Welcome to Phnom Penh!
After a wonderful 25-hour journey from New York, I finally made it to Cambodia! My first order of business was to get my visa at the airport, but that turned out to be a breeze. I filled out a visa application and it was passed along a line of 8 Cambodian officials who were seated in a row behind a counter. After 15 minutes and $25 I had my 30-day business visa (which I have to extend soon). When I left the airport I had to make the very difficult decision between a $9 taxi ride or a $7 tuk-tuk ride. The guy selling tuk-tuk rides made a compelling argument, that he had the cheaper ride, but with all my baggage I decided to splurge on the taxi. The drive into Phnom Penh reminded me a lot of my parent’s home country, Sri Lanka. Just like in Sri Lanka, the roads are shared by wheel-barrows, trucks, and everything in between. The only difference is that Cambodians drive 25 mph slower (which is a ver y good thing!). In Sri Lanka I had to get use to buses accelerating to 65mph, swerving around tractors and tuk-tuks, and then braking hard when we came to a traffic jam.This lead to many accidents on the road, a few which I have taken part in
I was suppose to meet Paujo,an American who works at AMK, outside my apartment. I was taking over Paujo’s place while he’s visiting the states until September. When I got to the street where his apartment is located, I was a bit early so I stopped at a sports bar which is located around the corner. I used the wi-fi at the bar to reach Paujo. After three Tiger beers and a lengthy discussion with the Australian who runs the bar about the sports bar business in Cambodia, Paujo arrived. I grabbed lunch with him, his girlfriend and Elena (the current AMK-Kiva fellow). After my first delicious Cambodian meal, I was ready to pass out. Unfortunately the power was out when I got back to my place, so for a while I was roasting in my bed without a fan. Eventually the power came back on and I fell into a deep sleep. I woke up at 9 PM to fireworks. I quickly ran to the window to make sure taht it in fact was fireworks and not gunfire or bombs (with elections around the corner you never know what can happen!) I later learned that the National Museum, which I live next to, has fireworks on occasion. I managed to go back to sleep, only to wake up again at 2 in the morning, damn jet-lag. I tried to go back to sleep but I couldn’t, so I watched a movie on my laptop to kill time. When the sun rose I got dressed and headed out to AMK.
I arrived at the office before most of the staff had come in, but eventually I met Sophanith, the AMK Kiva coordinator. He introduced me to the entire staff, which was about 30 people, in 5 minutes, so I forgot most of their names really quickly. As a former teacher, I learned that it helps to learn names if you see them on paper, so I got to learn the senior staff’s name by looking at AMK’s financial report which has their names listed. Sophanith has been writing most of the business descriptions for AMK, and according to Elena (the other AMK fellow) his English has improved a lot since she’s been there. He is a hilarious guy, and in the future I should devote an entire post to him so taht you guys can get to know him. The staff at AMK is really, really friendly. AMK is new to Kiva, but they have a well established business. I read in their annual report that they became a profitable business in less than a year. What also makes them stand out from other MFIs is their dedication to social performance. The board of directors has created two standing committees, the audit committee and the social performance committee. These two committees allow AMK to balance their social mission with their financial self-sufficiency. Elena and I will talk more about their social performance and research work in our posts to come!
One thing which I’m going to have to get use to (not that I should be complaining) is our two-hour lunches. The workday here is from 7:30am-5pm with lunch from 12pm-2pm. During my first lunch, I ate my meal quickly like I usually do and I was walking quickly back to work. Elena had to slow me down, but we still got back an hour early. However, today I made good use of my lunch break. At 12pm, I noticed the All-Star game was in the 12th inning, so I hopped on a moto and went to that sports bar near my house. I managed to catch the the last 3 innings of the game. It was great! (Once I get to learn some Khmer, I promise I will be having more Cambodian experiences!)
This is a becoming a long post, but before I sign off a quick note about AMK’s delinquency rate: Kiva recently took off AMK’s delinquency rate on their profile page. The reason behind this was many of the loans that AMK had posted on Kiva were end of term loans, which means that they get repaid at the end of the loan instead of monthly payments. Kiva didn’t have a way to designate end of term loans, so when monthly payments were not coming in AMK’s delinquency rate went up. Their actual default rate is less than 0.1%. AMK has now switched all of the loans they post on Kiva so that they can avoid this problem in the future. You guys should check out some of the loans that are posted by AMK on Kiva.
Also, I haven’t taken my camera out yet, but I will be going out onto the field on Friday! So hopefully I’ll get some pictures up for you guys to enjoy!/>