Monday, August 4, 2008

I am alive and my two typing (pecking) fingers have recovered

I gottta write. Something. Anything. For it is rumored that some of you have begun penning my eulogy (with pitifully little to say). Relax, for you are quite premature and such task is not presently upon you.
Perhaps I have no “good excuse” for not writing for seven weeks,… but I have many pleasant ones:
I recently spent three weeks in Ghana,... traveling, learning, and planning with Chris Crane (our CEO) and other Opportunity staff and supporters. Much was "placed on the table" for discussion. We surveyed the current landscape of microfinance and we reevaluated our unique role and brainstormed our strategies for the future. We were reminded that being brilliant and efficient bankers to the poor is not our ultimate goal. Nor is simply "providing access to capital". Although we must always consider and be concerned about "sustainability", it must not be our mantra at the expense of our ultimate mission to transform lives, families, and communities.
Indeed, microfinance is changing (has changed) with the emergence of the many "for profit" MFIs and other MFIs that do not bear the burden (that is, the expense) of mentoring and transforming lives. We might take considerable pride in Opportunity's demonstration of faith and courage in assuming great risk in "the early years", when others thought that lending to the poor was a reckless and crazy idea. But for better or for worse, our success in demonstrating that lending to the poor can be sustainable, indeed profitable, has drawn many others into the game, and now the poor in many places do have "access to capital". Although we must recognize and we might celebrate this very significant development, what does it mean to the future of Opportunity International? The discussion includes the possibilities for partnering with MicroSchools and MicroClinics, and the promotion of safe water for all and land title rights for the vulnerable (e.g., "widows and orphans in distress").
My greatest of many recent joys is found in Nathan’s arrival. In fact, Nathan arrived in Rwanda just a few days after I departed to Ghana for three weeks. Bummer! The inimitable Nathan Allen drifted into Rwanda all alone and worked his way from Kigali (the capital city) to Sonrise School in Ruhengeri two hours away. He is now “plugged in” at Sonrise School, but I get to enjoy much time with him, both in Kigali and Ruhengeri.
I returned from Ghana to Nathan AND a non-stop stream of visitors, including Marc Epstein (a highly esteemed Harvard/Stanford/Rice Business School Professor), US Senators, Congressmen and other political figures (including Bill Frist, Tom Daschle, Cindy McCain, and Gov. Mike Huckabee), and many others, including the leadership of, the Chairman of Viacom., and Google and Gates Foundation executives. I often felt as if I were playing in a romantic comedy,… on two (or three) dates at the same time, excusing myself from one table “to go to the restroom” so that I could secretly join another "date".
Most recently, Nathan and I were greatly blessed by a one-week visit by Craig and Michelle Black (with their five children) and Galen and Syndi Wright (with their five children)…that’s a total of fourteen. We enjoyed four days in Kigali and three days in Ruhengeri. Perhaps most meaningful were our visits to numerous genocide sites, but those experiences deserve their own separate blog post.
It was also quite an adventure for Nathan, Galen, three of his sons (Alex, Nik and Adrian), and me to climb Mt. Bisoke, a dormant 12,100 foot volcano. I sadly discovered what five months of a “french fry” diet can do to a man, and just how pitifully out of shape I am. It appeared that Nathan was attempting to hasten his inheritance, as he comfortably cruised up the steep mountainside Chris Kall style. It was almost the death of me. (One Thirty-Something year old Belgian could not make it.) In my defense, I should note that Rwandans have not yet discovered the miracle of switchbacks. They continue to believe that the best approach is a straight line,… straight up the steep mountainside. (It was an intense workout that was sorely needed, and certainly made me very sore). Coming down, the muddy, slippery slope, was like a straight toboggan chute, skiing without skis. The Rwandan guide below me often saw that I was out of control, so he stopped and readied himself to catch me as best he could, because he was not so steady himself. What made me most uncomfortable was that in one of his outstretched hands he held a machete pointed right at me.
On this hike, we were so close to the elusive Mountain Gorillas that we could hear them just a few yards away in the dense jungle,… we could see their massively destructive impact on the local flora and step in their poop, but we could not actually see them.
Later we were all alarmed when something was clearly wrong with the function of Syndi’s eye. It was worse the next morning, and I immediately recognized it as Bells Palsy (only because my friend Kasey Lindsay was twice afflicted with Bells Palsy). We did a lot of very helpful internet research, and then pulled from our well stocked medicine chest the appropriate antibiotic, artificial tears, Prednisone, and eye patch. She was still quite symptomatic upon departure yesterday. But we are prayerful that it will be fully resolved within two weeks. (Such health crises are indeed a primary concern of life in Africa.)
As Blacks and Wrights readied for departure with their bags stacked on the front porch, in came Grace Reidy, a very nice CPA from Washington D.C. who will live at the House for two and a half months and work on a special project at the Bank. Nathan and I took her out to dinner last night and we had a very good time. Her company will be much enjoyed. Dale Dawson will also be back this month and live in the House with us. It is always a great treat (and learning experience) to fellowship with Dale.
On the way out to the airport with the departing Blacks and Wrights, I saw Bill and Chelsea Clinton (and their motorcade) driving into town from the airport, but much to their disappointment, I am waaaay too busy to spend any time with them this trip :). Life continues to be very full here, and I thank God for the special privilege of being in this exciting place. Speaking of “busy”, I gotta go, but I promise to resume regular Reports From Rwanda.
Love to all.