Archive for the ‘Manuela Ramos’ Category

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The Hustle

December 9, 2008

The socias have a lot going on – I know I’ve written before how impressed I am with their ability to leverage every opportunity and connection, no matter how slim or tenuous – but I feel like the topic deserves a little more attention. I mean, I can write “Senora so and so is hardworking” or “Senorita Tal y Cual is thinking of going into autoproducts to supplement her husband’s mechanic business”; but, I don’t think I’ve yet been able to describe the variety or ingenuity of their ventures.

For one thing, these women are not just borrowers – they extend credit themselves. I didn’t realize this at first. I would meet sellers of bedding, clothing, towels, beauty products, household goods and when it came time take their picture, they might have very little of their product to show me. I assumed the socias were using their loans to buy their wares in bulk from wholesalers or for travels to larger cities to buy directly from product makers – this is occasionally the case. But most times when I would visit their businesses, there was no sizeable stock of products to be found.

“Where are your blankets/blue jeans/teapots?” I ask.

“Oh, I don’t have any right now. When I need goods I just buy there at the down-the-block market and sell them here.”

or

“No, I don’t buy in bulk, I buy what people order from me and I just keep a few items to walk with door-to-door when business is slow.”

I would wonder why her customer wouldn’t just take the ten minute walk to the market herself.  I mean she’s already there buying teapots/blankets/blue jeans to sell from her own house.

Last week (I’m ashamed it took me so that long to ask the right questions), I realized: these women are running full-scale businesses based on extending credit and lay-away programs to their neighbors, families and friends. The socias negotiate payment plans with their customers: bargaining the price, whether Senor Shoebuyer will pay monthly, weekly or even sometimes daily; and, after the deal has been struck they purchase the agreed upon product using the capital from their microloan.  A pair of shoes or a set of sheets might be paid off in a couple of months.  A teapot or a week’s worth of groceries could be paid off in a matter of days.

Some socias keep running accounts for customers at their bodegas.  They tell me that even though the maintenance of these accounts can be time-consuming, it keeps their clients loyal to their stores.  And they are fully invested in the business of keeping tabs.  Socias visit clients on scheduled payment days to collect the equivalent of perhaps $2 or $3 per week.  If clients are behind, then they must make up their missed payment the next week or the week after.  In this respect it’s very similar to a loan officer’s work.  The socias tell me they must be very careful not to extend credit to clients who won’t pay; they can’t afford to absorb losses especially when – even after all their legwork – they are working on profit margins of just a few cents.

I’ve even come across a few instances where a socia will use part of her loan to become a money lender herself.  Granted, I have to wonder if this is bending the rules (I think it is) or if it borders on the unethical (here, I don’t think so quite so much). Still, when it comes to money-making, I’ve come to understand that the socias will adapt any opportunity they have to feed the families, build the extra bedroom, or pay the tuition.  Credit programs are just one of the many tools they employ to squeeze a living out of Peru’s drastically poor economy.

And, without these women, the customers would go without for lack of two five dollar bills to rub together.  With around half of the population living on less than $2 per day, their role as creditors is providing a vital service to their customers.  The socias in turn depend on Manuela Ramos to  continue to provide low cost capital to finance their endeavours.  And, finally, Manuela Ramos relies on international bulk credit providers like Kiva to help them increase their lending capital, and consequently, their reach.  And so the chain of capital and credit flows.  So , you Kiva lenders out there can be sure that your capital is going to good use.

In the words of a socia I interviewed last week, “Give a Manuela Ramos socia seven dollars and she’ll turn it into a hundred!”

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Bout It

November 20, 2008

The women in these banks are about their business.

Tonight I visited with the Las Americas communal bank.  They are thirty women strong and have a history of being behind in payments.  Mind you, this isn’t all of them, but some three or four women have fallen behind this currrent cycle.  In order to stay in good stead with Manuela Ramos, the members of the communal bank have withdrawn money from their communal savings account to cover the amounts owed by the delinquent socias.  But now the non-paying bank members owe their debt to their fellow socias.

As is often the case when a socia has had a financial or familial problem that causes her to default, these defaulted socias have retired from the bank and no longer attend the meetings.  How will the remaining socias recuperate their outstanding savings you ask?

