yes, custoomaaaaa!

Anyone remembers this mid-1990s commercial for UNGA where a women enters a shop and asks for flour?
The sales guy comes up with a bunch of flowers and a spoon because “next time, just ask for UNGA”.

I SOOO wish I knew the brand name for something we technicoool piipool call a BATTERY HOLDER. Or as we pronounce it in Central Kenya: Battely Holdaa.

Something like this, actually:



A small plastic box where you put batteries and then attach it to e.g. a radio or anything like that. Something very simple, something you can get in any place in Nairobi for something around Ksh 35/=.

But not so in Embu! To make matters worse, I also added the words “for batteries SIZE D”. Size D = those ones you put in a torch. The big, fat Eveready batteries that any duka sells.

So the shop dude & his dudette comes up with a battery clip. Another one comes with a bulb holder. HELLO? DID I SAY CLIP? DID I SAY ANYTHING ABOUT A BULB???

WTF?!?! Is it me? Is it my healthy mixture of gamaan-kikuyu-kenyan inglish that doesn’t get the message across?

So I checked about 12 electlicool shops in Embu and only ONE shop was actually operated by a real technician. A jamaa who really understood what I was talking about. Unfortunately, he didn’t have it. And of course, we make these things out of a piece of paper and some rubber band. There’s no need for a battery holder in your radio if there’s a jua kali solution available. Yani, I need this holder for the refurbishment of a scientific machine, so a jua kali solution won’t be allowed.

Which gets us to the core problem: most shopmen are just too dumb. These guys are actually selling SOLAR PANELS and MOBILE PHONES (which are quite complicated to some extend), but don’t have the slightest clue of what they are actually selling. Dito my mobile phone holder story earlier this year, which left me building my own because these girls @ Moi Avenue selling mobile phones only know Nokia, Samsung, Motorola phones and batteries, car chargers and other “fast selling” items.

You know, I am a bit mean from time to time. Earlier last week, I asked my dear Embu folks for a COAXIAL CABLE with 50 Ohms impedance instead of the usual 75 Ohm cable which is used for TV antennas. The one with 50 Ohms is used for radio communication equipment. Go figure what kind of hassle that was…

The reason for blogging this is that it clearly shows the difference between rural areas and urban areas. Same applies for the food available in hotels/restaurants countrywide. Only the usual stable food like Githerii, Mathaahaaaaaaaa, Ugali and maybe some greens (vegetabools) as well as snacks such as samosas or mandazi are available.
I actually prefer the rural, natural life to the hectic world in Nairobi, lakini – I grew up in big cities, and there are these small things I would like to be adopted by rural shop owners. How about a nice steak restaurant in Embu? How about a Java House in Nyeri, Embu, Meru, Nakuru to name a few? Is the idea so far fetched? There’s a market for that, ppl DO have the money. Just a nice place that offers more comfort than the usual Nyama Choma Tusker joints with the ordinary food anyone cooks at home anyways. Or am I just spoiled by city life? Sijui…

Author: jke

Hi, I am an engineer who freelances in water & sanitation-related IT projects at You'll also find me on Twitter @jke and Instagram.

5 thoughts on “yes, custoomaaaaa!”

  1. I laughed hysterically about the antics you had to go thru. Pole sana! I’ve been there, so I’m laughing *with* you, not at you.

    But dude, you’re “searching for donuts in a hardware shop” – why get so freaked out ’bout the limits of country life, when you KNOW things aren’t gonna work way we wazungu think they should. Either embrace the inefficiencies quaintness of rustic life, or change it.

    Open your own hardware/electronics shop. With your knowledge, you’ll drive everyone else out of business – assuming your prices are cheaper.

    Get someone to open a cafe, maybe franchise of Java House. Hope Embu has enough young and youngish “yuppies” who are willing to spend their disposable income on espressos and capps – instead of having the mboch serve them chai.

    As for steak restaurant… Now you’re being unreasonable!

    BTW Porterhouse restaurant in NBI, Mama Ngina St, on the 2nd or 3rd floor, between Barclays and Expo Camera. Best, reasonable priced steakhouse I’ve been to. A must-stop whenever I’m in town.

    Thanks again for the adventures of Kenyan life. Loving every minute of it.

  2. Hey JKE. I can see you have been a victim of our inept shopkeepers and owners. You may have the specifics of what you want, and they may have it in stock, but they have never bothered to learn about it. The shopkeepers also like stocking fast moving goods and stuff like 50 ohm cables are not on top of their re-order lists! Heh heh! The worst comes when you ask something technical about an item they have on display. Whatever happened to pride in one’s job and knowing as much as possible about what your trade, and more if possible? I could continue and blog-jack your blog so i stop and sigh.

    Keep posting, i am enjoying your views and observations on my country which are most refreshing.

    P.S. I would have a phone holder in my car but fear smash and grabs and since i also enjoy winding my windows down, someone may decide to re-allocate my darling SE P910i. I keep all valuables out of sight at all times. Maybe i should think of a phone holder inside the glove box. Heh heh.

  3. WTF?!?! Is it me? Is it my healthy mixture of gamaan-kikuyu-kenyan inglish that doesn’t get the message across?

    ROFL…How about sign language or a some drawing.Visuals might work best when inquiring on some stuff in rural Kenya….

  4. Hi,….
    Linked back to the ‘simu holdaaa’ page and I am one of the jamaas in the picture!!!! UMEANIKA MY PICTURE ON THE INTERNET!!!!

    Anyway just kidding but this is one of my MOST dreaded nightmares that someone might take a picture in the street and I end up on the internet! & especially so after catching some tourists ‘supposedly’ taking a video of a monument behind me while clearly taping me! Interest must have been the braids (hair piece!) given they are not common where i live!!

    So out of curiosity do the people in the picture referred to above know their photo is on the internet?

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