Sitting in the Virgin Atlantic flight to London after 10 weeks in the field, I knew of one thing with absolute certainty – Kenya will rightfully own a piece of me forever.
Never have I found myself in a new country, expecting it to change me. But Kenya surpassed all unreasonable expectations. Seeing such diversity of nature, living in local communities, soaking in the culture, meeting small people with big dreams… I transformed myself.
All because I followed a basic survival model I like to call -
The informal definition of the word ‘adjust’ is to get used to a new situation by changing your ideas or the way you do things. It also beautifully encapsulates the 6 biggest lessons I learned in the field.
A for Accepting what you cannot change
In business school, we are taught that very few problems in the world have no solution. Well, in our fellowships, we saw lots of problems many of which had no immediate answers. Clients living 365 days a year without electricity, their children playing in sewage water infested with diseases. The B-school student in me wanted to fix it all. But I quickly realized that this is not a Columbia Business School case study.
Sometimes, the best thing to do is to put your bag down, look at one of the children whose life you so badly want to change, and share a few minutes of fun with him. Even though he will go back to where you found him, that moment will make you feel like you changed the world.
D for Desiring to experience new things
Spending all your free time in your rented apartment will only build loneliness and longing to return home. Instead, drink the Experience Kool-Aid and do all the wonderful things the country has to offer… may it be whitewater rafting, rock climbing or going on safaris. Besides the obvious reasons, this also adds serious credit to your balance sheet when the challenging moments are building the debit side.
J for Just do it
Many times, situations will call for stepping out of your comfort zone. Big time. My suggestion? The more you think about logistics, the more time you have wasted. If you visit a borrower and you find out the only way to her house is on the back of a Boda Boda with you on the baggage hold? Just. Do. It.
U for Understanding others traditions
Kenyans love tea. Very milky tea. I haven’t had a glass of milk since I was 8. I quickly learned that high quantities of milk in tea = you’ve made it in life. Milk used to be a rare commodity and is associated with a sign of wealth. Which is why offering tea with tons of milk is not done to make lactose-intolerant people like me suffer. I finally mastered the art of giving a super excited smile every time a cup of tea approached me, taking calculated sips, and finishing just enough for the remainder to go unnoticed.
S for Saving the best for last
In the olden times, archers used to save their best arrows for when the end was near. Similarly, fellows should not exhaust their best artillery in the beginning. Save a big adventure or experience for the end of your fellowship – it will serve as a buffer to prevent any tough situation on the field from getting you to the ‘trough of disillusionment.’
My last weekend in Kenya? Watching The Great Wilderbeast Migration in Masai Mara.
T for Trusting Kiva to make it all worthwhile
After 10 weeks of borrower visits, traveling to distant towns for trainings, long days and lots of adjustments, it’s priceless to know that Kivans are always there to check on your sanity. Whether its drinks with friends in the office, check-ins from the lovely staff in San Francisco, or the forever-exciting conversations on the Skype group chat called Kiva Love Machine, I knew for not one second was I alone.
KF19, I am envious of all of you. Congratulations and welcome to the field!
Muskan Chopra is a Kiva Fellow, working in Kenya this summer with Kiva Zip and Kiva Partner Faulu Kenya. Find out how you can become a Kiva Fellow or just more information on kiva and microfinance in general on kiva.org.