[fellows blog fodder]

People always enjoy picking things apart from a distance.  To me it seems like microfinance has taken a bit of a beating in the last eight months or so.  Most probably that’s because it was about eight months ago that I became immersed in this world when I started my fellowship as a KF9, my first foray into the industry.  But I also think it’s because of the rapidly growing attention microfinance has gotten over the last half-decade, from a nobel prize, to the proliferation of interesting organizations like Kiva and other online funders springing up, as well as bold claims like “microfinance will cure poverty.”

Microfinance’s publicity has paved the way for skeptics and critics to jump at the opportunity to point out every findable foible.  There’s been a fair amount of recent talk here on this blog, but also even running in places like the New York Times, about interest rates in the industry. Questions have emerged regarding whether or not it’s unfair to levy rates on the poor that some see as usuriously high (I’m making that word up if it doesn’t already exist).  And I won’t lie, my thoughts and feelings towards microfinance over the last two placements have been more sobering than rosy, and I’ve come to a lot more harsh realizations than poverty-eradicating epiphanies.  However, I think there is an important aspect that many long-distance observers miss, and its something that took being out in the field to notice about microfinance institutions and their role in the world.  So I’ll share. Continue Reading »


so i wrote a while ago about the mysterious loss of a package sent to armenia somewhere in the vicinity of november 16th.  well it finally mosey’d its way to the SRI, just on its own terms. evidently this package was fond of ferris bueller and took an extra few months to stop and look around at life, for fear of missing it. i guess first class mail moves at an uncomfortably brisk velocity for ferris.

Turns out said delinquent package arrived to Armenia around mid-March, putting it at around 4 months late, give or take 37 armenian cigarette breaks.  After notification at my old organization that it was ready for me at the post office, a friend tried to pick it up.  of course this wasn’t possible, and power of attorney was required.  luckily after a week or two it was returned to the US…..intact.

My wonderful parents were determined to get the package to me, so off they sent it again to the Sri…..and luckily within about 5 or 6 days, it arrived, as evidenced below.  but what armenia lacks in punctuality apparently sri lanka lacks in keeping-packages-intact’itness.  nevertheless it was thrilling to get this mysteriously devious package, finally, and read the — yes pre-thanksgiving — “well its almost the holidays” card enclosed inside.  anyway, after enjoying my care package that was sent to me during the previous decade, i realized i was just lucky to receive it at all. especially when i tasted the bacon infused chocolate that this care package contained.

moral of the story, never mail anything important to armenia.

that, and dont trust that swindling ups spokesman with synthetic hair who makes commercials trying to convince you that mailing things is easy, efficient, or cute.

[from ze fellows blog]

Upon arriving here at BRAC Sri Lanka in February, a brand new Kiva pilot partner, I was all ready to lace up my loan posting shoes and hit the ground running.  And my MFI was ready and waiting for me.  BRAC Sri Lanka decided to designate two districts as “Kiva” districts and upload borrowers from these regions to the website.  BRAC offers similar products within each region, so the “Kiva regions” were all set to have a reduced interest rate due to the fact that the money from Kiva to finance these loans would be arriving at 0%.  However I quickly learned how ambitious our initial posting targets were, especially in months 1 and 2 in the pilot phase on the website. Continue Reading »

fan hands

aaaand moving along with the hands theme, i had some real difficulties when i first arrived to sri lanka and moved into my apartment.  obviously its pretty hot here.  also, i’m not being paid a six figure salary by kiva so naturally coming by AC for me is a rarity.  so my primary means of cooling, or sweat damage control, is by overhead ceiling fans.  they are ubiquitous in sri lanka, in every office and apartment, constantly humming away. Continue Reading »

[from this blog where we fellows write things]

Sometimes you think you are equipped to take on a difficult situation and use your experience and skills to dive in headfirst and solve it, or at least provide some help to improve upon the current status quo.  It may be a situation you’ve seen before, or one where you know your skill set or knowledge is applicable to improve it – at least if you were tackling this problem in a familiar and native environment.  And that’s exactly the problem right there, and why as a Fellow I’m having to throw some things out the window.

In October I came right from the overworked office life of public accountants bustling about in tall shiny skyscrapers.  We used and heard words like ‘will you pdf that to me?’, ‘draw up a process map’, or ‘run an amortization schedule in excel’ everyday.    Every employee was armed with a laptop, and within 6 months nearly everyone becomes an excel wizard.  Literacy in Microsoft Office, the internet, and all other things technology is completely assumed as a given to be in EVERYONE’s arsenal.  So naturally these tools get used a lot in day-to-day work, pretty much for everything we did.

Continue Reading »

curry hands

today at lunch i reached perfect culinary equilibrium.  i think i found the supreme balance between sauce and rice.  dont be fooled, this is no easy task.  Everyday for lunch, we eat rice and dahl with some other assorted vegetables in the office.  Its served family style, so you serve your own portions.  This means its all on you to get the ratios right, which comes with a bit of a learning curve.  Eating is done also solely with the hands, so you can go with the pre-mix option, or mix each bite of rice with a small sampling of dahl.  I personally go with the pre-mix, so I have a whole plate of rice-dahl all mixed and ready to be eaten.

this is dahl and string hoppers, or breakfast noodles, not rice. but i'm a firm believer of including photos whenever possible. see below for irellevant photos

Continue Reading »

and the puns continue.  i promise you, faithful reader, that any chance i get to remotely incorporate a “sri lanka” pun into a blog title, colloquialism, facebook update, or any spoken sentence, I will try my hardest to make sure I’ve come up with the worst pun possible. this is my promise to you and i intend to keep it.

so my 3 and a half readers seem to enjoy anytime i write about the food that i’ve been eating during the kiva fellowships.  armenia was a bit limited in the types of food, especially when it came to lunching options, but my 3 or 4 months there were happily dominated by lahmujen and schwarma.  so i’ve had some people ask me “what is the lahmujen of sri lanka?” Continue Reading »