Inuvik to Ushuaia

What is Microfinance Anyway?

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Our new friends
Our new friends (View on flickr)
We should probably say something about what this "Microfinance" or "Microcredit" thing is that we're working in with Friendship Bridge and

The amazing man who won last year's (2006) Nobel Peace Prize pioneered the use of tiny loans without a requirement for collateral or security to poor people. Mohammed Yunus maintains with great success that if you just give poor people access to capital, they can make their own way in the world with their own businesses. His book, Banker to the Poor, is worth every minute of the time you take to read it - it's in every library and every bookstore and here on It's the most hopeful book about poverty in the world that you will ever read. Yunus, with 25 years of experience in this, maintains that poor people pay off their loans at a much higher rate than the rich ones, and that simply providing capital in amounts like $100-$500 can transform the life of the poor by enabling them to start their own tiny businesses.

Women We've Met Recently

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Clara Ajsoc
Clara Ajsoc (View on flickr)
We've met a wide variety of women in the last couple of weeks, from Mayan women who speak no Spanish at all and who try to scrape together a living with some weaving and a pig, to fairly ordinary poor urban women who remind us a little more of home, except that to them $15 is what you have to come up with every month for the kid's school payment.

Last week Nancy met Clara Ajsoc in the highland village of Santa Clara La Laguna. Clara used her Friendship Bridge loan to buy a calf, which she raised, only to lose it to a sudden illness, leaving a young calf behind. But she bottlefed that one and raised it up successfully, and she now sells milk and cheese, where she had no livelihood before. And she wants to get another calf.

Catarina Cox Perez
Catarina Cox Perez (View on flickr)
In San Antonio La Laguna, Nancy met Catarina Cox Perez, who lost her house to Hurricane Stan in October, 2005. She has been patching it back together bit by bit, but she lives in a really bad piece of broken house with no real windows, and she has to pile rocks up in the broken windowframes for a little privacy. But Catarina's big goal with her next loan is to buy and raise 24 chicks. More power to her. There's the great power of microfinance.

Women we visited in La Estancia de la Cruz

Berta in La Estancia
Berta in La Estancia

The women we visited Tuesday in La Estancia de la Cruz have been working in the fields all their lives and they know no other way to make a living. As young children they did not go to school because they needed to help the family in the fields. The land here is very rich because the volcanic soil and the 6 months of rain.

None of the women we met with today own their own land. They rent a plot and also work for someone else. With the help from Friendship Bridge, the women are able to rent a 40'x40' plot and grow their own flowers and vegetables. They have a chance to dream and maybe educate their children if there is enough money to buy shoes, paper, pencils and needed supplies. Currently some families do not send their children to school either because they need the help in the field or they just do not have the money to send the children to school.

The month of July is known as the hunger time because the food they had stocked piles are nearly depleted The growing season is February to August and they corn is not ready to harvest.

After interviewing the women, writing their individual stories and taking wonderful photographs of the women in their traditional colorful Mayan clothing, we got ready to leave.  read more here... lee mas aquí... »

Guatemala's GNP: Cellphones and Politics

Tomorrow is DOBLE SALDO on TIGO, which is the cellphone company we have our cellphone with. When you buy a recharge card for your cellphone, you get TWICE THE MINUTES. It's the talk of the town. The whole country starts salivating on double-minutes day. We found out late in the day, and then we heard people talk about it on the bus. Guatemala has great cellphone coverage, with at least three major companies, and almost everybody has prepaid plans. Tomorrow we'll buy a card for 100 quetzals, or about $13.00, and we'll get $26.00 in airtime credit! It's so exciting. But wait until triple day comes.

Judging from the number of places that sell cellphones and prepaid cards, cellphones must account for about 50% of the GNP of Guatemala. Today we were out in a pretty remote village where the women scratch together money to rent a small plot on which to grow onions. They have next to nothing. But a phone rang somewhere and our hostess pulled a cellphone out of her brassierre...

Escuela Para todos: School for Everybody

Nancy's been laughing at me for weeks now because I've been devouring a little "almanac" I bought in Chichicastenango, which cost me about $1.40. It's a little book maybe a little like the Old Farmer's Almanac, but with more content and, for me, more cultural insight. The "Escuela Para Todos", or "School for Everybody", is published in Costa Rica expressly for the rural people of Central America, and I've learned so much about rural life from it. It's written at a fairly simple vocabulary level and also has pictures, and those of course help me with the language. If you're studying Spanish, this is the best little reader I've ever come across.

