Countdown to Kyrgyzstan
By Rob Packer, KF9 (Kyrgyzstan)
It’s been a short six months since I first found out about Kiva and in that time I’ve moved from having an interest in poverty alleviation and a vague desire to “do a bit more” to graduating yesterday as a fully-fledged KF9 Kiva Fellow. And my physical journey to Kiva has been no less of a complete change of direction: it started six months ago with me working for an investment bank in Hong Kong, and continued with persuading Indonesian internet cafe owners to let me have interviews over Skype in the dead of the night, returning to my hometown of London, England for a few weeks to say goodbye to friends and family, and finally arriving at Kiva Fellows training in San Francisco. My journey to my placement with Mol Bulak Finance in Kyrgyzstan will take me most of the way back to where I started.
One of the most obvious differences between my placement and most other Kiva Fellow placements is that I won’t be dealing with extreme heat. I will actually be cold. After two years of living in the tropics, I apologise in advance if the cold becomes a recurring theme in my postings to this blog. One of the similarities with other placements is one of the first reactions when you say “I’m moving to Kyrgyzstan in October to start a placement on the Kiva Fellows Program” is “Where’s that?”, “Why?” or “Wow, Pakistan!”. The first question always had the simplest answer, the second slightly more complex, and I’ll put the last down to ambient noise.
The easy facts are: Kyrgyzstan is in Central Asia, became independent with the breakup of the Soviet Union and borders China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. While I was still in Hong Kong, which you have to remember is in China, I ended up saving a photo of a map of Central Asia to my phone to show people when these top three facts were met with puzzled expressions. People in London seemed a bit more familiar with the concept of “The ‘Stans”, which is probably either because of Sacha Baron Cohen or maybe because they didn’t want to let on that they had no idea where it was. Once I started looking into flights and saw how few airlines fly into Central Asia, I came to realise that my friend JJ was right when he said that Central Asia is just like London’s Chelsea: right in the middle of everything, but really quite hard to get to.
After a week of training at Kiva’s offices in San Francisco, I can normally answer the second question by describing Kiva’s mission statement to “connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty” and by saying that people should check out the website and make a loan. The past week at the heart of Kiva has really brought home what an amazing organization Kiva is and what fantastic work they do. I feel truly honoured to be working with such an inspiring team at Kiva and the group of incredible talent and diversity that the Kiva Fellows Program attracts.
One of my favourite takeaways from the week of training was meeting Dave McMurtry, a KF8 fellow, recently returned from Liberia, who travelled to Kyrgyzstan in the early 2000’s, when he was refused a multiple entry visa for the country and only given a single entry. When he said that the embassy had made a mistake, he was told that the mistake was his and that “No one ever comes back to Kyrgyzstan”. Times must have changed: everyone I’ve met since finding out I was going there has told me how much they love the place. I have a feeling I’ll be one of them.