I have been to Kawangware several times, but still I can never find my way around. This suburb of Nairobi has its main roads, but once you leave them and step into to the maze of narrow alley ways you’re bound to get lost. It’s a breezy day in the dry season, and dust is in the air. In fact dust is everywhere, in your face, ears and nostrils. And on all the goods that are being sold here, vendors and shop keepers fight a hopeless struggle to keep the dust away. It seems that everybody is selling something, shops everywhere. Shops? Not necessarily shops as most people understand the concept: A room with windows, shelves and a door. Here a few square feet and a rough table is enough to set up shop. But there are also ordinary shops, you can get everything in Kawangware. The assortment can be limited, very limited. To mangos for example. Ah, the Kenyan mangos. My wife left for Denmark a week ago, she left half her clothes here and filled one side of her suitcase with the sweetest mangos on the planet.
I am my way to visit Elizabeth Waidhira, one of the shop owners.
With me are Caroline from MYC4’s office and branch manager Ezekiel from Premier Kenya. Elizabeth specializes in m-pesa, pesa meaning payment in Swahili, mobile payment, which is huge in Kenya, the country being a first mover in mobile payment. You’ll see m-pesa shops everywhere, also here and close to Elizabeth’s shop where people come to put money in their account. Actually she’s surrounded by other m-pesa shops, and I ask her, if it isn’t bad for her business.
– No, she says. Quite the contrary. Competition is good. That way you’ve got to be on your toes, it brings more customers! And on her toes she is this woman in her late forties and the mother of two and grandmother of one. She mentions her grandchild first, when I ask her about children. Obviously she’s proud and happy to be a grandmother. Working hours are from 7.30 AM till 6 PM. She has two employees in the little shop which also offers typing, photo copies and passport photos. Everybody has one weekly day off.
– Like with all people my life is up and down, says Elizabeth, whose husband works in the meat industry. – My mission is customer satisfaction! That’s the most important thing. If my customers are happy, I’m happy. I would also like to expand, I need more space. That’s my biggest challenge along with the dust, the rain and the mud.
She is on her first loan with Premier Kenya. It’s for 150.000 Kenyan Shillings (app. 1500 Euro). She didn’t spend it on her shop but on home improvement, a fence to be exact. She repays 15,500 Kshs a month and will be done with it in a year but doesn’t know if she wants a second one. It depends on the circumstances, and she finds the interest too high. I ask her if she thinks that she has a good life.
– Yes, I’m happy, I try to remember the good days.
We say goodbye to Elizabeth, so that she can get back to business. Ezekiel, Caroline and I walk back through the dusty streets to Premier Kenya’s office. It’s an experience to be here in Kawangware – every time, so lively and full of friendly people. Maybe you should visit next time you’re in Nairobi? I guarantee you’ll neither regret nor forget it.
We pass one of the mobile mango vendors, and I decide to do like my wife did. Leave some clothes behind and bring a sweet and tasteful part of Kenya with me back home.