January 15, 2012, 11:26 EST – Brazzaville, Republic of Congo
The Sabbath begins with a 9:00 a.m. church service at Rehoboth Church in downtown Brazzaville. This is Manny Palis’ (our managing director of HOPE Congo) home church, led by Pastor Ndeke. It’s a very large church—our service had about 1,500 attendees—and Peter got the chance to deliver a brief devotion and talk about HOPE Congo’s work in the city. It was a wonderful service, with beautiful singing and a heartfelt message from Pastor Ndeke about the importance of family. The service lasted for a solid three hours, so we left the church spiritually fed but physically kind of hungry.
Peter and I went to a Lebanese restaurant with Nate and Allie Hill, who recently moved to Brazzaville. Nate recently left Ernst & Young to become the finance manager for HOPE Congo. His wife, Allie, taught English as second language classes when they lived in Nashville, and is now teaching several English classes a week to the HOPE Congo staff and conducting client interviews. They are settling in to Brazzaville very well. Both of their moms are visiting Brazzaville in a couple of weeks, which is very exciting for Nate and Allie.
I’ve gotten a couple of questions while I’ve been gone that I’ll quickly respond to:
Q. What do you eat when you’re traveling in Africa?
A. Good question, Mom. Generally I eat quite well while I’m here. The key is to stay hydrated and caffeinated, but bottled water, Coca-Cola, and coffee are quite prevalent. I typically pack one CLIF bar for each day I’m going to be traveling as an extra source of protein. Our local staff members enjoy introducing us to the local food, and occasionally convince/trick the weak-stomached Americans to eat unusual body parts of animals. On my trip to Ukraine in October I had a bite of a local delicacy called “Brezhnev’s Surprise,” and I haven’t been able to look at a sheep since.
Q. How do you choose where to open new programs?
A. Part of HOPE’s mission is to go to the “hard places” so that we’re able to reach those living in poverty who are not served by either the local banking system or even by other large microfinance institutions. For example, in Africa we have programs in Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Rwanda, not in the more competitive markets like Nairobi and Kampala. Reaching those in hard places is not only aligned with our social mission but also reduces the risk of our clients getting over-extended by taking out multiple microfinance loans.
Tomorrow is a big day. We’ll be spending the day at HOPE Congo and visiting client meetings for most of the day.