Multi-talented granny who would rather work than sleep


The 97-year-old living at an old people's home in Mombasa feels young at heart, weaves baskets for sale

Wednesday March 18 2020

At 97 years of age, Jane Nyajau is as healthy and fit as a fiddle.

She wakes up at 3am to listen to her radio, passing time while reminiscing her sunset years.

She has outlived the current life expectancy of between 60 and 80 years.

“She rarely falls sick, and is very strong for someone her age,” says Sister Mary Jacintha who manages Little Sisters of the Poor, a home for the elderly in Tudor, Mombasa County.

At this age, she could be idling around, sleeping or perhaps waiting for God to call her home. But the nonagenarian has refused to sit still, and spends her time making hand-woven, wool and sisal bags and baskets.

She has lived well. She loves eating nyama choma, taking a cold Tusker (beer) and reading the newspaper.

Mama Nyajau says she loves knitting.

Desolate life

“This is all I do, it’s my day job. I may look frail but I feel young at heart,” said the avid Taifa Leo reader, who gets her regular copy from a vendor in Tudor.

She has been at the Little Sisters of the Poor home or Nyumba ya Wazee for more than 35 years when the home rescued her while living a desolate life in Lamu County.

Statistics from the county commissioner’s office indicate that she is the oldest living person in Mombasa. Although she does not remember if she has any relative dead or alive, she is happy she found a family in the home.

At the home, Mama Nyanjau who says she is living a bonus, is among the most energetic. Whenever she is asked to sleep, she prefers to work instead.

“She wakes up early to do the baskets. Sometimes the sisters hide the materials she uses, but she finds them and continues with her hobby. She loves weaving her baskets,” says Sister Jacintha.

The granny makes beautiful and unique patterns, selling the largest basket at around Sh5,000 and the smallest at Sh2,000.

 “I make about three handwoven baskets per month depending on orders, sizes and availability of materials, but I can make up to five or ten pieces,” says Nyanjau during an interview at the home.

The nonagenarian decides the prices of the baskets herself and doesn’t allow people to bargain. If you want her to lower her price, she challenges you, ‘how do you want old people to survive?’

“She keeps her money so carefully, and most times, she gives it to me. She is very intelligent,” says another sister who identified herself as Sister Veronica.

Mama Nyajau uses sisal and wool to make her products, which are uniquely hers.


“They are my own creation I am multi-talented, I taught myself this skill. I use the profit to buy more materials for my business. The only challenge is availability of sisals, and the sisters have to source for me from Nairobi,” she adds.

She only talks to people she’s familiar with including her good friend, Mombasa Catholic Archdiocese Vicar General, Father Wilbard Lagho.

Last April, the sisters and the senior citizens celebrated golden jubilee of the Nyumba ya Wazee.

The 50-year-old facility has been a home to senior citizens at the Coast, where they receive love, care and devotion from the altruistic Catholic sisters.

The home also welcomes volunteers who spend time with the old people. The elderly get treatment at Pandya Hospital through the support of a Muslim family.

Former Mombasa county commissioner Evans Achoki who spends his free time visiting the elderly here, urges Kenyans to take care of their aged kin and show them love.

“When you reach a certain age, family tends to forget about you. It is important for us to come and visit the elderly. Family is important,” Mr Achoki said.