Thursday, July 30, 2009

This is Rural Bangladesh Pt. 1

As I've been swamped with work since returning from "The Field" as researchers call it, I'm just now getting around to telling you about my four days in villages around Netrokona (3 hours north of Dhaka) and a small village three more hours from there over bumpy and mostly non-lighted roads.

During my time in the field I was researching social capital, trying to find out just how well-connected the poor are. I think a lot of times we take for granted that we have resources like friends or parents that might have a connection to a job, formal organizations like Rotary or a plethora of campus organizations, or even Facebook. I wanted to see if the poor also become more connected the more their income increases. While I'm not especially ecstatic about the data I collected (because social capital is hard to quantify), I did hear some stories.

I heard uplifting stories, like that of Shuzana's family. Shuzana is 20 years old and has no education (45% of all people I interviewed had no education). As a part of BRAC's Targeting the Ultra Poor (TUP) program, she was a recipient of two cows, and three sheets of tin so that she could make a house for the cows connected to her own. After selling milk she graduated out of TUP and was able to take microloans as a part of the Dabi microfinance program. She first took a loan of 4,000 Taka ($60) to start up herhusband's tea shop, and then took another 6,000 Taka loan to equip it with a table and chairs. Next came a 10,000 Taka loan to purchase a TV and CD player. Every week she is paying 250 Taka, and is saving 30 Taka, as part of BRAC's program. Her husband's business is now successful and she plans to continue saving until she has enough money to send her daughters to college and eventually marry them.

There were also less happy stories. Mojibo, age 42, is the head of his household and owns a small grocery store to support his family. His wife took out two loans from BRAC to help her husband's business, but tragedy recently struck, as their son was afflicted with tetanus (this is the first picture, the son is in blue shorts). They needed $1,000 to treat him - over three times what the family earns in a given year. To get their son medical treatment, the family had to sell some of their land and take out massive loans from relatives. They are now nearly $500 in debt and the father has had to essentially cease his grocery business since he does not have the funds to purchase all the products.

On the lighter side, we did get to meet the real Bengal Tiger (2nd pic). One of the people we interviewed had a pet goat, andit was twice as big as any goat I've seen. It more or less resembled a small horse. My translator kept calling it The Tiger, even though its name was just Tiger. The owner fed this tank of an animal anything - first he drank tea from a glass (he drank 10-20 glasses/day), then mango juice from a juice box, then some bread, and finally he started chowing down on cigarettes. Pretty cool pet.

One interviewee let me hold what they used for fuel. During the interview, I noticed the room didn't exactly smell like a bed of fresh roses. It turns out I was sitting right next to their pile of crap. They basically take cow dung and fo
rm it around sticks with their bare hands and let it dry in the sun...and then store it right next to their bed until it gets used for fires. You can't call them wasteful.

Lastly I got to hang with a woman who's birth predates the Bill of Rights. She was 104 years old,and still kicking. Her son, who was one of only two surviving children out of 10, said that she only needs help with pumping water from a tube well and washing her clothes...everything else - cooking, cleaining, walking - she could do herself. She was actually pretty talkative, although you had to quiet down to hear her. Very impressive for someone living in a third world country.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Just Going to Get a Book

I’m not going to sugarcoat it – Bangladesh isn’t the most culturally-rich country in the world. It doesn’t have things on par with the Great Wall, Eiffel Tower, or Teotihuacan. The Lonely Planet book was really reaching for highlights – ranked as the number 1 highlight is “Rickshaws”. Number 6, however, is “The People”. There couldn’t be a truer statement. Adventures here in Bangladesh, especially if you look really foreign (skin/hair color), stem from the people. The other day was a pretty good example.

I’ve been really sick lately, and in addtion to the food I thought I might be sick because I was always engrossed in poverty – even my leisure book is about poverty. So began the quest to find a “beach novel” (If you know me, you know I never read this kind of crap).

