Change Yourself…Change The World.


Packing Post- Clothes
August 24, 2009, 5:32 pm
Filed under: Bangladesh, Pictures Post, Travel Tip

Hi friends! Sitting at the airport getting ready to go to COSTA RICA! This is my last post in the US for about four months.

Before we continue, I just want to say that Pictures from Bangladesh are up.

Anyway, this is the last post I have about packing, for travelers planning to go somewhere long term (traveling for more than one month). I hope that you all got some good ideas and tips on what to pack based on what I bring.

Also, to give you an idea of what I put all of these things IN, I use an Eagle Creek traveler’s backpack, and a small backpack to for carry-on for flights and as a day pack.

Check out after the jump if you’re interested.

What to Pack: Clothes



Cox’s Bazar, and my final day in Bangladesh
July 30, 2009, 9:31 pm
Filed under: Bangladesh, India

Note: This post was written before I left for Dharamsala, but I never had the chance to post it. Please read this as if you have been transported back in time to a week and a half ago. Thanks friends!

My last weekend in Bangladesh, I went to Chittagong (the second largest city in Bangladesh) and Cox’s Bazar (‘the best beach in SouthEast Asia’- this will later be refuted) with five French interns. Yes, I was the only American. Yes, I learned some essential French phrases this weekend (“Your Mom is crazy”).  Taking a seven hour bus ride to the middle of nowhere with five other French speaking people? Classic. Basically when we arrived in Chittagong at 5 AM I ended up sleeping the day away because the bus ride was the most uncomfortable experience EVER.

Cox’s Bazar… is supposed to be the big ‘tourist’ destination in Bangladesh. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I went. The beach is actually relatively clean (by Bangladeshi standards), and it was nice to spend the day feeling a cool breeze on my face. However, it was quite literally going to the beach, Bangladeshi style. Everyone stared at us like we were aliens. Hawkers came by every two minutes with jewelry, coral, horse rides, beach motorcycle rides, you name it. Every other two minutes beggars came along. People would find excuses to sit by us so they could stare at us and discreetly take pictures of us on their phones. Truthfully, I almost feel like I’m starting to get an inkling of what a celebrity must feel like. When you want to just ‘get away for the weekend’ and not be stared at by continuously- it’s impossible, even in Cox’s Bazar.

Bangladeshis are always trying to get foreigners to vote Cox’s Bazar as one of the ‘seven natural wonders of the world.’ Okay, first off, the smell is overpowering (and not pleasant), the ocean is the dirtiest I’ve ever seen, and to call it ‘the best beach of SouthEast Asia’- obviously these folks have not been to Thailand. But I am kind of going on a complain train here so I’ll end with- Cox’s Bazar was nice and it was nice to visit, but the hassle getting there and back was not worth it, and if you come to Bangladesh I would highly recommend the tea gardens (Sylhet) over Cox’s Bazar.

Then I spent my last day going out in style- getting ripped off by CNG drivers, sitting in traffic for two hours sweating in a tiny corner of a taxi, and getting some intense food poisoning for my final meal. It was almost like Bangladesh wanted me to experience the worst things possible about Bangladesh on my last day so I could appreciate India even MORE when I got here. Now I am in Delhi, at the Tibetan Refugee Settlement (Majnukatilla), slurping on a banana smoothie and readying myself for a grand 13 hour bus ride. Dharamsala, here I come!

Much love,

Brittany



Child Beggars
July 19, 2009, 4:40 am
Filed under: Bangladesh, Travel Tip

A bit of a ‘travel advice’ post- I just wanted to give everyone here a back round on begging (specifically child begging), so when they go out into the third world and see it for themselves, maybe they’ll have more of an inkling on how they should act.

Child beggars are commonly found in SouthEast Asia (probably Africa, South America, and other places too- though I haven’t been to those other places so I can’t say).  Usually they are dressed in rags, dirty, maybe an eye or a hand missing, and pitifully looking up to you with their big eyes and hand outstretched, constantly putting their hand to their mouth in a ‘feed me I’m hungry’ gesture.

