Friday, October 9, 2009

An Unfortunate Email

While I was behind the Chinese firewall, I received a disappointing email. Anis and I have unfortunately failed. The investment in the rickshaws did not work out as planned. I shot an email to my friend Omi in Bangladesh who was collecting the payments to see how it was going, and got this response (Omi speaks really good English and likes to write in slang):

"well... i meant 2 tel u dis sooner, but he hasnt been payin. he just paid da 1st week n den he went poof!! so i just hav u'r 1st week's 350 n nothin after dat. i'm thinkin even if he lost my cel no, he knows were i live, so he could stil gimme da money. on top of dat he sed on da 1st week wen he paid he didnt find a rider yet. n i'll send dat pic asap... til den bye man."

I've been in communication with Omi since this email and have sent him a letter to translate and give to Anis. I'm interested to find out where the tripping point was, and I want to express my disappointment in our partnership to him. What does all this mean? I'll hold final judgement until I hear back from Anis, but here's my initial thoughts:

Other than the initial thought of "That sucks", it basically comes down to incentives (i.e. money). Sure I should have made certain that he first had a rider secured for the second rickshaw (although I really didn't have time because I was leaving the country, and he said he had it under control). But in the end, it comes down to incentives, with money being the biggest one.

In Anis' mind, he had two options: pay the rickshaws back which would cost him money now but MAYBE benefit him in the future if everything worked out, or take the rickshaws and forget the payment, which would DEFINITELY increase his income right now, and by a lot - 28% to be exact (if he found a rider). For someone who has been living hand-to-mouth his entire life, this probably wasn't a hard decision. When I sat down with him to discuss a savings plan, I quickly realized that it was a foreign concept to him. No one in the slums saves. And the horizon for thinking into the future certainly doesn't extend as far for Anis as it does for middle class individuals like myself.

When he bought the rickshaws he told me that he wanted me to stay in Bangladesh and be his business partner and support him. Call me naive, but I think he actually felt that way. I've spent time with a good number of poor people, and I think he was sincere. I think what it boils down to is that once he no longer had my presence to egg him on in following through, and with the additional temptation to take the rickshaws/money and run, the scales were just too lopsided.

My aunt Diane told me when I was 16 years old that if you can't figure out why something is the way it is, look for the money. This applies almost every day abroad when random people bend over backward to help me, only to demand money in the end. And I think it applies here with Anis.


  1. The same concept applies here in my corner of the ghetto. Everybody is willing to help when you are outside working and then they hold out their hand and refuse to leave until you pay them. They act like they are doing you a "favor" right up until the end and then EXPECT to be paid even tho you did not hire them. gale

  2. This really is unfortunate and disappointing for you....but I'm still trying to process your last posting about being done with China!