Microcredit has become such a consistent topic in the news that the New York Times includes microfinance as a “Times topic.” The Times states: “Microfinance, or the practice of extending small loans to individual borrowers who have traditionally lacked access to credit, has become one of the most popular antipoverty strategies in the world.” http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/subjects/m/microfinance/index.html?scp=1-spot&sq=microcredit&st=cse. Usually microcredit loans are made to enable people to start a business, earn profits, and then repay the loans.

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011

A different type of microcredit, however, has probably been around for a couple of thousand years. I’m talking about grocery store owners who allow customers to buy food today and pay by the end of the month. The grocer keeps records of who borrowed how much, when. Then he or she crosses out the borrower’s name when the loan is repaid. No interest is charged.

Grocery store owners make such loans for two reasons: 1) they feel compassion for neighbors and their families who are hungry but won’t have money until their next paycheck; and 2) they wouldn’t have sufficient customers to stay in business if they didn’t make the loans. On the other hand, grocers are continually at risk of going out of business if loans are not repaid in a timely manner. This fragile system of lending-and-borrowing occurs in several of Tbilisi’s poorer neighborhoods, including where I live in old Tbilisi.

I asked permission to photograph the accounts book and the owner misunderstood me. She removed the book so that I could photograph the countertop, which she thought was my subject matter. I shook my head no, and she held the book so I could photograph the cover. No. Then she turned the book over so I could photograph the back-cover. No. Then she understood and opened the book to a random page. I took my picture; she smiled; a customer laughed. What interests me, as a foreigner, sometimes seems strange to people who have always lived in Tbilisi.

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011


About keithrkenney
Keith Kenney is a professor of visual communication at the University of South Carolina. He is living in Tbilisi, Georgia, for a year. This blog is about several topics. "CSJMM-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management in Tbilisi, Georgia. "USC-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications (SJMC) at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC. CSJMM and SJMC are recipients of a "Journalism School Partnership" program grant from the US Department of State. The purpose of this $750,000 grant is to improve CSJMM and ensure its sustainability. "Tbilisi, Georgia" is about Susanna Melo and my experiences in Tbilisi. "Columbia, SC" will be about our experiences in our home town--Columbia--when we return home. "Georgia" is about Susanna and my experiences when we travel in Georgia outside of Tbilisi. "United States" is about our experiences traveling in the US. "Films and Photography" is about two documentary films I'm working on in Georgia. One story follows how Adishi handles the rapid tourism that is being developed in Svaneti. The other story follows Tamaz Jalagania, who is a craftsman of swords and guns, an opera singer, and an extraordinary storyteller. "Scholarship" is about my current books, articles, reviews, and grants.

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