When the end justifies the means…

Posted: October 23, 2007 in Blog

For some reason, many parts in the world have adopted an hourly structure to income. A job is advertised based on how much an hour it will pay; someone takes or turns down a job based on how much it pays for each hour they will have to invest.

Here, I have time and again come across an entirely different way of thinking. It is instead based on an end point that asks “How much money do I need to survive?” If someone needs 5,000 shillings a day (nearly $3) to survive, they work until they have made that much money.

The boda-boda motorcycle driver I use most days has often provided me a lesson in economics. I pay him 3,000 shillings to drive me to work each morning. He pays 10,000 shillings a day to rent his motorcycle. Factor in the cost of fuel and any repairs he has to do on the bike, and he hopes to make 5,000 shillings, maybe 10,000 shillings on a very good day.

To get that he works long hours. And why not? When he is paying 10,000 shillings a day, why only work, say, eight hours a day when your overhead remains the same if you work 12 or more? And so, his day begins at 5 a.m. each morning and he finishes work sometime between 10 and 11 p.m. each evening. He works seven days a week, and so if I need a ride somewhere between those times, I can call him any day and he will come.

He used to own his own motorcycle, but it was stolen last December. So he tries to tuck away a few thousand shillings every now and then in the hopes of buying another one. A motorcycle costs between 1.5-2.1 million shillings.

“When you are poor, you cannot sit at home and wait for someone to help you,” he told me on the way to work the other day. “You must work very, very, hard and maybe then you will not be poor any more.”

His other reasoning for working such long hours?

“I am a bachelor,” he said while we were stopped at one of the few sets of traffic lights. “What else am I going to do? So I work.”

Last night I was at my barber getting my haircut. We got to talking about his lifestyle (I’m nosy like that—much of the reason why I became a journalist). He is 21, with a wife and two kids.

“What hours are you open?” I asked him.

He told me he starts work at 8 a.m. each morning and finishes work at 11 p.m. each evening.

“Are you here every day of the week?” I asked.

He smiled.

“Of course, I am here every day,” he answered. “I have a family to support.”

And so he cobbles together a living cutting hair for about 1,000 shillings (60 cents or so) per person, working 15 hours a day, seven days a week to support his family.

His barbershop is a model in enterprising. He has a barber chair, a photocopier, a computer with Internet and a phone, all of which can be used for a price.

Anything to make a living.

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