When I arrived at the fast-growing Tassia estate, I could not help but take notice of the extremely hot weather that dominates the Embakasi plains. It was a long journey through the busy Mombasa road, veering off at the North Airport road and onwards to the bustling neighbourhood that’s about three blocks away from the Embakasi military barracks.
Nonetheless, I was optimistic because I knew the woman I was going to meet, in these very plains, would give me a story of hope. Hope that could re-awaken the sleeping giant that resides in each and every one of us.
So I walk through an iron-sheet gate following the directions ‘whatsapped’ to me by Tycrose Keeru. She is hard at work at her latest construction site, a three-storied rental building. “Sorry, I know the sun is quite hot in this side of the capital” says Tycrose as she leaves her team to welcome me to her workstation.
As I acknowledge her greetings, I realize she is still wearing her apron and a yellow helmet in such sweltering conditions. You have to be extremely disciplined to remain in your work gear irrespective of the weather. Her face is sprinkled with a greyish substance, which given her profession, I assume is fresh concrete.
We walk together to the construction site where I meet her colleagues who seem extremely busy as if working to meet a tight deadline.
I figured out, my time-wasting tactics were not welcome here and that I had to immediately get down to the business of the day.
“We just finished preparing the slab for that house over there” mentions Tyrcrose as she points towards a neighboring upcoming flat. “We have left it to cure for a few days and for now we are focusing on finishing this one here. The client has been looking for me for days and so I just decided to give her my full-time attention at this juncture” she adds.
Tycrose is clearly a busy woman. But as she narrates further, her journey has not been a walk in the park.
A few years back, she was employed at the airport as a security guard. She worked extremely hard and managed to purchase a piece of land in the vast lands adjacent to the airport. A few years later she constructed a house and prepared for a happily-ever-after kind of life. After all, she had managed to do what most highly-paid employees only dream about.
But her moment of relief was short-lived. A few years down the line she learned that she had been a victim of yet another one of the many Nairobi land-scams. A court had ruled that the land (in fact the entire neighbourhood) was acquired illegally and had to be repossessed. Long story short, all her earthly possessions were demolished and destroyed.
To make matters even worse, she was retrenched from her job that same year as the company she was working for was downsizing.
With no home to run to and no job to help her meet basic needs, she felt like her life had hit a snag. The psychological burden was too heavy to carry for the single-mother of two who reckons even developed suicidal thoughts at one time. Her health deteriorated. The meagre savings she had set aside quickly diminished.
Several years of self-denial and untold suffering sent her into a dark abyss. But nonetheless, faced with the realities of life, she had to sober up, dust herself once again and move forward.
So she started applying for jobs. Several months of being turned down and tens of empty promises down the line were all it took for her to learn that her dream of securing formal employment was just that – a dream.
A “Womanly Job
Then a friend approached her and requested if she could accept the job of fetching water for construction sites – a difficult job despised by everyone in the construction industry as it requires too much energy and pays little.
But nonetheless, she took it up just so she could make ends meet.
“We used to be paid Ksh100 ($1) for each 200 litre tank of water we fetched. On a good day I used to make Ksh300” she recalls.
Given that she was a woman trying to out-muscle a male dominated career, she faced all manner of criticism. Some even wondered why she could not look for a more “womanly” job.
But just before the critics got the better of her, a contractor took notice of her diligence and employed her as a KYM (street name for one who does all the spade work at a construction site).
“The job required you to be physically fit and given that my health was still poor, I really had it rough,” narrates Tycrose shaking her head as if to shed-off the bad memories.
Being a naturally curious person, she worked closely with experienced masons which helped her learn fast. Tapping into her formal working experience, she was quick to build a rapport with key people in her industry.
When Kuza Biashara rolled out its free digital literacy program for masons, she was quick to apply. And as a top student, she managed to graduate with a dazzling certificate.
With her confidence renewed, she knew it was the ultimate time to make her move. She quit being employed as a mason and set out to start her own construction company.
“I have registered a company by the name Tycpa Contractors. And although we are just getting started, I have so far managed to create jobs for 5 employees.”
Her company has so far overseen the completion of 7 construction projects and she currently has several ones underway. She also supplies building materials like cement and ballast on order – a venture that she says has ignited her passion to open a hardware shop.
And although she admits that surviving in a male dominated environment has not been an easy ride, she beams with hope that her dreams are just gathering momentum.
“Don’t despise humble beginnings. Had I not accepted the job of fetching water for construction sites, I could not have been where I am today. Yet I am still working on my dream and I hope to grow my construction company into a national outfit.”
Our 30 minute interview came to an end and I had to leave her to catchup with the rest of the team. Her phone was constantly beeping and I knew that I was already “eating” into her precious time.
But even as I made my way back to the office, her story kept reminding me of just how important it is to be adaptive and full of hope. It really doesn’t matter how big the hurdles life places on your way are, as long as you are willing to keep trying, there’s absolutely no situation that’s insurmountable.