Written by: Ermelinda Carvajal
During the earlier part of this week, the team had the opportunity to shadow loan officers from the Mibanco branches in Villa El Salvador and Carabayllo. Having mentioned these two towns to some friends, they replied that we would now be seeing the “real Lima” instead of the “Lima of Miraflores”. I was not sure what “real” Lima meant but was looking forward to discovering it.
On Monday, Haleema and I visited the Villa El Salvador office, located south of Lima. As we waited in the lobby, we experienced a situation that many would say is quite unique for a loan officer visit. Someone had noticed a small black plastic bag containing unknown items at the end of a row of seats. It was a small bag that anyone would receive when purchasing items from a grocery store. The police officer on guard was notified and he placed the bag outside of the front door of the building. About 15 minutes later, we noticed that more police officers had arrived at the branch but they were dressed all in black (the regular police officers wear an olive green uniform) with UDEX (which stands for the Unidad de Desactivación de Explosivos) printed on the back of their bulletproof vests. A police officer opened the front door and told bank staff to not allow anyone to exit the building until notified that everything was clear. We saw one man put on an additional vest and a helmet. I had just seen the movie “The Hurt Locker” so immediately thought that this small black plastic bag may contain a small bomb. As I tried to move closer to the front door, Haleema pulled me back behind a POS display. Although the likelihood of the bag containing a bomb was slim to none, one could never know for sure especially considering the history of the Sendero Luminoso in Perú. In the end, however, the bag did not contain a bomb. The police officer on guard had called in UDEX because someone had noticed movement inside the bag. We asked our loan officer, Maribel, if this type of thing had happened before at the building. She replied no but that it was better to be over precautious because who brings and then leaves a bag of trash in a bank.
Our second branch visit was on Tuesday and also started with an interesting experience. Haleema and I were assigned to visit the Carabayllo branch, located about one and a half hours north of Lima. Our driver was not sure where the office was so stopped to ask a police officer. We got very detailed directions – take a left on Avenida Tupuc Amaru and make a U-turn after the third metal bridge. We drove about 15 minutes and finally saw a Mibanco sign so we made the U-turn and stopped in front of the building. We entered the building and asked to speak with the administrator of the branch. While we waited in the lobby, Tiffany called me to ask how things were going. I told her we were waiting to speak with José. She replied that the administrator’s name at Carabayllo was Jorge. I said that she must be mistaken because it clearly said José on the nameplate. We get invited into José’s office and were immediately asked why we were there. Haleema and I looked at each other not really understanding his question. As the conversation progressed, we realized a couple of things: 1) José had never met Tiffany or Melissa (who had come to the branch the day before) and 2) he really did not know why we were there. I gave him the name of our contacts at Mibanco headquarters. As he spoke with one of them, he said his name and then “Agencia Comas.” As I heard the second phrase, I realized that we were at the wrong branch! José immediately called up Jorge, the administrator at the Carabayllo branch to ask him if he was missing two women from Thunderbird. Because of time constraints, we had to take a taxi to Carabayllo and not wait for a “taxi seguro” to pick us up; however, we had no idea how to get there. José did not want to send us alone – the chances of us getting lost again were very high – so he tried to find a staff person to accompany us on the 20-minute cab ride. However, all of the loan officers were heading out to visit their clients. In the end, he sent a member of the cleaning crew with us.
Although these experiences will always remain in our memories, what will be more ingrained into our minds is the way that we were always meant to feel safe and welcomed by those individuals with which we came into contact. If this is the “real” Lima, then I will be looking to return real soon.