Mission (Im)Possible? or Why Kiva Fellows are sorta like James Bond…

By Leah Gage, Kiva Fellow in Togo

Our Mission: Find Monsieur Kokou Abalo, a farmer who lives outside of Agbélouvé, Togo, to this month’s repayment and complete a Kiva interview. Kokou Abalo has a loan from Kiva’s field partner Microfund Togo. He’s also the last borrower on my list with whom I have to do an interview.

We’d been down this road before… Two weeks ago I descended on Microfund’s Agbélouvé office and dragged the Agency Chief, the Loan Officer, and Agriculture specialist to walk 2.5 km in the rain to find Kokou’s farm… When we got there, Kokou was nowhere to be found. He was at the market selling his yams and, without a cell phone, we had no way to reach him. A likely story… (It is, actually.)

And so we were back. This time, on our motorcycles and it wasn’t raining. I was armed with my camera and my notebook, two things a Kiva Fellow never leaves home without. We also had a tip from a source that Kokou Abalo never goes to the market on Thursdays.  We leave the agency at 0830 and head out in search of Kokou Abalo.

0930 – We turn into a village where Monsieur Abalo lives and ask a lady if she knows where Kokou Abalo is. He’s out in the farm, she says. We’ll find him there.

“There” is, of course, more complicated than it sounds. For one thing, Monsieur Abalo’s farm covers several acres. For another, he actually has three different farms right now, and there’s no telling which one he’s working in. “Head that way, you’ll find him,” she tells us and we sort of generally head in the direction of some tall, dense grasses.

A half hour later, we’re totally lost. We can barely see the “road” before us and these aren’t exactly the best conditions for a motorcycle. My colleagues Claude, Roland, and Patrice stop speaking French and are speaking their local language but I can tell they’re not sure where they’re going.

Eventually they tell me, “Il faut descendre” – we better get off the bikes and start walking.

1030 : Apparently someone alerted Kokou that we’re looking for him, because as we’re walking we can hear a voice yelling to us. Claude, the Agency’s Chief, starts yelling back and we can tell we’re getting closer, even though we can’t see anything through the thick grasses around us.

We get to a clearing and just wait. Kokou emerges laughing with the woman who gave us directions and gladly shakes my hand. We found Kokou Abalo at last. We walk for a little while longer until we get to his nearest farm land and chat a bit about his farm and his loan from Kiva.

Kokou Abalo

With half the mission complete, I must now learn how his loan impacted his life and tell him about Kiva. When I explain the Kiva concept to Kokou – that 30-some lenders from all over the world saw his photo and read his short story and chose to make a loan to him in particular – he can hardly believe it and laughs and thanks me. Why would you come all the way from Ohio to Togo to ask me about my yam crops and if my children were in school??

Just doing my job, sir. I’m a Fellow. Kiva Fellow.

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