Sunday, March 7, 2010

weekend of connecting

A great Sunday full of family soccer, volleyball, and food in the countryside with our local partners here. I think Nora and I held our own and represented the “gringas” from all over the world. Having played soccer competitively in the US through college, I couldn’t help but take the familial game seriously (I don’t know how to play for fun with anyone when it comes to soccer). Needless the say, my body is aching all over after working out at 8500 feet and tackling in 2 foot high grass.

Yesterday, Saturday, was an exciting day as Multicredit hosted their first payback meeting of the year with one of our newest village banks, Las Triunfadoras (The Triumphant Ones). Depending on the microcredit methodology and who is delivering the service, payback meetings can be weekly, every fifteen days, or monthly. Women trickled in with babies tied to their backs and Elizabeth our promotora (bank officer) managed the meeting so well as she allowed the bank President, Treasurer, and Secretary to take ownership over collection of payments with simple monitoring from the outside. The sense of ownership and responsibility within a bank is key to the health of the group and an underpinning of village banking all over the world. It was very interesting to see that one of the socias (women) forgot her money as she thought it was in her bag…and the women covered this for her for the time being so their bank payment was given in full. Watching village banking happen in the field is absolutely awesome!

When this meeting ended, we began a “fraternal gathering” that included the Multicredit team from Cajamarca and San Marcos offices. Peruvians gathering all share certain ceremonial elements and worth noting for you, always an interesting time for sure…

1) About 98 percent of the time, the meeting starts 30 mins to 1 hour later than planned. During these minutes of waiting, people usually sit around the outskirts of the space (I have this image of junior high dances and the girls and boys around the outside of the room). There is minimal talking, and often just staring into space. There is comfort in this time of waiting and total PATIENCE. I’ve noticed no matter what the situation, 3 people or 30 people, everyone is accustomed to waiting patiently. This is so counter to how we do business in the US. I find myself asking about every minute during this waiting period, “what the heck is going on here?” Much of the time, there is no clear indication of what is happening; who is leading, what you are waiting for…and all of the sudden…it begins somehow.
2) There are very formal introductions during meetings here. While everyone is seated around the room, all guests must introduce themselves. You must formally stand up and say something. The art of the introduction is big time here. It goes something like: full and formal given name, the neighborhood you represent, and your business of being there. Applause for you before and after…see next step.

3) Applause is huge. When someone is going to begin talking, you clap for them. When they finish talking you clap for them. You clap throughout Peruvian gatherings, when something exciting is said, when you are thanking someone, pretty much you clap at everything. Clap on. Clap off.

4) Prayer…of course in a Catholic nation, you will usually give some sort of thanks to God at some point. I appreciate their love and commitment to their spirituality, since it is the guide in every home, no matter how poor or rustic….you will always see a picture depicting their strong connection to their religious roots.

5) There is always some kind of refresco (refreshment). At one point during the meeting, someone will bring by a plate with tiny cups of pop (they love this), or juice, or wine…depending on the situation. This refreshing drink comes with crackers most of the time. The cracker plate comes around 2 or 3 times and suddenly you have a love affair with delicious crackers. (And since meetings start late and can go for many hours, you usually want these crackers).

6) Because I am a special visitor, there is a special something prepared for me all the time (both food and celebration). Today it happened to be hot milk and presentation of a traditional dance by two young amazing kids (see picture). The preparation of special food is always a little shaky for me, since I am a vegetarian and you never know what is coming on your plate (i.e. chicken feet)! The “invitation” here means a ton…and the verb “invitar” (to invite) is used with all seriousness. When someone invites you to a lunch, a drink, to their house, etc…it is very formal. To turn down an invitation is pretty much an insult. (This can be hard to understand since in the US we get invited to a lot of things and we simply say no, or we can’t, or we are busy.) if you do this here, you will really hurt people’s feelings big time…so an invitation is serious business!

7) Most gatherings that are about family and being together eventually end up with salsa dancing. If you don’t dance, they think that you are sad and lonely, so there is really no sitting off to the side just hanging out. I love watching Peruvians dance because for me, this is where their joy shines. These amazing people celebrate so wonderfully together the fact that they are with one another and alive. It always leaves me remembering what matters most.

I am so thankful for all of the goodness I have in my life. This is what matters to me.

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