Day Two – Village Day Trip

The dogs beat the muezzin to wake me early. It’s freezing. Not the mild 24 degrees advertised Bangla winter. The cab’s late. I wonder if it’s going to happen. The cab driver has no idea where the Crown Prince is. It’s disconcerting to have your driver ask for directions in his home city. But we get there and soon head out of the Dhaka chaos for the provinces. We’re on our way through fields of rice paddy and brick quarries, mustard seed, potato, tomato and eggplant. Carts of cauliflower announce the winter harvest in every town.

We reach Joypara, and meet the branch manager and the area manager. There is a board listing all the branch managers, with the numbers in Bengali – not the usual numbers, and 8 is now 4. This is elsewhere.

We got to a centre meeting, centre number 5 of 60 belonging to the branch. We head into the district and stop by a road and head down a path through a village and find a small corrugated iron hut, about 15 metres by 7 metres, in which the women of Grameen wait for us. There are 60 of them, 10 groups, all saried and expectant, holding their loan repayments, wads of taka, and looking at us, me, Andy and Jill, for the weird voyeuristic interlopers that we are. This is it. This is where Grameen lives and works, with groups like this, with nearly 8 million members now. The centre chief stands and proudly explains how she joined Grameen 20 years ago. Her husband asked her to get a loan so the family could by a milk (miltch) cow. Another woman explains that she only recently joined and was skeptical about the bank but now finances her family’s fertilizer business with Grameen loans. An image emerges, the loans are used not just by the women but their families. This qualifies one of the myths of Grameen – that it liberates women and their personal entrepreneurial power – but reinforces the community connection of the bank, and explains why there seems to be little opposition among the men. We are shown the houses of borrowers and their families. One husband shows us how they have moved from a single room shack – with their 5 children – to a 6 room iron roofed house. His pride is real, even if the event feels a little like a show tour. A borrower shows us her daughters chicken farm – thousands of chicks in a kind of floodlit marquee, kept to be sold as meat. Another image emerges, Grameen as a micro-Goldman Sachs. They are the venture capitalists of rural Bangladesh.

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  • Photograph of Aknorm: click for her story
    Aknorm, duck eggs and microfinance, Siem Reap, 2008.