7up-the taste that has taken over

If you ever visit Bangladesh, there are a few things you should know:

 7up

When you go to a restaurant outside of Dhaka, you often have two choices: water or 7up. If you are in Dhaka, Pepsi—or in a very rare occasion—Diet Pepsi might be available. They will also ask you if you want your water or 7up “normal or cold.” The drinks, including 7up, are often room temperature. Once you realize that 7up is all you can get, you will start to love 7up. You will rejoice when you find out the restaurant sells cold 7up. If you find a diet coke, it is a rare occasion. My advice is to buy all of them.

Roundabouts

Dhaka loves roundabouts. These are the circular traffic patterns used instead of four way stops. Keep in mind that the traffic lights probably mean nothing (there are a few intersections where people pay attention to them, but there seems to be no rhyme or reason why). If you need to turn, your driver will just dodge traffic around the roundabout. Sometimes a policeman with a long, skinny stick directs traffic and beats cars.

Doreos

It is not always easy to find chocolate bars or cookies. If you go to a store and they sell Doreos that look on the package like Oreos, do not buy them. I repeat DO NOT BUY THEM. They are not good. In fact, when we played card games the loser had to eat a Doreo. Hence Tim Delaney’s new nickname “Doreo Delaney.”

 Sitting down

Everyone in Bangladesh wants you to sit down. If you say that you would like to stand, they will take this to mean that you just don’t like the chair they have brought. One or more people will then go get more chairs for you to choose from—sometimes it is the exact same chair you said you didn’t want to sit in. No matter. They want you to sit.  My advice is to just sit the first time you are asked.

 Eating

Bangladeshis love you to eat. No matter how much you have eaten, they always believe you are holding out on them when you say you are full. They just know that you can fit a few more bites of rice into your stomach. They will continue to offer food to you until you leave.

 Tea

Drinking hot tea in 100 degree weather seems crazy, but it is what you do in Bangladesh. Our group adapted quickly and also began drinking tea in all kinds of weather. Somehow, it does not make you hotter. Also, Bangladesh people love sugar. At least one teaspoon of sugar is put into each small cup of tea.  You won’t find artificial sweetener anywhere in the country. Don’t worry, though, because it tastes great.  We’ve gotten used to having tea after every meal. I wonder who will serve me tea after lunch and dinner in the states?

 Sweets

Speaking of sugar. Bangladesh has the most wonderful sweets. Make sure you try the blackberries. The name is deceiving. There are no berries involved. It is a soft oval doughnut (no hole) submerged in a krispy kreme-like glaze. It is heavenly.

 Eating times

It is a good idea to pack snacks. You eat when you get up, 2 p.m. and 8 or 9 p.m. We also quickly adapted to this schedule. Although it is so hot, you don’t want to eat anyway.

 American food

If you absolutely need American food, hit up American Burger (several locations) or Coffee World (in Bhanani–they also serve pizza).  Coffee World grinds the beans and makes a plethora of coffee drinks, including just plain coffee.

 Bangladeshi head nods

There is a hole language of head nods that you need to know: yes, no, maybe, thank you, etc.  Our interpreter Younus was  nice enough to demonstrate each of these nods. Lynne Ausman is posting the photos and an explanation. Make sure you check out her blog.

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Snake charmers!

Today we went to Ghuradia–a village full of snake charmers! Almost everyone in the village is a snake charmer. Ghuradia is near Savar in the Dhaka division. The people are known as Badhi river gypsies. We were warmly welcomed and everyone was willing to give us a snake show.

What we saw was amazing. I am now a believer in snake charmings!

Madhabkunda Falls

After visiting the tea estates in Sylhet, we had the opportunity to visit a beautiful waterfall called Madhabkunda Fall. We walked through a picturesque tropical forest when rain started to fall. As we approached the waterfall, it started to come down harder when the massive waterfall was revealed.

