Sunday, June 6, 2010

Updates from the Trail

When I received the fellowship just over a year ago, I did all kinds of planning beforehand. I did more planning than schoolwork and running combined that last semester. Planning helps me keep my sanity, most of the time. But for all of the planning I did, my fellowship has been very much on the whim, and I think I'm becoming more comfortable with this. I think when you try to plan an itinerary for an entire year, you don't account for people, or at least I didn't. My itinerary was full of places and organizations. But then people happened. My itinerary changed (if you want proof, go look at the original here). A lot of these people I'm fortunate to still be in touch with. Here's some updates just from a few:

Anis the Rickshaw puller: Through my translator-turned-good-friend Omi, I got an update on Anis (remember, we tried to "loan" him money for rickshaws) in late December. He finally heard back from Anis, who said that he wasn't able to pay because his dad got into a quarrel in his village over a family feud (too long to tell that story) so he had to leave for the village, and because his wife went into early labor, causing hardships on both his wife and child. Omi said Anis was implying for me to give him more money. To me, this is sad. Like many slum dweller I meet, no matter how much I try to be their friend, their equal, or even their partner, they still see me as a rich white guy. As a foreigner trying to be culturally sensitive, I try hard not to be patronizing. But when the poor corner you into that position, that position where you are the one with not only all the money and power, but also all the ideas, how can a person like me actually expect to have an impact on someone with that mentality?

Basic Needs School opening: A couple of posts titled "This is Rural Bangladesh" found me out in the backwoods of northern Bangladesh. I was visiting the community supported by Basic Needs Program, an NGO I mentioned before that was started by my good friends Richie Hubbard and Sohan Rahman. I was happy to hear recently that about two months ago their school opened (I stole the picture, but I don't think they'll mind). When I visited it was built, but had just bare rooms. Great to see their progress.

Mei Xiang Yak Cheese: I have been in touch occasionally with the workers at Mei Xiang Yak Cheese, and things seem to be going relatively well. My work there certainly wasn't a "game changer." But, I was happy to receive an email from a Ventures in Development/Mei Xiang representative about another cheese sale in mid-April. Mei Xiang had been supplying the JW Marriott, with which I had been working with, for the past month and half. Thank you, Ritz-Carlton connection.

Mahindra the fisherman: In late October I was in the slums doing research when I met Mahindra. I don't believe I wrote about Mahindra, and I don't have enough space to explain everything here. However, I will say that after the first occasion I went back and checked on him. Both times he was very down. His back was severely injured when he fell from a coconut tree, which gave him a hump back and decreases the time is able to work on his fishing. In his late 40s, he is destitute, still single, and living with his parents. With his injury he has no chance of finding a wife. At one point during our conversations, he started crying. Maybe worst of all, his own cousin is trying to take his home and turn it, and the surrounding homes, into a parking lot. In late January I talked with Manish, who had been my translator. He has since went back a number of times, and the visits seem to lift Mahindra's spirits. Unfortunately, meeting Mahindra in the tail-end of my stay, I wasn't able to do anything substantial, but if Manish can bring a bit of light into his life, that's a start.

South Africa
Siphiwe in Soweto: I heard back from Siphiwe who, in the email, referred to me as Sipho, the nickname given to me by the other people I met in Soweto because I was spending so much time with Siphiwe. Communication with him is not excellent, as his income level doesn't allow him to access the internet much, but I did hear that business is unfortunately not good. I hope it picks up for the Cup.

From Chicken to Teaching: On my second to last day in Nampula, I got a surprise call from Mussa Saide (pictured), my former translator during my poultry project. He dropped by my office and we chatted for an hour or so. He had been successful in passing his teaching exams and was now teaching in the little town of Ribaue. Maybe it was the time alone in a small town, or that he had taken his 7-month-old child to live with him, but he seemed more adult. In his teaching position he is now earning over 3 times more than he was earning at Chicken King selling feed. However, he wants to come back to Nampula to be near to his family, and he still has a desire to start chicken farming while he teaches.

Soy Foods and Josue: With my recommendations submitted and the soy project wrapped up, I was pleased to learn from CLUSA's country director that CLUSA will be acting on my recommendations. In my last couple days I made the introductions of the key people to CLUSA, including Josue to the country director. It looks like CLUSA will be supporting him, and I am excited to follow the developments.

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