I awoke on Wednesday in what we in the U.S. would consider a large tin shed. As the manager had warned, mice had run amok in the rafters at times during the night. Fortunately, I was able to tune it out after a while. Soon I was off to the Zianpur bazaar to say my goodbyes to the local Grameen staff, the teachers at the high school whom I had always been close to, and others in the community. I felt quite emotional by the time I jumped on the back of a motorcycle and headed to Aricha, where I would get a public bus to Dhaka.
December 16 was Victory Day, a national holiday to commemorate the successful conclusion to the 1971 War of Liberation. It is a day for celebrating all things Bangladeshi, including the founding fathers who led the battle for an independent nation. En route to the capital, our bus passed by the national monument to the martyrs of the liberation period – it was teaming with people, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, who had come to be part of the festivities and remembrances. Many times over the years I have heard Professor Yunus exhort Bangladeshi audiences that the best way to honor the heroes of the founding of Bangladesh was to work to liberate the country from poverty. For such a young nation with the idealism of the freedom struggle still fresh, it is powerful imagery that I have seen be a strong motivating force.
After returning to my hotel, I started my way to the home of my old friend Rotun Kumar Nag. I refused to take the overpriced car service offered by my hotel, and went by public transit instead. As a result, I was a bit late. But once I arrived, Rotun and his wife – a retired Grameen executive who served for 12 years – entertained me with delicious Bengali food and all manner of gossip about Bangladesh and Grameen.
When I had arrived at Dhaka’s international airport 21 years ago this month, Rotun had been one of the three officials sent by Professor Yunus to receive me. In the months that followed, he helped me learn the language and culture of Bangladesh and Grameen. In the process, he became a lifelong friend, while he rose up the ranks to become a zonal manager, the most senior field-based position in Grameen Bank that entails overseeing hundreds of staff and roughly 200,000 clients who are in different stages of struggling to overcome poverty through microfinance.