Allison Moomey | KF16 & KF17 | Bénin
Remember those scavenger hunts with friends in middle school? I have fond memories of running around the mall following cyptic directions and taking crazy pictures at each newfound destination. The goal was to visit all of the locations as quickly as possible while earning points for the most exciting polaroid shots. Oh polaroids, that’s a nostalgic post for another time.
I spent the past Monday and Tuesday feeling like I was back to my 12 year old self, except I’ve aged quite a few years, the mall is now a West African city, and the destination is a client’s grain storage shed instead of American Eagle. I met Finadev’s driver Monday morning to start my borrower verification (BV), the process of meeting borrowers and documenting field data to ensure that profiles posted on kiva.org are entirely accurate. I really enjoyed my first BV with Micro Start, so I was excited to start the second with Finadev. We learned just before leaving that the driver and I would be searching for clients using the directions written in each client’s folder at headquarters, as the employee who was familiar with the route was unable to come. Let the adventure begin.
While directions in Chicago may look something like this: “Go South on 94, take exit 49A (Division), turn right on Division and drive straight until you see the large sign for Milk & Honey,” directions in Cotonou, Bénin, look like this: “Go to the end of the market. Turn right. Continue straight some meters. Pass in front of the woman who sells smoked fish in the market. First intersection, turn toward the four booths. Head to the booth of the client facing the red booth and ask for Nina’s mother.” The excitement really comes when the woman selling the smoked fish isn’t there today. And when what were once four booths are now six. And when the red booth is now green. Which all happen, of course.
The most amazing part, however, is that Beninois know how to navigate this environment, and they don’t grow impatient the way most Americans would. With the help of Finadev’s driver, I was able to visit with 10 clients in just a day and a half through winding paths, sand roads, and giant puddles. The clients were welcoming and impressively well-prepared with paperwork and identification. You can read stories of some very challenging BV’s on this blog, but this one was genuinely fun. Possibly even more exciting than those epic 1990’s scavenger hunts.
Here are some of my favorite client pictures from the adventure: