Friday, August 21, 2009

2000 and Run, Part 2

The next day I was scheduled to visit Old Dhaka for cultural sightseeing with Sraven, who you might remember from my beach trip. After the previous day's events I wasn't really in the mood, but I didn't want to break my promise. We went and saw old fortresses, churches, and the like. It was somewhat interesting, but I had way too much on my mind. As my cousin recently told me about his trip to Ireland, reading placards about which king of a dynasty from 500 years ago lived in a certain room or learning why Armenians no longer use their church in Bangladesh seem to become pointless, especially when I'll ride home and on the way be begged by 10 people who can't even eat three times a day.

That night I put together an email about the rickshaw idea, and sent it to several contacts in Dhaka who knew the systems in place. I wanted to get the proposal right before I approached Anis. The next day I met Anis for more research in the slums, including lunch. Only after three requests did he join me in the restaurant. He was humble and content to just wait outside while I ate. He said he would have "whatever [I was] having." Later that evening we met with Omi at a quiet coffee shop to make the proposal. There is no caste system in Bangladesh, but there are strict class divisions. All rickshaw drivers wear dress-like lungees, and when he walked into Co
ffee World, it was the first time during my stay in Bangladesh that all eyes weren't on me. I could tell he was unconfortable.

Anis didn't really know why we were there. I opened the coversation, "Anis, I have been very impressed with you and I think you have a lot potential. I want to help you, but it can't be a handout." I told him that there were many people worse off than him, and for me to help as many people as possible, it has to be done in a sustainable manner. I could see him get much more serious, and he was really thinking about what this meant for him and his family. Only later did Omi admit that Anis had asked him why it had to be a loan and whether there could at least be a 1,000 - 2,000 Taka donation cushion. This somewhat disturbed me - would he be the type of guy to just take the rickshaws and run? We never closed the idea of the cushion, but he was in for the loan.

After deliberations about where to get the rickshaws, he talked with Liton, a self-made man and friend of Anis who I had interviewed just a few days earlier. He was one of the few people to escape the slums (through owning rickshaws), and I wanted to hear his story. We went the next day to pick out the rickshaws and exchange money. Anis wanted me to pick out the rickshaws (everything we did together was always "at my wish"), but I told him that no, it was his money he was spending and he knew rickshaws better anyway. Anis brought tea with real milk (usually powdered) for me an Omi to celebrat the occassion, saying to me, I got this special thing for you because I want you to taste something which you haven't tasted before."

We had also informed Rafikul to meet us at the rickshaw yard so that we could talk with him. We learned more about the situation, which doctors he had gone to. It was a tough bind - he said that the surgery would cost 100,000 Taka ($1,500). I didn't have that kind of money, and I was way out of my element here. I didn't know any hospitals. I called up the only place I knew, the Center for the Rehabilitation of the Paralyzed. The director of CRP knew about the article I wrote on my blog (see July 26) and personally sent me an email. I was transferred directly to her, and she said that yes, I could come in with the father and the X-rays and CRP could see what they could do. It seemed like there was a chance. Throughout our entire discussion with Rafikul, he was very quiet, and getting answers from him was difficult. Later Omi pointed out that he was probably just confused as to what we were doing. We explained everything very clearly, and agreed to meet to head for CRP at 8 am the next day - he just had to bring the X-rays and official doctor report.

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