Eight Things I Learnt While Writing Deki Profiles

Eight things I learnt while writing Deki profiles
Jemma Stewart

As a copywriting intern, my time at Deki has largely been spent writing the bios that help lenders choose whose loans to fund. Deki’s field partners send us information about each entrepreneur, which we turn into a profile. I’ve learnt a lot from my time at Deki but the most unexpected lessons have come from writing these four paragraph profiles. Here are eight things I’ve learnt from them:

 

1.     African food is fascinating

I knew nothing about African food when I started at Deki, but some of the most fun I had was Googling the dishes our entrepreneurs make and sell. I found out about fufu, for example, a dish made by pulverising cassava, yams, or plantain into a (not-so-appealing looking) dough-like lump. It’s served alongside soup and can be used to scoop up the liquid almost like a spoon. I also learned about the poetically named dawadawa, a ball of soybeans used to flavour soups and stews. The production process, mostly done by women, takes a few days and involves boiling the beans and then fermenting them, giving them an intense, pungent taste.

The most confusing dish I came across though was ‘porridge’. Somehow, I couldn’t imagine people in remote African villages settling down for a bowl of Quakers’ Oats. As it turns out, they don’t. The dish referred to as ‘porridge’ is made from millet, sorghum or maize and is usually eaten for lunch or dinner to accompany soups, stews and sauces. It has a range of textures, from extremely firm to crumbly and couscous-like, making it much more versatile than English porridge!

Fufu (left)

Fufu (left)

 

2.     There’s a country called Togo

As you may have read in one of our previous blogs, not many people know where Togo is.

I never even knew it existed.

Now I can tell you the name of its capital (Lomé, if you’re asking) and its official language (French). More depressingly, I can tell you that Togo has been ranked one of the worst places to be a woman in the entire world.

Saying that, writing profiles has shown me that despite the adversity they face, the women of Togo are tough. I’ve written about women who are determined to make their businesses succeed, support their families, and contribute to their household as much as men do. This, to me, is an underappreciated form of girl power; they aren’t throwing themselves under horses, but the bravery it takes to be a female entrepreneur in a country known for its subjugation of women should not be underestimated.

Togo 2017

Togo 2017

 

With Deki, you can provide life-changing amounts of money to those in marginalised communities. 100% of your loan goes to your chosen entrepreneur. Lend now, or become a Deki Friend.

 

3.     There aren’t enough synonyms for the term ‘make more profit’ 

Unfortunately, profile writing isn’t always inspiring. Sometimes it’s downright repetitive. The most common reason entrepreneurs give for needing a loan is: ‘to buy stock to make more profit’. Each profile, of course, must be unique but there’s a limit to how many ways I can write ‘make more profit’. Here are some I came up with:

  • Increase profits
  • Earn a higher income
  • Achieve more sales
  • ...

By this time, I had usually drifted off and started thinking about maize flour porridge. Or girl power.

Shopkeeper

 

4.     Cherries aren’t always cherries

When I started at Deki I thought that cherries, those delicious fruits, must be popular in Africa since so many entrepreneurs were selling ‘red cherries’. In fact, these are the fruits that coffee beans are extracted from – who knew? (Okay, maybe you all knew but I’m a tea drinker, so I certainly didn’t.)

Deki has entrepreneurs involved in every step of the coffee-making process, from planting the seedlings, to harvesting the red cherries and selling the beans. And who knows, maybe some of it even ends up in our cups here at the Deki office…

Ripe Red Coffee Cherries

Ripe Red Coffee Cherries

 

5.     In Africa, full-time means all the time

Working an almost full-time job alongside volunteering for Deki means that lately I’ve been whinging about how little spare time I have and how I can barely afford a pint. Then, at Deki I read about people working sixty hours a week to feed their children one meal a day. Or, to humble me even further, I’ll come across a woman who works more than a hundred hours a week to send her children and the orphans that she’s adopted to school.

It turns out, working ninety hours a week is unbelievably common amongst Deki’s entrepreneurs. There’s nothing like writing a few dozen profiles for a healthy dose of perspective, plus I’ve stopped complaining about picking up extra shifts at work!

 

6.     A loincloth is not a loincloth

This one baffled me. I came across a woman who was selling loincloths. Well, of course she’s not selling loincloths, not as we know them. Not the scrap of material that conjures up images of Tarzan and cavemen, surely?

Again, I turned to Google. I learnt a lot about loincloths in African cave paintings and about two men who offended modern sensibilities in Zimbabwe by wearing traditional loincloths in public (they were arrested and eventually agreed to don some shorts).

It turned out the correct term is pagne. It refers to a large rectangle of material, worn by both men and women and tied around the waist or chest in the manner of a skirt or a dress. In Africa, they’re usually brightly coloured and come in a wide variety of eye-catching patterns. 

 

7.     Frippery

One great thing Deki profiles have given me is my new favourite word: frippery.

I came across it when an entrepreneur claimed to be running a ‘frippery’, the dictionary definition of which is: “showy or unnecessary ornament in architecture, dress, or language”.

Well, that wasn’t right, but I love it and intend to bring it back into common usage.

By using some Sherlock Holmes style logic, I deduced that, since the entrepreneur was Togolese, it could be a French word. Low and behold, it turns out that a friperie is a thrift shop. So, thanks to a woman in Togo who runs a thrift shop, I learnt two new words in two different languages!

Frippery Shop

Frippery Shop

 

8.     I’m a big cry-baby

Embarrassing as it is, almost every day of profile writing at Deki found me shedding a few silent tears behind my computer screen.

Yes, I am an emotional wimp. On the other hand, a lot of Deki profiles are truly moving. Often, it’s the entrepreneurs’ quotes that get me. One woman I remember was Margret Kyenda. She was in her eighties and still hard at work. Her reason for wanting a loan? She was endeavouring to leave behind “a generation free from suffering”.

The reason it made such an impression on me is that that’s exactly what Deki is doing too. And during my time writing countless profiles, I hope that I’ve done my little bit to give the next generation a brighter future.

 
Ugan88.jpg
 
 

With Deki, you can provide life-changing amounts of money to those in marginalised communities. 100% of your loan goes to your chosen entrepreneur. Lend now, or become a Deki Friend.