Kiva Reports From the Field

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Another night in the IDP camp?


Oh no, that was the London Heathrow airport.

My trip home was a bit stressful, as you might imagine. I got off to a bad start as Jeffrey my taxi driver and I tried to enter the Entebbe airport in Uganda on Monday morning before dawn. We came to a police checkpoint and had to get out of the car. They patted us down and made us open the trunk so they could check my luggage. Police checkpoints always kind of freak me out, so I was on my guard as we stood in the dark behind the car, waiting for them to search my bags. A policeman approached me from behind and kind of whispered something to me. It sounded like "Your back is open," and I didn't really know what he was talking about, but I was kind of creeped out. He kept repeating similar things, and I couldn't figure out what he was trying to tell me until finally he said "your skirt is open in back." Yep, I had forgotten to zip the back of my skirt in the morning, so it was buttoned at the top, but unzipped the whole way down below my butt. I might have been grateful for the darkness, except that there was another car behind us, shining its headlights directly on my underwear for all the policemen to see. Humiliating.

After reluctantly surrendering my toothpaste, deodorant, and camera to the security at Entebbe to put in my checked luggage, I made it on my flight to London, only to find that my flight to Chicago had been cancelled. Thankfully, I got on an earlier flight the next morning, which meant that I didn't have time to stay with my friend in the city as I'd planned, and had to sleep in the airport instead. I woke up in the middle of the night to a rustling sound all around the row of chairs which had become my bed. Looking around, I saw that every person sleeping there had just received a foil blanket for warmth--everyone but me. So I laughed at the irony of receiving aid blankets in London rather than Uganda as I tried to ignore the cold and go back to sleep. My luggage didn't arrive in Chicago, but I made my connecting flight to Dayton and arrived home as scheduled on Tuesday evening, so I'm happy. As long as the luggage gets here soon--I'm worried about my camera and the priceless memories it has on it.

I don't know where to begin in describing my last few days in Uganda. I know I've mentioned the generosity a lot, but those last few days it was just overwhelming. Janet, the director of WITEP who hosted me in Mbale, had a full-fledged goodbye party for me, complete with photographer and feeding each other cake as if we were being married, after I'd stayed there for less than three days. She told me I am her daughter now, and I always have a home there. Then I returned to Kampala, where I visited the Acholi Quarters for the last time on Sunday. Probably 50 people gathered to express their gratitude to me for genuinely caring about them. Apparently they were very touched that I was willing to stay in their community for a night--I was the one who should be grateful for their hospitality and openness. They apologized that they didn't have anything more to give me as they presented me with an array of the paper bead necklaces, which they had all contributed. As I was leaving, they told me that they wanted to give me an Acholi name (Acholi is the name of their language and tribe.) They said they'll now call me Lakica Katie (pronounced Lakisha.) It means one who has mercy. I was touched and brought to tears as they sang farewell songs.

So yes, it's good to be home--I'm thrilled to see my family and friends here. But I am already looking forward to returning to work more with the awe-inspring people I met this summer.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Some Animal Encounters


I left Kampala on Sunday to visit Soroti again for a few days and see some of the entrepreneurs that I missed the first time. It was a great visit, and I really enjoyed seeing everyone again--particularly all the kids around Carl's house. The moment that sticks out for me, though, was not such a pleasant one. We were driving to meet some beneficiaries at a village market, and we passed many bikes carrying livestock on the handlebars or on the back of the bike--a pretty common sight around here. But as we passed one bike which had a giant hog tied to the back of it, the poor pig's snout hit the rearview mirror of our car going full speed. It let out a groan of agony, and I about cried.

