On our travels in Africa we will pause now and then to meet some of the people. Here’s my encounter with one of the more unusual professionals in Nairobi:
Like other professional people from Kiambu Town, Kamau rides the bus to Nairobi every morning. Unlike his fellow passengers, he does not work in an office. Kamau’s profession is con man, seeker of funds, stopper of tourists.
He works Uhuru Highway between the National Museum and the Inter-Continental Hotel. He engages tourists in conversation. He tells them that he is a visitor from Mombasa who has had bad luck. His return bus has left without him.
He asks if the tourist knows where he might hitch a ride to the coast. He must hitch, he explains, because he’s broke. Sympathetic tourists sometimes buy Kamau a cup of tea or a meal; often they accede to his request for money.
Kamau has been “hitching a ride to Mombasa” for five months. He also seeks employment. He has done that for a year, finding nothing despite a secondary school diploma.
Kamau says that he was sacked from a teaching job in February, 1969, because he refused to take a Kikuyu tribal oath. The following month he tried to regain his position. He was willing to take the oath, being a Kikuyu after all. But it was too late. He hasn’t had a job since.
He came to Nairobi a year ago to look for work. When he ran out of money, he concocted the idea of the missed bus and began to stop tourists.
Kamau economizes where he can. His daily bus fare is four shillings, about 60 American cents. He eats one meal a day at two shillings. He rents a room at 30 shillings a month. When he gets a little money ahead, he goes back to the shamba, or farm, to visit his wife and two children, a boy of 4, a girl of 1-1/2.
In a good week Kamau may pull in 200 shillings. In a run of four good weeks – if such a thing occurred – he would make slightly more than his monthly salary as a teacher. That puts him ahead of many employed Kenyans.
But Kamau does not like the work. It involves risks; he must be secretive; and it holds no future. It is not the sort of work a 34-year-old man with two children and a secondary school education should do. Kamau wonders if he, who is educated, will be able to educate his children. He wants desperately to get a regular job.
But given the fact that about 130,000 Kenyans enter the work force every year while only about 30,000 new jobs are created annually in the modern urban sector, it looks as if Kamau may be “hitching a ride to Mombasa” for a long time to come.
Next post: A trip to Southern Africa: Rhodesia, South West Africa, Lesotho and, of course, South Africa.