A toyota canter is parked on a street in Kawangware carrying the newest wheat flour product to enter the market. We’re sitting inside, the driver and I, while the loader, or ‘turnboy’ in more common euphemisms, totters lazily about the lorry, bored . The salesman am tasked with training to use this software for sales automation is somewhere close but outside our view, spreading the good word to the local residents. He’s hoping they take more than just the good word from him.
Parts of Kawangware remind me of the Kisauni of old. Open sewers, dusty murram roads, hybrid houses composed of cheap aged stone, wood and metal sheets, interspersed occasionally by more modern high rises. A church looms large in the background, the glint of its marble exterior and glass windows hard to miss. At just about every corner, hawkers and ‘mama mbogas’ flaunt their wares, including omenaa…I haven’t seen omenaa in ages.
Droves of giddy goat calves skip about, darting between people and vehicles, and causing aforementioned ‘mama mbogas’ way too much distress.
Our driver has the radio tuned to classic 105 and it’s been bleating the works of Lionel Richie and the Backstreet Boys for seemingly forever. I am lost in my usual random sessions of musing when a man approaches the car and inquires of its contents.
We proceed to perform the grandest pitch to ever be performed, hoping to leave him in no doubt that he should buy one bale or he’d be doomed to a life of misery otherwise.
‘Pastries made from this flour can cure just about any disease.’ I tell the man with a deadpan voice. I’ve been moving around with these salesmen for three weeks now, so naturally I’ve picked a few skills along the way.
‘Your man will never leave you if you use this flour.’ Is what our salesman told a bemused lady we’ve served a few streets back.
For some reason though, our pitch doesn’t work and the man walks away…’I cant buy your product unless it’s really as good as you claim’ He protests
Our driver captures our collective puzzlement and disappointment as he calls back, ‘If you don’t try it, how will you possibly know it’s as good as we claim?’
‘Ako mbele ama ako nyuma?’ The turnboy asks about the very absent salesman, betraying signs of growing impatience. Is he ahead of us or behind?
In another context, the same question can be asked to ask opinion of someone about a second person’s level of affluence, capacity for forward thinking among other things.
The driver assumes the second context is implied. ‘Ako nyuma sanaa’ He replies, shaking his head at the customer who’s rebuffed us. He’s way too behind (backward).
‘Uuh’ the turnboy sighs in exasperation and I almost burst out in laughter.