On Wednesday morning, I took a bus to Mbale, where I'm staying now with the last Kiva partner, WITEP. They are a really great organization. More than many of the MFIs I've seen here, their mission seems to truly be helping those in need. They charge 15% interest--very low by East Africa microfinance standards, and though they ask for collateral, they never actually confiscate people's property. I'm staying with Janet, the director, and she is incredibly hospitable and helpful. When I arrived yesterday, I put my suitcase in the corner of my bedroom and went out into the field. Last night as I was getting ready for bed, I opened up my suitcase to find my pajamas and noticed something behind it. Sure enough, squeezed between my suitcase and the wall was a perfectly contented chicken. She wasn't making a peep, just happily nesting there. She had actually laid an egg, too! Just not your everyday encounter. I'm so mad I didn't think to take a picture.

Yesterday and today I got to visit some of the Kiva sponsored businesses--it's been great! The best was today, when I got to visit Moses, whom I helped fund. He sells plow spares in his village, is caring for 10 children, and is HIV positive. He just received his loan last week, so he hadn't made much progress yet, but still it was so neat to meet someone to whom I'd lent directly! He had been bedridden for several months at the beginning of this year, but he's doing much better now and has gained a lot of weight back. He's taking antiretroviral medicine. I'll write a journal for him soon, so check out the kiva site to hear more about his business and family--it's called Home of Spares. He took us to his hut in the village--deep in the village, we almost got stuck several times in flooded potholes on the dirt path we were driving on--and I got to meet his wife and children. As we were getting ready to leave, he brought me a turkey as a gift. I'm not really one to hold a turkey, but what could I do? That's us in the picture above.

I can't believe it's back to Kampala on Saturday, and then I'm leaving on Monday. :(

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Sorry

So today at work, someone stubbed their toe and I instinctively said, "sorry." The person looked at me like I was crazy. I guess I forgot that I was back in America. In Africa, you say sorry at different times than in America. When someone falls, others say sorry. When you are telling a story and you say that you stubbed your toe, people say sorry. In America this just simply isn't the case. In fact, you usually get the same response that I did... A look like you are crazy and someone saying "it's not your fault."

Why is this? In America the only time most people would express regret for someone is when they were the direct cause of the discomfort. Is there really anything wrong with someone expressing regret for you even if they did not cause the experience? "I'm sorry" In America means... wow, I just did something wrong, and out of instinct, I must say this these two words that cancel out any retribution (in most cases).

In Africa, I think it is more along the lines of "wow, I have been in that situation, and even if I haven't I have been in similar situations which I can relate to yours. In this sense, I want you to know that I express my regret for you being in this situation." I think this may have a lot to do with an individual and collectivist culture. In any case, I encourage everyone reading this to try to use sorry with an African connotation once or twice to see what kind of reaction you get.

And to Katie, what a great experience... and pass along my sorry.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Night in the IDP Camp


On Wednesday night I had the opportunity to stay in the Acholi Quarters, in the home of Stella and Jacob (Faustino's nephew.) It was one of my favorite experiences so far, and I really got to connect with several people and hear their stories. Heartbreaking stories.

The girl in the picture from my last blog, covered in dirt sticking her tongue out, that's Marcy Fiona, Faustino's daughter. She's been nearby every time I've visited the Acholi Quarters--she doesn't like to be far away from her father, and she loves to sprint up to me, wait for me to look at her, and then burst into laughter and run away as fast as she can. She definitely stood out as the most curious, energetic, happy, and fun-loving children in the area. They call her "small" because she was a very small baby. That's all I knew about her.

Yesterday morning, Faustino told me her story. When she was no more than one, her mother got sick. She tested positive for HIV and was scheduled to receive antiretroviral treatment to prolong her life. Before she started that treatment, she committed suicide, overdosing on her other medicine. Miraculously, Faustino was not infected with HIV, but Marcy was. She takes medicine twice a day, and he doesn't know how long she's expected to live.



Stella and Jacob's daughter, Presca, is in the picture above. She's four months old, and incredibly well behaved. Yes, she peed on me (making three times total) but it was all worth it, because before I left Stella told me that they are naming her after me! So now she's Ayo Katie Presca. I was so touched!

