By Suzy Marinkovich, KF9

“Gender-based violence … is ubiquitous in much of the developing world, inflicting far more casualties than any war. Surveys suggest that about one third of all women world-wide face beatings in the home. Women aged fifteen through forty-four are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war combined. A major study by the World Health Organization has found that in most countries, between 30 and 60 percent of women experience physical or sexual violence by a husband or boyfriend.” – Nicholas Kristof

When my husband and I were making our way overland to Bolivia, we took a ferry across a small part of Lake Titicaca.  On the other side, we stood around some market stalls waiting for our bus to come off the ferry, and all of a sudden we heard yelling behind us escalate to screaming.  We spun around to see two female market vendors arguing about one encroaching on the other’s selling space.  The words quickly turned to blows, and in a matter of seconds the women were in the dirt, punching each other and ripping each other’s hair out.  People just stood around, even smiling as if being entertained.  Before long, I screamed for someone to break them up.  A foreign traveler next to me whispered in English one of those sentences that rings in your ears for a long time because, at the time, you are so stunned you can’t think of a genius rebuttal fast enough.  He said, “let them fight, that’s just how it is down here.”

I was appalled by the man’s words, because violence is everywhere – and how dare he make an evaluation on a diverse and hard-working nation’s people only minutes after he’d crossed the border.  In Ayacucho while at FINCA Peru, I learned that domestic violence is just another part of life for many of our borrowers.  In one instance during my time there, a police officer was beaten by a woman while responding to a neighbor’s report of domestic violence.  The woman beat the police officer because she wanted him to let her husband continue beating her; she said she “deserved it.”  I disagree with “that’s just how it is down here”; instead I’m convicted that poverty has a lot more to do with these patterns globally than individual cultures themselves.

On Friday, during a 12-hour day in the field meeting with CIDRE’s many rural borrowers, I met one of those couples I could have just stayed with for the rest of my fellowship.  They have an absolutely incredible story – entirely nurtured by microfinance.   Nicanor, the husband, showed me papers produced by some ancient typewriter; it was his loan paperwork from his first loan from CIDRE, taken out in 1981.  The way he treasured it, I felt like I was looking at something that should be in a museum.  This man started with two cows and now runs a giant farm with a large cement stable for his cows.  He even has one of the few mechanical milking machines in the area, which have helped put an end to the years that his aging wife Evangelina has spent miDoña Evangelina with CIDRE Loan Officer Roxanalking the cows from dawn til dusk – by hand.

Nicanor and Evangelina have three wonderful children, all studying in private trade schools.  But what struck me most about the couple was their love for each other.  After our loan meeting, Nicanor insisted we all go out for drinks – which of course meant two rounds of 40-ounce cervezas for each one of us.  We talked about how CIDRE has brought him from a tough chapter, having only two cows and no home, to the present situation where he can end his work day in time to enjoy a few beers at the local restaurant.  As we drank, Nicanor shared some Quechua spiritual beliefs and local legends that had us all laughing, then he got to talking about Hotel Mil Estrellas (Hotel of One Thousand Stars).

Nicanor said that Hotel Mil Estrellas was when a Quechua couple who lives out on a rural farm slept together out in the fields and under the stars.  A phrase borne of both humor and the beautiful pastoral scenery, he began sharing stories about his friends and their stays at Hotel Mil Estrellas.  Then, his elderly, traditionally dressed wife Evangelina smirked and held her right index finger to her lips – while blushing, as if to silence him.  With a wink, her husband said, “don’t worry, I won’t tell them OUR stories.”

It was precious seeing them look at one another, able to look fondly at their past and reflect on it in the present with a smirk.  I realized in that moment that it’s something I haven’t seen nearly enough down here.

Friday, after work, my husband and I were cooking in the kitchen and making up dance moves to Feist’s “I feel it all,” which was playing on our crappy travel speakers connected to his iPod.  We were laughing and in that moment – it hit me.  We have the time to have moments like this.CIDRE Loan Officer Juan with Don Nicanor

Poverty forces many to transition from one job to the next, or awake at dawn to labor 12 straight hours only to crash on a bed and do it all over again the next day.  They literally toil until they can make ends meet.  Money is so strapped that every financial decision is so well-critiqued it becomes an argument, an argument that can get so serious so quickly that it evolves into violence.  The powerlessness of poverty is so defeating that the blame game is inevitable.  The husband begins by blaming his wife for forgetting something small, and years later it’s her fault he didn’t have a son, it’s her fault that the house has nearly no furniture, and it’s her fault that they are poor.

In some conversations, we talk about how microfinance is empowering, and in others we talk about how poverty is powerlessness.  What is extraordinary is watching the two come together in one once-powerless family, now able to stop work in time for a beer and a look in each other’s eyes.  That is not a gift we are capable of giving, but it is one often borne of the financial gift that we do give through Kiva.  We can be enablers, enabling a family to climb out of poverty enough to stop work at 7pm, turn on the radio, and dance around together in the kitchen.

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Suzy Marinkovich is a Kiva Fellow at new Kiva partner CIDRE in Cochabamba, Bolivia, the second of her three placements.  She has a wholehearted passion for microfinance, social justice, and poverty alleviation.  Suzy is most excited to listen to the incredible stories of Kiva borrowers in South America and let them know how much they continually inspire us all.

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