Kyrgyzstan’s Windy City
November 1, 2009 Leave a comment
By Rob Packer, KF9 Kyrgyzstan
This is a repost from the Kiva Fellows’ Blog
In the middle of October I spent a week away from the Bishkek office of my MFI, Mol Bulak Finance, to see microfinance in action in their Balykchy branch. Part of the training as a Kiva Fellow is to complete an online course from the United Nations Development Program on microfinance, which seemed to tell me continuously that microfinance is a low-margin, high-cost business. No matter how many times this message is drilled into me, it still comes as a shock.
The town of Balykchy sits at the start of Lake Issyk-Kul, the world’s second-largest mountain lake after Lake Titicaca. The lake is a summertime holiday Riviera and a former Soviet naval testing ground far away from the prying eyes of the West. Compared with its more visitor-friendly lakeside neighbours of resort town Chopon-Ata and trekking or skiing centre Karakol, Balykchy suffers from a bad reputation in Bishkek. Bishkek was a sea of yellow leaves at the time, but I was warned that I would need warm clothes for the cold and sunglasses for the wind. As we drove out from Bishkek, the ever-present fields and mountains became drier and when we finally left the steppes and arrived in the massive valley of Issyk-Kul, the landscape looked more and more like a mountainous desert, camels included. During my time there, I never experienced Balykchy’s gale force delights but the wind’s presence seemed to hang over the town like a dragon in the mountains.