by Jed Goldstein, KF9, Uganda
After a 10 hr bus journey to Kihihi from Kampala on bumpy dirt roads, it was Aaron Coplands Rodeo ballet that began to play in my mind as I stepped off the bus and began to explore the town that lay before me. Kihihi is the modern Ugandan version of the wild American west that Copland so effectively captures in his compositions. As I explored a bit, I could not help but compare the roars of dirtbikes rolling down the muddy thoroughfare to the click-clock sound made by a horse’s hooves. The expansiveness of the terrain, combined with the rolling, lush hills and the breathtaking vistas, still unspoiled by mini-malls and super sized wal-marts, is really a sight to be seen.
Kihihi is a small town that lies about 500km Southwest of Kampala. For most of the 1990’s little commerce took place there because of various rebel movements that left the place terribly volatile and unstable. In recent years though, the rebel groups have laid down their arms and the town is now ripe for development. Kihihi has the good fortune of being located between two national parks here in Uganda, one of them featuring climbing lions and the other the majestic Rwenzori Mountain range; additionally its close proximity to the Congo means that the town has the potential to become a major center of trade in Southwestern Uganda. For this reason, Pearl Microfinance, has positioned itself with a branch office in the town to offer financial services to the expanding merchant population here.
Business trips are not simply for enjoyment though and while I was eager to explore Kihihi, there was work that had to be done. I was given by the Kiva coordinator here at the main-office, Grace, a specific task to perform once I had arrived. My mission was to introduce the office employees in Kihihi to Kiva.org and explain the processes and procedures required to post a loan to the Kiva website. Essentially, what we are trying to do here at Pearl is decentralize our Kiva operations to the branch level. This in turn, will allow for a greater volume of postings on the website and potentially, if things go smoothly, Pearl’s monthly fundraising limit being increased.
So after a brief look around, I stumbled into Kihihi’s Pearl office and was offered warm greetings from all of the local staff members. Again, the “you are welcome’s” were plentiful. With sweaty palms, pretty much sweaty everything in fact, I began the presentation that I had prepared right away. I was a bit nervous about communication barriers—most people do speak English here, but at the same time it is not the first language of many— so I made every effort to speak slowly, clearly and not to over-complicate matters. Everything went quite well and throughout the presentation I could tell the loan officers were engaged because they kept on asking questions, a demonstration to me that they understood what was going on.
After the presentation was complete it was time for the final examination. I alerted the Kihihi staff that I was no longer Jed Goldstein as far as they were concerned, but rather would be playing the fictionalized role of Moses Mwami a local fish seller in town who is looking for a loan (I guess those college acting classes do come in handy sometimes). I then instructed them to ask me the questions found on Pearl’s Kiva questionnaire and to take my picture—all the tasks needed to post a profile on the Kiva website. They passed with flying colors, which meant that it was time for me to go back to Kampala.
After so much travel time to and from Kihihi on overloaded buses and dangerous dirt roads, I kissed the ground once I finally arrived back in Kampala and then curled into bed for much needed rest. Mission accomplished./>