Guest blog: Getting to it

It is hot in Livingstone. People are walking slowly. I’m back, visiting my old town, and im anxious to see what has changed since I left. I’m trying to prevent gasping for air too much as the dry season has left the roads dusty. Weather is still the same. On a colourful cushion at Jollyboys Campsite, two women are seated. It is Susan and Stella. The last time I saw Susan was in her one room house in Ngwenya Compound. She cooked lunch for my visiting family and me. That was an experience we will never forget, but catering on occasional basis for a handful hungry tourists could hardly get her expenses covered throughout until month-end. She has a big smile, though. ”My child is graduating grade 12 soon. She wants to become a doctor!” I congratulated her. What a goal to have in life, especially considering where she is coming from. ”Everything is possible!” she claims. ”I hope that, with WayaWaya and making those leather bags, I can make it happen.” Her friend adds proudly: ”My son wants to be a teacher.” I guess they will both be paying school fees for years to come.

So starting up a business in Zambia, it could very easily turn into a road kill. I have been following WayaWaya come to life and loving their idea. I know a few of the women involved and I do believe in them. I believe all intentions are good and that the enthusiasm that I see is genuine. I believe they could develop professional skills needed to make the products with the quality required to please the picky and knowledgeable costumer. However, I still know a few things about the process of getting things done, and failing on the same note here in Zambia. Reasons to be sceptic could potentially be plenty. I am invited to this meeting to see whether I am entitled to be a sceptic.

Iris arrives with two other ladies, Prisca and Sandra. Doreen jumps out of a blue taxi. We gather up around a wooden table in the back yard and get down to business. Firstly, are we all in? Nodding. Confirming. Loud and clear: “Yes!”

“But why?” I ask. Stupid question.

“It will empower me, it is more than a job. I will benefit from the skills I develop. Knowledge lasts throughout life. Money goes, just like that. “

And again, from the humble, but intelligent Stella: “Other companies might take interest. Maybe I will go and do trainings of their staff. Maybe, one day, I will be a boss.”

The meeting cracks through important details. Iris helps clarifying questions. How can I be granted bed rest when I’m feeling unwell?

What do we do when there is a funeral? What about leave days? When do I visit a patient in the hospital? How do we ensure that we report for work on time in the morning? Who provides transport to and from work? This might seem as small challenges, but they can throw a whole business over board. Especially in Zambia. Susan pops her head up from the right side of the table, stressing the fact that these rules are the same ones that will make the business succeed and keep their jobs secured. The ladies agree.

Iris informs us on the latest news. More than 85 PC-bags and shopper bags are already ordered. There is work to do, come October! So basically, WayaWaya, by the help of a professional, is going to train these ladies in leather, sewing skills, and the actual process of making the requested bags. When successfully trained they will be hired on contracts as full time employees, ready to take on more challenges, new designs and new patterns. Surely, there is work to do, come October.

“But come October, and its really hot. Come rainy season and the power goes off. How are you going to manage remaining in the workshop, continuing working until the time you knock off? Your relative is calling and calling, asking for this and that.”

Susan, with a smile on her face: “Ah. I will tell them I’m busy. Call me later.”

All of them together: “And we are going to enjoy it!”

As for myself, I just ordered a PC-bag. I believe they will help me get it if I only help them get to it.

-Mari Tollefsen

The meetings starts






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