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This is my final dispatch from Zimbabwe — at least until I return. When you first begin to people-watch here, one thing you quickly notice is the attention to fashion. The results, though, differ a bit for men and women.

For men, the style is more “business casual” — lots of button-down dress shirts, usually long-sleeve, with slacks and nice shoes. This is a school principal near Nyanga. (I think it should be a rule that all school principals wear colorful vests.):

I saw these blokes on the streets of Masvingo. I quite like the purple sport coat:

For women, fashion can have a different orientation — lots of vivid colors and flowy skirts. These women hail from the town of Mapanzure:

And this is how you carry your toddler around with you, which seems rather sensible to me:

My traveling companions — (from left) Wilson, Joseph, and Chipo — pose by a sign for Zimbabwe’s largest dam.

So what’s going on here? Why do men and women have these different styles?

To answer that, let me defer to the African history class (AF16) I took in college in 2004. I went back to my notes, and it turns out they do a much better job of explaining all this than I can. With the giant disclaimer that it’s a bit silly to generalize an entire continent, here are the professor’s comments from the class on “Family and Farming Structure”:

“Post-colonial, men begin dressing in fairly standard, European ways. Women, however, began dressing differently, and common women began to buy cloth that they couldn’t buy pre-colonial. These cloths and new fashions were imported both from Europe and from other parts of Africa, such as Senegal. The women developed outfits that didn’t match either European outfits or pre-colonial outfits, and this is what we see today: bright, flowy garb.”

“Men, to hold their position in the colonial society, had to dress according to European ideals, while women, with income to spend and less need to match into the hierarchy (their less prestigious jobs didn’t require such rigid forms of dress) could and would do more to express themselves and the power that they bring to their lives.”

Here is a well-dressed man who would seem to know all about keeping one’s elevated seat in society:

There’s a third sartorial category, the animals one sees on safari, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t applaud their practical use of patterns and stripes.

As for my own fashion, I am just a typical example of “REI Chic” — all extra pockets and polyester. See past posts for examples.

Well, that’s all from Zimbabwe. I’m sad to leave. It’s been great.

With the focus groups done, it’s time to wind down my stay in Zimbabwe.

OK, so funny story. You know the incredibly impressive medieval ruins known as Great Zimbabwe, the ones that the colonial powers occupying Zimbabwe a century ago said couldn’t possibly have been built by actual Africans and must have been the work of foreigners (read: whites)?

Well, you’ll never believe this. Turns out that Africans really DID build it. (I know, right?) From the 12th to the 15th centuries, it was the seat of power and trade for the whole region. Pottery and coins from as far away as China have been found at the site.

When I learned all this, I couldn’t help but (1) silently curse colonialism for the 16th time this week, (2) be impressed, and (3) be reminded of an hilarious article from the government’s newspaper 2 days ago:

“China Denies Exporting Inferior Products to Zimbabwe”

It’s funny because the gist of the article is China saying, “Well, you get what you pay for.”

That said, the 15th century Chinese coins in the Great Zimbabwe museum looked pretty well-made to me. Perhaps standards have fallen as of late.

Great Zim was oodles of fun — and adventurers, take note. Only about 50 people visit per day, so no pesky tourists to mar your new Facebook photo album, “Great Zimbabwe, Batman!”

Act now and you’ll also get this charming sign to beware of falling rocks. If falling rocks are indeed about to hit you, please be sure to keep (1) calm and (2) your driving cap on.

Wilson, my partner in crime, and I take a break at the top of the mountain (outfit coordination not intentional).

I’m now in Masvingo (pronounced Mah-SHEEN-go), in the middle of the country. Something like the St. Louis of Zimbabwe. Yesterday and today I met with another 31 cluster facilitators, as well as the staff in the NGO’s office here who orchestrates the whole village savings and loan shabang.

I feel like “Village Savings and Loan” is the huge secret the world hasn’t heard about yet. Last week I spoke with 3 Emory students about their interest in getting into microfinance, and most of what they know is just Grameen and Kiva. If it hasn’t been heavily publicized, folks just don’t hear about it.

