Nouta Ahito stood at her door, her gaze
intent, as she stared at the fat drops falling on the steps outside her
house. Rain, the blessed waters from the
skies, the tears wept by the earth, her most feared enemy, taunted her. The faster it fell, the more it mocked her,
and she could do nothing. She wished for
super powers. How wonderful it would be
if she could wave her hand and stop this rain.
She groaned long and hard, and closed the door, escaping the upsetting
Nouta walked to her chair at the dining
table and stared at her cup of tea, now cold.
“What are we going to do?” her sister
She looked up to see her sister watching
her. Everyone in the house knew that
when it rained, she worried. At some
point, in the past two years, rain had become her nemesis. She loved the hot months, and never
complained even when it got too hot in January.
Everyone complained then, but not her.
No, hot months were her favorite days.
Well, during the warm months, she did not
have to worry about a muddy access road.
Nouta was a business woman. She ran a baking skills training workshop at
her family home. She was proud of her
training workshop: a neat green building, constructed with mabati she had painted green.
She had furnished it with all the baking equipment she could find, and
more to come. She liked calling it a
workshop because it was not an
She enjoyed focusing on her work: on the
process of imparting knowledge to a new baking student. It was hands on, practical, and
personal. Her workshop would never be an
institution. She was proud of that. However, banks consistently and with precise
prejudice categorized her as a small business, without the enterprise in the
SME acronym. They did not look at her or
favor her business. Not even when she
had all the necessary city and government permits. Banks would not touch her with a ten-foot
Sometimes, Nouta imagined, they probably
smelled her coming into the bank to seek a loan for her small business and
locked the vaults.
Don’t let her know we have the money, the
officers would say to each other, and then chortle when she walked out.
She was too young, the loan officer would
say. As if, twenty-eight was just right,
she thought. Her faults were that she
was single, with no rich husband in sight.
Her business was a passing fancy: because doing business in her family
home was a temporary thing, a passing thing, it won’t last, they said.
Ah, her personal favorite was when once,
a loan officer told her not to worry because her parents would get her a job
soon. In this day and age, jobs were
about as available as unicorns in the sky.
Nouta rolled her eyes at that memory.
She doubted that loan officer had seen a unicorn in the sky. How did he know her parents would help her
find a job? Her mother did not have that
kind of motivation.
The rain amped up its rhythm as though
demanding Nouta’s attention, she sighed.
Her biggest challenge in life, was not running a business, she was
managing that. No, her challenge was getting
a decent access road, one that didn’t flood, or get muddy with each flash of
rain. She needed money to fix the access
road to their home. Her business could
not afford it as an expense, yet. She
couldn’t get a loan, so it was not a quick fix.
Customers hated muddy roads, especially
when they came from neat tarmac roads.
No one wanted to trudge through the mud and ruin good shoes. She could understand that even respect
it. However, her business had to move
forward. She needed her customers to
reach her, so that she could keep saving to fix the muddy access road. And so, the love of sunny months and the hate
and stress of rainy days started, and turned into her daily struggle.
Nouta got up from her seat and went to
heat up her tea and sweet potatoes. She
needed a good breakfast. She needed to
be at full energy to convince the two women visiting her workshop today to sign
up for a class.
What was a little rain, she thought. What was a little mud?
She was strong enough to face down
barbarians if they ever appeared in her corner in Nairobi. Nouta chuckled at that stupid idea and set
the microwave to heat her tea.
“We will manage,” she said to her sister,
when she got back to the dining table.
“Well, if the two ladies don’t sign up,
we’ll look for others,” Lita echoed, nodding her head. “I’ll offer to get them from the road with
gumboots, if they need it.”
“Or, we could pay someone to carry them
on the back to the gate,” Nouta suggested, making her sister laugh so hard she
almost spilled her tea. “God help him if
they are chubby.”
“As if that will happen,” Lita
scoffed. “We could try Mutheu’s mkokoteni.”
“I’m not pushing it in the mud,” Nouta
said, thinking of the wooden cart with car tires Mutheu drove. “Besides, he’ll just walk away if you suggest
it. He hates stupidity.”
Lita sighed and sipped her tea.
“It will work out, Nouta,” she said, her
sure tone brought comfort to Nouta.
Lita always made it seem as though they
could manage any kind of situation, and they did. They always managed.
The first call of the day came right
after breakfast. Nouta answered her
phone with a sense of calm. Her first
client was already on the way to visit the workshop. She sounded levelheaded, and friendly. Nouta took the opportunity to warn her of the
“It’s a bit muddy,” Nouta said. “Do you have sturdy shoes?”
“It was raining at my place too. I’m prepared.”
