You often don’t get to have dinner at the Hilton Hotel, especially not on a student budget!
In the final semester of our degree programme at the University of Nairobi, we were eager to finish the course and ready to be unleashed into the world of work as computer scientists. My friend Munyosh only had the final year project to complete. I had one unit on Knowledge Management and my Condor Portal project, which was remotely supervised by one Dr Opiyo, eloquent and softspoken to a fault. So, we had time and a lot of creative energy.
Munyosh was your natural hustler, the kind who could turn anything in a room into money with a few calls. I was in charge when the hustle required some form of writing – a proposal. Then we had Mose, who spent his time in cyber cafes in the Central Business District. He did the work – unlocking Palm Treos and other smartphones, building websites and other web-based systems. Many companies were implementing Intranets then. We were a team, and we spent our time between CBD and Chiromo Campus except for Mose, who had taken a break from his Actuarial Science programme to hustle – he was a hustler!
As in any other business, some days were good, some were bad, and some were very bad. Some days we could make KES 20,000, and some days we made zero. And there were days you were not sure whether you had made money or not because Munyosh was the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer.
Once, we made a killing and were paid over KES 100,000 for an Intranet platform for one of the insurance firms. Munyosh was the business developer cum relationship manager, I wrote the proposal, and we roped in Andrew for the work because he was more reliable than Mose. I only saw my share, a paltry KES 3000, a few months after graduating. Munyosh called me to Pasara and told me, “Boss, hii ndo ilitoka.” Having already given up on getting my cut, I was grateful for “ile ilitoka”.
Back to our final semester hustling. It was a hand to mouth affair, but we had this rule that helped us survive – at the end of the day, always ensure you have bus fare to come to town the following day.
We were regulars at Walkers Pub between 2 pm and 4 pm and Pasara if it was after 5 pm. Walkers Pub was for breaks from the scorching Nairobi sun – “mbili mbili baridi” and then back to hustling. Pasara was after a long day’s toil, and some of our friends who already had salaried jobs would sponsor us on our bad days. Pasara was also the place for newly recruited graduates and other young professionals eager to announce their newly acquired status. Then we had the regular mature chaps who looked like they were holding on to their campus memories.
On this particular day, I had an interview with one of the big four audit firms, and Munyosh had to work on his project. No time to hustle. After my interview, I joined Munyosh and other aspiring scientists at the Chiromo campus, where we spent the rest of the day. Having not worked on this day, we had no money to quench our thirst, but we knew Kabangi and Thiga would come through for us. After confirming their attendance at Pasara, we made our way there. Another rule, get the early rounds before you find yourself buying a round of seven or eight drinks. Munyosh was a master at this.
Having arrived at Pasara around 5:30, by 8:00 pm, we were ready to go home. We excused ourselves and thanked our sponsors and the table at large. We are working on our final year projects, and we have to be up early. Between myself and Munyosh, we had enough for fare and fries. We were starving!
As we walked past Hilton Hotel, heading to our respective bus stops, Munyosh suggested we pop into Jockeys Pub, “Kuangalia tu”. With our decision-making abilities slightly diminished, we walked into Hilton with confidence. I was wearing my tweed suit (the same one I wore on my first flight) from the morning interview, but Munyosh was in his usual element, but his glasses and beard made up for his casual dressing.
We walked into the lobby area and immediately noticed a buffet to our left. We decided to make our way to the banquet as if by telepathy. On getting closer, we realised the dinner guests were speaking pidgin English, and a majority were wearing white polo shirts with green collars and sleeve hems. Again, we were in sync, and Munyosh and I switched to Nigerian accents and queued at the buffet. After serving, we found a table for two and continued our evening in pidgin, forgetting our Jockey’s mission. When the waiters approached, we asked for the local beer. They recommended Tusker. Our throat sanitisers came with chilled glasses.
We indulged, occasionally glancing at the other tables where people were seated in groups of four to ten. After about an hour, guests are staring at their plates, contemplating a second serving or maybe desserts. Then the Ogas start announcing: “I am paying for this table”, “I will pay for my guest”, and “I can pay for five people”. Meanwhile, we had ordered another round of the local beer because we loved the way it tasted!
I told Munyosh to relax and follow me after two minutes. I answered a phone call, made my way to the exit, confidently walked through the glass doors, crossed to the other side of the road, and waited. I was anxious. But after three or so minutes, I saw Munyosh, through the glass doors, walking confidently towards the exit. I breathed a sigh of relief! However, as soon as Munyosh stepped out and past the man in the red regalia, I saw a waiter come running after him. I signalled to Munyosh as the guy in the red regalia tried to grab him, and the next thing I knew, I was sprinting towards Kencom in my tweed suit.
I called Munyosh after I boarded the number 15 matatu to Lang’ata. He was panting and laughing, and I was laughing and panting. He was in a matatu number 9. We had had dinner and drinks at Hilton Hotel.