of our time. One kilometer translates to .62 miles, and back in early May, I walked 5 kilometers in 51 minutes. So, today's story problem (and I hated story problems!) How long will it take me to walk from the hotel to the GB headquarters?
  Then there is the currency conversion.....Just a reminder, there will always be math!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Needles and visas and mosquito nets--Oh my!

Ok, so maybe I'm not  going to be following the Yellow Brick Road, but I do wish I could find a wizard who would take care of all my trip preparations. If I only had a brain, I would know that a trip halfway around the world would require multiple immunizations, a travel visa and even a mosquito net. I  do know that I will be heart sick without my beloved Bert . Plus it is taking an awful lot of courage for this middle-aged Hoosier to embark on such an adventure.
   I have finished Banker to the Poor by Muhammad Yunus. I am now reading Give Us Credit by Alex Counts. Both are books about the Grameen Bank and its beginnings.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Opportunity of a lifetime

    This summer I will get the chance to travel to Bangladesh with faculty and students from NKU . We will be visiting Grameen Bank and learn about micro-credit. We might even get to meet Professor Muhammad Yunus who won the Nobel Prize in 2006 for his work in eradicating poverty in his home country of Bangladesh. More recently, President Obama awarded Yunus with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for being "an agent of change."Most of our time will be spent in Dhaka, the capital city, but we will travel to  Sirajgani to see first-hand how micro-lending works.
   I eagerly look forward to this trip. It is definitely an opportunity of a lifetime.I will keep you posted as the departure date gets closer and all the "fun things" I am doing in prepration for the trip.