I called her on a sunny Sunday morning. I got a little nervous once the phone started ringing. Would she be in church, or had I assumed that she, like me, didn’t go to church? Should I have sent a text first? Would she be willing to speak with me? Should we speak in English or Swahili?
She answered the phone on the fourth ring. She sounded a little preoccupied, but said she could spare a few minutes to speak with me. A few minutes turned into about half an hour, during which she drew me in with her story, her voice confident yet faltering over some words, determined to speak in English because she had clearly discerned that that would be easier for me – unfortunately.
Imagine losing your husband at 27 years old, five years after getting married, and while pregnant with twins, unemployed, and with two other children under four.
What would you do?
Everlyn knew what she needed to do. She needed to find a job. Quickly. With kids to clothe and feed and a landlord demanding 500 bob rent for her single room in Kibera each month, there was no time to wallow in self-pity.
Formal employment wasn’t an option, because nobody was going to hire a heavily pregnant Form 2 dropout with no papers or professional experience. So she turned to what seemed like the easiest thing to do.
Everybody needs water, and water in Kibera is big business. She was going to become a water vendor.
Every morning, she would leave home to fetch water for sale, competing with men who had been in the business much longer than her, and women who viewed her as unwanted competition.
But motherhood has a way of toughening you up, and knowing she had four little ones depending on her made her wake up each morning. There was no option. This was about survival. So for two years, she fought her way through each day, gritting her teeth in the face of every new challenge, the determination to give her kids more than she had pushing her to do everything she could to provide for them.
But the water business proved to be too difficult, and she wanted out. She was tired of the backbreaking labour, the insecurity, the dirty competition. She needed a break. Was that too much to ask for? Had she not worked diligently, earned an honest living and taken care of her kids alone? Would it be so wrong for her to want an easier life?
As luck would have it, one of the few friends she had made in the water business introduced her to something new: peanut butter.
So in 2011, with a starting capital of 2,000 shillings, Everlyn started buying peanuts and hiring a machine to grind them into peanut butter. This new business earned her a profit of 1,500 shillings a week. It wasn’t much, but it was a start.
A year later, she was able to take a 40,000-shilling loan and buy her own machine. Now in addition to making her own peanut butter for sale, she could charge other people a little amount to use her machine. Before long, she was selling 15 jars a week and making additional cash from leasing her machine.
Things were beginning to look up.
But working long hours to get that money was keeping her away from her kids, and she hated hearing that while she worked, her older kids were selling scrap metal and used plastics to get that extra coin. She didn’t have much, but she wasn’t ready to live like she had nothing, and she certainly wasn’t going to let her kids get too familiar with a life of struggle.
That fierce desire to protect her children from this big, bad world is what eventually got her out of Kibera.
In 2017, Everlyn sold everything she had and moved to Kayole. She wanted a fresh start. But she wasn’t going to leave Kibera behind. It was where she had learned the peanut butter business, and where majority of her customers still were. So she began splitting her time between Kibera and Kayole, beginning her day at 5am every day and not getting back home until 9pm.
It’s been tough, but she’s beginning to enjoy the sweet taste of success.
Today, she sells 40kg of peanut butter a week. She goes door to door, hawking her nutty goodness, sealing deals, making her money. Her product is not fancy. It’s just homemade peanut butter in a plastic jar with a simple red label that reads: Everlyn’s Peanut Butter.
But every jar is a testament to her strong will: her determination to annihilate any obstacle that comes her way, and to put everything she has into securing her children’s future. She says that all she wants is to give them a better start than she had, so that one day they’ll be proud of her and take care of her when she can no longer take care of them.
Everlyn doesn’t want to hawk peanut butter all her life. She wants to expand her business and one day supply big supermarkets. Her dream is to have people coming to her for business, not her going to them. But in the meantime, she’s happy to come to you, and that’s why she’ll be at the Asenka Community Market on Sunday, 29th April 2018.
To place an order you can reach her on 0705 405 683.