Today, I got out to the streets of Nairobi. I wanted to interact with business in the lower side of the city. The forgotten side of the economy, the type of jobs where when a child becomes wayward, he is warned about what spending life there entails. You will hear a parent say to a kid: I want you to work hard in school, not waste my money and be someone who rides a cart in town.
Along Tom Mboya Street, I notice a guy sitting on a hand cart with his head cast to the ground. He is dressed for the job with a brown overall over a not so clean black T-shirt and green pants. I get to him, do some little introduction and he was open for a talk.
I notice the palms of his hands are black and they feel as hard even more than the sole of my feet. This is one Henry Nyabuti Ochoe. He is a hand cart operator, who plies his trade mostly on the CBD and country bus. He hails from Kisii, though at the moment he stays in Kaloleni. I think that explains the state of his hands.
Amid the loud hooting from passing buses from time to time, he tells me that in a typical day, he wakes up at 3am so as to make it to town by 4am. He has to arrive early to catch the buses coming from the countryside. He gets back to the house at 7pm.
For all those hours of work in a day, on a good day he makes Ksh500 while on a bad day, he makes as little as Ksh150. Working everyday of the week except Saturday when he goes to church. He is a staunch SDA and he can never miss church let alone working on Saturday. He is a religious man who believes in God and has hopes that He will lift him.
I ask him about his family life. Of which he says he has a family to fend for, people looking up to him as a father and the head of the house. He has an all grown son who is in Nairobi as well, working as a carpenter. The second born too has finished carpentry school. The third born daughter is in class eight and last born son in class three.
If you thought that the low in the society just give birth without planning, think again. You can notice the spacing.
What drives him? It is every other time that we hear that behind every successful man, there is a woman. I would authoritatively say that this guy is successful. Everybody has their own description of success, even at that point where he is, he deems himself successful, he doesn’t consider himself a failure in life like many would think of him when they see him at work. According to Henry, his supportive wife keeps her going.
They together work on construction projects at home. The wife took a loan of Ksh45,000 from Kenya Women Finance Trust which they helped each other clear. They are now planning to take a loan of Ksh120,000. I swear this guy is lucky. I think every man deserves such a woman. Someone who will believe in your dreams no matter how down you seem to be at the moment for the good of the coming days, which is only if they never will stop to dream. Someone who will see your vision and share it with you to that point you want to get.
How did he get to the work that he is taking now? He started his schooling just as a normal kid with hopes to grow up a big man in the society, who will have a good or rather a decent job if not a successful business. Then the dad being a drunkard, one day took one too many, got into a fight where he lost a hand. That is where shit started going down. He had to drop school because nobody would fend for them. Life got hard.
The only way they were even able to move to their home is when the sisters got married and they sold off the bride price. When he came of age he went to Trans Mara, where he was a charcoal dealer. He would burn charcoal and get 4000 shillings a day.
That is good money. It was only good till the 2007 post-election violence and he had to relocate home when the communities around got hostile. After some years at home he had to find a job to provide for the family. Going back to Trans Mara was out of question, the Maasais had got hostile and the fight for environment conservation is kept on meaning charcoal burning is outlawed. He decided to come to the big city with the knowledge that he would be working at construction sites, only to get here to be told that there is no opportunity. His contact person only directed him to carrying goods around; he worked till he acquired the hand cart.
He doesn’t partake of alcohol or any other drugs. He has seen every bad thing alcohol can do to a man. His woes in life have been brought to him by alcohol. It is like alcohol on a given day went to wherever his problems were taking an afternoon nap, disrupted them then hand carted to him when they were still having the fury of the lost sleep.
His dad losing the hands when drunk was the genesis of the fall of his life. He had an elder brother who after taking one too many rolls of weed went to the river and drowned. Experience is the best teacher and this guy really has learned from experience.
He still has dreams in life. In five years time he hopes that he would have gone back home, Migori, where they had relocated to, running a commercial shop with the wife. He also hopes that her young kids would be good in school, get educated till university and make it in life. I really don’t know if many of these guys who perform such jobs are such dreamers, but I would say that I am amazed and challenged at the same time.
His hope in life is anchored in the belief that God is the giver everything of and His time is the right time.