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Fellows’ First Days in the Field

by Luan Nio | KF18 | Nicaragua

We think we are all well-travelled, educated and smart, with great interpersonal skills and able to handle difficult situations. But what does actually happen at a Kiva Fellow’s first day in the office?
Most of us have not worked in microfinance before, have never visited their destination country and sometimes don’t speak the local language as well as they might think.

Here are impressions from around the globe during our first day with our assigned Kiva field partner.

Prepare for the unexpected
What to do when you find yourself starting one day earlier than agreed? What if the meeting is not with the Kiva Coordinator but instead with the CEO of your microfinance institution. And what if you had no shower, no shave and no sleep for 36 hours? Ask our Fellow in Peru as he was launched into his fellowship.
In Nicaragua the office celebrated a very nice Dia de los Padres (Fathers Day). The celebration was preceded by a group prayer and a number of funny video clips with a serious moralistic undertone. Please refer to > God does not exist.

Dress code
Kiva did train us to dress formally as office costumes in our host countries are often more formal than at home. So we bring our shirts and skirts, ties and high heels even though we have to overcome the heat and dusty roads. However, the level of formality may change over the week.
The Fellow in Cameroon says: “Met more people than I can count across 3 branch offices and I was probably the only westerner within miles. I don’t think that I could’ve stood out anymore than I did in downtown Yaounde since I was in a white shirt and red tie. Come to think of it I may have looked like an airline attendant. This attire was appropriate for the office however, at least on my first day. Monday’s are either usually a bit more formal or they dressed up for me. Most people haven’t worn ties the rest of the week.”
Our Fellow in Ghana adds: “I was overdressed because casual Fridays are observed at my MFI (and it was Friday)”

What’s in a name
Better remember all those new names very well!! One fellow missed out on a potential first date as he was told that “Maria” had inquired about him if he was still single, but uhm…which lady was Maria again?
The Fellow in Cambodia was unable to pronounce most of the 100+ names he got introduced to on Day One. But he doesn’t worry because they couldn’t pronounce his name either.

Smiles all over….or not?
Many of us see friendly faces all day. The fellow in Nicaragua was immediately put into the car to help her find an apartment, and she was invited into the home of the Finance Director for a drink with his family.
Another Fellow describes her first day as follows: “I actually have an office of my own, while 4 people work in the office next to mine. Not sure if that is to be nice with me and give me privacy OR to give them privacy.
During the first meeting with my MFI’s executive director and the KC they were really surprised to hear that I’m going to stay for 4 months. They thought it was 2 months and when I said 4 they were like “ah really… well that changes everything” and there were a few seconds of awkward silence until I said “well I hope that is not a disappointment”. And then they realized and said “no no it’s great” – GREATT!! ”

Productivity challenges
We all aim to be as productive as possible, arriving with an ambitious agenda for the day. However, local circumstances not always allow us to execute as intended. Arriving two hours late in Pakistan after transportation issues is no problem. The office shuts down already at 3:30pm anyway.
One fellow experienced a power cut in her building from 10.30h until 4pm. Having no internet is terrible … but much harder to handle is sitting in heat and humidity with no AC. The fellow in Burkina Faso is having to face this heat on a daily basis. We all feel so sorry for her that we like Kiva to sponsor a loan to her MFI to get the AC working.
Another Fellow experienced TIA (This is Africa) firsthand when his appointment arrived an one hour late, and very soon after that had to leave him for another meeting. There is another Fellow in Zambia who is facing dramatic internet connectivity challenges. But we’ve lost contact with her due to this very fact and can unfortunately not report about her first day.

Food festivities
One of the most exciting aspects of a new workplace is lunch. We filled our stomachs with exotic meals like fufu, gallo pinto, chapati and mithai, washed away with milky tea and chicha. The fellow in Cambodia however was treated with a special kind of Welcome Lunch:
“I began my work with the KC and after a half an hour a woman with a tray walks in and leaves it on a table, I asked “What is that?” They told me that was my “Welcome Party”! They brought some Cokes and we began eating… You must be wondering what was on the tray, well I asked the same and it was: Pig`s Stomach, Tongue, Ear, Intestine, Liver and Cartilage with a side of some kind of weird papaya I had never had before… Everything was actually delicious, I really like the ear and the intestine.”

You thought that Day One was exciting? The Fellow in Kenya received a Medex Evacuation File on Day Two of his fellowship due to the bombings in Mombasa. He was not allowed to use public transport or go to any public places, hence stayed in his hotel for 36 hours…

So far for our first days. Stay tuned for more Kiva Stories from the Field.

Luan Nio is a Kiva Fellow in Nicaragua and almost fed up with her daily gallo pinto. Inspired by these experiences? Find out how you can become a Kiva Fellow. The next class will start in January 2013 and deadline to apply is September 23, 2012.

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