I remember the first time I came to India, and didn’t know how to handle this scene in front of me. My leaders from Carpe Diem, Dan and Aleta, just walked down the street as if they didn’t exist. I was shocked at their apathy- but now that I’ve been in SouthEast Asia for over a year I’ve realized that it isn’t apathy- it’s just experience traveling in a third world country. I remember when Dan gave us all a talk in Delhi (one of my first days outside of the US), that in India, almost all of the streets are controlled by the mafia. Children, women, and men are all paying this mafia for their right to beg on the street- so most of your money isn’t going to that person, but to a corporation that allows begging to exist. Ever seen ‘Slumdog Millionaire?’ Then you know what I’m talking about. My leaders Dan and Aleta said, by giving money to these people (whether children or adults), you’re setting up a precedent that a) Westerners are walking bags of money, and b) that these institutions can be in place (begging) because it is profitable.

If begging WASN’T a profitable business (especially for children, because what Westerner’s heart DOESN’T break looking at an emaciated child?), where would these children be? Who puts these children out on the street? Their parents, or the mafia. If these children couldn’t make money from begging, maybe their parents would actually send them to school to get an education. This is what I hear all of the time.

So what I hear and know is, begging is bad. Giving money to beggar children is a bad thing, because it keeps them on the street, it enables people to do horrible things to them like cut off their limbs to make them look more pitiful, and they don’t get an education. Advice that I hear a lot of is that if you want to GIVE, then donate to an organization or charity. However, this is an issue too. When talking about this with my friends, they raise the issue ‘Well sure I can donate to an organization, but what about the child that’s RIGHT in front of my eyes who is hungry? What about right now?’

Even buying food for beggar children is a tough task, because that child will usually take the food and give it right to their parents, as they are told. Some interns in Bangladesh have gone so far as to invite beggar children to eat with them- but this has also started a problem. These beggar children outside of the Grand Prince Hotel now expect that these Westerners will take them out of meals (which they regularly do). Not only do they make a significant income a day (50 taka some interns have found out, which is a better salary than a Bangladesh adult working in a restaurant), but they also get free meals. What do you think the mother is going to decide? ‘Should I send my child to school, or should I continue to make them beg?’

I am not saying that what these interns are doing is wrong by any means (in fact, it is probably the best thing someone can do in this sort of scenario). But it just seems to me, that no matter what you do, there will continuously be negative side effects. If you give the child money, then they will continue to be out on the street instead of getting an education, as well as allowing this practice to continue. If you donate to an organization, then you’re trying to help eradicate this practice 20 years down the road, and aren’t helping the scene right in front of you. If you give the child food, they will bring it to their parents. If you BUY the child food, then they (and their parents) will have the expectation that every foreigner who comes along is a walking wallet (which is generally not a good practice either, but the lesser of all evils).

I am still figuring out the best way to handle all of this. Right now, I am usually in the mode of ‘apathetic traveler’- I ignore them. I tell myself it is because through my practice, maybe other Westerners will stop giving money to beggars, and maybe then these children will no longer be mutilated, and can get an education. I suppose that’s a bunch of BS but I’m really big on this whole ‘butterfly effect.’

Or maybe I’m just being a jerk who is completely insensitive to beggars. I don’t know what the right line is. I guess there is no right line in this kind of scenario. You have to do what you think is best. The problem is, everyone thinks there is a better way to sort this thing out, so it’s hard to achieve the eradication of begging when others (who are probably new to this), can’t help stopping and giving change to these children (and they shouldn’t be made to feel bad about it either).

Anyway, a lot of differing perspectives. There is my best line of thought. Let me know if you have some fresh ideas.

Love,

Brittany



What To Do When You Meet Muhammad Yunus
July 16, 2009, 11:39 am
Filed under: Bangladesh

Clap. Smile. Make small jokes. Shake his hand and say “It’s an honor to meet you, Mr. Yunus.” Pose for a million cameras.

This is my last weekend in Bangladesh. I am going to Cox’s Bazaar (‘the best beach in SouthEast Asia’) with four other French interns. I am saying goodbye to a bunch of awesome people today. I am very sad to be leaving this phase in my life, but I am excited to move on to India to see my lovely Tibetan family, at last, again.



