Compiled by Jim Burke, KF16, Nicaragua
We are Kiva Fellows. This is the stuff we like. Here is an insider (often critical, or satirical but always true!) view of what it means to be a Kiva Fellow and promote access to financial services around the world. From alpaca fur to FSSs to ziplock bags, these are the things we like and thrive on.
#1 Being the first foreign person that somebody has ever seen in their life
Few life experiences will measure up to the one where a Kiva Fellow is told that he or she is ‘the first foreigner that somebody has ever seen in their life’ (TFFPTSHESITL). This experience often comes with having ones hair and skin touched, which people in our home countries don’t find nearly as interesting. KFs know that their image will forever be bored into the mind of the Latino/African/Asian/MidEastern borrower since we assume they ‘never forget their first one.’
A Kiva Fellow will react to being TFFPTSHESITL in several ways. They will utilize social media to get the word out to 500 people in their friend list and possibly even engage the Stories from the Field blog to get the message out to potentially hundreds of thousands. It will also be the first story they tell supporters and people back home. Kiva Fellows will also often use the phrase, “I’m pretty sure I was the first foreign person to ever go there” when referring to locations, even if they’re talking about Machu Picchu or Angkor Wat or the running of the bulls or the Washington Monument.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to spend my holiday evening at a Cambodian air conditioned movie theater which I’m certain no foreign person has been to before and I will be TFFPTSHESITL to at least half of the moviegoers there to engage in the revelry entitled Cowboys vs. Aliens.
#2 Alpaca Fur Clothing
Eric Rindal, KF16, Bolivia
It is no secret amongst the vendors in the Andean regions of South America that Kiva Fellows are suckers for tightly knit alpaca fur scarves, gloves, sweaters, or caps. Maybe Fellows have this presumption that everyone is doing it…even the locals (I swear, dude). However, that is a bold conclusion and is a slippery slope to justifying the egregious “natural blue” alpaca fur sweater adorned with kitschy dancing alpacas circumnavigating the dangly tasseled periphery!
All that to be said, the Kiva Fellow living in La Paz (who is freezing!) finds it imperative to wear his alpaca fur scarf, cap, and fingerless gloves (which allow him to type his Borrower Verification notes) all the time. But, let it be known, this only occurs in the privacy of a locked MFI office or while home alone!
#3 Eating The Profits
Jim Burke, KF16, Nicaragua
Kiva Fellows love eating borrower’s profits. The Kiva Fellow will shamelessly track down the Kiva borrowers that sell tasty things like street food or pineapples. Undoubtedly the Fellow will return home with bags of (free) fruit or a belly full of street chicken. Understanding their clients is important to the fellow and clearly there is no better way to do this than eat the fruits of their labor. The fellow is culturally sensitive and understands that offering to pay is offensive to most borrowers. The extreme generosity is not something to be taken advantage of but the free nacatamale did MAKE the experience collecting a journal. If its fried crickets, boa, fresh bread, anticuchos, whatever we are trying it! If we can taste a loan we know its real.
#4 Our FSSs (Field Support Specialists):
Laurie Young, KF16, Indonesia
Let’s face it, Kiva Fellows secretly (well I guess it’s not a secret anymore) wish they could have the job of their FSS. Honestly, who wouldn’t want to live abroad and travel to/work with microfinance organizations in the countries which Kiva operates? Sign me up! What makes us ‘like’ them even more is that they are our ‘Yoda’ while in the field. They are the one’s that setup our workplans (list of tasks we must complete as fellows) and provide guidance for helping us complete them. We were fortunate to spend a week with them at KF16 training in San Francisco this summer and got to see both their fun and intellectual sides! They are crucial in the success of Kiva and deserve immense amounts of credit and respect for the hard work they put in to maintain positive relationships with Kiva’s Field Partners!
#5 Responding more promptly to the local vocabulary for “white person” than his/her actual name
Allison Moomey, KF16, Burkina Faso
Whether it’s blanche (French), nassara (Moore), barang (Khmer), mzungu (Swahili), chelito (C. Am Spanish) or any other local dialect, it now takes just a single word to get our attention.
“Wait… you mean I don’t fit in?”
#6 Being Mistaken for a Local
Kiva Fellows (“KFs”) work tirelessly to adapt to local culture. KFs are renown for their commitment and will go to extreme lengths to assimilate. Sure, under normal circumstances a KF would likely decline the glass of banana-flavored soda with breakfast, but when in the field, they embrace all character building moments. This extends to many facets of daily life including but not limited to, clothing, hair, cuisine, sports, slang, hygiene, leisure activities, driving and partying habits. The mission is a noble one so it rightly justifies spending a Saturday night at T.G.I. Friday’s, drinking instant coffee, wearing dress pants in 90 degree heat, or watching a nightly dating game-show in order to partake in the morning gab session with office-mates over a mug of instant coffee. Yes, the lengths can be somewhat extreme, but well worth the sacrifices. KFs live for the surprise and confusion that color the faces of locales when they reply, “Nope, actually I’m not from here, I’m from X.” Oh yessss, chalk one up for Team Kiva!
But in all seriousness, there are some hurdles that simply can’t be jumped no matter a KF’s commitment level or the duration in country. Dance and language ability, vegetarianism, and ancestry have been known to hinder efforts. But, as on would expect, KFs soldier on. Can you spot the fellow?
#7 Ziploc Bags
Freak 10-minute downpours and a broken umbrella. Dusty winds. Ants.Mud. These bad boys can sustain it all. In Sierra Leone, Ziploc bags have been essential in protecting KF necessities when in the office and out in the field: flash drives, cameras, usb modem, extra batteries, cell phone, notebooks, directions scribbled on scraps of paper. Not to mention, they are master guards at protecting biscuits and others snacks from the interests of Sierra Leone’s ant kingdoms and families of spiders. It’s clear that Ziploc is more than just your average sandwich bag.
If liking Ziploc bags is wrong, we don’t want to be right!
#8 Planes, Trains and Automobiles
DJ Forza, KF16, Georgia
Kiva Fellows love to talk about their adventures on new and interesting forms of transportation. We especially like it when, going on a borrower verification to a remote area, we get to take two or three various modes of transport in one day; walk 20 minutes to the microbus, ride a Poda-Poda for five hours, hop on the back of a moto for 30 minutes, take ferry for 45 minute crossing, cling for life to a motorcycle driver, chill in a 4×4…all those bumpy, dusty and crowded hours spent planning our next blog post to share the fun and exciting ways we get around our new country! Even hailing a taxi is opportunity for another amazing Kiva adventure! As for me, I’m off on a marshrutka for a six hour journey to Ninotsminda near the Armenian border…where, hopefully, I will need to ride in the back of a donkey cart the last mile or so.
#9 Finding an Upscale Cafe to Escape To
Claire Markham, KF16, Kenya
Kiva Fellows often fully adapt to the local cuisine and eat all of the traditional staple foods throughout the week. However, sometimes, it is necessary to escape to that happy place with North American foods to indulge in. For me, this upscale haven is Art Caffe in Nairobi where I can get reliable wifi while I enjoy a chai latte and chocolate molten lava cake. I recognize I am paying ten times as much as I would for a more traditional Kenyan experience, but once in a while, this luxurious escape is exactly what I need to treat myself after a productive week.
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Jim Burke is a Kiva Fellow working with AFODENIC in Nicaragua. When not diligently working on his Kiva deliverables he kills time reading the blog SEAWL. To learn more about Kiva borrowers around the world please visit Kiva.org.