THE PECULIAR BARGAINING CULTURE OF KENYANS

Buying roasted maize

Well, we have all bargained before, while buying something, especially in an open-air market. However, I have an issue with those guys who park their top of the range vehicles or any other respectable car by the road then go ahead to bargain for a cob of roasted maize so heatedly as if their life depended on it. Don’t get me wrong. I am not insinuating in any way that anybody who drives a good car is overflowing with loose change. In fact some of those guys you see drive big cars might be having more problems than the guy who sells his roasted maize and make 500/= profit at the end of the day, but owes nobody a shit. Most of those fuel guzzlers that you see fly by you, as you sit on the roadside, might be on loan and some of the dudes driving them are suffering from insomnia and high blood pressure because of dreading the day the auctioneers will come calling.

However, the guys I completely don’t agree with are those who just want to satisfy a craving of “mahindi-choma” or “mutura” (The African sausage, as some call it), and then suddenly park their fuel guzzler dangerously by the roadside, in order to satisfy their craving. Not that their refrigerators at home are not full of all types of fancy foods that might have been sitting there for weeks or they can’t afford a nice meal in a an exotic restaurant. These guys can eat what they want when they want to. However, all of us Kenyans can admit that once in a while we crave for something that is sold on the roadside, mostly, mahindi-choma or mutura. Even the president does it occasionally, though his might be for the cameras. I can understand when a guy walking home, from Industrial Area to Kibera, after a long day‘s work, bargains heatedly for a piece of roasted maize or a bunch of ripe bananas. The guy just needs to “add some fuel” for him to be able reach his humble abode while still breathing. But  what about a guy who has parked a fuel guzzler by the road?

Most of these guys normally don’t come out of the car or they will arrogantly park on the wrong side of the road, and walk a few steps to where their object of desire is being prepared, with the car’s ignition key dangling from one hand, as the other hand surveys the wares. Imagine one such guy who doesn’t want to step out of the car asking, “How much is that whole maize?”The seller tells him, “This is thirty bob,” and the guy in the car says, “Ati thirty bob? “Wacha zako wewe bwana, I will give you fifteen bob.” And the guy looks dead serious! The “mahindi-choma” seller tries to argue that, “I bought it with twenty bob boss, so I am only trying to make ten bob!” (Of course he bought it at 15/= bob from the “shamba” but this is one of those exceptional cases where one has to lie in order to survive). However, the guy in the car sticks to his guns that he is not about to part with his 30/=.  When the seller sees that he is losing a customer, he has to think fast and opts to lower the price, but at least make something, however small. So he says, “Basi leta twenty-five bob boss.” Upon which the dude in the car says, “Wacha tukutane katikati, nimeongeza kobole.”  (Let’s meet in the middle, I will give you 20/= bob.)  He says this with such finality as he raves his car like someone who is about to speed off.

The seller’s instincts tell him that he will lose this customer, if he doesn’t act quickly (trust me these guys have instincts that can smell the kind of customer they are dealing with from one kilometer away, by just looking at their demeanor). So he begrudgingly hands the roasted maize to the guy in the car, upon which the dude retorts, “nipakie pilipili.” The seller takes the maize back and carefully applies a mixture of hot pepper and salt on it, using the cut end of one half of a lemon that has been split into two. As he hands the maize back to the buyer he can now afford a sheepish smile on his face as he thinks that he is finally about to get rid of his tormentor. He knows that he is wrong when the arrogant buyer “chomoas” a new five hundred note, as he sinks his teeth into the sizzling hot roasted maize, then hands the note to the seller and says, “Harakisha unipatie change, nimechelewa!” (Be quick with the change I am getting late)

 

Now, there is a new problem; the guy doesn’t have change at hand. He politely asks, “Boss, hauna pesa ndogo?” (You don’t have some lose change?), the buyer just dismissively shakes his head. So the seller has to run around and ask other traders for change. The good thing is; these small time sellers (hawkers) have a very admirable trait of unity even though they are in competition with each other. If you think I am lying, just accidentally step on the wares of one of them. Woe unto you if you happen to be wearing a nice suit that day. You will be very lucky if you get out of that market without being lynched or at least leaving big chunks of your suit behind. These people have a great dislike for folks in suits, who look down upon them just because they are doing small-time businesses. They know they are in this hustle together since they all belong to the same feeding level. They are the herbivores of society, hence the primary consumers in the feeding hierarchy of the jungle called LIFE. The guy in the car belongs to the secondary or tertiary consumers; a group which is normally made of the carnivores that prey on the herbivores. As he runs off to get the change, he knows that the other sellers will faithfully look after his wares till he gets back. After five minutes, he runs back panting, then hands the seemingly impatient customer his 480/=, who then speeds off without as much as uttering a mere “thank you.”

Honestly speaking, even if the seller bought this particular maize at a wholesale prize of 15/= bob from the “shamba,” he will end up making only five bob from it.  If he sells 50 pieces of maize that day, he will have made 250/= only, as profit! But if he is lucky enough to get customers who don’t bargain (a rare thing in Kenya), and it doesn’t rain; he might make utmost, 500/= profit, on a good day. Remember he has to use some transport to bring his wares to the market, then he has to buy charcoal, together with some lemon and pepper. The five bob profit from one maize cob might not be enough to buy even a single lemon or salt! We have not even talked about the labor he has to use lighting the charcoal burner and the occasional burns he has to endure as he turns the maize around to ensure that they are all well roasted. Surely, if you can afford it, why not pay this guy even fifty bob for one maize cob? Remember this guy is not selling the maize so that he can pay for an exotic holiday in Dubai or even buy himself some fancy clothes and shoes. Just like many other hardworking small-scale traders, he is in this for the basic survival of his family. Trust me, out of the 500/=  or even less that he might make as a profit per day, at the end of the month he will pay his rent, ensure that his family doesn’t go to bed on an empty stomach every day, and still there will be something left for the kids to take to school!

I understand money doesn’t come so easily for all of us, because I am yet to see it grow on any of the trees around my area, but we also have to agree that some people are more privileged than others. So, if you know that you have been blessed with enough food in your house, your children go to good schools, and you can even afford a family holiday in Dubai once in a while, why bargain so hard for something as small as “mahindi choma” or a bunch of bananas, when you know very well that for the person you are haggling with, this small business is a life and death affair?  But when you step into big shopping malls and super-markets, you pay what the cashier tells you without even counter-checking whether the total amount on the computer screen is correct; and sometimes, just like a well bred person is expected to do; you even leave a fat tip behind!

Please my brothers and sisters; let us spare a thought for those among us who are in the lowest feeding level, whenever we do business with them. I think they deserve a better deal than they are always given. Yes we all have our own problems, but we have to agree that some of the problems we are crying about are not a matter of life and death, like someone who risks watching his or her children starve, or even run off to the streets, if they don’t really hustle by selling small-scale goods. Let us be considerate to these people. If you ask me, these are the people who really deserve a fat tip. Watching them do all that it takes to ensure that they put some food on the table for their families, these people really inspire me and they will always be my heroes. Go ahead and  give one of them a tip today and count it as savings for your future blessings.

2 thoughts on “THE PECULIAR BARGAINING CULTURE OF KENYANS

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    1. That is what I am exactly advocating for @Mkenya Mzalendo. Yes let us bargain, but while at it attempt to step in the shoes of the seller, especially the smal-scale trader.

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