I interviewed, using the VEF poverty index, several women in the camp who make the paper beads. Not one of them is able to afford more than one meal a day, and most of them can't even afford tea (which is a must here, every morning, afternoon and evening.) They all work in the quarry making up to 1000 shillings a day, 7 days a week. That's about 50 cents a day. And they make the beads whenever they're not in the quarry--while I was there the power was out, so they were making them by candle light--even though they have no market for the beads. They just hope that some day they will make money from them, and they can't stand to be idle.

I'm definitely going to do my project here. :)

Special thanks to Stephanie Weinstein and Jill Klaiber who donated digital cameras to Kiva. Stephanie's went to WEEC in Nairobi and Jill's went to Life in Africa here in Kampala. Both organizations were incredibly grateful, as it has been difficult for the different staff working with Kiva entrepreneurs to share one camera. Thank you!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Class 5 Rafting on the Nile


Well, I've certainly managed to keep busy since Nick left. The people at Life in Africa have been great about inviting me to spend time with them after work. I've spent time at some of the local churches, where they have youth centers in the afternoons and evenings for people to come and play sports and stuff. I also went to church with one member, Amisi Barbara, on Sunday. Then Teopista, another staff member, invited me to go to her daughter's primary school performance. That was GREAT! They did all sorts of folk dances from different regions of the country and sang songs and read speeches and poetry. All of the speeches and poems were on the theme of "The African Child," and they were very powerful--lamenting all the challenges that African children face and challenging parents and the government to help them survive. Last night Gilbert (an LiA staff member)invited me for dinner at his sister Alice's house. Alice's husband Ben traveled to L.A. years ago, and loves to expound upon the wonders of America. (There's no dust! There are telephones next to the toilets, so you don't even have to get up! The bed had water inside!) He literally calls it heaven on earth, and it's hard to convince him that there are any problems there. It's frustrating to talk to people who idealize the U.S. that way and don't appreciate all the wonderful things that Uganda has that America lacks (particularly the sense of community.) At the same time it makes me realize how trivial our problems often are--at least in comparison to the starvation and utter destitution that many people face here. Anyway, they were incredibly welcoming, and we had a great evening.


The most excitement I've had in a long time, though, had to be Friday. I went with three other Americans who are here working with VEF to Jinja, which is the source of the Nile. I had agreed to go rafting, but I didn't realize exactly what I was getting myself into. As we were getting our life jackets and helmets on, I asked Dunisia, who had been rafting several times in the U.S. before, how dangerous it was. She explained that rapids are rated class 1-6, and 6 are simply undoable. The highest she had done previously was class 3, which she described with her eyebrows raised as "very intense." Then I asked what class we would be rafting on, and she said class 5. I just laughed. Needless to say, I survived--didn't even fall out of the raft! It was exhilarating and breathtakingly beautiful. We got to get out and swim in the flat areas a few times. Geoffrey, our guide called every rapid "wicked!" and after each one we held our oars together in the center and shouted "hakuna matata!" It was fantastic.

This is the life.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Home


Well...here I am. Back in America where toilets, electricity all day, and clean water are not bonuses in a hotel; but of course not without more adventure right? So I arrived in London and they informed me that my bags were in Chicago. Not a big deal, right, just go get some clothes for the ride home tomorrow and I'd be fine. So I stayed in a hotel that night and went to the airport the next morning. I arrived in Chicago at 3:30 and they informed me that my bags had not yet arrived. Hmm... That's interesting.
So my bags arrived two days later at three thirty in the morning. One bag was ripped, another had a broken zipper, and both of them had standing water in the bottom. Any other time, this might have just required a sigh and a trip to the dryer. However, I bought batiks while I was in Africa. Batiks are dyed cloths, and when wet, they bleed, and they ruin all other articles of clothing in your suitcase. Luckily, I took two dufflebags. O but I also had the great idea of splitting up the batiks between the bags. So, note to self, place batiks in plastic when carrying them on a plane. (not newspaper, as I did, which then contributed to the bleeding :)

All in all, though, what does it matter? I lost some clothes, some gifts for people, and a few souveniers;, but I am home safe and sound, in my airconditioned home, where I can sleep at night, wake up and get some fresh, clean, cold water, unlike half of the world. Life is great.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

All by Myself


That subject should be sung, as in the Celine Dionne song, in case you didn't realize. Nick left this morning, and I'm already feeling lonely. :( Miss you Nick!

