The city of Nairobi is full of thousands of small local businesses. Both ends of the street right outside our estate are lined with them. These businesses function on cash only bases. Also, the cash you bring must closely match the cost of your purchase because the owners do not have the means to give a large amount of change.
I am told that these businesses have such a presence in Nairobi that there are many locals who have never shopped in a mall or chain store. This is due in part because the chain store sells larger bags of product and the locals do not have the financial means to buy larger quantities. In other words, they live on a day to day cash supply and the smaller businesses sell quantities to take care of their needs for a day, so why would they go to a shopping center where they would need to buy more then one days supply?
Here are examples of four businesses that we have frequented.
Duka is Swahili for store or shop. I can best describe it as a convenient store or corner market. This picture is of one (there are several others) right outside the gate to our estate. We have shopped here to get yeast to make cinnamon rolls and soda for a gathering we were attending. When we made these purchases we stood at the window and explained to the young lady working what we would like. She then proceeded to get the items from the shelf, dust them off (there is dust everywhere in Nairobi) and present them to us along with quoting a price. Nothing has a price tag or set price. This system gives her the freedom to give us one price and someone else a different price. Because we are white and have not yet established a relationship with her it is likely that she has given us a higher price for the items we have purchased than she might have someone else.
2. Chemist or Pharmacy
On every street corner of Nairobi there seems to be a pharmacy. This is a picture of the one down the street from our estate. We have stopped in here to get Doxycycline, the daily medicine we are taking to make the symptoms of Malaria less severe should we get it. Most pharmacies in Kenya sell medicine across the counter without a prescription. Therefore, we just walked in and told them what we needed. In regards to the locals, instead of going to a doctor they will often go to the pharmacy, describe their symptoms and the pharmacist will give them a medication.
This particular meat market is a about half a mile from our estate. I have gone there once. The day that I was in there the gentleman had a side of beef hanging from the ceiling. When talking to a local I was explaining that the regulations in America to sell meat are different then in Kenya. I pointed out that when I purchase meat it is generally prepackaged with a sell by date. He then asked, “How do you know that the label on the package is telling you the correct meat that it holds?” He then went on to explain that is often the reason that the meat hangs in the store, so when you make your purchase you can be certain that what you are ordering is indeed what you are getting. I am still not sure he understood American regulations and how they are enforced.
4. Leather Goods/Handbag Repair Man
The strap on my purse detached. Once again, outside the gate to our estate is this gentleman’s leather goods business. Within five minutes, sewing by hand, he had reattached my strap to the body of my purse along with reinforcing the other side. For this service he charged one hundred shillings which is equal to about one US dollar. Now, every time we walk by he waves and smiles. It is all about relationship.
Whether you are a business owner, an employee of a business, or just buy stuff from businesses may the Creator of the universe, the One who ultimately owns it all, bless you and keep you.
Until next letter,