By rolling up en masse on the former socia’s house!  That’s right, ten socias and the loan officer and me in tow sidled up to not one but two ladies’ homes tonight.  They are polite during their unannounced visit, of course, but it is also obviously intimidating to have a dozen women roll up in your house to ask you when and how you plan on satisfying your debt (which you no longer owe to Manuela Ramos but to your neighbors’ savings accounts).

Carmen, the loan officer, tells me that one of ex-socia is “fresh”- she literally said fresca! – and it reminds me of my grandmother scolding me for my bratty attitude.  Nevertheless, the pressure is on, and by the end of our visit the woman agrees to settle up by the end of the month.

Now, I don’t want to promote the picture that these women are descending on one unfortunate woman whose life has been derailed financially for some reason or another while they heartlessly swarm round her and harangue her for her misdeeds. No, it’s nothing like that.  The point is that the delinquent socia – “fresh”, repentant or otherwise – sees and understands the number of people that depend on her.  There’s no opportunity for out of sight out of mind: here we are and yes we know you’re in a tough spot but so are we and when will you bring back our money?

With the “fresh” ex-socia, the bank members leave triumphantly, but at the second woman’s house it is a different story.  She is uncomfortable upon our arrival and she seems torn between indignance and shame.  Her family is struggling and she explains to all that she is having trouble week to week with her husband’s sporadic work and several mouths to feed.  She is one of many perfect examples of what happens when misfortune befalls people on the border between stability and poverty.  An illness, a robbery, a death, or even more lives – in the form of babies – can tear down what these women have worked so hard to build up.  The socias don’t want to embarass anyone here; the shift their feet and uncross their arms. And yet, they say gently to the woman, no matter what happens to any of us which Lord knows what could happen to any of us, don’t we still bear that same responsibility to one another?

I interviewed a woman today who tells me proudly that she still made her payments to the bank even though she was incapacitated for several months.  During this period, her small grocery store folded while she was in the hospital battling typhoid – and yet, she still found a way to satisfy her debt obligations.  She plans to restart her store in January once she has rested and fully recuperated.  For now, she is attending meetings as an ahorrista or “saver” and joining the home visits to make sure her fellow socias honor their debts just as she did hers.

And so goes the process.  Each holding the others accountable through thick and through thin.  I find myself vacilating between  thinking debts should be forgiven or paid based on the individuals’ situation.  But I suppose more and more I realize that being steadfast, as these women are, is the only way to keep themselves faithful and the bank intact.

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Welcome to the Jungle

November 19, 2008

Well here I am! The sweltering, tropical, humid jungle capital of Pucallpa. A former Kiva fellow hooked me up with a family here in the heart of the Amazon and I’m staying with them for the next couple of days.

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The father picked me up from the airport and ushered me (mercifully!) through the hoards of mototaxi drivers out to the main road where we caught a ride for less then half the price hawked at the airport’s front doors.

I notice immediately that almost all transportation here is via mototaxi- where Trujillo had seven taxis for every car on the road, Pucallpa has the same ratio of mototaxis to regular cars.

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The sun was setting just as I arrived and the air was muggy, but still fresh. It’s hotter than a Florida summer here and I think my existence in Pucallpa is going to be defined by a constant and hopefully light sweat.

As we buzz down the road in our mototaxi I notice how different this town looks from Trujillo. It’s much newer having sprung up since the 1950’s when the paved highway linking the rivertown to Lima was completed. There are no colonial buildings or pedestrian byways around here. It’s dusty and full of people walking, running, chatting, eating, laughing.

Winston my host and I arrive at his house where he generously offers up his daughter’s room as my quarters for a couple of days. He and his wife entertain me over a couple of cold mangos and dang they’re delicious!

The next day, Sunday, I trekked all over the city looking for housing. Here in the Amazon basin where the temperature wavers around 88 degrees ona daily basis, rooms with airconditioning are double the price of rooms with fans.  The prices are surprisingly high and I decide my budget will allow for a non-airconditioned room only.  I will think of my new home as a breezy sauna where I’m sweating out all of my toxins nightly. I traipsed around town for several hours and finally – a bucket of sweat, a heat rash and a few breaks in the shade later – I decide on the Hotel “Happy Days”.  The name bodes well doesn’t it?

