Altagrace is having a hard time. “Things aren’t working. Pa gen aktivite.” That means, literally, that there’s no activity, but it’s often used by someone to say that she has no business, no economic activity. Altagrace borrowed 7000 gourds – about $112 – from her Village Savings and Loan Association, ostensibly to create a small commerce. But she hasn’t been able to pay it back. She felt so embarrassed that she stopped going to the weekly meetings. She has had to send her children to school without uniforms because she needs to focus on repayment.
She used 3000 of the 7000 gourds to repay a previous debt, having borrowed that money from her mother-in-law to rent a small plot of land to farm. She used another 2000 gourds to buy a bed, the first one that she and her husband have ever had. That left her too little left to start anything substantial enough to enable her to repay the loan.
She thought of investing the rest of it in produce that she could send for sale in Port au Prince, but she’s watched recently as neighbors have lost their investment because the old trucks used to take produce from the countryside into the city break down frequently, leaving produce to spoil. It seemed too risky.
But she finally decided that she needs to return to her Association, facing whatever criticism the other members throw her way. So, she borrowed 2500 gourds from her brother-in-law, who is a coffin maker. That will be enough to pay the late payment fees and take a big first step towards reimbursing the loan itself, but it will still leave a large balance. She’ll be able to chip away at it by selling plantains from her garden, but won’t be able to fully pay the debt until she and her husband bring in the harvest from the rented land. And it is poor land, so they couldn’t plant a high-revenue crop like black beans. They planted pigeon peas and manioc instead. And catching up with her payments is important to her because Altagrace likes the Association. “It’s useful. I’ve already taken out two loans,” she explains.
Her husband returned recently after spending a few weeks in the Dominican Republic, looking for work. “He couldn’t get far because he didn’t have much money.” He stayed near the border, but wasn’t able to find anything. There’s plenty for them to do in their fields right now. It’s time for weeding, which is a lot of work. And he can find day jobs in others’ fields, too. The latter is important because the cash it brings in is still a large part of what keeps the family fed.
Meanwhile, her livestock is increasing in value slowly. What were two goats are now four, and one is pregnant. And her hog is growing and getting fat. Even so, she thinks of her fields as her most important activity. “My hope is my garden.”