- 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.
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.