, NAIROBI, September 8 – For five weeks, Lilian Mwangi displayed her 50 pieces of crafted birds at the Maasai market. None of them sold.
The birds had been given to her by a friend from her church to start her business in 1994.
“One morning I was in desperation and prayed to God to help me. That day I sold one bird at Sh50 and I was very happy. I knew then that this was the job for me,” she fondly remembers.
Lilian, a mother of four has since been in the business. She would buy birds from the crafters and sell them.
“About four years ago, I started my own workshop at Banana Hills. I have employed five people to assist me.”
“We have a number of books from where we refer to craft the various types of birds,” she informs.
She says the workshop was necessitated by an order of 1, 000 birds from a customer.
“I struggled a lot to get the birds, some of the people I had ordered from failed to deliver on time and I was under pressure to meet the customers demand within the given timeframe,” she explains.
“I decided that I would use the money I got from that sale to buy materials and make other birds myself even if not for a specific customer. That is how I started my workshop.”
As I talk to her, potential customers constantly interrupt us, some admiring the birds, comparing prices, while others are buying.
“How much is this?” asks one of the customers holding up a medium sized crafted pigeon bird.
As they negotiate for the final price, I notice Lilian is friendly but firm to her customers.
“Sometimes you have to be firm in order to sell at a profitable price,” Lilian later explains.
After about five minutes of negotiation, they settle at Sh200.
Lilian says the prices vary depending with the size and design of the birds, which are crafted from the jacaranda tree.
The trader reveals that she supplies to customers in California, USA, and Germany.
“They found me here at the market. Like the client in California gave me a first order of 50 pieces of birds, I thought it was a joke but I made them. He continued like that and today I send to him 600 birds per month,” she says.
The Maasai market is one of its kind and portrays African culture.
It offers a variety of ornaments, sandals, kikois, Maasai attires, curios and much more.
“I come from Israel and this is my first time here. Everything is beautiful, beautiful people, beautiful things and beautiful country,” says an excited customer.
“My daughter has a couple of friends here in Kenya and they told her about it. Everybody is smiling, everybody is nice, continue like this,” she says.
“I especially like the animals, the wooden statues; they are beautiful and very unique,” chips in her daughter.
“I love the variety that they give the earrings, necklaces,” says a local customer.
“The paintings remind you of our culture,” says another adding that:”I also come here to know what is new in the market.”
John King’ondu, alias Kasonge Kaende is another trader at the market. He has been in the business for five years. But unlike Lilian who has her own workshop, he buys his curios from a place called Wamunyu.
“I go to the forests and I negotiate with the crafters who fell the trees and also craft the giraffes for me after I leave a deposit,” he says.
“I sell them according to the size. There are those for as low as Sh200 and those that exceed Sh1 000.”
From his sales, John manages to feed his family of seven and educate his children.
“If the government gave us loans which we can repay in installments at a certain interest rate, it can really assist us in lifting the business,” he suggests.
“I would urge young people not to waste their time at home looking for jobs but should come and join us in what we call hot sun (Jua kali sector),” advises Andrew Odhiambo who sells sandals at the same market.