Addresses here are harder to find than a liberal in Alabama, and this one was compounded by the fact that the bookstore had moved. Once dropped off in the general area, I was immediately approached by an English-speaking Bangladeshi and two small street children. The kids, who were very dirty and wearing hair that looked like it had endured several birthdays since its last washing, said some mumbled English and then I heard “Ronnie”. Apparently they were friends of his. After this they pointed to their bare feet. I painfully told them that I couldn’t help them out, but one followed me, named Taki. I eventually bought some candy that Taki was selling, which made him happy.

Now it was just me and the random guy, who I later found out was named Raheen, looking for the bookstore. He appointed himself my official guide and kept talking about a museum he wanted me to go to while we searched. We went on several rickshaws, getting lost and re-lost. One particular rickshaw wallah had an impact on me. His name was Abul and he had been a rickshaw wallah for 40 years. At 69 years old, he was extremely tan and missing about half his teeth, the rest of which were brown and yellow. You could see his skinny frame through his sweat-soaked white shirt. He had a wife and two kids, and they were living on the 200 Takas (about $3) he earned a day, after the rental cost of the rickshaw. It seemed like there had to be another income source, but regardless, after 40 years he was still at it and in good spirits.

With Abul’s help we finally found the bookstore, which had a pretty scanty collection. I randomly grabbed a book called “Rubyfruit Jungle”, which turns out is a famous coming-of-age lesbian novel. Should be interesting. With Raheen still following me like I was Allah himself, we headed outside. Since he’d been helpful with translating and really wanted to earn my money, I decided to let him take me to the museum. Halfway into the rickshaw ride and heading into a poorer part of town, I realized that’s not where we were going.

After bumbling down crowded alleys with rocky roads, we finally arrive at Raheen’s brother’s house. At this one-room cell of a house, I met Raheen’s sister and her daughter, as well as a next door neighbor named Rhonie. Rhonie had become a widow when her husband had heart problems five years ago. After the company for which she was working left the country five months ago, she became jobless. Apparently now she was living off the generosity of her neighbors. Before leaving, I saw her “house” which was even more modest than the one we had been in. It wasn’t all sad though – we did get to enjoy some RC Cola, talk about them coming with me to visit the beaches in southern Bangladesh, and sweat in the dark when the power went out. I said goodbye to the family (picture is included) and headed home on rickshaw driven by Raheen’s brother, before being hassled by Raheen for money. And all that resulting from just going to get a book.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Visit to the Center for the Rehabilitation of the Paralyzed (CRP)

Health and disabilities are not my strong point. I don't understand a lot of the terms, and am still trying to figure out how it fits into an effective development plan. What I am coming to understand, however, is the enormous impact that a major health issue or accident can have on a family. The other day I went to CRP (check the website here) to learn more.

My friend Richard, who you’ve heard a bit about, suggested it. My first impression was the size and cleanliness of the campus (a clean space in Bangladesh is like an oasis in a desert). After checking in for a tour with the cheery reception lady, who was wheel-chair bound, I was asked to wait in the lounge area. A kind, but somewhat timid woman named Shamli offered me tea and biscuits. After striking up a conversation with her, I found out that she started working at CRP after Lobli, her paralyzed daughter and CRP patient, had passed away (not reflective of CRP's effectiveness, I don't believe...otherwise Shamli probably wouldn't be working there). She showed me Lobli’s paintings which were amazing to begin with, but when I found out she had done them with her mouth I was blown away. Shortly after, I was greeted by a CRP employee who presented me with a packet of materials and gave me a background of the organization.

The tour, which was only supposed to go 1 ½ - 2 hours, lasted 3 hours. They showed me so much, and were so well prepared, even though I came unannounced! Founded in 1979 by a British women doing volunteer work in Bangladesh, CRP is the leader in paralyzed care in the South Asia region, and the only organization in Bangladesh that specializes in spinal cord treatment. They provide a holistic approach to treatment, taking patients from an acute phase to an active phase, then to a rehab phase, and finally reintegrating the individual into the community. Over 350 inpatients and many more outpatients every year receive care from CRP, receiving services ranging from spinal cord surgery to occupational therapy. They employ unique, low-cost techniques like paper Mache to build their own exercise devices (for example, mobility gamesfor kids) for rehabilitation.

