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.

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