It's Not My Dream Job, but It Pays My Bills
A few months ago, in Nairobi, I moderated a one-day forum that brought together young people in informal business. Its objective was to help those present learn from each other's experience - by sharing their stories.
Here is the story of one of the participants at the forum:
My name is Brian Momanyi, but my customers call me Chapati Millionaire.
They gave me the nickname not because I am a millionaire but because they have watched my hustle grow from scratch, and some think I might become one.
Actually, I live in a tiny room in Ngara; and it is from here that I run my business.
I sell tea and chapati to Nairobi's night workers.
My clients include security guards, construction workers, and sex workers; and most of them are in City Centre.
My work starts at 10 p.m. and ends at 3 a.m. every day. It is risky being out in the streets at night, but someone has to do it.
I sell a cup of tea for 10 shillings and one chapati for 20 shillings. My customers don't earn a lot of money, so my price has to be reasonable.
I got into this hustle by accident.
I graduated from a public university two years ago.
I had hoped to find a good office job. I wrote hundreds of applications and visited many offices; but, after eight months, I had not been invited to any interview.
One evening, I did not have bus fare to take me to Ongata Rongai, where I was living with a cousin.
I asked a few passersby to lend me 50 shilling, but they either shrugged me off or told me they did not have.
At 10 p.m., I asked a security guard if I could spend the night on the pavement outside the shop he was guarding and he agreed.
Later, he was joined by four colleagues from nearby shops, and the six of us discussed politics, sports, and personal journeys.
At one point, the conversation shifted to English Premier League; and they amazed me with their knowledge of the players, teams, and politics of English football.
Each had a favourite EPL team; and, instead of referring to them as Manchester United, Liverpool, or Arsenal, they used the pronouns "we" and "you". For about 30 minutes, they argued over who, between "we" and "you", would win the English premier league.
It turned out that two of them, just like me, were university graduates. They had taken up the security jobs because they “were the only ones available.” They still hoped to get "proper jobs".
They said "Proper jobs" are jobs that involve sitting in an office, signing papers, and attending meetings.
I told them they were lucky to have the security jobs.
"If I got the opportunity you have," I said, "I would jump at it and thank God."
At midnight, a middle-aged man arrived and served them tea and chapati.
They also ordered some for me.
I had not eaten anything for the whole day, so I was very hungry. I was touched by this act of generosity from complete strangers.
When we finished, the chapati vendor collected his cups and left; but my friends complained his chapatis were too small.
"Would you buy from me if I made bigger chapatis?" I asked, and they said yes.
The following morning, one of them gave me 50 shillings for bus fare to Rongai.
I called my mum in Nyamira, and I asked her if she could lend me her 10-cup flask.
Ten days later, at midnight, I landed in Nairobi's city centre with ten chapatis and a flask full of tea; but I was 30 minutes too late - my friends had already bought tea and chapati from their regular vendor.
I was very disappointed, and I didn't know what to do.
I had spent the last 100 shillings I had on bus fare; and here I was, at midnight, holding tea and chapatis I couldn't sell.
However, I remembered how generous they were when we first met; I gave them the chapatis, and I told them that I would not charge them.
They liked the chapatis, and they paid for them.
That was my first sale.
Nowadays, I sell between 50 and 150 chapatis every day. It takes me five hours to prepare them in my room in Ngara; and, at midnight, I begin my two-hour distribution journey in City Centre. On a bad day, I make a minimum of 2,000 shillings from my tea and chapati sales; but on a good day, I can make up to 4,000 shillings.
I have been saving most of my profit; and, in the next weeks days, I am planning to buy a motorbike to help me in distribution,
My biggest challenge is security when I walk in the City Centre at night. I have been mugged twice; and, on both occasions, I lost all my day's proceeds.