Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Beaches, microloans, and gua-guas, oh my!

(the above photos are from my recent trip to Las Terrenas, which you can read about below!)


It’s been a week since my last post, and I wanted to update all of you with some more photos and stories from the life in the upper 80’s with 90% humidity Dominican Republic. (As you can see, the sticky heat and I have a very close friendship). Basically, as I work in this office, I am “required” to wear jeans and a collared shirt. I put quotations around required, because I haven’t yet built up the courage to ask if I can wear a nice pair of shorts to work with the collared shirt. I made sure I brought some (what I consider), nice looking shorts which would go a long way to cooling me down AND keeping me looking somewhat professional. At least, I don’t know if that last part is true with my office manager Audilin yet – but we’ll find that out soon enough. Hopefully my slowly improving Spanish skills can woo my employer into allowing the pobre Americano to have some respite from the heat. Audilin I think would at least be somewhat sympathetic – he constantly looks in when its around 3pm and I’m sweating and laughs while he says “Ahhh Americano- tienes brillo!” The rough translation of this would be ”Hey American, you’re shiny! Sucks to be you hahaha”.

This last weekend, I was able to get a little mini-vacation in a beach town about 30 minutes to the northwest of me. Myself and 8 others who are interns or work for Esperanza went to Las Terrenas, which was a wonderful time to charge the batteries, relax, and go to the beach at least three times a day. We stayed at a wonderful little house-style hotel/hostel, and enjoyed the area. The water was absolutely clear, and blue, although the photos I took didn’t necessarily capture the colors involved. The clouds in the sky didn’t help it, but don’t worry, it was pretty beautiful.

With that trip comes a note about travelling city to city here on the Peninsula of Samaná. Basically, there are informal “gua guas” (9 seater vans), and the backs of pickup trucks. Everyone knows of the local spot where the rides originate from based on the town you stop in, and you just hop into a van or the bed of a truck after agreeing on a price to take the half hour ride to a city. One note about the vans: I may have said 9 seater van. That’s being somewhat generous. They are more similar to a VW bus in size and shape, and the one I was in held 24 people. It wasn’t comfy – 4 across in 3 different rows, with me sitting 3 across in a row facing the back, 2 behind me squeezed between the driver and myself, 4 in the front row, the driver, and then 2 “cobradores”, or kids who stand outside the van on the sliding door, collecting money as people get off. Let’s just say it was somewhat crowded.

I am also learning to enjoy my time in the field – though a few of the frustrations are starting to poke their heads up, too. Basically, for me to be able to do what I need to do to put a profile on Kiva, I need the full 5 woman group present at a bank meeting. At a bank meeting (a Bank of Hope), the meeting can range from 2 groups of 5 women, all the way to 8 groups of 5 women, with the cap at 40. Usually the meetings have between 3-5 groups. For me to get a profile up, I need a photo of the complete 5 member group. The frustration is that this happens only somewhat sporadically. Some bank loan officers are better at getting their associates to attend meetings than others, and unfortunately this week I’ve been going out with an asesora (loan officer), who has less than stellar attendance of her associates. Hopefully with time this changes – Audilin is trying to put some pressure on them to change the discipline of the borrowers, and I try to hint that full attendance will help not only me, but the borrowers. They have to attend meetings in order to get loans in the future! If that isn’t an incentive, I don’t know what is.

Anyway, I am absolutely enjoying most of the times when I am able to talk with the women out in the field. I met with an absolutely wonderful woman named Altagracia. She has such a heart for others, and as the leader of her bank, I could tell she is loved by everyone. She had the warmest eyes, and talking with her about her business (selling gasoline, parts for motorcycle repair, and baked goodies and sweets) was an absolute pleasure. She’s on her 7th loan cycle, and has been improving her business since day one. She’s a great success story, and to me, is the exact type of person microfinance is designed to reach. She deserves every single penny that her business brings in, and I’m thankful to be part of the process which has helped her along her way to escaping poverty. These sorts of stories and conversations are absolutely wonderful to hear as part of my day at “work”.

I’ll put another update up soon, perhaps after this weekend – I’m headed to Santo Domingo to celebrate the 4th of July with some of the other Americans here in the DR. It should be fun!

Have a safe and wonderful rest of your week, and a great 4th of July everyone!


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