The richest of stories

One of life’s greatest errors is to look at a child and imagine that they will amount to nothing – especially a child submerged in poverty. Poverty is one of the most convincing costumes; when a person is dressed in poverty, it masks any other attribute that they may have. You can’t even be wise and poor, it’s assumed that if you don’t have a mind to make money, you simply don’t have a mind. But a child is like a dormant volcano, you should expect anything.

Evelyn knew this costume very well – she and her whole family owned the poverty factory. Scarcity was their raw material and every day, they churned hopelessness and despair in tons. They lived in squalor and ate Githeri filled with maize and rumors of beans. Their house was a one-roomed mud house, separated by cardboard. They cooked on one side and slept on the other, chocking in their sleep from the smoke that had turned to clouds in the little hut.

When you’re poor, books are your only way of escape – if you can afford them. She ended up in a good high school and scored a C+. This was pre-Matiang’i, you didn’t go to university with that. Public University would have been a good savior because HELB was that rope that pulled us all from the poverty well.

She was the firstborn, which meant she was the assistant parent. And also the one who had to give up her big dreams so that the ones behind could have a chance to get out of the hole. She applied to join her dream course in Clinical Medicine at Kenya Medical Training College and got accepted. But she couldn’t enroll. Eventually, she moved out of home and got a job in a relative’s hotel. Her Salary was Ksh 1,700 per month.

When I say a hotel, please don’t think about Kempinski or even Njugunas. Think about your local kibandaski, only a little sophisticated. She and a couple other girls were given a room behind the ‘hotel’ to be their living quarters. They slept on the floor for a couple of weeks before the first paycheck came. When it did, they pooled their resources and bought a foolscap for a mattress, their first and valued possession.

Her employer didn’t even pretend to be nice to her, she was stingy, ruthless, heartless and all the other ‘lesses’ you can think of. The hotel’s clientele mirrored he hotel – hustlers who had been shaking the shrubs for berries with little success. They came in with coats faded at the shoulders; trousers tattered at the heels where they were frequently steeped on because they were handed down from a taller friend; their shoes asymmetrically bent with wear and tear at the heels and with rocks stuck in the heel caps.

That’s how he walked in – tired, hungry, his eyebrow wrinkled from too much squinting in the sun and with an oversized jacket that had him spreading his finger to keep them from being swallowed by the huge sleeves.

He was just a client at first and she had been promoted to a cashier. The promotion was supposed to bring in more money, but she ended up owing the hotel owner at the end of every month as the balance sheet was always toppling on its head. Sometimes she’d be paying for broken crockery.

Then he saw her. She was hard-working, seemingly running away from the smell of poverty just as he was. The smell he seemed to carry wherever he went. They started dating in a short while. She knew she was poor but when she visited his home, she felt rich. They were not even dirt poor; dirt would be ashamed to be associated with them.

Soon, her employer’s nephew who was working abroad started constructing a flat in Isiolo and he needed a ‘foreman’. Despite the shorts in the cash register, she had proven herself trustworthy, so she was asked to go to Isiolo and be the chief contractor. It was also a promotion and there was no crockery to break. She gladly went.

Her poor boyfriend was a lands survey student in Nairobi; this pay was a little better and she managed to save a little cash and supported him in bits. He soon completed his course and started the job-seeking boot camp.

Unfortunately, the construction job ended unceremoniously and with that, she lost her job. Poverty teaches you to live with little expectations. If you have been poor all your life and then one day you make a coin, two things happen: you either eat it all in one gulp because you’re scared, or you’ll save it all because you’re scared. They saved because they were scared – scared of the crippling feeling of lack and of going back to having nothing.

With the saved up money, boyfriend-turned –husband requested her to go to college. She took the money and started a shop instead. Education was good, but what use was an education to a woman dying of hunger? Despite having a strong desire to study and eventually be a lecturer, Evelyn felt they would struggle too much if she spends all their savings which might not have been enough to complete school anyway.

Armed with a vision and blind courage, she opened a general shop in Isiolo and started running it as her husband pursued establishing his career. She’d take the very early morning bus to Nairobi from Isiolo — an almost 5-hour journey –, shop in Kamukunji, and take the same bus back to Isiolo. She only had three hours to get from Eastleigh to Kamukunji, shop and take a mkokoteni back to Eastleigh. Uber had not been conceived yet.

She was buying and selling ‘general merchandise’, which is which is a way to say, the only thing she didn’t sell was human parts and elephant tusks. She’d look up to God, like a mouse begging for cheese, praying for a miracle to not be poor again. The heavens  were smiling on them; her business was growing. She soon expanded to three more shops.

Her husband set up a survey firm that thrived like reeds on a swamp. Many people who would be buying land for speculation purposes would request him to get the buyers for later. Some clients would be selling their property and as he helps with the subdivision, they’d ask him if he’d help manage the tenants and the property.

They then realised that this was an untapped ground and Evero Realtors was born with her first client being her landlord.

Remember shifters? They came calling, forcing them to move back to Meru. As her company grew so did her hankering to go to school and eventually be a lecturer.  Eight years after she finished high school, she enrolled for a diploma in Business Management from Nairobi University. In a span of 5 years, she pursued her studies doing her diploma, bachelor’s degree, and master’s degree back-to-back.

“I could now comfortably afford it and I still had a desire to pursue my studies and get an opportunity to lecture. Teaching was my first job, I always wanted to teach again. I still feel that I will start my PhD soon.” She says.

After finishing her master’s degree, she applied for a lecturing job at Meru University of Science and Technology. She got a job as a Tutorial Fellow teaching 8 hours every week in Business Management.

Evero properties grew to an empire that they look at the way you look at a newborn, with wonder and amazement. They got enough money to buy him designer jackets with sleeves that fit and trousers that he doesn’t have to step on. They built a mansion and decorated it with roses, palms, and white chihuahuas. Their parents’ mud houses were taken down and now in their places stand three-bedroom bungalows.

Do you ever look at someone in their element, looking all put together; having everything they need — and some that they honestly don’t need but they get because they can – and wonder, “How did you get here?

Sometimes, when you ask, you get the richest of stories. All those high-end cars flying by and the trolleys overflowing with exotic cheeses in the supermarket are pushed by hands that were once jigger infested.

21 thoughts on “The richest of stories

  1. This is so beautifully woven. It made me tear as well as laugh out loud. Your style evokes Amor Towles, because of its beauty.

  2. Pingback: The richest of stories – typically_mwesh

  3. Great story! It’s inspirational as well as informative…. That good things take time to make. Keep it up.

  4. Such an inspiring story! And so well written! Quite similar to my mother’s except without the empire and chihuahuas 😆 You should definitely never disregard someone because of poverty.

  5. Wow it took me blood, sweat and tears to like this article and leave a comment but I had to. Couldn’t leave without saying thank you for writing so well. Oh. Such a breath of fresh air. Love it

  6. Wow, or should I say Wo, as it is today, said? What a story ! There is hope, isn’t there? Where is it that I read something like …. a living dog is better than a dead lion

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