The sites, the sounds, the smell…Welcome to Dhaka!

 
The city is striking, alive and very active. It”s also a city of contrasts. New construction next to little shanties that house someone’s business. High rises incomplete. Open bazars, closed bazars. Garbage lines the streets in piles and an open sewers snake alongside the sidewalk. People are everywhere, driving, walking, biking, sitting or standing. Horns honk while muslim prayers are read/sung throughout the day. Colorful signs and billboards line the buildings and drivers take great pride in their trucks and rickshaws by painting them all colors with great ornate details. It’s hot and humid, which adds to the odors and they can be overwhelming…People are very nice, but they constantly stare at you because your different (more on this in later posts). It’s third world living…

Rolling blackouts…
Dhaka has a daily shortfall of 2,000 megawatts of power, which is half of the entire country’s average daily production. As such, the city experiences a rolling blackout once every other hour. They don’t last too long, at least until a backup generator kicks on. However to the residents outside my hotel, it’s just another part of life that consists of dirty water, hot and humid (as well as monsoon-like) weather.

Getting Around…

So I signed up for additional medical insurance through the school’s travel abroad office for this trip. At the time, I didn’t think anything of it but now I know why they asked! It’s quite literally the highway to h—. Every time I get in the van, I want to call my wife and tell her I love her – that’s how scary it can be. Cars, buses, trucks, bicycles, motorcycles, rickshaws, and people are everywhere. While there are streetlights, road markers and even traffic cops are evident, it all seems subjective at best.  While there is an infrastructure for roadways, no one seems to care or abide by any rules to the road. It seems so chaotic. Every vehicle sports an additional accessary – metal wrapped bumpers. All of the cars have scratches, dents and such. The driver drives with one hand on the wheel and the other on the horn. The horn is truly the only thing you hear in the city. They are used in lieu of turn signals. Essentially, the driver drives in the middle of the two lane highway and as he (I have yet to see a female driver) approaches vehicles ahead, he lays on the horn and this serves as a warning that he’s there and you should pick a lane b/c he’s going to tell you (via horn) where he’s at and you better move for him…This system applies to people and bikes also. There is very little braking and you pass cars, buses, people within inches of your vehicle. Keep in mind that all the drivers doing this, so it makes for some very hairy situations. You almost have to laugh b/c they are so good at it and it all makes such sense to them. It’s like going to an amusement park (like a thrill ride) only your life is truly in danger…I will never complain about traffic or anyone’s driving ever again…

Orientation…
We met with the GM, Deputy GM and others from the bank. Went over the itinerary, discussed our month and took a tour of Dr. Yunus’ awards room…minus the Nobel Prize. Hundreds of awards given to him by numerous countries. Doesn’t everyone have a room like this?

Grameen in action…

Today we went to Dharibhari, which is about 40 kilometers from Dhaka. The trip was a mix of humility, heat, humidity and inspiration.

To actually get to the village we took a row boat. It was made up of homes built from sheet metal, clay or brick, most very small. It was known as a more affluent one because it had electric. The corridors were no more than five feet wide. There were open sewers, not too much trash and the smell of barn yards was much more palatable. Overall, it was more than I had imagined it would be and for the most part the people looked healthy.

We went to see a “center” meeting firsthand. These meetings are when the borrowers make their weekly payments to the Grameen and also bring up any issues or concerns they might be having. Today’s center meeting consisted of seven groups – up to ten per group – who utilized loans for individual purposes. This village boasted 72 borrowers, all women. The leader of the borrowers was one of the original people to sign on w/Grameen from the in 1987. They all had the most amazing stories. Most discussed the hardships before their loans and the impact that the banks has had on their lives. The loan amounts ranged from 2000 to 330,000 taka for projects that included making pottery, running a grocery, owning the boats that ferried us to the village as well as owning livestock. One woman spent 27,000 taka on a calf and grain (feed) for it and she’s held it for six months. In about a week, she will sell it for the festivals for Ramadan for 50,000 taka (roughly a 200 percent profit). Another woman borrowed 50,000 taka and used it to run a campaign for herself for what essentially was a union chief. She won! Another woman explained how she helped expand her family’s business for her husband who went from being a laborer to now being a foreman. They went from having no property to buying their own plot of land and building a house. Needless to say I could go on. It was just so amazing to witness the power that lending gave them. When they spoke they had great pride and you could just feel their self-confidence. So cool…
The children were so cute. A couple of little girls kept poking their head in the center house and when they did, they noticed Tori’s blonde hair. They would point with one hand at her and with the other hand touch their heads. For the rest of the day it was like having extra shadows. They were always right behind us. When we stopped, they stopped. When we moved, they moved. We actually walked into a school yard and the kids came out all excited and hyper, much to the disdain of their teachers. Some actually left class to follow…We’re talking rock star status here. They want us to take pics. They wave back enthusiastically, they smile, they stare…everyone stares.

I will post pictures soon…

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