Monday, May 28, 2007

May 28: Mzungus in Malaba

Finally, internet.

Mobile Telephone: (the group number, but my cell phone so call/skype whenever!): 254 073 77 01 784. Possibly subtract the zero in front of the seven , haven’t figured that out yet. And of course, US country code first.

Hot and dry morning here in Malaba for our first day at the People Micro-Credit and Investment (PEMCI) office. Yesterday’s ride went rather smoothly, well, as smoothly as possible on an incredibly bumpy road. We left Salabawek at 6 am and traveled through Kisii and Kisumu to arrive in Malaba around 3:30 pm. We settled into the Taifa Country Guest House, simple accommodations with twin beds and shared bathrooms, but with mosquito nets and clean enough facilities. After exploring the main drag a bit in search of internet, it was clear that in this community we would be the only Westerners and as such are quite an amusement/novelty for everyone, especially the children. Malaba is a very small community, perhaps around 7,000 inhabitants, and the main border crossing for freight trucks. As a result, it apparently has a pretty high rate of illicit activities, from smuggling operations to truck-driver evening amusements. Our hotel has a “safe zone” sign above the door, and doesn’t serve alcohol, so we have avoided the Malaba night crowd thus far. Last night was bloody hot and I woke up at 5 or so sweating and I might have heard the call to prayer around then from the mosque down the road, unless it was just my delirium thinking I was back in Sudan.

Unfortunately our group had to split in half today, leaving Ryan, Max, and I in Malaba while Tihtina, Colin, and Steve traveled to Kisumu. We were having a fantastic time together and really benefited from collective creative juices flowing, but the split was necessary in order to be the most productive for our micro-finance partners. PEMCI can only take two of us out into the field at the time due to personnel and motor bike limitations. Its pretty wild and exciting, as we will be visiting people in the most remote and rural of locations who have received loans from PEMCI. PEMCI has given out approximately $30,000 in loans in the two years they have been in existence. The clients we will be covering in particular are those who have received loans through Kiva. Our job is to travel to the loaners and find out about their lives, their work, and how they have been using the loan. We will take photos, video, and conduct personal interviews with those who have and want to receive loans, and then update the business profiles on Kiva’s website.

Today I took my first ride on the back of a boda-boda, adapted from “border-border,” as this form of transportation was primarily used to cross the Uganda-Kenya border, though can now be found throughout Uganda and Kenya at least. For 10 Kenyan Shillings (approximately 15 cents) you can hop on the pack of someone’s bicycle for a ride down the main drag of the city. I went with a PEMCI employee to visit the home/shop of a man who melts aluminum and produces cooking pots. We interviewed him to begin a Kiva profile and I snapped a few photos of him standing in front of the pots. I swear it was more exciting than it sounds. The boys went into the field today, as I volunteered to hang back and organize setting up internet connection, re-arranging our room situation, and negotiating a good price. Basically I didn’t trust either of them to rival my haggling skills, which proved to get us quite the discount. So now I am finally getting a proper internet connection and make a double post update. I got a few evites today for parties at home which made me a tad homesick, but things are going well and we already have an exciting weekend adventure planned to Eldoret, where we will meet up with the rest of our group. That is all.

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