Of Failing Systems and Kenyan pre –election Euphoria.

I am standing outside the Coop bank ATM outlet on El Roy Plaza at Odeon in Nairobi’s central business district. It’s only ten thirty in the morning but the sun must be at least 90 degrees above my head. Being the first of March, most city natives have come to withdraw their salaries. , Some plan to travel over the election period. Others want to Mpesa their relatives in the countryside or if the rumors around town are true, then people are sweeping the supermarkets clean buying all the things they can so as to avoid the food shortage like the one experienced in 2007 after the elections. The queue is moving at a snail’s pace and a certain young lady comes out of the room shaking her head. ‘The ATM’s aren’t even working,’ she says walking away.

There are no two ways about it. My hair just has to be made today. I make a mad dash to Coop bank Aga Khan walk and queue up. At least the ATM machines are many and so the queue is moving.

I reach the machine and instead of getting the cash, I get a message. Sorry. This machine is out of service. Yeah right.

I get into the banking hall. Well if I can’t get my cash, the least I can do is vent. I see a corner ‘managers’ desk and move there. ‘Excuse me sir. How come two of our ATM points aren’t working?’ He looks up from his computer screen. Complete with a killer smile and a perfect set of teeth. ‘Oh! madam, sorry about this. Imagine all our ATMs in town are not working. Our systems are down’. His tone, nkt! You’d have thought he was welcoming me aboard a Kenya Airways flight.

‘So what should we do? I am stranded in town’.  Asked a lady who had followed me from the queue.

‘Okay then, I guess I’ll withdraw from across the counter, how much more will it cost me?’  I chirp.

‘Ha, madam all our systems are down, even the ones across the counter’. Okay, I am officially pissed off. And I blame myself for having all my accounts with cooperative bank.

But hey my card is a visa, so, I’ll go to KCB or Pesa Point…..’Eeh madam, we are advising our clients not to use visa cards, because it may credit your account but refuse to reflect later.  I walk out. No further questions your honor!

I get my phone and call my banker friend. ‘Chick, what do I do? I’ve undone my hair, no money.

‘’Oh , Kwani you don’t have an account with standard bank, si I thought you were getting a diva account?’’

I call up my sister and she promises to go to town and Mpesa me 1500/- . ‘‘Aki please make sure you send before two because I’m starting to plait my hair right away.’’

I board a 35/60 blaring with loud reggae (or is it riddim) music.  The driver is swerving dangerously off the road and for a moment, I am certain we will hit something or someone. Whatever happened to the ‘new’ traffic rules and heavy penalties?

Less than twenty minutes later, before I even alight, I am surrounded by a horde of market women .

‘’eeeh sista rembo, kuja nikushuke,..haraka haraka na ndogo fit( hey sister, come to my stall, I’ll plait you well.)

At first it was one lady, then two, in three minutes I am surrounded by a swarm of not less than eight. Some have yellow aprons written SAMFAT , a ‘creative’ name twist, as I learn later, from the owners Sam and Fatuma first names. Others have white aprons. I can smell hair food. Dax,  nice and lovely, Sulphur , coconut oil , miadi…… I see a familiar face and thank to my good memory ,remember her name. ‘Ahhh Phenny, sasa ?

The rest of the women take cue and disperse and I am left with a beaming Phenny.

‘’Oh mrembo, siku mob, sasa twende kwangu.’’ She veers me off to a different direction and at the surprise look on my face, hastily explains  ‘ you can’t always build someone else, at some point, you need to break off and build yourself.

I am quite impressed by this woman who is able to convey such understanding of entrepreneurship even without attending a business class.

I sit and feel three pairs of hands on my head. Time to get lost in my short stories book.

The Mpesa message comes a few minutes later. Now I can relax, problem solved.

Four hours later, my hair is done. I excuse myself and rush to the Mpesa agent. Can I withdraw?

Sorry, Mpesa is out of service.


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