Laughing with Myrna Data, a Kiva Borrower

Mary Riedel, KF9, Philippines

“…What do you think your biggest challenge will be if you become a Kiva Fellow?”

I heard this question twice during my interview process with Kiva.  On both occasions I was sitting at my kitchen table in San Francisco, working from home (experiencing some cabin fever), and planing to meet up with friends later in the day. My answer was, “Feeling disconnected from friends and family.”  And yes, some days staying connected has been a bit of challenge, looking at the clock wishing it was telling me a different story,  jumping to Skype and hoping to to see little green dots. For the most part though, communication has been good, it just takes  more planning and acceptance.

So that’s not my biggest challenge…

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Myrna Datu a woman with a warm smile and a boisterous laugh.  She was the first person I noticed when we got to Parog Parog barangay (village) in Solana, Cagayan. She was standing in a group of women holding a sign that said “Welcome Kiva Fellows Adam and Mary”. Myrna had a lot of energy, was wearing a bright orange shirt and a canvas hat (I love hats).

A Very Warm Welcome - Myrna Datu, left of sign

Myrna is the mother of girls (one in high school and one in college), she was widowed 7 years ago, which means she does all of male and female duties in the household by herself . Myrna raises pigs, buys and sells vegetables, makes and sells small snacks, and works in the field growing rice (she walks a Karibou – Filipino Buffalo – to plow the fields because she’s afraid  of riding him.

Karibou (Filipino Buffalo)

A little while later after many group photos…. it was Myrna’s turn to be interviewed. She sat down and looked away (she was really nervous) she started laughing…and then her expression changed – tears, a quivering face, but still a smile… “oh, no!” I thought… “she’s crying,, a lot..but smiling, what’s going on…” Could it be…really?… “tears of joy”.

Sitting in small a room full of about 20 women, the Documentation Officer from ASKI (a Kiva Microfinance Partner) asked, “Myrna why are you crying?”

You HAVE TO WATCH THIS VIDEO (the first 30 seconds at least) and hear Myrna…her voice and spirit are far more touching then I could ever put into words…Which is why I am humbling myself and posting this – despite the fact that my “journal interview” sort of turned into an Oprah episode and some of my comments sound pretty ho-key. I’m learning less is more when the camera is rolling. (My ego really wants me to spend a ton of time editing this on imovie to get my voice out of there, but to be honest  it would take me far tooooo long and have a ton of journals to post).

(if you don’t have access to video…in short Myrna tells us how happy she is that despite her difficulties she can still provide for her family. Myrna is very grateful that she is able to get a loan and make payments every week on her own. As she recognizes what she does everyday and her life situation it’s as though she is recognizing herself for the first time, and she is proud of what she finds.

Now, back to the question…

As you can see keeping a boundary and acting as an objective reporter/fellow might be pretty challenging. It’s proving to be the most challenging aspect of being a Kiva Fellow…. Here’s what you don’t see in the video… While I was sitting with Myrna, as she lovingly touched my hand over and over,  crying and telling me her story– all of me wanted to jump up, hug this woman, and say, “You ROCK! You are doing an awesome job! Everything is going to be OK.” I wanted to thank her for sharing her story with me and tell her how touched and honored I was. Then my mind got going… “Myrna works so hard. I hope she has some joy in her life….maybe I could take her to a movie, get her a facial.” Then my mind really got going, “What about a different job, a vacation, a husband…. I wonder how widows find dates here? Do widows date here –  maybe in Manila?  I’ll talk to Prem (the Kiva Fellow there), Do they use e-harmony here. Hmmm, this is sounding a little crazy…. but I bet she’d like the special soap I use, maybe I’ll bring a little next time… I wonder what she wants for Christmas.”

So as you can see, from the inner chatter I actually held back in the video, but it was really uncomfortable, I was having a hard time finding the line…the boundary. Knowing how to respond to this intense display of human emotion?…This definitely  would not have happened at Wells Fargo in California.  Was I supposed to stay stoic like a real reporter, no feedback…nothing?

We left the barangay, time passed, my mind settled, I wrote a journal, and then another, because that is how I help. That is how I help everyone not just Myrna, by working towards Kiva Mission – connecting people through lending in order to alleviate poverty. There are many people like Myrna Datu out there.

All things considered I did a pretty good job (minus a few dorky sentences) but as I said, I’m learning. I’m getting more comfortable with silence and letting people have “their feelings” and experiences (independent of me) without interrupting the process…because it is a beautiful one.

Loan to ASKI Borrowers

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