Friday, September 30, 2011

Rickshaws, Angry Birds, and Fried Chicken?!

16 Million people have got to find a way to get around right? Enter the rickshaw, the man vs. pedal driven cousin of the taxicab. Arrival in Dhaka, Bangladesh was a serious initiation in green transportation 101. Now under attack from the government for their part in the "jams" of the city, activists are fighting for the survival of the rickshaw as the only zero emission vehicle in this growing South Asian "megacity".

Driving from Dhaka on the 11 hour journey to Ranjpur on the northwest side of the country I couldn't help but notice the vivid designs on each rickshaw and my mind eventually wandered to contemplating a "Pimp my Rickshaw" competition. There are even motorized rickshaws. I've seen them in India before but the Bangladeshi's have taken it to another level. Jokes aside, I do think a coffee table on the subject is due.

Arriving in Ranjpur was amazing, every cash crop known to man grew there from bananas to tobacco to sugercane, maize, wheat, rice, and more. It's amazing what better supply chains could do for the economy of the country. Technology goes a long way when applied directly and even small changes have huge benefits for farmers.

Going from village to village I met lots of people, mostly farmers but also teenagers headed to college, newlyweds, and mothers whose abandoned coop had their rural homes looking like the latest episode of "flip that house". By far my favorite person I met was Majid, a 10 year old boy who had the with and personality of a rockstar! Majid spoke a bit of interest and promptly interviewed me on the whereabouts of my mother and father, he introduced me to his entire family with his mom asking why I was 27 and husbandless (I let her know we'd need another week to explain lol).

Majid and I's new friendship was developed via Angry Birds! No one had ever seen an IPad and I soon was sharing the game with everyone. It was cool watching them do video and take photos but Angry Birds opened everyone up. They taught themselves quickly and soon surpassed my game levels. This was def the crowning moment!

Leaving Ranjpur (and Majid) was a bit sad, so many moments shared under the banana trees but back to Dhaka I went. I have a friend in Atlanta from Bangladesh that once told me that Bangladeshi's were the blacks of South Asia. Thus far I hadn't quite figured out what she meant and then I saw this:

 That's what she meant!

And with that I sign off until next time....ciao!


Saturday, September 24, 2011

If we organize...they can't ignore us

Lumbini Gate marking the road to Buddha's Birthplace

I write this with arms and legs so tight I can barely move - a slight exageration but I spent most of my day hiking up the steep hills of Nepal meeting with women in farm cooperative groups. Nepal is a small country in South Asia bordered by China and Tibet to the North and India to the south, it is also the birthplace of Buddha. This cultural mashup of Indian and Chinese culture is evident in the food, religion, ethnic makeup, and unfortunately the preservation of the caste system.

Me in front of the entrance to the women farmers co-op
The majority of the women in the co-ops are members of the Dalit class, the lowest members of a system that places poor (and often times brown) people in a permanent state of disadvantage within society These women have come together to find better ways to feed their families, send their children to school, earn an income, and prevent their daughters from beign married away as children as young as 10 years old, which was the case with one member a few years back. The co-op gives them a voice, one woman put it bluntly "If we organize, they can't ignore us". [This hit home as we reflect on the recent execution of Troy Davis and the need to ban the dealth penalty in the US but I digress]

An hour away from Tibet

Dalit woman near her field in the hills

All was not doom and gloom, my visit was amazingly refreshing. One member of the group, a girl of 13 named Jashaipuri and I hit it off. After interviewing her she and I did a mini-photo shoot which quickly reminded me of my days as a 13 year old. Eventually she proposed that my colleague and I kiss for the camera while balancing yellow flowers on our heads, I opted out of that shot but obliged her request for me to shoot up the peace sign in consequent photos.

Hospitality in Nepal takes priority and it was truly an amazing experience. I took special note of the fact that the young girls and women, especially took to me making sure to layer extra flowers on me during the welcoming ceremony. I was even gifted an authentic scarf! My colleague later explained that it isn't often that they see a woman so young (and brown) being addressed in such a manner. This made me especially proud, this life is not our own and you never know just who is looking to you for an example.

Right after an official Nepali welcome ceremony!

Normal is RELATIVE!

"Normal is RELATIVE". This phrase sums up my frame of reference in life and is meant to be the overall theme of this blog. The sub-title gives you an idea of the topics I'll cover - if it sounds interesting to along. Development for me is both my career choice (int’l that is) and the phase of life I’m in, relationships - are important to everything I do, professional ones pay the bills, friendships keep me sane, and my pursuit of a life partner keeps me laughing. Ultimately this blog is about re-defining what normal means for me, in hopes that it’ll do the same for you.

Through my travels, my insanely awesome friends, my son (who I’m separated from at the moment - more on that in another post), and my work - you’ll get a glimpse of how life is pretty much what you make it, the only rules that matter are your own, and that normal is ultimately about what makes you comfortable and happy. Hopefully this blog will inspire people to stretch themselves to their core desires. If not, at least it’ll give me a place to verbalize the insanity of my brain! Happy reading:)