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Small cities offer options to Nairobi chaos


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Small cities offer options to Nairobi chaos

Nairobi City skyline. FILE PHOTO | NMG

jenny

Summary

  • The home working brought by coronavirus is changing the shape of our worlds.
  • But only recently have I noticed just how much it militates against living in Nairobi, when Zoom is all and has liberated us to climb a quality-of-life ladder.

The home working brought by coronavirus is changing the shape of our worlds. But only recently have I noticed just how much it militates against living in Nairobi, when Zoom is all and has liberated us to climb a quality-of-life ladder.

For, the most powerful eye opener for me in recent weeks has been the ways in which Malindi offers a better quality of life than our capital.

For a start, we underestimate the internationalism of our coastal towns and entrepreneurs, which makes for a different level of goods and services. A point brought home to me when my son dropped his iPhone into a pool of water, not once, but twice. It survived the first drop for long enough for him to text his friend about it, who replied “Oh, they are waterproof now”, which they are not, the very second before I walked up and said “you’re going to drop that phone in the water”.

“I already did,” he said, “but they are waterproof now” (which they are not) and he threw it in a curve across the water to fall again, this time re-emerging as a dead, short-circuited pile of ex-iPhone: Sh170,000 of equipment annihilated.

Our misery was complete: both mine and his. We put it in dried rice to try and draw some moisture out, despite a divided Internet search on whether rice helps, amid lots of US-style advice to get it straight to Apple engineers to repair.

Parked at the coast, the case seemed hopeless, but I anyway called a Malindi repair shop, Cute phones, that had previously replaced a cracked screen of ours.

The owner was adamant he could repair it and had done many times. Yet, back in the UK, when we put in a similarly ‘water-damaged’ iPhone, the British tech shop owner told us, “it’s water damaged, I can ‘t help”, marking the loss of three years of unbacked-up photos and treasures.

The Malindi Cute store did it though, with machines to check for short circuits on the motherboard, it found a bundle of them — that phone had shorted big time — and repaired them all, even sending it to Mombasa for a go with a more sophisticated Apple diagnostic machine.

And then the bill, I was stunned. All that effort, international equipment and parts, an expensive device, that bill was Sh2,000, where in Nairobi even to get a simple laptop keyboard change — which then came back post-payment still not working — or power point fixed costs twice that.

The iPhone has since been perfect, and I am now having two old ones couriered from the UK to that Cute store because he says he will fix them too, and I think he might.

For, in the course of it all, the owner and his friends talked a lot of tech, with him now on a trip to Dubai, that made me realise these are really our 21st century coastal and international traders, more equipped, capable and cutting-edge than any western store because they are programmed to repair, rather than simply throw away, and are hungrier for international innovation.

It was a comparison that the UK came out of poorly, and so did Nairobi’s sprawling, expensive, and limited device mending sub-sector.

But then there was also the Malindi dentist — straight in for an immediate filling — and the clinic, with the wonderful doctor-cum-receptionist solving out-of-hours problems when I had never been there before. And the CFC Stanbic bank I collected a banking card from that was ordered in Nairobi, easy parking, high-speed service.

Hardly a traffic jam, delicious food, friendlier drivers — letting me into traffic. It set me to thinking a lot about Nairobi and its future in devolution and realising it rests solely on the degree to which home working continues — amid headlines globally from our multinationals on the thousands of staff now being moved to home working permanently.

Indeed, as we all get shaken up and shaken around by this pandemic, we may begin to find our capital emerging as a whole lot less of a hub, and our provincial cities rising faster. Because, frankly, in rather many ways, they are better to live in.

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