First, I want to apologize for not blogging earlier! I’ve had some problems with my account, but now that I’m able to write, I have absolutely no idea where to begin… It’s hard to believe that I’ve been here for about two months already and only have one more to go. To quickly introduce myself, my name is Charline Yim and I’m currently a Kiva Fellow in Mozambique, working for Kiva´s partner microfinance institution Fundo de Desenvolvimento da Muhler (FDM). I don’t know how exactly to explain what an incredible, crazy experience this has been, but I’ll try my best.
I´ve been lucky enough to spend time now in all three of FDM´s branches, and what strikes me most is how different they are. First, just the locations… While Xai-Xai, the location of FDM´s headquarters, is a small, busy market town where I passed weekends lazily watching soccer games and drinking endless cups of coffee at one of the cities two restaurants with locals to pass the time, Maxixe was an idyllic tourist destination with the lure of picturesque beaches and scuba diving. And now I’m here in the capital Maputo – a large, crowded, polluted city (like any other large city in the world) where I’ve spent a considerable amount of time thus far mainly trying not to get lost. Each FDM office is surprisingly different as well and it’s funny how they mirror their respective locations, but the complete dedication, level of hard work, efficiency, and passion has been the same in all. I’ve had a chance now to work with all 16 of FDM´s loan officers, or promotoras as they call them here, and while each have their own distinct styles and ways of dealing with their clients, each has amazed me with their dedication to the people they serve. We spend literally hours a day walking miles and miles to reach each client, and as I’m sweating to keep up I tend to ask them what they think the hardest part of their job is – they never fail to say the same thing. Yes, they explain, the job is difficult at times, but you get use to it and it’s worth it because they love what they do. They have been nothing but gracious, kind, and truly wonderful to me, and I know that at the end of this entire experience, they are some of the people who I will miss most.
And the clients I’ve met! They welcome me into their homes, introduce me to their children, proudly show me their businesses, and offer me meals without a second thought. While I admit that there have been times when I’ve wondered if it is worth a four hour chapa ride holding someone’s flapping chicken on my lap to reach a single client (and another four hour ride back), finally meeting them and enjoying a moment to sit down with them and talk has always proved worth it. While I have many questions for them, they have just as many for me – ranging from asking what it’s like in the United States (is it like what they see on TV?) to inquiring if I’ve ever seen a mango before. Interestingly, and somewhat strangely, when I tell them I’m from California, I get lots of questions about Arnold Schwarzenegger… The weather here tends to fluctuate between blistering heat, overwhelming humidity, and drenching downpours of rain, and walking in any of these extremes can be challenging at times, but the clients and their families really make it worth it. Not to mention that I’m also put to shame by the children and older women who easily skipping past me carrying buckets of water on their heads as I trudge along. At one client’s business and home, I was invited by her young son and his friends to play a little soccer match with them (at which point I made a complete fool of myself as I, to be frank, am horrible at soccer), but at least he and his friends (and his family…and the loan officer…and the neighbors who stopped to watch) had a good laugh.
There are little reminders of home everywhere. When I have access to a TV, there’s this show on one of the two channels here called Fama Show, the Mozambican version of American Idol which is always being replayed. Their annual beauty pageant here is called Miss KFC. Yes, as in Kentucky Fried Chicken. While one client and I were for some reason (I forget how we reached the topic) discussing our mutual love of coffee, I asked her if she knew what Starbucks was but she refreshingly said no.
While I admit that time here initially felt a bit slow, now with only one month left…I wonder where it went. Like Maren mentions in her blog, my thoughts and experiences here have reached two extremes – from wondering what exactly I’m doing here to moments of complete exhilaration. I definitely won’t miss the public transportation system here as it often entails idling at a stop for two hours to get more passengers (which range from actual people to bags of fertilizer and goats). I’ve also probably spent more time in chicken coops than completely necessary…not to mention that am currently modeling the dirty sneakers, knee socks, unwashed hair, hybrid fanny pack-messenger bag look, but at the same time I can’t help but already feel a bit sad about everything else I’ll leave behind. I know my only regret when I leave will have been that I couldn’t spend more time here, and I plan on savoring every last minute that I have here in Mozambique and working with FDM. Well, that’s it for now. Ate logo!