CRP works with all ages (Cerebral Palsy makes up the majority of problems in kids, while adults primarily suffer with stroke). They follow them all the way through the process - before being discharged they even have a Halfway Hostel where they live in a house that simulates their own - if they live in a mud hut, CRP has a mud hut to practice living in. If they have a concrete home with electricity, they've got that too. They also make their own custom fit prosthetics and wheel chairs. Once discharged, CRP will also go to their homes to make sure the home is prepared to work with the patient's new limitations - for example adding a ramp to the door.

I was truly impressed with the professionalism and concern of all the employees I met (and as an added bonus, they could all speak pretty good English). CRP is looking to spread itself even more throughout Bangladesh and increase its attention on prevention and awareness. This is an organization that, although it is a non-profit and relies heavily on donations, is providing a much needed answer to a problem that is not being addressed by the non-existent government safety net here in Bangladesh (hope you could follow that). I'm excited to learn more about health and poverty in the coming months.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

BRAC Field Visit

On the morning of the day that I met Ronnie, I went with other BRAC interns for a field visit to Gazipur, a village about an hour outside of Dhaka. At 8:30am we departed BRAC headquarters for a slow-going trip out to Gazipur. Our first stop was a village where women were being informed about their legal rights. The group of women undergoes a month long education process where they are taught legal rights and procedures relevant to avoid dowries, rape, early marriage, and other ingrained cultural institutions that hold women back. The kids who were hanging around the village loved having their picture taken. If I had a Poloroid camera they’d be going crazy. We were fortunate to hear from one of the ladies in the class who also happened to be a borrower of BRAC’s microfinance loans.

But first a quick primer on microfinance: Traditional banks will generally not lend money to the poor because they have no collateral (funny how the only people who can get money are those who already have it). Microfinance has come up with a different type of collateral – peer pressure. They organize borrowers into groups of 4-5 women (“why women” is explained below). When someone in the group wants a loan, the group as a whole becomes her guarantors – if she cannot pay back the lending institution, the group is responsible for coming up with the money. Being that their reputation is one of the few important possessions that the poor do have, borrowers think very carefully about their ability to pay back. These loans, which range between $50 and $500 for BRAC’s poorest group, are used to start micro businesses, such as selling breads or homemade crafts to street goers, much like you and I sold lemonade when we were young. Repayment rates for most microfinance organizations are between 97% - 100% - quite impressive when compared to us wealthy Westerners. There’s a lot more to it, but this is the basic idea.

Anyway, the woman we heard from was very proud to tell us that she had received two loans to start and expand a sewing businesses to supplement her husband’s income (usually the case is that the woman is the family’s only wage earner). Her son is in school and she is very optimistic about the future. Another borrower had purchased a cow and was selling milk to a local milk company.

BRAC places their primary emphasis on women (in its microfinance and other programs), as it and other development organizations have found that when women are assisted and empowered, the benefits extend to the rest of the family, especially the children. Benefits endowed on the men, however, seem to stop there.

The other highlight of the visit was the BRAC primary school (the 2nd pic is from the outside). BRAC operates a system of schools that fill the gaps of the government schools. Once kids who haven’t attended school reach age 8, it is hard for them to catch up in the government schools. BRAC does the government’s 5-year curriculum in 4 years, using the same benchmarks but different teaching methods. The school uses a one teacher/one room -model, in which all the students in the village start together. Ages of the kids may vary slightly. The students stay together with teacher for four years, and if the school is still needed in the village at the end, it will start a new class. But more likely it will pick up and move to another village. They have no furniture, a chalk tablet, and some writing utensils that they keep in an old aerosol can. We were fortunate enough to hear a song the kids had prepared for us, followed by each of them announcing in English what they wanted to be when they grew up. The presentation was impressive and it was encouraging to see smiling faces of kids who probably wouldn’t have received an education without BRAC.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Story of Ronnie Pt. 2