After my marathon trek around the city I settle down for happy days and take a quick glance in the mirror – phew I’m looking beat! This heat is going to wilt me daily, I cant tell!  The weather channel always says, “85 degrees but feels like 95 or 96 or 98”.  That hot sun is no joke and only gets better when it rains.  I got caught in my first rain shower yesterday and it was a ducha abierta or downpour the likes of an “open shower”.  I was caught totally off guard and literally had an ankle deep dash through streets in mid-miniflood as I raced for my hostel and my umbrella.  From now on I’m carrying around my raincoat and sneakers should the skies open up and let loose on me again.

On Monday, I was presented most graciously to all the women of the Manuela Ramos branch here in Pucallpa.  The office is located in the city’s center which is humble as far as downtowns go.  That afternoon I took my first trip out to the asentamiento humano Bolognesi.

Asentamientos humanos, or legalized squatter settlements, are formed when immigrants from other parts of the country invaden, or literally “invade” an abandoned section of land outside the main urban perifery.  These immigrants may come from other Peruvian metropolises or more often from villages in the nearby jungle; but, all come with the dual purpose of finding work and owning their own home.  The groups of families – two to five hundred people at a time – organize among themselves and form a neighborhood council that is charged with dividing the unused land into equally sized lots, one for each family.  Once the land is equally partitioned, the families purchase the lots and register titles with the city government.  Invasions have been occurring in Peruvian cities for decades; some asentamientos are decades old while others, like one I’m visiting Tuesday are only two or three years old.  These days families are paying around $400 for a 2,300 sq.ft. dirt lot.

This photograph was taken in the asentamiento Villa Oriente where an al fresco meeting of the Damas del Oriente was held Tuesday.

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The socias are listening to Rosa, the loan officer, explain the five “P”s of marketing – it’s like business school classes all over again!  These women own and operate all types of businesses: roadside restaurants, door-to-door beauty product sales, lingerie shops, fish shipping, cheese making – you name it and a Manuela Ramos socia is doing it.  I know now that I will continually be impressed by their creativity, energy and sheer will to work several jobs, take care of several children and support this unbearable heat!

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I met 71 year old Asuncion Rengifo Marin (pictured above) at the Damas del Oriente meeting yesterday and interviewed about her Kiva loan.  We talked about her restaurant business where she works seven days a week from dawn to 11:00 pm preparing and selling breakfast, lunch and dinner.  She tells me her daughter asks her all the time when she will retire and that always responds: “when my fingers and arms fall off my body, I’ll quit the kitchen!”

After a month in Trujillo, I’m really looking forward to being in the office with a little bit more experience under my belt.  I’m so excited to go find the bank members and find out about their lives, their families, and their business plans.  Mirtha, Winston’s wife tells me that the women of la selva (the jungle) are dangerously beautiful and fiercely hard-working.  After this first meeting, I see it and believe.

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Hasta Luego, Trujillo!

November 18, 2008

Ebele and Jen left on Thursday and I am a mad woman both Thursday and Friday trying to wrap everything up: submitting my final reports, running errands, packing, planning. It’s been a busy couple days trying to get myself ready for Pucallpa. On Thursday I made my last few visits to the neighborhoods of Trujillo.

I met women of the Florencia de Mora district, a twenty-five year old neighborhood that was colonized by immigrant families from the sierras in the seventies. The area was literally colonized in a process known as invasion. Dozens of families would arrive at the ever expanding border of Trujillo and form small neighborhood councils. Each newly formed council would organize among themselves to divide several hectares of dusty nothingness into plots of equal size for each family. The families would then stake out their plot and guard it day and night against squatters. In this way entire suburbs were formed; it reminds me of claim jumpers and squatters in the Western US in the 1800’s.

Florencia is a dangerous neighborhood plagued by drugs and drug addicts in the outskirts and by opportunistic criminals in the interior. One of the bank members I spoke to on Thursday told me that she joined Manuela Ramos because her son was attacked just in front of her house and she depleted her savings paying his medical bills. It turns out that the attacker was her neighbor’s son; in a drug-induced craze he mugged the bank member’s son and stabbed him in the ear. I ask her if the police ever did anything about it and she says the justice system here in Perú is feeble; apparently, the perpetrator is still roaming free in the neighborhood. The woman tells me relations between her and her neighbor are strained to this day, three years after the incident occurred. The upside to this story is that her son is alive and well. She has been able to rehabilitate her shoe-making business through capital loans from Manuela Ramos and her son works side-by-side with her making up to 40 dozen shoes per week.