After the waterfall, we had lunch then hopped back into the car for a long drive back to Dhaka. We arrived in Dhaka a little before 4 a.m. The next morning I had the opportunity to meet with the Yunus Centre executive director and discuss a project I will be working on regarding best practices for social business.

We then caught up with Younus (our intrepreter) and had two packed days which included a snake charmer! That will be the next post.

Grameen Shikkha

I met the most wonderful sari maker. He works out of his home while also attending school. His name is Arju and the intricate detail he employs is some of the best I have seen.  I think it is because his hand are so small.  Arju is ten. 
Arju works fro 6 to 9 a.m., goes to school from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and then works from 5 p.m. to ten p.m. He works six days a week and has Friday off. When you meet him at school, he seems like any child. He laughs and smiles. I could tell he was mesmerized by my pen. I had a soccer ball pen and I traded him for his orange pen. The soccer ball lights up and he watched it turn off and on. He then passed it around to each child in the class so they could turn the light on and off. 
Arju lives in the Mirpur slums. He is expected to work. Grameen Shikkha is a vast education program by Grameen (http://www.grameen-info.org/grameen/gshikkha). The slum program takes school to the child’s neighborhood. If not, he or she would never be able to attend school. No one at Grameen bats an eye as Arju takes us to his home and shows us how he makes saris. I believe it is a necessary evil to them. If they scold the parents, the parents may not let the child come back to school. I am sure it is a struggle for Grameen–at least it would be for me. 
There are 20 slum schools that house 20 to 25 children. The grades are one to five. Arju’s English is very good and he tells us that he studies Bangali, English, math, science and religion here. His favorite subject is English and he would like to be a car engineer one day. I hope he can. 
Another boy in the class boasts that he makes 900 taka a week making wedding saris. He is 13. Another young girl shows off beading that she made on the shirt and scarf. She is not as talented as the other boy and is considered unskilled so she only makes regular saris at 150 a week (a little more than $2). I would like to know who is buying these saris. 
I believe child labor is wrong but a person I met here says, what are the parents to do if they also do not make enough to feed their child? There are no programs to help the family. 
How do you feel about it? Each time I think of Arju’s smile, I can’t believe that child labor is the answer. 

Street children

Many of you know that I work at a nonprofit simply because I often ask for donations of items for the kids where I work.  After seeing street children in Bangladesh and meeting some of the people that work with them, I am once again completely moved.

It took me along time to figure out how to write this post. While I have enjoyed Bangladesh and its beauty, there is also a darker side that greeted us immediately after we left the airport.

We drove by a dried fountain where naked and dirty children were sleeping in the middle of the day.  I have not been able to get the image out of my head and it still brings tears to my eyes when I think about it.

Street children are a major challenge in Bangladesh. Some are beggars, some are part of begging schemes, many are addicted to drugs. We found out that some are victims of organ harvesting and trafficking.

Two days ago, we visited a place where street children greeted us with smiles. The significance is that for a brief moment, we were able to see them as children, enjoying the songs and dances of childhood that every child craves. There is an organization that is related to Grameen that does similar banking work in Dhaka (Grameen focuses on villages). The organization is called Padakhep and they also have a program called PCAR-Protection of Children At-Risk.

Here, street children come to live until age 18. They are given an informal education and as they grow up are taught trade skills (I put a few photos of what they have made in the blog). The average age is eight years old when they come to PCAR but some are younger.

Most importantly though, was a feeling of love that can only be scene by symptoms of smiles, joy and an overall feeling of being free. It seems that when a child can have a moment without worry, it is because he or she does not have to think about the food, money or worse that they must earn or do. Instead, someone is taking care of them. I think this is childhood.

The capacity of the location is 40. Right now, 25 live there all of the time while ten children come to stay during the day because their families cannot fully provide for them. The worker that we met has been there for ten years. Like so many of the social workers at home, it is a passion for her and not a job.

