There are two responses Alidé’s clients in Benin have when asked to have their picture taken for Kiva: fear and delight. Generally, both paths end with laughter and a lot of pictures of me, the Kiva Fellow assigned to Alidé.
Fear: They say that while Benin has about 50% Christians and 40% Muslins, 95% of the population simultaneously practices Voodoo. This means you can buy fétiches (magical objects like monkey skulls) at the market, and that you’ll encounter a number of clients who fear that having their picture taken might steal their soul.
Delight: On the opposite end of the spectrum are the clients who revere having their photos taken. Once they realize that that’s what you’re there to do, they run off to change their outfit (sometimes twice) and fix their hair. The credit officers find this annoying, but wouldn’t any person want to look their best if they’re going to have their photo plastered on the most visited micro-finance website in the world?
For the fearful, sometimes they simply decline the photo and don’t end up being Kiva entrepreneurs. But many are as intrigued as they are scared and agree to do it if you take your photo first and survive. The delighted also want a picture of you, but with them hugging you. I’m happy to oblige. Who wouldn’t want to hug a person who’s working hard at their business?
No matter which path to the photo is taken, there’s a lot of gasps and laughs and the camera is usually passed around to friends and neighbors and anyone else that is near, all agreeing that it was a very nice photo. No one asks for a retake.
Marie Leznicki is a Kiva Fellow serving her placement with Alidé in Benin.