The past few days have been absolutely wonderful! Life in Africa (LiA) is the coolest organization ever. Microfinance is just one part of their program--they're basically a community that provides all sorts of services to their members. Everyone comes to the center to make bracelets for the Invisible Children bracelet project (they're available online--get one!) They have a daycare center, computer training program, craft shop...I still don't even know about all their activities. People have to earn a certain number of "bananas," which they get for doing tasks in the community, to graduate to certain levels. A person needs 80 bananas to qualify for a loan. At that point, if they want one, they create a budget for their proposed project and get an agent who does an income assessment. Then the agent presents the person's proposal at a monthly loan review session, in which the whole community gathers. We got to sit in on that on Friday, and it was really interesting to see. They all trust each other very much within the community, so even though they have to guarantee each other's loans every loan application was approved except for one individual who doesn't spend much time in the community. Normally, loan recipients can pay back their loan with the money they earn from the invisible children bracelet making, so people can get loans for building houses and other things that aren't income generating. The neat thing about our experience here as opposed to the other MFIs is that we are spending time with the loan recipients every day and actually getting to know them, rather than just going to visit their home or shop and having a brief interview.

My favorite thing ever has been visiting the Acholi quarters--the IDP camp where displaced people from the north stay, many of whom are members of LiA and Kiva loan recipients. We went on Sunday, and I went back again on Monday. Many of the people, particularly women, there have started making jewelery from paper. They cut up colorful pages from magazines and roll them into beads, covering them with varnish and making beautiful necklaces, bracelets, and earrings that are all unique. When we visited, they all gathered together to demonstrate how they make the beads and let us buy them. They were really grateful for our support, and it was sooo nice to be able to buy such neat things directly from the people who make them, in an IDP camp...great. The woman in this picture was awesome--she came to show me her beads with the hugest grin on her face. (I'll add the picture later)

I also got a chance on Monday to talk with several Kiva funded businesses. It was really exciting because these loans were all used to start new businesses in the camp rather than expand old ones. Ocola Julius, for example, built a water pump to serve the community. It's cut down the distance that people have to walk to get their water significantly, and he's making his money back quickly. The problem is that the pump, along with all the pumps in the area, only works when there is electricity, which is roughly every other day.

Talking with Faustino and George, the LiA members who escorted me around the quarters (Kilama George already received a loan and Faustino was just approved for one on Friday, so he'll probably be up on the Kiva site soon--but I call funding him!) explained to me the hardships of living in the camp. Faustino has lived there for 11 years, George 5. Before they were working with LiA, they worked in the quarries which border the camp. They had to crush the rocks and carry a huge water jug full up from the bottom of the quarry. For one jug, they would earn 100 shillings--something like 6 cents. If they worked hard from dawn until night they could fill 10 jugs--15 at the very most, which is still less than $1 (the exchange rate is something around 1850 Ugandan shillings to the dollar.) You know, you hear statistics about the billion people in the world in extreme poverty making less than $1 a day, but to find out that your friends, well educated, intelligent, and sweet as can be, have just escaped that situation--it's shocking. And then they bought me a coke. And then one of the Kiva loan recipients, Umana Kustepa, whom we had just visited as he was working on finishing his home, came and brought us more drinks. He couldn't stay--he was still working--just wanted to welcome me. It blows my mind, the resilience and the generosity.