On Friday, I turned in a journal account of this woman’s story as well as all the other outstanding profiles that I’ve been working on in the past week. It’s time to say goodbye to the promotoras and they bid me farewell just as warmly as they welcomed me. I have also had to say goodbye to my internet café friends, my hotel manager friends and my neighborhood bakery. I get one last surprise invitation from Amelia, the director of the regional office: she wants me to come to her house tonight for dinner and her mother’s birthday celebration in the Los Jardines neighborhood.

I’m surprised and flattered and so glad that I get to visit with her family. She has one daughter that is my niece Ally’s age (3) and another that is still in high school. Her mother is a cool and beautiful lady of 67. We’re also dining with her in-laws and her nieces. I eat my weight in tamales and also taste a delicious cocktail that looks like Bailey’s but tastes like… gosh, I don’t even know how to describe it or even what the name of the fruit it was made from but it was GREAT! We sang happy birthday over the craziest cake I’ve had the chance to eat: it had layers of Jell-O and cheesecake interspersed with pound cake – wowza!

After dinner I said my last goodbyes – to Amelia, to my room, to the city – and got on my night bus to Lima. I’ve truly loved this gorgeous, coastal, colonial city. Maybe one day I’ll be back to rehash old times. But for now, my first four weeks is up and I’m about to begin the second leg of my trip: onward to the Amazooooooon!

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Mud, Mache and Motorcycles

October 29, 2008

It’s Tuesday and I just arrived back from my most recent trip to the sierra.  This time, I traveled with Karina the loan officer to five meetings in the towns of Mache, Lluin and Agallpampa.

here i am!

here i am!

Karina and I planned to meet at 6:15 am on Monday morning so we could catch our three hour bus ride to Mache…  Except that “bus to Mache” really means “bus to Lluin and then, dirt bike to Mache”.  That’s right, I rode a motorcycle for half an hour through some crazy mud puddles to the next town because cars don’t service the area.

 

oh  man

oh man

 

 

 

 

 If you know me well, you know I hate motorcycles passionately.  But here I am admitting it: I actually enjoyed my ride.  That is, when I wasn’t scared out of my two pairs of pants and two pairs of socks (it’s cold up here).  Karina and I got off the bus in Lluin at a small crossroads where men in ponchos and cowboy hats sit atop not burros or horses but flashy, bright blue and red dirt bikes.  S/2.00 ($0.66) buys you a half hour ride to the country hamlet of your choice.  Karina and I mounted the same bike – yes three people on one of these lil things! – and off we roared to Mache.

The mining companies are “donating” a cement highway to the region to thank the people  for letting them tear all the gold they want out of the hillside.  And, coincidentally, their trucks and mining equipment won’t have to drive the dirt paths anymore.  We stalled here for ten minutes while the construction company worked on the new road. I like this picture because you can see my consternation…

 

looking worried

looking worried

 

 

 

 

Dirtbike Mike would like this picture I think.  All the mud you could ask for. I was surprised though that we didn’t get soaked in all the puddles we ran through.

 

on-road off-roading

on-road off-roading

 

 

 

 

We arrived in Mache in one piece, albeit a little dirtier.  Breakfast was fresh melon shake from an outdoor stand.  You can also see cups of jello in this picture in the display case.  To steal a line from my fellow Peruvian adventurer, Hannah: “Jello is a perfectly common dessert in Perú.”

 

un refresco

un refresco

 

 

 

 

Mache has some paved roads (unlike Cuyuchugo where I was last week).  But most of the homes lie along dirt paths and the mud is at least three inches thick.  My sneakers have had it.  Like a lot of other communities up here, the people mostly raise animals for sale to mayoristas – people who buy meat or live animals in large quantities and hire trucks to transport the product to cities for wholesale.

 

las socias

las socias

 

 

 

 

Here is a picture of one the meetings of the communal banks.  Almost all of the women (and most people in these town) also have small plots of land where they grow potatoes, corn and wheat.  If they raise cows or sheep they will also dedicate a portion of their land to pasture.  So, effectively, most of the women have two businesses: the one that their Manuela Ramos loan helps support and a subsistence farm that feeds their family. 

