THE BLOG
05/23/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

An Expat's Week in America: Health Care, Yunus, Grameen and Broadway

Arrival in Baltimore last week, where the life expectancy for some humans is lower than that in Bangladesh. Riding public transport, light rail, train and metro to the World Health Care Congress in D.C., where Bangladeshi Banker to the Poor Muhammad Yunus taught doctors and CEOs in the health industry a few things about how poverty, and the alleviation of it, can provide models by which we in the West can serve our own disenfranchised populations. I saw CEOs, medical workers and those from the NGO world nodding their heads in agreement and deep understanding as Muhammad Yunus spoke.

On to Philadelphia, where people from left-leaning art students to Libertarian wings of the old school Racquet Club found themselves agreeing on the economy and excited about the outspoken response from Americans who have never protested, much less loudly. I do not agree that the tea parties are lead by right-wingers. People are fed up with being abused by what has become a feudal system of extreme wealth, in which they are being robbed. And they know it and they are going to put an end to this unjust treatment.

By the time I reached New York, I focused on receiving information and opinions from many different kinds of Americans as I did not know when I would be back "home" again. From drinks with a conservative (Bill Buckley's nephew), and discussions of the oil and gas industry, to dinners with psychoanalysts and NYU professors, all mixed in with talk of reality shows and narcissism, began to draw a picture of an America in which the political and cultural extremes were coming to the same conclusions: We are indeed, "Mating in Captivity."

Then for the really good stuff. Muhammad Yunus' arrival as he spoke to a group at the Georgetown Global Forum about how our economic structure is what is wrong, it is not inclusive of two thirds of the world's populations. He described it as a horror film, and it went something like this:

"Imagine that they made a Hollywood movie in which aliens came down and destroyed all the Wall Street banks. For many this would be a horror film. But for two-thrids of the world's population, the unbanked, they would not even be aware."

"They have been living in a constant horror film-one in which they have had no access to credit, nor bank accounts, not the ability to change their situation," he added.

Jump to a beautiful Saturday in Queens at the Grameen America Open House where Muhammad Yunus and the 365 female borrowers met to celebrate their first year of existence. The average payback rate is 99.6% (try to meet that you big banking establishments!). The average loan amount is $2,200. The women come from all kinds of backgrounds: a recent Ecuadorean immigrant selling handmade clothing, an African American woman who has started a catering company (Southern food-fantastic peach cobbler!), a Bangladeshi woman selling health care products, and the list goes on and on. These women were present with their families, proud to own their small yet thriving businesses. There was joy and optimism about the future of America in the air.

Then back into Manhattan where an author friend tells me of how Twitter and his own participation in publicizing his books through social networking has changed his life, and with the property prices falling, he will now be able to buy himself an apartment in the city. He, along with the Grameen borrowers, (and myself) did not participate in the stock market, flipping, swapping, shorting culture of this past decade (or two). We earned our living, set aside some savings, have some cash in the bank, and are building our futures, and are very optimistic about the future. Because we OWN our futures. We have not gambled with other people's money.

And last but not least, an evening at the Broadhurst Theater on Broadway premiere of Phyllida Lloyd's spectacular play, "Mary Stuart" starring Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter. The stunning New York Times review by Ben Brantley stated, "...it is hard not to be at least a little in love with -- and more than a little in awe of -- the very leading ladies in Phyllida Lloyd's crackling revival...of this tragedy of double-dealing politics."

He then went on to add that, "It is also one of the most unsettling studies I know of the captivity in which heads of state are condemned to live. (Note to Michelle and Barack Obama: See this immediately)."

The party afterwards at Tavern of the Green revealed the true theater community of New York. There is so much joy in this creative group of American and British and Irish actors who support one another's work. No one can crush the spirit of those who are doing what they love to do, and sharing it with us. Broadway, films and books all will continue to sustain us even during rough economic times. It is fascinating to note that the director of beautifully intense this theatre classic, also brought us the stage and film versions of the uplifting "Mamma Mia".
And that leads to the end of my American stay this week...the country is on the move and it is very exciting to experience. But the media masters who are shaping the Obama's own Camelot, like the bankers behind the scenes, shaping the economic "recovery" , be forewarned: If they continue to try to create a United States of America in which there is an "Us" and "Them", it won't work. We are indeed, "all created equal" and we will take back our power, even as they lead us to execution...stunning in our glory, just as Mary Stuart, when Elizabeth I condemned her. The women borrowers in Queens, the women who have been left out of the leading roles in the economic recovery, the women on stage and directing the play, will all be heard. And the staid grey suited system will not crush the spirit of this country. Nor will the "fixers" be allowed to "own" the images. We are taking it back, piece by piece, and the "masters of the universe" will be left, just like Elizabeth I, diminished, servant-like, and alone...behind the Greenwich gates.