Navigating Monsoon Season by Moto
I’ve been working with CREDIT-MFI as a Kiva Fellow for about a month and a half, and I still feel like I’m getting my feet wet. CREDIT is fairly large with about 360 employees working throughout Cambodia in their 7 branches. I work closely with CREDIT’s two Kiva Coordinators, Sopheap and Vichet, at the head office in Phnom Penh. We work behind the scenes managing Kiva CREDIT clients in CREDIT’s Management Information System (MIS), and on the Kiva website. We translate business questionnaire forms and often journal questionnaire forms (when we do not interview the clients directly) from Khmer to English in order to post on the Kiva website. The other day though, Sopheap and I decided to head out and interview some Kiva CREDIT borrowers ourselves. We decided to head out to the city of S’Ang located about 30 kilometers south of Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.
The following day I show up at work about 7:30am, we hop into the CREDIT truck and we are on our way. Our goal is to interview 5 clients and be back at CREDIT’s head office by noon for lunch. It takes us about an hour to get to the S’Ang branch office as we drive through the outskirts of the city and into the country side. It is currently monsoon season (June-November), and everywhere is flooded. Rice is growing as far as the eye can see in all shades of green. It rains almost every day, usually in the afternoon, but lately it has been unpredictable since it’s the end of the rainy season when the skies open-up whenever they wants. It is lovely though since it cools everything down, but unfortunately it does bring out all the mosquitoes. Yikes Dengue Fever and Japanese Encephalitis (wish I had convinced the vaccination clinic back in the states to give me the $500 vaccination)!
We arrive at the S’Ang branch office, drop off the truck and hop onto motorbikes with the branch’s loan officer who works with the clients we will be meeting today. The borrowers we are meeting are reachable only by motorbike since they live down long narrow, dirt (or mud depending on the season) roads surrounded by rice fields on both sides. We break off from the main road onto a dirt road, and weave in and out between an occasional moto, but mainly bicyclists, walkers, and vendors. We drive through the open air market where people are hustling, and I cover my eyes afraid that we might run someone over since the market is quite busy. After about 15 minutes, we arrive at the first borrower’s house, and she invites us to sit down on her front porch. It is made of slatted wood with a thatched roof. It is raised about a foot off the ground in front enabling access to the road. The back is about 5 feet off the ground. The roads are maintained dirt mounds between houses and rice fields. The slatted floors and walls keep the house a lot cooler than the western style cement. The house is airy and relaxing with woven mats to sit on.
The interview takes about 30 minutes. We try to ask the best questions getting the information we need to write a proper informative journal in the smallest amount of time. And often, it kills me to finish-up an interview session since with each question, I could ask a million more questions. There is just so much to learn from each borrower about life in Cambodia, their business, their loan, how inflation is affecting them, their dreams for the future, etc. My goal is to bring back as much information as possible to the Kiva lender in a sensitive, but informative manner.
We finish our first interview and hop back on our motos to visit the next client. Sopheap and I are on one moto and the loan officer is on the other in front of us. We follow him since he is the only one who knows where the clients live. We travel further down the dirt/muddy road, and make a left, and then another left, and a few more turns. As we drive, I get off the moto intermittently due to flooded road areas, and at that point it is just easier and safer to walk. With each dry patch, I hop back on the moto with Sopheap struggling to keep up with the loan officer in front of us in fear of getting lost. We dodge smaller mud patches, grazing cows and water buffalo, heaps of dung, the occasional child riding their bike to market or school, all while waving to locals we pass as they smile and wave to us.
Finally, after about 45 minutes and many un-navigateble road sections, we lose the loan officer. He is nowhere in sight, but realize at the same time that there is only one path in and out so we press on. After about another 20 minutes, we reach a fork in the path and see the light green uniform shirt of the CREDIT loan officer to the left. We wave and head down an even smaller un-navigatable path to an eventual stare-down with two cows. Hoping they don’t kick us, Sopheap and I move slowly past them so as not to startle them. After about an hour total, we reach the borrower.
Everyone greets one another with the traditional respectful greeting, “Jem reap suor,” with a slight bow and hands pressed together in prayer-like fashion under your chin. We sit down, and proceed with the interview, asking questions regarding their loan and business. After about a half hour, we finish the interview, and get back on our motos for the dreaded ride back. Sopheap and I check the time and are shocked to find that it is nearly noon. We really need to hurry back to the S’Ang branch office to pick up the truck in order to head back to Phnom Penh.
We start our moto journey back down the muddy path doing the same dance as before, weaving between muddy potholes, dung, cows, water buffalo and the occasional bicyclist. We do not want to get lost this time. Highly impressed with Sopheap’s moto skills I simply hold-on and hope for the best. My goal was to get off as little as possible since it slows us down too much and we need to get back.
We drive, and finally we come upon an impassible section in the road. As we head towards it,
I tell Sopheap, “I’ll get off.”
“No, no. Stay on.”
“No, I’ll get off.”
“No, no. Stay on. I’m a good driver.”
I say, “No. I’ll get off,” as we head into the mud.
We lean right, then left, and then right again trying to maintain balance, and then our wheels lose traction. The next thing I know I am in a mix of mud, dung, and foliage. The cows are staring at me, and the locals are peering over at us from their lunchtime meals grinning as I try to get up. I look up at Sopheap, and notice that somehow he managed to jump off the moto before it went down, and he is nearly spotless. He asks, “Are you OK? I am so sorry, Teresa.” I say, “I am fine as I look at the mud all over my hands and left side.” We then both start laughing as we stare at the moto lying in the mud.
A woman living in a house nearby comes over, and we borrow a plastic container from her. We get some water from the rice fields beside us, and start rinsing off the moto. We hop back on laughing, hoping not to lose the loan officer again, and knowing that it is just another day in the field during monsoon season./>