Making a resting place for the dèad is not a trade many venture in, more so women. But in the world of Joyce Njeri, anything under the son is possible in an economy where jobs are not forthcoming.
On a recent Tuesday afternoon, she was finishing up a coffin. Ms Njeri, a mother of four aged 50, works with a sense of urgency. While she acknowledges her business can be morbid to some because its fortunes depend on the dèad, to her it is a business like any other.
Some will cringe at the sight or even thought of a woman making coffins. “My children visit me in the workshop and play with their friends and when they get tired, they jump into one of the coffins to enjoy a nap,” she says.
Her children have interacted with coffins long enough and do not fear them, she says. Her husband, Alexander Kimani, helps her out at the workshop. “For 20 years and counting, I have been independent, able to take the children to school, buy household goods for our home and support our in-laws,” Ms Njeri says.
She recalls how she unsuccessfully tried out different trades – like selling clothes and shoes – before settling on coffin making. The job’s greatest challenge are malicious allègations by neighbours who accuse the Kimanis of wishing dèath for people to get a market for their products. But Njeri dismisses the claims, adding that dèath is natural and all she does is prepare a suitable resting place for those who die.
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“People fear coffins and even run a way when they see a déad body being transported. Some people make snide remarks about us whenever we walk by. We are human and we cannot pray for dèath,” says Mr Kimani.
Even if people scorn at it, the business fetches between Ksh30, 000 to Ksh50, 000 a month. The most expensive casket at the Kimanis workshop goes for Ksh100, 000 for prominent clients.
“The cost of a casket depends on quality and starts from Ksh10, 000,” says Njeri. When she started out, she had capital to make only 10 ordinary coffins, but currently she makes over 300 to 400 coffins in a year. “My family opposed it strongly at first, but as I started to earn a decent income, they changed their minds,” she adds.
One of the coffins made was her mother in-law’s and Ms Njeri has no problem should her own coffin be picked from one of those she has made. “I cry with my clients who break down while choosing a coffin in my workshop and actually wish dèath was not so cruel,” she adds.
So considerate are they of their clients, that their business is located near Rift Valley Provincial Hospital, next to Nakuru North Cemetery and Nakuru County Mortuary. This, Mr Kimani, says cuts costs for the bereaved who do not have to travel long distances to get a coffin.
Ms Njeri advises people not to be choosy with jobs. “Let whichever feasible and available job be done, to build a financially stable nation, catering for everyone’s welfare.” (PD)