Thursday, January 31, 2013

Miser, pinchpenny and stingy: Part 1

Guest post by Samuel G. Njenga

He is one of the strangest human beings I know; surely he must be. This guy is my first cousin so I know his background and his path to his current status. He is much older than me, in his late 40’s. Some of us hail from very large families (nuclear), after all ten kids was no joke even then, but this dude has 6 brothers and 5 sisters. Theirs was a life where even basic needs were hard to come by. He finished primary school, did two years of high school then dropped out for lack of fees.

He got his first job as a farmhand to take care of a rich man’s pigs. Rich men who owned cars in the village were few and far between. I vividly remember him atop a Toyota Stout, whose front design looked like a pig. Together with the son of the rich man who used to drive the Stout, they’d pick left over foods from some big hotels in Nairobi and deliver them for the pigs to feast on. He took care of the pigs for some time till he was promoted to deliver saw dust to homes; you know the saw dust that has always been used as bedding for chicken. The rich in the village deal with strange products and services, things that the elite in Nairobi will never think of.

This cousin of mine worked his socks off for several years and was saving a lot. He eventually quit his job as a farmhand and bought an old taxi. Back then the shilling had a bit of value, it costed him 17k. Those loud-mouths in the village were even taunting him that he purchased the taxi with a bag full of coins. U know those funny taxis in the village which have seen better years; the ones when inside you feel like you are outside, very dusty and if it rains you are rained on. The starter is a set of wires, the driver has to carry water because the thing can chemka anytime. Those vehicles (if we can call them so) are just strange, what with a Mercedes side mirror, Peugeot carburetor, stools for seats and the body of a Colt…and the mabatis on the body if they ever cut you, you’d get tetanus.

As a taxi operator he started displaying strange tendencies, like eating an orange for lunch, mandazis and chai for supper, walking around in faded shirts all in the name of saving. For this man, extracting a shilling off him was tantamount to milking a bull. He was as stingy as they come. Maybe because life had previously been harsh on him.. You may have heard about that hardware guy somewhere in Kabete (his name with-held) who once collapsed and when taken to hospital, the doctor advised him to eat. I could see from far that my cousin was headed there.

Someday I met the fellow as I was heading home from high school on my mid-term. Knowing that he was doing well as a taxi operator, I requested him to buy me a cup of tea. He jokingly said (or so I thought) that we will go take tea and I will pay for it; after all the kidogo pocket money l had in my pockets would be enough for two cups of tea. We went to the cafĂ© and enjoyed the cup of tea, but when the bill was brought, he insisted that I had to pay. You see I thought he was just joking but I was in for a rude shock and I ended up paying for it….

This fellow never ceases to amaze me. He however continued with his saving habit till he managed to buy an old Nissan to ferry horticultural products for small scale farmers to City Market. When I pass by the City Market it reminds me of so many things. I went to a high school that taught Aviation and my dad thought that I’d finally live my dream as a pilot. When I landed there, I opted to study Agriculture to the shock of my dad after I realized that everyone was fighting to study Aviation; I like swimming against the current. Immediately after high school and for lack of something else to do, I used to farm in a small scale those horticultural products on the river bed and on maturity I’d take them to City Market. So I was a customer to this cousin of mine for some time till I went to Campus. And by the way, I almost declined to go to Campus as I was really doing well with my farming. Actually were it not for my dad who actually thought I was nuts, I’d be a big rich farmer by now. I may never know whether it was a wrong or correct decision.

In the next post, I will tell you more about this strange cousin of mine; someday he told me that a jalopy I was driving was his dream car, and as of the car he drives now I’ll leave it to your imaginations.

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