Hellen Nyongesa, a mkokoteni operator in the city, has been the talk of town these past few days.
The 35-year-old pulls a handcart full of ripe bananas daily from Nairobi’s Shauri Moyo estate where she lives and hawks them around Agro House in the city centre, encountering rogue drivers, choking fumes and nasty remarks along the way. This she does with her daughter perched at the back.
“I was born in Kakamega. My father had three wives with my mother being the second wife. I dropped out of school in Form Four due to lack of school fees after his death,” she said, adding that she first came to Nairobi around 2005 courtesy of a villager who took her as a house help.
But the employer became rogue forcing her to return to the village and get married.
The relationship with an orphaned man resulted in three girls the eldest being in Class Seven, while the youngest is aged three years.
Sometimes in 2009, Hellen and her hubby relocated to Nairobi for greener pastures and settled in Kawangware where her husband worked at a mjengo, but he was knocked down by a speeding car along Waiyaki Way in 2016 and died.
Their daughter was months old and “no one came to my rescue because my husband was an orphan. With time, life became hard. I was thrown out of the house,” she claims, adding that she was forced to send her two other children back to the village. She started living on the streets and around Gikomba market.
It is here that Hellen would attend church as an ardent SDA member and sharing her problems with elders saw them chip in to feed her and the daughter.
“In rarly 2017, an elder gave me Sh200 that opened my eyes. I spent Sh150 on food and kept Sh50. That day, I knelt down and prayed to God,” she narrates.
The following day, Hellen woke up early and went to Wakulima Market where she approached a Tanzanian fruit seller who gave her some bunches to hawk.
“The woman gave me two small sacks of fruits. I headed to the city centre, luckily a woman saw them and bought all at Sh100. I went back and met the same woman who gave me another bunch, again a man saw how tired I was and bought them for Sh1,000,” she said.
From here, Hellen started hawking fruits in a bucket within the city, then graduated to a large basin as customers scrambled for her. This forced her to buy a wheelbarrow and focused soley on bananas.
In the four months she hawked bananas in a wheelbarrow, Hellen claims she was assaulted by Kanjo askaris and all her belonging confiscated. At some point, she claims she was kicked in the chest while lying on the ground. She shifted to a mkokoteni which she bought for Sh10,000.
She now supplies ripe bananas worth Sh15, 000 daily.