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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Do you have a Nakumatt Smart Card?

It sometimes gets very cold in Nairobi at around this time of year.

I mean it, the kind of bone slicing cold that jams your feelings so far up into your spine that at times it would be absolutely reasonable to believe that as a man, you have become the benefactor of a free gender reassignment procedure.

So, when one finds themselves on their own and on the outside of society at the spry age of nineteen, working as a tout in a dingy matatu can fairly beat out being the master of your own destiny, half frozen to death inside the mat, asking the passengers for their fare and haggling with them over change, constantly looking over your shoulder at the street ahead , expecting the cops to swoop on you, or incidentally looking out for other cars that ply the same route as your ‘squad’ lest they overtake you. You also have to look out for passengers on the wayside, and keep shouting ‘beba!’ whenever the driver slows down or hoots, to the irritation of some of the passengers.

That's right readers; I did my time in the matatu industry as a tout! Three long days, doting over passengers with young kids, ogling at some hot chicks (and I carried a number of them for free), to the disgust of the tall bearded driver who never brushed his teeth! I bribed almost all the policemen on the way, got arrested twice (to and fro!) in one day for giving out a 50 bob at a 2 sock police roadblock, and almost got slapped once (but got kicked instead after I ducked) by a policeman. I refused to wash the matatu, much to the chagrin of the driver who said that is the conductor’s job. We used to do a long haul, from Nakuru to Kisumu and we carried all sorts of stuff and different genres of people.

There were no Michuki rules then, as this was they year of our lord 1997 and the matatu was a 33-seater minibus and we once carried close to 70 (I lost count along the way). I fought with fellow touts at the various stops on the way over ‘tips’ for swinging us passengers, shouted at fuel pump attendants at times when we were in hurry (either fast approaching darkness or rain) and did some not so honourable things to the passengers. -- "just drop us here, tumefika, wewe unatupitisha!!! " – That time the dere is cruising downhill at 100 kph and someone wants to alight. If it was some young guy, you shout at him to walk back a kilometre to his stop, the elderly and respectable or some young ‘fly’ mamas, you give them 10 bob to catch a ride back and say sorry and then force a smile.

I hate to break it to you, but when your beloved Chirau Mwakwere and ole Kamwaro etc orders a crackdown on public service vehicles like the one that is currently on, I feel the pinch. I feel pain. After all I was part of this litany of sorts after high school when a friend of mine had the misfortune of having the driver and tout run away with his cash and the matatu keys, leaving the matatu stranded in Kisumu City at the mercy of vandals for two days. Luckily, the police towed it to Kondele on time to save the tyres and a few seats, but the windscreen and batteries were not so lucky. We had to find our way there and luckily, he got another driver after fixing the matatu but no ‘trustworthy’ tout as he put it. He blamed the previous tout for inciting the former dere to run away, and called him a ‘hothead’ (if that’s what he meant as he spoke in vernacular). So while awaiting the arrival of his cousin’s son to come and take charge I jumped aboard for an agonising three days on the cross. (RIP, Wahome ‘Whispers’ Mutahi)

Now that you are certainty wondering what the purpose of this long-winded digression is, which is to state I understand the importance of upselling, using skill and product knowledge to maximize the shilling amount of a consumers purchase. It seems that in the past few years, supermarkets and other retail outlets have turned to so called "rewards schemes", offering savings to those who are willing to burden their wallets with special propriety cards, in effect making them eligible for deals that are restricted like literacy in caste-era India, or political leadership in Kenya today. Now this practice has grown until it became an affliction, and the rear right pocket of every suburbanite male will soon (if not already) bulge like an inflated lymph node, and the purses of every female shall became a support to more petroleum-based material than a small middle eastern oil state, as a proof of a world in which all the doors in all the world are opened by way of a branded plastic card.

There are those among you who may be asking yourselves at this point something to the effect of, “but this has been going on for years, why has this issue become instantaneously so pertinent? Why at this time is StackOfStiffys’ hatred at its apex? Well, I'll tell you.

