Pakistan: A lizard in the hand is worth several in the bush
My final Borrower Verification trip was to the village of Vehari, visiting Khursheed Bibi. We had attempted to meet her almost a week ago, but the morning of our appointment, her sister had unexpectedly passed away.
Leaving Lahore at 7 a.m., we encountered the first of our two hartals (demonstrations) of the day — tires ablaze, cars overturned and police nowhere in sight.
The protest was against the massive electricity cuts, with protestors chanting,“You have forgotten the villages, you have forsaken the villages” and claims of electricity being out for days at a time because officials forgot to turn ‘the switch’ back on. No wonder.
An oil tanker was parked dangerously close to the massive flame, with the driver nonchalantly sitting and watching the spectacle. The ‘highly inflammable’ sign on the tanker’s flank didn’t seem to faze him in the least. I requested our driver to make haste, lest we be caught in the blaze.
No longer able to use the provincial highways, we were stuck in the village conduits, followed by an assemblage of excited children. An image that particularly sticks with me is that of us in our little van driving routes really meant for 4x4s, surrounded by wheat and corn plantations. In the distance, children scramble on to the taller tombstones of a local graveyard to get a better look at the entourage passing through their village. What luck they must be thinking – another demonstration! Two thoughts come to my mind, how 1) perspectives can differ dramatically, as can 2) sources of entertainment, for that matter.
Passing the children playing billiards and foosball on the narrow market streets, we make a pit stop at the local Asasah branch office. While boxes and boxes of documents were being offloaded from our van, I scouted the office only to find a tiny beast catching my attention. Beige to the seeing eye, this blue-eyed, pinky-sized grasshopper showed off its geometric palette of colors, reminding one to take pride in all accomplishments of life – however little or insignificant they may seem.
Sitting among used American aid agency boxes, resold and repackaged for new products, I look out the window of our ‘dabba’ (box), as Pakistanis fondly call the car model I’m in, only to see a fleeting image of a gentleman walking through the shadows of a narrow village alley, casually carrying a squirming two-foot long lizard by the tail.
The offhanded manner in which this villager carried the beast resonated in my mind, an absurd metaphor tapping into the resilience of everyday Pakistanis. Rather than shy away under the burden of life’s hurdles, people such as Kiva’s borrowers not only choose to fearlessly tackle them head on, they bring out the leash. Own that lizard I say, with pride.
A few hours later, we finally arrived at our destination.
After offering our condolences to Khursheed, we patiently explained why we had come all this way. Khursheed showed us her latest bedspreads which she bought wholesale, proudly stating that she was one of the very few to offer these designs. Her family sat around her, explaining how this had become a family business, with her husband and son staying for weeks on end in a town further south, expanding their clientele there, while she went door-to-door in her neighborhood, balancing her bedspread business on her head.
What benefits has the loan provided you? I asked. Here’s what she said:
“We no longer need to worry about our daily household expenses. We can focus on our business now! Before we had just enough to buy a few bedspreads, sell them, and try to continue with the little profit we made. With this loan we are now able to buy in bulk, maybe 20 bedspreads or so at a time, so when for instance, the date season comes and people have money to spend, we can be sure to have enough in stock.”
Consecutively, through years of savings, Khursheed has managed to save enough to build a kitchen and two bathrooms on land that she can finally call her own. She was also able to buy her husband a motorbike.
To complete this final borrower verification, we had to make the harrowing nighttime journey back to Lahore. Travelling on the infamous Multan Road, we weaved in and out of traffic, dodging lorries without headlights, on a highway without lampposts. Closing my eyes to the chaos of the day, I honed in on the lovely afternoon I spent with Khursheed and her family.
Witnessing firsthand the impact of the loans on her and her family, I wholeheartedly concluded that the 16-hour journey was well worth it. Wouldn’t you agree?
Anya Raza is a Kiva Fellow stationed at Asasah, and BRAC, both microfinance institutions in Pakistan. You can join the Pakistan lending team here, lend to Pakistani borrower here, and keep reading Anya’s posts to learn more about the organizations and the many borrowers they help fund. You can also follow Anya on Twitter at@anya_raza.