Tuesday, September 22


IT IS AROUND 3PM on a sunny, hot, dusty Wednesday afternoon in rural Nyamira, the estate of Tombe. I walk into a small shade-structure, billowing with smoke. Caroline Kerubo is bent, peeling Irish potatoes to make French fries. Next to her is the traditional three stoned fire-set up. On the stones’ top is a pan full of boiling oil and thinly chopped potatoes. As she chops the potatoes, she keeps on re-igniting the fire under the pan, thus increasing the tear-causing smoke, thanks to the wet firewood. Today she didn’t get properly dried wood for her business. To keep away her thoughts from concentrating on the smoke and the heat within and without her wooden structure, she whiles away time by telling stories with Cynthia Nyanchama, her friend.

Before March, Carol earned her living by teaching in a private primary school. Coronovirus pandemic changed all that – Stories and Photos by Steve Mokaya

Carol has been doing this business of selling fried potato chips in her village of Nyamanagu for around four months now. Before March, Carol earned her living by teaching in a private primary school. But when coronavirus hit the country first in March, schools were closed. Consequently, she lost her source of income.

 Carol’s case is not an isolated one. The outbreak of COVID-19 saw many people lose jobs, and learning institutions closed. Still they are. Most youth in Nyamira County’s rural areas have turned to selling French fries to busy themselves as well as get their daily bread.

“I turned to doing this business after corona grounded everything. There are no jobs and I needed to do something so that I can earn a few coins by the evening,” Carol Kerubo says.

When she started this business, she was aware that she was going into hitherto uncharted waters, in her rural laid back village. Chips are known to be a reserve of town dwellers, as they are associated with wealth and class, and soft kind of life. However, her gamble is paying off day by day.

“Most of my customers are school going youths. At first it was somewhat difficult to sell but now I do sell. In fact i get more than I used to get while I was a teacher,” she adds

She says that her earnings surpass the $50 that she was being paid for salary. The trainee teacher however says that she misses her kids in school, and that once schools reopen, she will summarily quit her business.

“I love teaching more than anything else. Besides, I am still in college and I would like to get more practical job experience because i know it is not everybody who gets such opportunities,” she says.

Apart from selling chips, she also teaches a group of ten children at her home, for money.

Sizzling: Fries have taken Nyamira County, Kenya by storm since the pandemic

“The children are form class six upwards and they come from around. Their parents pay me and I teach them in the morning hours before I come here,” she says.

However she adds that it has not been all rosy in this business of selling chips, because her success thus far has led to many similar joints springing up. Nonetheless, she adds that she has managed to retain the most of her customers and also attract others, in the midst of the stiff competition.

About 100 meters from Carol’s business is Concilious Kerubo’s. She, like Carol was forced into this business by the harsh economic times that are.

“I am doing this to get money to take care of my baby,” she says.

Concilious was also a student in college before the corona wave hit hard. She says that she got tired of staying at home earning nothing and decided to try her hand in this business.

Concilious gets her fries ready for customers. She was a a student in college before the coronavirus wave hit hard

She says that the start was so discouraging that she was forced to close down a week after opening

“At first friends and relatives could flock here and ask me to sell them by credit; and I did. Within no time, I realized that i was operating at a loss, just to impress people. I closed down and reopened after proper strategizing,” she says.

Unlike other joints, hers is frequented by boys and young men. This has been her advantage over her competitors from around.

 “Most boys shy away from buying chips at the junction because there are many people there and they don’t want to appear as sissy or behaving like girls, because it’s ladies who mostly eat chips. Since mine is quite away from the masses and I have a house for selling, most boys come here to eat in privacy and comfortably,” she adds.

Her customers like her joint due to the privacy that it offers. Martha Moraa is a customer that I get there.

Martha Moraa samples some fries at a Kibanda in Kisii. Young individuals hve turned into potato business as COVID-19 pandemic eats into the job market

“As you can see, this place is quite quiet and clean, and away from where many people can see you. That alone attracts me here. In addition she is kind-hearted,” she says

Most of these upcoming businesses are run by ladies and girls. However, a few young men have started venturing in as well.  William Nyakundi is one of them. He operates a potato chips selling base and he has something to smile about it.

The outbreak of COVID-19 saw many people lose jobs, and learning institutions closed

“I finished my secondary education in 2015. After a long time outside, I decided to do this business. You know you can’t rely on parents to cater for your every need especially after finishing from high school,” William says.

He says that the coronavirus has been a blessing to him, because he is getting many customers now more than ever before. However, he says that the police have been his greatest hindrance.

“They make unexpected patrols and they usually scare away my customers, especially if they are not wearing face masks. At times I am forced to close early, so as not to be caught operating within the curfew hours,” he says.

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