A Weekend in Dhaka
July 12, 2009, 4:23 am
Filed under: Bangladesh

I didn’t go traveling outside of Dhaka this weekend, but that doesn’t mean that both days weren’t just as insane as if I would have been. I thought I would give you guys a little synopsis on what people do in Dhaka on the weekends, so if you ever make it this way you know what to do and where to go. I also wanted to give you the opportunity to read a bit more detailed post about the things I do and the places I see.

The weekends are on Friday and Saturday here (instead of Saturday and Sunday), so I woke up on Friday morning after getting over my bout of food poisoning (one of the many charms of Bangladesh) to find myself jumping in a cab and randomly going to this lake in the ‘beautiful’ part of Dhaka- Dhanmondi. We (by ‘we’ I mean about 15 interns/white foreigners wandering around and making a ridiculous scene, as usual) ended up being taken by a new Bengali ‘friend’ we met at the lake to an ‘authentic’ Bengali restaurant called Tsunami (how appropriate). We all wanted to have a good meal and get something different than Chicken Biryani (a rice dish with chicken that is basically eaten at every meal in Mirpur, the area of Dhaka that we all reside in). However, we arrived at this restaurant to once again be confronted with Chicken Biryani. This is when one of the interns, Richard (who is hilariously endearing, but loves to make a scene) promptly stood up and demanded we go somewhere with good food.

Embarrasment aside, we actually ended up finding this AMAZING restaurant called Dhaba, which had the best food I’ve ever eaten in Bangladesh (though truthfully, most of it was Indian food). We had delicious Panipuri, Dohi Phutska, Masala Dosa, Paneer Butter Masala, Chicken Tandoori, and I had my delicious Chicken Tikka Masala with Tandoori Roti, and an egg roll that tastes exactly like the ones so sought after in Calcutta (‘an exotic breakfast food’ as one of the interns Jenny put it).

We then proceeded to go to the top of one of our Bengali friend’s roofs and stayed there for about four or five hours. What a random afternoon in the middle of Bangladesh. Afterwards, some of the boys headed to Gulshan (the ritziest area of Dhaka that houses the Westin Hotel) for a nice meal. We ended the evening with watching Prestige, which is a GOOD movie, but a disturbing one.

Saturday I went to ‘the biggest mall in SouthEast Asia’ with a French intern Johan- Bashundhara mall. I have never been to anything like it. It is eight floors, and massive. The eighth floor housed the food court- yes, the ENTIRE eighth floor was a food court. I was incredibly excited that there were about 500 food stalls open for my sampling until I realized that every 5 stalls was the same company. However, they DID have pizza there, and it was the best I’ve ever tasted in Asia (most of the pizza doesn’t taste like pizza- but this tasted a lot like Dominoes). I also bought about 15 DVDs for 1,000 taka (less than 20 dollars). Let me warn you about these DVDs though, if you want to buy them in Asia. While you can buy movies for INCREDIBLY cheap, some of them don’t work or the subtitles are terrible. Make sure you check ALL of them before buying them (most places have a TV where you can check them). I didn’t end up buying 3 DVDs (one which I really wanted) because the sound was off or the subtitles didn’t work properly.

You’d think my day would end there, but no. At around 9 PM all of us met up to go party at one of our Bengali friend’s houses, Raisa. There are no clubs in Bangladesh- there are hotel parties, or house parties. And since hotel parties are usually a bit ridiculously overpriced, we opted for the house (speaking of which, alcohol in Bangladesh is hard to come by and even more expensive than in the US- this is because people technically are not allowed to drink in Bangladesh, and only foreigners get access to it). However, it was such a beautifully extravagant place (and they cleared away alll of the breakables as soon as we arrived- smart decision with our group). The evening basically consisted of playing 21, a dance commemoration of Michael Jackson, and a long philosophical debate about free will. We then proceeded to walk the deserted streets of Dhaka at 3 AM until we found a cab- don’t try this at home, kids. Sketchy. Also, going to bed at 4:30 AM when you have work at 9 AM? Nice. This is why I don’t ever sleep here.

So anyway, Bangladesh, Party Style, Dhaka. It was a pretty awesome weekend. Next weekend I hope to make it to the Sundarbans (the forest in the south) or Cox’s Bazar (the ‘best beach in SouthEast Asia’). We’ll see where the wind takes me before moving on to India, and then finally HOME! I am already dreaming about my first meal in the States- Chipotle, here I come.