I am hoping to find a way that people can send donations to PCAR. After being so moved by the image of the children at the fountain, I found relief in the smiles at PCAR. There is a young man who was particularly passionate aobut singing and dancing. I think you will be able to see who he is.

Learn more at http://www.padakhep.org/

Grameen Fisheries

These photos were taken by me, Brandi List and one of the interpreters (Russell). Most were not taken by me.

If you are one of my Facebook friends, then you have seen the multiple posts of me in the rope chairs at the Grameen Fisheries.

We stayed in perhaps one of the most beautiful, quiet and relaxing places on earth. This is the only way to describe the rest house at the Fisheries. I did threaten to tie myself into a chair and not leave.

The Fisheries are leased from the government for Grameen. There are 800 ponds. Each pond has a family or group of beneficiaries that work the pond to care for the fish and fish the pond. 50% of the profit goes to the beneficiaries and 50% goes to Grameen. Each pond is fished about monthly and there is an 11 million taka a year profit.  Grameen also provides a hatcherie service for free. The objective of the fisherie is to help the local villagers become self-sufficient. Families make between 5,00 and 50,000 taka on each pond. The average is 20,000 taka.

There are some photos of fishing and the hatcherie. I must explain the hatcherie. The pregnant fish are brought into the hatcherie where they are given hormones. After six hours, the eggs are squeezed out and mixed with sperm. Once they are ready, they are put into the large round containers for 96 hours.

After that they are put into a series of three ponds over four months time as they grow bigger before they are put into the big ponds.

When Grameen took over the fisheries, a lot of work had to be done. The villagers did not trust the activity at the pond. To gain the trust of the villagers, Grameen made roads, created a wholesale market, and gave away water and fish. The ponds were also in bad shape. In 1986 activity on the ponds started and was completed in 1989. In 1990 the first Grameen Center was created at the Fisheries and there are two now.

Sadly, the lease with the government runs out in 2011. We all hope for the sake of the villagers that the lease will be renewed. If not, there is also a Grameen Livestock program that will continue but losing the fisheries would be devastating to the local villagers. Keep your fingers crossed and say a little prayer.

Jihada

This is an excerpt from a case study that my group is working on. It is long but I think it gives a good example of the life of a Grameen borrower.

            Jihada has no idea how old she is but she assured us that her seven-year-old daughter Mitu will go to the University one day. This is the difference between a family that has money and a family that does not, a family that values daughters and one that does not. All of this is because of Grameen Bank. Not only has the bank given Jihada’s family an opportunity to create and grow a business but it has started a movement that has changed the very culture of the Bangadeshi poor in how women are valued.

            The lines on Jihada’s face tell a story of hardship as she sits in her home that is large enough for two beds and a couch. The floor has a beautiful round inset in the treated concrete floor and the ceiling is a colored thatch ceiling covered by tin. The ceiling has large blocks of color in green, red and yellow. The walls are tin. This is more than an adequate home in the village and we guess that she would be considered middle class. The beds and couch are a beautiful hand carved light wood and she has fabric-covered pillows on the seat and back of the couch for us to sit on. Jihada’s life before this home doesn’t seem to fit with the life she has now. She looks almost 40  but because her oldest child is seven, we guess that she is just older than thirty. She also has a younger son.

            Her husband is off at their fisherie business where they employ people to help with the work. He runs the business while she takes care of the home which is different than what we expected. In the early days of Grameen, women were chosen to receive the loans and start the business but that was years ago and today while women receive the loans the men often work the businesses. The family is still elevated as the mother and father work as a team. It is the woman that continues the relationship with Grameen and attends Center meetings. We learned that this is pretty typical for the village.

            The family has been borrowing from Grameen for almost 17 years. Jihada belongs to the Kuthi Center which has 60 members. This means that there are 12 groups of five. Five women must form a group before they can receive their loans. They each receive a loan and their businesses can be diverse but they are connected in that they support each other in determining business decisions and if one of them defaults on a loan they all default. This increases the repayment rate. Kuthi is part of the Sirajgonj Grameen Bank Branch which has had perfect repayment in June and July. The Kuthi Center was started in 1985 and most of the loans are for farming businesses including rice, jute and vegetables.

