East Africa:
Kenya and uganda
 
 
 
Now talk about an amazing day! Today was our first day going out in the field and talking with clients. Chelsea and I had met with Francis, the branch manager for Opportunity International’s Kisumu area, and arranged with him to go out into the field with a different loan officer everyday, visiting all of the sub-branches in Kisumu area and being introduced to the clients by the loan officer during their weekly trust bank meeting.  They came to receive training and support, as well as to make a payment on their loans; we were hoping to interview a few of them.  
 
I woke up and was met by my Kenyan mother, Joyce (probably one of the most hard working people I have ever met), putting out food for breakfast.  Judging by the new shine on the floors and my freshly washed clothes flapping in the wind, it looked like Joyce was about finished with her seemingly endless morning chores which she did everyday day before work (I swear this woman never sleeps).  Knocking back a warm cup of tea and a piece of toast, Chelsea and I made our way to the main street to catch a matatu (a rickety shared van) that costs only 10 shillings (~15 cents) to take to town.  We were instructed to catch either the number 7, 9, 10, or 11 matatu in order to get into town. A few jam-packed vans whizzed by, the drivers honking their horns in discouragement as we tried to wave them down.  They were so full that people were literally hanging off the side of the van with their feet situated in the open door with their bodies completely exposed. After a few minutes, a slightly less full van became visible over the horizon of side shops and several boda bodas (bicycles) that weaved their way in and out of traffic.  A small number 9 was painted on the windshield and both Chelsea and I stuck our hands up as if we were in NYC trying to hail a taxi, but sure enough, the matatu started to slow down and stopped a few feet from us.  The person who collects the money quickly ushered us into the van and almost a second after my foot left the ground I felt the van lurch forward.  I scanned the van for someplace to sit.  The 4 rows had 5 people in them each and there wasn’t a visible place for us to sit.  The money collector tapped my back and pointed at the space in-between the seats that was made to allow people to access the back row.  I looked back at the man to make sure I understood his non-verbal command correctly and to my dismay he stood firm in where he wanted me to go.  Squeezing past two women, one who had a basket in her lap and the other nursing a small child, I squatted in the tight space, trying to get at least an inch of my body on either edge of the seat.  To my surprise, the basket in the woman’s lap started to move! I looked around to see if anyone else has noticed, but I seemed to be the only one who was concerned.  Peering over the rim of the basket I tried to get a better view of what was inside of it.  Suddenly, a chicken shot its head up and I was instantly reminded that I was in Africa and that carrying chickens like small dogs was perfectly normal.
 
The way that matatus work is that when you want to stop, you instruct the money collector and he knocks on the metal roof that lets the driver know when to stop.  I kept my eyes peeled for the familiar landmarks I had tried to remember from the ride to Joseph and Joyce’s house yesterday from town in fear of missing our stop.   We soon passed by the Coca-cola factory and I knew we must be close.  Gazing through the dusty windshield I could make out the sign for Kenya Commercial Bank and I told the money collector this was our stop.
 
We were meeting Peter, the loan officer outside of the Kisumu branch office downtown and we would then grab transportation to go to Rabour, a small town outside of Kisumu, to start our first day of interviews with clients.  We left the Kisumu office at 8:20 and followed Peter through town to make it to the matatu stand where we could catch transportation to the Rabour.  We dodged men trying to sell us stuff on the street and various drivers trying to convince us to take a ride with them, even though most of them were not going anywhere near where we wanted to go.  “Hello, where are you going? Come with me!” most yelled at us, usually referring to us as “Mazungu” (white people, the name which we hear yelled at us every 10 seconds).  We finally made it to a small car that we managed to squeeze 6 people into and our journey began.  The drive lasted only about 30 minutes as we drove north away from the city.
 
