The 28 Year-Old Kenyan Entrepreneur Who Built A $7 Million Retail And Advertising Business

Trushar Khetia

Trushar Khetia

Trushar Khetia is one of Kenya’s most outstanding young entrepreneurs. The 28 year-old serial entrepreneur is the founder of Tria Group, an outdoor advertising firm that uses public transit vehicles to market leading consumer goods in Kenya. Tria, which was founded in 2013, places advertising on more than 200 buses in Nairobi for clients such as Unilever, Google, HP, Dell and Konica Minolta. The company has annual revenues exceeding $1.3 million.

Khetia is also the founder of Society Stores, one of the most popular supermarkets in Thika, a thriving industrial town 40 kilometers north east of Nairobi. The four-storey retail outlet is doing more than $6 million in annual revenues and Khetia is set to open two other stores before the end of this year.

Khetia’s two companies have combined revenues of more than $7 million. I recently had a chat with him where he recounted his entrepreneurial journey , reflected on the lessons he has learned along the way and spoke about his future plans.

What’s your personal and professional background?

I was born on the 29th of November 1986 in a small town in the western part of Kenya called Kitale which is still my home and where my parents live. I did my primary in Kitale in a government school, before moving to Nairobi for my high school (O & A levels). After High school, I went to study at the Manchester Business School which is part of University of Manchester when I was 17 years old. I studied Management with a Specialism in Marketing. I have always been the youngest in my year/batch and have always been very strong academically.

I have worked in several small jobs across university from video library sales, perfume shops, charity fundraising. Always I have enjoyed sales roles as that is where I found my strength in being able to persuade people. My first major employment was as a Marketing Manager at Securex in Nairobi for 6 months whilst being a part-time DJ at the same time at Pavement Club in Nairobi.

After graduating in the UK, I worked for Procter & Gamble (P&G) for 3 years as a business development manager looking after some of UK’s biggest retailers. I successfully grew every single business I was given and was promoted 3 times in the space of 3 years.

Finally, in June 2011 I decided to come back home to Kitale, Kenya in order to join and grow with my family business as they really needed me back at the time and I felt that I would fulfill my entrepreneurial ambitions with them. However, one year down the line, I realized this was not to be as my growth and potential was being limited by certain members of the family and I was not prepared to compromise on where I wanted to go in life, so I made the decision to leave the family business and move to Nairobi to start Tria Group. This is where my journey as an entrepreneur started.

How did you get started as an entrepreneur?

Interestingly, when I wanted to get inspiration for starting Tria, I looked back at my young age in school to what I had achieved and I realized that entrepreneurship had been in me since a very young age.

In Year 4 when I was barely 8 years old, I had and still have a passion of reading books. At that age it was all about comic books and children story books. As I was an avid reader, I would finish one book within a few days and move onto the next one. I realized an opportunity when I saw how many of my school friends would like to borrow the books I was reading. This gave me the idea of starting a book library where I would charge a few shillings to my colleagues to borrow the book. By the time it went around my class, the book would have paid back for itself. Even my teachers started borrowing the books from me for their own kids! I didn’t realize at that time that what I was running was a business. For me it was fun, a way to make money in order to buy sweets and chocolates for myself and my friends in school. It was purely driven for my passion for books and I saw why my colleagues shouldn’t also enjoy the same privilege of gaining knowledge.

A year later in Year 5 when I was 9 years old, I saw a second opportunity. Our school canteen was selling boxes of biscuits which were mainly bought by the boarders for their daily tea time as my government school was 90% a boarding school with us being a few of the day scholars. I realized they were overcharging the student compared to how much our own family wholesale shop was selling the same biscuits for. So I started by bringing a few boxes to school on credit from our shop with a promise to pay them back, and started selling them in school to the students at a much cheaper price than the school canteen. This was a win-win for all since they saved money and I made a profit for my family’s shop. Only later I came to realise that I was running was a retail business. Again for me the fun was in selling and saving money for my friends whilst also proudly brining money back home to the family’s shop as a 9 year old! What started with 3-4 boxes a week became 20-30 boxes. It was an amazing experience!

This gave me an inspiration to start business as I told myself that I had already been an entrepreneur without realizing at such a young age.

Trushar Khetia

Trushar Khetia

Your company, Tria Group is one of the leading lights in the in-transit advertising sector in Kenya and Tanzania. What inspired your entry into this line of business? Also, how many clients do you have now and how successful is the business in terms of revenue and reach?

