An Almaty banker with a heart of gold

15 апреля 2011, 00:53

In Hollywood Westerns the bad guys aren’t just the ones dressed in black.

Another bad guy is the town banker who is waiting to foreclose on the ranch of a widow with six kids who can’t repay her loan.

Even before the days of the Wild West, many Americans have viewed bankers as heartless skinflints whose only joy was making money, no matter whom they hurt along the way.

But I’ve met some good-hearted bankers in my life, folks who wanted to help others. And one of them is right here in Kazakhstan.

In August of last year, I was startled to get a mobile call from Western China from a 26-year-old Kazakh friend.  Sarina, whom I had known for four years, was being treated for lung cancer there, and the family had almost run out of money, she told me.

Unless someone could give them a loan, she said, they would be unable to pay for the rest of her  treatments. “Could you loan us the money?” she asked.

I told her truthfully that I didn’t have what she was requesting, and her voice cracked.

“Please help me,” she said. “I’m young. I want to live.”

“I have a banker friend who might help,” I replied.

I was stunned that Sarina, a beauty with Caucasus roots who was born in Almaty, had lung cancer. She had never smoked.

She told me it was because of her father’s death a few months before.

“My father was everything to me,” she said. “He was like a god to me.”

When he died unexpectedly in his 50s, Sarina went into a tailspin.

She was emotionally shattered, she said – and the mental devastation led to her becoming vulnerable physically. Within a couple of months of her dad’s death, she had developed the cancer.

The family took her to Western China because it has lung-cancer specialists. But the treatment wasn’t cheap – and neither was an extended stay in another country.

I called my banker friend in Almaty to ask for a loan, and he agreed immediately. It was a loan from his own pocket, not from the bank’s war chest.

I told him if Sarina’s family failed to repay him, I would – over time.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said.

This story has a happy ending.

Sarina finished her treatment. She returned to Almaty with the cancer in remission.

“Thank you,” she said. “You saved my life.”

“It wasn’t me,” I replied. “It was . . . “ – and then I spoke the banker’s name. “He’s the one to thank. I hope your family does so.”

“We have,” she said.

I asked how she was. “Very tired,” she responded. “I need to rest.”

After a month she was rested enough to begin working again.

She got a job as a hotel manager. It was a good position but I worried because it required long hours – the kind of schedule that can wear you down. I didn’t want to see the cancer return. And, thankfully, It hasn’t.

The family has yet to begin repaying my banker friend. Not surprisingly, they’re short on cash right now.

If they don’t, I’ll make good on my promise to give him back the money. He knows that, so he won’t be nagging me about it. That’s the kind of guy he is.

He knows he’s saved the life of a woman with her entire life ahead of her, and that’s enough for him. If he never received one tenge of repayment, I know he wouldn’t care.

But I’m going to make sure he gets the money back.

You have to keep your promises to the kind of banker who rides up to the widow’s ranch, tears up her foreclosure note, then rides off into the sunset.




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