Three of the women have children who have taken education loans to pay for the University. The largest loan in this Center is 70,000 taka which was used for a cow business. We have learned that this is one of the most lucrative businesses. A woman can buy two cows for 17,000 taka, feed them for six months for 10,000 taka then sell them at the end of the six months for 50,000 taka which is almost double the original investment. The largest special investment loan is for 100,000 taka.

Four of the women have taken housing loans but they have been repaid and most purchase homes from their earnings rather than borrow again. A few have taken loans for creating sanitary latrines (squat toilets which we learned to use in the village with success). The women do not like to take housing loans because these loans are long-term loans and they prefer to take loans that can be paid off in one year.

This is the case for Jihada’s family who built their home from their income. When she joined Grameen, her husband was very supportive. She had heard about Grameen from other villagers and the bank had become very respected and well-known by 1995. This was not the case in the beginning.

The area manager, who is over eight bank branches, told us he started with Grameen in 1991 as an assistant manager (called an associate manager) when Grameen was not well-known. He said that there were many rumors about Grameen and that the men were against the bank that helped women. Rumors included that the bank would convert the women from Islam. His favorite memory of this time was trying to start a Center in a small village. A woman came to the Center meeting very upset because her in-laws were in town and were angry that she had joined the bank. As the assistant manager, he wanted to go talk to the family and explain that they would not try to convert her from being Muslim. She begged them not to come to the home but they went anyway, determined to change the minds of the in-laws and many of the other villagers.

They tried to explain to the in-laws but they would not believe them. In fact, many of the villagers were also against the bank so much that they were not able to establish the Center at that time. A few years later, he went back to visit that area of the village where the Center had finally been created. When he got there, he learned that the in-laws had become Grameen members and opened a prosperous farming business as a result.

Today, according to Jihada and others, this is not the case. She and her husband were eager to join Grameen. Before joining Grameen, the family lived in a small thatch home. They had a small rice business that barely made enough money to feed them each month. Jihada borrowed 4,000 taka to improve their rice business. With this money, there were able to increase their business and they continued in this way for 11 years, gradually increasing their Grameen Personal Savings Account until they could afford their new home. Her husband worked the rice business while she maintained the relationship with Grameen and the home.

When Jihada became pregnant in the tenth year of the business, she and her husband wanted to make more money to pay for their growing family. They had dreams of their child—whether the child was a boy or girl—of growing up healthy, attending school and going off to University. They knew they needed more money to give their child the life that they dreamed about. This is a change from Jihada’s family where they didn’t record her age. This is typical of earlier life in the village. An official at Grameen told us that when they first started working with the women, some did not even know what their names were.

When Mitu was born, they decided to start a more lucrative fish business. With their savings and a 50,000 taka loan, the family purchased a small pond that her husband began to fish. To fish, a large net is placed in the pond and a team of people work the net up and in to collect the fish in barrels. From this business, they employ three people and make 10,000 to 15,000 taka each month. They have already paid off their loan in one year but Jihada continues to attend the Center meeting with her group of five to discuss business and socialize. They have plans to expand their fish business and employ more people with the money they make each month. They understand the importance of investing to continue their prosperity.

Jihada smiles at Mitu when she says that if needed, Mitu will apply for a higher education loan when it is time to go to the University but she and her husband hope they will have enough money saved to pay for Mitu’s continued education. This is a lot of hope for a seven year old who attend Banbaria Government Primary School where four teachers guide 304 first through fifth graders through their studies. Mitu is lucky here because her family can afford the uniforms required to attend the school. The teachers tell us that 60% of the students cannot afford uniforms. A collection is taken from the villagers and foreigners to create a trust to pay for the uniforms as well as a trust created to help children who are not part of Grameen families go to higher education when ready.