The two men who picked me up from the airport came back to collect me the next day and walk me to work. It really is just five minutes, and most of it is through a little park with trees and fake giraffes. My first impression of Kolkata is much nicer than expected, although I know not all of it will be. Still, I feel comfortable where I’m living and working, which is important. The BJS office is on a quiet, tree-lined residential street. It’s common for small businesses to rent out the bottom floor while the owners live upstairs. We walk inside and immediately the staff stands to greet me with a chorus of “hello ma’am” and “hello madam” overlapping. They are all smiling and welcoming, and start jokingly referring to my escorts as my “rescuers” since they rushed to collect me from the airport in record time. I appreciate their humor and feel I will fit in just fine. Soon after, I’m whisked into the CEO’s office where we take tea and talk. For more on the lovely tea culture here, read my Kiva blog post, Taking Tea in India.
After tea they showed me a Powerpoint presentation on who BJS is, and what they do. I was overwhelmingly impressed. In addition to lending money to poor, underbanked women in mostly rural communities (they actually lend exclusively to women), they also operate a primary school, partner with a local hospital for free cervical cancer screenings and give financial literacy training to their borrowers so they can use their loan most effectively. Huh, well, I can upload a video to YouTube! They win 🙂
Today is my first full day at the office, and I made a startling discovery. These people work six days a week! Today is Friday, and I heard a few references to “tomorrow”. Seriously? How could THAT not have come up in conversation before I left? Welcome to the land of the unexpected.
I have a nice little desk in the back of the office, next to an open door. They don’t use screens here, and I got attacked by mosquitos yesterday, so today I lathered on mosquito repellant. Good thing I’m taking my malaria meds. I’m trying to get the lay of the land and remember everyone’s names. There are about 15 people in the office, and they are so nice! Everyone has made an effort to make me feel welcome, and I much appreciate it, although I’m struggling to keep my eyes open. To get things going before the actual onboard training takes place, my FSS, (Field Support Specialist) from Kiva suggests I give an introductory presentation on What Kiva is. Ok, sure. So I scour through different resources and start building it. I tell the staff I’ll present Tuesday afternoon to allow myself some time. Let’s hope I have something decent to show by then!
The hardest adjustment so far (aside from the time change) is the lack of freedom I have. It is not advised that I go out alone, so someone needs to escort me everywhere. If I want to go to the market, I should ask a staff member to accompany me. Someone even comes to my guesthouse in the morning to walk me to work. For this independent girl it’s a SLIGHT adjustment, and I’m hoping the reigns will loosen a bit as I get my bearings. I do, however, appreciate the concern of the BJS staff for my safety. I’m fortunate that people are looking after me, so I will heed what they say.