Tuesday was the last day that the former Kiva Fellows, Megan and David, spent at the GHAPE office. The going-away party was really sweet with a board members lunch and gifts of gratitude. The main office in Bamenda is located in a family compound, with an open central area for recreation and cooking. The whole office spent the afternoon preparing the meal of Njama-njama (cooked greens), fufucorn (starchy white food), and chicken that had been freshly slaughtered from the coop out back. Our feast was a celebration for the new friends who had been living and working closely with GHAPE as the first foreigners from Kiva. More than anything, the staff talked about all the advances that Megan and David had initiated in the three months that they’ve spent here in Cameroon. Among other things, they created an office network, so that staff doesn’t have to use flash drives between the various computers when switching machines. My mind was racing, partly with excitement, partly with anxiety about all the things that I want to achieve in this Microfinance Instititute while I’m here.
I expected to meet amazing people working at the GHAPE office, but the people I’ve met here have exceeded my expectations. This last week at the branch office, we had meetings to go to every morning with the various centers. The meetings were around 6:30 am every day, which meant that I woke up around 5 to get ready. Upon awakening, I found the three other members already awake each day, putting together records and crunching more numbers for the mid-year report. I’m truly inspired by each staff member and am planning on doing staff profiles to add to their Kiva page. They each deserve special mention, but especially the young Field Manager, Loveline Neh, has captured my respect and admiration. Everyone’s days end between 5 and 8pm, and the office is open on Saturdays, making it a long but successful week for everyone. During all of the adjustment in the office, I’ve also been trying to find my footing in the town of Bamenda, where I’m staying with a family who I connected with through Cameroonians I met in New Mexico.
If you’ve been to Africa before, you’ll know that using squat toilets, carrying water for bucket bathes, and dining with your hands are all part of the daily routine. Having been in Senegal in January, I feel like I hardly left, although the cold and rainy weather of Cameroon reminds me that I’m in a different country. I’m startled that the city is as chilly as it is and especially in the mountain town, I felt like I was in the Rockies. I wear a wool sweater and have my rain jacket in my bag at all times. The red earth of the North West Province (which I think is a product of the rapid oxidation of iron in the soil) turns to slippery mud slides with all the rain and has presented its own unique challenge on top of learning to dodge taxi drivers while walking. I have a comical video that I’ve tried (and failed) to upload demonstrating how traction is a learned capability. The experience was a great introduction to Cameroon, reminding me to be humble in the face of tasks as basic as walking. I’ve been so appreciative of the time I’ve overlapped with Megan and David because they’ve caught me up on everything they had to discover from scratch about GHAPE. I still have a lot to figure out, but I got a pretty good start. This week, I’m starting interviews with clients, going to individual work sites and verifying loan amounts while trying to gather personal information for journals to post on the Kiva site. As I expected, I’ve been meeting amazing people and I can’t wait to write about them so I can introduce them to Kiva lenders. These first two weeks have been very busy, but I’m happy to put in every hour I can. '