Marion Walls | KF19 | Tanzania
I’m on a quest to follow a Kiva loan from lender to borrower! How often have I dreamed of this whilst browsing my loans on a frosty winter weekend in Canada? Now I have an ideal opportunity to do so as the Kiva Fellow in Tanzania, so I’ll take you along for the ride!
My directions are set when a friend emails from Calgary: “I donated to the Jaguar Group. They’re asking for a loan in support of their beauty salon. I chose that one in honor of you – I figure you might want a haircut or a color given you are there for months!” Too true; I’ve been in Tanzania since September and this Kiva fellowship has been rich and rewarding, but also tough, so I’m looking a little ragged… And salons here offer beautifully intricate braids – why not give them a try?
I love the idea of making the personal connection between a Kiva lender in my hometown of Calgary, and a Kiva borrower here in Dar es Salaam! I had the dubious distinction in KF19 Fellows’ class of traveling furthest to my placement, so this will be an opportunity to reel in some of that distance. And what fun to report back to my friend on how his loan is working out here on the ground! I immediately start making arrangements to meet Juliet, the featured borrower of Jaguar Group…
Lender’s city; borrower’s city
You may already be familiar with Calgary – prosperous modern city buoyed by oil wealth; 5th largest metropolitan center in Canada; enviable location at the foot of the Rocky Mountains; renowned for its volunteer spirit; host city of the ’88 Winter Olympics (remember The Jamaican Bobsleigh Team?); 9th largest lender city on Kiva in 2011 (way to go Calgary)! In short: it’s a privileged city with a lot of heart!
What can I tell you about Dar es Salaam? The name conjures up exotic images of centuries old sea-trade, sultry summer evenings, and short ferry rides to magical Zanzibar island!
But the reality of daily life is far from tropical paradise for most of Dar’s 3 – 4 million inhabitants; believe me, this is one grindingly hard city in which to eke out a living… Still, people keep coming, lured by hopes of a better economic future than they face in their hometowns or villages. Dar is one of the fastest growing cities in the world. It’s a statistic with unenviable consequences: Dar’s infrastructure is clearly not keeping pace with the burgeoning population. Unrelenting heat and humidity are exacerbated by almost daily power cuts that mean no fans or air conditioning (in the words of my office-mate: “We are practicing for the fires of heaven!”), and no reliable refrigeration for foodstuff (where do maggots come from anyway?)
The dala-dala (bus) system is extensive and was genuinely well designed at inception – but now it’s inadequate and the overcrowding is epic! Likewise, unremitting traffic on overwhelmed roadways morphs the “5 p.m. rush hour” into the “2 – 8 p.m. standstill”. (Can traffic officers judge precisely when 64 passengers crammed in a sweltering dala with seating for 32 will finally reach breaking point? Only then do they signal us through the intersection!) Admittedly construction is underway to address transportation issues, but I regret the almost imperceptible progress in the 5 months I’ve been here.
Yet, in the face of wretched infrastructure challenges and the fact that formal employment is not keeping pace with population pressures either, the people of Dar find ways to get by – they have to. So the informal economy is bustling and every hot and dusty road is lined with shops and stalls; every opportune space is claimed. (Note to self: “That’s why Kiva loans to entrepreneurs are so relevant in Dar!”)
And if half of all Tanzanians are getting by on $2 per day per Kiva’s country statistics, it’s surely not from want of trying: it’s common to work long hours here in Dar.
No two ways about it – it’s a hardscrabble life here. But there’s a side to this city that defies all expectations: people in Dar (as in all Tanzania, in fact) are extraordinarily friendly, and helpful, and tolerant! I know it sounds cliched, but this is truly friendliness, and willingness to help, and tolerance, on a scale I’ve seldom encountered in my travels on any continent. It occurs to me this is the real key to living in Dar!
The expedition across town
Of course you realize Kiva borrowers don’t work in downtown office towers, but still you might be surprised by the widespread locations of their businesses (such as Juliet’s salon). Greater Dar es Salaam area is extensive, and many Kiva borrowers live and work on the outer fringes – perhaps 50 km away from my base at the main branch of Kiva’s partner MFI, Tujijenge Tanzania.
I had no concept of the stamina it would require before I started visiting borrowers last September! My mind boggles when I consider that loan officers from Tujijenge routinely travel across Dar to attend borrower group meetings every week… (The numerous challenges MFIs such as Tujijenge face in delivering services here in Dar are daunting. That’s why I admire MFIs for working here - where the need for microfinance is great, where it can make a significant impact on the lives of borrowers, but where it is not easy.) The loan officers are all busy as bees so I enlist Rita, the star Kiva Coordinator at Tujijenge, to join me on this visit to Juliet. We set off together, as always.