My inspiration for starting Tria came from two sources. One was my time in the UK both as a student and working where my main form of transport was the public buses, trains and underground tubes. Ii realized what a huge media space this was as in UK every single bus, train and taxi had advertisements all over both inside and outside. I researched more into the companies who were in this industry and realized that they only focused on transit media yet they had revenues of over a million pounds!

Secondly, was my time as the marketing manager at the age of 19 at Securex. They asked me to put together their marketing plan for 2007 so I had to recommend to them the avenues of advertising. In doing my research into the Kenyan media market, I realized the huge white space in the transit media industry whereby we had so many buses and so much traffic in Nairobi but barely only 10 out of thousands of buses carried any ads. Majority of outdoor ads were billboards. So I convinced myself that this was a great space to enter.

7 years later the dream became reality as I went ahead in 2013 by starting up Tria. I later saw the same opportunity in Tanzania as I did for Kenya which made me also open up offices there mid-2014.

So far Tria in Kenya has worked with over 30 clients within a year. This includes some of the world’s biggest companies and brands. (more explained in my profile and portfolio for Tria).Tria in Tanzania is still at infancy stage but we have already got 4 clients on board who have started with us.

The most unique thing we did as part of transit media is to also venture into airline media with a partnership with Precision Air, one of Tanzania’s major airlines. For our major client Konica Minolta, we did in-plan advertising which involved doing the table trays of the aircraft. This was an out of this world experience!

Tria in Kenya has crossed $1.3 million dollars since we started 1.5 years ago. Tanzania is still small with revenues of about $ 50,000 in 6 months.

The reach of our media is phenomenal as we have over 110 branded buses on the road every day and each bus carries a total of 400 to 500 people in a single day so you can imagine the reach a brand gets with our media. This is not even taking into account the millions that see the ad externally in traffic, whilst walking, or driving in the month.

You also run a fast-growing retail outlet in Thika, Society Stores. What’s the story behind your entry into the retail business?

Retail has been a life-long passion that came from my upbringing in a retail shop environment. From a very young age I was already helping out in terms of the roles of cashiers, arranging goods on shelf, serving customers, engaging employees so to me the retail shop was nothing but fun!

Being so passionate about people and products, it drove my love for retail. Initially, the plan was to fulfil this retail dream with the family business and it was part of the reason for moving back from the UK, but this was not meant to be. So whilst I started one dream with Tria, the passion to do retail still remained.

So when I moved to Nairobi, using my relationships I had built with other retail business owners, I started looking for retail businesses to buy. I put word out in the market that I was interested in taking over a running retail business. That is when I got introduced to a retail business where the owners were as eager to sell as I was eager to buy. We actually started engaging each other and exchanging information when I was 26 years old for almost 1 year to date before finally I made the big move into agreeing on a deal to buy them out as a going concern on a walk-in walk-out basis. This led to the birth of the first Society Stores in based in Thika town in Kenya. A fulfillment of a life-long passion! I finally had bought and owned my first retail store at the age of 27

Access to financing is always a challenge for many entrepreneurs. How have you been able to fund the acquisition of Society Stores and the growth of your advertising business?

In everything I have achieved, I have always put the issue of money last. As difficult as it is to get start-up funding from banks out there, there are always alternative ways to get what you want in order to go to where you need to.

Society Stores was started purely from pulling all the profits that Tria had made in its first full year and reinvesting it back to buy the retail business. This has been a calculated risk whereby I have put the stakes of one company to build another. I had to start with just enough finance to take control of the shop and I bridged the remaining funds required through borrowing from private individuals. After that, the business itself has started paying back for itself from the daily sales and profits we make.

For Tria, starting up was not easy. I invested my personal savings that I had accumulated over my time of employment from UK with P&G and also in Kenya. What also boosted me was a small overdraft facility of $50,000 which I was able to secure from a bank I had built up a relationship with. What more so boosted Tria, was that even before officially starting with an office and a team of people, I single handedly landed my first two major contracts by simply working from home with just a laptop. This was equal to more than Ksh. 7m in about 7 days! (Approximately $78,000). My first client was Unilever with a campaign for their detergent brand called Omo followed by Kenafric Industries, one of the biggest confectionery manufacturers in Kenya.

Trushar Khetia

Trushar Khetia

You are quite young. Has your young age been an asset or a liability in the pursuit of your business?

