Life Update

March 19, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Posted in Kiva, Travel | Leave a comment
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Since I last wrote, I have gone from Cusco, Peru to Lima. Lima to Buenos Aires. From Buenos Aires on a 4000 mile roadtrip through Patatgonia to Córdoba. From Córdoba to Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires to Portland. Portland to L.A.

So here´s itinerary: We traveled from Buenos Aires to Bahía Blanca and then straight onto Peninsula Valdéz.  From Valdéz through Gaiman (for some Welsh tea!) to Parque Nacional Los Alceres.  North through El Bolson and Bariloche to the Ruta de los Siete Lagos. Launching off from San Martin de los Andes to Parque Nacional Lanín for a Volcano hike and sleeping under the stars.  North to Chos Malal for hot springs and then onto Córdoba (21 hour drive). From Córdoba to Buenos Aires to return the car.

And… the highlights of the roadtrip: sleeping in hammocks for two weeks straight, driving all night, seeing more stars than I ever have before, waking up to the sunrise, petting armadillos, trying to catch trout, swimming in crystal clear rivers and lakes, cooking over open fires, off-roading, getting off the beaten track and seeing Argentina from behind the wheel. And for me personally, learning to drive stick.

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A truly amazing experience. As my experience as a Kiva fellow comes to a close, I am starting the process of searching for a job in Los Angeles.  I will try to blog with any major changes, but in the meantime, I encourage you to follow my buddy, Devin Dvorak and his experience with Fulbright and microfinance in Argentina at http://dgdvorak.wordpress.com/

My Last Peruvian Post

February 9, 2011 at 9:47 am | Posted in Culture, Guatemala, Kiva, Kiva Fellows Post, Microfinance, Peru, Travel | 4 Comments
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This is a hybrid post. Half consists of pieces taken out of my last Kiva Fellows blog. And the other half from my final musings and future plans (I won´t be blogging for at least a month). Feel free to cry now.

Click above to read the full post “Last July, I sat in Kiva headquarters listening to speaker after speaker desperately trying to get a grasp on what life as a Kiva fellow would be like. Despite all my “international” experience, I don´t think anything could have prepared me for the adventure that was to come.  Personally, I set out to discover how microfinance worked, IF it worked, and how it impacted the lives of the people it touched, but I really had no idea what lay ahead of me.

My two Kiva fellowships have allowed me to work with four separate institutions: FAPE and ASDIR in Guatemala and Arariwa and Manuela Ramos in Peru.  I have been able to meet and talk with hundreds of borrowers posting new loans and doing loan updates…

On the flip side, I have had a chance to surf in four new countries, to climb four volcanoes (including Concepción in Nicaragua with some other Kiva Fellows!), and hike the Inca Trail.  On the down side, I have been robbed once and assaulted another time, but I wouldn´t trade my two Kiva fellowships in Guatemala City and Cusco for the world.

And as I see my second (and final) Kiva fellowship come to a close, I have been asking myself what I have learned from the last eight months in the field… My second reflection on microfinance is that the most effective microcredit programs that I have witnessed combine education and training programs with the loans that they offer.  I personally perceive education programs highlighting business management, budgeting, family, nutrition, or health allow the borrowers to develop not only economically, but in all aspects of their life.  Which is the positive impact that all of us wish to see.”

As far as the future, I have a road trip through Patagonia planned with Devin Dvorak (starting on Feb 14th!). Coming back to the states, I’m heading up to Portland for a week, and after trying to find a job in Los Angeles.

My experiences with Kiva in Central and South America have truly been an adventure, one that I wouldn’t trade for the world. Thanks for all your prayers, support, and for reading my blog! I promise to blog when I’m back in the states about my exploits!

In Transit

January 24, 2011 at 10:13 am | Posted in Kiva, Microfinance, Mountains, Peru, Travel | Leave a comment
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Sometimes it feels like my life is in transit. I wonder in those moments if life is a sum of the places you are waiting to go, or if the key to life is enjoying the journey and the mundane, endless hours in the terminals of… wherever.

And as it turns out… It is. If you don’t enjoy the process of getting there, you will miss out on those perfect sunsets, the people you met along the way, and when you get to your destination, you will only be thinking about how much you hated getting there.