For my part in all this... I have fought. I have rebelled against this ridiculous commercial fad, I have been on the front line, breaking through enemy barrages of "but if you sign up now, you'll get a free gift when you have 200 points, or redeem each point for 2 shillings" and mortar rounds of "but you can earn 10% discount at AA, on your insurance premiums at Lion, a drink or meal at Kengeles or even accommodation at Safari Park", and in this chaos I never made it out of the damned Nakumatt store on time on my way to where I was going when I was just trying to get an energy drink and some water, or some groceries for the house. And I humbly admit my falterings, the pitched battle of the declined smart card when buying tyres and rims the other day, missed opportunity to earn thousands of points {that could be converted to school fees (read drinking money)} when I was buying furniture the other day, this computer desk included. I am not a perfect man, but I am a man of conviction, and I fought as hard and long as I could, and am still fighting.

The other day, I went to Tamasha for drink and some good tunes with a few friends after being away for close to a whole year and had to part with a cool 2 sock, while they got in free. Why? I did not have a membership card like them, and the hefty bouncer would have none of my pleading for free entrance. The same happened to me at Kengeles Lavington on one of those c.o.p. (citizens on patrol, euphemism for an all night out where you tour bars from Dagoretti corner to Thika Road and round of at Jam Rescue in Eastlands on your way back home, (I did 12 bars once, with 2 or 3 drinks at each)} nights.

But what, what among all things became the straw that broke the proverbial rhino's back? Dear readers, I would not lead you astray, nor bear to you false witness; and so, believe me when I speak these words: Yesterday, as I went to Nakumatt Ngong road to buy a heater to warm the house in this colds season, and as I walked into the cool and air-conditioned ‘superstore’ , crawling over the assortment of goods on display to ask for a heater, the kind lady who happened to be the store or floor attendant kindly asked me to follow her and said "Don't worry about it, I'll show you where it is" And I turned and followed with a small forgotten feeling of compassion for mankind creeping back into the creases of my wrinkled fat face, and started climbing the stairs, and then it happened: the lady had began speaking again, this time in a musical voice and her words floated toward my ears melting the air as they came, reached me, and began the explosive chemical reaction in my problematic brain…

"By the way sir, do you have our Smart Card?"

What could I do... for air... for the most abundant resource in our world alongside water, which all the water bottlers have so commercialized and poisoned long ago…they would defile even our breathing essence... all for 2 shillings in exchange for a point or ten percent off your next purchase at a member outlet like Safari Park Hotel (who sleeps there anyway?).

I don't know now if this is the beginning or the end of this, I only know the right thing to do.

Burn them.

Burn them all.

Burn all the Nakumatt smart cards you have. All the Uchumi R&Rs, all the Tamasha membership cards, Sohos VIP cards (these shall be painful I bet!), Kengeles bonus-you-pay-less-when-you-drink-more cards, you name it. For these loyalty, membership and reward schemes are just ploys to make us buy goods at inflated prices.

And if we are lucky (hope am not being blasphemous in the eyes of the religious types amongst the readers) and ascend to the holy place called Heaven, we will stand at the pearly gates, covered in the black ash of the Smart or otherwise Cards we shall have burned, and we will look upon the grand visage of St. Peter and he will look down onto us and as our gazes lock, he will nod, and we will produce the last charred plastic idol, and as it crumbles into nothingness, his left hand will find a shoulder, while his right hand waves open the gates with a motion so slight, not a molecule of compressed air will be displaced.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Sleazy attack on Capital FM breakfast show

A bunch guys on an idle banter on a blog think they have a say on the quality of Kenyan breakfast shows, some of which they do not even listen to? See: this and this one also and tell them what you all think. I have told them what I think of them and my 2 cents worth.......!

Like I told them,
I feel sorry for Seanice and her capital in the morning crew. A handful of guys doing a good job earning their bread within all legal means yet they still have to deal with the unpleasantries of people who don’t like their show and yet they don’t even listen? It seems so simple: if you don’t like it don’t listen, be smart. Capital FM has been around long enough for some of us to say it’s not a passing fad. Seanice and Leo shouldn’t bother trying to explain themselves to people who just don’t get it (nor listen!). Maybe Capital FM isn’t for everybody, but it’s for me.