By the time we finished eating, Richard and Shohan, who together founded and ran a local NGO, showed up to meet us. I called them to figure out what to do with Ronnie since they knew the lay of the land. With Shohan’s translation, we found out more info: Ronnie was 11 years old, had never been to school, and sells flowers that he gets from a local shop owner. Rhumi is his friend and sells the flowers with him. Through Fariya’s earlier translations, she said that Ronnie wanted to stay with me at my house. I knew Richard and Shohan would know what to do better than me, and one of the families that their organization works with was kind enough to take him for the night.

The next day I came over to Shohan’s in the afternoon, and first took Ronnie to the hospital for fresh bandages and then talked to Richard and Shohan about what to do. We decided it was best to first send him back to his father to see if he would take him back. Ronnie agreed. I sent him off with the father of one of the Basic Needs families, and gave the father enough money to cover the trip and two days’ lost wages. I walked Ronnie to the rickshaw, which he and the father would take to the bus, and there were several hugs before he started shedding tears. It was hard to see, especially when I thought about the uphill battle he had ahead of him and where he might be five years down the road.

The next day things took a disappointing turn. In the evening I headed over to Shohan’s to call the escorting father to get the lowdown. Unfortunately, Ronnie had previously been stealing from his father in the village and from his sisters, who were in Dhaka. He would stay at the father’s house for a few days, steal money and then go to the streets of Dhaka. In Dhaka, he would split time between the streets and his two sisters’ house, from where he’d also take money. This pattern had continued for a while. The escorting father said Ronnie was very smart and knew the streets well. He had become so used to living on the streets that it seemed he was comfortable with it.

As a naive tourist traveling around the world for a year, I expect this sort of stuff to happen (…just maybe not in the first two weeks). All along the way I was trying to be very keen on any trickery, checking with multiple sources to see if his story was straight. In the end though, it’s pretty hard to guard against things like this if you’re trying to help. Would I do it again? Absolutely. I’d probably try to be more careful, but it’s pretty difficult to say no to a kid with such a basic need. Just the other day Ronnie called me (I had given my phone number). He was back in Dhaka. Between all the noise and rough English, I was able to make out that he wanted to stay at my house. I told him no, and haven’t heard from him since. Call it cruel, but I’m coming to understand that you can only really help those who want to be helped – some people just want a handout or just want to be left alone. There are far too many hard-working people in poverty, looking for a little extra support to pull them out of poverty. The trick is to identify these people first, I think. Hopefully I will figure out how to do this in future situations like this.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Story of Ronnie Pt. 1

As a principle I never give change to beggars. I will sometimes take them to buy some food, but I won’t pay them. If you did this in Bangladesh every time a beggar approached you, you’d soon be a beggar yourself.

Today was different. After getting back from our day-long BRAC field visit (which I’ll go over later), I decided to go by the neighborhood supermarket. I made some purchases, including some life-saving Gnutella, and I was about to head home when a little boy tugged at my jeans. The boy, who I later learned was named Ronnie, showed me his foot. It was completely mangled, with an open wound larger than a silver dollar that was black with dirt. The entire foot was swollen and the green and yellow discoloration looked like infection, bruising, or a combination of the both. It looked like he might lose his foot if something wasn’t done.