Much love,

Brittany



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!

Love,

Brittany



A Bit About Bangladesh- Part One
July 9, 2009, 7:00 am
Filed under: Bangladesh

I am sorry for being an awful person and not updating for the past week. Writing a new post takes a lot of time that I unfortunately haven’t had much of in the past few weeks. HOWEVER, this weekend I am not traveling (partly because there is a cyclone warning), so I will be in Dhaka all weekend and I finally have plenty of time to get back to all of the things that I’ve been meaning to get to.

So, let’s start with where I last left you, last weekend. Monsoon season has definitely hit Bangladesh, so it has been raining nonstop. This didn’t give us many options- our ‘group’ (the 15 or so interns that go traveling every weekend) decided not to go to the Sundarbuns (a forest in the south of Bangladesh, where apparently there are tigers), and instead we opted to go on a ‘luxurious cruise’- by luxurious I mean squeezing 5 people each into a tiny 2 bedroom cabin- to this random town in the south called Barisol. Let’s take a moment here to read the description of Barisol from Lonely Planet Bangladesh. Note that we didn’t read this until AFTER we reached Barisol:

“It may take time, it might get uncomfortable and sweaty, it might involve numerous changes of boat and days spent stuck in muddy villages marked on no map, and THEN, when you finally reach your goal there might be nothing of note to see…”

This is where we decided to go to.

Actually truth be told, it was a great time. In my opinion, the best traveling experiences are unplanned. We took a 12 hour boat cruise (which we barely made) to Barisol, and then some of the interns met a random German guy on the cruise, and he took us around Barisol. And by around Barisol, I mean he literally took us to a Christian church service where we sat for 5 hours. Some of the interns thought it was pretty fishy-if not ironic- for Bangladeshis to see a boatload of foreigners go ‘exploring’ and end up at the doors of a Christian church.

But the afternoon proved to be a much better experience. We took a boat on ‘the chocolate colored river’ (as Lonely Planet says- yes- it was chocolate colored) and ended up in a random village, whereupon we watched as half of the interns played soccer against some Bangladeshis on the muddiest field I have ever seen in my life. We then took another cruise straight back to Dhaka. It was a very ridiculous experience, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

A bit of the culture in Bangladesh– I think I am starting to really understand the difference between religion and culture in this part of the world now. Because I’ve been in India, where the religion is predominantly Hinduism, I assumed that if you wore a sari, had your nose pierced, wore henna, or any other aforementioned cultural trait, you were a Hindu. This is not the case. Bangladesh is mostly a Muslim country, and the women wear the exact same thing. Even at the Christian church, women were dressed up in their best saris. I suppose I just had this preconception in my mind- because I hadn’t actually taken the time to think about it- that if there were Bangladeshi Christians or Indian Christians, they would come to church in dresses, or slacks, or polo shirts. Nope.

I think that is enough for today. Tune in tomorrow if you’d like to hear more.

Much love,

Brittany



Best Summer of my Life.
July 2, 2009, 7:31 am
Filed under: Bangladesh

I am learning so much in every aspect of my life.
I am being treated like a regular employee at Grameen Solutions. My idea on poverty alleviation through mobile phones was chosen to be the top priority idea, and they all think that companies will invest. I am so happy, and so proud of this idea.
I can’t even begin to convey to you how busy and crazy my life here is, and how I am enjoying every second of it. When I’m not spending 9 hours at work thinking furiously about solutions to problems (Grameen Solutions, get it?), I am hanging out at the hostel with a whole bunch of new friends, sharing information, chilling out, having a great time. When I’m not hanging around them I am doing work, or sleeping, or eating, or passing out in exhaustion. I have no time to do anything else. I love it. I love my life here. I love everything about where I am right now.
Tomorrow I am going on a 12 hour boat ride with a bunch of other interns. See you in a few days.

Much love,
Brittany



SYSTEM OVERLOAD!
June 29, 2009, 12:08 pm
Filed under: Bangladesh

Apologies for not updating for four days to the slowly increasing amount of regulars. Life is just too crazy here in Bangladesh. I feel that one day is ten days. So since I haven’t written in four days, it feels to me like I have to convey to you what the past 40 days of my life has been in a condensed blog post.

