By Maureen O’Toole, Women’s World Banking Traveler (Tunisia, 2013)
We visited Tunisia during a period of relative calm in the Middle East, or so we thought.
A protester was killed the day we landed. Such is often the status of things in the countries where microfinance is most needed. Despite the convulsions in the government, the microfinance clients we met were focused and trying to rebuild their businesses. So many had suffered real hardship following the overthrow of the Ben Ali government, as trade with Libya, tourism, and the general economy ground to a halt. Yet, we met with determined individuals, focused on their current and future businesses. Indeed, the founders of enda inter arabe (our host), had to assist their clients in getting through the turmoil and repayments were adjusted.
We visited many clients of enda’s, both men and women. The man who made lamps had his shop on the high street that was small but so beautifully designed, it would not have been out of place in the West Village.
As for the woman down the street whose lovely lavender walls brightened up her spice shop : ditto. Outside of the shops were dirt roads, broken sidewalks and a mish mash of other important shops for the residents of the village.
Away from the high street, down a garbage strewn residential street we met a woman who made crepes and other baked goods. Her stall was no more than 4 feet wide and 9 feet deep. Knowing we were coming, she had cooked us a stew of goat meat and vegetables which was delicious. She wanted us to eat in her house (a common request of microfinance clients) so she could show us her new kitchen and her new bedroom addition that her profits from her small business afforded her. Her mother stopped by to say hello as did many curious neighbors.
Walking through a sandstorm to see a client’s commercial rose garden was a first. He was so proud to show them off, cutting each of us a blossom to take with us, that we didn’t have the heart to not get sandblasted a bit by the weather. Going in country, talking with the clients and seeing the differences made in a life by microfinance : priceless.