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Stress melting away…reflecting on San Francisco from afar

Varick Schwartz | KF18 | Kenya

As I walk down the dusty, traffic-choked streets of Nairobi on my way to work, I feel the stress melting away.  Another cool morning; Kenyans all around wearing coats and sweaters to fend off ‘winter.’ I’m fine in a light shirt, having grown accustomed to ‘summer’ in San Francisco.

The warmth of the people here is part of the reason that it’s easy for me to release stress, to allow immersion within conditions so different. Smiles beget smiles, for the most part. No one is in a hurry; I haven’t yet gotten the impression that someone doesn’t have time to converse, which feels good, reassuring on a human level.

Living in SF the past few years, I was an average to fast walker, but now I’m passed by, preferring a new, slower pace.  I haven’t heard a siren in over a week, so the first one reminds me of the recurring wail from SF streets, being woken up at all hours.  Do sirens in U.S. cities infer a regular state of hurry and emergency? Perhaps some of these things are just defined differently here. Works for me.

Full frontal assault to the nostrils as I pass by some refuse, not completely dissimilar from some alleys in San Francisco or a packed 38-Geary bus, but definitely more powerful — deeper.  I have friends who won’t ride MUNI buses due to the odor, and as I walk I reflect on these differences. Yet they do not cause concern; it’s Africa, the land of patience, a beautiful land, and once again I am learning from her.

Also, I have drunk deeply from the well of Kiva Kool-Aid. I’m on a good will mission – regardless – and so I stroll, enjoying the hour it takes to get to my MFI, Juhudi Kilimo (JK), basking in the way everyone at the office greets one another each day, the woman who comes by in the morning with fresh samosas, the invincible afternoon tea tradition. Many day-to-day tasks are so much more difficult here, but overall somehow life feels easier, less stressful.

During my first meeting at work, an issue surfaced: Recently, several JK loans on Kiva expired (went unfunded), catching Juhudi by surprise. How could this be? Juhudi is a model microfinance institution (MFI) and Kiva lenders have always favored their loans. In my previous job on a high floor in the Financial District, this would have been a stress inducing discovery.  I remember how hard I was pushed at times, as the lead programmer of mainframe strategies processing millions of transactions.

The ‘Kenyan me’ took the challenge in stride, explaining to Juhudi’s CEO as best I could the increase in loans on Kiva from other MFIs, and then I went to work analyzing the expirations.  This new style doesn’t mean an issue isn’t important or that I’m not taking work seriously, rather I’m realizing I can perform the same tasks with or without the stress — I choose without!  The beauty of the workplace here is in not forcing it upon me.

And in fact, I found something interesting. When I looked at Juhudi loans posted on the Kiva site, most of the unfunded profiles had photos that were taken at the office, using a wall or shrub as a background, instead of on the farms where agriculture loans will be used.  Some of Juhudi’s loan officers are so busy that they are simply saving time with this approach, yet Kiva lenders want details and personalization — the fully authentic profile. Either way, the contrasting shots below could make a difference to a potential lender.

So I shared the photo differences with Juhudi’s Kiva Coordinator and then I spent a few days in the field, visiting two branches where I performed ‘photo importance’ trainings.  It was a fun excursion complete with stress-free productivity.  I am happy to be involved and will continue to work toward better photos and fewer expirations for Juhudi in the future!

Generic profile photo.


Good profile photo, encouraging more lending.

Varick Schwartz is a Kiva Fellow serving in Nairobi, Kenya and working with Juhudi Kilimo. You can view Juhudi’s loans on Kiva here!

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