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Current Update! Work Work Work!

March 11, 2010

I started work on Monday of this week. The first day was highly frustrating – my boss wasn’t here, none of the other employees were in the office for long and I had nothing to do, despite my insistent asking if I could help anyone. I left work feeling disappointed and depressed, but very glad to have a home to go to. Garry was wonderful, and kept up a running conversation with me (in English!) pretty much the whole evening. I decided to tackle the second day of work with a better attitude… and a copy of Atlas Shrugged in case there still wasn’t anything for me to do. Thankfully, I got a chance to meet with my boss (Stella) and got some additional reading materials – past projects from other interns. They really helped to jump start my idea log, and refine what I’d sketched out the day before.

Yesterday was highly productive, partially due to my ability to secure a temporary laptop from the FSD office for work. Of course, it’s a BEAST that weights 10 pounds and is mostly ancient, but it does the job nicely and I’m very happy. I have gotten an asset map and needs assessment done, a work plan calendar, and a list of potential projects, their reasoning, and examples. (If none of that makes sense, don’t worry – I’ll you need to know is that I’m awesome!) The drawback to computer came in an unrelated sense. In order to be able to plug Beastie in, I had to get an adapter from the FSD office. On my way back, I was followed by a Kenyan man who really really wanted to “talk” to me, of which I politely said no, I was going to work… until he touched my shoulder and I was like – HAPANA! (NO!) Don’t touch me! It wasn’t anything terribly bad – just weird to be followed by someone who clearly has bad intentions. There’s a fine line here – because I’m mzungu, lots of people on the street will say “hello” or “how are you”, and they’re perfectly fine. Just intrigued by the white girl and wanting to see if I’ll respond. There are some, like the guy yesterday, who will take even a “hello” as an invitation to pursue um… getting a visa to the US. And then there are those – of which I’ve only encountered a few – who see my white skin as a dollar sign. I was walking home from work yesterday and a Masai (one of the tribal peoples of Kenya – definitely google them and look for pictures) said hello to me and shook my hand, then proceeded to hold out his hand for the phone I was carrying in my hand. Again, this time laughing, I said hapana, hapana…. And he jollily laughed to. So many random encounters on the road; I think I will actually miss the kids saying “’Ow are Yoo?” in their little high pitched voices.

Today was very different yet again. I left this morning to go on a crazy adventure with my coworker Josephat to visit 3 of the microfinance groups. (Warning – I only made it to two of the groups…) We took bodabodas to the first group that was in town. Despite the fact that it was suppose to start meeting at nine, it was 9:30 before the meeting started and 10 o’clock before everyone showed up (if they showed up at all). All in all though, most everyone met their necessary savings deposit and several made payments on their remaining loan balance. It was very informative and I managed to make a fool of myself only once when asked to introduce myself (I attempted Kiswahili – yikes!) Then it was a bumpy matatu ride, followed by another vehicle purely of Kenyan design that I can’t even begin to describe. We finally made it to the place for the meeting… only to wait about an hour for the 6 active members to assemble. Even though each group is supposed to have at least 15 people, this group had pretty much fallen apart due to internal division, lack of understanding of the rules of K-Rep lending, too many members defaulting, and a change in MFO (micro finance officers). The following two and a half hour meeting was an attempt to understand and rectify the problems within the group; by the time we left, I think it was pretty clear that K-Rep had just lost 200,000 shillings because the group was so shattered and disorganized that no one wanted to pay.

On the way to the next group, I was informed that we would be travelling via piki piki – or motorcycle taxi. This pretty much terrified me as piki piki drivers need not have licenses, training, or any sense of direction, but I decided to be a trooper and give it a go. Needless to say, within the first 5 minutes of riding, I had managed to burn my ankle on the exhaust pipe and was just praying we’d make it to the destination alive. Well we made it alive… but not to our destination. Evidently the piki piki driver had misunderstood Josephat’s clear commands and took me to the wrong place. Not knowing where in the heck I was supposed to be, I called Josephat and tried to get directions… but his phone disconnected for some reason. Then I gave up – paid the driver and caught a matatu back to Kakamega, and went to the FSD office just to take a breather. Kirsten was awesomely sympathetic and lunch with her was great. I walked home at the end of the day… just reveling in how “bad” the day had been, and yet how happy I was just to be alive and to be here in Kenya.

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