He noticed at an early age that capitalism made the world go round. Tom (not his real name) would wake up early Saturday mornings, about 6am to be precise, collect any garbage around the house and fill up the bin and off he goes.
There used to be a dump site 6km away from home, he would rush, empty the bin and slowly walk back home collecting wasted pieces of wood. To him, this was merchandise. He would pick and fill the bin to its brim with pieces of wasted wood. Thirty minutes later, he would be done sourcing for his day’s merchandise. He would meticulously and very cautiously hide them under a dark staircase that led to their 5th floor rented house.
Tom was the first born in a family of seven. Three boys and four girls. Getting back home after his secret exploration for goods, he would find them still sound asleep. Being the first born, a sense of duty always pricked him. He would quickly wake them up and one by one everyone would be directed on what house chores to take care of.
“Jeff, today you clean the floor”. He would order in a stern voice
“Mary, you take care of breakfast and I will take care of the rest”. He would say, his hands resting on his hips akimbo (like a boss)
Mum and dad slept in a different room. Single room. That also doubled up as a kitchen. They would later wake up at around 10am to find everything in order and breakfast ready. Imagine the look on their faces! Yes, that of proud parents.
But Tom was not born a responsible boy, he learnt responsibility. For a long time Tom never had siblings, until when he was about seven. His parent wanted more kids only when they were stable enough. Financially. That meant that Tom came about in the wrong time, but since he was already here, he had to go through the experience of every struggle his parents went through. He spent certain nights on an empty stomach; he wore tattered clothes and missed his early classes for lack of school fee. His father was never home early, and when he was, it was always work work work.
Mum too always told Tom that nothing came easy. That to earn yourself a place, you had to solve a problem for someone, and with time it would start paying.
Now, a little backtracking. At about 4pm, women would start pouring along the streets of Mathare, with their sufurias and jikos ready to prepare either deep fried fish or fries, or even an afternoon mandazi. Two to three women were always in need of firewood and that’s when Tom came in. To solve a problem.
On a good day, he would make a cool ksh 70 cash. In 1994, that was something, it would feed a family of 5 for a day contentedly. How times have changed these days. That is not even sufficient for a good day’s lunch today. Anyway, Tom would save half of it and spend the rest to buy himself valuables like a pair of shoe, pants, a nice shirt and a good lady bird book. Jack and the beanstalk.
The rest of it would go into his mkebe (tin) bank. It would be saved that way for as long as possible, with only one purpose in mind. To catch a KBS bus to the central business district and to Uhuru park, today called Central park, on Christmas day, with his peers. And blow it all up on face-painting, boat-sailing, merry-go-rounds, enjoy some really delicious ice cream, take pictures and later on catch a bus back home. Those were thee days.
Today Tom’s financial priorities may have changed from saving to have a good time over Christmas, to saving for a home in 10 years to come, but those early lessons of earning and saving money have formed the basis of how he deals with money today.
Besides that, another lesson he has learnt that still serves to direct him is, service. Serve others, solve a problem and get paid doing it. Perhaps not the right definition for being a capitalist, but it is capitalism.