VS&L is a model of group-run savings and loan projects; the members (anywhere from 7 to 25 per group) invest savings every week into the group, and then any of them can borrow from the group at about 20% interest — per MONTH. (It’s 20% in Zimbabwe, 10 to 30% elsewhere.) But when they pay it back, does the profit go to a foreign bank or microfinance institution worth millions (cf. Compartamos)? No. It goes back into the group, becoming more money for it to lend out or use to buy stuff for the whole group, like groceries, kitchen utensils, or school fees.

As I began to think about it, I realized that using a bank just means paying them a bit for their help. My savings is money they can use to lend out and make money, and any loans earn them interest. I get the service, they earn off of me. What the poor lack in money, they often make up for in time, and so they can spend the extra hours sitting under a tree out of the hot sun, collecting savings from each other and loaning out, operating their own mini-bank. (And honestly, it doesn’t take that much time, perhaps a few hours a month once they’re up and running.) And they get to keep the profit – 20% a month, a rate any banker would drool over.

So yeah — VS&L is pretty awesome. Fortunately, the model is spreading. The Gates Foundation is spending north of 10 million dollars to scale VS&L’s to reach 30 million Africans by 2018. And it’d be great if we could tack on some business literacy education in a cheaper and more scalable way, which is why I’m here.

One more impression, randomly: Zimbabwe is very pretty, but not just in a “vast plains of Africa” kind of way. Large swaths of the country are verdant and super green, so that the effect — what with the granite boulders strewn about — is a bit like western Ireland. In fact, I met an Irish priest here two days ago whose thick accent made me do a double-take. No joke.

Or if it was, something like, “OK, so there’s this Irish priest in Africa, right?…” I’ll work on the punchline; get back to me.

This is today’s session in Mapanzure, a rural area near Masvingo. My laptop is resting on an empty Coke crate.

We spent today around Mutare, a Zimbabwe city of 170K just across the border from Mozambique. Our partner for the day was ASAP Africa — ASAP stands for A Self-help Assistance Program — who let me meet with two groups of their cluster facilitators. Each CF voluntarily oversees 5-20 Village Savings and Loan groups of 5-7 people each. Which is to say that the 25 women I spoke with today represent more than 1,000 of their peers. In ASAP lingo, the program is locally known as Kufasa Mari — and the women all have matching Kufasa Mari shirts they proudly showed me.

I learned a lot today, but one thing strikes me. Even the ASAP staff were surprised by how interested the women were about leading business literacy sessions for their groups. Clear enthusiasm. This is something I’ve encountered elsewhere — a failure to recognize how much microentrepreneurs want to learn business knowhow.

There’s something about microenterprise that arouses convictions in us First Worlders toward microfinance, but not as much towards spreading business literacy or the operations of the microenterprise itself. It’s not scientific, but Google turns up 4 times as many results for “microfinance” as for “microenterprise.” Phrases like “microentrepreneur” and “business literacy” fare even worse.

It seems to me — though if you’re reading this blog, I’ve probably said this to you a lot — that it should be the other way around. Business knowhow should be the lead product, with microfinance the complementary cross-sell.

A resourceful, savvy business owner can make do without much credit, while a simple-minded business owner with a plump line of credit won’t just spin his wheels, he’ll be a danger to himself and his bank account.

There’s also the issue that the gospel of microfinance operates under a set of assumptions, credit=investment=net profit=additional wealth, that don’t often carry all the way through. Microfinance is great, but it’s great because it helps recipients smooth their volatile income and deal with emergencies — a bit different than the stories that end so sweetly, “And that loan let Maria buy a sewing machine and now she’s not poor.”

How did Maria know to buy a sewing machine? How did she know she’d be able to pay it off? How is she selling more than her competitors, and how does she plan to keep this advantage?

Credit is a tool, I think; it matters more whether you know what to do with it.

