Archive for September, 2009

a thousand little shocks

The last couple of days have been interesting in a deeply personal way. You see, I can only explain them in terms of a thousand little electric shocks – some literal and some figurative.

Lets begin with the literal. In many parts of the world hot showers are the result of some jerry-rigged faucets and electric heating coils. Generally safe and reasonably priced, why would anyone have reason to fear what lurks behind those crimson-tiled walls? Just flip on the current and turn on the water.

I was starting to believe that I had scraped my elbow or knuckle without noticing. Sometimes when water would touch those parts of my skin I felt a sting. Then it dawned on me one day when I felt a zp in the middle of my forearm that was held above my head – the water closest to the shower head is slightly electrified, and slightly electrifying me on a daily basis. This might explain my healthier than normal skin and conditioner-commercial shiny hair.

On to the figurative. I woke up the other morning as a result of what I can only describe as a thousand little electric shocks spreading through my stomach lining. Now, issues surrounding regularity and digestion in general are to be expected when living, eating and drinking in South America. But clutching oneself in fetal position while being slightly blinded by the pain – that’s new to me.

My eat-once-a-day diet from the last week includes rice, acidophilus and the playfully named ‘diarex.’ I tried eating a piece of chicken today, god help us all.

The nice thing about having traveled and wrestled with both infrastructural inconveniences and disruptions in bodily function is that my current set of circumstances is more hilarious to me than anything. But unfortunately for those who irritate me, I am more prone to ‘speak my mind’ at questionable volume when I am in a state of necessary starvation and partial electrocution.

And yes, keeping with the theme of this adventure most of my room is painted ‘Kiva green.’

09.18.09 – a thousand little shocks

to have illusions

What do you want to be when you grow up? What are your hopes? What are your dreams?

Throughout my childhood, these questions constantly attached themselves to the most prosaic daily interactions. In a sense I, and most of my peers, were conditioned to be ambitious dreamers, convinced of the limitless possibilities our futures held (and still hold).

When speaking with borrowers one of our unstated goals as Kiva Fellows is to uncover their latent sense of possibility and excitement at the prospect of success. During interviews I attempt to understand what aspiring entrepreneurs want for themselves and for their children. But one of the harshest realities that I confront concerns the occasional and precise absence of aspiration.

In no way am I implying laziness or even a lack of imagination; rather, survival tends to distract many Kiva clients from the potential realities that accompany success. And then I had an a-ha moment. While interviewing Yesenia Esmeralda Bances Morales (click to contribute to her loan), who seemed bemused when she heard the question ‘what are your hopes or dreams in life’ it dawned on me that it might have been the first time anyone had ever asked her that question.

Imagine that no teachers, no mentors, no leaders ever asked a child to dream big (Perú has yet to find its Obama). Adults here are in no way cynics but many times they are realists. Even linguistically speaking, Spanish comes designed with an icy grammatical irony. ‘Tener ilusiones’ translates literally into English as to have illusions and translates figuratively as to have hopes or dreams.

After a few minutes of talking to Yesenia about the ilusiones she holds most dear she efficiently described her plans to expand her business, and then the educational opportunities she hopes to make available to her daughter. Incidentally, the same young daughter organized fish and prepared for the day’s sales feverishly in the background.

One of the most important contributions we make as members of the Kiva community – lenders, fellows, administrators, etc – can be romantically understood as giving people the opportunity to dream big and then explicitly asking them to do so.

If I could do the interview again, I would only have changed one thing – I would have asked Yesenia’s daughter what she wants to be when she grows up.

*I didn’t take many photos of this borrower, so instead have supplemented this slideshow with images of Pitipo. Pitipo is a rural area near Chiclayo with a few Kiva borrowers and endless stories*

09.17.09 – to have illusions

necessity entrepreneurship

On August 22nd the New York Times published the article On to Plan B: Starting a Business describing the unexpected spike of new entrepreneurs emerging from the wreckage of the crisis. They quote the Kauffman foundation and bring the term ‘necessity entrepreneurship’ into the mainstream. And in so doing they articulate one of the misperceptions that surrounds the incentives behind starting a business.

Sometimes I really get the feeling that the talking heads, professors, text-books and pols just don’t get it. And by ‘it’ I mean anything remotely human. To think that greed gets elevated as some sort of miraculously innovative force in the ‘opportunity entrepreneurship’ model, where interest rates adjustments can fix anything, still boggles my mind. As far as I am concerned, nearly all entrepreneurship is ‘necessity entrepreneurship,’ whether in the US, Egypt, Armenia or in Chiclayo, Peru.

The phrase ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ contains a truth lost on contemporary economic thought. Luckily it is not lost on Kiva Lenders, whose generosity grows when ‘opportunities’ dry up.

In the end, I cannot help but laugh out of frustration when I read statements like this: “But research on what is known as post-traumatic growth has found that some people become more resilient when faced with adversity, says Shawn Achor, a Harvard researcher. Creativity surges, he says, as they adapt to a new situation.” I read this during the evening, while during the same day I had been out to visit Angelita Loconi De Teque who is 47 and perseveres through ‘adversity’ to make a better life for the 4 children still in her care.

Weaving in and out of the beachside tinderboxes used to prep and clean fresh catches of fish, thoughts of resilience and tenacity overwhelmed me. In spite of being so close to the ocean, the landscape felt somehow forbidding and desolate like all the odds were against Angelita and her fellow fish sellers. And yet, there she was working and smiling with determination. Out of her necessity, and with a couple of micro-credits to help, Angelita creates her opportunities.

I think Mr. Achor needs a historical reality check, if not a gut check, to realize that most of the world is in a state of post-traumatic (political, historical, or economic) adjustment. The process through which adversity begets creativity includes desperation, fear, anguish and defiance. I think America might finally be learning that lesson and the view from outside the bell-jar has never been clearer.

09.09.09 – necessity entrepreneurship

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