 

Here in Mache, many of the women are menorista cheese-sellers.  They will travel through the caserillos (tiny 7 or 8-family hamlets of 30 people or so) buying cow’s milk cheese.  They will then will bring it back to their homes to sell to mayoristas who come to town twice a week.  It’s hard to make any sizeable profit working as a menorista :  the women earn maybe $0.30 profit unit they sell for all their efforts traveling throughout the mountain towns.

 

selling cheese from  home

selling cheese from home

 

In the town of Lluin, I got to visit an artisanal bakery where a man and a wife have been baking bread traditionally for thirty years.  They wake up at 1am every morning to bake rolls, turrones and cakes.  They never take a day off either because, “the people need their bread.”

 

 

bakery in lluin

bakery in lluin

 

 

 

 

The couples’ children all live and work in Trujillo, but they don’t want to stop working even though their family can now afford to support them.  The woman says she’s accustomed to the schedule and she prefers living up here “al aire puro” [in the fresh air].

 

deelish

deelish

 

I like it up here too.  I love the meetings and talking with the women.  The vistas are really wonderful, the air nice and clean and I have all the farm animals I could possibly want.  I stalk the little piglets like a crazy person.  I just think they are so cute!

 

cuties

cuties

 

 

 

It starts to rain and the clouds swallow whole portions of the town.  Karina and I head to Agallpampa where we’ll be spending the night and conducting tomorrow’s meetings.  We’re staying at Hostal Nazareno.

 

home sweet hostel

home sweet hostel

 

 

 

It’s probably the most basic place I’ve stayed in a while.  The door is secured with a padlock and up here in the sierra there are limited hours of running water, or so I’m told.

 

hmmm

hmmm

 

 

 

To brush our teeth and wash our faces we scoop pitchers of water from these trash buckets.  Well, I think, “if Karina is swishing this water around in her mouth I guess I can too.”  The stalls at the back are combination shitter-showers, but I decide to save my shower for tomorrow when I get back to Trujillo.

I have to say though, they have the best blankets in Hostal Nazareno.  It was freezing outside and beneath two layers of fuzzy (alpaca? wool?) quilt I was snug as a bug.  The next morning I got my first taste of avena which I thought was oatmeal and I think still is maybe… just different than any kind of oatmeal I ever had.  It was like oatmeal and applejuice had a baby.  A steamy, comforting baby with pieces of stewed fruit.  Yummm!

 

 

 

 

 

 

So we have two more meetings today before we head home.  When the sun is out it’s gorgeous. The school kids run around in one of the pastures playing soccer and the sheep and pigs wander around eating whatever they can find.

 

nice, no?

nice, no?

 

 

 

I thought this was fun: cows wandering the streets just outside our meeting. 

 

moooo

moooo

 

 

We’re finished by noon and we decide to have lunch before the bus is to arrive at one.  We got a full meal and cokes for under a dollar a piece.  And we were sitting pretty in the sun waiting for out bus.  Here’s a picture of the plaza… before the rain.

 

 

I’m learning that it’s going to rain every day in the sierra no matter what else happens.  It’s too bad because it’s pretty dreary on top of being ridiculously chilly.  Four shirts and a rain coat and I’m still shivering.  I was glad when the bus came and whisked us downhill to the Trujillo sunshine.  Tomorrow I’m going with Karina to the La Rinconada neighborhood here in the city.  Hopefully I’ll get one or two more jaunts up to the mountains again before I leave.  Till then…

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Manos Unidas (United Hands)

October 25, 2008

Yesterday in Chongoyape, a farming town one hour north of Trujillo, I attended the monthly meeting of Manos Unidas, the “United Hands” communal bank that serves the women of Congoyape, Lipote and Saucipe.

 

Our meeting is starts at 3:00 pm sharp and Mara the loan officer is counting up the vouchers the women are turning in as they arrive—these vouchers serve as proof that the borrowers have gone to the local commercial bank to pay their monthly debt obligation.  My MFI Manuela Ramos has deals with two national banks who will accept payments for them and in return will provide a voucher as a receipt to the socias.

 

After the roll call, Mara announced to the group that we had all vouchers turned in save one.  Nevertheless, Mara led them briskly through the opening of the meeting and a short business practices session.  She even had them act out a skit as though they were selling fruits to difficult customers!  Everyone played along, although for the most part people chat and gossip and catch up through the beginnings of the meeting.