My age has always been an asset! Starting early has meant I have practically learnt business and life lessons 5 years ahead of my time. I start failing early, learning from my mistakes early and finally achieving the success early as well. No university will teach you life skills and street-smart business skills. You have to learn this by doing, by risking and putting yourself on the line day in day out.

The people I actually meet give me so much respect because of what I am trying to achieve at such a young age. Ambition really has no limits whatsoever! They have appreciated my passion and enthusiasm for running all these business and doing crazy things at such a young age! Most important is to never let your age show in terms of maturity levels. I could be 40 but show the maturity and thinking of a teenager and I could be 28 and show the thinking of a 50 year old. It is not about age but more about your mindset!

Have you encountered any unique challenges in Kenya or Tanzania where you run your businesses?

Getting people to accept any new idea or business is never easy. You have to be persistent, patient and persuasive. For Tria initially we got so many NOs and rejections where companies wanted others to first try the idea before they were convinced. But we never gave up. We would learn from the rejection to only pinch in a stronger way next time. Now the very same clients that said no are the ones calling us!

For Tanzania, it is going through the same as when we started in Kenya. People will always take time to warm up to new ideas and this is where you have to demonstrate your ability to persevere and continue being relentless until you succeed.

I have personally learnt a lot from my family business especially my father. He is a raw entrepreneur with no formal education or corporate work experience like I did, yet purely because of this hard work, desire, and instructs for business, he has achieved a lot considering he came from such small and humble beginnings in India where he was born. Everytime we go back to the village he came from it is the biggest inspiration to me to see how he has grown over the years. That is why I always challenge him that I should be able to achieve even more than him as I have learnt things he didn’t get to experience at my age!

What does success mean to you?

Real success is about leaving a name and legacy behind that outlives you even if you die. To me it is leaving a scratch, a mark on this planet, that I did something good, I made a difference, I had an impact to peoples’ lives during my time on earth!

It is not primarily about the money you make in the process. A lot of people think that success is money. What I believe is that money is just but a thermometer of how successful you are. And real long term success is purely driven by your passion and ambitions.

What’s next for Trushar Khetia and the Tria Group?

Next 3 years, I want Tria Kenya to grow even further to reach USD 2-3 million turnover. In Tanzania I would like it to hit the $1m dollar mark. And then also open up operations in Uganda so we are covering all the major East African countries. Having said that, it is my dream to own a radio station so depending on the opportunity at hand, I would like one day to have Radio Tria!

For Society Stores, the plan is to open up more outlets around the country. I have personally put a target of having 5 stores in another 1 and a half years which means I need to open an outlet every 4 months.

As much as I set target as to where I want to reach by a certain time and age, my growth will always come from the risks and opportunities that I will continue taking. As I said before, my ambition has no limit and no end

Any words of wisdom for young African entrepreneurs that are afraid of starting something?

The biggest fear you should have in life is not doing enough with it. I am not afraid of death but afraid of dying too early before I have fulfilled all that I need to.

A lot of young African entrepreneurs have great ideas, but do not have the courage or mindset to take the risk with their idea and action. So in the end, they end up being their own biggest barrier to success purely because they lack self-belief and self-confidence and a positive mindset which forms the core of the success. Yet they will find excuses that it is their family or society or their employers that are holding them back. If you do not take risks in life, then what is the point of living, where you are chained by your own fears of failure. You have to break yourself free in order to experience your true fullest potential.

by @MfonobongNsehe

Additional source: Forbes

Student Innovations: TasKwetu

Mashable describes a Start Up company as a company set up to test business models developed around new ideas. Typically they have fewer than fifty employees. They are usually made up of developers and designers – people who write code and those who can design a consumer-friendly interface. Once funded, startups can grow quickly while maintaining low costs and limited labor.

This month, we feature student start up innovations by asking them only four core questions: The Innovation, The problem it solves, The start up resources used, and how it creates job employment.

This week, we feature TasKwetu,an Online task management and tracking platform that is designed for task creators to easily get tasks done fast, reliably and affordably. We hope you like what you read 🙂

Taskwetu Team

Taskwetu Team

1. What is the innovation?
Taskwetu is an innovative online errand running, tracking and project management platform that offers professional yet personalized task-management and tracking services to support our Kenyan Diaspora community. Our services are also open to our local Kenyans
Through our website (www.taskwetu.com), we offer a transparent & easy-to-access project tracking system that gives our clients perfect peace of mind to undertake their tasks –big or small – conveniently and affordable back in Kenya.
2. What problem does it solve?
We solve the problem of money & time wastage faced by Kenyans in the Diaspora

It’s no new story that Kenyans in the Diaspora have been conned out of their life savings by people they trust. This painful experience makes them think twice about investing back home. They tend to ask their friends or relatives to help them out forgetting that they are people who also have their 8-5 jobs and their personal affairs to manage as well.

