Why I Can Buy Maimouna a Sprite

13 March 2009 at 02:27 11 comments

Today was my first day of work at IMCEC, a Senegalese MFI based in Dakar. I’m working out of their offices in Thies, a smaller, hotter, dustier, and boringer city about an hour and a half from Dakar. IMCEC currently manages the Kiva partnership in a very decentralized way, and is having a lot of trouble meeting their $80,000 a month fundraising limit – in January they only posted $7,500-worth of loans on the Kiva site. What a waste of free capital!

Happily, they just hired a woman to manage the Kiva process. It’ll be my job to train her and to help IMCEC set up a system that takes advantage of the interest-free capital provided by Kiva in the most efficient way possible. What a fun challenge!

Me with Madame Baye, the new Kiva Coordinator

Me with Madame Mbaye, the new Kiva Coordinator

In the meantime, I’m living with one of the IMCEC employees, Marie. After work today, I decided to go for a walk and explore the neighborhood a little bit.

It’s easy to forget that you’re white when you walk around with your African friends and coworkers. This is not the case, however, when you walk around alone.

Every male between the ages of 8 and 28 feels it is necessary to yell things at me that I don’t understand. It’s even more frustrating because some of them are legitimately nice, and if I don’t respond, it’s ME who is being rude. So, I do my best to choose between complete ignorance, a slight smile, or a polite “Bon soir.”

During the short two-minute walk from my house to the little soda shop, one guy earned a response by addressing me with a polite, “Bon soir, mademoiselle.”

“How nice,” I thought.

“Bon soir,” I said.

“Mademoiselle, ou madame?” he asked, as we passed each other (i.e., am I married?).

Sigh. I turned my head behind me to look him directly in the eyes and said, “Madame.”

Then we both laughed, and I felt ok about life. As I turned onto the main road, a little girl started walking next to me, maybe 9 years old. I said hi, asked her what her name was (Maimouna), and kept walking. At the store, she stood next to me the whole time. She was very polite, not asking for anything, and I think not expecting anything. I chose a Sprite for myself, two for my homestay family, and an extra one.

Now, after being in Africa for four months, I am tired of constantly being torn about whether to give or not to give. I’ve seen various philosophies that my friends and acquaintances have adopted. Some give constantly, always buying gifts of food or alcohol or n’importe quoi, and, surprisingly, earning the genuine love and respect of people around them. Some never give, complaining about the annoyance kids who “guard” their cars while they are in the parking lot and then ask for a bit of money afterwards. My Togolese friends used to give regularly to the people begging on the sides of the road, literally throwing change at them as we passed.

The other day I was in a pick-up truck in the absolute middle of nowhere with a Senegalese friend. We passed two women and two children on the side of the road. I have to admit – I didn’t even see them there. My friend did, however, and he stopped the car. “Can we take them?” he asked me in French.

“Of course,” I said.

We drove them to the nearest town, which is where we were going anyway. It was far – maybe half an hour or more. As they got out of the car, the sun was setting. If we hadn’t helped them, I have no idea how they ever would have gotten where they needed to go.

As the last woman got out of the car, she said something in Wolof, the local language.

“What did she say?” I asked, as we started on our way.

“She said that we will never know what we just did for them,” my friend told me.

***

Back to the soda shop. I considered all the reasons not to give my little friend a soda – I don’t want her to think that every time she sees a white person, she might get something from them. That is a real, real concern for me. I also don’t want to make myself feel good just because I do something that involves literally no sacrifice and that I am able to do just because of where I happen to have been born.

So, I can’t give Abozu my camera. But sometimes you just want to buy a little girl a soda. So I handed Maimouna the Sprite and told her to study hard in school.

I haven’t figured out my life philosophy on giving or not giving. But there are lines we all have to draw, and when you’re drawing those lines, it doesn’t hurt to remember that you might never know what you are really doing for someone else.

***

AbbyI am a Kiva Fellow, Class of KF6/7, serving three months in Lome, Togo, and three more in Thies, Senegal. Please check out my current MFI, IMCEC, and see all of their fundraising loans here!

Entry filed under: All, KF6 (Kiva Fellows 6th Class), KF7 (Kiva Fellows 7th Class), Senegal, UIMCEC, a partner of Christian Children's Fund. Tags: , , .

The Other 2% Show Me The Money – Where Do The Profits Go

11 Comments

  • 1. Tatiana  |  25 March 2009 at 00:08

    I just want to post to say how much I appreciate all the kiva fellows’ blog posts. I don’t often comment but I read them all with great interest. I think what you guys are doing is fantastic, and I’m so grateful for the chance to share in the adventure with you through your posts, and to see how things actually work day to day in the field.

    “We will never know what we just did for them” is a good thought to keep in mind, and no doubt it’s true for many a kiva loan. All of the kiva fellows will never know what you do for us, the lenders, and in turn, the whole world. Keep up the wonderful work.

  • 2. kieranball  |  19 March 2009 at 00:28

    Do you have any idea how much sugar is in Sprite!!!

    Just kidding, I can’t believe I almost missed another Abby Gray classic post through not checking the blog in the last couple of days. My favourite line is “Then we both laughed, and I felt ok about life.”

    Keep bangin’ ‘em out Abby, I could read about your internal struggles for hours and it would never get boring-er.

  • 3. Julie - KF7  |  18 March 2009 at 01:58

    Abby -

    It was reading the blog post on Abouzo that solidified why I wanted to be a Kiva fellow.

    Months later, a KF7 in Cambodia, I too am trying to draw the line between when to give and when to step back. Thank you so much for another poignant, well-written post.

  • 4. Candy  |  15 March 2009 at 17:08

    I’m so happy that Maimona was able to have a Sprite. She has no idea what thought provoking she caused. I wonder what she’ll do when she grows up. Perhaps we don’t know what you did for her. xo

  • 5. Paula  |  14 March 2009 at 00:02

    A wonderful blog and that is one of the things I struggle with when travelling in a developing country. I try very hard to not give to individuals but to support local organisations that support individuals – buying from NGO shops, eating in restaurants that support or provide work for orphans or street children and giving to a charity that works in that country etc Its a hard situation to be in. Keep up the great work – what you are doing with Kiva is far more wide reaching than one or many sprites could ever be :-)

  • 6. Ken  |  13 March 2009 at 15:38

    Excellent, thoughtful post. A valuable perspective that I hope will make me a better person.

  • 7. Brent Z, KF7  |  13 March 2009 at 09:28

    Very true, and a really cool post. Thanks for sharing this piece of that ongoing struggle to draw the right line.

  • 8. Susan  |  13 March 2009 at 06:57

    Great post! Thanks so much!

  • 9. Jan & John  |  13 March 2009 at 06:36

    Thank you Abby for the comparison to your previous Abozu story. We all have that inner battle between the good and evil of charity and I am sure that’s why a lot of us are drawn to Kiva. I am also very pleased to hear that there will soon be more loans from Senegal. We have a few already from SEM and do have a couple from UIMCEC and would be happy to take a few more. Thanks for all you are doing to help. jan

  • 10. drea.riquelme  |  13 March 2009 at 04:38

    Keep doin the do ma. i think that philosophy is a life long challenge, especially in our line of work – its constantly evolving… we gotta just take it one day at a time… love you girl! and so proud of you too!

  • 11. LizO  |  13 March 2009 at 03:53

    Another wonderful post, and thank you for not only describing the struggles that many of us experience, but also stepping back and pointing out the bigger picture.

    And I fully corroborate your description of Thies. Good to have you here – it’s less “boringer” now!

    - Liz (KF7)


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