All of these thoughts are summed up in my latest trip down south to do a borrower verification with our field partner, Manuela Ramos.  It started out last weekend when I took a trip to Arequipa to see American movies (yes they have a theater), to see Mt. Misti rising up from the town, and to read in the shade of every park I could find.  From there, I took another bus to Puno passing the high mountains and flamingos and deserts and lakes.

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In the first two days in Puno, I had traveled all over Juliaca and beyond, and down to the Bolivian border near Yunguyo.  Which added up to waking up before sunrise, and getting back hours after the sunset over Lake Titicaca.  Unfortunately, one very elusive borrower had taken off to Moquegua (another part of Peru). And if I couldn’t find her, I had to visit another 10 new borrowers.  With parents arriving on Monday, I choose (reluctantly and not enjoying the journey) the 7 hour trip for a 15 minute interview.

I was back in the morning, and headed out to the spectacular islands on Lake Titicaca. First to the famous floating islands Los Uros which I visited three years before, and then to spend a night on Amantani and a morning on Taquile.  I ended my stay with a cannonball in the freezing cold lake (did I mention that the lake is 3810m high??).

70 plus hours on buses, trucks, vans, boats. Exhausted. But happy. Remembering that traveling, meeting people, the journey, is why I did this in the first place.

Rethinking… Charity

January 7, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Posted in Kiva, Microfinance, Philosophy | 4 Comments
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January last year, I sat down in Tom Shadyac´s class at Pepperdine after my friends couldn´t stop raving about the film producer / philosopher who showed up year after year to impart some wisdom to us college kids.  The first class he told us a story (excuse my paraphasing) about a pair of glasses.  This was a special pair of glasses, because you could read 10x as fast.

Imagine! How much knowledge you would gain, how much smarter and better off the world would be because of it.  As the product got more popular, more and more people started using the glasses, and a few people ended up dying, but think about it! You could read 10x faster and there was only a .001% chance of getting injured by the glases.  The wider the glasses spread, more people were killed, but the sacrifice seemed worth the knowledge gained through the glasses. At the end of the story, he said… seems a little ridiculous right? But, I just told  you the story of the car. The trade off millions of lives for an increase in speed.

He went on to say that the class would be about rethinking things (this particular class was by far my favorite of college) … about putting a new perspective on things that seem “good” and “normal”.

So, right now I´m rethinking charity. I imagining the parable of the Good Samaritan and remembering the 10 people in destitute poverty begging for coins on my route to work.  And how I am of those that merely pass by.  And I find most Christians saying the same, “They will just spend it on booze and drugs” as an excuse not to give or help?

I wonder, are we called to give discriminately? And should I be giving to those in need because they need it? That´s is why I was in love with microfinance at first, it seemed like the solution to this. I KNEW that the money was enabling the poor to have a better life and I knew that the money wasn´t creating a downward cycle of expectations.  (Based on the assumption that the more people in poverty receive without doing anything, the more they rely on “aid” instead of their own efforts).

But I´m no longer sure that microfinance, alone, is the solution (I still fully believe in how Kiva connects individuals to individuals through lending). I think escaping poverty takes time. I think microfinance can play a role. BUT I know that it is microfinance coupled with EDUCATION and PERSONAL ATTENTION that will make the difference. (The negatives of pushing loan products without either of these is apparent in India as a wave of suicides broke out from microloan overindebtedness).

This doesn´t mean that all microfinance and charity is bad.  Yes, it needs to be regulated and monitored. Yes, it needs to be administered with care for the individual and coupled with education. I perpetually encourage and support people who are “doing their part” however small because of my own belief that changing at least one person´s life is better than changing none at all.  Rethinking microfinance means rethinking how we give.  So maybe we should help those that we encounter every day… knowing full well who our money is helping.

What do you guys think is the solution? What should charity be… and how should we give?

2010 Year in Review

December 31, 2010 at 9:29 am | Posted in Aldea Nimasac, Costa Rica, Cuisine, Culture, Cuzco, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guatemala City, Kiva, Microfinance, Nicaragua, Peru, Travel, United States | Leave a comment
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I usually don´t have new year´s resolutions, but the last few years, it has been a generic “make this year better than the last”.  Whether that be traveling to 15 countries or graduating from college or working for Kiva, this year has been both un-forgettable and equally hard to top. Here are some highlights!

January. I´ll bring this full circle. Last New Year I spent in Frankfurt, Germany with Sandra Nymphius lighting off bottle rockets. A subsequent trip to the glorious dutch nation of Holland to visit Shamir, eat herring, and see Amsterdam make January 2010 equally unforgettable.