Seeing the camp made me really excited for working in Sudan, but it also kind of made me just want to work here in the Acholi quarters instead of Sudan. Faustino, George, and another LiA member Grace, were explaining to me that many of the women in the camp who make the paper beads would really love to get loans, but they can't afford to travel to LiA, and they don't have the income required to receive a loan. They already have such a strong community, and they're so hard working--starting a group loan program there would just be perfect. Almost no one within the camp has been able to find a steady job, but they want to work so badly. Grace would be a great person to run the program after I leave. And Faustino was truly like "If there's any way that you can think of, or anyone you know who could help the women in this camp to get loans, it would be so appreciated--they have lots of business ideas." So it seems kind of strange for me to go start a loan program in a camp that I've never been to that is probably very unstable. But at the same time, I really want to do something in Darfur, and I would hate to let down the Darfur Women's Empowerment Network now. So I'm not saying anything to the people here until I'm sure--I don't want to get hopes up if I can't follow through. Any advice?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Tanzania


O.K. So this is my response to everyone who has been e-mailing me, asking if I am dead, and for everyone who just reads this blog and wonders what happened.. (As you probably already read from Katie's blog...
So Katie and I could not get tickets for Saturday as they were booked. We did get tickets for Sunday from Nairobe to Dar es Salaam. On the way to Dar, my stomach started killing me. I knew that it wasn't anything I had eaten, so then I tried to just stomach (no pun intended) the pain. That didn't work out so well. I was eventually in the worst pain of my entire life and I asked Katie to find out where the next stop with a hospital was going to be. This may seem extreme, but I thought I was having an apendicitis (not sure if that's how you spell it) and I really didn't think my mother would be too happy if I died in Tanzania. And besides, I was nearly fainting because of the pain.
So I was carried off of the bus and brought to the Arusha hospital where the first three doctors told me that I had apendicitis and would need an operation. The surgeon was called in and he gave me a "full examination" and he decided that it was kidney stones. So, after experiencing the worst pain of my life, I was introduced to real pain.

The next day we couldn't get a bus to Dar because I was released too late, and Katie really wanted to see animals. So, I stuck it out and we went to Arusha national park to see some animals (as you can see my favorite animal, a monkey, above).

I win the trooper of the day award, but I can't say that I made it the whole time :)

But now, I am safe and sound with my pain killers in Dar for one day. Today we traveled with Yosefo workers around to both a group meeting, and to visit the kiva clients. I have learned so much from this on the ground experience. It is really great to first learn about how a model works on paper, and what each group i.e. the MFI, the entrepeneurs, the credit officers, are doing. Then to be able to ask questions to each of those groups about what "really" goes on. . . is exactly the experience that I wanted.

I still have to write my dismount from kenya, which I will do later because Happy, the woman we are staying with, was supposed to just show us where the internet cafe was, instead she is here sitting and waiting for me and I think she just paid for my internet time.

There is no way to describe how generous, hospitable, and welcoming, people from Africa are. People would literally give you the shirt off of their back in a snow storm.

Wow.


I don't know what else to say about the past week. Wow.

So we spent Thursday visiting more entrepreneurs with WEEC, which was awesome. They were mostly farmers and people renting rooms out, and they were amazingly sweet. I fell in love with one of the women, who everyone calls "shu shu" which means Grandma in Gikuyu, their mother tongue. She didn't hesitate to tell us the difficulties she was having along with her successes, and she had a shy smile that was incredibly endearing.

We couldn't get our bus tickets to Dar es Salaam for Saturday because it was booked, so after a long fiasco we got them for Sunday instead. We had a great time at the Masai market on Friday bartering for souvenirs. On Saturday we got to join Jedidah (director of WEEC) at a going away party for her friend's daughter who is going to study in the U.S. That was a neat experience, and we ate a lot of great food! There we also had an interesting encounter with an incredibly drunk guest who was trying to insist that all of us join him in his drunkenness. When he found out that we were working in microfinance, he scoffed and said he had a lot to say about microfinance--that there were a lot of problems. Upon further discussion, and after he repeatedly asked us our birthdays to do some sort of astrological analysis of our personalities, we discovered that he's the director of PRIDE Africa, one of the largest MFIs on the continent. The whole experience was just absurd.

