Half a decade ago I was a freshly minted member of society, I had finished stage 2 of my schooling and was just ripe for the world to disappointed me and turn me cynical. Sensing this the world took an opportunity to teach me a lesson.
The background of this lesson requires an explanation of the parenting style that has been employed to every facet of my life in the recent and not so recent past, it is devoid of micro-managing and the general directions seem to be do what you want as long as you don’t expect help from this side. I had all these friends whose parents wouldn’t let them stay home bummin’ for a month, a few days after KCSE they were sent off to driving school and then they did French and computers and accounts and international relations each following the other like the notes on a solfa ladder, without space to breathe or even think as they were rushed from school to internships and then to jobs where I must say most of them are doing very well in contrast right now as all I am is a guy who just finished school. You see I was never rushed out of the house, I haven’t been to driving school, I can’t speak French, all the computers I ever learned was while I tried to play movies on windows media player and international relations still sounds like a euphemism for having sex with a girl from another country.
I was allowed to languish after high school, am not sure if allowed is even the right word, it felt more like a condemnation, a punishment for the sins yet to come. You see while I wasn’t pushed to fill my life with anything at all my pocket was still left as empty as my wallet is now. Not a cent of pocket money, I still remember those days of destitution with dread. Back then the DVD player was still a relatively new invention in Kenya so cheap entertainment in the form if piracy was far, far off.
As an industrious young man I decided what I needed was a job and in the paper one day they wrote an advert for me, just for me. There was a job available where all they needed was my high school certificate and in consideration of this I was to be a sales representative taking home the sum of 10,000 a month. On the day of the interview I was early, I had on my one tie and my shoes looked like they had at least been polished in the previous.
They asked me to be at work bright and early the next day, at 7 in the morning, the office was in Nairobi west and I had to be awake at 5 in order to be there on time. Waking up at 5 is evil, just ask the sun. its more evil in the year after high school but I was determined to make some money. So I put on my good shoes which happened to be the only pair of shoes I owned that could be worn to an office. They were these sharpshooter shoes with holes in the front part of the shoe, the kind that only people’s fathers wear not with holes from wear and tear but by design. I have no idea how I came to own a pair of shoes like that, I can’t remember much about these shoes except they were black and too small. Not tiny. But too small. The kind of shoes you would put on your feet in the morning and go through a day without an ounce of discomfort higher than a pinch, but when you got home you would need to take them off. And when you did it was almost worth all the unpleasantness that came before. These shoes were that size.
I was in town pretty early and ready to go to Nairobi West where the offices were. I remember a lot of details about that day, I remember that the night before there was a building somewhere in Nairobi that fell and killed a lot of people, I remember there was such a furore over it and 6 years later the same shit goes down. I remember I got into the matatu and there was this amazingly beautiful girl sitting next to me, being possessed of the recklessness of youth I struck up a conversation with her, am not sure what her name was I think it was Rachel though, I know she was dong CPA in Strathmore and that she wanted to study dentistry when she went to university. I remember that the matatu didn’t take us all the way but I have no idea what the reason was just that I had to get out and walk to work.
When i finally got to the office which by the way was nothing more than a house converted into a warehouse from which streamed really loud music. It was the kind of place laced with energy, there were young people everywhere and the music was so loud. People shouted to each other and I thought I would have a good time working there. I sat with the rest of the new recruits as we waited for our instructions, impatience sitting next to us, tapping his fingers every other second. Then time came to be told what we would be doing.
We were taken into a room and shown kitchen appliances of all sorts, not ovens and cookers, think smaller, think Thermos flasks and… am not sure there was anything else. Anyway these Thermos flasks were worth 800 shillings and for every sale you made a healthy 10% commission came your way. The thing was structured like one of these multi-level marketing things so that everyone who went to work was put under a more experienced salesman and if a salesman’s trainees were making money then he would in turn make more money.
I waited for more instructions.
There were none.
That was the whole spiel. Go ye forth and sell these Thermoses. They didn’t give us contact information for any company they may already have had an in with all they did was give us the product and put us under the wing of a person who had been doing this for a long time. Learn on the job was the basic thing and by the way there was no fixed salary, there was no travel allowance or lunch money, all you got was a carton of Thermoses and the energy from the really loud music playing.
I was under the tutelage of this guy in his late to mid 30’s a real ace they told me, he had made sales worth a lot of money and if I stuck with him I shouldn’t worry soon I too would be minting money like a counterfeiter. So I grabbed a carton of Thermoses, a product which I must say is very heavy and we set off this being a day the god of contradictions had assigned to me, my pocket was feeling kind of light already so when the mentor suggested we walk to town I agreed. The pinch from the shoes was getting tighter and tighter but I thought I could soldier on, surely once we got to town we would have a seat somewhere as we sold?
We got to town and walked around for a little and then we entered a building, I can remember entering the polytechnic in town and going from door to door knocking on people’s offices and asking them if they wanted Thermoses, the sales pitch had everything to do with herd mentality and panic. We would walk into a random office (with no invite by the occupant), we would strike up a conversation and then bring it round to Thermoses, we would inform the person on whose workday we were so rudely intruding that everyone on the block had already bought themselves a Thermos and then we would tell said occupant to buy before stock ran out. I must have had 50 variations of this conversation that day. Knocking on office door after office door and asking people to buy Thermoses. We went from building to building, we avoided security guards, we ironically eyed the “no hawking” signs plastered everywhere, we hauled Thermoses up staircases and down elevators. We were summarily dismissed in some places, in others people seemed to be glad to have a distraction and would talk to us for ten minutes sometimes and send us on our way.
Finally we had success we sold a Thermos. One Thermos to a lady who was going to buy one from the supermarket that day. The whole day the absurdity of what we were doing dogged my every step. Why would any of these people to whom we were trying to sell Thermoses have that 800 shillings handy and have a need for a Thermos at the exact same time? Why would they trust us after all we were nothing more than hawkers, in fact hawkers were more reliable as you knew where to find them. They were more convenient as you talked to them on the way home. We were unwanted guests and we had been walking for hours into any building that would have us. Finally it was lunchtime.
My stomach growled for attention. But we had sold a Thermos that day. One Thermos the commission coming to us, well not us, as a trainee sharing profits was far beyond the scope of my activities, was 80 shillings. I had used more than a 100 to get there. And when you do work that involves walking for kilometres up and down stairs, work that needs you to smile and joke and talk for hours with not a hint of encouragement you need lunch. Plus this was before there were benches in town where a tired body could slouch and recover, so any seating we wanted would have to be bought. My mentor offered to buy me lunch and I quickly accepted.
After food we were back at work, walking and trudging, interrupting and being turned away, not selling even one Thermos more. At the end of the day we had to get these Thermoses back to the office . By now the pinch from my shoes was a vice grip. Blisters were in my future but I still had to walk back to the office to return these supplies. On the way my mentor prepped me for a test that they make every new trainee take. I duly listened and did the test and then I left that hell of a place.
I got home and took off my shoes to the deepest sense of relief that has ever greeted them. I was bone tired, I was disillusioned. There was no money in my near future and I knew it. But I got some of the sweetest sleep I have ever experienced in my life. i was a log, I didn’t move or turn till the next day. I never went back to that place and that was the beginning and the end of my first job.