“Okay,” Nouta said, hopeful.
She ended the call, giving her sister a
small smile, though the nerves didn’t disappear. They already had two students in place, and needed
two more to fill the current class. Two
more to make a profit, otherwise they might need to cancel the class or do it
at a loss. This was their constant
It was nine in the morning. The rain kept up for another thirty minutes,
and then it stopped. The sun stayed
hidden behind clouds. Their dirt road
would take a while before it dried.
There would be mud; there was no escaping that reality. Nouta finished her third cup of tea.
At ten, her first client called her. She was at the end of the access road. She sounded unsure about her
destination. Nouta came out of the house
and went to stand at the gate.
“You’re on the right track,” Nouta
assured her. “I can come to you with
gumboots. Or meet you at the road—”
“Ah, I see you. It’s not that far after all. I’m on the way,” the lady said, and ended the
Nouta stood at the gate watching the
woman who entered the access road. Her
steps were steady as she navigated the muddy road, jumping over puddles, and
going around rough patches. It took her five
minutes to reach Nouta.
When she did, Nouta realized why the lady
had been so confident. She wore gumboots
on her feet. Black gumboots with a
silver bow on the side, they were so handsome, Nouta could not help but smile
she said, holding out her hand to her first client of the day. “Welcome to Nolita’s Baking Workshop.”
“Hi, I’m Halima. I’m so honored to meet you, Nouta,” Halima
said, taking her hand in greeting. “I
have heard you’re the best in the city.
I’ve wanted to take classes with you, and always missed intake. I couldn’t pass up the chance to sign up with
you this time, so here I am.”
Charmed, Nouta launched into a
conversation about the workshop and the upcoming classes, forgetting about the
They entered the compound and went
straight to the green workshop. They
talked for thirty minutes, and by the time Halima was ready to leave, she had
paid a deposit. Halima booked her spot
for the class. Nouta walked her to the
gate, and once again remembered the state of the road.
“I’m so sorry about the road,” Nouta felt
compelled to say. “It’s not usually so
“Oh, you don’t have to worry about that,”
Halima said, showing off her gumboots.
“Your road is just like ours at home.
I don’t mind it, Nouta. I’ll see
you on Monday next week. I look forward
to learning from you.”
Nouta smiled wide and waved Halima
off. The first client of the day had set
her mind at ease. She rushed back to the
house in a pleased mood to share the news with her sister.
Flush with a win of the day, Nouta waited
for the next call with less anxiety. It
came at around twelve o’clock. The sun
was peeking out, the ground less wet from the morning rain. Nouta felt confident that their muddy road
was easier to pass now, than earlier.
When she answered the call, she was pleasantly surprised to discover
that her next client had a car.
Great, she thought. This will be even easier.
Nouta gave her precise directions to
their access road, and the lady promised to call when she reached. It took another thirty minutes. Nouta was surprised when she answered the
call and the lady on the other end sounded less than cheerful.
“You didn’t tell me the road was so
muddy. Why would you keep that from me?”
“I’m sorry, I told you it rained,” Nouta
said. “Our access road is a dirt
road. I was very clear about that from
“No, no, no,” the lady said, as though
saying it in threes made it more negative than it already was.
Nouta felt a flush of annoyance race
through her. She sat at the dining table
working on her laptop. Opening her
email, she double-checked the message she had sent to the lady. In the directions, she clearly stated the
access road was a dirt road. It was
necessary, especially in Nairobi. She
had dealt with all kinds of people. It
was always easiest to describe the destination without rose-colored
glasses. Her home area was not upscale
Lavington, but it also was not slummy, but a homey kind of area. Farms and family homes dominated the street.
“I’m not sure I can make it for this
class,” the lady on the other end said to her.
“First, it’s so far and now this muddy road…”
“Where are you coming from?” Nouta asked,
“South C,” the lady said, indignation
clear in her tone. “It took me almost an
hour to get here.”
Nouta wanted to point out that it took
her just as long to get to Eastlands.
This was Nairobi, no place was close, and no place was far. Two, last month, she had a student who had
come all the way from Muranga every morning.
That was four to five hours away.
She was still awed at that boy’s dedication to his baking dreams. He never missed a day, and was never late.
What was South C? Ndwaru Road was not in Ukambani, but in
Dagoretti. Less than an hour away if you
took the newly minted bypass. She rolled
her eyes, but did not voice her opinion.
She kept her tone calm when she spoke.
