Change Yourself…Change The World.

Grameen Bank the Second
June 22, 2009, 2:25 pm
Filed under: Bangladesh

First off, a little about Bangladesh.
Today, I watched a toddler get hit by a car on the highway. We were driving by so I didn’t get to see the aftermath (I think he was okay), but it was an absolutely shocking thing to see. The roads and cars here are unbelievable and dangerous. Interns have told me they’ve gotten into car accidents at least 3 or 4 times in the month they’ve been here. With India, it is different- they drive just as wildly there, but they always manage to stop half a second before hitting something. In Bangladesh, these cars just plow on through.
Bangladesh is incredibly, incredibly hot. You cannot spent 30 seconds outside without sweating profusely. This is not just because I’m foreign- all of the Bengalis are sweating bullets too. Every time I finally peel off my clothes at the end of the night, it feels as though I had jumped into a swimming pool. Also, the amount of water I consume here is insane. On average, I’ve been drinking 4 Liters of water a day. As for the food, my body is having a really hard time adjusting to it even though I am sticking to the safest options. Grameen Bank has a deal with a really nice hotel where interns can stay there for much cheaper than the normal price. Even the food from this restaurant in the hotel has given me the runs nonstop for three days, and an unhappy stomach.
Excuse me for the graphic and probably unnecessary details. I am just trying to give a picture of what it is like trying to adjust to the life here in Bangladesh. Truthfully, it may sound horrible to everyone who is reading this, but I love it here. I don’t know whether it’s because I’ve went through all of these problems traveling in India and maybe it reminds me of the amazing experience I had with Carpe Diem… but it’s pretty cool for me to not be bothered by the fact that I’m sweating buckets every day, facing stomach cramps and pink eye and cockroaches in the hotel room, and I am totally comfortable with the situation. It reminds me of how far I’ve come from the person I was a mere two years ago.
Today I bought material for my first salwar kameez. In Bangladesh it is the most common clothing worn by women, and it is also widely worn in India, Nepal, and Pakistan. I have refrained from buying a sari or a salwar kameez when I was in India, but I decided it was high time I get myself one (partly because I have no appropriate clothes for Bangladesh anyway- you have to cover your legs and shoulders here since it is a conservative Muslim society). I wanted to get it done the real way instead of just buying a ready-made one in the store- I wanted to buy material and then get it tailored. After hours of searching, I finally found the right cloth. They come out tomorrow- hope it looks fabulous.

On to Grameen Bank.
Grameen Bank is astounding. I honestly feel that I am having an experience as amazing as my first trip to India with Carpe Diem in 2008. I am learning so much here it is unbelievable- I feel as if I’ve taken a crash course in micro-finance for the past two days. I feel that a whole new world has suddenly been opened up to me, and I am trying to absorb every single detail that I can, while I can. Today we (some interns along with my coordinator, Mr. Kabir) went to visit a branch in a rural village 50 km outside of Dhaka. We went to visit a center meeting and met Grameen borrowers (the poor people in Bangladesh who are taking out loans from Grameen Bank), drank sprite, played with the children, and asked all kinds of questions to borrowers about what they do with their loans. It was quite an eye-opening experience. The level that Grameen Bank works at is so intricate, covers so many areas, and helps so many people in all aspects of their life. They are not just a bank that the poor can borrow from, but they also provide savings accounts with high interest rates, advice on businesses to start, information on health and education, higher education loans for borrower’s children, and a much longer comprehensive list of things that they offer to Grameen borrowers.

Truthfully, I am so lucky and happy to be working here, and I am so happy I made the decision to come here. I am so interested in micro finance, and working with Grameen Bank is a dream come true on so many levels. Speaking of which, I might be meeting Muhammad Yunus on Thursday!!

If you come to Grameen Bank with a plan and an agenda, and are constantly on top of your coordinator getting him to coordinate events for you; if you ask questions at every turn about loans and savings accounts and premiums; if you are willing to get up at 6:45 AM and get back at 7:30 PM… then Grameen Bank will be an absolutely, jaw-droppingly, beautiful discovery for anyone that wants to learn about micro-finance, banking, or business. This is one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. I am so proud to be working here and learning here.

I am also very proud of my negotiating skills. Instead of sitting around like all of the other new interns are, tomorrow I am meeting with a Grameen sister company, Grameen communications, and on Wednesday I am visiting another sister company, Grameen Shakti (energy), and on Thursday I am meeting with Grameen Trust (a micro-finance replication company for MFIs all over the world) and possibly Muhammad Yunus. On Saturday I leave for a four day stay at a two star branch in a rural village in Bangladesh. I can’t believe how amazing the next week is going to be.

Sorry these posts have all been so long. I have only conveyed about 3% of my day to you, that is how intense it is here. I am loving every second of it.

Much love,

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