The Man JP Barely Breathes.

The Man JP Barely Breathes.

450 391 Oliver Kagwe

JP’s only prayer is that the government loosens its grip on his neck. He can barely breathe. He has not ever experienced what breathing without someone’s hand chocking his neck feels like. And note, it’s not like his body is ok with limited air, it’s just that it found the situation like that. Over time, he got used to that choking hand – it became normal for him. But recently the grip got tighter. The quantity of air getting into his system got smaller. Now the body is feeling the deficit. The discomfort is becoming unbearable by the day.

JP is the kind of man who irons his shirt a night before he wears it. A man who oils his buttocks after a shower because it’s part of his body, despite it being labelled un-manly thing to do. He is the kind of person who brews his coffee every morning, because he must have coffee before he leaves his house. JP sometimes wakes up on the other side of his bed just because he must not always wake up on the same side all his life. He is a good man. He does good things. Every 5 years, he votes for his preferred leaders. He even pays his taxes and his bills. There is a chance that he is the most reliable person ever, because at whatever time within 24hrs that you call him, he will always pick. JP always comes through when needed.

After applying oil on his buttocks and brewing his coffee before leaving his house, JP makes his way to Gikomba because he needs to add some sweaters to his stock. He is lucky he knows the owner of the bail, meaning he’ll be among the first few people to select the best sweaters the bail has to offer. People who pick first from the bail pick the best clothes. Clothes that are as close to new as possible – at the most expensive price of course. So at quarter to 6AM, JP and 5 other gentlemen dive into the open bail, sorting out what in their eyes is the choicest. They do it so fast that within 20 minutes, each of them walks away feeling satisfied with what they got. What remains of the bail is then given to the 2nd category of people, who select the 2nd best items left after the 1st group picked the best. Once this 2nd group is satisfied, the owner then picks what beauty that might have been left and keeps for his stall, then he allows the regular street-side hawkers to scramble for the tacky pieces left.

At this point, JP, 40, is drained and needs some energy to power his engines. He walks into his wife’s shop to have a cup of tea. Gikomba is normally the definition of hectic – and you know the magic that some nice Kenyan tea does to the body and soul. The shop is a small space in the basement of Imenti house, a space that JP got for her so that she could stop staying at home. Here, she makes tea, coffee, uji, mandazis, chapattis and basic foods. She then packs them in hotpots and goes round selling them to the many shop attendants in and around Imenti house – and also JP’s base (a market between I&M building and City Market).

He chats with his wife in their native language for a while, gives her a warm peck (which leaves her smiling) then leaves for his business. JP is a wise man. He knows that you’ve got to treat your woman right otherwise your entire life will be wretched. As they say, the worst possible punishment that God can give a man is a bad wife. Anyway…

JP owns a tent that he shares with 3 of his friends. He trades in sweaters, jackets, denim jeans and t-shirts. One of his friends specialises in women’s clothes, the other one in shoes and the final one sells Duvets. So JP’s tent is like a one-stop-shop. They are happy chaps these ones – or so you would think. They work super hard. These guys are more than professional sales people. Their tongues were made to sell. At the sight – or even the smell – of a customer (who sometimes is not even interested in buying anything) they will call out to you and you will want to hear them out. After hearing them out, chances of you buying at least something are also very high.

JP tells me that women are his frequent customers. In good seasons tourists come by and spend well, other times Kenyan men pass by. “But our men are just difficult people.” JP says while shaking his head with dissatisfaction, “one will buy a new shirt once the collar of the other shirt is in tartars. Yet they work in an air-conditioned office behind a computer. Even when they come here they bargain until sometimes you end up selling them something the way you bought it at. There’s no difference between them and the current government.”


“To survive here, you need money, exemplary sales skills and connections with the people at Gikomba. If you’re lacking in either of these, try out something different – like dying – because without good persuasion skills, connections and money then you will hardly excel anywhere.”

But sometimes their witty tongues fail to convert a customer. JP tells me that it is very normal for a day to go by without him having sold anything. Sometimes even 2 days go by. But on a flowery day, he easily makes sales of 15K and is left with about 4K as his profit. On average though, he sells roughly 8K and makes at least 1,500 for himself. So in a week, JP nearly sells 56K worth of apparel and makes profits of 10K. He does not express excitement at all when telling me this. He actually looks disturbed – as if he’s seen better.

