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How we survived our broke times

Seven women detail the sad, hilarious or thought-provoking lengths they have gone to, to survive ‘Njaanuary’ blues. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP

It’s ‘Njaanuary’, the month when money is as tight as the days are long. How do cash-strapped Kenyans get by? Joan Thatiah explores.

 

“I nearly lost my job after pawning my phone”

- Rebecca Wawira, 29, media professional

Rebecca’s first job as a marketing executive at a motor vehicle garage paid her a measly Sh8,000. Often, it was paid in bits, meaning that she was broke before mid-month every month.

“My father had bought me a good phone so I couldn’t sell it. So one month when I was particularly strapped for cash, I sought a pawn shop in down town Nairobi and traded it in for some cash.”

After seeing how easy it was to get money, the pawn shops became her go-to places when she was broke. They would give her anything from Sh2,000 to Sh7,000 for her phone at an interest of 30 per cent, which she admits was high. She had to pay back the money in seven days.

“The rate was high but I always got the money instantly. I would leave the house with Sh100 but as long as I had my phone with me, I was sure I would have money for lunch and fare back home,” she says.

And then, on one such day when she had pawned her phone, her boss couldn’t reach her for an important work assignment and he was upset.

“He hated it when he couldn’t reach his employees on the phone. He demanded to know where my phone and I had to come clean. He had to give me money to get my phone back. It was really embarrassing.”

 

“My old clothes help me out of tight money spots”

- Leah Oloo, 28, insurance saleswoman

Shopping for second hand clothes and shoes is Leah’s guilty pleasure. She finds it therapeutic. She even spends money she shouldn’t on clothes and shoes on the streets. When she is broke, she cleans out her closet.

“I love shopping – not that I have a lot to spend on clothes and shoes. Sometimes when I buy something I know I shouldn’t, I tell myself that I could always sell it after wearing it.”

Leah stumbled into this re-selling habit. It was one of those months when there is so much of the month left but not nearly enough money to spend. She had two polythene bags full of clothes in her house that she had bought but worn only once or twice.

“I have a friend who has a second hand clothes stall where I live so sometimes, when I am too broke or when I have too many clothes I am not wearing, I hang them in his shop and we split the proceeds,” she says. Other time she takes photos of the clothes and sells them online.

“I used to hide from people I owed money”

- Valentine Mwendia, 30, artist

Two years ago, Valentine was living through her roughest patch yet. “I had just landed a new marketing job, I was getting paid on commission and the products I was supposed to sell were moving really slowly. Also, I am not really a people person so it was a tough job,” she recalls.

To get through, it was months of cat and mouse games with her service providers. Each month, she would choose which bills to pay and which ones to postpone to the next month.

“I mastered the art of making very little noise when I was in the house lest the caretaker or the garbage person knew I was in. I would also lock my padlock from the inside so if a person slipped their hand in there, they would think I was outside.”

Her lowest point was a month that she just couldn’t pay for the electricity bill. The caretaker was gracious enough not to disconnect her line but not wanting a confrontation, she kept her lights off all the time. “At night, I would throw bedsheets over my curtains to keep out the light that the television was giving.”

When the garbage collector eventually stopped leaving garbage bags and collecting her garbage, she would carry garbage in small bags from her house every morning and slip it into garbage cans in town.

“It was bad,” she says, looking away perhaps to hide the raw emotion that these memories evoke.

“My family thought I was an addict”

- Nelly Wandia, 33, procurement officer at a private company

Nelly’s survival tactics through a broke period of her life almost landed her in a rehab facility. “My family thought I was addicted to alcohol,” she recalls.

She was 22 years old and a fresh college graduate when she moved out of her parents’ house. This meant that she was determined to seem like she could take care of herself. She promised herself that she wasn’t going to put herself in a situation where she would need financial help from her parents or to move back home. Unfortunately for her, we can’t always control the things that happen to us.

“I was summarily dismissed from my first job in procurement at a small company. While looking for another job, I would work as a model at activations. I would get a gig maybe once a week. Cash was tight.” She did the only thing she knew to do – sold her electronics.

“My mother ran a shop where she bought and sold second hand electronics when we were growing up. I had seen how fast they move so it was an almost natural choice.”

It worked that first time. Problem is that it became addictive. Every time she got a little broke, she would sell her fridge or her sound system or her microwave. Her family noticed that one month her house would be furnished and the next it would be empty, so they staged an intervention.

“They thought I was struggling with an addiction. Now I try to hold onto my stuff and look for money otherwise when I am broke.”

 

“My borrowing nearly broke up my marriage”

- Rahab Makori, 28, small business owner

“Shylocks are both the best and the worst things that happened to me,” 28-year-old Rahab Makori says. It started with the mobile money lending apps. When she was broke, she would borrow Sh1,000 here and Sh1,000 there. It was all too easy and if she was late to pay, all she would get were texts with threats.

Then last year, she graduated to shylocks. Just like the apps, it was easy to borrow money and no one had to know. Things however escalated fast.

“I borrowed Sh10,000 from a shylock, tried paying it back in bits but within just a few months, they were demanding Sh55,000. Then auctioneers came to my house and attempted to carry furniture – which belongs to my husband, by the way. It ended up becoming a police case,” she says.

While borrowing from mobile money apps and the shylock did help at the time of need, the repercussions when she couldn’t pay the money back ended up exposing her.

“I should just have borrowed money from my family or a friend. Eventually, everyone found out and it wasn’t nice. My husband especially was shocked. He had no idea I’d borrowed the money. We almost broke up.”

“I have my meals at my friends’ houses”

- Mary Kimani, 26, job searching

When you’re going through a rough financial patch, 26-yeara-old Mary Kimani reckons that for the average person, food and rent are the biggest worries. She still lives in the hostel she lived in when she was in campus and her parents pay for it.

“They live on a farm in Naivasha. The agreement was that after graduation I would stay here and look for a job. They would pay the hostel money but I would look for small jobs and cater for the rest of my needs. They are still looking after my younger siblings back home so this is a reasonable agreement.”

She hasn’t landed the big job yet but she gets small jobs here and there to cover her food and clothing expenses. So what things has she done to get by when the small jobs were not forthcoming? “Go to friend’s houses at meal times,” she chuckles.

 

“I have my meals at my friends’ houses”

- Mary Kimani, 26, job searching

When you’re going through a rough financial patch, 26-yeara-old Mary Kimani reckons that for the average person, food and rent are the biggest worries. She still lives in the hostel she lived in when she was in campus and her parents pay for it.

“They live on a farm in Naivasha. The agreement was that after graduation I would stay here and look for a job. They would pay the hostel money but I would look for small jobs and cater for the rest of my needs. They are still looking after my younger siblings back home so this is a reasonable agreement.”

She hasn’t landed the big job yet but she gets small jobs here and there to cover her food and clothing expenses. So what things has she done to get by when the small jobs were not forthcoming? “Go to friend’s houses at meal times,” she chuckles.

: nation.co.ke

 

 

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