Secondly, with this trying economy, it is expensive and time consuming for Kenyans in the Diaspora to keep traveling back and forth just to run their errands, so we thought an independent body that helps them realize their investments and manage their affairs away from home through transparency would solve these problems.

taskwetu

3. What start up resources did you use?
Some of the resources used were easily accessible:
• Internet has been our biggest resource since our platform is online based.
• Incubation centers such as NEVA-USIU that offered us an interactive space and basic amenities such as Wi-Fi among others. Nairobi Accelerators (Nailab) offered to take us in, nature the idea, source for capital and occasional business training. They are currently one of our partners & investors.

NaiLab, one of their sponsors

NaiLab, one of their sponsors

4. How has it (the start-up) contributed to the creation of job employment?
We have managed to create employment for 3 people so far: ZamZam Rashid (Administrative Manager) Ivy Mburu (Marketing and Public relations Manager) and James Mwangi (Legal Intern), We hope to create a bigger avenue of ememployment in the near future as we continue to grow.

You can follow them on Facebook as TasKwetu.

Student Innovations: Rocaffe, Coffee shop and Bakery

Rocaffe logo

Rocaffe logo

“Living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.” These are the words that inform the life of this week’s entrepreneur, Ronnie Mboya, 24 and a senior at The United States International University- Africa, (USIU-A).

What’s a Rocaffe? And what does it do? He tell us…
1. What is the innovation?
Rocaffé is a startup coffee shop that will be located at the ever expanding environs of my campus (United States International University). It will boast a unique and vibrant café-restaurant and bakery that will arguably be the highlight of the campus’ ever-expanding dining scene. Rocaffé will be more than a coffee shop. It will be staple in the lives of campus students and residents in the immediate environment who will count on us for quality, consistency and a beautiful place to be every day.

2. What problem does it try to solve?
With the population of the university on the rise, as well as residential housing around the proposed location of Rocaffé, we felt putting up a coffee shop filled a much needed market need. With limited access to spaces where students, staff and the general population can meet, mingle, work or unwind over a cup of coffee or a meal, Rocaffé was purposefully built to meet this need.

Ronnie, the entrepreneur dude

Ronnie, the entrepreneur dude

3. What start up resources did it use?
Starting a coffee shop cum bakery requires a large injection of capital. The space in which it is located was in a new building where the tenants were expected to renovate their own spaces, as it is with most real estate properties coming up. Renovation costs were quite high considering we had to build a mezzanine floor, tile the space, build a kitchen, furniture, equipment, and of course one of the most important factors, a significant amount of money in the bank as working capital.
Another really important resource it used up was my time. About a year and a half of my life was spent planning and building up Rocaffé, in order to see the vision we had become a reality.

4. How has it (the startup) contributed to the creation of job employment?
Since the idea of Rocaffé was conceptualized, it has created various avenues through which various people were able to earn an income. As a start, the graphical design of the coffee shop was done by a university graduate looking to get some work experience under his belt, and earn some money as well. When renovations started, there have been various people who were involved, all of whom earned an income in one way or another. Once open, Rocaffé will employ a minimum of ten permanent employees and about four part time employees as well.

You can follow his blog here for more updates on the coffee shop, and what else he does when not thinking business.

Top Gear’s New Host Announced

Some say he’s as purple as Prince Harry’s bottom…

Some say he hypnotizes sheep…

Some say he is the crisp that completes James May and  Richard Hammond’s dead fashion sense…

Some say he tastes like a Jeremy Clarkson toasted by the BBC…. all we know is that he is Paprika!

And he is the one.

10629626_982254555134171_3304739292785099482_n

A Passion Project that took a life of its own

Elizabeth Oduor aka Azil

Elizabeth Oduor aka Azil

Makeup captures our inner beauty. That has been held captive by life, and allows us to tell the story of our faces and how we live with in them. Social media, and the inter-webs alike, if harnessed and used to their supreme potential, can be powerful tools in and for changing perceptions and broadening one’s professional prospects. This is why she has decided to venture into blogging as a means to showcase her art to the world.