I use my favorite strategy: Start early in the morning. Take a series of “city-bus” dalas to the furthest point at which bajajis (auto rickshaws, named for the pricipal company that makes them) are available. Cover the final stretch to the borrower by bajaji, because the alternative of switching first to a “mini-bus” dala then risking life and limb on a piki-piki (motorbike taxi) is no fun at all. Persuade the bajaji driver to wait whilst we visit the borrower. Then do the trip in reverse. And hope to get home before dark…
(Rita scolds me for excessive expenditure on bajajis, but I can’t help it: I love everything about them! Bajaji drivers are fearless; they are consummate alternate-route-finders in the face of traffic jams; they are willing to tackle any road. Bajajis can negotiate all terrains successfully, or at least are light enough for this Kiva Fellow to push out of the sand when stuck… The open-air design provides sweet relief from the heat (even if the air I’m breathing is laden with diesel fumes, and bugs impale themselves on my camera lens), and I can choose how many of us are on board. I bet you’d take a bajaji too, if you had the chance!)
On today’s trip to see Juliet, a second bajaji driver dashes up just as we finish negotiating our fare with the first. “Mama,” he calls to Rita, “you gave me my loan at Tujijenge!” It means he has a Kiva loan! “Oh, I wish we could go with you then,” Rita responds. “It’s alright, you can go with him – he’s my friend,” says the Kiva guy, with characteristic Tanzanian friendliness. (What a great coincidence! I told you I love bajajis!)
Meeting the borrower
Turns out my meeting with Juliet is not happening after all… Instead of Juliet, Prisca is waiting for me at the roadside. Prisca is Chairman of Jaguar Group, and she tells me Juliet has bowed out today. Of course I’m disappointed, but I try to imagine myself in Juliet’s position as a borrower. Is she simply too shy? Battling a family or business crisis she’d rather not discuss? Scared because she’s behind on a repayment (even though she’s paid off 5 previous Tujijenge loans successfully)? Unwilling to have nosy neighbors learn from my obvious presence that she has a loan (out of financial privacy concerns, or because they may press for a share of the cash)? Unwilling to have her husband learn she has a loan (and thus jeopardize her personal financial stability)? Or is it something else entirely? I don’t know, but I’d far rather Juliet refuses than indulges me at her own expense – my visit is purely whimsical and not business related. It’s an apt reminder that a borrower’s loan is a significant business contract that is not undertaken lightly; it must be managed and paid back in the context of real-life complexities.
Meeting the borrower (Take 2)
Prisca saves the day by inviting me back to her store. I’m very happy to accept because, after all, the Kiva loan covers Jaguar Group, not Juliet alone. (Group loans are a mainstay of microfinance. You can read about their many benefits in Dar in my earlier Kiva post: Group Loans – Filling a Particular Niche.) Prisca hops aboard our bajaji and we’re off on a roller-coaster ride!
Prisca owns an impressively well-maintained store selling sodas (pop) and beer. There’s a shady seating area too, so Rita, the Bajaji driver, Prisca, and I settle down to enjoy a cold soda (bonus – Prisca has a fridge!) and a chat. I show Prisca her Jaguar Group’s loan on Kiva, and she breaks into a wide smile as she sees herself in the photo! She quickly points out Juliet, as well as Judith who was featured in Jaguar’s previous Kiva loan. She’s somewhat incredulous when I point out my friend from Calgary in the Lender section…
I ask Prisca about herself. She’s married, has a young son and daughter, and has always lived in this area of Dar. Her store used to stock a wide variety of goods but in 2011 thieves broke in and stole pretty much everything, including the scale for weighing goods like rice and dried beans. It was a cruel setback. That’s when Prisca joined Jaguar Group and started taking loans from Tujijenge to try to get back on her feet. Yes, the series of loans have helped restore her business – injections of cash every few months are invaluable in buying bulk stock at cheaper prices, and purchasing items like the fridge to draw customers. Some of the extra profit that is generated helps with household expenses (think school fees) too. But there’s still a way to go… That’s why Prisca has stayed with Jaguar Group, and recently become group Chairman.
Closing the circle
I’ve done what I’ve always dreamed of doing: followed a Kiva loan from lender to borrower! Now I know the people on both sides of the contract, and I’m totally delighted.
I report back to Calgary: “The bajaji ride was one of the best yet! The rest of things didn’t quite go to plan, but still they ended well. I met Prisca, not Juliet. I got a soda, not braids… Prisca was amazed to see you! Her business is coming along, and she says the loan is helping. Here’s the postcard I made you – it was a brilliant day, thank you! M.”
Click here to lend to a Kiva borrower in Dar es Salaam. (Please check back at the start of next month if all Tujijenge Tanzanian loans are currently funded!)
See more of the daily sights I’ve enjoyed in and around Dar in The Illustrated Guide to Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner! (Tanzania Edition). Or see the complete antithesis in On the Road Less Travelled: Kagera Region in Tanzania.