by Nancy Cherotich
I am not from a wealthy family but I will be a liar if I say that I lacked the basics growing up. If my parents struggled while bringing us up, then I was either too young to notice or they were very good at acting. I vividly remember that our first home was a rented two-roomed house in a very typical plot. Women and house girls would fight endlessly over the most trivial of things, which at that time looked like it meant the world to them. From space at the hanging lines, to whose duty it was to clean the pit latrine, to who talked about whom to fighting over boyfriends and husbands. The houses had no electricity or water supply. We used kerosene tin lamps for lighting and made several trips to the river everyday to get water. We had no television, and neither did most of our neighbors. We were simple, downright modest, save for our next door neighbor who had a sofa set.
Every day, my brother and I had to take a break from the foldable wooden seats we had at our house to go rest our behinds on our neighbor’s comfortable sofas. Not even the daily beatings from my mother would make us stop visiting our neighbors.The conversation with my brother would go like this;
“Aki Dan si mum alituchapa jana, bado naumwa sana”
“Twende kwa kina Oti, tukikalia kiti, uchungu itapotea kabisa”
“Wewe! Mimi sitaki kuchapwa tena”
“Usiogope kiboko, tutaweka kitabu kwa panty halafu nitakuonyesha nyasi ingine ukiweka kwa masikio hautaskia uchungu. Mimi huwa nalia tu ndio mummy asijue siri yangu”
The book was always discovered and of course, the grass never worked.
Seeing that his wife would one day kill his kids, my dad bought a sofa set; we were excited until our landlord bought a car. The car awed us to say the least. We would spend hours doing nothing but stare at the pickup. My brother was the worst; he would refuse to eat or take a shower because he was afraid thieves might steal ‘his’ car if he stopped watching over it. “Kuja unioshee na unikulishie hapa” was his standard answer to our house help when she tried taking him from the car. Seeing our commitment to taking care of his car free of charge, the landlord would take us for a ten minutes ride in his car every Sunday.
I think my dad had enough of us raising standards when he tried to keep up, because one day he drove in in a pick up, bundled up our stuff and off we went a two-roomed semi permanent house in some village. We were informed that this was now our new home. We even had a new cow named Samoo; I don’t know what it means but I loved her and the milk she produced.
Honestly speaking, for the longest time I kept thinking that my dad was a very rich man and there was nothing he could not do. From living in a semi permanent house, I saw us move to a three bed roomed house, getting running water and electricity and even buying two cars. My dad has also been able to give us the best education and a good life. As I got older my dad told me his biggest secret: saving. He took his time to explain to me that starting out means sacrificing a lot so that you are able to save for a better future. He was kind enough to even show me his pay slip just to show me what he was trying to do at the time. Expectedly, I was shocked to learn that my dad earned what I perceived at that time was a huge amount yet we did not have blue band…..the things that make me happy yaani.
I did not take the savings lessons from my father with all the seriousness it deserves, because Blue Band and other good things had to be taken first. When I joined campus, and every time the rest of my siblings did, my parents’ reminder to us was always the same. “We are not taking you to school so that you can help us and give us money in future. We want you to have good lives, that’s all.”
At that point, life was good. I even used to walk around with my dad’s ATM cards; he had a good job and it was only bound to get better. I did not at one point sit down to think about what might happen if anything changed. I got a good job after campus and just as I was thinking all was good, my mum called me and informed me that my father had been suspended from work. At that time two of my brothers were in campus; both on parallel program and my first thought and fear was how I was going to manage that. I called my dad to sympathize with him and to assure him that I would try my best to ensure that my brothers get through with school. His answer,
“Don’t worry too much mum, enjoy your salary. I have been saving all my life.”
He struggled to ensure that his family ran smoothly and even when he was cleared and reinstated to work, he shocked us by taking early retirement and opting to take farming seriously. I got curious about his saving plan, so much so that I decided to ask him about it. That is the day I knew my dad was aware that I partake in ‘mzinga.’ I was not even aware that he knew such a word existed. Anyway, he told me that it is important to live a comfortable life; it is very admirable to ensure that your family lives a comfortable life. But it is just as important to ensure that in future you will still be able to live and give your family a comfortable life. There is nothing as terrible as living the life, drinking mzingas, going on holidays and then having that taken away, and leaving you in depression.
In life anything can happen, he said – both in employment and in business- so it is good to prepare for any eventuality by saving. He introduced me to a personal pension plan which he swears by. Apart from what was being deducted on his pay slip by the government, he took a different plan. According to him, it was the best decision ever. My old very wise man said save as much as you can when you are young. Invest in your future. We are lucky to now have different insurance plans. In fact, Kenyan insurers are so many they even have that chama; Association of Kenyan Insurers.
Learn about them. Get a reliable insurer and invest, especially for old age. Because once you do that, your kids will be at ease to call on you; not avoiding you because all you do is ask for money every time you call them. That way, everyone will be happy. And better yet, you will be able to share a fine finger of whiskey in peace, perhaps on the balcony, listening to your old man regale you with the raging, exaggerated tales of his youth. Tales which he plans to relive one more time, because to be quite honest, the only thing that retirement teaches us is that we spent so much time trying to be mature, just so that we can get back to being children again when we are old, wrinkled, and yellow. But happy. Happiness is all that really matters.