TALES OF COURAGE: I was once homeless and jobless

Friday August 25 2017

Joan Wamuyu on her bike during an interview at

Joan Wamuyu on her bike during an interview at a restaurant in Karen on July 1, 2017. PHOTO| THOMAS RAJULA 

By THOMAS RAJULA
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Her brilliant, happy smile and confident demeanour say nothing about the fact she was once was once homeless and jobless.

Joan Wamuyu, 43, has learnt not to take life for granted and find fulfilment in everything she does because of the difficult hand that life once dealt her. Hers is a story of wits, innovation and adaptability, determination and discipline that made her resilient and focused on turning her life around from what would have been a life of living from hand to mouth.

“In 2003, I didn’t have a job and had very little in savings. I had to move back in with my mum for a little while in Thika where I grew up. It was hard though being a dependent on my mom again. I had two babies: three-and-a-half-year and two-month old babies. Our needs were more in terms of care, food and finances. From being independent with my own home, the new situation was tough. Luckily my mom and entire family were very supportive. It was just for a few months and I moved back to Nairobi in December, the same year, with my sister. I had to start life from scratch and my sister gave me Sh5, 000 to figure out what to do. It was around Christmas time and I figured all employees have no time to go shopping for their children, yet they would all have to buy it some way, as is the Kenyan tradition. I went to Eastleigh and bought clothes. Then I went and visited all the offices that I had worked in previously and those of friends that I had to sell the stuff to them. As I was selling the clothes, I was leaving my CV and asking them to let me know of any openings that they would come across,” remembers Joan.

EVENTUALLY GOT A JOB

“I sold a good amount of clothes and people were paying me. It’s the time people are getting their bonuses for the year and other perks. When I received payment, I would go and restock the items as people bought stuff for their friends and family.”

She eventually got a job in 2004.   “I decided I would not quit my clothing business. I have never just had just one job alone; there was always something else I was running. I have sold shoes, clothes (men’s and women’s), handbags and towels.. After about a year, my boss found out and he called me into his office.”

MOONLIGHTING

He told her that he knew she was moonlighting which was against the company policy.

“I completely denied that that was the case. I told him those clothes were actually my sister’s and I was only helping. I also told him I didn’t know that was wrong and I would ensure that she comes and carries her wares and doesn’t bring them back again. Luckily, I had always told my colleagues the same story, because I didn’t want them to dilly-dally in paying me after they received their salaries. I would tell them that my sister had brought me the clothes to see, but they were welcomed to look through them and see if they would fancy anything. I would even sometimes wear some of the clothes to work to get them to see how they look on a person, because girls like to be the same. If they wanted to M-PESA, I’d give them my sister’s number. My boss asked to see my sister to confirm the story, and I told her to come so we can make it go away. I later told my boss I would stop doing it.”

She didn’t stop.

“My starting salary at time was Sh20,000 per month. While I could have budgeted and lived within this, I was sure dropping the opportunity to have more income would have been a wrong decision. I needed that extra cash desperately and the same did not affect my productivity at work,” she says.

Her salary increased as she worked her way up to depot manager. Coupled with the income she was making from the sales, she started going to Dubai periodically. She would leave on a Friday night flight, check into a hotel, shop all day Saturday and Sunday, fly back Sunday night, take a French-bath at the airport on Monday morning before checking into work. The back of her small car was her shop. On the Saturdays when she wasn’t working, she would go park at office buildings where she had customers. She continued selling from the boot when the company went under in in 2007. By the time she went back to employment in 2010, she had closed two shops she had managed to open along Taveta Road. At the new company, she sold men’s trousers from Uganda and towels. She bought the towels from a lady in Jericho At Sh500 and resold them for Sh1,500.

She has been in the business of hosting international guests at her house for a fee since 2012. She was finally able to quit employment for good in 2014.

“For a long time I wanted to be a homemaker; great wife and mother. I was never a career woman. That came with the new changes in my life,” says Joan.

The idea of hosting people in her house for a fee then came to her.

“The genesis of my hosting was the fact that I was lonely. My life was getting very boring; living in a three-bedroomed house, I’d come home and watch television or sleep. I researched online on how to host people who were coming into the country but didn’t want to stay in hotels. I started in 2012 and got my first client towards the end of the year. She was an Italian working for a corporation under the Italian Embassy. We both worked in town so I used to give her lifts in the mornings and some evenings.

“As she was leaving at the end of her stay, she said her colleague had told her that someone else was coming into the country and asked if I could take her in. I was only comfortable taking in one person then because I was just learning to live with other people, let alone people who didn’t share my culture. I had installed a television and a coffee table with two seats in my first guest’s room, just in case she would want her own space, but we ended up sharing the common spaces. As the recommendations continued, I opened up the second bedroom too.

“I set up the rooms with desks for reading and working and reliable internet connectivity. I don’t provide food or toiletries, but the kitchen is shared and they can make their meals there. Consumables like water, electricity and gas are shared down the middle. My guests stay at least three months at a time.

With her financial goals finally achieved, she is now finalising preparations to pursue her passion to travel the world with her fiancé on motorcycles.

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