 

After the skits and discussion session, the banks books were opened and the treasurer of the group asked for names of women who would be requesting loans from their internal account.

 

***ASIDE – The communal bank’s internal account consists of the accumulated savings of all of the women.  The internal account is vital because individuals in the group can “borrow” from their own savings at an interest rate set by the communal bank.  In this way the women can tide themselves over month to month when their other sources of income (their businesses’ profits or Manuela Ramos loan) don’t cover their expenses.  Also in this way, the bank earns money for itself by charging interest – albeit by the women paying to use their own savings.***

 

Almost everyone is raising their hand to draw from the groups internal account when the treasurer asks for new loan requests.  Of the seventeen women present fifteen wanted the maximum they could withdraw.  It will be two months before harvest time in December and this is one of the most difficult seasons of the year when people are saving up for Christmas festivities and school holidays.  The women are allowed to withdraw up to 80% of their savings at a given time which must be repaid at 3.5% monthly interest and must be repaid within the same term of their Manuela Ramos loan.

 

Mara told the treasurer to take down the names and the amounts requested but also informed the socias that they were short one voucher and that they knew what that meant.  There is one essential caveat to internal account borrowing that is about to make this meeting turn on its head:  ALL vouchers must be turned in for the internal account to release new loans to the socias.  If one person is late on paying, or even if she has paid but has not turned in her voucher, the bank closes without a single loan disbursal.

 

The women know this rule well, but they assured Mara that they knew the woman had paid, she is running late and she should be here any minute now.  The treasurer went ahead and noted down the names of every woman requesting money; the amounts they wanted ranged anywhere from $30 to $250.  For every name called the process was this:

 

Señora MaryLou, how much would you like to withdraw?

 

How much am I allowed?

 

80% of your current total is… 600 Nuevo Soles, señora ($200).

 

Yes, that then.  Three months please.

 

Only one woman wanted 30 soles, less than her maximum allowed.  She requested S/30.00 – the equivalent of $10.

 

When the list was completed the meeting was an hour and a half in and it was apparent that the woman was dangerously late.  The socias, fearing for their loan requests, moved to action.  They began to search for her telephone number.  They called her mother’s house to see if she had a cellular number.  They peered outside every time a mototaxi drove by to see if she had arrived in it.  They sent a messenger to her home to see where she was and if she was on her way.

 

At her mother’s house the messenger was informed that she had gone to an Avon sales conference earlier in the afternoon but that she planned to attend the communal bank meeting.  The socias asked the loan officer, “Señora Mara, please wait a while longer, she has made her payment and she’s coming any minute now.”

 

Mara agrees to wait another half hour but is worried that she will be late to her next appointment in Paiján.  The time passes anxiously with everyone peering at the clock on the wall and whispering to each other about the woman’s tardiness.

 

But the half hour passes and she doesn’t appear.  Mara and the treasurer start to count the currency in the lock box to prepare to close the bank.  The room is silent and all you hear is the clinking of change and finally, the clank of the lock box shutting and locking.

 

Mara packs up her things and the women still peek out the windows at the passing mototaxis, hoping that the woman will appear in one of them.  And as Mara picks up her bag to leave, she suddenly does appear!

 

Here she is, señora! Open back up the bank! Here she is with her voucher!

 

But no, it’s too late.  It is ten minutes until her next meeting starts and Mara must travel to the next town and she will surely be late.

 

 

And the room is in an uproar:  the woman are scolding Mara for her impatience and inflexibility, scolding the woman who came late, complaining to the bank president about what’s happening to them.

 

Why didn’t you send your voucher with someone else? We’ve been here waiting!

 

Why, señora, can’t you give us our money? We need it! We can’t wait another month!

 

Why didn’t you plan ahead, Nancy? This is your fault we are like this!

 

My father is sick, I couldn’t leave him for long and this other meeting I had was an obligation I could not miss… Here is my voucher here, take it, Señora Mara.

 

Excuses, Señora Nancy! You must not do this to us!

 

And,

 

Mara, por favor, open the bank it will only be five minutes, please señora.

 

But it is too late and Mara excuses herself rapidly with apologies and a final explanation: Understand my situation señoras; we must all be on time with our attendance and our payments.  What would happen if I stayed to reopen the bank and was thirty minutes late to my next appointment? I’m sorry señoras but I can’t, that is my obligation and you must wait until next month.