Every week, JP has to go to Gikomba to replenish his stock. He’ll leave not less than 15K there. He’ll then take the pieces he’ll buy to a friend of his, who will iron out the clothes nicely so that they look new. Depending on the number of clothes JP will want ironed, this friend will demand a minimum of KSH. 1,000. So after ironing, another fellow will carry the load from Gikomba to JP’s shop. This one will ask for just 300 shillings. JP will then arrange the clothes nicely in his tent and do what he has done for more than 20 years.

The worst day for many people who think they have made it in life because they work in offices is Monday. But for JP it’s Tuesday. This is the day that he wishes never was. On this day, the caretaker of the premises where JP owns a tent comes by to say. By the time they are concluding the greetings, JP will have dug into his pockets and produced a hefty KSH. 10,400! Oh, and it’s collected on a weekly basis! Failure to pay this amount is liable to immediate stall auction and you will be kicked out like a dog! 10K is for the rent while 400 is for security. Mind you the security we are talking about here are a bunch of Maasai’s with nothing more than rungu’s to protect an area with property worth millions. JP tells me that sometimes these soldiers collude with thieves to stage grand thefts. And there is nothing that they can do! The Somali landlord doesn’t want to hear any talk of G4S or Radar security – and not because he cannot afford it, but because he just has a bad heart.

If you know this market, then you probably know that it has about 100 stalls. If you’ve done your math, then you know the landlord pockets nothing short of a million, every Tuesday! Thats 4.1M in a month! Uhuru Kenyatta earns half of that to run down our country. Ahem..KRG The Don and all those fopdoodles who flash around money please calm your balls, because this man owns 3 other spaces and collects his money in cash, and does not show us!

“Between 2010 and 2015, though it was cheaper, paying that kind of rent was no problem. We used to have money. Kenyans had money. Nowadays people hold on to their monies, so it’s not flowing. Money is called currency because it flows in an economy. They would have as well called it anything else if its purpose was to be stored!” I can hear a mixture of pain and anger in his tone.

JP knows well enough that he cannot possibly afford to pay 10K as rent every week by himself. That is why he shares his tent with his 3 friends. They split the weight of owning a business in Nairobi. He still has to pay 3K per month for garbage collection. But last weeks’ garbage still stinks at the end of this week. There’s no water here. It’s like the Sahara – not a single tap will you find. So JP spends 50 shillings to buy water every day – that’s 1,500 in 30 days. He is lucky he does not buy food because his wife has him sorted. Otherwise he would have to spend another 7,500 in a month just to buy food. Most of his friends only buy food when they are really hungry – if not they just do without. Hey you, have you ever gone without lunch for 6 days not by choice but by force? Oh you haven’t … then you wouldn’t understand. And maybe it’s a blessing in disguise since they also have no toilets here. You must pay 10 shillings at Sonko’s filthy toilets every time you want to take a dump. At this rate I am afraid that one could even be paying to live!

Because JP is a human being, he has to feed himself everyday and his family. He has to spend about 3K in a month for fare to and from work because he must pay KSH. 5,000 every 30 days for his children to have a place where they call home. He never got an education, but JP knows he wants the lives of his children to be different so he must pay their school fees. Sometimes life is cruel an expensive emergency (like sickness) occurs and the man JP has to do what a man does – be dependable. If you think about it, JP has to work like a farmers ox all his life for him to enjoy a meal going down his throat. JP sleeps with his eyes closed but his mind open – always thinking about next Tuesday and next month. Meanwhile the rich.. no.. the extortionist Somali landlord is spending most of his extorted money at night bedswerving, and Uhuru Kenyatta is selling our country to the Chinese.

With more taxes, a higher cost of living than before and a general feeling of hopelessness as a country (yes admit there’s hopelessness because even our very own president said “Sasa mnataka nifanye nini?”) JP is barely surviving the grip on his neck. His kicks – and the kicks of all other Kenyans are hitting at nothing that has feelings. The worst part is, it could be different. JP could breathe freely. You could breathe freely. Until when shall we allow the oppressors to oppress us? They need us to get the ‘oppressor’ status so why don’t we starve them and shed their powers?