Sunday, September 6, 2009

Busy, Busy Day

September 4, 2009

August 29 is now posted.

Today was another good day. You could even say we had something resembling a “schedule” and that we stuck to it! The schedule alone was enough to bring me tears of joy. In the morning we walked around town looking for Microfinance institutions. There are three in my home stay village and all three were willing to talk to us toubabs. It was fascinating. All three differed in level of professionalism, services, and clientel.

Microfinance #1 – The credit union was called PAMECAS. PAMECAS is in several of Senegal’s regions, but I don’t think all of them and the office was dirty and incredibly crowded. The woman we spoke to wasn’t too friendly and spoke incredibly quickly so no one really got all the information here. What we could discern was that they service about 275 groups and a lot of individuals. The terms of the loans were very interesting. If a woman’s group wanted to secure a loan every single person in the group had to produce at 20,000 CFA deposit and each individual had be approved. The group couldn’t be approved as a whole. We also talked about what happens when people default. The woman told us it was very rare for people to default and the creditor did everything they could do for the client including renegotiating the contract in order to avoid calling in the police.

Microfinance #2 – Credit Mutuelle de Senegal (CMS). CMS was the nicest creditor we visited and the general manager of the branch was a women. I asked her if it was hard to garner respect as a woman which is said it definitely was, but she had gone to college and had a law degree so she was a pretty impressive lady. CMS started out with French backing and is found throughout Senegal. They also insure groups and individuals, but they will insure the group as a whole instead of as a group of individuals. CMS had a much more impressive office including a flat screen television and AC, which all of us enjoyed immensely.

Microfinance #3 – This institution was actually the most interesting to me because it was the least western in business practices and much more Senegalese. The man we spoke to told us that most of their clientele is uneducated and that they started out lending mainly to farmers. Now they do most of their lending to various businesses, not many individuals. While the first two credit unions wanted to see past history and upfront deposits, the man who worked here wanted the personal relationship with people and collateral such as a house, horse or car. The relationship was really important to him as it is to most people in Senegal. He wanted to know the people he was lending money too were good people who were serious about their businesses. This will be my biggest challenge in Senegal getting people to trust me with their business information so I can help them. You can to build a personal relationship with people before they will let you look at their businesses.

That was my morning. It was great. Not only interesting, but a break from the “classroom” where we spend most of our days. This afternoon we actually made the trip to the neighboring village that we were supposed to visit last week. It was really nice to see other Americans/ other people that aren’t the trainees in my group, my teacher, or my family. It’s amazing how much I miss physical contact here. I rarely touch other people and when we do touch it’s just to briefly touch hands to say hello. A nice hug hello and goodbye felt amazing. We went to the other village to do some cross culturally training, which wasn’t too interesting since it was gender stuff we’ve talked about before, but it was really interesting to see another town. Although this town only has 10k people (mine has 50k) it’s not nearly as conservative or religious so the lucky bastards living there have a bar they can go to/ do go to almost every day after class to unwind. Not only is my village a booze free zone, but we all live so far away from each other it’s hard to hang out for any length of time after class because we need to get home for break fast and before it gets dark. The trip was really nice though and just driving through the African countryside was amazing. It’s one of those moments when we all looked at each other and said oh yeah we’re in Africa. It was really surreal.

Funny African Moment: We are sitting outside on the mats eating some delicious (for real!) beans and bread for break fast while my brothers participated in another favorite Senegalese pastime: listening to music on their cell phones. Yes, everyone here has ridiculous cell phones that are way nicer than the brick Nokias all the volunteers got. Anyways, I can remember the song (Deegs is going to kill me because it always plays at Rick’s and she re-wrote the lyrics to be “I wanna go to Rick’s right now now now…) but it goes “I wanna make love right now now now…” and has other much more explicit lyrics and my brothers were playing it while my father prayed. When my dad was done he commented on how much he liked the beat. OMG. I about died laughing. My dad is praying to a song played at Rick’s. Too funny. They play all types of American dance music. They love Rhianna and especially Akon since he’s Senegalese, but they usually have no idea what they’re singing along to. You can walk down the street here and people have their phones to their ears, not talking, but listening to music and having their own private dance party. It’s great.

I think that’s all from the village. Again, thank you for all the comments on my blog. It totally made my day yesterday. I also got a lot of your questions which I will start answering tomorrow since I’m sure tomorrow wont be as exciting as today. In the meantime eat your vegetables and enjoy them!


  1. I didn't realize your village is so conservative. It's nice to know there are places that have bars. Maybe your home placement will too. It's nice to have a place to go to have a beer/sprite and socialize.
    The different approaches to microfinance is fascinating I wonder which one is most successful.
    Very exciting stuff!

  2. Thanks Alyssa now I have the theme to Fresh Prince stuck in my head.

    "classroom" where we spend most of our days.