As for the title of this post, it comes from a conversation today. My translator and the ASAP program manager, Joseph Miti, asked the women to describe their businesses. One said she had 8 goats, 4 pigs, and “brellas.” I thought, “Well, that’s a funny thing to buy elsewhere and sell in your community, but if there’s demand for umbrellas, go for it.” After all, on the way to this remote town of Sherukuru, I saw a few women blocking out the midday sun with large golf umbrellas, so perhaps they were in vogue, a la urban China. Also — shortening umbrellas to ‘brellas, how ‘mazing!

As I was asking a question later about challenges, I used umbrellas as the example business. A couple weird looks, but nothing crazy.

Though the next time she mentioned raising “brellas,” I stopped her.

“You mean umbrellas?”

“No,” she laughed. “I raise broilers. Like chickens.”

So if you visit Sherukuru and are asked if Americans really do grow umbrellas, I–I may be at fault.

Just finished a 4-hour focus group with 10 cluster facilitators about their interest in teaching business literacy to their groups. (CF’s are village agents who volunteer to help create and mentor village savings and loan groups.)

In addition, they each run their own individual businesses — like making peanut butter and candles or importating clothes and blankets. A super-talented group.

When I asked if their savings & loan groups would want to learn the business literacy knowhow, the whole table erupted, Yes! The demand is there.

In other news, I continue to blend in nicely:

After Atlanta -> NYC -> Johannesburg -> Harare, I’m finally here in Zimbabwe. My first time to Harare, my first time to Zimbabwe, and my first time to Africa. I think I blend in nicely.

At the start of the security briefing with Faithful, the NGO’s compliance officer, I mentioned this was my first trip to Africa. “Oh!” she exclaimed. “I’m really going to have to put you through your paces!” I think she’s worried about me, that I might try to buy a farm or something.

So if you visit Zimbabwe, here are some tips:
1. Don’t shop alone; bring along a local friend to negotiate for you.
2. In Masvingo (pop: 51,000), be sure to ask for a hotel with a generator; electricity isn’t the most reliable.
3. And I was told, “You’ve come at a very good time — there’s bread and sugar on the shelves.” (!)

And straight from Johannesburg airport, here’s a giant statue of Nelson Mandela made of beads for you.

More to come soon when I’m not delirious with jet-lag.

Perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to let my travel-mates (other B-school students) know that I blog. Again and again, a picture, funny comment, or poignant moment was followed by, “Hey Andrew, you should blog that.” This is 2010 teasing. :)

Friday the 26th we went to a little league baseball game. It’s a baseball camp run by Fundacion A. Jean Brugger, one of the 3 social enterprises we’re here to get to know. If there seems to be more than 9 defensive players on the field, that’s because there are a LOT of kids at this baseball camp. It makes each play exciting when 3 kids converge on each ground ball.


And then we painted a school.


The kids were pretty excited. This is them looking all smile-like about it.


Saturday the 27th we visited a potter who told us about his work. In fact, the whole pueblo is all about awesome pottery. This is the “image” on a wall out front…


…and this is the actual potter, next to his kiln.


On Sunday, we rested.

On Monday the 1st, Jon Thompson and Jean Brugger spoke to us about their foundation. Our social enterprise professor, Peter Roberts, will be turning it into a case study of an education foundation’s revenue challenges. This is Jon chatting about the Foundation.


This is Danielle and I standing in front of a Movistar (cell phone company) ad. It says “Me Gusta Consultar,” which I choose to believe means “I love consulting.” Which is funny to me since both Danielle and I will be working at consultancies this summer.

Late that day we went zip-lining all the way down a nearby mountain, from all the way up here:


As you can see, this part of Nicaragua is gorgeous — and rather dry. (The droughts have been bad recently.) Here’s David Papa, my roommate here, zip-lining:


At one of our homestay family’s houses (not mine), this picture was up. I love it in so many ways. The misshapen bike. The 80′s makeup and hair. That this woman rides around with artfully arranged flowers all the time. It makes me so happy looking at it.


On Tuesday the 2nd, in the morning, we had a Skype video chat back to Professor Roberts’s BBA (undergrad business student) social enterprise class about our experiences. The view was nice.