February-March. Columbia with Devin Dvorak. This whorlwind tour of Medellin, Cartagena, Santa Teresa, and Bogota involved a lot of beach side eating, mojitos, salsa dancing, and monkey chasing.  Never forget that day in Cartagena eating Ceviche… And back at Pepperdine for Songfest! Half the time I think I hated doing the practices, but at the end (and KTD´s almost win), I wouldn´t trade it for the world.

April. Wine tasting for my birthday. Getting the Kiva Fellowship. Graduating from college. My favorite month / memories of 2010…

May-June. Cruising the Mediterranean with Princess Cruises with the parents. Highlights: seeing Venice, quads in Mykonos, the spice market in Istanbul, Florence, Rome, and going back to Barcelona (easily one of my favorite cities in the world).  Road tripping up to San Luis Obispo with Hallie. The 24 hour drive out to Houston for Andy and Trudy Smith´s wedding.

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July-August. Kiva Training. Visiting with the cousins in San Francisco. Moving to Guatemala City to start my fellowship. Getting robbed on Roosevelt in Guatemala City (not a highlight but definitely memorable).  Moving to Aldea Nimasac in Guatemala. Visiting Lago Atitlán.

September-October. Kiva Vacation in Nicaragua (one of my favorite vacations of all time). Kiva Vacation in El Salvador. Surfing. Visiting with Devin Dvorak in Costa Rica. Seeing the Kite Festival in Sumpango.

November-December. Visiting the U.S. My weekend in San Diego. Moving to Cusco, Peru. Finding the meeting place. The near miss with a Machete Robbery. Having Marc Capule come visit. Exploring the Incan Culture and Ruins. Christmas with Peruvians and brunch in San Jeronimo.

Wait, What do you do again???

December 27, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Posted in Cuzco, Kiva, Kiva Fellows Post, Microfinance, Peru, Travel | Leave a comment
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New Kiva Fellows blog post

A Look Under the Hood (Fine Tuning an MFI for 2011)

December 14, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Posted in Cuzco, Kiva, Kiva Fellows Post, Microfinance, Peru | Leave a comment
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My new Kiva Fellows Blog Post about Asociacion Arariwa’s Retreat last weekend. From microfinance reflections, to singing Peruvian Folk at 2 am!

A Sneak Preview> “The retreat started out with pictures of Machu Picchu, Maras Moray, Sacsayhuaman, and the mountains and sweeping valleys that put Peru on the map for every tourist coming to South America.  The executive director began, “This is our rich history, memories from a time were we were the most advanced race on the face of the planet”.  The discourse went on to show poverty in Peru: families standing outside of adobe shacks, and homes destroyed by the floods last February and the executive director explained that their “rich” history can´t guarantee a “rich” future for the poor in Peru.  How only microfinance coupled with education (at every village bank Arariwa provides training sessions for their clients) and a focus on improving health and nutrition can do that.”

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Media, Media, More Media!

December 10, 2010 at 8:47 pm | Posted in Cuzco, Kiva, Microfinance, Peru, Travel | 2 Comments
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This post I won´t bore you with my words… I´ll let my camera do the talking. This week has been interesting to say the least: it ranges from me being on Cipro (the food in Peru did me in…), me warding off bandits, catching a rat in my kitchen, some of the biggest hail I have ever seen, borrower visits at 4200m in Ocongate, and some folk music from the Arariwa retreat!

sorry guys… people at my work got upset about the music video. they don´t want to be online… email me if you just can´t live without peruvian folk!

If you haven´t seen enough, check out my Youtube Channel!

The Machete Heist

December 5, 2010 at 6:54 pm | Posted in Cuzco, Kiva, Peru, Philosophy, Travel | 5 Comments
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I am literally writing this with blood on my hands.  O and if you are my parents, lets just skip over this blog post.  This happened less than one hour ago, and is the most crazy thing that has ever happened to me in a South American country.  I mean more crazy than being robbed in Guatemala City, or having a tire iron being waved in my face by a taxi driver in Argentina, or even seeing 4k of coke being pulled out from the seat in front of me the last time I was here in Peru.

