The smell of a farm is one thing that is familiar to me, but not much else is. It’s amazing how removed you can be from a process that is so central to life, but it’s true. Feel like I should take some kind of crash course in farming, something that would qualify me to report on the majority of the businesses here. But I’m not qualified and that’s that. This is the amateur’s version of the life of Kiva clients in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Farming is not a business, it’s at least 10 businesses wrapped into one. These women manage everything, from the planting of seeds to the final selling at the market. What they don’t sell they use to feed their families and keep their animals alive. They share barns & supplies with their neighbors, trade food, and keep each other afloat. There is a lot of talk about sustainable living these days, but the only time I have witnessed it is here in Bosnia.
It’s tempting to glamorize the life of a farmer, but since it’s anything but I should stop that right here. 14 hour days are the norm. The weather can be unkind, and there go your crops. A cow dies, your flock of sheep are wiped out by disease, and there goes all your income. It’s a job in the end, like any other, but a lot less forgiving. I don’t know how they cope with that ongoing disappointment, with the fickle nature of fate. I wonder if they get any kind of joy out of their work, like many city dwellers imagine they would. But these women have a lot to deal with. There is not a lot of time for all these questions.
It is awkward to be the outsider here, this strange intermediary between the lender and the borrower, and my awareness of this gives me pause whenever I meet with clients and try to explain what I’m doing here. Many get a kick out of seeing their business profile, but I wonder what they really think about all that goes on behind this. What continues to amaze me most about Kiva is what it has created—an amazingly dedicated lending community, a force of nature itself. I want to tell clients that there are many people so interested in hearing everything they have to say. That they send their hopes & wishes to them, via comments on a website. It’s hard to explain this phenomenon at all, even in English.
I feel lucky to be in this strange & wonderful position, to be here at all, to be able to meet these clients. But the distance between any two people can be small yet great at the same time. There’s a lot I wish to know about these women, but not a lot I can know. I just wish they could all just speak to you for themselves, and tell you what they really thought.
Here at least is what I think. The women I meet are strong and they are fighters. They find new ways to make the most out of their land every day. They have better business sense & work ethic than you can imagine. They take care of their family, and they look out for each other. They are kind & gracious despite all the bad luck they’ve had. And they all deserve better luck than they have had. Though I may not be doing a good job in communicating anything here, I hope they know that they have a lot of people on their side, and that the world has not forgotten them.