 

The group spills out into the dirt road and there is a crowd around the one late señora who defends herself valiantly.  Surely, they all have problems but she has hers too with a sickly father and her child here in hand that she must bring everywhere with no one to care for him but her.

 

 

I am traveling down the road to one of the señoras houses to see her business and the bank president Señora Elvia is walking with me too.  With a sigh, the Elvia tells me this is the first time in eight years that this has happened to her bank.  She had planned to take out money as well but she was stalwart in the meeting, holding firm with the women who complained to her.  In the end it was she that dispersed the group and sent the señoras circling the delinquent woman home.

 

Elvia and the other señora and I talk about the meeting and the woman’s excuses as we pass the sugar cane fields towards Saucipe.  It is a shame, but the women seem to understand that it must be the way it is.  With nineteen women all relying on each other for 8 years it was bound to happen once, they say.  Still, it will be hard this month, but to that end they seem resigned and accepting of it.  As we go futher down the road the conversation turns to asparagus cultivation and life in Cuyuchugo and it’s really lovely with the setting sun.  I love it, but it’s bittersweet too.  I feel a tinge of regret that Mara couldn’t stay even if it would be an affront to the women I don’t know in the next meeting.  But I suppose like the señoras I should accept the way things are.  They are more stoic than I, and here I am feeling indignant even with my bus ticket back to my hostel and my life … 

 

Here comes my bus and Señora Elvia is seeing me off and inviting me back the next time.  And off I go and off she goes down our separate roads and I guess that’s how it will be – at least until next month.

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The Farms

October 25, 2008

Today I went an hour north of Lima to the farms of the coastal desert.  Mara, one of the newest loan officers, and I had a nice lunch together in Trujillo and then took the bus out to Chongoyape, a tiny town off the side of the highway on the way to Paiján.

 

dirt road in Chongoyape

 

The meeting was taking place in Chongoyape, but the women also came from the towns of Lipote and Sauscpe.  None of these places make it into the guidebook.  Chongoyape is a community of homes spread along one dirt road.  At a certain point, this road becomes Saucipe. 

 

the road to Saucipe

 

People living here grow mainly sugar cane and asparagus.  It’s hard for me to imagine anything growing in such a dusty, hot place.  But one of the señoras tells me that they are allowed six hours of water per day for irrigation.

  

farming asparus

 

The towns are so small, taxis don’t serve the area.  If you want to get here from Paiján you have to take a mototaxi.  I’d be afraid to ride these rickety machines down the highway, but everyone does it.

 

 

can you see the mototaxi?

 

Most of the houses in the town look like this.  I interviewed this señora who sells foods and socks and underwear from this stand in her house.

 

 

señora sells from the window on the right

 

There is a canal that runs the length of Saucipe.  This lady is going to use the water to mop her house.

 

 

the canal

 

It’s super calm here, although the wind is kicking up and giving me an eyeful of dust.  I cross the highway and walk to another señora’s house.  Her loan is for clothing but because sales are slow she invested the Kiva money in her asparagus crop.  Along the way she tells me about the art of cultivating the finicky asparagus.  Here is a picture of the mountains and the path we walk to reach her home.  It kind feels like the beach.

 

 

reminds me of the beach

 

Afterward we visit her store, it’s time to flag down a bus headed for Trujillo.  Señora is kind and she waits along the side of the highway with me.  The meeting did not go well today for her communal bank but she is still cheerful.  Her little dog has followed up through the whole town during our walk together.  It’s name is Azul which means Blue.  Funny huh how some things are so similar?

 

On the ride back on the bus we drove through a moonlike landscape.  Without irrigation, the coast is a barren mix of gravel and sand dunes. I just happen to sit beside a man that also does microcredit loans to farmers.  We walk home from the bus stop and talk about his family, my family, and of course the economy and the election.  He is worried about the America economy also: the price of asparagus has fallen from $2.00 to less than 50 cents and he worries that his clients will refuse to grow the crop at those prices.

 

In the end we agree that Bush stinks, that no one knows what is going to happen to the economy, but that I’m going home to eat and he’s going home to his wife and we will be grateful and happy with what we have going for us.  Cheers to that!