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Saturday, July 28, 2007

More Slum Stories: Can You Handle It?

I looked at a friend’s braided hair (locally referred to as twist) with admiration at the way it was done. It was neat and shining making her look so elegant. I told her you must take me to that place you did your hair.

She told me it was done in Kibera slums at a place called Kianda, which is near the main road connected to Ayany estate and asked me if I would still want to go, I said why not I don’t have a problem going to the slums, I grew up in an estate next to the slums most of my childhood, so I am familiar with the area and its not such a big issue going to the slums. She told me they are very much cheaper compared to town yet it is done exactly the same way. The lady running the place is called Nyatanga (when translated from Luo means a lady from Tanga in Tanzania), she is a Luo from Tanzania, her family moved to Kenya and is married to a Luo from Kenya.

She advised that we go on a Saturday early morning before 9am, because the place is normally full of customers. On reaching the place, we found more than 10 ladies dressed in red T-shirts printed Nyatanga Salon. They came early to clean the premises and it was interesting to note that they gave each other numbers according to the one who arrived first. This is the sequence used to pick customers. So those who came earlier take the first customers. Otherwise it would be chaotic when they jostle to take the customers.

Being a new customer and the first one to arrive, I was referred to the owner and after telling her how I want my hair done she took me to 2 ladies who were number one and two (in the queue) to do my hair. Since the braids are small and have to be done in 5 hours or less, 2 ladies do one head. I wondered if two people are doing one head what if other customer come, I realized that being a Saturday other salonists had not arrived.. They came late after doing their housework.

As the day moved on more ladies arrived and took other customers until there were around 30 ladies, I also realized they had 2 other shops which they gave names A, B and C. The tiny shops where full to the veranda with customers and the ladies braiding. There were some ladies doing finishing, others were preparing the hairpiece oiling them and dividing them. In the meantime they chatted, gossiped and sung while going on with their work. Hawkers with different types of items even food came to sell their wares to the ladies. I also realized that some customers who wanted to be braided cheaply but neatly in the comfort of their homes came with cars to pick the ladies. Those who were going to customer houses dressed neatly and perfumed themselves not to look like they are from the slums on a mission to braid elegant ladies. They would say they are going mobile.

Looking at this busy salon I wondered why others in Kenya are not this busy. I also realized the ladies where from different tribes of Kenya and different ages. I asked my friend later and she told me Nyatanga is very kind, she decided to invite the ladies to braid in her salon to help them earn a living, instead of just sitting at home or suffering for lack of income. She also told me most of the girls are single parents after getting children at a young age and dropping out the school. Some of the ladies are widows and would be suffering upcountry without income. Some of them are separated from their husbands and few have their husbands. She trained them on how to make neat braids of different styles, being an expert herself and share the proceeds.

I was pleased with this woman and her noble idea of offering employment to girls and women in the slums of Kibera. I realized this is why the place is normally full and the ladies working here are many.

After the first visit and many admiring my hair, I have been going to Nyatangas salon since then. My friends, relatives and colleagues have also joined the chain of customers. I also realized that most of the ladies are still there and many more have joined her. They have other income generating projects like merry-go-rounds, this way they have managed to provide for their families.

If this is how our leaders can support Kenyans from the grass root level, then Kenya would be a much better place. Guest post by Sue

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