Of crafty 'fundis' and the many promises they fail to keep

Friday January 10 2020

A carpenter hard at work. Many craftsmen have a reputation of hardly working and failing to deliver on time. PHOTO | COURTESY


I broke up with my fundi. It had been a long time coming. Anyone who had witnessed he and I engage would have noticed how he was playing me for a fool. It was unrequited love, the type of love that makes a jackass of the person on one end. (The jackass here is me, of course.)


Let us call my fundi Sam. Like all love stories, it begins with a mindless introduction from someone you love and trust. My sister introduced Sam to me. Who was introduced to her by the man she was seeing at the time. Who was introduced to him by his own mother. It was a family affair. I am certain that if I traced the tree down its root, I may have discovered their parents fought side by side in the white man’s war.

My first ever job for Sam was an ironing board. In 2010. I was 25 and still living at home with my parents. Asking Sam to make me that ironing board was an indulgence of my curiosity for his craftsmanship. I don’t recall how long he took to complete it but I was out-of-my-pants elated when he delivered it.

Sam — my goodness — Sam was a skilled and experienced rule-breaker. A renegade. The bad boy of craftsmanship. The ironing board was to the standard height of 2.5ft but everything else about it was non-standard. The legs were matte black iron (this was back when no one had appreciated how chic iron mixes with other materials). The top was wider than standard. So was the padding. The entire ensemble was cocksure sturdy. Just like my love for Sam was.



Many harvests came and went, Sam and I fell out of contact. One December in 2014, GB tells me he has friends flying in for Christmas from the States. They would stay at his place. He needed a bed for the spare bedroom. I told him, “Say no more — I know an excellent fundi.”

I reached out to Sam. I blushed that he remembered me. He called me ‘Flo’, short for my government name Florence. I hate being called Flo, but hey, I was in love, Sam could call me anything he wanted. I told him I wanted a bed: four by six, mahogany, with a tall headboard. The design was from Houzz. I printed the picture. GB made deposit. Sam promised it would be ready to collect in two weeks.

It took him four weeks. Four weeks! GB’s pals had by this time landed from the States, hung around drunk for weeks and boarded their return flight. GB had done the sensible thing a man pushed to the corner would — he bought a ready-made bed off the side of the road. I hated it.


I didn’t hear from Sam all of that December. I was hurt, to be honest. Quite deeply. Next time we spoke was in early February, he said he had waited for my call but because I had not reached out, he had sold the bed. “I don’t have much space in my workshop,” he said flatly.

I was defeated. The thing about Sam is that he is soft-spoken and mild. You end up looking like the idiot when you raise your voice at him for his shortcomings in delivery discipline. It was twisted, alright. I asked him to send our deposit back. He said, “I’ll make another bed for you, Flo. Please. Give me a few weeks. I will.”

Sam eventually delivered the bed. It was beautiful! It had a tall 5ft headboard in a rich stain of matt mahogany, joints bolted with steel washers and lines clean and simple. It was beautiful, it was perfect! Ogling that work of art in our spare bedroom had me forget the hassle. I fell in love with Sam all over again.


This twisted script of a fool in love repeated itself for each item I asked Sam to make me over the years: the contemporary A-line shoe rack; the mid-century nightstands; the redesign of the TV console. One time he went off the radar for about a year with some teak shelves he was to deliver. When I called to ask him what was up, he deadpanned, “My workshop caught fire. We lost everything. We are only just getting back on our feet.”

I needed a new bed for our daughter, Muna. She was turning four and had outgrown her large cot. It was late October 2019. Guess what I did? I called Sam. I shared the designs on WhatsApp and sent a deposit. He said it would be ready in two weeks.

Two weeks turned to three, which turned to four. I hung in there because … sigh … because he and I have history. I almost collapsed when he finally delivered the bed. It was horrible: the mahogany had been ruined with the wrong stain, the design was off, joint work was flimsy. He had handed my work over to his apprentices. Unbelievable! Did he even love me back?

I got into bed to tell Muna a bedtime story and it creaked under my weight. That creak was the sound of me falling out of love with Sam.​