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LIFE BY LOUIS: About my charcoal deal

Monday February 17 2020

More trouble was awaiting me when the sack of charcoal finally landed in my leafy suburbs after a week of travel. ILLUSTRATION| IGAH

More trouble was awaiting me when the sack of charcoal finally landed in my leafy suburbs after a week of travel. ILLUSTRATION| IGAH 

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February is an addendum to January, and the struggle is not over until the Lenten season begins. With lent I am assured of peace in the domestic front even after I cut off meat and other luxuries from the kitchen budget for a whole forty days.

Anything that has a strong foundation in the holy book is normally not questioned. If I sense that there is disquiet in the house, I gather them at the dinner table and read a verse from the holy book that talks about eating unleavened bread and bitter herbs for the forty days, and peace is restored. I leave them with a hymn that talks about John the Baptist who ate locusts and wild honey in the desert.

But it is not only in my house that I am exercising austerity measures.

I recently bought a full sack of charcoal from Turkana County. Yes, it has to come the full distance if you want quality and quantity.

I have seen bags of charcoal from the dealers in this city, and the bags are so malnourished that they can’t even stand up on their own.

And apart from ten solid pieces of charcoal that grace the top of the sack, the bottom is filled with dust and other non-combustible materials.


Buying a sack of charcoal from Turkana is a complicated supply chain where money changes hands three times and the sack is transferred to different modes of transport about five times before it finally lands in my leafy suburbs.


I know you are already judging me that I boil ndengu and hooves soup on 8th Floor. You are right. Man cannot live on bread alone.

The purchase deal was also complicated and would have put to shame a syndicated multilateral loan agreement with the World Bank.

The seller back in Turkana had stood his ground at one thousand shillings and he was not bulging even after being on phone with him for an entire morning.

Apparently, he is a man from my village who relocated to the county in the corner of the country to try his luck in charcoal business. Going by his regular consignments to Nairobi, he seems to be doing quite well.

He drove a hard bargain. I even branded him with high Clan titles like Son of our Father and Warrior of the Clan although I know he has not given the men of clan even a thin hen to eat.

We settled on Sh 950 after another hour of intense haggling where I even sent my emissary to open the sack and take samples for quality analysis. I also managed to cut off all the middlemen who would have driven the cost to well over two thousand shillings.

He still recovered Sh 27 because I sent him the money via mobile money transfer and he insisted that I must send the withdrawal charges. My net saving was therefore Sh 23.

More trouble was awaiting me when the sack of charcoal finally landed in my leafy suburbs after a week of travel.

The estate errands boy wanted one hundred shillings to carry the sack to 8th Floor. I asked him if he was going to settle for Sh50 but he was adamant, citing high costs of living like he lived in this country alone.


I suddenly got  inspired. The next minute, the sack was well balanced on my shoulders and I was bounding up the stairs two at a time. I landed on the balcony of 8th Floor like lightning.

Before I put down the sack, I did 10 full squats. My legs day colleagues in the gym would have really been proud of me.

Considering I paid myself Sh 50 for carrying, which is heavily discounted into the domestic budget, the sack reached 8th Floor at a landed cost of Sh 927. I went to bed feeling accomplished.

The following day, I met the errand boy chewing some green leaves with his friends. As I passed by I heard him whisper to his friends that I must be using a stronger banned substance and I needed to refer them to my supplier.

Later, when he saw me removing a full gas cylinder from the boot and swing it over my shoulder without looking at him, he knew that his source of income had diminished by one more customer.

What is the moral of this story? One, that we are living in rough streets. We hustle hard for this money. And two, money does not just grow on trees like avocados.