A Phnom Penh Afternoon

Hi Fellows Blog readers,

My name is Jeff Zira, and I’m a Kiva Fellow (round 7) in Cambodia. I’ll be working with the MFI CREDIT in the capital city, Phnom Penh, for about four months. I’m very excited to start my fellowship here, and am looking forward to meeting clients so I can directly learn how microfinance affects them.

On Friday, I arrived at the tiny, one-lane-runway airport, where three officers from CREDIT were waiting to pick me up. The heat was intense, with the humid sunshine beating down on the dusty roads near the airport. I was taken to my guesthouse to drop my bags off, and then to my MFI so I could introduce myself. I felt immediately comfortable among the friendly, welcoming staff. I had my first taste of delicious Khmer food at CREDIT’s group lunch, which only cost one dollar.


(a short clip of some of CREDIT’s employees eating lunch)

However, after a few hours, I realized that the I aches I felt were not a result of sitting in uncomfortable seats on the plane, but were early symptoms of the flu — not a great way to start my adventure.

I spent the weekend trying to orient myself and adjust to the heat (the heat proved to be the more trying of the two tasks). Not only was my body’s thermostat still set on “winter mode,” but the flu kept switching my sense of temperature from fever to chills and then back to fever. Sleeping was not easy.

I did manage to make it out to Wat Phnom though, one of the most important temples in Phnom Penh. Since I’m more familiar with very low-key Japanese Buddhist shrines and temples, the colors and music surprised me.


(the colorful display at Wat Phnom)

On Monday, I made my condition worse by eating something that made my GI tract hurt so much that I couldn’t eat for 24 hours. Still, as I rode home from work on the back of an unsafe motorbike amidst the lawless rush-hour traffic, I noticed my mood steadily improving. Maybe it was the heat, the dizziness from the flu, or the lightheadedness from my fast, but I felt incredibly alive. I felt so in awe of the epic beauty of the massive pinkish clouds overhead, so connected to the feeling of life emanating from the throngs of people and shouting children, so rejuvenated by the uniquely “Cambodian” pop music, and so warmed by the heat of the evening that I couldn’t help smiling for the entire ride home.

Before leaving, my image of Cambodia was based on the stereotypical developing country: unsafe, lawless, and unclean. But since my arrival, I’ve been struck by the welcoming atmosphere and the life that pulses in the streets. I hope that I’m able to make a positive contribution to this wonderful country and its people during my time here as a Kiva Fellow.

Please check out the loans from CREDIT, one of Kiva’s largest and oldest partners, or join CREDIT’s lending team!


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