We had to leave at 4:30 am from Herbert's house (I miss you Herbert!) to go into Nairobi and catch our 6:30 am bus. Aside from being held at the border waiting for our visas and holding up the bus, the ride was going smoothly until about 10, when Nick started having really bad abdominal pain. He thought it might be appendicitis, so I asked the bus driver when the next town with a hospital was. Thankfully, we were only 15 minutes from Arusha, the second biggest city in Tanzania, and a prime tourist spot. A couple of men had to carry Nick, who wasn't strong enough to walk by that point, off the bus and into a cab to the hospital. So, everything turned out ok, it was actually kidney stones. They kept him overnight while I slept on a broken chair in the hospital room with him.

But it was a blessing in disguise (at least for me since I didn't have to experience the pain part) because he was released too late on Monday for us to catch the bus to Dar, so we had the day to spend in Arusha. We decided to go to Arusha national park, and it was beautiful! Not 100 feet after we entered, there were about 8 giraffes immediately to our right. We stood up in the back of the car with our heads out the sunroof, and saw monkeys, zebras, buffalo, and a hippopotomus! It was pretty much the coolest thing ever. I would try to add photos to this,b ut I think the computer is too slow and I'm going to lose the post.

So we arrived in Dar es Salaam last night at about 6:30, and we're enjoying our brief visit with YOSEFO. We fly to Kampala tomorrow monrning!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

In Nairobe


Yes I know the title says "In Nairobe" but as with everything, getting there is half the fun....So we began our trek from Soroti to Mbane (Uganda) in a matato (A small bus that is crammed with people and used as a taxi. Just as Moses had left the taxi park a fight broke out between a man inside of our taxi and another man outside of the taxi. After the fight, we finally were moving and it took us 2 and a half hours to get to someplace that normally would take about an hour because of all of the stops that we made. We boarded a bus to Kenya, arrived at the border, bought passports and then boarded again... until we were leaving and the Kenyan police told everyone to get out with their passports and baggage to be searched and properly identified. We then began driving for some time (I would say around 5mph) until we stopped at a small town for some refreshments and bathroom breaks. I had just bought my gingersnaps and stoney (we should have stoney in the US) when across the street, a man was being robbed! There was a mob of people chasing one man, and then another mob chasing the mob (pretty exciting for only being in the country for a couple of hours). So we then arrived at the bus station where Jediddah couldn't find us for about an hour, and she drove us outside of the city to the WEEC headquarters... when her car broke down! By this point, I am no longer even surprised.

But now I sit at an internet cafe back in Nairobe as Katie and I had to come in to journal about our visits yesterday. Being with WEEC has been so educational and such a change from the Kiva/VEF office. The first day that we were in the office we made a weekly schedule that planned which clients we would visit, when we would visit, the literature we would need to read beforehand, and even the departments that we would need to speak to. This MFI is run so efficeintly! After we met with the operations manager, we met with the department of business development (it was all so informative).

I am very interested in WEEC's model. they first enroll women in a savings plan where they first form groups with people that they know, then they will deposit money to WEEC to begin a savings account. After a time, WEEC will allow the group to access a loan, but it is there own money and they pay interest to the group. After 31 days of business training, and proving that the women understand the concept of business, they can then access more seed capital through WEEC. WEEC then gives the loan to the group, the group gives the loan to the individual, and the individual pays back the loan to WEEC. However, there is constantly a pressure from the group members on each other to continue to pay back (Genius). The process is obviously much more complicated, but this is a blog not an informative brochure. If you want more info, link to WEEC through the Kiva site.

We are going into the field again tomorrow and then we are having a tour day on Friday where we will see lions, elephants, giraffes, and all the other fun animals of Africa. I'm not sure when I will blog again as we don't have internet acess in Kiseria. Hopefully I will get to write once more about Kenya, if not... Tanzania here I come.

Kenya!

We're in Nairobi! Well, outside of Nairobi, near a town called Kiseria, where the Kiva partner WEEC is located.

We got in on Sunday morning, and aside from the car breaking down on the way home from the airport and being towed by a beaten up corolla with a rope, the trip went very smoothly. It's cold here, though! I wasn't expecting it, but this is the coldest season, and we're pretty high up. So I've been wearing the only two long sleeved shirts I brought layered with my paper thin jacket every day. It's nice to not have to worry about mosquitos and such, though.

