By Kelly McKinnon, KF9 Leon, Nicaragua
In my time as a Kiva Fellow I’ve written more than 100 borrower profiles and 40 or so journal updates. When writing profiles one tends to fall into a rhythm, there are words that come up repeatedly, expressions that are almost invariably used, translations that don’t quite work. Often my days are spent trying to deciphering the handwriting of a loan officer with little knowledge of the borrower beyond what is scrawled. Most of the time I look at the back of a computer. It wasn’t exactly the vision I had when I dreamed of joining the ranks of Kiva Fellows.
Today, as I sit here, I am a bit stunned by the stories of two men. Each has a small business, a trade that they learned from family members who are either dead or who continue to help with the business. One makes and sells sweets and soft drinks, the other sells sorbets on a bicycle.
I just wrote a borrower profile for (now fundraising) Pedro Emilio Ochoa Zuniga , a single father, who started a business with the help of his mother and daughters, ages 12 and 14. They sell sweets. The items are made at home, I don’t know exactly what they sell. I don’t have Pedro’s photo in front of me as I write this. I imagine that they make biscuit like cookies, called roquillas, some covered in molasses or filled with jelly, or they make cups of flan-like pudding, or popsicles frozen in plastic bags. The soft drinks they sell aren’t Coke or Pepsi or Sprite but juices made from seasonal fruits served with a straw in a plastic bag. The drinks come in fantastic colors, bubble gum pink (Chicha) or fuschia (Jamaica) and often with little chunks of fruit mixed in.
This is Pedro’s second job. He hopes to expand the business into a small store so that he is able to afford to educate his daughters through the sales of sweets.
Yesterday I met the gentleman who sells sorbets. I was with Yader, a Fundación León loan officer. We were headed to the house of Don Acención to do an interview for a journal update. We encountered Don Acención on the road as he was heading out to sell sorbet. We asked for a few moments of his time and when he consented we both parked in the shade.
He told me that he still says that he is married to honor his dead wife. She started the business with him. He told me that he was tired, his body was tired. The work of riding a bicycle all day is hard on his back and he is getting old. He plans to create a small store in the front of his house so that he can sell his sorbets from home. He tells me that business is bad because the weather is cool and people don’t have money to spend, because it is just after the holidays and just before the start of a new school year. Before he peddles off, Don Acención opens the lid of the sorbet container and scoops out double cones for us. He adorns the orange and raspberry flavors with a dark honey, to attract the attention of new customers he tells me.
I wanted to make this post more about process, about what it’s like to be a Kiva Fellow, about this side of the borrower story: collecting these stories and just filling up on all this information that sometimes becomes routine and sometimes fills me up so that my eyes start welling over and I stare at the back of the computer trying not to cry thinking of mere details of the interview let alone the complexity of the story that goes untold, or is not my place to tell, or is more than I can really hope to understand.
So here I sit, remembering the details of all sorts of compelling and not-quite compelling borrower stories, touched by the sweetness of these two gentlemen’s stories. Each is its own testament and a part of a larger narrative of Nicaragua, of microfinance, of development, of endurance.
To join the narrative consider becoming a Kiva Fellow.
Kelly is coming to the end of her fellowship in Leon and would like to invite you to lend to the Kiva borrowers at Fundación León, their stories have touched her greatly./>