October 4, 2013
We slept in today, had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel (buffet breakfasts are another kid favorite in this household!), and were picked up at 11 am to visit some microfinance clients in El Alto. Located at 4,100 meters/13,000 feet and with a population of nearly a million, El Alto is the largest and highest indigenous city in the world. My husband works for an organization that does microfinance and it is always a special treat when we can visit some clients and learn more about their way of life.
We visited a restaurant, a sweater producer, a bag maker and a market vendor. All the clients are female as is common in microfinance loans, which are often given with little or no collateral. Worldwide, women have a much better track record of using the money to build businesses and improve the lives of their families and then pay back the loans. I don’t want to malign men but they unfortunately have much worse track record worldwide.
I only took a photo at the market because it felt intrusive to take photos in the other businesses. They were all home businesses and it was really interesting to see how people live and how hard they work to scrape together a meager living. In the case of the sweater producer, for instance, the client’s family has been weaving sweaters by hand for generations. It sounds lovely except that it took a week to weave a sweater that would be sold for about $10 or less. Not a lot of income coming in and the family now had four children to feed. So they decided that it was time to modernize and applied for a loan of $5,000, a ton of money in their world. With this money, they were able to purchase a used machine to make the sweaters and they now can make many sweaters a day (I forgot how many, to be honest) and sell them wholesale to vendors. They have been able to pay back the loan and just applied for another one to buy another machine that can make warm weather clothes and thus, diversify their business.
This experience made me think how we in the developed world, with our habits of overconsumption and so much stuff that we don’t know what to do with it all, romanticize indigenous people living a simple lifestyle and making things by hand. “Do we really need more cheap sweaters in the world?”, we might wonder. The answer for us is a definite ”no “ and yet these families also want food to eat and clothes to wear and to send their children to school and that takes money.
We wrapped up our visits and were taken to the airport to our 4 pm flight to Sucre, a beautiful colonial city and former capital of Bolivia, only to find out that our flight had been cancelled due to weather issues in Sucre. Bummer! We are scheduled on the 8 am flight tomorrow which means waking up at 5:30 am. Double bummer!
Oh well, when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. Might as well go back to the fancy restaurant and take the kids this time.