WEEC is awesome! I've learned so much from them already. They do revolving fund group savings and loans. All of the employees are real experts in microfinance, and they've been great for providing advice for me on my project. I was talking with Martha, one of the field officers who is incredibly sweet, energetic, and passionate about her work. She's 8 months pregnant I think, but they still have to force her to come back from the field into the office. Her advice, when I was discussing the difficulty of starting a group loan program in the temporary situation of an IDP camp, was to form the groups with women from the same village so that when they resettled they could continue with the loans. I thought that was a really good idea. We're also brainstorming security issues with the money. Giving asset loans--an asset that would be income generating, like a bike to use as a bota-bota taxi--might be better than giving enterprise loans of money that could more easily be stolen. I don't know, I certainly don't have it all figured out, but it's great to get all of their input. Jedidah, the CEO, also offered to work as a consultant, so that could be useful!

We got to go out in the field yesterday and meet several entrepreneurs. It was great to see what they were doing and hear about how far they've come. They had all received loans through Kiva and thanked us profusely. WEEC explains Kiva to the entrepreneurs during the training, so they do understand that the money is coming from individuals in the U.S. I think, but I guess they just thought that we were those individuals, so we tried to explain that we weren't. I wanted to go visit a woman whom I had lent to throught the site, but it turns out she is very far and served by a different WEEC office. A lot of them were requesting funding for additional loans after they repaid their current ones. They were all really ambitious and hard working.

We have learned a little bit about why journaling is a burden to the partner MFIs. For WEEC at least, since they do group lending, they used to have very little direct contact with individual loan recipients, but rather with the group as a whole. In using the Kiva funds, they have had to change the methodology a little bit for those clients to spend time with each loan recipient and give the loan directly to them, not to the group to disburse as it sees fit. So the additional time that Kiva requires is not just the time spent journaling, but the time spent going to visit the entrepreneurs to prepare the journals as well. Still, all of the staff agree that it's well worth it. Their other funding comes from commercial banks, which they have to pay back at 15-18%, so they realize that Kiva is saving them a ton by providing interest-free loan capital, and they're incredibly appreciative.

We have limited internet access here, so sincere apologies if we don't get to blog much more before we go. We're leaving for Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on Saturday or Sunday, and then we'll go back to Kampala, Uganda on the 20th. Sorry there's no picture! The internet cafe won't let me hook up my camera.

The Dismount


I have decided that after every trip (by trip I mean the week spent in one country) that I will have to make a dismount. This is actually a Paul Farmer term that I heard while reading, "Mountains Beyond Mountains" while here (highly recommended). Each day here offers me such a diverse experience, but they all seem to converge in the end. The dismount is simply my way of having some semblance to such a chaotic process of thought. This was my final thought, the conclusion, dismount, or whatever other name anyone would like to give it, at the end of my trip to Uganda.

Everything in this world is place. There is some place set off in our brains that connects one item to other items, thoughts, and ideas. When an object is placed outside of its context, it takes on a whole new (and often different) meaning. Even things that almost always have either a positive or negative connotation can be completely changed throught its context and surroundings. One object often associated with a negative connotation is dust or dirt. As Americans, we spend millions of dollars on cleaners, cleansers, anti bacterial, bleaches, and other chemical agents to rid us of, not only the topical, but even the unseen dirt. Being here has really helped me realize the extent to which this is a social construction.

I live in a wealthy enough nation, with citizens who have the means to keep up with such priniciples. But what about those places where even this stive for perfection is unattainable. Every day when I walk outside in Soroti, I meet dust, dirt, grime, and filth. I see the dejected, the dismissed, forgotten peoples of the world who society has tried to cleanse from its conscience. Today, I too can't tell where my tan ends and the dirt begins. I am working with, eating with, breathing, and living, in dirt. It is amazing what people can live with when they can't have the things I seem to need.