Growing up, I knew an elderly man, a close friend of my father’s actually. He was rich although I think wealthy would be a more accurate word because it sounds more grounded.
He was one of those Kenyans who came into money when Kenya was still a young nation. You wouldn’t have known it by just looking at him though – he looked like a man struggling to eke a living in the village – old battered black leather jacket that went everywhere he went, old shirts, ill-fitting trousers and leather shoes that had seen better days.
He owned a car, an old Peugeot pick-up that kept breaking down. Whenever he needed to travel out of the village, he would use a matatu because his car couldn’t be trusted.
By now, you have gathered that this hard-working man, because he was hard-working, was mean to himself.
It turns out that he was mean to his family too because, I am told, only one of six children went beyond secondary school – his children lived a pauper’s life, doing menial jobs to fend for their families.
When he died a couple of years ago, he left behind a number of rental houses, shambas all over the place and millions of shillings in several bank accounts. As soon as his burial was over, his long-suffering wife and children went on a merry spending spree.
To their credit, this family did not fight over the wealth the patriarch left behind, they were united in their whirlwind spending of the money and property that had been left behind, even buying cars they could not drive and finally eating, with abandon, meat, which had been beyond their reach.
Talking of meat, have you noticed that the first thing that we do when we suddenly come into money, if we were living an impoverished life, is go on an eating spree?
Anyway, within a few months, this man’s children, with the blessings of their mother, had sold almost all the shambas their father had left behind, but to their credit, kept the rental houses, from which they now all earn a comfortable living.
It is such stories that remind me why, even as I work towards securing a comfortable future, which involves investing on the future, I should not forget to invest on the present because who knows about tomorrow?
This family’s story also reminds me that we really don’t need so much money to lead a comfortable life. They disposed of most of the property their father accumulated over the years, property that never benefitted them in anyway, and were left with just enough to lead a comfortable life devoid of want.
They live in decent houses, they have a meal every day and their children go to school – theirs cannot be described as an affluent life, but they seem content. And yet their father had so much but never got to enjoy any of it.
My community is said to be fond of buying shambas, thinking about, and from the evidence all around me, I don’t think that this is entirely a stereotype. The men are not considered man enough until they own a piece of land.
The result? Millions of money that is tied up to idle pieces of land, many that generate no income, effectively shackling one to never-ending debt, debt that ensures you will never have enough money to really enjoy this short life.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for owning land, after all, we all need a place to call our own, but is buying 10 pieces of land that you have trouble selling off prudent? Yet all have been bought through loans that you will pay off in 20 years to come?