Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Bhatiary Village

August 26, 2010: This was a very special day...The executive director of WorldTeach, Helen Claire, has been with us here at AUW for the past month and she has a dear friend, Caroline Bauer, who has spent many years in Bangladesh. While living here, Caroline adopted the Bhatiary Village and built a play park, which we had the privilege to visit. Here are a few pictures from the afternoon...(more photos added to the end of my Bangladesh photo album)

The Play Park

The kids at the Play Park

so cute!!

Walking into the village

Our first glimpse into the village

The WorldTeach group on the rooftop of Caroline's house (which was amazingly gorgeous!)

The Penthouse (what we call our apartment) roomies

The Play Park Director's home

Bhatiary Village

I love visiting the villages - the people are so amicable! and the children are beyond adorable!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Classes are Starting

Tomorrow is the first day of classes!! Why Sunday you may ask - well, Friday and Saturday are the weekend here. I'll be teaching a class on business leadership - using one of my favorite Leadership books - Northouse's Leadership: Theory and Practice as well as Who Moved My Cheese. I'll have a class of 17 with students from 6 different countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. It should be a great experience and I'm glad the first day of classes is finally here! :) I'll blog about how the first day goes after tomorrow! :)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Long Days with High Pay Off

Justin Bieber "I just need somebody to love" kept our long day at AUW alive today. Our day started before 7:30 when the van arrived at Kulshi to drive us to AUW. Most of us proctored our last exam for the Access Academy students this morning, except 2 volunteers who were proctoring TOEFL exams for undergrads in the afternoon. After the last exam was finished it was a race all day to grade, grade, and grade TOEFL exams (reading, listening, structure) and math exams (statistics, algebra, geometry, computation, etc.). This has been a 3 day testing process with a total of 8 exams: the 3 TOEFL exams and 5 math exams. There was only one math teacher working to grade math word problems so we quickly began grading word problems as best we could once we had finished grading all multiple choice tests -- personally realizing just how long it'd been since I last took a math class....man time flies! As the day grew longer and longer we entertained ourselves with singing and giggling and joking and occasional frustrations due to stress/exhaustion. When the day finally ended at 9:30pm we joked that in one day we had lived through all 4 stages of group formations - forming, storming, norming, and performing. We definitely kept each other motivated through the day and lots of chai, sweet treats, and pizza hut were definitely added bonuses! It was a long day but great day! It feels really great to be a part of AUW and the developing stages of the University. I'm so glad to be here with an amazing group of volunteers, supporting an amazing mission! :) We can honestly say that the WorldTeach volunteers just successfully administered all Access Academy and Undergraduate assessment testing, including grading and recording - Go Us! and so the year begins with one successful project under our belts and a glimpse into the amazingness of our students :) Now it's time for a little Love Actually to keep us all sane :)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Jobra Hathazari Branch, Grameen Bank

Today our WorldTeach group was privileged enough to be able to visit the village of Jobra, where Muhammad Yunus began his Peace Prize Winning project, Grameen Bank. My account of our visit is not meant to be all-encompassing but just a reflection and summary of interesting points. The Grameen Bank's website has a wealth of information that I would recommend checking out for more information.

Our day started with a briefing from Golam Mohammed, the Senior Principal Officer in Dhaka and our guide for the day. He discussed the types of borrowers, types of loans, and the loan process. Grameen Bank targets the landless and assetless individuals, 96% of its borrowers being female. Grameen targets women borrowers because they are most successful in caring for the family, ensuring the family's needs are continually met, and enrolling children in school, including higher education. There are 4 types of loans, loans for: business/income projects, housing, higher education, and individuals living in extreme poverty. To apply for a loan, the woman must provide her name, husband's name, and purpose of the loan. There are no legal documents to sign and the loan is collateral free since the general aim is to raise the poverty line. If the borrower is unable to write her name (sometimes the case) Grameen will provide her with writing lessons so that she will be able to write this information. This is important as each woman signs her name attesting to loan payments at the weekly business meetings.

After our briefing with Golam we heard testimonials from 4 male students whose mothers had taken out higher education loans from Grameen so they could attend University.

