As I get ready to start a new chapter in Nairobi, Kenya with the Kiva Labs team, I can’t help but reminisce on the last 6 months abroad as a Kiva Fellow in the Philippines and Timor-Leste. Although it was not always easy to be on my own, I’ve grown so much as a person because of all the “Yeses” I reluctantly agreed to. 'Treat every day as an adventure,' was the phrase I reminded myself every time I felt lonely, or was stuck in unexpected and uncomfortable situations. One blog is definitely not enough to share all the great adventures I experienced, but hopefully the 3 lessons below can inspire you to go out and live your own adventure.
LESSON #1: Be open minded and get to know the locals. Be curious about their traditions and way of living. You never know what kind of fun surprises you will get into.
My coworkers from our partner organization in the Philippines, Negros Women of Tomorrow Foundation (NWTF), invited me to a weekend getaway to the city of San Carlos. I usually like to be prepared before a trip, but unfortunately, nothing was set until the morning we left. I was worried. I didn’t know who I was going with, what we were doing, or even what time we'd depart.
Despite all the uncertainty, I took a leap of faith and went along, and wound up with a weekend of memories. I trusted my life to people I barely new, traveling 3 hours on the same motor scooter as a person I had only crossed paths with twice before.
The 6 of us shared a room that was just big enough for 3 people in a shady guesthouse. The 3 girls, including myself, slept in a twin-sized bed, and the 3 guys slept on 2 extra mattresses on the floor. We all shared a bathroom that barely flushed, and the floor flooded with water every time someone finished showering. In between countless silly photoshoot sessions, we visited a century-old tree, ran across a hanging bridge, hung out on a secluded white sand beach, drank tons of coconut water and free-dived for sea stars.
I got home feeling satisfied because I experienced how young, local Filipinos travel. Everyone was extremely accommodating to each other’s needs, and although I didn’t always understand everything said when the group spoke in Hiligaynon (a local Filipino dialect), I won’t forget how much we laughed that weekend and the way I was treated. I was no longer a foreigner, or a visitor, but part of the family.
LESSON #2: When you ride a motorbike, always wear a helmet and get some caffeine in beforehand.
Part of my job as a Kiva Fellow is to verify client profiles that are posted on the Kiva website by traveling to visit borrowers in rural areas. One of my visits with NWTF was to a borrower with a delinquent account, who had unfortunately left the island where she was previously living. Nobody knew where she was exactly. But my Portfolio Manager and I decided that I should still take a trip to the borrower's island to gather as much information about her as possible. The journey there and back was memorable to say the least.
It took about 3 hours each way, so we hired a motorcycle driver that got us to a small village near the sea, and then took a small pump boat to the island. I was 1 of 3 riders on the motorcycle...without a helmet. Yes, you read it right, there were 3 of us and none were small people. Pachito, the Kiva Coordinator, was the heaviest, so he had to sit in the middle to balance out. I was in the back.
It was rainy season. We rode along super muddy roads under the heavy rain for 2 long hours. Then there was a 45-minute boat ride. We took the same route coming back.
On our way back, I fell asleep 3 times for about 10 seconds each time. Pachito called my name out twice, and asked, “Yaris, are you falling asleep?”
I would say, “uhm, no,” and he laughed and said, “I know you are. Your head keeps leaning towards my shoulders, stay awake!” After going through some rough bumps that almost knocked me off of the motorcycle, I tried very hard to stay awake.
As I look back, the ride was probably not the safest, but I didn’t feel that unsafe at the time. Although I was extremely soaked and exhausted, I had fun. It was an epic adventure. Most importantly, I got to experience some of the roadblocks field officers encounter every time they meet borrowers every week. I’m forever grateful for Pachito and the rest of the NWTF’s field staff who kept me safe and did everything they could for me to get to my destinations.
LESSON #3: When life throws you lemons, don’t just make lemonade...learn to make lemon pie.
On my first day of work with our Timor-Leste-based partner, Kaebauk Investimentu no Finansas (KIF), I was asked to do a training for the newly hired staff regarding Kiva. I was nervous for a few reasons.
For starters, I don’t speak Tetum, the local language, and the KIF staff barely understood English. Plus, I had no idea how KIF usually conducts trainings, and I only had 30 minutes.
I remember showing up to the room and seeing only 4 women, and the rest were all men. As a young woman, I felt intimated by the uneven gender ratio.
Never in my life did I imagine myself delivering a training with broken Portuguese, Spanish, English and hand gestures, but thanks to the KIF staff, who became Tetum translators, I was able to get my main points across. There were followup questions afterwards, and the new staff all wanted to take pictures with me standing next to them.
After that day, I was asked to do 2 more trainings. Luckily, by my third, I successfully had my slides translated into Tetum beforehand, and I learned how to say “Bon Dia, Dia Ka Lai?” which meant, 'Good morning, how are you?' Everyone was smiling when I greeted them. I left Timor-Leste feeling satisfied because I was challenged to think on my feet and to improvise.
You can continue to support borrowers in the Philippines and Timor-Leste here!
Salamat and Obligada (‘Thank you’ in Tagalog and Tetum)