So sorry I have not posted in a long time! I have been here for almost 6 weeks, and it still feels like I have been here for much longer. Moto-taxi update: Now hands-free, however learned the hard way that you are supposed to mount from the left, and now have a brightly colored burn on my leg from the exhaust pipe to prove it. To add insult to injury, the other day while on a moto-taxi I heard the people in the car next to me talking about a mzungu (me) and remarking on the state of my motorcycle burn/mosquito bitten legs. I just turned and shrugged and made a face, hoping the acknowledgement that I too think the state of my lower appendages is gross would offer them some relief. I have been enjoying getting to know Kigali these past few weeks. I’m slowly trying to add Kinyarwanda words to my vocabulary, and I find that the locals really appreciate my attempts to say, “Good afternoon, how are you?”. I have developed a minor addiction here: having clothes made. I just dropped off some psychedelic material at Albert’s shop and he is going to make a blazer out of it. To say wearing this blazer would be a statement, would be an understatement. Yet my master plan is to wear this African attire when on the job hunt this fall to make me more memorable (wow, say that 5 times fast!).
A few weeks ago, I was able to get out of the city and visited the Volcano National Park, where the mountain gorillas live. It was a beautiful drive through the countryside, followed by a short walk through some scenic potato fields. Though I requested to be in the hard core hiking group, something about my physique lead the guide to place me with the group of senior citizens. So, after a short distance from the 4 wheel drive vehicles that drove us to the base of the volcano, I was among a family of gorillas. It was an incredible experience! All that separated me from a 200 kilo silverback was a slight man with a machete. However, the gorillas are so used to humans that they basically ignore your presence. The group we observed was lead by a 23 year old silverback named Charles, and there was also a 2 week old new born still clinging to its mother. It was another 'National Geographic dream' fulfilled, and also a relief to see that such extreme efforts are being made to repopulate the mountain gorillas that were previously driven endangered status by poachers.
Office mates Suzie and Austin
As the weeks have gone by, I have been getting used to juggling work at 3 different banks and adjusting to the specific culture at each one. Prior to coming here, I was interested in the overlap between healthcare delivery and training and microfinance. One of my MFIs, Urwego, provides non-financial services to its clients such as training in family planning, healthcare awareness, and business development. During the borrower’s group meetings, the loan officer holds a 30 min. training session on one of these topics, and the curriculum builds each week. I attended a meeting that introduced the topic of HIV/AIDS, and why it was important to be aware of how this disease spreads and how it can effect one’s family and business. My next blog post for the Kiva website will discuss this topic of the overlap between health and other non-financial services and the microfinance lending model. If you’d like to read more about it, check it out! I’ll paste the link on here once it’s been crafted.
My Kiva Coordinator Peace, Ag Loan Director Jean de Dieu, and me with the rice farmers!
Another interesting experience I had was going into the field this week to meet the rice farmers who are going to receive one bank's new agricultural loan product. For me, it was a lesson in the practical challenges associated with pursuing development in rural areas. I was accompanying my Kiva coordinator, because we were to interview the borrowers for the Kiva website, take their photos, and have them sign loan contracts. With 24 borrowers to interview, we were expecting this task alone to take several hours (especially since I would be of no use in this department, as I do not speak Kinyarwanda). However, when the meetings started and it came time to sign the contracts, the farmers were not happy with some of the terms. Specifically, they were going to be charged interest on all the money and supplies the bank was lending them, including fertilizer. The farmers DO need this loan because the Rwandan government just decided to not give them free credit, however, just before this policy change, they gave them fertilizer. Therefore, the farmers did not feel they should have to pay interest on an input they had previously been given for free. Many hours later, they finally came to an agreement, and although we did not have enough time to get all the contracts signed, we made progress!
Half way through my time here, I think I have finally adjusted. Oddly, I can tell I have really settled in to a place when I am relaxed enough to implement my daily nap routine. When I first got here, I was too overstimulated to crave naps. However, my appetite for sleeping is back in full force, and I usually manage to get them in between work and dinner. Also, my mid-way reflections have enlightened me to the fact that I have not documented enough of normal day life. For example, those of you that know me well are aware of my affinity for avocados. OMG THEY ARE HUGE AND AWESOME HERE. One guy actually said to me I should rent a room in his house and I wasn’t even considering this until he said he has an avo tree in his back yard. However, after looking at the mound of artifacts I have accumulated here, I voted nay on moving. With that aside, my new mission is to do smaller, more frequent updates on here. In my attempts to be less of an obvious mzungu, I have been reluctant to take pictures everywhere I go. However, I have decided that I must take more pictures! Let’s see if I stick to it!