Week 1

It is difficult to adequately describe the contrast between the frozen homogeneity of suburban Minneapolis which I left, and the noisy and chaotic vibrancy of Dar es Salaam. I traveled through five airports over the course of three days, and touched down in Dar es Salaam on Sunday in a jet-lag induced daze. Not quite knowing what to expect, I shouldered my touristy hiking backpack, and walked out of the international arrivals terminal – directly into the middle of a political demonstration

Thousands of Tanzanians were crowded around the doors of the terminal and on top of trucks, waving banners for the Civic United Front and shouting slogans in Swahili through megaphones. I found out later that Ibrahim Lipumba, popular opposition candidate returning from an appointment at the UN had been on the same flight from Nairobi.

It was certainly a fitting introduction to Tanzania.

I am new to blogging. In fact, I recently made the mistake of calling it a “weblog.” So think it best for me to ease myself in. Of course, it is difficult to pick out just one thing to write about; I am overwhelmed by the overabundance of new experiences. But I traveled to Tanzania to experience the impact of microfinance, so I think it only makes sense to start there.

The Vituka neighborhood of Dar es Salaam is where I first met microfinance clients. YOSEFO has a community-banking center in Vituka. Vituka is a typical East African suburb, with dusty dirt roads and winding paths between clusters of small shops and houses. YOSEFO’s center in Vituka is in one such cluster.

On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, loan officers travel to Vituka to meet with clients. YOSEFO’s clients receive loans in groups of five, and eight small groups make up each 40-member community-banking group. The organization of the process is quite impressive. Two loan officers run the meetings with clockwork-like precision. As clients entered and left the meetings, I was able to speak with many of them through George, who helped with translation. I have been familiar with the concept of microfinance and the anecdotal success stories that accompany it for some time now. However, hearing the stories first-hand was a completely new and exciting experience.

I went away wishing that I spoke Swahili, so I could understand more thoroughly the successes, challenges and failures that each entrepreneur described. Despite the barrier, I was able to learn and understand a surprising amount about the experiences of each businessperson.

For the time-being…for the foreseeable future, I will have to be content speaking through a translator. My Swahili is progressing at a snail’s pace – although, I have been able to learn numbers, which has worked wonders for my street cred.

I’m fairly certain that every day here is going to contain an adventure, or at the least, a story. I’ll be trying to put the good ones up here…


About the author