It's Not Your Kind of 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. The objective was to allow them to share their stories and learn from one another.
Here is one of the stories:
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 think I can become one.
I live in a tiny room in Ngara, and it is from here that I run my chapati empire.
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 the city centre.
My work starts at 10 p.m. and ends at 3 a.m. every day. It is risky being out in Nairobi 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 competitive.
I got into this hustle by accident.
When 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 I was not lucky.
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 100 shillings, 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 four colleagues from nearby shops joined us, and we discussed politics, sports, and personal journeys.
At one point, the conversation shifted to the 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" someday. "Proper jobs", they said, are jobs that involve sitting in offices, 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 thank God."
At midnight, a middle-aged man arrived carrying a large flask and cups. He served them tea and chapati, and they also ordered some for me. I had not eaten anything for the whole day, so their generosity touched me.
When the chapati vendor left, my friends complained that his chapatis were small. That is the moment I decided I would become a chapati millionaire. I would turn their complaint into opportunity.
"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. As I travelled home, I thought about my new friends and their acts of kindness and reflected on my prospects of becoming a chapati millionaire.
I called my mum in Nyamira, and I asked her if she could lend me her giant flask and 10 cups. She sent them by night bus, and I picked them up the following morning.
Ten days later, at midnight, I landed in Nairobi's city centre with chapatis, cups, and a flask full of tea. However, I was 30 minutes too late - my friends had already ordered 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.
I remembered how generous they were when we first met; so I gave them tea and chapatis, and I told them that I would not charge them.
They said my tea and chapatis were better than what they had eaten earlier, and they paid.
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 six weeks days, I plan to buy a motorbike to help me in distribution.
My biggest challenge is security when I walk in the City Centre at night. Thugs have mugged me twice; and, on both occasions, I lost all my day's proceeds.