If It Is Thursday, It Must Be Sakarya + What is Bohça?

By Kim Strathearn, KF16, Turkey

If It Is Thursday, It Must Be Sakarya and either Aylin or Asu from the Istanbul office will make the 2 ½ hour drive each way to visit potential loan clients and conduct the final interview for loan approvals.  Since the office covers a large area, sometimes they both go.  It depends on how many loan application approval visits they have to make and how far spread out the clients are.  Click on Ayse, Mine, and Hayriye’s profiles to see some Kiva entrepreneurs from the Sakarya region.

Maya’s Sakarya branch office  is located in Adapazarı and was established in 2005.  Adapazari is the capital of the Sakarya province and this branch also provides services to clients in the neighboring province of Düzce.  Maya Istanbul office has been providing loans to women entrepreneurs in Düzce since 2004 but assigned the area to the Sakayra office because it is easier to serve from Adapazari than from Istanbul.

The population of Sakarya as of 12/31/2010 was 872,872.  The largest employers around Adapazari are a Toyota automobile factory, a Hyundai EURTEM train factory, a power plant and one of the largest Turkish Military Tank installations.  Smaller industry in the city and surrounding areas include textile factories for silk and linen products.  Agriculture and forestry products such as tobacco, walnuts, cocoons and vegetables are also important in the local economy.  The area is not very industrialized and unemployment is high with many people working as seasonal workers.

Since Maya is a small program, it tries to maximize resources by enlisting the local municipality’s support.  In Adapazari, the municipality provides office space and pays the rent, utilities and salaries of the two dedicated staff.

Aysel and Neslin

Neslin has been working for Maya for 7 years and Aysel for 5 years.  They start their day by spending 2 hours in the office calling clients to check in to see how their businesses are going, reminding them of their upcoming monthly repayments, of course there is paperwork to finish and reports to prepare, and files to complete for the weekly visit from the loan officers from the Istanbul office.  They spend the rest of their day visiting small businesses, bazaars and other place where they can talk to potential clients and follow-up with current clients to check on loan use.  A lot of their clients are from word of mouth referrals.  As of July 2011, they had  550 active borrowers with the average loan size about 585 Turkish Lira or $336.  Some of their borrowers are on their 7th loan cycle.  30 percent of the Sakarya office clients are Roma (also known a gypsies) and are involved in the Bohça trade.

What is Bohça?  Bohça is a large square piece of cloth that is used to wrap goods in.  The word Bohça derives from the Arabic word for “package”. Bohça were used in many aspects of daily life in the Ottoman household, from the protection of household linens and clothing to the ceremonial presentation of gifts.  In addition, when a woman would go to the hamam (Turkish bath) she would wrap what she brought (soap, scented oils, towels, clean clothes, hair brushes and combs) in one of these cloths. A  Bohça that was attractive, made out of expensive materials, and woven with qulaity craftmanship showed wealth, and status. The Bohça also had a role in the wedding ritual.  A newly wedded woman would wrap up her trousseau in a Bohça when moving to her husband house.

Now days many women of Sakarya’s large Roma population are involved in the Bohça trade (“bundle” or “packet” trade) while many of the men are seasonal workers or involved in recycling. The Bohça these days is an inexpensive piece of cloth that is filled with low quality products such as towels, table clothes, bed sheets, and bed spreads.

The women carry’s the “bundle” on their backs while walking around different neighborhood, selling on street corners, and selling in the weekly neighborhood bazaars.  They also travel to nearby small villages and towns to sell their goods.  Usually the women form groups because pooling money to buy large quantities in Istanbul increases each woman’s profit.  If the women buy in bulk, they can often get their products for 1 TL or .57 cents each and sell them for 5 to 10 TL ($2.87 to $5.74) depending on the bargaining skills of the Bohça seller and the buyer.  Click on the picture below for a better look at the ladies with their Bohças.

Newpaper articles about Bohça

I met Fatma in September on a visit to the Sakarya office.  She is the most amazing woman I have met so far (well all the ladies have been amazing but Fatma, the most amazing).  She went from being thrown out of her house with her 6 years son with only what they wear wearing, to joining a solidarity group and making tespi (prayer beads) to sell at mosques and coffee houses, to the Bohça trade, to building a successful seedling and produce business.  Since Fatma’s seedling business is seasonal, she still participates in the Bohça trade. She is on her sixth loan (she now borrows as an individual and not with a group) and as she took out and repaid each loan, she was able to improve her life step by step.  See Fatma’s profile to read her story.

I have to admire Fatma’s determination when the sellers (all male) at the municipality’s local bazaar try to bar her from selling her seedlings and produce.  When they told her it cost 35 TL to have a space, she told them she could pay it but they still tried to block her. She went to the municipality to demand her right to be there (she could pay for the space) and as the only breadwinner trying to take care of her family they had no right to block her from earning a living.  She found a sympathetic ear that cleared the way for her to be able to set up in the market and she said, “she has not has any problems since.”  In fact, she said, ” now the other sellers treat her very respectfully and admire her accomplishments.”  Fatma’s accomplishments are indeed impressive but what struck me the most about Fatma was how matter of fact she was about her own accomplishments.  What was most important to Fatma and what she was the most proud of was telling us that her son, now 11 years old is 175th out of all the students in the Sakarya school system.  Now that, in Fatma’s eyes, was something to be proud of!

Fatma and her son with their produce on market day

Fatma is excited to be a Kiva entrepreneur and share her story so others can have hope and see what is possible.  But I kept thinking her story is an excellent example of why we all should be Kiva lenders offering the unbanked a hand up.

Thanks to all the Kiva lenders out there, YOU ROCK!  Not a Kiva lender yet?  It is easy to get started here.

Other blogs about Maya:

Home to a New Adventure: Hoş Geldiniz Maya

Kim Strathearn is a Kiva Fellow serving in Istanbul with Maya. Kiva’s newest Field Partner in Istanbul,  Turkey. To learn more about Maya and their clients, please visit their Partner Page, join our newly created Friends of Maya Lending Team, or make a loan to one of their awesome clients. Looking for gifts that make a difference this Holiday Season, consider the gift that changes lives, Kiva Cards. What could be better that giving the gift of helping someone?

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