My girlfriend thinks I’m a bit crazy but to this day I never travel without a pack of Wrigley’s Doublemint gum. Here’s the story why. Comment or message me on Twitter @HootReid and let me know if I’m crazy or not.
In June 2009, I was 18 years old and about to embark on my first trip outside of the developed world. I like to think I wasn’t incredibly naive and went into this trip with the preparation that was required, but I didn’t. Luckily, I did pack one thing that I desperately needed, Wrigley’s Doublemint Gum.
Why was I travelling to Bangladesh? For that answer we have to travel back to 2005. 2 years before the first iPhone came out. GASP!
I had been working on youth programming at my religious NGO to the United Nations, the UU-UNO. While there I was immersed in the world of Social Justice and was really intrigued by the Millennium Development Goals. With an economic mind, I focused more on the role business and national economies had in poverty alleviation.
It should come as no surprise that I was ecstatic when 2005 was officially named the “Year of Microcredit” championed by nobel winner Muhammad Yunus of the Grameen Bank. Microcredit (or microfinance) is the simple principle of giving small loans to entrepreneurs to start their own business so they can work their way out of poverty and pay back the loan with moderate interest.
With success stories coming out of every corner of the world, including a few blocks away in NYC, I was dedicated to learning as much as possible about microfinance and championing its cause. Before graduating high school I was able to work with my school and congregation separately to raise quite a bit of money for the initiative.
After my first year at McGill University, I was lucky enough to join a student internship organization. Coincidently, this is where my first sales experience happened..but that’s for another blog post. When I was looking through the list of available internships for the summer I found one for the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and put every once of energy into applying and securing the position.
A few weeks later and after some training on “Culture Shock” I was accepted and remember being so happy to be able to see microfinance operate in its birth place and learn everything I could. Then I realized, wait…I know absolutely nothing about Bangladesh.
Fast forward a bit and I was on a 72 hour flight path that went Montreal, NYC, London, Doha (Qatar), Dhaka (Bangladesh). I watched 2 seasons of the show Skins on the way, had a hard cider in London and realized in the Doha airport I was definitely out of “the west”. I don’t know if it was the fact that I had slept on planes and benches for 48 hours at this point or what but I was starting to question why I had decided to go on this trip and if I brought enough malaria pills.
Nevertheless, my plane landed in Dhaka. It was 34 degrees (94 F) and very humid. I made it through immigration with a visa that was literally written with pen into my passport, got my bags and waited where I was told to wait for my contact who would take me to my still unknown address. A few hours and lots of sticky sweat later nothing happened.
When it started to get dark and shops in the airport began to close I started to worry. I turned on my cell phone to see if by some miracle AT&T had a roaming partner…nope nothing. Was there wifi in the airport…definitely not. Soon after, I was told the airport was going to close and I had to leave.
I realized if I was going to have to leave I needed local currency. When I walked in the small office to change money, I noticed something that made me smile. A landline phone. The man spoke english and when I asked if I could use his phone he politely said no. I showed him the number and said it was local and he wouldn’t budge. Sigh…
As I dug through my bag I placed things on the table looking for my envelope of US $100 bills. All of a sudden the man asked “Is that American gum?”
Confused and tired, I simply said “what?”
He pointed to my gum and asked again “Is this American gum?”
I happily replied “Yes! It is.” That’s when he informed me that his daughter “loved American gum!” I swiftly offered to trade my gum for a phone call on his landline and just like that he agreed.
Like many things I would witness over the next 2 months, I was amazed. After hours of waiting, a pack of Wrigley’s Doublemint gum was all I needed to secure a phone call.
Looking back on my experiences, I had a great time in Bangladesh and learned a lot about microfinance, culture, and myself.