Our trip was to Sirajgonj, where we hopped out of our Toyota Towne Ace van after a 250 km (four plus hours) and resided at the local Grameen bank branch. This branch was very nice – a two story concrete building where the branch manager and his assistant manager lived upstairs. We stayed three nights and four days. Our assignment was to interview various borrowers (using our interpreter) of the Grameen bank as well as those working for Grameen itself. Our group interviewed a young man who was getting an education loan, a woman who twenty years ago lived under a tree before getting her first loan of 900 taka ($7.15) and now makes a good living selling handcrafts and owns her own land. We also interviewed a former street beggar who used a loan to buy a chicken in a failed attempt to no longer have to beg (selling the eggs). Unfortunately, the chicken died and the women lacked the self-confidence to talk about it. Overall, she just didn’t seem to understand the value of the loan itself for someone like herself (a rather uncomfortable and heart wrenching interview).  The stories were inspiring and familiar: before the loan life was hard and post Grameen loan, an easier life. On a more personal level for the borrower members (mostly women) a loan from Grameen meant a more prominent position in the family as well as the respect of their fellow villagers.
We also discussed with Grameen employees the organizational hierarchy, culture and any managerial issues they might face.
Like any small town, the pace of life in the village is slower. Livestock amble around the village, not fenced in, sleeping on the road or chewing grass everywhere. According to our interpreter, everyone in the village knows which animal belongs to whom, but they all look alike so go figure. The air is so much better, as is the view. Rural Bangladesh is beautiful, with rice patties and canals as far as the eye can see. Add to this scene some rowboats on the horizon and silhouettes of fishermen on their bamboo fishing apparatuses or farmers planting rice or stripping jute and you kind of get the picture.
Our people of the village were so great. Every night they would come down to the bank and ask us to come out. All in all, about an average of 25 people a night would be there. They asked us questions (through our interpreter) on things like our name, if we were married, our age and if we liked our time there. Of course we did…However it was hot. In our down time, we’d play cards. Tori played soccer with the kids. We had our first real rainstorm, which was great as it cooled things down for about an hour or two…It was relaxing and really nice to see a Grameen bank in action. But most probably the coolest thing we did was to spend a couple of hours at the village’s primary school. The kids were so great. There were 304 students and only four teachers. The kids did a presentation for us and we had a nice discussion with the teachers comparing the American school system with theirs.
Also this country has the biggest bats I’ve ever seen! They are the size of hawks…not kidding! I half expected them to swoop down and carry off a few of the lambs on the street.
Toward the end of the week we headed about 30 km to the fisheries by CNGs (motorized cage cars) and stayed at an AIR CONDITIONED rest house. Grameen was asked by the government to take over the management of the fisheries. While the accommodations were lovely, my time there was marred by an awful bout of fever, stomach flu and general sickness. It took several days to recover, but I’m good now, no worries, and the week itself was great and enjoyable overall.

The Grameen Logo/Entrance to village bank branch…

Tori “striking” a village child with soccer ball…note the yellow ball hitting the child under his chin – Tori is pretty competative at soccer 🙂

Just kidding, the kids (at least the non-injured ones) had a blast

Beautiful countryside…

Students at the primary school…

Reminds me of my own classes 😉

Students preforming a program for us…