I made it a habit a few months ago to always be carrying an unscratched Bamba 50. Lots of people thought it was hilarious, not understanding why I didn’t just redeem them right when I bought them. There are many reasons, but yesterday, it was nothing other than an unused Bamba 50 which saved the day! First, a little background…

Scratch Cards in Kenya

In Kenyan street Swahili “kubamba” means “to jazz”, as in, to make excited (or something like that). Most Kenyan cell phones work on a pre-paid basis; you buy these little cards, scratch to reveal the unique twelve-digit code, and then enter it in your phone to redeem the face value of the card. Depending on the cell phone provider, time of the day, or person you’re calling, 50 Kenyan shillings (about 50 US cents) can get you anywhere from 20 – 50 minutes of talking time.

Anyways, so yesterday I had decided I wanted to bake some brownies (with which to eat away my sorrows). Because I had used all the chocolate powder making OMG brownies last week, I decided to pass through Sarit Centre on the way home from work. While all I really needed was chocolate powder, I bought a few extra things since I was in the super market anyways. When it came time to pay for my parking I was five shillings short. I started to consider my options…

I looked in the car, no coins lying around. ATM card: at home. M-PESA wasn’t working on my stupid phone for some reason, so I couldn’t use the ATM with that either. Short of hanging around and asking random people for five bob, or walking all the way home to rummage through my coin pile, I was out of options!

… then I remembered the Bamba 50 in my pocket; scratched, but unused! I went and struck a deal with the parking meter lady, giving her my 50-shilling scratch card in exchange for the five bob I needed to pay for my parking. She was stoked because she cleaned up on the deal (45 free shillings), and I was stoked because I could get my car out of the parking lot without having bum around asking for change from complete strangers! Phew, how’s that for thinking on your feet?

Kenya, Rants

Walking home from work the other day I passed very close to the road construction on Wayaki Way. The old, worn road had been grazed and the workers were shoveling hot, new tarmac onto the road from the back of a truck. I had to squint and hold my breath as I passed for those few seconds, yet the two guys shoveling had zero special equipment (other than shovels)—no eye gear, work boots, gloves or masks! All this got me thinking about the common mwananchi (roughly “citizen” in Swahili), and how stuff like this is probably typical.

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Tactics for dealing with beggars range the ethical gamut. Certain kinds of people just fork over the cash at the first sight of a quivering lower lip. A handful of others like the silent treatment (easy but not immediately effective). In Bombay I noticed that Indians would actually hit street kids with rolled up newspapers — a bit hardcore, but immediately effective. Luckily, I’m white and I live in Kenya, so I have plenty of opportunities to try various methods almost daily! For example, I felt terrible after this exchange with an eight-year-old girl last week:

Beggar girl: “Uncle please, I’m hungry…
Me: “Go to school
Beggar girl: “Please buy for me some food
Me: “Kwenda huko, uliza huyu. Hata mwafrika anapesa!” (Get out of here, go ask him. Even African people have money)
Beggar girl: “(mumbling)… enda nchi yenu” (go back to your country)
Me: “Mimi ni mkenya” (I’m Kenyan)

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