Bloggers are a dime a data bundle. The blogosphere is the current hotspot for most creative entrepreneurs. Globally, the cosmetic industry is estimated to garner a net $20 billion in sales annually. The effect of this is far reaching, and even though we may not notice it, it has a direct influence on our lives. My interviewee has seen the potential that this industry has and has therefore decided to turn what started out as a simple passion project and decided to give it a life of its own.

What’s working for her is clearly more than her artistry or her optimism. I made it my mission to find out what exactly makes her inimitable.

Elizabeth Oduor is a Student at  USIU-A studying Journalism. When not at work, you can find her up and about the campus, with a tripod in hand off to shoot at some thing or the other.  She describes herself as a free spirited optimist who is left intrigued by the creative arts. Make Up in particular, as she feels that it gives her creativity a mind of its own. In person, she is of moderate height, but if you look close enough, you’ll notice that although moderately tall, it’s her bohemian chic get up that draws you in. Her smile- the 100 watt kind-(which I later learn is a permanent fixture) demands reciprocity. And soon enough she has me smiling back at her. Me-all teeth and no poise her- exuding that old demure and comely grace. But it’s her low, breathy voice, coupled with her perfectly tweezed eyebrows and her achingly perfect red-lip that arrests your attention and makes you want to listen to what she has to say. Which is this:

Why makeup?

I got into makeup by mistake. In April 2012 I saw Suzie Beauty advertising for makeup artists and I applied. I was called for the interview which was the first time I put [applied] makeup on someone else other than myself. I got the job in May 2012. I then discovered a talent that I never knew I had and ran with it. Since then I have been working under Suzie Beauty and recently started freelancing under the name Azil.

Azil, again :)

Azil, again 🙂

Why the name Azil?

Azil is essentially my name backwards, Liz. A. To me it represents the inner beauty that most women struggle to find. It’s a reminder of the insecurities that I struggled with and helps me try to bring out that beauty in other women.

How did you get your first client?

My first client was a bride I was referred to by Suzie Beauty.

What has been your most satisfying moment so far?

My most satisfying moment was working on a creative shoot that appeared in prestige magazine

Azil Introducton III

What value would you say your artistry has added?

In my life my artistry has made me have an open mind. You meet very different people to the point where you learn not to be a judgmental person

Social Media, how is that working for you?

I just started using social media to promote myself and I can say so far so good.

On the future…

In the next five years I hope to be one of the major makeup artists in the advertising industry.

On challenges faced…

I was doing my very first fashion show as an intern and none of the models would let me touch their face because they simply doubted my skills. Other than that, getting into the industry is quite the challenge.

Her Mantra…

“Don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game” it’s a baseball themed quote but the essence of it is that it we should not allow our fear of failure keep us from following our dreams.

Learn more about Azil and her craft by paying a visit to her blog.

For bookings, send an email to azil9@gmail.com

Photos Courtesy of Elizabeth Oduor

Short Story: Rabies (by Idza Luhumyo via Jalada)

there is a certain age in a girl’s life when she has to be protected from other girls.

Bibi usually tells me that if you do something very wrong, Allah will not hesitate to strike you dead. He will call you by name, just like he did to my sister Latifa. She was barely three years old, Latifa. When she died, she almost carried my mother’s entire happiness to the grave with her. After the burial, Ma had my other sister Amina leave for Lamu as soon as she could walk on her own two feet. A visit every Ramadhan, but no more.

“Your mother did not want to tempt death with the two of her remaining girls so she had Amina go to your aunt in Lamu,” Bibi told me.

We were born three girls, one after the other. Ma often says I was the first one to come but Ba says no, it was Latifa. Bibi doesn’t remember. She was the only one with Ma during the delivery, her bad ears being her shield against the screams. Bibi, perhaps drained out from Ma’s seventeen-hour labor, put one stroke on Latifa and one stroke on me so that they could never know who the first-born was.

“It is not easy to give birth to three girls,” Ma usually says.

“It is not easy to give birth, that is all,” Bibi answers her.

Ma barely lives. She is sad and has infected both Bibi and me with her sadness. So we walk around with a certain natural heaviness in us which, once very foreign, soon became familiar. I learnt long ago how not to lose myself to laughter, lest it cause Ma more pain. Even when the times were joyful, like during Ramadhan, I had to be careful to approach happiness with the stealth that Ma and Bibi approached it with.

“Don’t tempt fate,” was Bibi’s favorite reproach.

