A Chance Encounter En Route to Dakar, Senegal

I have a strong tendency to read (ok fine — skim) blogs filled with photos; aesthetically, it’s what I naturally gravitate towards, and I’m sure many readers out there likely do the same.  Ironically, with this post I’m about to defy most all of my preferences as my camera has… unfortunately found a new home.

It was important to remind myself as my camera went missing (as it is in so many other situations traveling or otherwise) that keeping an open mind and rolling with the punches is vital to staying sane.  Had I not have done so at the very start of my trip, I would certainly not have the following story which I’m thrilled to share.

It didn’t start well, as I suppose encounters with strangers – especially on planes, in close quarters – at times do not.  I “accidentally” placed myself in the seat one to the left (…aisle!) of that assigned to me.  That attempt did not last longer than what it took for me to get situated, as the man who was in fact assigned to the seat I was occupying would quickly and abruptly (for the first time, mind you) correct my error.  His method was not your standard gentle nudge, but instead an aggressive wave in my face of his ticket stub, and two flight attendants accompanying at his back demanding I — “Please, ma’am, you must move.”  Of course I did so immediately, and apologized profusely for my error.  The dispute was settled cordially; we gave one another a very forced smile and I carried on with my reading.

The silence lasted about 15 minutes, until our plane began its ascent and the same man to my left pulled out a SkyMall purchased green blow-up tray table pillow.  Admit it — you know what I’m talking about!  It’s that outrageously oversized item in SkyMall Magazine that, when you’re flipping through the pages, catches your eye and forces you to pause for a few seconds and contemplate:  “Seriously, who on earth would ever need or want this.”  (Photo below if you’re not familiar.)

The infamous SkyMall pillow ad


Well, I’d found my guy, and after 3 minutes of watching him work to inflate his pillow, I simply could not hold back my giggles.  He of course noticed, and turned towards me with initially a glare of sorts.  That is when our conversation began…

Mo (short for Mamadou) was born and raised in the outskirts of Dakar, Senegal.  At the age of 13 his family moved to the states for his father’s work, and he has lived there more or less ever since.  Mo lives and works in Washington DC, with an annual pilgrimage home to Dakar to visit family.   When Mo learned that I was Dakar-bound to work with Kiva, his enthusiasm for Kiva was effusive.  Not only was Mo familiar with Kiva, but Mo is a lender himself.  (I should clarify: Mo is a Kiva lender through his niece, who first joined and began an account for “their family”).

Our destination, and Mo’s home country


To me this was fascinating, an absolutely perfect brain to pick.  Not only was I meeting a Kiva lender (awesome…), but moreover I was meeting a Kiva lender originally from the country to which he finds individuals – or groups – to give loans.  I was so curious to learn more.

Mo explained, unprompted, how powerful in his mind an organization such as Kiva is: “Kiva successfully illuminates the issues and lives of those in my country for people around the world.”  He went on to describe his firm belief in the power of loans.  They are, in his mind, a method through which “his people” can escape from a culture of dependency (aid, corruption, trade, debt, etc.), into independence, self-sufficiency, and retention of their cultural identities.  He emphasized how fundamental this all is to their personal empowerment.

I listened carefully though somewhat perplexedly.  I know that Kiva is subject to the same biases and attacks of all microfinance critics.   It couldn’t possibly be that EVERYONE feels the way Mo feels.

Kiva, bringing people together, even on airplanes

(My questions were incessant.   I apologized several times for this, but Mo insisted I continue.  If I hesitated in order to give him space to breathe, he’d probe me with: “So… what else??”)

I asked what his opinion is of those in or from his county who may feel differently, perhaps averse to Kiva or microfinance, particularly when facilitated through foreign entities.  He explained that of course there are individuals who disapprove of the idea of Kiva and other microfinance organizations.   But if they think the obstacles which ensnare their country and communities are surmountable without outside help, maybe it’s instead the idea – their mindset — which needs righting.

Mo had a cool and perspicacious way about him.  He was truly pleasant to talk to — the sort of person you can tell is addressing you directly, not looking astray at distractions nor seeking approval or agreement.  His speech is soft and unhurried, and as he explained to me, his love for travel comes from chance interactions such as that which we were experiencing right then and there.  Being both snarky and sarcastic, I pointed to his SkyMall pillow – still inflated… — and told him he had “that” to thank.

By the time morning dawned, we were half way through our +/- 9 hour voyage across the Atlantic, and my eyelids were drooping.  That’s where our Kiva conversation ended.

What started off as a seemingly dreadful beginning to my journey ended up being a most memorable encounter for me.  Silly purchases aside, I could not have crafted up a better person to meet than him as I embark on this journey.  I have no doubt that the upcoming months will be filled with peaks and plateaus, and at times (as forewarned at our Kiva fellowship training) “troughs of disillusionment.”  My conversation with Mo, however, made more promising my ardent hope that I find potential in micro-loans.  At the very least, this interaction will undoubtedly make the inevitable frustrations a bit more palatable.

