Tuesday, May 6, 2008

First day at MCDT

The folks at MCDT (which stands for Micro Credit Development Trust, I found out) asked me to get there at 9:00. I got there very early (at 8:30), and they were already hard at work, sorting through files and getting things all set up for the day. They were a bit shocked to see me there so early and tried to keep me occupied, but clearly 9 didn’t really mean 9. They asked me to arrive later the next day. In the meantime, I read the newspaper, which didn’t take all that long, and then I watched fascinated as the man across from me sorted baggies full of change into piles of 10 100/= pieces and 6 500/= pieces, and then parceled them out so that everyone at 5,000/= per person for travel expenses.

There were about 6 loan agents going out for meetings with borrowers all over Kampala, scheduled on posters on the wall opposite me. At about 9:40, everything was ready and so everyone stopped everything to say the Lord’s Prayer. I think this is an RC organization as they didn’t say the doxology. After the Lord’s Prayer, someone at the head of the table continued on with the prayer that they would do God’s work that day and all said Amen with the conclusion I’ve come to expect: May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore. Then we went out.

I went with a rather dour woman called Alle. She didn’t talk much; we just went about our business, taking a matatu up to Wandegeya and then another taxi to Nakulabye (NA-coo-LA-bee-yuh--very near Namirembe and Joseline’s place). From there we walked down into a neighborhood that seemed grittier than I had seen elsewhere—kind of like a bad Oakland neighborhood, not quite so violent, but it had a bit of that feel, very different from the IDP camp that still had a sense of family and countryside.

One of the things Alle had said as we traveled to Nakulabye (with some disgust) was that the women would undoubtedly be late for the meeting. It was supposed to be at 10, but they were almost certain to show up late, though they might show up earlier today because she was supposed to give them something. I found this a little odd, given that she was telling me this at about 10 after 10, thus putting our own timeliness in some doubt. Again, "time" means something rather different here than in the U.S.

At any rate, people eventually trickled in and there was a way that they really struck me as the urban poor that the people in the Acholi Quarters never did. They were a bit scruffier somehow. Except for one woman who was wearing this amazing blue dress with black ruffles on a bias and a matching headdress with a huge black bow, mostly it was T-shirts and wrap-around skirts and flip-flops.

I should describe where we met. We walked down this dirt road and stopped at what appeared to be an empty wooden shack with a doorframe but no door. Inside, it was covered with all sorts of political posters for various candidates: local council, Kampala mayor, Parliament, President Museveni, with slogans like “Working for the Common Man Revolution,” or “Politics with a Human Face.” Alle and I pulled out some small blue wooden benches and set them up for people to sit on when they came. Some boys peeked through the window at us—me mostly. I would smile back at them and they would duck out of sight. One boy, much later, who walked past the door did a classic double-take when he saw me sitting there.

There wasn’t a whole lot for me to do. I did try to do a couple of the Kiva intake interviews for the group loans, but English was not so easy in the circumstances and Alle kept having to interpret while counting money. Both of the group leaders dealt in waragi (which I heard pronounced “wallege”), a local brew, so I learned something new today.

Also tried to learn a Luganda greeting, which I need to review because the ladies were exceedingly amused that I knew absolutely nothing, not even the most basic thing. I think it’s “Ale de nyaga,” but I’ll have to double-check. “Aledenyaga,” a woman would say to me and I would stare stupidly and everyone would laugh. The proper response is to say, “Aledenyaga” back. So I’ll be working on that.

One woman brought a chicken to the meeting, tying its leg with twine that was put under a bench leg. Then she held it down by stepping on its feet. Then she bound its leg with twine. It seemed fairly resigned about all of this. I hadn’t known it was there for quite some time. It gave one squawk when she stepped on its feet, but then stopped. It made me a little uncomfortable, though not uncomfortable enough to stop me from having chicken for lunch (which turned out not to be the best idea).

Alle spent the morning filling out papers, marking passbooks, counting money, showing the group loan members where to sign. There wasn’t a meeting as such. It was just time to collect money and take care of business. The ladies sat and chatted and I have no idea what really went on. After I had finished interviewing the second group leader and taking the group’s picture, Alle said, “You might as well go,” so I made my way slowly home, trying to avoid the rain.

1 comment:

Omutahinga said...

I can say with some certainty that "aledenyaga" is not a Luganda word. But you made my day with me laughing at the possibilities.