I’ve been here almost 10 weeks now and I still love going out into the field to see the clients. I’ve also grown rather close with all the K-Rep loan officers. They’ve been great sports because having a mzungu accompany them to the field requires a little more patience. They seem unbothered from the stares and catcalls I get from the streets. They also act as my guardians sometimes. For instance, I get charged a higher fare price in the matatus. Stephen negiotiates our fare before we get in the vans, many times allowing multiple matatus to drive off before someone will accept my fair rate. Both Mohammed and Joel will let me hand my money to them and then they pay for the both of us. If they hand over the money, they will receive the correct change; I am always shortchanged if it comes from me. I know many times they probably wished I wasn’t there, but at the same time too, I know it’s nice for them to have a buddy in the field and to share their own frustrations.
Quick synopsis of the 4 K-Rep Loan Officers:
1. Mohammed likes to be really hard on me for not knowing enough Kiswahili, but will then turn around and act as one of the most generous people I’ve ever met. Everything I ask him is always answered with, “Oookay, no problem”, even when the response makes no sense to the context.
2. Stephen is a man of very few words, which makes him hard to read, whether good or bad. 90% of my trips with him are conducted in complete silence.
3. Shamsa is hilarious, however, I’ve never been able to shadow her since she primarily works in Ukunda in the mornings before heading to the office to finish up paperwork. When we are in the office together, she likes to quiz me about America and our devil-ish ways and I like to nag her about her upcoming wedding (which she dreads) and question how she is possibly still alive in this weather with her long jeans and high heels underneath her boui-boui and ninja-like face drapery.
4. Joel is the playboy and youngster of the group, talking in soft tones and walking with a bit of a swagger. I will never forget the way he explained to me this secret lunch place. It is home-cooked Swahili food from this older lady who cooks at home and sells it from an inconspicuous room above a store front. I would have never known to find her there because she has no signs, only advertising through word of mouth. You never know what she’ll have to offer or what exact times she’ll be there, but it’s super cheap and extremely good. He explained her to me as, “Ehhh! This Ma-Ma’s food is sooo sweet. Ehhh! Trust me. Poa sanaaaaa.” The kid is funny.
So my day in the office usually consists of anywhere of 1-2 hours of everyone greeting each other, drinking chai and reading the newspaper. Then we finally get down to business around 9:30 when I start quizzing them as to where their meetings for the day are located. It all depends on location. If it’s close by as to where we can walk, you’re today’s winner. If it’s just one matatu ride, okay. But if it’s somewhere out in Likoni or Mtongwe, I’ll have to think about it. Traveling to those districts require a ride over the infamous ferry, which I so greatly despise.
Taking the ferry is an experience… you first must take a matatu to the ferry, off-board, and then wait under a large open shelter with hundreds of other Kenyans who are carrying large sacks, selling every non-useful good known to man, consoling screaming babies tied to their backs, or avoiding the blind beggars roaming the crowds for spare change. It’s an interesting spectacle to watch, but I also know from the roaming eyes that I too am considered an interesting observance there. There are two ferries, but the crossing can be held up at any moment for a large tanker passing through in route for the port. Once the ferry is off-loaded with prior load of foot and automobile traffic, the gates of the shelter are opened and everyone starts running to grab a spot on the ferry. Very rarely do you see other wazungus on the ferry; if they are there, they are safely secured on their tour buses down below, watching the chaos from their air conditioned seats. The real ride is amongst the people. On the other side on the ferry, the matatus are even more ravaged than the usual corpse of vans that they typical are… no brake shocks, no interior side paneling, forget any kind of seat padding, and imagine it as all grunge and grime. And somehow I always get stuck in the very back corner where the seats are elevated higher and I am constantly knocking my head on the ceiling. When we approach our destination, I knock on the ceiling, signaling both that I want off and that the other 12 people squeezed in to my path to the sliding door should brace themselves because I’m about to climb over them. Ugh. I dread it, so I try to avoid that area like the plague. However, the Likoni area has a lot of really great groups, so at the end of the day, it makes the torturous commute to the other side of Mombasa a little more tolerable.
braving the matatus
Earlier this week, I accompanied Mohammed out to Likoni to conduct a training for a new group that was forming. It was called the Neema Women’s Group. We met on the front space of a neighborhood clinic, which we shared with a few other ladies who were braiding hair. I observed Mohamed conduct the entire training in Kiswahili, but could pick out words like “accounting”, “balances”, “arrears”, and “payments.” He explained the system of electing a chairman, treasurer and secretary for the group and their responsibilities of recording the minutes and collections. He then went on to explain the importance of maintaining each individual’s passbook (personal checkbook) for their own records. I had asked him prior to the meeting if he would mind serving as a translator so I could personally interview some of the members for additional background information. We were there all afternoon and by the time we left, I felt very hopeful for the group and their aspiring, small scale endeavors.
Neema Women's Group in Likoni
Mohammed: Conducting the Training
And yesterday, I accompanied Joel out to Port Reiz, a mental hospital on the far outskirts of Mombasa. We met with a group, comprised of all HIV-infected clients. Of all the groups I’ve met over the past few weeks, I must say that the HIV-infected ones are the best (sadly). They are ALL charismatic, with hearty handshakes, huge smiles, and genuine greetings. It’s deceiving because you would have thought that they had just won the lottery and you were about to deliver them their prizes. They are unperturbed by the smaller bumps in the road and made it a point to explain to me that just because they are infected with HIV, they are NORMAL people living normal and happy lives. These group meetings not only serve as a means to collect savings and loan deposits, but also as an emotional support system for their daily hardships with the medication, treatments and social stigmas. They promised that if I would come back next week, they would have double their present attendance. I couldn’t help but say yes. 🙂
my favorite group so far in Port Reiz
Again, I love being in the field and these experiences make all the other frustrations worth it! Signing off for tonight. Sending love from Kenya!