We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.
The following is a guest post from AUA Mosaic Fellowship recipient Adam Kruse. Adam is currently volunteering in Bangladesh through The Advocacy Project during the summer of 2012. To find an amazing volunteer opportunity, search the AUA Directory of Recommended Organizations© today.
I met an Italian woman in Gulshan 2. If you’ve ever been to Dhaka there is a good chance you’ve been there. It seems like the only place in all of Dhaka where you might see a face that doesn’t quite fit in with the rest. It turned out that we were both headed in the same direction so we decided to split the cost of a CNG. We searched for over an hour asking CNG driver after CNG driver if they would take us, they all would, but for an astronomical amount… The Italian girl said “man, it’s hard having a white face in Bangladesh”.
That statement has stuck with me. I think about it daily when I’m trying to get across town and my rickshaw driver quotes me three times the average cost, or when I’m eating at a restaurant and I have made the mistake of not asking how much it was going to be before I order. This little girl selling flowers tried charging me ten dollars for something a Bengali would pay 15 cents for. It hurt the most coming from a little girl, but I was proud of her audacity and confidence and it gave me hope for her future.
A great feeling is when you look at whoever’s trying to rip you off in the eye and hand them the money knowing they know you’re getting screwed. Then, magically, something in them takes over and they hand you the change for the actual cost, not the quadrupled cost. Its literally one of the greatest feeling I’ve had while living here. When your both looking each other in the eye and no words are exchanged but respect is felt.
How does this all relate to my experience? I can see the connections between the individuals who try to get a little more, the ones who don’t, and the ones who decide they don’t actually want to charge four times the cost. While it most often happens in the market, I have seen it work the same way with Micro-Credit. People ask for money rather than a loan, they don’t want to pay it back (so they don’t), or they have no problem paying and often times pay for their neighbors who are defaulting. Some borrowers have taken money with the intent to not pay back the entire loan and find themselves so grateful for the opportunity that they pay it back in full, happily. Much like when I give the mango salesman the opportunity to rip me off and he doesn’t, the borrowers are stepping up to the challenge and finding worth in doing honest work.
Getting ripped off is not something I’m very good at. I tend to become quite angry and upset for two reasons. One, there is no respect for someone when you are knowingly taking advantage of them. Two, I worked very hard to get here and it frustrates me to no end when the hard work I’ve done is taken for granted. I am volunteering, I don’t have a lot of money to be throwing around so It’s hard to face the assumption that I am a “rich man” from literally everyone I meet. The good thing about all of this is that it allows for me to take myself less seriously and to challenge feeling that arise. I’m able to take a step back from it all and just let it be. Its kind of like practicing a very loud, aggressive, fast paced meditation. Its exactly what I need and its probably contributing to the most personal growth I’ve experiences since my growth spurts as a teenager, if you could equate emotional growth with physical growth.