Mama Christine “mathe”

Mama Christine “mathe”
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Mama Christine “mathe”

Thursday evening, I meet Caroline Anyango, 55 hastily gathering her thermos flasks and metallic cups from which she serves her hot porridge “uji” and tea for her clients. Uji’, is a popular authentic Kenyan dish made from maize and millet flour.

When combined with soft sumptuous chapati, the duo becomes breakfast for champions. This is her highest-selling dish.

Mama Christine “mathe”

As I enjoy my cup of Uji, we quickly have a small chit-chat with Mama Christine alias “Mathe”

Uji and tea businesses have been thriving in the streets of Nairobi with almost every corner having its “Mathe” to supply the meal.

She says cyber shops, construction sites, and offices are the most common places where these two drinks are supplied.

In our talk, she vividly recalls this particular awful day when she was involved in a road accident that left her seriously injured as she collected her money from a client in an adjacent street.

This accident, she says, reminds her of when she had an almost similar business in Westlands Old Market that came to end after the area chief prohibited liquor business in the said market.

“After the sad occurrence, I tried being a house manager but my bosses were difficult to deal with as they paid little that could barely cater to my needs”

Desperation had her on the neck. Nothing would deter her from starting another business. She put up a fast food made shop and employed two ladies that would give her a hand. Barely two months, she one morning woke up to sad news that the whole market was in flames. Caroline lost everything.

Indeed, life has had a fair share of challenges on her end.

A few months after the incident, when she had the courage to start Uji and tea business and unfortunately, this is when the car accident happened.

“I was in hospital for two months. When I went home, I asked God for strength because I was all I had. At least my children had finished school but I still had rent and food to buy. The car hit my right leg so it was difficult to move around that fast. But I had to be strong. I decided to be cooking from the house and I got a spot outside Bandari plaza, on Woodvale groove Westlands where I sell from.”

What’s your typical day like?

I wake up at 5 AM and pray for the day to be fruitful. I buy milk and start making tea. I prepare 2 kgs of chapati and finish with 5 liters of Uji. I prepare myself then pack everything and take a boda boda for ksh. 50 to the bus stop and take a matatu to Westlands. I arrive at my spot at around 11 am.

Caroline makes up to ksh 1300 a day but the most challenging part is when she sells on credit and people “forget” or rather refuse to pay.

“Sometimes people come hungry and they ask for food on credit and I just give believing that they will pay later. Some pay. However, so many have disappeared with my money and it saddens me but because of my faith in God, I know God will avenge me.”

What do you do when you don’t sell all the food?

“I just go home and eat what I can while I also share with my neighbors”

What is needed to start this business?

“It won’t cost more than ksh. 3000 to start. You just need a flask, a few cups, and a strategic place for your customers. Then get a good supplier who you can create a good relationship with so that when in need, they can give you ingredients on credit so that you are able to meet the needs of your customers.”

According to Shopify, Customer retention is increasing a business’s repeat customer rate and extracting value from those customers.

This principle cuts across formal and informal sectors both small, medium, and large organizations.

Caroline understands this principle as per the repeat customers she has.

What has made your customers grow?

“In business, you must have good customer service and create a good rapport with them. I also ensure my food is consistently tasty and deliver it on time.”

She concludes by urging entrepreneurs to work hard and be consistent and resilient as it is rewarding.

“Now that age is catching up with me, I’ll retire to my home up country which I built through this business” She smiles as she serves me a cup of uji

According to a 2020 report by the World Bank, the ‘Jua Kali’ sector takes up 87% of the economy. Calorine alias “Mathe” happens to have counted in the statistics.

It’s already getting dark and I wonder when she closes her work.

“I close when I sell all that I made expect a few days when little is left and it’s late.” She responds as she counts the cash on hand

Felicity Gitonga
Felicity Gitonga is the founder of Africa Business News. abn, freelance writer, journalist, and author with a passion for telling stories.

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