Ronnie spoke some broken English and I talked to some people who could also speak some English to make sure he wasn’t taking the unsuspecting tourist for a ride. From what I sounded like, he really was homeless. He said he had medicine but it was “not good” (I saw him pull out a bag later with some green herbal-looking leaves, and I inquired, only to find out it was the medicine – clearly pretty worthless). We jumped in a rickshaw and I let him tellthe driver where to go (he seemed to know the driver and a lot of other people we passed…clearly he had been on the streets a bit). On the way to the hospital in the rickshaw I

called up another BRAC intern who was fluent in Bengali to get the whole story through translation. Fariya said that a car had side-swiped his foot when he was selling flowers on the street. She said that his mother had died when he was younger and his father, who lived in the Barisal Division (far south of the country), had remarried a woman who did not like Ronnie, so his father sent Ronnie to the city to fend for himself. She said that he wasn’t speaking standard Bengali, but street Bengali.

On our way to the hospital, a little girl named Rhumi, who apparently knew Ronnie joined us in the rickshaw. Luckily, we were able to get help immediately, and the nurse was able to get the wound cleaned up. You could tell he was in real pain when she was pouring all kinds of liquids on the wound and cutting away dead skin. And what’s more, he always wanted to help me carry the goods I purchased at the supermarket or my backpack. The entire hospital visit cost less than $3.00. I found out later through translations that the accident had happened over two months ago. Insane.

Ronnie didn’t have any shoes. The dressings for his wound wouldn’t last a day without shoes, so I took him and Rhumi, who also didn’t have shoes, to go buy sandals (everyone in Bangladesh wears sandals because it’s always raining). After getting outfitted, we headed back to Banani, where I live. Rhumi, who I found out did have a family, dropped off the rickshaw along the way. I took Ronnie up to my place and we watched Alvin and the Chipmunks (his choice). He was extremely polite, helping me put up all my groceries, and he didn’t even put his feet on my bed until I said it was okay. Eventually we went out to get him pain killers, Vitamin C, and antibiotics. He said he had eaten that morning, but I thought a meal couldn’t hurt. Because I was staying at the house of someone I’d met just a week ago, I now had to figure out what to do with Ronnie.

In Search of Beer and a Handyman

It was Saturday, so I didn’t have work, and Shiplu, a Bangladeshi who I met through (check it out), invited me back over to his house again today after we had gotten tea together just a couple days earlier. I got up to his apartment after an hour commute through traffic jams, and thought we were going to be heading to Old Dhaka, which I wanted to see. We ended up sitting around for a while, and he said I could get online. I told him thanks, but I could do that other times, and that I wanted to do something – see the city or something like that. Rather than visit Old Dhaka, he suggested, “We will take rickshaw ride for an hour” to show me around “and then we will take beer and sing songs and laugh.”

So after sitting around a bit longer we went out and got in a rickshaw. We were in it maybe 15 minutes when he called it to stop. Apparently we were going on a search for beer in a city where it is illegal for Bangladeshis. 98% of the population is Muslim, so they can’t drink – kind of weird/depressing having no bars in the city, save a few hotels. So we got in a CNG, traveled about 30-40 minutes to this random building on the side of the road, walked down this dirt road to this rustic gate that had small seeing-door that was opened by someone inside after Shiplu gave a few knocks. As it was Saturday, they weren’t open. After vehement arguing by Shiplu that I was an American, had my passport, and wanted beer, he finally gave up. Then we walked about five minutes to this other building where he debated with himself over buying more expensive beers.

I told him that I really wasn’t that thirsty and that I was just tired and needed to do laundry because I didn’t have anything to wear to work tomorrow. The message didn’t get through. We then crossed the road, where he tried for another 5-10 minutes to find a rickshaw. “Why are we taking a rickshaw?” I wondered – clearly his apartment (where my belongings were) was too far for a rickshaw. Well, we took the rickshaw about 10-15 minutes and got off, walking a good bit until we found this fence bordering the road which we had to climb through. Then we get in and I’m told to take a seat in this room that was basically an empty office with just a desk, two chairs, and a creaking fan. After some negotiating, a rough looking guy brought out ice cubes and two warm Foster’s. As I try to avoid ice cubs, I reluctantly started to sip the warm Foster’s for which I wasn’t even thirsty in the first place. Shiplu wasn’t drinking – both were for me. I urged him to help me, and we both sat in silence drinking our warm Foster’s. After that he purchased some whiskey, which he asked me to hide in my pocket (did I mention this is ridiculous?) until we got back to his place.