We then made our way to the village. Julia and I rode with in Golam's vehicle and were able to learn a little bit more about the microfinancing process and goals for each borrower. After the loan process is started, Grameen continues to check in with the borrower and family to assess the quality of life improvements. There are 10 main indicators that Grameen looks for to determine how well the borrower is doing in terms of rising above the poverty line. The 10 indicators are:
1. a home with beds for all family members (and mosquito nets)
2. water purification system
3. all children 6 years+ are going to school (when not sure of age, can tell when the child can bend his arm over his head and touch the opposite ear)
4. the woman is able to make weekly loan payments of 200tk
5. sanitary toilet
6. clothing
7. 3 meals a day
8. 5,000tk in savings
9. health care needs are met
10. additional sources of income available when needed

While at the village we were able to witness the group's official business meeting. The women had a ritual to signal the start and end of the meeting. This ritual included crossing and uncrossing the arms and standing and sitting several times. We then heard several personal accounts of when the women first starting borrowing from Grameen and how their lives and economic situation had been changed. One thing all the women adamantly agreed on was that they have more saris now than they were ever able to afford before receiving a loan.

The day was very insightful to Bangla culture and the ideas of microfinancing and the many positive effects it has on these families and villages. These women are so dedicated and driven to success with an innate knowledge of business and finance needed to thrive. To be able to develop a profit-generating idea, receive a loan, and then make the dream a reality without formal training, business plans, or legal contracts is an incredible notion and the reason Grameen can be thanked for raising the poverty line in Bangladesh as well as the other countries they operate.

Jobra Hathazari Branch, Grameen Bank

Bengali pointing the way to the office

Inside the office

Inside the Jobra Hathazari Branch - all loan payments are kept in record books

4 University students who are enrolled at the University of Chittagong thanks to Grameen Bank's Loan for Higher Education

fields upon fields for cultivating crops in the Jobra village, Bangladesh

first arriving in the village

a few curious men from the village

attending the official business meeting --each team of 5 women sit in a row with the group leader on the far left and the group-at-large's leader in the front left

video

official closing of the business meeting

one of the borrowers

Jobra village, Bangladesh

just another glimpse into the beauty of Jobra

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I dream of sweets...

Well, a lot is happening but not too much blog worthy I guess - just day-to-day life in Bangladesh playing out. *We are going to the Grameen Bank tomorrow! yay! and it's our last day of orientation - crazy!! - blog post tomorrow or soon after our Grameen tour*

The "death chalk" is working well....maybe too well - I'm getting tired of handling 1/2 dead cockroaches. This morning at 3:30am (when I couldn't sleep) and then again at 7:00 when I woke up there were 1/2 dead cockroaches on their backs (one each time) that had to quickly be handled with a thick paper towel! I'm glad that the chalk is working but can't they just find their own way to the trash bin.?! Anyway, this is not a daily thing at all just something that happened to strike twice this morning...

Today after Bangla class Mira (our table's teacher) took us to her favorite sweets shop (yumm) called SugarBun. They had tons of traditional Bangladeshi sweets, cakes, and breads...My roommates and I decided on 2 sweets to try and bought a box of 4 each (for 134 tk/$2) - pretty cheap, huh? I can't even begin to explain to you how amazingly delicious these sweets were (yeah, were - they're all gone!!)! The kalo jam tasted like a maple syrup doughnut soaked through with syrup! yumm and the other, Kacha Golla was an interesting texture but equally tasty - it tasted a little like a sweet dessert you would make using ricotta cheese. Both were definitely worth the thought of gaining a few extra pounds :)

Inside SugarBun

The sweets

See the Kalo Jam (bottom row, second from the left) and the Kacha Golla (top row, far right)

Street view outside of SugarBun which is within walking distance to AUW

another street view

i love how bright and colorful this city is :)

Here are a few pictures from the past few days....

Street market on our way to Aarong (Tuesday, 16th)

CNG ride home (I have a few videos....another day!)

