The days passed so quickly this week that I almost forgot that it’s the weekend! Yesterday, the team at PHPG headed out to El Pantanal to collect the weekly loan repayments. Every week, we head out to the community on Monday and Friday for collections. At the moment, El Pantanal is the only community we serve in the Granada area. However, we are in the early stages of conducting research for an expansion to a new community. More on that later as plans develop.
The collection days are tough. As I wrote before, the community is extremely poor. Most people are living on less than $2 per day. The dirt roads wind around small shacks. Our route is a good hike throughout the community, difficult to do without tough shoes. Dogs seem to wait for us outside of each house, showing their intent to attack if we intrude. Most are not aggressive, but some do get too close to comfort. Charlie, our intern, likes to carry around a stick for a bit of extra protection. At times, there are 10 dogs barking at each other and at us, and all we can do is look on until they decide that we can proceed.
Walking from house to house is always interesting. Many clients are extremely friendly and inviting while others are sometimes hard to get ahold of. Sometimes it’s a simple transaction, as our loan officers receive the payment and give out receipts. Other times, like yesterday, we arrive at the house of a man who runs a shoe shop, making shoes from raw materials. He was out back and communicating with us by yelling. He asked if we could come back later…he was simply bathing. Arriving at another house down the road, the man always comes out and says in English, “No money!, and then proceeds to pay. I love a good sense of humor!
Overall, the collections day seemed to go well. I have not yet updated our data spreadsheets; I’ll do that when Juan Carlos (Head Loan Officer) finishes the paperwork and delivers it to my place. Data management, like in all financial businesses, is crucial to the organization. Without reliable data that is easily analyzed, it’d be difficult to know how the organization is performing. A string of great weeks or bad weeks could be indicators of important changes. Catching these changes early may be critical to the organization. Kyle, the current Program Manager, created a great data management system built in Microsoft Excel. The systems he has put into place have really improved the organization and has made my transition go smoothly. Easy to understand, simple to update, and it contains a lot of valuable information.
I used Saturday to finish up some shopping I needed to do. Since I’ll be here for at least 4-5 months, I decided to make a few bigger purchases that I wasn’t necessarily planning on. These included a rice cooker, a blender (to make fresh juices), computer speakers, and a hammock. I decided on these after much debate. I really don’t like to buy these types of appliances when I’ll use them for such a short time. However, I realized that all of these would get a lot of use. The rice cooker makes cooking simple. As I learned in Winfield, having the rice cooker makes me cook much more.
As for the blender, I find the fresh fruits and vegetables to be incredibly cheap here. Bananas and mangos each cost 4 cents (US$) each. A medium size pineapple costs 40 cents. They also have papaya and coconuts, which I haven’t checked the prices yet. My plan is to make fruit juices part of my daily routine, whether it’s with breakfast, dessert after dinner, or just a mid-afternoon snack. Because of that, the blender will undoubtedly get much use.
Living in a larger house alone, I found myself almost always playing music from computer. Since it’s a laptop, the weak sound from the speakers often get lost in my spacious patio. I’ll be using my house as my office and will be here often, so I decided to go for it.
I’ve never owned a hammock before. I’ve used them oftentimes in my travels but never really had the desire to buy one. The hot weather and laid back lifestyle means that hammocks are quite popular here. Lack of air conditioning and having the outdoor patio area made it too tempting to pass up. Having so much time here, I decided to bite the bullet.
I had a tough time deciding to purchase these, but I am happy that I did. I don’t like to shell out a bunch of money for things I don’t necessarily need. But with so much time and knowing that I’ll get great use out of them, they’ll be worth the cost. The total cost was about $100 between the blender ($18), rice cooker ($17), speakers ($30), and the hammock ($35). I’ll try to sell them before I leave to hopefully recoup some of the cost.
Later in the afternoon, I took a walk to Lake Nicaragua which is just 10 minutes from my place. Lake Nicaragua is the 20th largest lake in the world. Following the pedestrian street of Calle La Calzada straight east leads directly to a lookout point. The lake from this point is unfortunately not the most beautiful. Garbage lines the beach, and an abandoned building looks over the long dock leading out to two large boats. Some people were swimming, although I have no plans to enter the water from this spot. The lake does have some cool spots, though (just not from here). Volcano Mombacho’s eruption created 365 islands which are now called home by many Nicaraguans (including a group of fishermen who currently have loans with PHPG). Also, Ometepe, an island consisting of two inactive volcanoes, is a very important tourist attraction in Nicaragua. I look forward to exploring these islands in the coming months.
Unfortunately, my house still does not have internet so my communication with everyone back home has been lacking. I look forward to keeping up with everyone better when reconnect with the world!