It was a Microfinance Conference in Delhi that provided the impetus for the trip. The Kiva Field Support Specialist and Portfolio Manager would be in attendance, and they asked Michelle and I (the other Indian fellow) if we would like to join. Following the two-day conference would be a Kiva meeting with all of the Indian partners which Mr. Das would also attend. Of course I jumped at the chance to visit Delhi and hoped to somehow sneak in a trip to the Taj Mahal, which sits at the top of my bucket list. The latter would take a little finagling as the conference and subsequent meeting was only three days. I then came to learn that Mr. Das would be bringing his wife and son to Delhi and travelling for several days after to visit Agra and a few other pilgrimage sites. It wasn’t long before Mr. Das invited me to join- perhaps encouraged by a few subtle hints from my end. Ritu would also join since she and her husband have a flat in Delhi and know the city pretty well.
The overnight train ride was about 18 hours, arriving in Delhi at 10:30am. We were provided a samosa snack, followed by tomato soup and a dinner of paneer (cheese) curry, dal (lentils), roti (bread), rice and plain yogurt which was three days expired. I told myself the good bacteria would counteract any ill effects of the old curd, but I still only took a few cautious bites. As if less harm would be done by consuming a small amount. I was fine, giving me permission to eat the entire yogurt cup on the return trip, which was only expired by one day.
The Microfinance Summit was a little dry and over my head, although there was one interesting panel that I enjoyed. It was great, however, to be reunited with Michelle and the Kiva staffers. I also met new people doing really great work.
I arrived on Sunday morning, so I ended up meeting my Kiva Field Support Specialist in Old Delhi for a little sightseeing. First let me give my impressions of New Delhi. It was green and clean and much more cosmopolitan than Kolkata. The roads were wide and foreign foods could be found in quaint shopping squares. While strolling through Kahn Market I could’ve sworn I was in Salzburg. They sold Pop-Tarts! But when the cab crossed the bridge into Old Delhi, we went backwards at least 100 years. The potholed roads returned, but it didn’t matter because they were so crammed with people and cabs and rickshaws that we were at a standstill. I was headed to Jama Masjid Mosque, hoping to find my Western counterpart waiting for me at Gate 1. Luckily he wasn’t hard to spot despite the outrageous number of people. We strolled around the Mosque which was enormous, old and beautiful, but most of our attention was focused on conversation. India was recently added to his region, which mostly covers the Middle East, so it was his first time visiting.
After the Mosque, we grabbed a rickshaw and headed to the Red Fort which was also huge and beautiful. Unfortunately it was just closing as we got there, so we only saw the outside. While I’ve only been in India three months and Delhi was a completely new city, it was nice to have a slight leg up and share the experience with another foreigner.
We strolled around the area, ending up at Karim’s for dinner. It was recommended by the Kiva Portfolio Manager who is originally from Delhi. Karim’s is famous for its tandoori dishes and was even written up in Time Magazine as a top place to eat in Asia. We ordered tandoori chicken and lamb along with some naan, a perfectly suitable dinner. The chicken arrived first and it was a whole chicken. Hmmm, maybe we over-ordered. The spices were perfectly balanced on the crispy skin, and the inside was moist. It paired well with the piping hot, ever-so-slightly charred naan. We devoured the chicken, paying no attention to the fact that we had another dish coming. And then it came. Turns out we ordered an entire lamb leg, approximately 18 inches long. We laughed hysterically when it arrived, only drawing more attention to us and our ridiculous American-sized meal. The lamb alone would’ve been too much food, but we started to make our way through it, carving off large chunks Flintstone-style. It was good, although slightly overcooked. I didn’t care, though, because chicken is pretty much the only meat I’ve eaten these past months so it was a welcome change. Bellies overstuffed, we left an embarrassingly large amount of meat. Silly Americans.
On day two of the conference, Michelle and I decided to skip the morning sessions and visit the Lotus Temple. Thankfully it was situated in New Delhi and therefore easier to reach. This large monument, shaped like a lotus flower, is a Baha’i Temple. The Baha’is embrace people of different faiths, and encourage them to join and pray. They have a major temple on each continent (except Antarctica), which each serve as pilgrimage sites for their followers. The grounds and the building itself were massive. As I entered, I passed a group of about 50 school girls walking single file towards the exit, all waving in a cacophony of “hellos” as I walked by. “Hello, hello, hello, hi, hello, hi” I responded as they all stared and giggled. Nope, still not used to it.
The next morning Mr. Das and I headed to the Le Meridien Hotel for the Kiva meeting. As with the Microfinance Summit at the Ashok, you have to appreciate the irony of addressing the issues of the poor from 5-star hotels. It was nice to meet the other Indian Kiva partners, and I think it was helpful for Mr. Das to hear what others are doing with Kiva funding. One of the many things I admire about Kiva is their desire to push the boundaries. Since Kiva funding is provided at 0% interest and all risk is bore by the lender (i.e. if a borrower defaults, the lender doesn’t get repaid), partners are encouraged to use Kiva for loans that other funders wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole. These include operating in very remote areas, serving displaced populations (i.e. disabled, HIV-infected or leprosy victims), and many other riskier ventures. Listening to presentations by others got Mr. Das’s mind churning again. He definitely wants to help those who are least able to help themselves. Sitting in a room with all of these smart, innovative people who want to do good in the world once again inspired me. Sometimes I pause for a reality check and am astonished at where I am and who I’m surrounded by. I don’t know how I got here, but I sure am grateful for it.