Client Assessment in Zambia

Microfinance Assignment 2012 of Yvonne Suter


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Makaika & Miyanda‘s Wedding – Invited to a Day of Zambian Festiveness

When Chibesa, also working for Credit Suisse in London, and Makaika, her younger sister living in Lusaka, mentioned that they would be very pleased if I were their guest at Makaika’s weeding, I didn’t hesitate any moment to confirm the generous invitation. How lucky I am – being invited to a lovely Zambian wedding of two lovely Zambian friends.

Chibesa and Makaika’s welcome in Zambia was unbelievably warm from the very beginning. Even though the two were very busy with all the final preparations for the wedding, they always found time to meet for dinner on weekends either in Lusaka’s famous Steakhouse or in one of the nice restaurants in the new shopping malls of Lusaka. They also introduced me to their friends. We had a lot of fun and I was also glad to enjoy a tasty and tender steak after a week of N’shima and fried rice with vegetables… 🙂

Dinner with Chibesa and Makaika in LusakaDinner with Chibesa and Makaika in LusakaMore Pictures

I was actually quite excited to be part of Makaika & Miyanda’s great day. Luckily, I wasn’t supposed to be dressed in a traditional Zambian dress. It definitely would have been an unforgettable event, but it just doesn’t look as great on my pale skin as when Zambian ladies wear the colourful dresses with the characteristic patterns. For men it is of course much easier anyway – as in Europe they just wear dark suits.

Wedding of Makaika and MiyandaWedding of Makaika and Miyanda

As Swiss as I am, I arrived straight on time at the church, just to find out that I was among the very first guests, apart from Chibesa and her lovely parents. Little by little relatives and friends were arriving at the church and the excitement was ever increasing – just to culminate when the beautifully dressed Makaika was driven to the entrance of the church. Everything would have been just perfect – yet there was no groom.

Wedding of Makaika and MiyandaWedding of Makaika and Miyanda

It is good to know that not only brides can be late. Although it seemed that everybody in the church was waiting as relaxed as no European could ever be, the guests started to check their watches as discretely as possible and to call the groom and his friends by phone. What an advantage that Zambian people have their cellphones always at hand – be it at church, at dinner or at business meetings… 🙂

Wedding of Makaika and MiyandaWedding of Makaika and Miyanda

With a slight delay of about half an hour, the wedding ceremony was finally ready to start. Most people in Zambia are very religious and take the wedding ceremony very seriously. Hence, the wedding in church involved many thoughtful words and solemn praying. It was just the end of the ceremony which was being celebrated very cheerfully with lots of clapping, shaking and ululating (the archetypal way of African cheering). After a photo shoot with as many cellphones as proper cameras we drove to a property with wonderful gardens where the barbecue ought to take place.

Wedding of Makaika and MiyandaWedding of Makaika and Miyanda

Yet, the service team was still placing chairs, decorating tables, installing sound and lights and furnishing the tent when we arrived. Although the guests were pouring in, the service team didn’t feel bothered or urged to rush. Although it probably took more than an hour until the barbecue was ready it didn’t trouble the atmosphere at all. The guests just looked for a shady place to sit and wait while everybody was cheerfully chatting and laughing. How relaxing it was, no anger, no shouting – something I so often experience here in Zambia. It just always works out somehow.

Wedding of Makaika and MiyandaWedding of Makaika and Miyanda

The same was true for the abundant barbecue later that day. People lined up as diligently as at a bus stop in Britain. No pushing, no rushing – I can’t claim that to be true at Swiss weddings. The barbecue was delicious, and I enjoyed the partying with the lovely bridal pair and their many guests immensely. The wedding was just great – with a lot of laughing, dancing and – of course – ululating… 🙂

Wedding of Makaika and MiyandaWedding of Makaika and Miyanda

Wedding of Makaika and MiyandaWedding of Makaika and Miyanda

A huge ‘Thank you’ to Makaika and Miyanda that I could be part of their great wedding day! I wish them all the best for the mutual path of life!

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Visit to the Choma Branch – Unforgettable Experiences in the Country

I was excited from the beginning. Together with Priscilla I was supposed to visit FINCA’s branch office in Choma, a city in Southern Zambia. In order to catch the first bus south I had to get up at 5am. There was no traffic in Lusaka at this time, the bus station being the big exception. Hundreds of people had already been waiting for the buses. Luckily, we had booked our tickets in advance. It didn’t quite work out with our seat numbers as there were several passengers having the same numbers. However, we managed to find two seats in the fully booked bus and we were happy to see that the bus left Lusaka precisely on time. The bus we took was run by Mazhandu Family – being recommended to me as Zambia’s best, i.e. most reliable bus company. Indeed, as one may easily find out, there are massive differences among the different bus companies in terms of comfort and safety. But more about that later…

Visit to ChomaVisit to ChomaMore Pictures

After a five-hour drive in the very crowded bus – there are five people in each row plus children and luggage – on very bumpy roads we finally reached Choma. FINCA’s Choma branch office is located in a pretty, yet small house, and the welcome by Laban, FINCA’s Branch Manager, and his team was very warm and heartfelt. We started straight ahead with the first interviews with some of the new clients. The whole day proved to be quite exhausting. So, after having bought some – not very tasty – food at the only supermarket in town, we were just happy to have found a peaceful even though quite basic lodge a bit outside of town.

Visit to ChomaVisit to Choma

On the next day, we travelled further south to Kalomo, just a few kilometers before Livingstone with its world-famous Victoria Falls. It took us almost an hour to get there but I actually really enjoyed the drive. The landscape we passed was just awesome. There are lots of trees in different greens, yellows and reds. We also passed some traditional villages with very basic but immensely picturesque straw huts. In Kalomo, we took the opportunity to walk around the busy market before we met Santos, the local Loan Officer. Compared to the markets in Lusaka, it was not in the least as chaotic and you won’t get urged by the vendors to buy any items you don’t really need 🙂

Visit to ChomaVisit to Kalomo

Visit to ChomaVisit to Kalomo

For the interviews we met one of the new Village Banking groups at Rebecca’s house. Rebecca lives there with her husband and nine children. Around her house she has got a lot of small animals – such as chickens, ducks and porks – which they use for their personal consumption. Rebecca is a lovely person. In order not to get dirty she even offered me one of her Zambian-style colourful skirts. One of her daughters, who works as a sewer, adjusted the skirt properly which is not an easy task to fulfill.

Visit to KalomoVisit to Kalomo

On the third day, we travelled one and half hours to the north, thus in the direction back to Lusaka, to FINCA’s sales office in Monze. As there was no bus run by the much-praised “Mazhandu Family” we had to get on one of the really bad buses. It was as over-crowded as you could image, it smelt quite unpleasant and the bus was wiping like a barge in a hurricane. We were truly lucky that it didn’t break down completely. Without having eaten all day, we finished the required client interviews and we were happy to finally travel back in one of the popular blue-colour minibuses, paying even half of the price of the wretched bus before.

Visit to MonzeVisit to Monze

Back in Lusaka, we are trying to get the remaining documents from the Loan Officers from Choma to finish our survey of that branch. It has been an unforgettable experience, even though quite exhausting. My next task after posting the blog is to get some tasty Indian food in town… 🙂