Have you ever been trapped in a lift? If you haven't, I will tell you about it.
It happened to me about two years ago. I was rushing to work. On the 10th floor in one of Nairobi’s skyscrapers. Somewhere past the 4th floor, there was a loud screech and then darkness.
It took me a minute to realise that the lift was no longer going up. Before I could gather my thoughts, a middle aged woman, one of the 4 people in the lift, let out a loud prayer. Then she started screaming.
The rest of us, one older gentleman, probably in his 40s, and a young 20-something-old lady - remained quiet. I was quite nervous but the fact that the lift was steady helped cool my nerves. I reached out for my phone in my pocket and lit the flashlight.
I was able to get the emergency number pinned on the lift walls. The network was extremely poor and after about three minutes of “unaniskia mkubwa”, the SOS got to the maintenance team.
The 3-minute call felt like a day’s work, but the ten minutes we waited for the team felt like an eternity. The loud noises of the lift roof being opened up and the frequent shake that came with each small action got us sweating - even though it was one of the coldest mornings that June.
I had forgotten about this feeling of helplessness until two years later. This time it happened in Mombasa and had nothing to do with a broken lift.
I was in Mombasa on a work assignment that lasted about two weeks. It was a new but lucrative contract that I had landed after months of struggling as a freelancer.
Working as a freelancer has its perks - but one big challenge is what we call the dry days. Sometimes they extend for months as was the case for me in the last half of 2022.
The elections had seen many of my clients withhold marketing budgets. Then the global cost of living crisis hit and fears of a global recession got more companies in a wait-and-see mode.
My work as a marketing consultant was badly affected. In January of this year, I was contemplating going back to the village and trying out farming.
On the day before I was to board a matatu to Njabini to assess the situation, I got a message from one of my biggest clients. “Please come to the office tomorrow, we have a marathon assignment for you. Two weeks in Mombasa and another 4 weeks in Nairobi.”
For the next two weeks, I had a busy schedule in Mombasa and surrounding towns. From Miritini to Likoni - to the smaller villages of Shika Adabu, Tuwa Tugawe, Stage ya Paka, and Dongo Kundu.
After a long day of working in the scorching sun, I would relax at a beach restaurant in Nyali or Bamburi and wait for the breeze to sweep off my fatigue. There is something about the beach that clears the mind and makes the brain ooze of positive energy.
From the local folks and their flawless Swahili accent, to the roar of the ocean as it returns ashore in the evening - you barely notice the time pass. Well, for me the only sign of the passing days was the dwindling M-Pesa balance.
I had a generous per diem - which was a welcome move after months of being broke and barely surviving. I had kept most of the money in the bank, a smaller portion on M-Pesa - and some loose change was in my wallet as hard cash.
By the time I was done with my assignment, I had only a few coins in my pocket and my M-Pesa balance was totally exhausted. Good thing, however, the money in the bank account had remained untouched.
On my last day in Mombasa, I had a long day completing my assignment in the South Coast. I started the day in Kinondoni, then to Kongo River, Msambweni, Kona ya Musa, before closing the day at Kombani where I left as darkness was creeping in.
A trip to the South Coast is not complete without the delay at Likoni Ferry where I spent about two hours.
I had hoped to catch the 7pm bus which gets to Nairobi at around 4am. This would have given me several hours to take a nap before starting the second leg of my assignment in Nairobi.
However, by the time I crossed the Likoni channel, it was well past 8pm. I got to the terminus at 9pm and rushed to a nearby ATM machine to withdraw the bus fare and my pocket money for the next week.
Three minutes after entering the ATM booth, I was sweating profusely - worse than I had done that cold morning in a broken lift.
I must have been absent minded because I input the wrong password multiple times until the card was swallowed. I tried banging the ATM machine to no avail. I rushed out and asked the soldier manning it if he could help retrieve it.
“Hapa kaka hauna bahati. Hii mashine yafunguliwa huko ndani na mpaka ungoje kesho saa tatu.”
My M-Pesa was next to zero, I had only Ksh90 shillings in my pocket. I had just opened a new bank account and had not set up mobile banking. I called the bank's customer care to see if I could have it set up immediately - wapi!
My big contract was pegged on my performance in Nairobi. In fact, I was supposed to meet up with the big bosses the very next morning and update them on the Mombasa activities before proceeding with the assignment.
Now, here I was, stuck in a far-away terminus - just hours from one of the biggest career appointments of my freelancing career.
I remembered the words of my grandfather - whatever you are going through son - always eat first.
I walked to a food kiosk and ordered kahawa tungu with mahamri. I kept calling my close friends for a bail out loan. Everyone was either broke or needed till morning to access the money I needed urgently.
It was while scrolling my phone that I came across the FlashPesa App. I had downloaded it about a year earlier and taken a few loans whenever my former boss delayed my salary. I logged in and soon realised I was in luck.
Having taken and repaid 3 loans, I was pleasantly surprised to see my loan limit was Ksh4,500. I immediately made the application and crossed my fingers that it would go through. Within minutes, I received Ksh3,375 - 25% service fee was deducted upfront.
I quickly withdrew the money and booked the last bus out of Mombasa. We left the coastal city slightly past 11pm - quite late but still good enough to make sure I did not miss my d-day appointment.
On the ride back to Nairobi, I had time to reflect on what would have happened if I did not have the FlashPesa app. I probably would have spent the night in the streets especially if I was unable to convince the staff at my old hotel to allow me to stay a night and pay later.
However, even if I had gotten a place to sleep, I would probably have missed the Nairobi appointment. I badly needed the contract to run through the entire 6 weeks as initially agreed. The lost income would have been devastating.
At the end of a lengthy conclusion, I learnt the value of building a credit profile. I had rarely thought of building a credit profile because I rarely needed to borrow money.
Even when I initially downloaded the FlashPesa App, it was because I was in a financial fix - with the salary delays that became a bit regular post-Covid.
However, this experience opened my eyes to the value of building a positive credit profile. I imagined if I had been in a medical emergency or in some other situation that needed more money.
The good thing about FlashPesa is the fact that the journey of building your credit profile is uniform across the board - and very transparent. I had started with Ksh1,000, graduated to Ksh2,000, then Ksh3,000, and Ksh4,500 during my sticky situation.
I got to Nairobi at 7am, later on had a successful meeting and subsequently, went on to complete my contract. I did such a good job that I was given another three months to travel to different towns around the country.
I had made a conscious decision to expand my credit profile even after repaying the FlashPesa loan. I channelled the capital to a new side hustle. Every time I travel, I buy local products that are highly valuable elsewhere. Like in Marigat, I found a 5-litre bottle of pure honey going for Ksh1,000.
I took a Ksh6,000 loan and bought six bottles. When I got to Nairobi, I was able to sell each bottle at Ksh 2,500 each - pocketing Ksh9,000 in profits.
Interestingly, the more I have grown my loan limits, the less I pay for the FlashPesa loan. I am now at a limit if Ksh22,000 and I only pay 15% for the 22-day loan facility; and 20% for the 31-day loan.
What is more? The FlashPesa team has exceptional customer service. I have a dedicated relationship manager, Winnie, who is always offering me tips on new products, loyalty programmes, and ways to increase my limit. I have never gotten a spam call or texts - just the same professional experience I get from my bank.