I do not blame Bibi. She does not have much with which to resist the sadness. Her husband, my grandfather, never came back from Dubai where he went to work more than ten years ago. Two of her sons soon followed to look for work and to know what happened to their father. It has been five years since we heard from them. The last of Bibi’s sons, Uncle Ali, wants to go too. Bibi will not have it.

“Isn’t it enough to kill me three times?” she says. “Let me die first, then you may go. It won’t be long now.”

But Uncle Ali will go, I know it. I can see it in his restlessness. Sometimes I see it in the way he looks at us like someone who is about to go on a journey. Other times his intentions reveal themselves in how he sighs when anyone mentions Dubai. From time to time, he comes home and whispers into Bibi’s ears about his plans: stories of a new agent he has found who charges only half what his brothers paid and many promises to call when he gets there.

But Bibi shakes her head no so vigorously, you’d think she was about to go mad.

“Isn’t losing a husband and two sons enough?” she says.

“You have not lost them. Do we take other people’s lives before we know they have died? They will come back. Insha’Allah,” Uncle Ali says. “Have faith Ma.”

“I know it. I know their sweat does not fall on this earth anymore,” Bibi says.

“But what are my sisters for? They will be with you and they will take care of you.”

“Your sisters have their hands full with their husbands, can’t you see? They don’t own even the hair on their heads. Don’t go, I plead with you.”

I think of my sister Amina. I try to imagine her life in Lamu. I wonder whether she says her prayers every day or if she forgets like I do sometimes. Does she get lazy sometimes? Ma has a photo of her in her bedroom. Save for the broad nose and the kinky hair, she doesn’t resemble me at all. Even less now I presume for I was told that she has relaxed her hair. Mama would never allow me to do that to my hair. Everything to her is haram. Sleeping is haram. Laughing loudly is haram. Eating is also haram.

I fear Ma. She looks at me as if I’m a ghost.

“You look just like her,” she says.

“But how, Ma? Wasn’t she three when she died? I am ten now.”

“What kind of questions are these?” she asks, her cold eyes revealing her anger. Much, much later she adds, “I know because I am her mother.” This is her apology for her outburst and I gladly accept it.

Ma wears her sadness around her like a colorful hijab, inviting everyone to notice it. I have not yet learnt how to drown myself so completely in sadness like her, but I know how to be quiet. I have perfected the art of quietly doing things, a way of adopting a busy presence like that of birds. Nosy neighbors insist that I was not raised by Ma, that it is Bibi who deserves that credit.

Ma has nightmares sometimes. I dread the days when she has them for I am always the victim. Before Uncle Ali put a lock on my bedroom door, Ma would come into my room and pull at me, screaming, thinking me to be Latifa.

“May Allah curse whoever dug that well. May their feet have worms and may their children be beggars all their lives. May Allah shorten the days of their lives!”

“She would never hurt you,” Bibi assures me after leading her away. “She just thinks you’re Latifa.”

I don’t know what to believe. Mama wakes up the next morning as if everything is normal and doesn’t notice the red marks. At lunchtime she asks what happened to my face. I run to my room and cry quietly. Mama doesn’t like tears. She prefers her sorrow dry.

In the late hours of the afternoon, when Bibi is taking her afternoon nap and Ma is reading the Quran, I sneak away to the two adjoined rooms that Grace’s family calls their home. Ours is a Swahili house, built in the fashion of Arabic houses. It is a rectangular house with a long corridor. It has nine rooms facing each other on either side of the corridor. Our part of the house, the front part, is separated from the tenants by a grill door which is never closed. On it hangs a curtain through which we can see the tenants but they cannot see us. Bibi says it is good this way: the tenants must not feel like they can get away with anything in a house that is not even theirs.

“Remember the camel and the tent?” she tells Ma.

I know she is talking about Grace’s father. Bibi cannot stand the loud prayers that he has in the middle of the night, every night. He is a pastor. Sometimes he will not stop praying till the small hours of the morning. Mama is reluctant with the eviction notice, however. Apart from being our oldest tenants, they are the only ones who pay rent on time.

”Allah knows how much we need it,” she says.

It is Grace’s mother that Ma can’t stand. She has forbidden me from going to their room. She says that they touch, cook, and eat pork all the time. I know this is a lie because I asked Grace, and she said that they only eat cow meat, and even then only on the last Sunday of every month when her father hosts the church elders in their room.

I sneak away in the afternoons when Ma is busy with Allah and Prophet Muhammad. Sometimes she keeps reading her Quran until the shadows on the walls have disappeared and Grace’s mother has lit the lamp.