Shiplu sent me home via the SUV of his friend, who decided for some reason (language barrier) that we’d gone far enough, so he pulled over. I needed a shirt for tomorrow so I found it convenient to haggle for a second-hand shirt while I was there, finding my way home afterward in a CNG (baby taxi).

At home I had an equally entertaining time overpaying the local workforce. I tried to work the washing machine, but seeing the pressure was very low, I thought something was wrong with the hose (there wasn’t). So I started twisting and pulling until I pulled the whole stupid thing apart, only to have an unstoppable deluge of water result. I went downstairs, sopping wet, and made some hand motions to the apartment caretaker guy to come help me. Through a lot of pointing and broken Bengali/English, I showed him the problem. He called up his friend (relative/local plumber???) who came right over. He looked at the problem, and was about to give up if it weren’t for the caretaker guy. Thirty minutes and two Pepsi’s later he had it figured out. I gave the plumber guy 600 Taka and the caretaker 220 Taka total (for the record $1=69 Taka).

Apparently it was a bit too much. When I went into the market to get dinner that night, the handyman, whose name is Shamin, came up to me smiling and called my phone number to make sure I had his number programmed in. Later that night I get a text message reading:

“How r u? Have u any problem? Example-ac, elect, sanatary, et. u can call me.”

Two days later he called me to check to see if I had any problems, and then a day after that called me again. Wow, I’m an idiot. It was a rare flaw in what has otherwise been a good resume of haggling with and paying locals thus far.

Rickshaw Commute to BRAC

This is a two minute clip of part of my daily commute to BRAC via rickshaw, which generally takes about 15 minutes. Toward the end you’ll see the cricket/soccer fields (Cricket is the national sport, and not until I watched a match on TV yesterday did I realize just how much it takes the slowness of baseball to a whole new level.) I always negotiate the prices up front with the rickshaw wallahs, but they often get lost on the way and then try to charge me a higher price for going farther once we get there. An argument usually ensues with broken English/Bengali, a crowd always gathers, and then I usually realize I’m arguing over 7 cents and give them the money. Anyway, enjoy the clip - I apologize about the rockiness, but if you could see the roads, you’d understand.

Internship at BRAC...delights and disappointments

After arriving into Dhaka at around 4:30am, I waited around for a few hours to the amusement and stares of arriving passengers until I was picked up by Zahid, who was the assistant to the guy whose coporate apartment I was staying at. Orientation for my internship at BRAC started in less than two hours, so it gave me just enough time to drop off my stuff and get a shower (after 60+ hours of travel I didn’t smell too fantastic).

The orientation was great. Despite all my previous research about the organization, I was even more impressed after hearing what they had to say. The video embedded here is a pretty good overview. To put BRAC in a nutshell, it’s the world’s largest NGO (non-governmental org) with over 115,000 staff including volunteers, and seeks to attack poverty holistically, realizing that factors such as health, education, income-generating activities (microfinance), human rights, and others all contribute to a person’s standard of living. And it does all these activities with only 20% outside funding - the rest is internally generated. In the past few years it has started to branch out to other countries in the Middle East and Africa, while leaders from the USA and other developed countries have come to Bangladesh to learn its methods. It seems that along with Grameen Bank (at where I will be doing a site visit after BRAC), BRAC has almost become a psudo government, filling the gaps of the government where it has failed.

I could go on for a while about the organization, but I’ll save you the reading. To get a more complete description, check out the New Horizons videos (total 10 minutes). What will I be doing for my internship? That’s a question both me and the BRAC internship people were asking for the first few days. I was put in the microfinance group along with three others at my request, but as it turns out the head of microfinance had no idea who we were, and said he had nothing for us to do.

