Long post alert!
12 years. That’s how long I’ve ruminated on this thought: “Why do I work anyway?”
The answers have varied as I progressed from recent graduate, junior, senior professional and finally to manager.
In my final year of campus, I had it all worked out. Since I had strong entrepreneurial traits, I figured I would find work just to help me learn the ropes so I could operate my own business. My first “permanent” job as a teller with a multinational bank in Kenya gave me plenty of exposure to the expansive business opportunities out there. I was among the team that pioneered one of the first bank branches in the lower income areas.
I was based in Kariobangi, a daunting neighborhood, yes, but which we soon discovered generated massive amounts of cash especially from its light industries. My first lesson here was “never judge someone by looks”. Those who dressed the worst had some of the fattest bank accounts. I remember vividly one woman who came in carrying a child on her back. Your typical Mama Mboga, she deposited Ksh.500 in her account then asked me to indicate her balance. I did so and nearly fell off my raised stool. She had over Ksh.800,000 in her account!
Then the torrent of questions:
Me: Mama unafanya kazi gani? (What do you do)
Her: “Nauza viazi.” (I sell potatoes)
Me: “Wapi?” (Where)
Her: “Hapa soko mjinga” (Near here at Soko Mjinga)
Me: Haiya! Umekuwa ukisave miaka ngapi? (Haiya! How many years have you been saving?)
Her: “ Sio miaka mingi, kila siku huwa nahakikisha nimeweka kakitu alafu sitoi. (Not many years. Everyday I make sure I save something small in this account and I never withdraw)
Me: “Weuwe!!” (Whoa!)
I met several other customers like this one, some who carried their cash bundles in plastic “lunchboxes”, others in paperbags, inside their socks and shoes, inside their underwear…. Needless to say, while my fingers and nose suffered the brunt of Kariobangi’s filthy money, I obtained great lessons in humility and humble beginnings. I learnt the truth in “haba na haba hujaza kibaba”.
I hadn’t been excited to work as a teller (duh, it’s a no brainer job) but the people I met made my job worth it. I even volunteered to work in the bank’s bulk cash section (in Kariobangi with all its coins and old crumpled Ksh.50 notes) – but it gave me more time to engage with my customers and find out more about how they ran their businesses.
So, when you started working, what was your motive?