Yesterday I went ro Ngluni on my recently refurbished bycicle. Bernard from Ngluni fixed the bike for me: he had to re-build both wheels with new local hubs and spokes to get them straight and to get spindles that local nuts would fit. The bike, a Shimano thing, has differently thread nuts from the local ones (local = made in China). Anyway he did a lot of work on that bike and without it I wouldn’t have ventured into the next village yesterday afternoon as the sun was fiercely hot in the sky.
Bernard sells vegetables in the market-place in Ngluni on one of those ramshackle kiosks made of the unmachined boughs of trees, held together with nails and string and bedecked with tattered panels cut from sacks. They represent the principal architectural style of the country: everywhere I go I see kiosks by the side of the road that, although each is unique, are united in their tumble-down Wabi Sabi aesthetic.
I saw some kids building one near my house a few weeks ago. I wish I’d taken a series of photos to show its progress, from day to day, from a few vertical sticks to a complete mess. I started to refer to this style of building as ‘instant derelection’. But I was wrong.
Those hap-hazard kiosks are the pride of Kenya’s economy, as Bernard explained to me, both he with his vegetable kiosk, and the adjacent bycicle fundi marked out by a rectangle or rocks on the dusty ground, are members of the Jua Kali sector.
“It’s a very important sector”, Bernard told me, “There are tycoons who have worked their way up through Jua Kali”.
Jua Kali means “the sun is hot”. Jua Kali workers are Kenya’s informal economy. The bycicle fundi has a machine that Bernard used to re-build my wheels. Its made from the forks of an old bycicle with some other old bike-bits welded to them. That and a pump and a few tools are his entire fixed assets. The plot is marked out with a few rocks and there he sits under the hot sun fixing bikes. And the Kenyan government are encouraging such private business even offering courses to help these independent start-ups.
Bernard pays fifteen shillings a day for a licence to have his rickety kiosk on the street in Ngluni. The fundi probably pays the same. Next to them on the sand stands a half-finished plywood kiosk.
“They’re not allowed to make permanent structures”, Bernard explained, “they are going to have to demolish this one”.
And, perhaps, replace it with something more instantly derelect. The signature of Kenya’s down-to-earth big-growth economic sector: a few sticks and a bit of sack to protect the workers from the hot sun.