I think it funny right now that I live near junction and eight years ago I was working at Nakumatt Junction; but you know with the elephant living the room, right now its Carre Four. How do you pronounce it? Kare, Kari, Kaa Fuu? Nairobiii!
Am not giving you the story of how 8 years ago, I worked for mama Sami’s food kibanda for 150 shillings a day, nor the many theatre groups I joined that always broke up before the show, or being in a volunteer theatre group that had punctuality rules and punishment- rehearsals for which I missed my French classes at Alliance.
Naah, this is the story of my first job as a ‘promoter’ I hear nowadays they are called, ‘BA’s.’ Every go-getter female I know has had to be a promoter girl at some point in her life.
I had a friend back then called Kevo, yes, Kevo he was in the big boys choir of Kenya. He called me one day and asked if I needed a job. It had been after a show I had done with the theatre group I worked at that didn’t get much audience, so no money for the actors. Two months of skipping French classes had amounted to no money. But a feeling of satisfaction at owning the stage for five minutes, literally. The role I had…
So after the show, we took a break. I had no money at all and French classes were over, so there was no reason to ask for transport money.
Kevo calls me one evening and tells me there is a job opening, that I should meet him in Tao in an hour in town. I saka fare, and there am on a Lopha from Ruiru to Tao. When he arrives, he tells me we need to get to Mombasa road. The interview was to take place by 5 before the bosses leave the office. It’s around 4.20, that fucking road shouldn’t be jammed as it normally is. We get there at 5.10 and the damn security guy won’t let us through. “Wakubwa wameenda,” he says.
Kevo tries to calls the supervisor but he got no credit. He okoas and manages to get through to him. We can go in. The face of the security guard as the supervisor comes to get us…
“Sell me this pen.” The supervisor roars when we are seated in his office. I look at them, the black supervisor and the Chinese boss. I sell it and deal is sealed. I am the newest replacement of the lady who just quit. I get two over-sized t-shirts written Phoenix (Toilet) Paper, a sheet of paper to enter my sales, a pen and a handshake. Damn, I am officially employed. Well, no contract or shit, I didn’t even need to give my ID, which I hadn’t officially received, but officially employed.
It’s a two-days a week job for two months. Every Saturday and Sun from June to August. Mama! Mama! I made it.
I had never been to Ngong Road before that day I trembled at the conductor at Railways on route 111, “Nausinipitishe,” I kept on reminding him while throwing glances at him all through to ensure he didn’t forget my stop. And there I was, looking at Junction mall from across the road, where there are many food vibandas. “Wow, I remember seeing a part of it on Nairobi Half-Life… I love that movie btw.
I get passed the security search and directed to the receiving unit, where promoters and staff into the supermarket. The experience is like none I have ever before. So clean, so big, so fancy, so white, so Chinese, so fat, so expensive, so many cars, big cars, scooter, kids eating ice-cream and yoghurt, cafes, so new to me, smells so nice. Junction was exquisite.
I change into my work tee and get shown to the corner where I would be serving customers at. There, at the toiletries section where its all white, baby blue, baby pink, tissues, wipes, and everything else that rich people use to wipe they butts.
“Brenda” is the promoter for Mr. Fluffly which has just gotten into the market. She shows me the ropes, Thank you sista, and we begin a nice friendship immediately. She would tell me which of the staff is hectic, which supervisor screams fire, where to buy lunch, where to take our afternoon naps, introduces me to other promoters and be my partner in crime in using a few hours to get into rich people arenas around the mall.
My job was simple. Sell cheap ass, 2 -ply tissue paper to rich foreigners and nationals who didn’t give a fuck what the price was. “Hi!!! Phoenix paper has just reduced its price. From 247/- to 216/-, good quality, good price. Whatchu say?” I crammed that one and tailored it to suit the personality of my customers.
Rule no 1. Never talk to the husband if he is with the wife. Rule No.2. Chinese People wont change their minds. Rule No.3 Americans will buy, they are interested in seeing capitalism grow. Europeans will want you to sell to them like a slave, Brenda advised.
Sales were good on day one. I got to show them all the theatrical skills I had attained. There were those who closed their ears when I ‘shouted’ at them, there were those who saw a courageous young lady, there were those like Ms, Kihoro who said, “you know that’s bullshit!” Bitch! There was a white woman I had to run after to demand an apology after she had said, “shit!” when I gave her my entire pitch, “you’re racist!” I yelled while I was rumbling about how she had hurt my feelings. “I’m sorry, I can buy one,” “No, Thank you.”
Come Monday when I went to receive my first salary, it was great. I had never received that much salary, 1200 basic salary and 600 commission for the 60 extra ones I sold after the 30th toilet paper. I realized the money was in the commissions. It felt glorious having received money for my labor. Capitalism! But it felt good.
I bought shoes. I had been walking around with a pair that exposed my soles to the ground. Have you ever reached there with shoes? If it rains, your feet are swimming. You have to jump a pothole very careful lest your feet get. Those shoes were hanging on a balance between them and my feet.
For the next 2 months I worked, diligently. I failed to wash the tee on one weekend which our supervisor felt necessary to visit. I failed to show up one day for a friends’ hangout and forged the supervisor’s signature. I made many friends, both promoters and staff of Nakumatt, it was such a bitter sweet goodbye when I left. I saw rich people. I thought they existed in Membley but in Junction they just thrived.
One day I approached a European man, not as a slave, but I looked him in the eye and sold my product. He didn’t say a word. He just took the tissue and went. Few seconds later, he comes and tells me about something similar he does and he would like “people like me.” He gives me his business card and “whenever you finish working this shit, come in for a better pay.” I finished working the shit and next I knew; I was promoting land in the Uk for rich Africans to come to a meeting for investment details. There I was earning 10k in 4 days, and being treated like a baffoon.