My First Day in the Field (Part 2/2)

Gachi and I traipse through the dusty, pebble strewn streets for 20 minutes before arriving at our next stop. My second group meeting of the day takes place in a turquoise

Standing in front of a barber shop, which doubles as the location for Kiva borrowers' group meetings

Standing in front of a barber shop, which doubles as the location for Kiva borrowers' group meetings

painted corrugated tin shack that upon entering, I realize is actually a barber shop. A large poster containing 64 numbered photos display hairstyle options from the 70s (80s? 90s? Definitely not this decade). The space is cramped and hot; I can feel sweat oozing from my pores after less than a minute inside. I’m thankful that I remembered to put on deodorant, disappointed that some of the others in the confined room had not. Seven of the twelve group members are assembled inside, and I’m given the only real chair. I try to refuse this honor, but they insist. Four of the members present are male, three are female. The meeting takes place in Kiswahili, and I observe as Gachi checks the members’ passbooks for accuracy and signs his name next to various repayment schedules. Throughout the meeting, the treasurer rotates her small child back and forth between her breasts, allowing her daughter to eat while she collects money and conducts financial business.

The next Kiva borrower we visit to photograph and talk to is a woman named Flashiah. Flashiah is a tailor, specializing in dresses. Her shop is located directly across the street from the turquoise barber shop, and she is the only one present when we walk through the doorway. Flashiah wears a floral print tunic, long black skirt and flat mary-jane tennis shoes which are covered in the thick orange dust that intrudes on everything here.  A single black sewing machine sits on a folding table and bears a sticker that says: “On this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Several garments hang from the walls, and a few scraps of fabric litter the floor. Chickens wander in and out, not paying attention to the beautiful colors of thread in their paths.

Standing with Flashiah in her dress shop

Standing with Flashiah in her dress shop

This interview takes place in English, and I’m thrilled to be an active participant in the conversation. It’s been one year since Flashiah opened her store on these streets, although she previously had a store in another village (unprofitable based on its location, she says). Flashiah tells me that she learned to make dresses in “dress making college.” Her husband, a newspaper vendor, saved for several years in order to put her through this training.

Flashiah’s last loan was for KSh 20,000 (~$266); this new loan is for double. The loan repayment term brings about a discussion over interest rates (14.625% for 9 month term or 19.5% for 12 month term), and after an internal debate, Flashiah decides to go with the 12 month term. This loan will be used to purchase additional fabric for her shop as well as to buy another sewing machine so that Flashiah can hire her first employee.

We leave Flashiah to find several other borrowers: a father of 6 who walks up and down a busy road selling cds and dvds (his loan is to purchase more merchandise), a mother of two who supports her family by selling french fries from a kiosk (her loan is to expand into the business of fruit sales), a woman who sells used shoes on a tarp on the side of the road (her loan is to purchase additional used clothing). I photograph all of them for Kiva’s website, and Gachi conducts the interviews in Kiswahili, patiently translating thereby allowing me to engage with the borrowers.

Walking to our final borrower interview of the day, I stumble on some uneven ground and almost land on my face, alongside a black and white goat trying to swallow a muffin wrapper. I’m saddened by all of the trash that fills the land here, and watching the various animals eating discarded papers and plastic bags in an attempt o find food breaks my heart.

We arrive at Nicholas’ carpentry kiosk, a stand comprised of four wooden posts and a malleable tin roof. Chairs are assembled for us in the open air, and Gachi buys me a ginger soda while we wait for Nicholas to finish what he’s doing. Nicholas’ wife runs the attached food kiosk, and she takes out two filthy, empty glass bottles (Fanta and Coca-Cola) and goes to fill them up in another part of the village. Three goats lay in the rubble at our feet, and as we drink our lukewarm sodas, the goats munch on mouthfuls of dust. Nicholas joins us after 20 minutes.

Nicholas is the Chairman of his borrower group. He started his carpentry business in 1994 and earns profits of about KSh 10,000 (~$135) a month. Over the last several years, Nicholas has taken out loans from KADET to diversify his sources of income. In addition to this carpentry business, Nicholas also owns the food kiosk and operates as a bread and milk supplier. With this new loan, worth KSh 50,000 (~$665), Nicholas is set to also become a meat distributer. Nicholas will purchase a cow at wholesale and then distribute the various parts to retail butcheries.

With Nicholas, in front of his carpentry kiosk

With Nicholas, in front of his carpentry kiosk

It is obvious that Nicholas is proud of his accomplishments. Smiling wide, he even showed me the two fingers missing from his left hand as a result of a mistake early in his furniture making days. Perhaps the thing about Nicholas I am most awed by is the impact his success has had on others in his community. Nicholas employs four other men, all operating from his small kiosk at the end of a dirt road.

It is almost cliché to say that I have never met such dedicated, hard workers in my life. These individuals are industrious; they believe in their own capacity to succeed and have changed their lives for the better through entrepreneurship. I am honored to put their profiles on Kiva’s website so that lenders around the world can take part in their journey upward.

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