In a cloud of dust, the car left us standing in what seemed like the middle of nowhere.  There were a few shops that lined the streets, but behind them was nothing but scattered trees and a few houses. We followed the loan officer past the shops and finally arrived at a small store.  In the front was a large display of meat.  Navigating past the flies that swarmed around the meat that absorbed heat from the sun, we discovered a small room behind the ‘botchalism’ display. As our eyes adjusted to the light, we were met by 15 faces looking up at us.  Chelsea and I went around the room, shaking everyone's hand and introducing ourselves the best we could in broken English and using what little Kiswahili we had managed to pick up.  “Karibu,” they said, welcoming us to their meeting.  We sat with the loan officer in the circle and waited for the rest of the group members to come. Once everyone had arrived, we began the formal introduction to the group.  Chelsea started by telling them that we are here doing research for the university that we attend in America (I received an Advanced Study Grant from Boston College) and that we were very interested in talking with some of the clients individually to learn more about how their lives are being impacted by the loan economically, socially, and physically. After the loan officer translated that into Lu-O for us, we explained the terms of the confidentiality agreement that accompanied the consent form they all were to sign before we could continue.  We explained that if anyone was interested in speaking with us, that anything that was said by any individual would be kept in complete confidence by removing the name associated with the person who told us the information.
 
After the introductions were finished and Peter had completed the necessary repayment transactions, we asked anyone who was interested in speaking with us to stay behind and we would interview them.  About 10 of the clients remained in the room.  We had about 45 minutes until we had to leave to meet the next group so I began interviewing all of the non-English speakers and used Peter as a translator, and Chelsea took all of the clients who knew enough English to carry on a conversation.  We brought chairs outside and tried to distance ourselves from the group so we could speak to each person in complete privacy.  I explained the consent form to the client and Peter was able to translate it to her.  As the interview went on, I was surprised to see how the client was really opening up to me and the amount of information the client was willing to share.
 
What we are finding with our clients is that the majority of them are quite aware of the presence of VCT (Voluntary Counseling and HIV/AIDS Testing) clinics in their area, but beyond the knowledge of their location, very little is actually known about the services that are offered or of the importance of getting tested.  Upon further questioning, it was discovered that beyond the very basic knowledge of the disease, there was not much awareness of HIV/AIDS, and little was known about the various means of transmission, ways of prevention, or the free services that are readily available to those in the community.  Much time was spent explaining to the clients the effects of the disease and trying to convey the importance of condom use, especially to those of Lou decent who believe in polygamy and multiple sex partners.  It was also discovered that near 100% of the clients knew of someone who was infected with the virus and the majority of those were experiencing a financial burden as a result.  Close to 80% of those interviewed were the sole provider and guardian to multiple dependent children left orphaned by HIV/AIDS.  Of those with additional children, almost all reported that they experienced a tremendous financial burden as a result of paying the school fees for these children (which includes tuition, books, and uniform, all the things necessary for a child’s education) that are in addition to the cost to feed and protect them. While some of the clients were had the courage and willingness to disclose their HIV status to us, it was very evident that the majority of the clients were definitely being impacted in multiple ways by the disease.  
 
One man whom I was able to talk extensively to said that he lived in fear of others discovering his HIV status.  He has managed to go for testing and is currently on ARVs (anti-retroviral medication) and is successfully raising two HIV negative children as a result of the education that his wife and he received from the local VCT clinic.  He said that even the monthly trip to pick up the drugs was something he dreads for he did not know who he might accidentally run into.  As a businessman he said, it was very difficult living with the disease for in addition to being weakened as a result of the medication and the virus, he is in daily fear of others discovering his HIV status.  His fear is a result of seeing others whose HIV status had become known by the community and whose business failed as a result.  Due to the stigma and lack of understanding of the transmission of the disease, people fear the spread of the disease and the stigma associated with the disease.  He desperately wanted the services of a support group for HIV positive businessmen who struggle living with the virus. “Support,” he told me, is what he wants the most.
 
(see the First Impressions entry for more about the information we received from the clients)
 
 
Out In The Field!
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
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