It’s Christmas here! The boy squealed while looking out the window as the airplane touched down at Sandino International Airport. The Christmas lights stay on year-round in Nicaragua, a decreed celebration upon Daniel Ortega’s return to power in 2006, and the thirtieth anniversary of the people’s revolution in 2009. But, 2011 is another year, and there is an election in November.
Maybe, some of the potholes will finally be filled, my co-worker said, as we drive down the road Managua-style, swerving side-to-side, as if dodging landmines.
Turning into a shantytown, we hit an unavoidable one. To our right, four emaciated cows stand on top of a pile of garbage, grazing, and there is a stench coming from an open sewer that is like a wall separating us from the corrugated metal and cinder block homes. It’s hotter than Hades, and yet, I consider rolling up the window, but what message would that send to the children staring back at me? We are calling out the name of the person we are searching for. Overhead, a jet just scrapes by; we slow down to ask directions from men working on a car engine. I am with a credit officer, on the way to meet a couple who has applied for a loan. Just as we reach the door, the husband appears, invites us inside, and then quickly arranges four plastic chairs for our meeting. I can see their home is also their business, a shop selling a few packaged snacks, half a dozen eggs, and a bag of bread rolls. The man tells us he has lost his job, uniting him with half the population of Nicaragua. Before that, it seemed things had been going well. He had earned a certificate to be an ultrasound technician, found a job, but then his contract ended abruptly. Not able to find other work, he had applied for a loan to buy his own ultrasound equipment, and a car, so he could also earn money as a taxi driver, a trade in which he has no experience. The credit officer begins by asking the couple about their costs and assets, all the while tapping the figures out on her calculator. After paying for their food, water, electricity, and school fees for their two children, they are left with $150 a month. Their loan payment would be $300 a month. I have a reliable guarantor, the husband reminds us, but when that fails to sway the credit officer, he sends his wife to bring their financial records, a folder that holds scant pages. Then, I must watch as the couple’s faces change, their anxious hands fidget, while the credit officer explains why they will not be granted the loan, and then they both turn their eyes to me, and all I can do is look down at the floor. Promptly, the credit officer and I stand up, shake their hands, get back in the car, and drive back to the office.
The hard truth is, not everyone qualifies for a loan. The borrowers must have experience in the business for which they ask a loan, the means to make the payments, and a good credit record. I understand the mission of micro-finance is not to set people up for failure and debt, but that didn’t make it any easier.
Merry Christmas, Managua
Karen Gray, Kiva Fellow 14, in Nicaragua.