publishing for little people

adventures in Mongolia

the people who borrow

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today my envy of other kiva fellows faded because i finally, finally got to meet kiva borrowers.

there is a certain sadness that most of these borrowers have. for some it’s buried deep beneath stoicism and the victories of subsequent success, but for others it’s brimming at the surface, and you get the feeling that one more slight push would send them into the chasm. when i take their photos, they never smile – and i thought of asking them to, but i don’t want to if there’s nothing to smile about. the truth is, life has been hard for them.

kiva lenders may think they are doing a great thing (and they are doing a good thing of course), but these borrowers don’t get the benefit of the 0% interest rate, and to them, they aren’t being done any favors – because who knows what they had to get through to make those repayments back in full and on time, with interest added. they certainly don’t owe anyone anything, and because of that, when i intrude on their lives with a video and a huge camera, i feel somewhat ashamed.

but it’s not all grey of course. so many in the microfinance industry are in it because they hope, as do i. and the borrowers i met, they do laugh, but don’t necessarily dream. the reality is that for many, loans are required for survival or working capital, not necessarily to step up or make a significant game-changing investment. consequently, default rates in the microfinance world are lower than those in the mainstream commercial world, because these borrowers need to repay to get the next loan, and the next, and the next. and perhaps that’s why some of them are willing to go on video, get their photographs taken, answer questions… even though they might not necessarily want to – because they don’t want to risk losing their line of credit.

i realize this post sounds a bit morose, only because one particular borrower made such an impression on me.  soft-spoken, it isn’t in her nature to fight. but she has to, because she has two young sons to feed – a little red-faced baby was sleeping soundly on the single bed she had, and her other son, no more than 6, was watching a dubbed version of LOTR while doing homework. the downfall of socialism 20 years ago meant the closure of a lot of government-run factories, and she lost her job. so now she sits in her dimly lit ger, sewing grey gloves, hoping to find a mass buyer.

hers is the sadness that threatens to overflow.


where i went today: the Chingeltey ger district

lastly, a bit about my translator. when we came to this region he said, “you never want to come here. this is where all the poor people live.” he also came 40 minutes late to our appointment with the branch manager and staff… because he was having lunch after class. there’s also a certain smugness that he has, because he speaks English and is apparently rich and well-connected. all his family work in the government, and he roundly (he is round) tells me that he is able to get out of mandatory national service (army) because of connections and bribery. to top it off, he is very proud of the fact that most of what he wears or owns was bought overseas. can you tell what i’m thinking?? nevertheless, he is helping me for free (albeit receiving internship credit)… so i shall leave it at that.


Written by j

November 4, 2009 at 11:05 pm

Posted in Kiva, Mongolia

2 Responses

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  1. hmm… lots to think of. I feel that way about my camera too


    November 15, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    • haha, the translator sounds just like your type!


      November 23, 2009 at 11:30 am

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