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adventures in Mongolia

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Creating journals for Kiva

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I am convinced that my borrower videos have been lost in the abyss which is the Kiva journal tab (which currently has 5224 unsearchable pages), so I had to find another platform for their airing.

One of my better journals:

Gantuya Narmandah

The process:

1) Finding a translator
Unlike Kiva fellows who are placed in countries where they know the local language, I do not know how to speak Mongolian… even though locals frequently speak it to me. (Apparently I look Mongolian…) Hence finding a translator is necessary, especially since the Kiva coordinator here is too busy to visit borrowers with me. It took me awhile to find translators who would work for free, but finally on my 3rd week here, by acquaintances of friends of friends, as well as XacBank’s HR department, I managed to find… THREE translators!

My translators are quite an odd mix. One came in 6th for Ms. Mongolia last year, and was a catalog model for Gobi Cashmere (THE premier brand of cashmere in Mongolia); another was a former tour guide who has a ton of expat friends; and the last one is a university kid who is purportedly quite wealthy – he managed to get out of mandatory national military service through a combination of bribery and connections.

2) Coordinating logistics
The first is making sure one translator is free, then asking when one of XacBank’s branches can spare a loan officer and car to come visit borrowers with me (a rather infrequent event). A car is a precious commodity as branches only have one car each, and use it heavily for their day-to-day operations – loan officers constantly need to visit borrowers in the field to verify their information for the loan approval process.

The problem is that working with free labor (aside from Kiva Fellows) has its perils, and all 3 of my translators have been flakey at some point. One dropped out within a week, another bailed out on me 3 hours before we were going to visit borrowers, and another is frequently late. On days when they cancel on me, I have to cancel with the branch, and incur their ire.

3) Journey to the borrowers
Travelling to visit borrowers is always an experience, especially when I’m going to their homes. (Many of them work from home, especially those which make products for sale – think gloves, boots, crafts, etc.) All borrowers I’ve visited live in ger districts, which are basically districts surrounding downtown Ulaanbaatar, composed of a haphazard mass of wooden fences, within which you can find a ger or two, and sometimes a house. Most gers burn coal in their stove to keep warm, as a result, pollution in Ulaanbaatar is absolutely awful in the winter. (In addition to being the coldest capital in the world, UB is also the most polluted one.)

Ger districts don’t have proper roads (let alone addresses), and borrowers frequently draw makeshift maps to let the MFI know where they are located. Sometimes we spend more than 1 hour in the car, circling the same few roads, trying to find a particular borrower.

The terrain in ger districts is also rather varied. Travelling on dirt roads aside, I have been driven over a frozen river bed, a bumpy field that is used to grow crops in the summer, and precarious hill slopes.

On the road
(Music credit: Jenny M)

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Written by j

December 1, 2009 at 11:58 am

Posted in Uncategorized