Last month I picked up my clothes from the Washeteria. I was psyched, walking home with that, “I have clean clothes to wear,” feeling (you know the one). I got home, opened the cube shaped bag, it smelled so nice, even my underwear were folded! “What can I wear tomorrow?”
Quickly I worried, “If I have someone else things I wonder if someone has anything of mine.” I looked, my black skirt was missing.
A week later I went back to the Washeteria armed with barbaric Taglog sentences in my hand. “I pick up clothes Monday, black skirt missing. Blue skirt is not mine. “ Several variations of these sentence fragments later she understood. I asked if anyone had returned it. “No Mam, wala” (this sentence has come to irritate me like no other.) She (Candy)looked puzzled and worried– “where could it be?” She looked around, opened up washing machines, dryers. It didn’t look promising.
After a little while, Candy looked over at me and shook her head defeatingly . The room was still and in that moment I accepted I was not getting my skirt back. “Ok – next option,” I thought to myself, “I need some sort of compensation here. I feel like I am being taken advantage of!” I asked Candy, ”Since you lost my skirt ($30 US) can I have a free wash ($1 US)?” I thought I was being very reasonable. Candy did not understand at first so I asked her friend to translate. When it clicked, Candy shook her head and smiled, “no Mam.” Again stillness, then I responded, “really,no?” Same answer, “No Mam’ as she laughed. The laughing was killing me but it’s a part of “smoothing the situation.”Then she lit up as if she has just thought of the best idea in the world,“ I will take your cell phone number and text you if it comes back.” I was not impressed.
As I stood there, part of me wanted to push the issue – the American in me wants to see a manager and owner! “Where is the customer service – are you kidding me? You’ll call me if it comes in? – that should be a given!” Then the other part of me does not want to get this woman in trouble, knowing how hard it is to find a job in the Philippines. At this point Candy and her friend start trying so hard to befriend me – you are beautiful etc. – where do you live.” I just now realize, after living here for 3 months, that this be-friending (which I think is a side-bar) is actually how many Filipinos do business, creating bonds and thus loyalty, if someone is your friend you don’t tell their manager on them. You don’t tell people not to go to that business. In a country where the corruption is so entrenched (2.1-2.7 confidence/trust rating – 9.5 is the highest) social connections and obligations often dictate the business culture – they are the ultimate business tool, almost a commodity. It’s a cultural complexity that any organization or business operating in the Philippines must understand and navigate to some extent no matter how micro!
Needless to say, Candy texted me a lot in the coming weeks and not about my skirt, instead asking me to be her friend. I replied to a few texts but there was such a communication barrier it seemed pointless. Then she texted me about starting a business with her. Could I help her, what kind of business should she start, she had saved up some money? After speaking with my MFI (Kiva’a Microfinance Field Partner) ASKI, I recommended she go to the Department of Trade office run by the Philippine government and told her the address. I told her that ASKI could help provide support (trainings, business ideas) if she wanted a loan. (Like all healthy organizations, ASKI has boundaries. With money from Kiva lenders, other International donors, and interest, ASKI provides all types of business support services to borrowers. (Checkout ASKI borrowers currently funding on Kiva!! ) Then Candy wanted to meet and talk – talk? I can’t understand you and you can’t understand me? You lost my skirt – how could I run a business with you anyway? I had to decline and let the notion of saving Candy go. But when I think about business and Microfinance in the Philippines, Candy comes back.
In the moment, I decided not to sweat the small stuff (my skirt)– life happens. I did not report Candy to her Manager or make a fuss, but I could not help wonder if I was I really helping her. I’m not sure. Did I stop her from learning and growing from a mistake or did I help her family continue to have regular meals.
I did go back to the Washeteria eventually; Candy doesn’t work there anymore. There was a new woman working there who returned all of my clothes. I gave her a tip.
Mary Riedel is a Kiva Fellow volunteering with Alalay sa Kaularan, ASKI in the Philippines./>