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?


Some guy called me last week and told me that he had accidentally sent me money on M-PESA, and could I please send it back. I told him that no, I hadn’t noticed any text messages, but that I would look. “Tafadhali, ndugu yangu, niangalilie” (please, my brother, look for me). As I had just been on the phone before he called, I hadn’t seen that there was, in fact, an SMS confirmation of an M-PESA transaction. I gave him a call back and told him that I’d return the money to him right away.

BC8JT386 Confirmed you have received Ksh 1,230 from JAMES KORIR on6/4/11 at 5:40 pm your new M-PESA balance is Ksh2,150

―The M-PESA transaction confirmation SMS from “James Korir”

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Miscellaneous, Rants

Safaricom's Huawei E160 USB modem
Safaricom’s Huawei E160 USB modem

I use a Safaricom-branded Huawei E160 USB modem to connect to the Internet over 3G from my apartment in Westlands. It works great but Safaricom has locked the device so it only works on their network—an anti-consumer move they probably learned from the likes of AT&T. We have four different mobile providers in Kenya, each one of which sells their own custom-branded Huawei modems. The other providers are small fries compared to Safaricom, but they love to play catch up so they’ve locked their modems too. Wanna browse on Zain? Buy a Zain modem! Thanks for nothing…

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