One great thing about the Peace Corps is the opportunity it affords to meet amazing people, both host country nationals and other Peace Corps volunteers. Ask any volunteer what enabled them to endure the taxing environments and situations they find themselves in over the course of two years of service, and I’d bet most would say, “the people.” I don’t know how I could have ridden this emotional roller coaster this long without my fellow volunteers. We grow together, celebrate our gains together, commiserate together and share extraordinary moments together. We are all in this together. Our PCV crew can empathize with each other’s struggles, and because of this, it is natural for me turn to other volunteers for advice in tough situations.
I have been troubled greatly by the conditions of a loan that the coop has taken out from one of it's own members, Adan. A preditory loan that has him seeing a 100% return on his investment while the Coop is bleeding dry. I recently turned to a volunteer friend, for his sound advice. His response to my dilemma, transmitted through gchat, went a little like this:
Barrett: i would write him a letter, including ethics, what jesus would do, and spell out how interest is supposed to work
me: i should. wwjd?
Barrett: threaten him with eternal damnation
me: see, now, that’s a great idea.
Some may think this is actually a ludicrous idea. But, you're wrong. It can’t be ignored that religion plays a major role in the lives of Guatemalans. Everything here is “Primero Dios” (God willing) or “Gracias a Dios” (Thanks to God). The cooperative socios are devoutly religious and often look to the bible and Jesus for guidance.
Let me give you a recent example. Last week, I was debating between whether to take a weekend trip up to Coban to visit some other volunteers or stay in my site. I wanted to see my friends, but I also felt an obligation to spend the weekend in my community. I asked around and most socios proclaimed, “Go! I’d go.” or “Life is for having fun”. But, the best response I got was from Don Edgar. I told him how I was torn and he said, “You should have told me about this a couple of days ago and I could have asked God to send me a sign. But, these things take time and now it is too late.”
“Oh no, that is too bad! Is there anything else I can do?” I replied.
“Well, God’s voice can be heard in many forms. (long pause) Tell me, have you tossed a coin?” Was his answer.
I had exhausted my efforts to convince Adan through rational thinking that his loan was unjust. It was time to turn to a higher power. I decided to sit Adan down and have a little one-on-one “come to jesus” chat. I had my speech, if you will, thought out ahead of time. I knew I couldn’t ramble off verses or talk him in biblical circles so I needed to go in with a steadfast plan. I decided to use a tactic my Dad taught me. When I was buying my first car in Michigan I remember my Dad advised me to, “just repeat, ‘I know how much this car is worth, I’m going to pay this amount.’ Don’t let the dealer get you off topic. Repeat what you want over and over and he will concede.”
I applied this “repeat” method to my current situation, reminding myself, “just repeat ‘What would Jesus do?’ Repeat it over and over and he will concede.” It was Wednesday evening around 5pm when I invited Adan over to the wooden table in the back of the Cooperative. I was strangely nervous. I wanted this to work and I was afraid that at any moment in time I might start laughing. I am not comfortable bringing up Jesus in a work environment and, unfortunately, laughter seems to be my default response to awkward situations. I had decided that no matter what Adan’s reaction to my tactic was, I had to play the part through to the end. This was extremely important to me because I didn’t want him to think I was mocking Jesus in any way, which would never be my intention. I needed the conversation to be as sincere as I meant it. I started the chat with a smile (another tactic my Dad taught me to get rid of nerves, "It calms you and the listener," he says. He is a psychiatrist for a reason.):
“Adan, we have talked many times about your loan and I know you said that it is nonnegotiable but still this loan is causing me pain. I can’t sleep at night. I feel like I’ve come here to help the coop improve its business and this loan is stopping progress. I have spent hours thinking about what I can do to help solve this problem but couldn’t come up with anything. So, I decided to call my pastor (aka Barrett) in the United States. I told him about the loan and how it’s making me sad and he said, “Annalisa, this is a tough situation you are in. I think the best thing for you to do is ask Adan, ‘What would Jesus do?’ So, Adan, I’m asking you know, What would Jesus do if he was in your position?”
The question hit him like a load of bricks. He widened his eyes, leaned back in his chair, gave me an awkward smile and then redirected the conversation.
Adan: You see, before you got here the cooperative had taken a Q15,000 loan out from another person who was charging Q100 interests per month. Can you believe it? Q100 per month. We couldn’t keep up that loan and we looked everywhere to find a way out. I offered to loan the money to pay off that loan and only charge Q500 interests. I was helping the cooperative.
Annalisa: Yes, but that was then and this is now. Don’t you agree that the previous loan was unjust? And now you are doing the same thing with your loan. What do you think Jesus would do?
Adan: But, when we made the deal I told them I could only give the loan if they paid me back in full because I am going to use that money for a specific reason and I need it all at once.
Annalisa: I understand, but before the coop didn’t know they would have these troubles. They didn’t know they wouldn’t be able to pay you back in a reasonable amount of time.
Adan: This is true. (At this point I remembered I needed to get back to Jesus.)
Annalisa: Now, you have the opportunity to help the coop get out of debt. You’ve already made Q7,500. Would Jesus keep taking money? Adan: But, this is how most people work here.
Annalisa: But, you don’t have to be “most people.” You have the opportunity to help the Coop. But, instead I feel like you are using their weaknesses for your own benefit, umm you are, how do you say.... (Here I tried to think of “you are taking advantage of the cooperative” but drew a blank.)
Adan: I’m not being conscientious? Annalisa: Exactly. Jesus would be more conscientious. Adan: But, no one in the coop is doing anything to help pay the loan back or look for another solution. No one has done any work.
Annalisa: Neither have you. (Smiling) If you wanted to help the coop you could go look for another lender. Why haven’t you gone and done any research? It’s as much your fault as theirs that nothing has gotten accomplished.
Adan: But, we need to do it in a group. (This is a common belief here- everything has to be done in a group. No one can do anything independently. This infuriates me, but I keep my smile.)
Annalisa: Why do you need to do it in a group? If you want to get something done you have the power to do it. When I want to do something, I do it. I didn’t need a group of people to come with me to talk to you about your loan. I wanted to do it and now we are here talking about your loan. (Internal thought, ‘less me, more Jesus, Anna.’) Jesus did things on his own. You have the power to make this right...
At that moment Alfonso showed up on his moto and broke up our conversation. I could tell Adan was relieved.
I have yet to see any signs that bringing Jesus into the loan discussion has helped the situation. But, like Don Edgar says, “these things take time.”