Monday, September 10, 2007

My Life as a Volunteer


As the weirdness wanes, I’m stating to see a slight glimpse of what my life and my role in this community over the next two years are going to be like. Going into the bank and starting a routine has helped immensely with both reducing the weidness and giving me an idea of what I’m doing here. That’s not to say that I can see myself making a difference or even feeling comfortable in my role for a few months, just that it’s on the horizon, almost within reach.

Because I don’t want it to be the only thing I do in the community, and because I’m not completely settled into my house yet, I go into work from 7:30 to noon, Monday through Friday. That gives me time in the afternoon to do errands and things. Everything takes longer here, so I use all of each afternoon. Last weeks’ consisted of lots of trips to the electric company to get them to finally turn on the power at my house.

My work at the bank so far isn’t really work – it’s learning. I have about 5 manuals on statutes, rules, and regulations that I’m going through. Half of what I do is to take notes on the manuals and the other half is to take notes on the technical French vocab that I don’t understand.

I don’ think I’ve mentioned too much in my blogs about the institutions I’m working with so I’ll try to give a brief description. My counterpart, Pierre, is the only employee for this regional branch of ADAF (Appropriate Developement for Africa Foundation). ADAF is a non-profit organization that audits and gives advice to MC2s (Mutual Communautaire de Croisance). MC2s are microfinance institutios that do savings and loan services for rural, poor, and minority populations (women and youth). Both ADAF qnd MC2 were started by Afriland First Bank, which is where my office is here in Nkongsamba. There are 14 MC2s in this region. Anytime one of them has a credit committee meeting, where they decide to whom to extend loans, or a meeting of the board of directors, ADAF has to be present. ADAF also does regular audits of all the banks.

Thursday, I had my first chance to travel as there was a credit comittee meeting in Melong, 20 minutes away. We left at 2:30 and Pierre told me we would be back by 6:00. I had already planned to make Mexican food with Tara, who lives in the neighboring village and that would give just enough time for dinner.

When we got there, I got a tour of the bank and the meeting only started 15 minutes late, which from what I’ve experienced and been told, is quite early. One of the first things I noticed in the meeting was that my French was not where it needed to be. It was scary how much I didn’t understand.

While the meeting started nearly on time and seemed at first to be progressing smoothly, the efficiency decreased as time went on. Disputes about whether or not to extend loans started taking longer and becoming harder to settle. As I looked at the time throughout the meeting, I started realizing that being back by 6:00 wasn’t going to happen. At first I thought, “I can be back by 6:15.” Then I thought, “maybe it’ll be 6:30.” As the meeting was almost over and I was thinking 6:45 at the latest, the youngest person there started making his way around the room asking what kind of beer everyone wanted. “Let’s be realistic...7:15.” Then they brought in the food. This is not your normal American meeting. It wasn’t even just a small snack. It was dinner. There was chicken, beef, sausage, and fish, with pineapple for dessert. It didn’t bother me that there wasn’t any vegetarian option other than the pineapple. I was more concerned with getting home to start preparing food and not keeping my friend waiting.

Pierre agreed to eat auickly and we made it back by 8:15. Things in Africa just take a long time. Proof is that Tara, who was supposed to be done with her commitments by 3:00, didn’t make it over until 10:00. On va faire comment? (What are you gonna do?)


1 comment:

Michelle said...

Wow! I think the time difference would drive me crazy. I'm so American! :) Just wanted to drop you a line. I felt kind of bad that no one has left any comments for awhile.

Love you and miss you,