The teacher’s strike is on so Grace didn’t go to school today or the past week. Her two brothers are in school because unlike Mtomondoni Primary School, where Grace goes, Greenfield Academy is private.

“Are your teachers on strike too?” Grace asks when she sees me.

“No. Have you forgotten today is Friday?”

“I wish we also had a free weekday like you people,” she says. I notice that her mind is elsewhere.

She asks me if I am doing anything. I tell her, as she can see, I am not. She suggests a walk and five minutes later, after a reluctant nod from her mother, we are on the road leading to the Chief’s offices.

“Didn’t your mother tell you not to go to the Chief’s place?”

“When is Amina coming?” she asks, ignoring my question.

“Not far, it is Ramadhan soon.”

“I can’t stand Amina.”

“Why?” I ask as if I don’t already know.

“She thinks she is better.”

“Better than who?”

“Than me and you. What did you think?”

I don’t like this side of Grace. She reminds me of a picture my English teacher had on her phone. A neck had three heads sitting on it and the hair of each head was tied into a bun at the top so that it looked like the hair belonged to all of them. I asked Teacher Leila how this was possible.

“Is she a jinni?”

“If it is a jinni then we must all be jinnis,” she said. “We all have many sides to us. Let no one cheat you that they are always wise or happy. Some days one is happy, some days one is sad. Those are the many heads we all have.” I did not understand her.

When we get to the Chief’s place we find that we cannot go in because the watchman is there.

“There will be no swinging for us today,” Grace says. “Let’s go.”

“Where to?”

“Come!” she says in an excited whisper. She grabs my hand and starts running. I am forced to run along with her. She leads me to the place where I come for my madrasa classes. It is empty today save for three boys in green kanzus who are playing pebbles. One of them is screaming, “Haram! Haram!” incessantly as if he was rehearsing a chant. We walk past them without a word.

“Let’s go in,” Grace says when we get to the door of my classroom.

I say no. I don’t want to seen by the Imam, who thinks I am the best-behaved girl in class. Grace ignores me and walks inside. The room has a raffia carpet spread from wall to wall, and a few books are scattered all over. Grace walks up to some of them and reads the names written at the top.

Leila.

Shaman.

Nuru.

By this time I am worried because soon there will be a call for prayer and the compound will not be as deserted.

“Grace, let’s go home.”

She signals at me to go to the back where she is now sitting cross-legged.

“Is this how you usually sit?” she says. “So that the boys get a little glimpse of your thing?”

She then starts laughing. Her laughter is like my mother’s anger. It starts low, as if it is apologizing, then gains speed and rises up her throat until she has tears in her eyes. I sit next to her. This close to her, I catch a whiff of a smell that tells of a skipped shower.

Bibi says that a woman can be lazy in anything but not her body. She takes long, hot baths at night and prescribes them as medicine for any sickness. Bibi’s bath is an event in her day. Sometimes I think it is all she looks forward to. She fills her basin with half hot water and half cold water. She then adds all sorts of things in it. Once, when I asked her why she only puts a few drops of olive oil in her bath-water, she said, “We don’t waste gold, do we?”

“Grace, you have not showered today,” I say.

“What’s the hurry for? Today is not over.”

“But a girl is supposed to shower in the morning and at night before sleeping. Cold bath in the morning and a hot bath at night.”

“Who said?”

“Bibi.”

“I will shower later, you don’t worry.”

We sit in silence for a while, and I am afraid I have offended her. I start to tell her that we should go because I cannot hear the voices of the boys who were playing pebbles.

“Do you have a boyfriend?” she asks.

I laugh and tell her no. “Do you want Bibi to kill me?”

“And you?” I ask.

She shakes her head. She then stretches her legs in front of her before crossing them at her sides as if to put them away. Then, watching me, she brings her bent knee slowly, slowly as far as it can go between my legs. Her gaze holds me captive so that I am both here and not here and I am afraid of moving even the slightest inch. My stillness registers as assent to her because she is now moving her knee further in with the urgency of someone who really needs to pee. I find myself opening my legs further apart, keenly aware of a thrill that is building up in my middle part. I surprise myself by sighing when Grace’s knee goes just short of grazing my panty. I move my body slightly near her and push my legs further apart. Grace gets up, scans the room quickly, and gets on top of me. I barely register this when we hear the sound of laughter coming from the windows. I quickly throw her off me and look towards the window. I see nobody.