The heartbreak children outside of Kulshi Mart/Tava....the littlest boy is always very persistent - broke all of our hearts today when it was pouring down rain and he was standing there shivering

Mira, my table's Bangla teacher, and I

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Iftar

It's Ramadan here in Bangladesh and while we're not fasting we are certainly enjoying this time. (Except for yesterday when we were at AUW for orientation and school was closed b/c it's the weekend, so we were going to eat at Impala but then realized all restaurants are closed during the day for Ramadan...day ended up being cut short so we could come back to our apt to each lunch. By the time we made it back to our apartment tava had set up their iftar buffet and thus began our new obsession.) All of the restaurants set up buffet lines along the streets with a wide variety of foods to break the fast, called iftar. Our favorite restaurant across the street from our apartment, Tava, has said iftar. The staff is so cute and wonderful. We've eaten in the restaurant twice and the head waiter has memorized all of our names (so cute!). They have a variety of food including chicken kabaabs, pakora, fish fingers, veggie/chicken rolls, samosa, etc. and today I ate the most amazing pineapple pie!!! They also have another desert that has been deemed "funnel cake on crack" by Kelsey (another volunteer) - basically it's a thin dough fried in sugar and it is quite tasty (pictures another day...I bought pineapple pie today instead). This will be our dinner for the next month! no questions.

Tava's iftar set up in front of Khulshi Mart (our closest grocery store)

A few of our waiters - the guy in the middle is one of my faves!

this guy created quite a bit of commotion during our orientation class....i dont need to think about spiders like this crawling around my apartment! so i'll just pretend they are only at AUW!

trapping the spider!

at AUW with Kristen in yet another of my new shalwar kameez outfits

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Daily Life in Bangladesh

So I can't believe it's been a week already!! I thought I'd just blog a little about what it's been like so far. There are a lot of things that are not what I expected or are somehow like what I expected but I just didn't know what it would be like to fully develop my expectations before arriving in country. Anyway, here are a few little things about daily life in Bangladesh....

-- The power goes out all the time! I read about this before coming but had no idea what the reality would be like...well some days the power goes out just as quickly as it is turned back on and other days it'll be out for an hour or more. At AUW you usually don't notice the difference because the generator kicks in shortly after the power goes out. At home while the power is out there's an annoying beeping until the power is returned but at least we have a light and fan in each room that function on the generator. Here's an article about Bangladesh's energy instability in the Daily Star, a local newspaper in Dhaka.

-- Don't drink the water!! I knew this beforehand and have done this when traveling in Egypt and Turkey but forgot how hard it can be to not open your mouth while in the shower (bad habit #1 to break!) or not to rinse your toothbrush with the tap water by accident. We're very lucky that AUW delivers water jugs to our rooms. Supposedly it will eventually be on a schedule but right now we seem to run out of water before getting a new jug...surely this will work itself out. Luckily our apartment has somehow timed it, so far at least, that we run out of water the same day new water is delivered.

(My extreme measures to make sure I don't drink the water by accident - notice the duct tape on the cold water knob -- that way I have to think about turning on the water since I don't usually use hot water)

-- There are bugs. Cockroaches are to be expected and I'm surprised/thankful there aren't more. We've had two big ones in our apartment so far...which we happened to name - Crunch and Phillip. One of them is dead -- I made a man from the apartment complex kill it when it appeared on my bathroom mirror while they were in our apartment working on the powerbox. As expected I'm covered in mosquito bites...the first few didn't swell up like usual but the other day at school one attacked my arm and they've all swollen up.

-- People stare/are curious. It's like we have a megaphone announcing our presence wherever we go -- van ride to AUW, shopping, crossing the street, etc. Men just start staring from miles away. When in the van we're an odd site so it's no wonder men stare -- we have a Bangladeshi woman driver, which to have a woman driver is an oddity in itself! then they see the van full of white woman and it's really weird! so they stare even more. Today we went shopping in a cute little shopping complex with about 10 stores all selling shalwar kameez outfits/jewelry/some household decorations. While in one store trying on a few outfits, the entire staff (about 12 men and 1 woman) were all staring at me and asking questions (Where are you from, What are you doing here, How long have you been here) and giving their opinion about how I looked in the shalwar kameez...and giggling when I went back into the dressing room. When I went to the neurologist the other day for my vertigo problems one of the women working at the office came and started talking to Pam (a nurse from AUW) and I, asking us all the usual questions. She was so interested and curious about us.

TANGENT -- My visit to the neuro cost approximately $6, yes $6! and he prescribed me 2 medications for vertigo (that hopefully start working soon) and I paid about $1.30 for a 10 day supply! crazy, huh? A massage or two is looking like a good investment in the hopes of aiding my relief of vertigo!

