Donkey work for graduate
But in Kenya and despite the 500,000-job promise by the NARC government, jobs do not come easy, and by the end of 2002, Ngigi had sent out more than 60 job applications. Out of these, only one potential employer cared to invite him for an interview (he was declared inexperienced after two sessions) while five sent him regrets.
Over two years down the road and with more than 100 application letters out there, his degree has turned into a ndigiri (donkey), literally - the young man now pulls a handcart as he supplies water to residents of Kinoo in Kikuyu. And if the 26-year-old had landed a job with one of those international NGOs he keeps dreaming about, most likely he would be driving a "company" car, but instead he has been reduced to washing cars.
But fetching and selling water was not that new to him - he only wishes he would graduate from it. "My father died when I was only three and my mother has been a labourer for hire all her adult life. Our family is large (nine children) and I had to do what I am doing now to support myself in college," Ngigi recounted. Restlessly caressing his water pipe, he talked with a tinge of bitterness of how he would then look for "jobs" and hire a mkokoteni (hand cart) from vendors who were not busy or those who had more than one.
Ngigi fetches water about a kilometre away from the shopping centre at a cost of Sh25 per 120 litre drum and charges his customers Sh80 per drum at the centre and Sh100 further out. For trips outside the trading centre, he has to hire someone to help him push the cart; and because of stiff competition, he barely makes Sh200 a day. This is the money he uses to pay house rent, eat (for this kind of hard work you have to eat heavy, he says), clothe himself and travel to see his poor family in Gatundu once in a while.
Ngigi comes from Kiamwangi in Mr Uhuru Kenyatta’s Gatundu Constituency, where his mother tills the small piece of family land, to feed his younger siblings. His father died in 1981 when Ngigi was only three. Ngigi’s luckiest break so far came in Dec. 2002 when he was recruited as a voting clerk and a tidy sum of Sh7,200. "I did not know what to do with my windfall; and so I kept it under the pillow until February when I decided to build my own handcart " Putting the cart together and equipping it with a water drum and a few 20-litre containers cost about Sh5,000. But by the time it was ready, it was March, raining and the demand for water drastically gone down as Kinoo residents harvested rain water.
Ironically, the same rain that "robbed" him of his daily bread opened another avenue for his survival. "During the rainy season, cars get dirtier more often because of the mud and need to be washed more frequently. This is how I got into the car wash business". However to this day, Ngigi - who combines water vending with car wash - remains relatively a newcomer to the latter; and only the few who know him personally will give him the chance to wash their cars. And the water fetching business is not much better: "There are more boreholes being sunk; and more and more people are getting piped water at their homesteads, which is affecting our business in a very big way".
But the sociology graduate is not giving up and with his meagre earnings, he has started an elaborate, if simple, saving scheme. "In the past two months, I have re-activated the Post Bank account I used to run while in college and joined a micro-finance savings scheme. I save about Sh100 in the Post Bank account once in a while and at least Sh100 with the micro finance every week."
A down-to-earth man, Ngigi appreciates that the BA degree does not make him a professional, but he is ready to take up any job, study for a professional course and gain experience. "I am looking for a starting point, however low the job or salary, and from there, I can go for evening classes and get qualifications in either human resources or micro-finance. Once I attain a professional diploma, I will go for Masters degree".
It was initially too hard for the young man from Gatundu to accept his fate and stoop low to the level of a manual labourer after years of formal schooling. But once he did, there was no turning back; until something better comes along of course. "Pushing a handcart is no pushover – it is hard and tiresome work and washing cars is not better. "Most of the cars are old with jagged pieces of metal protruding from God knows where, and I often get cuts on my hands, sometimes serious ones".
The unlikely work aside, maybe the worst thing to happen to Ngigi is becoming a social outcast. "The people I work with are either poorly or not educated at all; so I have a problem socialising with them. On the other hand, I cannot hobnob with those of my educational standard since I do not have the means." So for him it is work, eat and sleep.
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