Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Bangladesh Day 1: Prokritee's Anti-hero

Today is the first day of a citywide campaign by Dhaka officials to convince Bangla drivers of the importance of traffic signals. "A" for effort, guys. A Bangla driver would sooner give up his chai, or even shake the hand of a woman, before surrendering his space of road. After one hour of "driving" 12 kilometers (7 miles) we arrived a Prokritee's main office.

Ershad is Prok's marketing guy and has the expansive personality to match. Seated in his office (two walls piled high with baskets) we got the download on their fair trade mission, operating principles, etc... which include hiring women employees who:

* are head-of-households (widows, divorcees, or separated)
* have little, if any income
* are landless with few or no assets
* are primarily rural

and tacked on the end was a heartfelt pitch to please place orders for baskets as they are in an "order crisis" and their artisans are suffering from a lack of basket weaving opportunities. The limp US economy has far reaching effects. As I was mentally wrestling with the meaning of unsold baskets for humanity we were led into the "Heart" of Prokritee--the design office. Being a creative type myself, I have a narcissistic tendency to believe that designers are uber superheros. Saving the world through good typography and intelligent use of white space. But we were introduced to Suraiya Chowdhury, the most gentle and humble sort of super hero. Suraiya has been with Prok for 17 years. Before that she received her degree in Fine Art at the University of Bangladesh. While she has her own work, her focus is supporting the artisans and facilitating the fruits of their creative endeavors. Quality control is one area of great concern for her and she goes to great lengths to find working solutions. When it was clear the artisans didn't have the motor skills or equipment to cut a straight line she helped develop a line of torn paper cards. When The Body Shop rejected 2,000 lumpy edged knitted hemp bath mitts she made the 17 hour journey into the jungle to dry their tears and set about the business of figuring out how to knit a clean curve. She clearly is the heart that keeps the blood flowing around here.

Our day wound to a close when Patrick, a Bangla man with an extremely kind face, cooked us a meal fit for royalty.
go to Bangladesh Day 2

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