By Bryan Goldfinger, KF9, Peru
Throughout my “roaming” fellowship, I’ve had a lot of time to think; hours-long bus rides, walks, taxi trips, plane rides, time alone, time surrounded by others but when I felt alone, time spent just waiting, you get the idea. One theme that seems to consistently find its way into my thoughts is movement.
Being dubbed a “roamer,” movement is somewhat inherent in my role. Each new week promises a new microfinance institution (MFI) branch and most likely a new city. Each day promises the visit to new borrowers in new parts of town. That said, it should come as no surprise that I often think of movement…because I am constantly doing it. But the movement I have been thinking about is not simply the movement from point A to point B. At the risk of stating the obvious, using a loose definition of movement, it is involved in everything we do.
We move fast or slow or not at all. Sometimes we move when shouldn’t, or at just the right time. We wish we didn’t have to move or we wish we could move. We move in the right or wrong direction and sometimes we move with no direction at all. Our minds move constantly, even when we wish they wouldn’t. Movement can cause great pleasure or pain. It can continue for long periods of time. It can start when we least expect it and can stop quite suddenly (often resulting in the aforementioned pain). Movement can be art or violence or love. It can be happy, excited or scared. Movement can cause reactions; physical, emotional, electrical, chemical. Movement of information has been a big deal lately, as has movement of funds, movement of land, movement of people and movement of food and water. The Spanish word “movimiento” can mean busy, bustling, a political idea or group. An area with “mucho movimiento” is often to be avoided and potentially dangerous. The list goes on and on.
In all the thinking I have done on the subject, there is one place I can never cease to think about movement, that place is on the dance floor.
In my short-lived experience here, I have learned that every social gathering in Peru involves dancing. Primarily the common dances of Latin America: Salsa, Merengue and Cumbia. Add in some local favorites and traditional dances and you’ve got the ingredients for a typical outing. The Peruvians seem to move effortlessly to the music, and they make their movements look good, they don’t appear to have to think or try, they just…move. With my white(r) skin and head full of blond hair, I tend to stand out as it is, and for some reason, the movement previously explained does not always seem work as well for me. Up until this last week I had been relatively successful at graciously dodging the dance floors. Then I began working with an MFI called EDAPROSPO.
My current two-week stint with EDAPROSPO happens to coincide with the celebrations of their 31st anniversary. My first week with EDAPROSPO was in the Huaycan branch, an area on the outskirts of Lima. The week went smoothly; I got to meet with many borrowers, had some great interviews, got to see the town and surrounding areas, and made great friends with the staff at the branch. Most of the borrower visits we made also included handing out invitations to the Presidents, Treasurers and Secretaries of each group. The invitations were for an event later in the week, which would involve a number of dance performances and a band. I also noted that whenever the loan officers would explain the event to the borrowers (95% of whom are women between the ages of twenty and sixty) they would undoubtedly finish by nodding in my direction with a mischievous smile, and quickly saying “y seguro que el joven estará bailando” (and surely the young guy will be dancing). Putting the pieces together, I was beginning to get a feeling for what the future held. I had no idea.
The event EDAPROSPO put on for its borrowers was an opportunity for the women (I say women because I didn’t see a single male borrower…though I know they exist) to get together, meet each other, share ideas, enjoy some light food, watch some performances, and of course…dance. It was a beautiful event that was surely no small expense for EDAPROSPO, and was ultimately their way of showing their appreciation for their borrowers. Allowing the borrowers to have the seats, I stood in the back of the crowd with other EDAPROSPO employees during the performances. When they cleared the dance floor and the band came out, I held my post for as long as I could. However, glancing around the room it was obvious there was more than a shortage of men in the room; there were only about fifteen of us, in comparison to the 250-300 women, and I was the only gringo. During my week in Huaycan, I had promised one borrower a dance at the event. When a loan officer approached me and informed me that the borrower was looking to cash in on my promise, I could not refuse. No sooner had I taken my first couple steps and spun my partner three or four times, was I violently grabbed around the waste and dragged into the center of a group of no less that twelve women. It was clear I was expected to dance with each one in the circle at least once until I would be permitted to rest. Just as I was beginning to make some headway in the circle, I was again surprise attacked from behind by two other borrowers, who dragged me into their circle, and I was forced to start from scratch. With around twenty such circles of dancing women, I left the event dripping in sweat, exhausted, and feeling lucky that my shirt was still in one piece. It was a great time, and they even humored me, and told me I moved all right.
Often we are so focused on disbursing funds to borrowers, taking pictures, completing interviews and making sure payments are made on time, it really does become easy to forget what this is all about. Everyone who takes part in all that is Kiva has their own definition of what the goal is, but I think we can all agree that at the bottom line, it is ultimately about improving the lives of others. Having the opportunity to see a (relatively speaking) small number of borrowers, outside of the work environment, let down their guard and have a good time was quite a treat, even if what made them laugh was my lack of movement.
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