But it's the content that has enthralled me. There's the history of Central American independence, and how it was all one country at first, and how some would like it to be that way again. And how mosquitoes do their dirty deeds and how to prevent the spread of Dengue fever. And how to make concrete posts for fencing and improve the grass in your pastures, all things I never thought much about.

But the very best piece was a little mini-novel telling the story of a girl who got married when she was already pregnant by another man. It turned out OK in the end.  read more here... lee mas aquí... »

A Not-So-Good Interview in San Francisco Javier

Morning Road Near San Francisco Javier

This morning we woke up at 4am to catch a microbus from Nebaj, Quiche, Guatemala to interview a group of women in San Francisco Javier. The reason for the interview is to write the story of their business and lives in order to help obtain microloans on for Friendship Bridge in Guatemala. The rain was pouring as we made our way through the deep puddles of the dark streets. Only a few people were out at this time of the morning, walking in the rain underneath thin plastic sheets and clogging along in the total rubber boots so many of the campesinos wear in the fields. A few men hid in the shadows trying to stay dry or sobering up from the night's celebration. This week is the town's annual festival for its patron saint.

We got on the bus a little after 5am. It plowed out of town and followed a rough dirt road for about an hour. The darkness was made more intense by the low clouds that surround this incredible volcanic landscape. The morning light seeped though the misty morning. Clouds obscured most of the surrounding mountains but we got an occasional glimpse of the top of a-not-so distant volcano.

Do any of you have cameras to spare? And monthly update...

Hello from Chimaltenango, Guatemala! We haven't made any forward progress this month, but rather did a big loop around highland Guatemala interviewing the amazing women who are clients for Friendship Bridge.

We'd like to ask your help with something: We're coming home for a visit next month and we're going to try to get together 12 digital cameras for Friendship Bridge to use to continue the work we've been doing, posting profiles on to raise loans for the women. Do any of you have digital cameras that you don't want any more? We don't need this year's model - in fact, 2-5 year old cameras would be great. If you have one that you could send to Denver, or if you would like to donate money to this cause, please let us know at All 12 cameras could probably be bought new for around $1200, but used cameras should work fine too.

We have new photos on the website,

A Weekend Ride to Antigua Guatemala

Volcán Agua towering over Antigua
Originally uploaded by refay
We left Chimaltenango around 9:00 and rode the side road to Antiqua Guatemala, the original capital of the country. In Parramos we were going to go to breakfast at a famous fancy restaurant but we got sidetracked in the center of town and ended up eating at the corner eatery and talking to the owner Manuel for an hour or two. All the while his wife worked the dozen customers that came and went while we just talked away. Occasional he would get up and tell her there was another customer. But he was explaining to us about the differences in the 23 languages spoken here in Guatemala.

Fancy bike gear: Sandals

After spending my whole life avoiding sandals, they're now the only shoes I own. I left my old running shoes behind in Juchitan, Mexico, and bought some simple sandals. The idea is simple: I don't have to wash out my socks every night. But there are loads of other benefits: I don't have to worry about riding in the rain, because nothing gets wet that matters. With shoes, you always have to think about what the shoes are going to be like the next day. And my feet, which are always prone to stinkiness, are now properly aerated!

By the way, both of us abandoned fancy clipless pedals and shoes some time ago (like in Victoria, British Columbia). For me, it's just that I want only one pair of shoes, and a clip isn't a very friendly thing on your one pair of shoes. For Nancy, it's that she never does get all that confident about the clipped-in thing. Anyway, we're just normal people with normal shoes these days. Or sandals, that is.

The amazing wood carriers of Guatemala

We see the people here carrying amazing loads in amazing ways. The women carry incredible loads balanced on their heads, but that just seems ordinary when you see men, women, and children of all ages carrying their firewood down from the hills. Sometimes they have what appears to be hundreds of pounds tied up on their backs, and they use a little forehead strap so they can use their head and neck for support. They look like burros carrying these loads, and some of the loads look as big as the load of a burro.

This boy said he had only a 1-hour walk with his load, but we know many carry their loads farther. Some are gathering wood for their own use, but many people are also gathering the wood for sale and carrying it many miles, since it's the only way they have to earn a little cash.

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