The internship coordinator, who we went back to with our arms up and a “So…” expression on our faces, said that we could just do some learning over the next month or so...kind of like those book reports you did in 3rd grade, or more recently for some of us. She even told one intern to move her flight up because she had nothing for us to do and no space for us to work. Needless to say, we were all highly disappointed with the professionalism and preparation of the internship unit, especially considering they had people (yours truly included) flying halfway around the world at our own expense for an unpaid internship (and knew about it months in advance). We met some Brits from the first summer intern session and they could tell we were concerned. We had a closed door meeting where they told us that they basically got the same treatment - and these were guys studying at Cambridge getting their Master’s in econometrics and stuff like that - I was baffled by the amount of (free) talent being wasted by BRAC.

At the suggestion of the Brits, we went around to departments asking for work. Sumaiya saved us, and while the work she suggested didn’t interest me, she did help me set up my own personal research. I’ll spare you the details, but basically my cousin Josh is helping me develop a hypothesis about people’s social network relative to income. I’ll let you know if I find anything exciting.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Not Exactly How You’d Expect to Start a Project on Poverty

It was 7:30pm on the day after my flight was SUPPOSED to leave JFK in New York, and I was checking in for my flight. Delays in D.C. had caused me to be the only passenger to miss the flight – at this point I had been in terminal four for over 20 hours. I splurged for one-day internet access – I say splurged because my only other expenditure all day was meatless ziti from Sbarro – beverages are unnecessary when you have a water bottle and convenient water fountain (at least as long as you’re inside the US border). Amidst my teeth brushing and face washing in the bathroom I felt a bit like Tom Hanks in The Terminal. I even made friends with a Belgium guy who had been screwed by his British Air – apparently they lost the luggage for the entire plane. Ouch.

Anyways, frustrated from a mistake that wasn’t my fault and tired from only getting a couple hours of sleep on a cold tiled floor, I wasn’t the happiest of campers as I approached the check-in counter (Though through all of this, I kept in mind that if I couldn’t handle this then I didn’t stand a chance in rural Africa or what not). The check in lady said, “Did they tell you about the change fee?”…"What change fee?....". Then she said I had to check my large backpack…I begged her to cut me any sort of break. And a break I was cut.

As it turns out I was allowed to carry on my bag – I had been upgraded to first class. She handed me my pass to “The Lounge” where I enjoyed cocktails and appetizers. This was after first asking the server, however amateur it was, how much the drinks cost (As if it wasn’t already apparent that I was out of place – I was the only person both under 25 and wearing anything but a collared shirt and dress pants). They then announced that it was time for us to board the plane. Security was no problem, as we were granted some sort of Disney-like FastTrack pass that allowed us to skip all of the “normies”. Etihad was voted the top business class in the Middle East or something like that, and it was pretty apparent why once I got on the plane, where I was served a three course meal, wine and beer, all while watching Yes Man in a reclined massaging chair.

I actually didn’t know if I had first class from Abu Dhabi to Dhaka as well, so I stuffed myself silly on the JFK-Abu Dhabi flight. It turned out I did, so the ridiculous treatment continued for another six hours until I landed in Dhaka with Wyclef Jean’s “Dolla Bill” blasting in my headphones. An unusual, but fitting way to start a year-long project studying poverty.

A New Chapter

The Vanderbilt site has had some technical problems so I’m moving my blog temporarily to Blogger. I’ve got some backed entries that I’ve been typing up so here they are.

It’s funny, but regardless of the fact that I have been graduated for nearly two months, I have still considered myself an immature college student. During these last few days leading up to my departure I have sensed that this is changing, and that it’s probably for the best (my friends Chris and Mike at Vandy would probably vehemently disagree). With all the preparation, celebration, and relaxing (that’s debatable), this summer has been amazing. I want to thank everyone for their monetary and emotional support, as well as all the suggestions and contacts people have sent my way. I feel extremely fortunate to have such a great group of friends and family behind me, and I hope that I can include something of interest for everyone in this blog. If you have any suggestions or comments, don’t be shy.