Gemma North, KF9, Cambodia
–“Do you want the middle or the side?”
–“I’ll take the middle…and I don’t need a pillow,” I add, feeling this is the least I can do for the two Tellers at CREDIT’s Krolanh Sub-branch, who are graciously sharing their reed mat with me for the next few nights. Before we settle in, we patch together some English and Khmai as they explain to me how long they have worked for CREDIT MFI, when they get to see their families and what degrees they are pursuing in their little free time. When I compliment the Head Teller on her nails she kindly offers to do mine and begins pointing at different items of clothing in the room to figure out what colors I like. Before we fall asleep they teach me to say good night, and in preparation for the next day, good morning.
Last week, Adam Kogeman and I, the two Kiva Fellows serving at CREDIT MFI, traveled to this rural area to observe how the organization promotes and opens new village banks. Because the office is in a fairly remote town, many of the staff don’t live there permanently and travel home on weekends. Therefore, CREDIT MFI helps to pay the rent for a local house for six of its employees, who work and live together throughout the entire week. For four days we shared their rooms, their meals and their routine, getting a glimpse into their daily lives.
We spent each day clinging to the backs of motos as the Kiva Coordinators and Credit Officers maneuvered along the bumpy dirt roads in 95-plus degree heat. After a full day of visits we were welcomed back to the office where we were excitedly shown the meal for the evening. On the first day, we found a live duck sitting in the meeting room upstairs; on the second, a few turtles splashed about in a bucket of water! Once the workday ended, we joined the local staff for their soccer game on the local school grounds. By the second evening a few of us were scraped up as most of the staff plays barefoot, but were all in good spirits as we flopped down and broke open a few fresh watermelons.
In the evenings we all sat on the floor of the house talking (or happily getting our nails done), during the couple of hours it took to prepare the duck or turtles. As I listened to the banter and exchanges in Khmai, it struck me how different the lives of these young Cambodians–all in their early to mid-twenties—are from their counterparts’, and even my life as a “young professional” in the United States. They live together, sharing sleeping areas, two bathrooms, and often meals and some cleaning. They wash their clothes by hand and hang their laundry outside to dry. In the morning they all get up between 5:30 and 6:30 and walk 100 yards across the only intersection in town to spend the rest of the day welcoming clients, processing repayments, traveling to villages to do community outreach, visiting with borrowers, disbursing loans… By the end of the week I left the province feeling incredibly grateful for having been welcomed and included in this little community—from sitting in on village bank meetings as the staff took the time to translate what was being discussed; having to do push-ups when my soccer team got scored on; sharing “exotic” foods which I suspect were also a treat for our coworkers; to simply spending time with one another, rather than in front of a screen or book. Though the aim of Kiva is to connect lenders to borrowers, I hope we can all feel joined to, and impressed by the commitment, strong work ethic, and personal sacrifice that the staff of Kiva’s MFI partners have and are making to help their fellow countrymen.