Monday Part II

October 21, 2008

No time for nerves or doubts!  When I returned to the office this afternoon Amelia had a busy schedule cooked up for me and guess what – you’re starting this afternoon.


We sat down with a list of names of small business entrepreneurs that have microloans through Manuela Ramos’ CREDIMUJER program. 


***ASIDE – A bit about the process… All of the borrowers have organized into (groups called communal banks) which range in size from just a few women to a dozen or more.  The women meet monthly to discuss issues, make payments and receive new loan disbursals. The money for their loans comes from Kiva.  It happens like this: John Doe reads a profile online of a borrower that he would like to finance, he sends his money to Kiva, Kiva then sends this money to Manuela Ramos in the form of a 0% interest loan and in exchange Manuela Ramos agrees to disburse the loan and to send periodic journal updates about the borrower’s repayments, progress and life in general. Questions?  Good, that’s what the comments section is for!***


Soooo, half of my job as a Kiva Fellow is to interview the entrepreneurs (or borrowers), take their pictures and write their journal updates.  The other half of my job will be to also write business profiles which is the background story that accompanies the initial loan request.  For now, my labor is reserved solely for business journals because, as Amelia told me this afternoon WE’RE BEHIND!


So, says Amelia, pulling out a stack of papers with names and dates, your schedule will be thus: to the peri-urban districts of Trujillo this afternoon, Tuesday and Wednesday and then up to the Sierra on Thursday.  Down to the coast on Friday and back up to the mountains Monday.  And so on and so forth for the next four weeks. 


Great… Sooo, I’ll be traveling with a loan officer always, right?


Oh yes yes definitely.  Except Thursday in the Sierra, when the loan officer will travel with you on the bus, but she’ll get off before you and point the way.  The ladies in the Sierra are very nice and they’ll help you find the next borrower you need to interview.  Just make sure you mind the bus schedule because you can’t come back if you miss your ride out of town!


Sweet – sounds like an adventure!


OH and also today you will be by yourself.  I called Nicolasa, the leader of the La Esperanza communal bank, and arranged for you to meet her first.  She’ll help you find the next borrower and so on until you’ve interviewed them all.  Now let’s get you taxi.


Wow, great.  I’m ready.


Better that you leave you laptop… and your bag… dress more simply next time… and don’t carry your camera like that in your hand, the pockets is better… good, and you have a notebook?… If you’re back by eight you can come here and pick up your things.


Okay, hasta luego, Ameliaaaaaaaa!


And I’m off up the hill to La Esperanza, a neighborhood twenty minutes outside of the city center.  Up here it’s dustier and a little breezier.  The landscape is mostly one story blocks of modest houses that also sometimes serve as store fronts.  There’s nothing in the way of trees, pavement, sidewalks, street signs.  But there are tons of kids running around playing, mototaxis (motorcycles that drag a two-seater cart), street vendors, and people walking to and fro.


My poor cab driver had to ask directions and every second corner.  But I arrived at Nicolasa’s home without too much u-turning and he was kind enough to wait until she opened the door for me..


In Peru, the proper greeting is one quick kiss on the cheek and starting with Nicolasa I had the pleasure of pecking five cheeks of the five of the nicest women in town.  I met Rosa, the hair dresser, Gladys and Yuliana the sister retailers with neighboring market stalls, Maria the restauranteur and of course, Nicolasa the neighborhood Avon lady.


I started my interviews with Nicolasa in her home.  She had two small children that were romping on a mountain of clothing piled high on their bed in the front room.  I would ask questions about her business and her loan payments and Nicolasa obliged me, all the while shushing her giggling, somersaulting kids.  Afterwards, to my surprise and pleasure she spent the entire afternoon escorting me through the neighborhood and market introducing me to each member of the bank.


Nicolasa was so friendly and fun – just an absolute saint and I told her so at the end of the afternoon.  When we went to visit Rosa the hair dresser, she posed in the chair so Rosa could mime her haircutting services.  At Yuliana and Gladys stalls (which they opened just for the occasion of my arrival), Nicolasa reorganized the glass merchandise cases to arrange a “more professional” photograph.


All of the women I met work hard for their livings.  Maria – the restauranteur – in particular feels the strain of waking up at 4:30 each morning to open her restaurant and then coming home late at night to take care of her husband and children.  She told me her greatest concern is that because she rents her stall without a contract, the landlady might one day kick her out and she’d have no place to work.  It’s difficult to hear of her hardship, especially because it would feel natural to toss out some words of encouragement or to inquire what can be done to acquire a legal lease.  It would be unrealistic and well… foolish (flippant?) to offer that sort of advice or comment in this fifteen minute visit. 


Well, I sure would love to avoid the classic “American in fill-in-the-blank” commentary.  Hasn’t it been done before?  I’ve definitely half-scoffed, half-rolled my eyes at those to-pat-myself-on-the-back-or-to-NOT-pat-myself-on-the-back travelogues.  The thing is, I’m so excited and happy to be here, but I’m also thinking it’s an akward feeling given what fascinates me about this experience. Yeah… I don’t know how to avoid the feeling or even comment on the feeling without getting too “meta” … So I’ll leave it at that.


I’m headed back down to town in a cab whose price was skillfully negotiated by Nicolasa at two-thirds the price of the one I took up to La Esperanza.  The whole way I’m musing and when I get back to the Manuela Ramos office it’s business as usual.  So then that’s that and it’s goodbye till tomorrow and we’ll do it all over again, 9am sharp. All of a sudden, I’m reminded of my sister, another saint of the world – , and now I’m thinking – okay… okay yeahh, I think I get it!  And so it’s so long for now and I’m on my way to dinner and the internet café and I’ll be back again tomorrow.


One comment

  1. Sounds like really exciting work! We would love to be offering similar loans around here but don’t seem to have anyone with ideas or motivation to start up new work. Anyway, I can’t wait to read and hear more about it.

    All your commentaries on Peru are fun to read! The “American in Peru travelogue” is probably inevitable to some degree, and I bet your friends and family will still love you.

    FYI my experience of Peruvians so far is that they’re are exceptionally cautious and untrusting of those around them when it comes to security. Paranoia? I’m not sure. All I can say is that I try to be aware of my surroundings but I’ve never had any trouble.

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