Grace recovers first. She stands up and makes for the door. It takes me two, three seconds to join her on the murram road that leads to home. Neither one of us says a word to each other.

The next day, Ma neglects her Quran in the afternoon to attend to the more urgent task of going to the market. Bibi has a visitor. I stay in my room the whole time, bored and looking out of the window, counting the people walking. There used to be a dog I would play with, a dog Baba had, whenever I would get bored. After a while they said it had rabies and that it had to be killed. Baba said that the dog had bitten one of the tenants and because of that bite the tenant might die. The dog had to go.

The front door shuts and I hear Bibi call my name. She tells me to go to her room and wait for her. I step in and marvel, not for the first time, at the darkness. You would not guess that the sun shines in its entire splendor just beyond the curtains. But this is how Bibi has always been. She has her own way of doing things. Bibi walks in soon after and wipes her hands on a towel. She is not the cleanest person in the world, at least not like Ma who washes her bed linen every day. Bibi’s bed is rumpled, yet in this room there is a sense of organized mess. Bibi takes my hand and leads to a mat placed beside her bed. I sit down and wait for her.

“Did you know the Imam was here today?” she asks.

“Yes, I heard him,” I say.

“He wanted to speak to your mother but he didn’t find her. Why she went to the market at this time, I don’t understand,” she says. “The best time for the market place is when the sun is either coming out or going down. Never at two o’clock in the afternoon.”

I smile and nod. Bibi talks of Mum as if she is an errant child.

“Mariam,” Bibi says.

“Yes?”

“Allah was so kind as to bless me with three girls, just like your mother. The seed of girls has been planted in our wombs. Even in you, I’m sure. If there is one thing I have learnt when bringing up girls, it is to watch them very, very closely. Nothing is lost on girls at your age. Especially if they are clever like you. Do you hear?”

“Yes,” I say.

“My dear girl, when Allah created humans, he had ten pieces of desire in His hand. He gave nine pieces to women and only one piece to men. My mother’s sister, Aunty Khadijah, once told me something important about girls. She said there is a certain age in a girl’s life when she has to be protected from other girls. At that age, the company of other girls is dangerous. There is a type of madness that moves around in their bodies like blood, and they pass it on to each other like a disease,” she says.

She goes silent for a long while and I soon realize that she is using the silence as a weapon, just like the women in our family have been known to do. It is my cue to start crying. As the tears start falling, Bibi continues talking.

“Be careful of other girls, do you understand me?”

I nod my head. I now know that the Imam must have seen.

She continues, “At a certain age, when a girl starts to notice boys, and wants to be noticed by boys, she is veered towards forming friendships with girls. But never, ever earlier than then.”

“Mariam, the Imam told me he saw you and Grace yesterday at the madrasa. If it is true, I am afraid I will not allow you to speak to that girl again,” she says.

I break out into loud sobs. Bibi seems shocked at this but I no longer care. I am incapable of keeping my sorrow dry. For some reason I remember Baba’s dog, the one that was killed. After it was killed, everyone waited for the tenant to die. The tenant never died. It seemed that the dog had never had rabies in the first place.


Idza Luhumyo (@idzah) is a 20 year-old Kenyan writer. She is a student at the University of Nairobi. She has been writing for a couple years and she uses her writing to find herself. She occasionally blogs at Lavignetteur.

Featured: Recho Omondi (via Lyra Aoko)

image

“Recho Omondi is a New York based womenswear designer, influenced by the duality of her African heritage and New York lifestyle. Founded in 2013, her namesake label challenges the notion of modernity as it relates to the global, evolving woman. Steadfast in our commitment to offer goods of quality construction, we continue to explore the OMONDI philosophy that states beauty as an object of culture, logic and grace.” image

The first time I came across the @omndi Instagram account I remember thinking that she looked like my cousin Ingrid. By the time I was done stalking her creative timeline I was convinced that we had to be related somehow (Yes, this woman is amazing she is my big sister IJN) image

Rachels minimalistic and clean approach to fashion is not only appealing but also quite out of the ordinary in an age where the mentality of “the bolder the better” reigns supreme. image

The Omondi line is delicate and feminine but fearlessly unique at the same time. I must admit that I have a bias towards her entire ‘movement’ because of her incredible choice of models. Dark, caramel, chocolate and all shades of black are constantly being represented in her visuals and editorials and it is quite refreshing and beautiful to see all that sweet melanin on the runway

image

Scream!!! Literal Perfection!!! Follow @omndi on Instagram today!