*Mo:  If you’re reading this fellows blog (as I learned you often do) — what a delightful turn of events it was meeting you, and my most sincere thanks for allowing me to share this story.  I’m investing in my own green SkyMall tray table pillow immediately upon return to the states!

Anna Forsberg (KF19) is a Kiva Fellow, working with UIMCEC in Dakar, Senegal. 

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Great article, Anna! Well-written, thoughtful, and interesting to read. People are always interesting, aren't they?

Anna - congratulations on beginning your fellowship in Dakar and best of luck! Looking forward to reading more of your posts over the next few months.

I always thought the SkyMall Tray Table Inflatable Pillow was one of the top 5 products in the catalogue but I could never explain to people why... until now! Awesome experience Anna : )

I am in dire need of someone who can help me save myself from ending up losing everything ive fought so hard to keep after losing my home in 2010 to forclosure where my children lived I gave their dad the money to get a home putting 9 thousand towards the mortgage which he never repaid. I continued living at my parents apt with my eldest son who llived here since born and he moved to michigan due to the toxic and unhealthy conditions of this apt he took 4 thousand from upcoming rents to do and i didnt realize this until i went to pay well the landlord then wrote and i told him that the conditions in the apt caused him to moved and a battle began he has done everything in his power to try to prove i have no rights to my parents apt knowing my son left and i called in building dept and hpd to see the conditions which remain for many years. And now Im about to lose the apt my parents have had since 1941 which is rent stabalized or controled. I hired a lawyer that led me into turning over the apt when the state claims I did this under duress. I was in shock and the lawyer scared me that if i didnt I would be thrown out in five days I need to appeal what has been done before its too late I need a loan to stay afloat and get my apt legally back and once I do and the judge realized that if my side was heard when i first requested to go to trial until they scared me the judge would have seen the landlord is quilty of many building code violations including failing to fix building code violations thus leading to the ceiling falling on my head.the story is so complicated i dont think anyone would believe what i have gone through unless they were me. I need a loan to keep me going with the courts and the lawyers so I can get the appeal and be heard properly on my case everything is verifyable to the last detail nobody can help me because i signed a settlement agreement and now the money is not considered back rent but present till my time to leave and unless I come up with two last months i will be forced to be thrown out by the marshall and _me and my son i just had to take in cause his dad threw him out will be homeless. if I suceed in my fight against a corrupt and very difficult system i have a future and an upcoming job placed on hold because i have so much to deal with. i am considered temporarily unemployable due to what the concrete ceiling did to me and i have been getting therapy and help just to deal with all this. I had eye surgery and my stuff has been in storage for two years because the landlord has put me through all this just to get back this apt because its rent control and he can get much more money> Even the city could not help me because I signed a settlement through a p;rivate lawyer I paid alot of money too and he was suppose to go after the landlord and sue and now he says he will after may when i agreed to leave. That was not what I was told would happen at first we were suppose to go to trial and the judge would hear my side as well> i have photos and video of the conditions and this landlord and the lawyers took advantage of me financially by prolonging things telling me that due to the violations rent need not be placed in escrow and all kinds of misleading facts. I am an honest woman I had my own business i have four children and 7 living grandchildren and 1 that has passed due to a heart problem and I need someone to listen to my situation which is extreme and very complicated but I need someone to help me because my financial situation right now is going to have me end up not being able to hang on till i get to the courts and get my case appealed and save my apt; my rent is 1177.53 and I at least need to pay for the next month but I cant and i need that time to complete dealing with all that is coming at me Idont want to fail after I have come this far and this landlord doesnt deserve to win and not be punished for what he has done to me knowing my family for so long the entire neighborhood knows this is legally my apt.. I signed to remain till may paying please help me so i can hang on and change what they have all done to me. I am ready to just throw in the towel I am fighting daily but have run out of finances to do anything at all.. and Im losing the fight and my chance to get my life back to normal Nobody will hire a homeless person with nothing. The city has helped me save my storage half way I paid the other half ten thousand each since he began this battle and that will as well just be list where will i put it. I dont even have the ability to go over to storage and sell the items as I have no time while dealing with all this and I am suffering from my injuries from a car accident I had as well the ceiling just topped it off for my medical status.And mentally with all this I am dealing with i am just ready to explope I am so stressed and ready to snap I cannot concentrate i should never as my therapist said and the city tells me been made to sign a document in the condition i was in mentally at the time. It hit me later when I realized my lawyer was not taking him to court for his actions immediatly as he had explained he would My address if anyone can help is barbara hayes 48-56 44th street woodside new york 11377 apt 4K

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