Well the past 40 days (if you haven’t gotten the joke it is actually 4 days) have been AMAZING! This weekend I went to Sylhet, a town in Northeastern Bangladesh. About 18 interns went and we took a four hour train to get there. We spent our time wandering around tea gardens, hanging with locals, swimming, picking pineapples, napping, and just enjoying a wonderful weekend in a foreign place. Highlights include my first betel nut experience- it was disgusting, but I’m glad I tried it- drinking 5 layer tea, a special blend of 5 different layers of tea in one cup- DELICIOUS- and renting bikes to peddle 7km to a watering hole, and then everyone’s bikes breaking down midway through in the middle of nowhere, and hitching a ride back. I have a scorching sun burn on my back that is so bad it hurts to move- I have cuts all over my legs from my freaking bike that had sharp peddles- I have clothes that smell so disgusting because I was sweating so profusely outside in 100+ degree weather- but, I have a huge grin on my face that will never go away, and 17 interns that I bonded with pretty hardcore this weekend.

Next- Grameen Solutions. I have this fantastic internship with Grameen Solutions that I started on Sunday- and I feel like I can actually make a difference and do changes there. I mean how freaking COOL is it that I’m working for a software developing country where it’s main focus is to alleviate poverty? Yes, they take outsourcing jobs and application development jobs, etc. but they also focus on bringing technology to rural areas. For example they are working with UNICEF to create moBES- it’s an education system for students in Bangladesh. Out of 2.2 million students, only 1 million even bother registering for their secondary school certificate (their graduation degree)- which means that 50% drop out of school before graduation. To combat this, UNICEF and Grameen Solutions (UNICEF is providing the funds, Grameen Solutions is developing the software) are creating phone applications that help students study for exams- they can take mock tests, have peer to peer tutoring, huge help index, decide on how tough they want the questions, etc.- and it’s all for free. Phone technology is proving to be a huge thing for poverty alleviation because actually 64% of cell phone owners in the world are in developing countries- 30% of Bangladeshis own their own cell phones and it is growing at an annual rate of 30% a year. And even if they don’t own their own cell phone, there are village centers that have phones. So Grameen Solutions is developing software for education and also for health (people can text health care professionals their symptoms and get advice/treatment/prescriptions instead of having to spend a lot of time and money going to a hospital that they can’t afford). So anyway, what I am learning is REALLY cool, REALLY interesting, and I am being treated like an actual employee here- I have my own computer, card ID, and they want me to do analysis reports and join in on their brainstorming sessions. They also give me free lunch. What more could I ask for?

Note: If you are reading this and interested in interning with Grameen Bank, here is my well-seasoned advice (and believe me, please take this): intern with Grameen Bank for two weeks, a maximum of three weeks. You will get all of the information you can possibly get from them, and then stand around bored because they don’t manage their interns. Make sure to set up an internship with a Sister company the DAY you arrive to Grameen Bank (or they won’t do it for you). I wholeheartedly recommend Grameen Solutions- I think they have the best internship program. For prospective people looking to hear more, feel free to email me.

I cannot even begin to describe how many things I have learned in the past week. Please imagine a year-long class squished into one week. That is what it feels like to me. And it will only get better. Next week I am going on a four day and night field trip to a two-star Grameen branch (There are five stars that a branch can get- and interns are always taken to the five star ones, so we never get to see the actual problems with Grameen Bank. We specifically requested a two star branch so we could ask questions about difficulties with loan repayments to borrowers, etc.). We are also going to visit an Area Office or a Zonal Office (part of Grameen Bank, an Area Office is controlled by a Zonal Office, and a Zonal Office is controlled by HeadQuarters), and then on the way back visit Grameen Danone and Grameen United Healthcare (Social businesses of Grameen Bank- I am SUPER excited to learn about these). Finally, I hope to meet with BRAC (another micro-finance organization that rivals Grameen Bank) for a day to learn about their training program.

Sorry for the system overload, this is all probably too much information. I have relayed to you about .01% of everything I have had to disseminate in the past week.

I’m loving every second of it.

Much love,
Brittany




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