“I’m sorry you feel that way,” Nouta
said. “Since you’ve come all this way,
wouldn’t you like to see the place? We
“What about my car?” the lady asked. “I can’t drive in to this mud. Who can I ask to watch it? I don’t even have gumboots to walk in the
Nouta fought the urge to talk back and
pushed her chair back
“We have clean gumboots I can bring to
you,” Nouta said. “I’ll be at the road
in five minutes. Please wait for me.”
She ended the call and let out a
Why had she attracted this lady
again? If she was from South C, why
didn’t she then get a baking teacher from there? Why come all the way here? Why the frustration when the woman had a car?
Nouta found the clean gumboots. She slipped her feet into her own used ones
and gripped her phone tight as she left the house. She headed to the road with an annoyed sigh. Why did she need the money so bad?
Nouta breathed in and out on the five-minute
walk to the main road. She was right
about the access road. It was much
easier to navigate, with only a single rough patch in the middle. A car could manage it with no trouble. When she reached the road, she bit back a
curse word when she saw the white jeep waiting on the curb. The driver rolled down the window and she met
her second would be-client.
“Hi, I’m Rose. You must be Nouta,” Rose said, smiling at her
from the safety of her car. “How come
you don’t have a branch in town?”
Nouta slipped her phone into her jeans
pocket. She worried she might crash it with
anger and frustration. She hated this
question most. Did Rose even understand
the logistics of opening a second branch in Nairobi town? The capital that would involve, the amount of
money she would need to sink into marketing to make both places work. Why ask such a question?
“Oh, we’re working hard to get one,”
Nouta said in her most cordial voice.
“Oh well, I don’t think my car can make
it through that mud,” Rose said, shaking her head, looking at the access road,
disdain clear in her eyes. “Is it always
Nouta bit her bottom lip, and breathed in
It rained this morning. If you
give it a few hours, it will be good as new.”
“Why can’t you get it fixed?” Rose asked.
Nouta smiled, because the alternative was
to shout, maybe shed a few tears of frustration.
“We’re working on it,” Nouta said. “You know how it is.”
Actually, Rose’s expression said, she had
no idea how it was to mobilize neighbors in such areas. To get them to work with you, or otherwise,
you work alone and find the money to fix the access road. Nouta sighed and lifted the gumboots.
“You can wear these,” Nouta said.
She then pointed at the small parking lot
in front of the small shopping center to her immediate right. She was friends with all the shop owners in
“If you park here no one will touch your
“It doesn’t look safe,” Rose said, giving
the shopping center a skeptical glance.
“It is,” Nouta said, her tone strong, leaving
Rose looked at her for a minute, and then
started the car. When she backed up,
Nouta took a moment to study the Jeep. It
looked too clean and the tires were new.
Rose had stopped the car at the entrance into the parking lot, and
Nouta closed her eyes, a tirade forming
in her head.
me ask you a question,’ she wanted to say to Rose. ‘Let me
really ask you a question. Do you want to
tell me that you have never traveled upcountry?
Do you not visit your grandmother in your fancy car? Are you telling me your big car does not and
cannot drive on muddy roads? What is a
small stretch to the green gate? Three
minutes, probably less, those tires look new.
Are you telling me you can’t drive to that gate, to my place of
business, because the road is muddy and not tarmacked?’
Nouta let frustration ride her for a full
minute, and then she opened her eyes to find Rose still paused at the parking
In life, there was one lesson she had
learned. She could not force someone
into joining her class. There was
nothing like teaching a mind that was skeptical. It felt like adding milk into an already full
Rose looked like a full gourd bottle
Nouta hugged her clean gumboots and
walked up to Rose’s car.
Rose’s window was open, so she smiled as
Rose turned to look at her.
“I’m sorry, Rose. I don’t think we’re meant to be. I’m afraid it will rain all next week, and our
road will be very muddy. Thank you for
coming all this way,” Nouta said. “I
will send you a free recipe e-book for the trouble.”
Rose studied her for a moment, and then
smiled, as though relieved.
“It was nice to meet you, Nouta.”
“You too, Rose.”
Nouta smiled at her as courteous as could
In the next minute, Rose pulled out and
was on her way back to South C.
Nouta worried she would need to monitor
her social media pages, in case Rose wrote a bad review about her location, or
even her experience. She worried about
this encounter until she was at her gate again, only to receive a call from her
“Where are you?” Lita asked.
“At the gate,” Nouta said, heaving a sigh
as she entered the compound.
“Oh great, we have a client who just paid
for the class. She wanted to meet you.”
“What?” Nouta grinned. “How?”
“She walked in like three minutes after
you went to deal with the one at the road.”
Nouta hurried to the green workshop her
worries disappearing. They had won the
day. Their class was full. They had managed this round. She would worry about the rest as it came,
For all the women in Small Medium Enterprises (SME). You are super women.