Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Loans and Communalist Cultures

It's an exciting time here in Dominica. Carnival season is flooding the rum shots with drinking behavior that is even more vigorous that normal. It is actually fun to see the shyest and most reclusive villagers feel uninhibited enough to come out and celebrate with the rest of the crowd. It is a time that unearned and undeserved feelings of shame are cast aside.

Calypso music is another hallmark of the season and it's spectacular. My favorite song includes the lyrics "internet children like instant coffee, they want it now, they want it now, they don't want to work for it." Hilarious. Calypso is basically the singing of social commentary traditional Caribbean beat. The words don't necessarily have to rhyme and often don't. It is like delivering a speech but singing the words. Here's an example .

Things are clicking for me. This family literacy outreach project is taking . I feel completely integrated into the community and it is going to be hard to leave a place I can almost call home. My personal relationships with people in Penville still lack a certain depth, but then most of my friendships in college revolved around organized enjoyment of alcohol. There wasn't all that much depth there either, though conversation certainly came easier.

Last night I heard an intro to a song on the radio coming from rum shop by the basketball "court" (a rim and board nailed to a lamp post). "Sir, you are late on your mortgage payment." "Yes, I'm sorry! I'll make the payment! I'll make the payment!" "Okay, sir. Be sure that you do." "So you're not going to take the house?" "No, sir." "Oh thank you, thank you! What can I do for you? I'll kill a goat for you! Thank you so much!" This was meant to be humorous but the following thought was evoked. In communalist cultures where sharing is normal and resources are shared and repayment is informal, people are especially susceptible to predatory lending. It is not in their nature to take someone's house because s/he has not yet repaid his/er debt. They would of course be expected to and the community would informally condemn tardiness. It is like the enforcement of traffic laws in India. If you hit someone, you might be able to bribe your way out of police action, but you might also be ripped from your car and beaten to death by an angry mob. I'm not defending this sort of justice or arguing that it is more efficient, I'm saying that cultural norms of informal sharing, borrowing, lending, are vulnerable to predatory lending, which is a despicable practice even in America. Poor communities are forced to share resources. Cars are "rented" to friends with no security deposit. The norms that evolve around these practices make it harder for some people to anticipate that they will be severely punished for defaulting or failing to make timely payments. Exploiting this sort of community and cultural level generosity seems wrong.

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