A New Sense of Professionalism
I can’t quite recall what I was expecting upon my exhausted entrance into the FAMA OPD’F offices in Juticalpa, Honduras for the first time. It was, after all, almost 7pm on a Saturday and I had been traveling for about 14 hours. But, contrary to whatever I may have been prepared for, the office was bustling. Sure, it was the end of the month (must close the books!) but, nonetheless, I was immediately drawn to this organization for its professionalism and warmth. An accredited savings and credit institution, FAMA has been in business for about 15 years and has 13 offices all over Honduras.
The office is large, with more than 30 employees (over 100 FAMA employees exist nationwide), strict hours and—much to my delight—well functioning printers, photocopiers, internet and air conditioning. This, I decided, is without doubt the most professional office I have ever worked in. They even wear a different matching shirt every day of the week! On my first morning, I was ushered in to watch an extensive power point presentation on the history and scope of the organization, along with the team of 17-year-old interns who were also starting at FAMA.
Three months working for FAMA? Pshh, piece of cake. I left the office my first day likening my job here to a day at the beach. (Or, rather, a super hot dusty beach with no water and a lot of car exhaust.)
However, not unlike my childhood conviction that I was destined to marry a member of N*SYNC, the reality of the situation quickly became far more complex than I first imagined. This is not to say that FAMA is not a professional organization, but rather that their professionalism manifests itself in a way that is new to me. The challenge thus becomes figuring out how to be a successful Kiva Fellow when my usual assumptions (meeting E-vites, email, punctuality, etc.) go out the window.
Tuesday morning, for instance, I was signed up to do a presentation in a beautiful mountain town about 40KM from Juticalpa, called San Francisco de la Paz. My goal was to work with the credit officers there to get them to start doing Kiva loans, as Kiva is still very new to FAMA. However, there was no one available to drive me. One person with a car was in Tegucigalpa, and another was somewhere doing something (these are the details I gathered) and everyone else was busy. I suddenly became nervous that I would not make it at all. So I parked myself outside of the office of the Head of Credit and started asking questions. When will so-and-so be back? How long does the bus take? How much does the bus cost? Can you teach me to drive stick and let me borrow a car? Is it really that dangerous to ir jalón (hitchhike) in Honduras? At the sound of jalón, a car and driver suddenly became available. (It’s a great thing he did not call my bluff because I was not about to go stand by the roadside). It’s not that the folks at FAMA didn’t want me to go (in fact, the Head of Credit himself set up the meeting), or that they were prepared to break their commitment to me. Rather, their conception of “leaving at 9am” was different than mine. We left around 10:30 and, although I was upset and embarrassed that my presentation would start 90 minutes late, no one in San Francisco de la Paz seemed to mind, or even notice. In the end, according to all parties, the day was a resounding success!
The morning was a clear indication that FAMA is just as professional as I had expected (they set up the meeting, they got me there, all participants were engaged), but not in the tell-tale ways that I had come to expect in the states. The next few months will be a push and pull between my desire to work as “efficiently” as I have in the past, and my yearning to fit in at FAMA—and not drive them up the wall. However, I suppose a little bit of tranquilo (or…a lot) will do me good.