Then we picked up garbage in a local community.


Wednesday the 3rd we went to Granada and I had a chance to interview several successful entrepreneurs. It was really interesting and fun. More on that in a future blog post.

Later we watched the sun set from a pool. Again, nice view.


In the evening we had salsa lessons. This is Danielle with the salsa instructor, whose name is, I think, Heady.


OK, this pizza place with the free wifi is about to close. Perhaps I’ll be able to report about today, Thursday, later. Until then. (I’m having fun.)

I’m back in Nicaragua, on an 11-day Goizueta Business School mid-semester module trip. MSM’s are where a group of a dozen or two late-20-something b-school students travel to foreign countries like Turkey, Japan, or Atlanta to ostensibly study some specific aspect of business while really being a giant tourist. True story: One of the local Atlanta modules at GBS itself is actually named “Communication Skills for High Potentials.” I think if I were a “high potential,” I would “communicate” it by not letting anyone know I had enrolled in “Communication Skills for High Potentials.”

This particular trip to Nicaragua is all about social enterprise. We are working with three organizations here involved in various forms of do-goodery – a community development organization, an education foundation, and a sustainably operated coffee farm with an eco-lodge. I’m in changemaker heaven.

Yesterday we painted a school – a really rewarding experience, but I can’t help but feel like a stereotype even speaking about it. By which I mean that “painting a school” feels like it’s up there on the list of can’t-fail first-date stories with “building homes for refugees” and “teaching English lessons to cute, non-American children” – two other experiences I happen to have. What items on this notional list have I yet to complete, you ask?

- Painstakingly caring for Chilean fishery eggs to help repopulate the South Pacific waters’ decimated sea bass population

- Building a Roman-style aquaduct to bring water to a rural Indian village

- Fomenting a feminist revolution in Guatemala (with a battle cry of: “No Machismo, Si Feminismo!”)

To be clear, I am only making fun of the culture of how feel-good accomplishments can too-easily alchemize into transcendental essay answers to prompts like, “Tell us about a cross-cultural experience and how it has changed you.” 3 hours of volunteering and 6 hours crafting the essay into a tight 500 words. We can do better.

So it is in this meta-aware context that I am spending my time here in Nicaragua. It’s too easy for a tourist group to swoop in, learn a few choice words of Spanish, and get the first-date story without, say, trying to better understand (1) the structural causes of poverty, (2) the decades of unfulfilled government promises, or (3) the mixed story that is international aid. Perhaps *I* can do better. Keep an eye on this space for updates on this one.

And to close, a funny little story. We’re driving to Masaya Volcano National Park. (In Spanish, this is Parque Nacional Volcan Masaya – each word happens to be in reverse order from the English.) Our minibus stops at a Texaco. Steven takes out his Life Is Good Frisbee, and a few of us toss it around in the Texaco parking lot, eliciting not a few curious stares from the gas station attendants and truckers stopping through.

After a bit, one of my errant Frisbee throws ends up on the roof of the free-standing bathroom building. Like a cat climbing a tree, I immediately scampered up the adjacent fence to get it, and my click-happy travel-mates took a few pictures of me standing awkwardly on the roof of a Texaco bathroom in Nicaragua wondering what the heck I was doing up there. It was pretty funny.




Touring around Cuenca in Ecuador for a day, the most striking thing besides the city’s natural beauty…

…is the fashion. Men and women alike sport some wonderfully superlative styles.

One person I spoke with explained that outward signs of wealth are a big deal. Having fancy house exteriors and lawns aren’t done here, so items like cars and clothes take on extra importance.

For me, this still doesn’t explain why Cuenca, in particular, seems so fashionable. Perhaps because it’s a very walkable city with a lot of youth and ex-pats (but not so much the hippie types), so people are out, about, and style-conscious.

Whatever the cause, it’s a pleasure to behold. So in homage to The Sartorialist, here are some of the standouts of Cuenca street fashion.