Here is what happened. This morning, I decided to go for a run to start training for the Inca Trail or even more immediately, my potential backpacking trip to the Lares valley next weekend.  I headed up to the Temple of the Moon (ok, I didn´t run up the hills, but did some trail running once I got up there) where I had gone hiking with some friends the week before.  At the end of my run, I decided to hike up to the top of the tallest hill in the valley to rest and take in the view.

As I approached, I saw three 15-17 year old Peruvians coming up at the same time.  I didn´t think anything of it until I saw one coming up my left hand side, and the other two (one in a Yankees cap…I think this speaks volumes) walking behind me.  My very imaginative mind flashed to all sorts of movies where they were surrounding me and cutting off my exits and saw a place straight ahead where I could run down unobstructed.  I immediately dismissed this as ridiculous because this only happens in movies right?

Less than ten seconds later, the kid I saw on my left hand side ran up and sat down by me, put his arm around my neck forcefully and said “tienes sencillo” more or less meaning do you have exact change.  I jumped up realizing what was happening and tried to throw him off me when I saw the kid in the Yankees cap with a two and a half foot machete run up and tell me to hand over all my stuff.

The rest is a blur. I remember trying to get loose and telling them both ok I´ll hand over my stuff (then I thought about my brand new canon camera and my credit cards in my bag and knew I didn´t want to do that) but told them to let me go first.  I remember thinking about yelling, but who was around? I remember the kid in the Yankees cap holding the machete low and swinging it at me and me jumping back. And I remember trying to grab the machete so it won´t hit me. I remember finally grabbing kid A and throwing him into the kid with the Yankees cap and rock hopping and scrambling down the mountain.

Then, I all out sprinted a kilometer (which is superhuman at 12k feet) through some trees downhill to the Temple of the Moon (they chased me for a while, but thank God for long legs).  I got chased by the dog of a couple of older Peruvians who I warned about the robbers.  And finally, finally, I made it to the security guard who stands guarding the site, and told him all about it.

I ran/jogged back into the city with a don´t mess with me grimace on my face. I don´t know how all of it happened, but I assure everyone that I am fine, that I will find people to hike with, and that the cuts on my hands from scrambling and from the fight will heal.  Below is a picture from the moon temple. It all went down on the hill a little to the left of the photo:

From Templo de la Luna

Getting in the Christmas Spirit (Read This)

December 1, 2010 at 6:00 am | Posted in Culture, Cuzco, Kiva, Microfinance, Peru, Philosophy, Travel, United States | Leave a comment
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Merry Christmas! This post is a MUST READ and is partially a carry over post from my minimalism post on Black Friday, and partially its own entity about making the holidays worthwhile.

First of all, I love Christmas. The tree, Christmas lights (you can ask my parents about what I did to our house when I was a little kid), hot cider, going over to Grandma´s house on Christmas Eve, eating tamales (everyone has their own Christmas traditions), the stockings, Eggs Benedict Christmas morning, watching my Beagle open up his gifts.  The feeling of being around those who you love and those who love you.  I love all of it.

As I search for meaning over the Holidays, I reflect on what I would change about all of it if I could.  And (I know I am not original saying this) I think that we mistake all the great feelings that culminate in Christmas for what we give and what we receive instead of the traditions and the people that really matter.  More than that, I–and I´m sure I´m not alone in this–find myself buying gifts that people don´t want just for the sake of giving them something.

My advice: if you run across that person that has everything this holiday season, instead of buying them another thing that they don´t want or need, get creative.  Buy> my shameless plug goes here: buy Kiva gift cards (you are giving something and helping entrepreneurs around the world!) Or buy gifts from social responsible and cause related not-for-profits like Ten Thousand Villages or Nightlight International *great handmade jewelry! Or give the gift of time: I remember one of my favorite gifts as a kid was a book from my Dad full of outings to the beach, ice dream, hiking, Disneyland, etc. It becomes more than a gift, but an excuse to spend time with your loved ones.

 

The Cusco Christmas Market

My final thought for the 1st of December concerns my own holiday plans.  With some of the people in the office, we are pooling our money to buy food, toys, and small gifts for the poor that come to sell handicrafts at the Cusco Christmas market on the 24th.  I am putting forward $50 with another $100 or so from my co-workers.  I have never been one to ask for money; however, if this is something you are interested in giving money to, feel free to donate (right hand side of the page) and (like Kiva) 100% of the money given will get to the families that need it most on Christmas Eve.  And you can count on me taking pictures and blogging about the project after its through!

Merry Christmas from Down South

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