Saturday, December 4, 2010

Love/Hate Relationship

Every first Friday of the month at 4pm in the afternoon the Cooperative has an all-member meeting. Yesterday was no exception. At 5pm (we run on “la hora Chapina” (Guatemalan time)) the members gathered in a semi circle of white plastic chairs on the dirt plot behind the tienda. Thirteen of the twenty-eight members were present. Jamie Juarez, the Coop president, gave the introduction, some other pieces of business were discussed and then Adan and Alfonso stood up to give the monthly tienda report.

I have been working with Adan on compiling this monthly report since I arrived here in Casas Viejas. Prior to my arrival those in charge of the tienda would simply report one figure during the meeting, a figure that they called “Inventory.” This number was a sum of the value of all products in the tienda, plus outstanding credit, plus the amount that was in the cash register. This was an approximate calculation of what was invested in the store at that point in time. The first problem I noticed with this figure was that they were calculating the value of their products using the selling price instead of the price at which they bought the goods. For example, if they had 10 eggs in their inventory and they paid Q.70 for each egg and charged Q1 they would calculate the product value to be Q10 instead of Q7. This was an error that took me months to explain to them. After almost a year of diligently working on improving the old style of reporting Adan and I now compile a complete report including inventory, income, expenses and earnings for the month. But I digress, we were discussing the current report... Adan was up in front of his twelve colleagues about to read off the report we had compiled over the preceding three days. But before he rambled off the figures he started with a little intro that went like this:

Adan: “Before I start I want to confess to you all that this report is not easy to do. In fact it’s a huge head-ache. Annalisa and I have worked three days on completing this work and its tough, all of the numbers give me an immense head-ache.”

Annalisa’s internal thoughts: “hahaha, damn straight I’m making your brain work.”

Adan: “But the truth is I’m learning a lot, Annalisa is teaching me useful information. I was talking with Loyda (his wife) this morning and I told her that what I am learning will help me in future work. I encourage all of you to come to the tienda and take part in what we are doing there.

Annalisa’s internal thoughts: “Awe, Adan, that is just about the best feedback I could have ever asked for.”

Adan: “Right now, I see that there is a lack of participation on the part of most associates. Alfonso and I work every night at the store, sometimes working past dinnertime, our wives are wondering where we are, and I see associates drive by on their bicycles and just waive. Just remember that in March I am no longer going to be a part of the Vigilance Committee and another person will be in charge of the tienda. Whether you like it or not, eventually more of you will need to take responsibility of the tienda.”

Annalisa’s internal thoughts: “March is going to be a rough month.”

Adan then gave the monthly report. Good news, the store had earnings of Q561 for the month and even after paying off some of the Cooperatives debts. The Cooperative as a whole is still in debt but we are making gains in cutting the deficit. Speaking of debts there is one that pains me to think of. Maybe pains isn’t the right word, irks me to no end is more like it. You know that helpless, empty feeling that permeates the area where your figurative soul resides when you realize you’ve lost something of importance? That feeling that sends tingles up your spine and makes you want to heave a moan of angst? I get that every time I think about Adan’s loan.

Adan and Loyda are two of my favorite Cooperative associates. They are responsible, friendly and eager to learn. But ever since I uncovered the specifics of this loan of theirs I have an internal (strictly internal) love/hate relationship with them. Although the pair are one of the most engaged Cooperative associates I have learned that in their eyes, as in the eyes most Guatemalans, family takes priority over community. Often to the detriment of progress.

When the tienda was just opening Adan loaned the Cooperative a generous lump of dinero to be used to buy product to stock the store. The loan is working like this; Adan loaned Q10,000 and will receive Q500 monthly in interests until the loan can be paid back in full. None of the Q500 monthly interests goes towards paying off the principal. You know that helpless pain in my soul I just described? I’m getting that feeling right now just writing about this loan. Adan gave the loan September of 2009. He has since received Q7,500 in just interest. My soul is hurting again. You do the math.

Nearly all of the Cooperative earnings are going to pay other outside debts. It will be ages before they can save Q10,000 to pay back Adan in one lump sum. And in the meantime he will be raking in Q500 monthly. And I’m pretty sure he knows this. In fact, I know he knows this because when I took him aside last month to try to convince him to let the Coop refinance the loan, and told him, “Adan, its going to be impossible for the Cooperative to get out of this loan!” He said with a smirk, “I know.”

I warned Adan that I was going to discuss his loan at the meeting. I even gave him the opportunity to play the “good guy” and offer up the proposed refinance as his own idea. But he wanted me to do the talking and said, “Let’s see what the other members think.” Yesterday, when he was done with giving the monthly report, he was the one that said, “And now Annalisa wants to discuss my loan.”

Annalisa: “I have spoken with Adan about the possibility of refinancing his loan. Since it seems like it will be a while before the Cooperative can save Q10,000 I think it might be a good idea to negotiate a change in how the principal is paid back. Maybe try to refinance so that part of the Q500 that we pay him monthly will go to pay off the principal and a portion will be interests.”

All the associates agreed that this would be a good idea.

Maritza: “Adan, would you agree to this change?”

Adan: “No.”

Maritza: “So your loan is non negotiable”

Adan: “It's non negotiable.”

Annalisa’s internal thoughts: “what a jerk. I’m definitely not going to give him a Christmas goody bag.”

I’m not kidding. I was furious with his intractability and in retaliation my brain immediately sought the only punishment I could bestow upon him. Neglecting him a christmas present.

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