-- Overpopulation...is an understatement. I've never seen so many people in my life. The streets are packed with pedestrians, CNGs, rickshaws, and cars. However, stores and restaurants are very scarce and it's a wonder how they stay afloat.

-- Bangladeshis are crazy drivers. It's not like Germany where it was organized chaos or in the States where nobody really knows what they're doing/are preoccupied with their phones. No, after riding in a CNG today I'm even more scared for my life as a pedestrian on the streets. Bangladeshis supposedly drive on the "opposite" side of the road like the British but in reality they drive wherever their vehicle will fit - middle of the road, right side of the road, ditches, etc. In some parts of town the two sides are separated by a physical barrier (usually a small brick wall, 2 or 3 bricks high) but most of the time it's a free-for-all, wide-open road. There are no sidewalks here so walking around is a bit of a dizzying situation - dodging ditches/mud/trash piles, feeling the breeze from rickshaws and CNGs zooming around you, and constant honking. You just have to walk with a purpose and hope nobody hits you!! Our CNG ride this evening took us through a part of town I've never seen - side roads that our AUW van would never be able to fit down. The side road was lined with small shops and lots of people and full of ditches! ouch!

Traffic jam on our way home from the Chittagong Club (a members-only club). It took us almost 2 hours to get home....it took us about 20-30 minutes to get there.

My first CNG ride at night!

Below are a few more pictures from the past few days and I've also added more to the picasa album.

The group of volunteers with Omar, Director of Operations at AUW, and his wife at the Chittagong Club

AUW

Karin, Shahirah, and I at the Teacher/Volunteer Tea - they have tea twice a day - 10:00 and 4:00

The group celebrating Calynn's birthday at Tava - a swanky restaurant across the street from our apartment. They have a Chinese, Thai, and Indian menu in one. You can purchase a main course, naan bread, and a drink for about $6

My name in Bangla!! We're taking language classes as part of our orientation....I wish I could say I wrote this myself but Mirah, our table's teacher, wrote this for me. Languages have never been my strong point...

Monday, August 9, 2010

Welcome to Bangladesh

Hi everyone! So it's been a long, busy, exciting, overwhelming, sometimes nerve wrecking few days since arriving in Bangladesh (I can't believe it's only been 5 days!!). There's so much to say but I'll keep it short! Bangladesh is so exciting, new, and different for me and it's even more intriguing because I tried to not have too many expectations (or do too much research) before coming on this trip so I wouldn't be disappointed or upset or expect something to be one way only to find out it's something totally different. Everyday there's something new to see, do, and experience. The almost hour long van ride from the airport was a great introduction to the country. Cars, traffic, honking, cows in the street, people pulling carts amidst all the traffic, lots of staring, street vendors, and an abundance of lush green vegetation!

A little bit about what I'll be doing for the next year... I'll be working through WorldTeach at the Asian University for Women with a few roles:
- teacher at the Access Academy (a pre-University school to improve the students English skills and prepare them for college coursework) - I'm planning on teaching a class on Business Leadership (pending approval still)
- teaching assistant in a university writing seminar class
- business teacher for the women's chamber of commerce in the local community

I'm really excited about this new and different opportunity. I love traveling and living abroad and after living in Germany I was ready for something a little different. I really wanted to be able to get more involved in the community and make a difference in the country I was living, so this seems like a terrific opportunity to accomplish all of the above plus a lot more! We'll also be able to do a considerable amount of traveling on our breaks thanks to a travel stipend from the university (details are still a little fuzzy). The travel stipend supports travel to countries where our students are from, which covers about 14 countries around Asia (Pakistan, Cambodia, China, Sri Lanka, etc.)

Here are a few pictures from the first few days! and as always a few more pictures here

Van ride from the Chittagong airport to our apartment! aka new home for the upcoming year :)

Rickshaws are everywhere! and people sit on top of everything whether it's being carried on a rickshaw, van, bus, etc.

This picture is for mom - probably the lightest I've ever packed in my entire life!! One 50lb suitcase, a laptop bag, and a half-empty hiking backpack

View of Bangladesh from my bedroom window :)

Sunset view from my bedroom! :)

Lunch at a local restaurant (Calynn, Jess (our Field Director), me, and Katie)

My first Shalwar Kameez! I bought two outfits from Aarong, a fair trade store down the street from our field director's apartment complex where our first few days of orientation were held

Street view from the rooftop of our apartment