by Michael Kasseris
There wasn’t much wind blowing through Hanoi that morning. The air was heavy and humid, like every step I took was like walking through a pool of water. It was my first morning in Hanoi and I needed to cross the street my hotel was on to hail a taxi. As I stepped closer to the edge of the sidewalk I noticed how fast the air was moving across my face. A swarm of motorbikes, taxis and trucks racing through the street swept the air past me and blew a cloud of dust in my eyes. Before I knew it my chances of crossing the street were over and the violent current of traffic seemed to have no end, or so I thought. Next to me an old lady balancing two enormous piles of fresh pineapples and lychees across her shoulders just stepped down onto the street and without looking up, miraculously reached the other side. I was amazed that she came out alive, how did she not get hit by any of the vehicles? As I waited for a break in the traffic, another woman walking with her child stepped down onto the street in front of me and in what seemed like a suicide attempt, made it through alive on the other side of the street. I was baffled. There was no way I was going to be able to cross here. As the taxis on the other side began to lose patience they drove off looking for another customer. I was going to be late. I walked up and down the street as if I was going to discover some invisible bridge to take me to the other side, yet there was no break in the death race in front of me.
Then as I began to lose hope, a tall man with what sounded like an Australian accent looked at me and laughed. He also stepped down and started walking through the traffic that raced past him like a swarm of bees, but before he made it halfway across he looked back and yelled at me “You just go!” You just go? Was he crazy? I didn’t know if the locals used some secret hand gesture to cross the street or knew of some unspoken pattern in the traffic but surely I couldn’t “just go.” Or maybe I could? With my eyes half closed and my limbs as close to the center of my body, I gingerly stepped down into the street. I didn’t bother looking at the traffic coming straight for me but instead looked forward at the other side of the street and kept walking. When I stepped back up onto the other side of the sidewalk I couldn’t help but think of those safari programs on TV that follow that lone zebra as it tries to cross the crocodile infested waters. After I finished counting for all my toes, I realized that it took a leap of faith to get me across the street and that I didn’t need to be worried. I just needed to go. Sometimes things in a new place may not seem as organized and as sterile as one might be used to in their normal environment. That’s something I have been reminding myself this past week in Hanoi and as I get situated at my MFI, that some things just take a leap of faith. It was a leap of faith which made me leave my “great” job back home in finance and board a plane to Hanoi. It was the same leap of faith which some of the first micro lenders had when they decided to support some women in poverty start a business. It was a leap of faith which brought these new entrepreneurs to believe that they too could be successful business owners in a developing economy. I will be working with SEDA , which stands for Center of Small Enterprise Development Assistance and is a part of Binh Minh a larger NGO here in Vietnam focused on Microfinance. The staff here has been extremely hospitable and I have already made friends with some of them. They particularly like bringing me to lunch in a group and see what food I will be too scared to eat which I am proud to say has never happened, even lunch can sometimes be a leap of faith.'
Michael Kasseris will be working with SEDA in Vietnam this summer for 12 weeks. If you would like to learn more about SEDA or lend to one of their borrowers click here./>