Change Yourself…Change The World.

A Bit About Bangladesh- Part Two
July 11, 2009, 11:12 am
Filed under: Bangladesh

Hello friends!

This past week I went on a site visit with Grameen Bank. All interns are required to go stay at a branch somewhere in Bangladesh for 3-5 days, to see how micro finance works at the ground level. I went on a four day trip with two other interns and an interpreter.

Many interns at Grameen Bank don’t like going on these site visits- because they feel that Grameen Bank only takes them to the five star branches where there is a 100% repayment rate, and where all of the Grameen borrowers rave about Grameen Bank and how much it has improved their lives- or feel pressured to say so because a branch manager is sitting right next to them. Sometimes, it is hard to get real information here. There are interns who feel that the interpreters aren’t translating correctly, or telling the whole truth. This is the downside of Grameen Bank- they are an amazing company and I have so much respect for them- but the International Program Department (which houses all of the interns) tries to sugar coat everything and acts like there are no problems whatsoever with Grameen Bank or Grameen borrowers. And this is definitely not the case. The fact that they DO try to conceal it is a shame, because it only makes interns want to dig deeper and try to find things that might not even be there. This is a very short post on the one big frustration many of us have been feeling here, and the biggest issue I have with Grameen Bank. So I was a bit wary when starting out on our site visit.

Fortunately, it turned out to be wonderful. Not because we got to meet with borrowers who were on flexible loans (if a borrower can’t pay back on schedule, they go on something called a ‘flexible loan’), or because we got some ‘real’ information… but because it was a very real cultural experience. Because I saw that the branch manager was just a regular Bangladeshi guy who wasn’t trying to scam us or hide things from us, but just someone living his life and doing his job. Because the food was so incredibly delicious, and for the first time in two weeks I didn’t get sick. Because all of the borrowers we met were so fun, giggled every time I introduced myself and said ‘shami na’ (no husband- everyone asks if I am married here because most women get married at 18), and sang for us. Because every night I sat in on a concert with tabla and the harmonium, and I got to play tabla again for the first time in a year. Because our interpreter ended up being really cool. Because the Area office we visited gave us so much food it covered the entire desk. The rickshaw rides, the gorgeous rice fields in Tangail, the most delicious mango and pineapple I’ve ever tasted, the smiles, the struggled conversation from English to Bengali to English with lots of laughter in between… it was an amazing week.

I’ve learned quite a bit of Bengali this past week. Bengali and Hindi are actually very similar, and since I’ve been in India for six months and speak a bit of Hindi, it’s been easy to pick up. For example:

‘What is your name?’

Hindi: Ap ka nam kya hai?

Bengali: Ap nar nam kee?

As you can see, it is very similar. I now know how to give a little ‘speech’ in Bengali- I can say ‘My name is Brittany, I am a student of Global Studies, I am 21 years old, I have three sisters, one brother, one mother, one father, and two dogs.’ I have repeated this endlessly, much to the delight of the borrowers. They all ask me whether I have a boyfriend, and when I say ‘na’ they ask (rather indignantly) why not. As if the worst thing in the world is for a 21 year old female to be single. I explain to them that in America, most women get married at 25, 26- even after 30 years old! They are all shocked. They also love to ask me how much kg I weigh (this is a very common thing to ask in Asia), and what that strange thing on my lip is (my lip peircing- an anomaly apparently never seen in Bangladesh. I have to explain to them it is the same as their nose piercing, but on my lip. Then they get rather excited…or disturbed).

As I’ve said before, Bangladesh has been a truly amazing experience (and continues to be). I would recommend to anyone who is interested in poverty alleviation, micro finance, social issues, anthropology, or the culture in Asia to come here and intern with Grameen Bank, and to learn a bit about Bangladesh.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end and I have only one week left here. Then I am off to India to visit my Tibetan family (which I will save for a later post), and then finally- home again!

See you on the flip side!



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