December 21, 2009
My last day in the country was the beginning of the Bangladeshi weekend – Friday. That meant somewhat less traffic, a blessing to be sure. I spent three hours, starting at 10am, with my former research assistant, Abdul Mannan Talukdar. He is the first Area Manager in the history of Grameen who started as a loan officer (a position now called “center manager”). He is immensely proud of that, as he should be. An area manager oversees 8-10 branches, each of which are staffed by about seven staff (almost always including a university-educated branch manager) and serves several thousand clients. He told me about his journey, culminating in that historic promotion, dating from when I last saw him, in 2006.
In Bangladesh, the difference in status, and career track possibilities, between someone with a Masters Degree, and someone without one, is much greater than here in the United States. In fact, it is still inconceivable to some of my university-educated friends in Dhaka that Mannan is serving as an Area Manager, even after his 29 years of outstanding service to Grameen Bank. I mentioned to several of them that he was now an Area Manager, and they “corrected” me, saying that he was a Program Officer (the deputy to an Area Manager). Mannan is a colorful character, with an endless supply of stories, ranging from amusing to poignant, not to mention an ability to perform magic tricks, as well as experience as a director of village and semi-professional theatre productions. Talk about a Renaissance man!
After I bid him good-bye, I went to have tea with my former Grameen Foundation colleague Tania Ashraf. The daughter of a renowned Bangladeshi diplomat, she is now happily engaged, and she graciously introduced me to her quietly charming fiancé. She is working for the World Bank’s office in Dhaka, and seems to be enjoying it.
Finally, I had one more cup of tea – and delicious appetizers – with Humayun Kabir, the just retired Bangladeshi Ambassador to the United States.
Ambassador Kabir was the first in a long line of Bangladeshis who have extended their uniquely gracious sense of hospitality to me. He and his wife welcomed this 20 year-old into his home when he was a junior staff member in the Bangladeshi embassy in Washington in the mid-1980s. (I was preparing myself to go to Bangladesh, and trying to learn the language. He answered a letter I wrote to the embassy to see if someone would host me during the winter break of my senior year in college.) He is a big fan of Grameen’s and is passionate about helping promote vocational training in Bangladesh during his retirement.
Before long I was off to the airport, and then en route to Dubai, where we have a regional office led by a remarkable Egyptian woman named Julia Assaad. What a week it was – unforgettable, like each of the many trips I have taken to this very special nation that is transforming itself before our eyes!