Harnessing Student Potential In Microfinance
So after a request from parents and friends, I decided to start taking more pictures. I always felt awkward doing so. It was difficult and awkward to ask permission to take a photo. But on the flip side, if you didn’t ask to take a photo, it looked like you were oogling at the way people lived: like in was a museum exhibit instead of an actual way of life. And some people actually demanded money to be featured in tourist photos. However, I thought that if there was an acceptable reason to take photos, it would be to share my experience with my family and friends back home. This way, they would be able to share in my role as an ambassador of Tanzania in the States. Surely the people couldn’t object to that! Wrong. I got in three photos and on my fourth, starring the dalla dalla passenger, I was reprimanded by a man. He didn’t violently accost me or anything of that sort. Instead, he just looked at me firmly and said “no.” That was enough for me to shrink into myself and put away my camera.
When I got to the office, I almost ran into Benson. Just the man that I wanted to speak to! I ran a few final questions about the manual by him. He absolved one of my main concerns: that we never asked for any financial information. He said that even if we asked about current finances or concurrent loans, we had no way of verifying this information, as Tanzania did not have a central credit agency. This is the millionth instance that I’ve noticed where government insufficiencies/inefficiencies paralyze business operations. We also discussed how to delegate my regular responsibilities. In my typical professional tone, I asked if he needed anything else to be taken care of or tied up. He said that his last request was that I would, along with Dr. Victoria, join his family for dinner on Wednesday evening. I was thrilled by the invitation!
After helping myself to a cup of chai, I settled into my desk. I saw a group of students who looked about my age. Benson introduced them as the new interns, who would be stationed at SELFINA’s various branches. I really enjoyed one of the girls, who would be stationed at the Mikocheni branch. She was going into her third year at the University of Dar es Salaam and would be working with SELFINA for her practical training. When she heard that I was from Georgetown, she mentioned the study abroad. We excitedly realized that we both knew Monica and Ken. In fact, Ken was her old boss!
Unfortunately, Brinkster was still expired. However, the website was first developed in Photoshop and only then uploaded to the web, so Fredy and I could still work on it with the site down. I really enjoy Fredy. He is clearly intelligent and has international work experience. He also likes me, mostly because I respond to his emails and actually meet deadlines. In fact, he said that I have contributed an incredible amount in a short period of time and that my presence forced people to be responsive. He went so far as to say that all employees should take their job as seriously as I do. Needless to say, I was flattered by his review of my work. He also shared a hilarious story about how when he was working on an IT project in South Korea, they had never seen a black person. One of his co-workers, whom he described as “Southern Sudan black,” actually had to leave because the fascination bothered her so much. The funny part….she was actually Japanese.
Let me just say that I have also learned a fair share of company secrets today. I do not know if this is because I have gained the trust of my colleagues or because they figure that I’m leaving in a few days and am the safest person in-house to share their concerns. I obviously cannot post these secrets to the web, but I will just say that they have come from three different high level employees and have concerned everything from SELFINA’s future employment strategy to SELFINA’s organizational structure to fallen through social events. At one point, I almost wanted to ask my informer to stop telling me this information, but I would rather be in the know about the real problems faced by the organization, instead of retain a rosy outsider’s perspective.
In early afternoon, Dr. Victoria called me into her office. I initially thought that it would be regarding the website or newsletter or one of the other projects that I was feverishly trying to wrap up before departing. But instead, she sat me down and invited me over for to her home, something that we had been trying to coordinate for the past few weeks. I delightedly accepted her invitation!
At around 4:15, she called me to come down and meet her. Bagalouf (aka Philipo) one of the best office personalities, had generously offered to drive us, so we waited for him as he made a quick chip run. On our way, we stopped into the Royal Dutch bakery. She insisted that I pick out a type of cookie, as she wanted to spoil me. I decided on a crumbly raspberry jam cookie, thanking God that I had not discovered this bakery, which I passed daily, earlier. We then hopped back into Philipo’s car and, after one more stop, arrived at Dr. Victoria’s home in Mbezi beach.
I didn’t really know what to expect. I had a feeling that Dr. Victoria was wealthy. She and her children were well education and well dressed, with state of the art gadgets. But in no way was I prepared for her home. It was the equivalent, or superior to, some of the nicest houses in Breckenridge (sorry to anyone outside of Syracuse who does not understand that reference). It was two stories with a gorgeous balcony and full garden, filled with exotic, tropical looking plants.
When we pulled into her (gated) driveway, we were immediately met by…MOSES! This ball of energy sprinted out of the house and, after a quick detour to spin around one of the house’s columns, met me with a tight embrace. I was introduced to Elise, Dr. Victoria’s mother, but unfortunately we were unable to communicate, due to the English/Swahili language barrier. Moses dragged me to the couch, where he was watching The Flinestones. I laughed, telling him that my last interactions with the Flinestones had been their delicious chewable vitamins. We also played many games outside, from hunt the chickens to tag to Batman versus Spiderman. Running around the lawn with Moses made me miss babysitting, which now seems like a former life. We also read from his Bible coloring book. I am getting a lot more comfortable with the high level of religiosity here and am inspiring by the deep faith that so many Tanzanians effortlessly hold.
This visit also gave me the opportunity to really speak with Dr. Victoria and learn from her wealth of experiences over tea and the purchased cookies. She told me that I was very brave for coming to live and work in Dar as I did. This was definitely not the first time in the past few days that I had been lauded for my bravery or, as Otto put it, “cleverness” for undertaking this adventure. She shared a story of two Germans who had asked if it was safe for their daughter to come with them to Dar. They were living at Sea Cliff, the luxury apartments near Emily’s with the chlorinated pool and yoga class. And she would be WITH her parents. Do I even have to tell you that this was an absolutely ridiculous question to ask?
At 6 pm, the power went out. Dr. Victoria’s house girls broke out two camping lights. Ingenious! I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of investing in one of these earlier. Probably because I had my own contraption (flashlight from the cell phone tucked into my NEEC baseball cap). This brought on a conversation about the power rations, which have been extended indefinitely. She said that Tanzanians talk about the power rations like Americans talk about…she hesitated to find a comparison. “Gas prices,” I completed for her, to which we both laughed. We also talked about how Tanzanians are so hesitant to publically express any discontent because they fear that things will turn violent. When she was in France, she witnessed two demonstrations during her six day visit! However, she has never witnessed a demonstration or strike in Tanzania, a country that prides itself on its peaceful history. But at what point does this acceptance aimed at peace turn into apathy that stunts progress? This is a question that neither of us was able to answer.
At around seven, we were served a traditional dinner. Everything was beyondddddddddd delicious. It was literally a feast, with chicken, samosas, rice, beef with vegetables, peppers, and bananas. I tried a little of everything. Like I said, I am a new woman of adventure. Over dinner, one of the topics was the chagas. Apparently, this group is from Moshi and known for being hard workers. She cited that Caroline, Otto, and Freddy were all Chagas, although from different tribes. I was so glad that I had learned this. These three individuals, in addition to Dr. Victoria and Benson, were the three employees who I had immediately noticed as being industrious, intelligent, intellectually curious, and ambitious. I have generally disregarded cultural arguments, but this new knowledge that led to a pattern that I had independently observed made me think twice.
At around eight, Dr. Victoria escorted me via bajaje to my apartment. She paid for both my trip home and had to pay for her own return trip. I was overwhelmed by her generosity and kindness. She truly is an inspiring woman, both in her professional accomplishments and her personal character. I am beyond lucky to have found such a mentor. And I now know why they call her “mamma.”