The biggest contrasts are between modern and traditional/indigenous:

I can only assume this boy is excited about his mom’s matching poncho:

Motorcyclists are impressively color-coordinated:

Of course the Panama hat, which is actually made most ably in Cuenca, is popular:

For the bovine crowd, chains are most definitely IN:

Modern business dress is alive and distinctive:

Slacks and loafers, even for delivering cola. Nice:

I saw a lot of collar shirts under sweaters, and not just for school uniforms:

Not sure if it’s a school uniform, but this sure is one chic kid:

The students were, of course, among the most adventurous…

…or label-conscious…

…or just comfortably dressed:

Slicked-back hair seemed like a thing. I think I like it:

It was nice to see a lot of suits that weren’t just blue and black:

I love this style. I dunno, maybe the plaid skirt, or the contrasting bright blue bag? It all works:

American labels thrive, too:

If you’re wondering what to wear to your street performance:

Lime green vest. Sweet:

If you’re going to rock a hip hoody, gotta make sure there’s nothing in your teeth:

Sometimes I wonder what Moby would look like in a Snuggie?

An nice take on the all-black look:

This one, too. You don’t see a lot of facial hair in Latin America. And check out those boots and multi-colored sneakers. Cute couple:

Actually, the guy in that photo is Christian, an up-and-coming electronica DJ, with his girlfriend of three years, Katy. His brand is llama.

His dad is a fabulous contemporary artist named Jaime Gustavo Lopez Moreno. Here we are in his main gallery, at 417 Luis Cordero (near the river). Tell them Andres sent you for 25% off.

After 28 hours in Guayaquil — Ecuador’s largest city — I feel qualified to sell it to you. Here, then, is a hastily-researched list of my top 28 reasons to visit this awesome, manic place:

Behold the giant coffee cup on top of Nescafe HQ:

Report corruption with handy-dandy boxes:

Explore awesome colonial architecture:

Need change? Go to one of the many change machines. On the street. (Because almost no storekeeper wants to break a $20 or a $10 if they can help it.):

Take the 90-minute double-decker bus tour and you can have the top half to yourself:

Check out creepy baby pictures on store signs:

(Actually, that’s the same picture as on one of the more popular bottled water brands, from whence I’m sure the store got the pic. Not sure if that’s better or worse.)

Become entranced by cool murals on the overpass struts:

Buy a cell phone charger for your car while waiting in traffic:

Study at the Wall Street School of English:

Shake your fist at ignorance with the rest of the Guayaquil University leadership:

Buy toys from Barney:

Take a nap on your dad:

Wait for your mom to pick you up from ballet:

Dance outside Burger King:

Can’t decide between Bingo and Derby? THIS IS NOT A PROBLEM.

Play checkers when the hat business is slow:

Hang out with land iguanas. In the park. You can even feed them:

Get really excited when you think you see a WAFFLE HOUSE but it turns out that it’s not a WAFFLE HOUSE but actually just a clothing store that uses the same black-on-yellow lettering, but that’s OK, I mean, what would a WAFFLE HOUSE be doing in Guayaquil anyway? (Though if there are people out there who are planning to open a WAFFLE HOUSE in Guayaquil please don’t take this to mean that it would be a bad idea. It would be a great idea. I hope you pursue your dream. But if you do it just watch out for people being disappointed when they think they see their favorite clothing store and it actually turns out to be just the best waffles in the world.)

Take a bus:

Visit the contemporary art museum and get to be the only one there:

Discover that not everyone in the world associates “Avenue of the Americas” with a failed renaming of the reputationally-challenged 6th Avenue in NYC, when in fact in some places “Avenue of the Americas” is the informal moniker. Check out that reversal — 2 points:

Visit Plaza Pilsner:

Gawk at weird pirate statues:

Have fun with said pirate statues:

Climb 444 steps to the top of a lighthouse on top of the main hill for an awesome view of the city:

And reason #28?

The city is a lot like New York, bursting with energy and life. If you like the full range of humanity that comes with a huge metropolis, from the businesspeople and high-culture to the street vendors and students, Guayaquil will impress.