Nandy grew up in a fairly comfortable home. They lived in a beautiful four-bedroomed house, which was perfect because each of her siblings enjoyed the luxury of a room to themselves. They went to good schools, and their school fees was paid in good time. The parents, both working at the time, had good jobs that could sustain them to live well. They could even afford to help out some less fortunate kids by partially paying for their education. They were a happy and grateful family.
Against her parents’ wishes, Nandy chose to study at a local university. The idea of living with relatives in a whole new country terrified her. She strongly felt that it was impossible to co-exist with extended family members under the same roof. This was because she had observed, from the past, how her cousins living with relatives had turned family members into strangers.
After four years at the university, Nandy graduated from University with a Bachelor’s in Law. At this point, she chose not to carry on to Kenya School of Law. She wanted to work in the world of advocacy, and she didn’t see the need to pursue further studies in the field.
Nandy landed an internship at a prestigious NGO, which, after three months, took her in as a full-time employee. Around the same time, her father was retiring from work. They had a small celebration, and it was during his speech that Nandy knew she was in trouble going forward.
“My daughter here has made the family extremely proud. She has recently graduated and landed a well-paying job. I know that I can now take the backseat and she will help me and her mother in running this household,” he said, comfortably. From the tone of his voice, Nandy knew that he wasn’t joking.
A month later, Nandy’s first salary as an employee came in. 30,000 Kenya shillings. From this, she would spend approximately 15,000 shillings on commuting and lunch during the month. This left her with 15,000 shillings. Months earlier, she had joined a SACCO where she would at least put something aside at the end of every month. Here, she put 5,000 shillings. This left her with 10,000 shillings. Out of this, she paid 2,000 shillings for her chama, leaving her with 8,000 shillings. This, she spent on lifestyle expenses like doing her hair and an occasional lunch date with her friend. She was struggling to survive from this because again, her family would subtly ask her to chip into things here and there.
“Nandy, now that you are working and I am not, I will need you to take up some more responsibility in this house. Your sister needs new uniform and I am going to need you to foot the bill,” Her father said one day.
“Dad, I am barely surviving with my salary. Fuel went up the other day, and so did the matatu prices. We live so far from the office and…” Nandy said.
“I won’t hear of it. When I was your age, my first salary would all go to my parents. When have we ever had a taste of your salary? Uniform is only like 5,000 shillings. You can make that sacrifice.”
Nandy went back to the drawing board. She couldn’t do anything about the money she spent getting to work. The only sacrifice she could make was the 8,000 shillings that she used for her lifestyle expenses.
That Saturday, she walked in town all afternoon. There was no way out. The uniform would cost her 7,000 shillings. Her chama contribution was due in a day, and she had no choice but to use that money for her sister’s uniform.
“You didn’t even buy her shoes?” Nandy’s mother said when she got home. She was too tired to argue. She hadn’t eaten anything all day and quite frankly, she was exhausted.
A week later, she found that out that her mother had been laid off from work. The company was going through financial cash flow problems and had to let go of a few employees.
“Mum, aren’t you sad that you no longer have a job?” Sydney, Nandy’s brother asked.
“Ati sad? Sad why? When we have a beautiful daughter here who we educated so that she can take care of us?” Her mother responded.
The next few months were horrific for Nandy. The poor girl was now footing the internet bill, the water bill, and part of the electricity bill. She had pulled out of her chama and could no longer save any money in her SACCO. She felt as though she was working b backwards. All her money went towards travelling to and from work or helping to sustain the home. Then she started getting other requests.
A strange number was calling and Nandy found that rather unusual.
“Hello. Sasa Nandy,” the person on the other end asked. The voice was familiar, but she could not remember who it was.
“It’s Suzie! Your cousin. I have a small favour to ask…” She said. Nandy knew things weren’t great.
“I need a loan of 5,000 shillings. I promise I’ll pay you back. I’m sick, Nandy. I’ve been diagnosed with a hormonal imbalance. My period comes twice a month and I get the worst cramps. My doctor was prescribed a lot of medication, including contraceptives. Please Nandy,” she said, pitifully.
Truth be told, Nandy felt bad for her. Her story was convincing. But where was she to get 5,000 shillings? She barely had enough money to get her to work. She was now carrying lunch every day because she couldn’t afford to buy any.
With the rising cost of living, she had to walk a long distance to save 20 shillings for her commute back home in the evening. She had sucked her savings accounts dry, because every other day, there would be shopping to be done, or a bill to be paid. Her hair was untidy. She needed new shoes, and she just couldn’t afford any of the things she needed. She had no choice but to let her cousin Suzie down.
Nandy opened up to a colleague at work one day. She was completely down, now having to borrow money for fare every now and then. What was the point of working so hard, only to get nothing from it? She was working for her parents and not herself at this rate.
“It’s called Black tax, Nandy. Many Africans suffer from it. We work so hard, and end up using most of that money to cater for our nuclear and extended families,” She said.
“If you continue that way, you will die poor and depressed. Usicheze!” She said and walked away after slipping a hundred shillings into her hand.
The suffering did not stop. It only got worse. Nandy found herself taking up a part-time job, but even that didn’t help. She was also expected to help out in the house, so she found herself working into the wee hours of the night and waking up very early. This was when she realised that the only person she was fooling was herself.
Luckily, Nandy’s boss loved her work and offered her a promotion at the end of six months. But this time, she was wiser. She had spent time reading stories about how black tax was a financial pothole for many people, and how to go about it. Her solution was very simple. She needed to move out. Like they say, sometimes you need to spend more money to make more money.
Nandy found herself a small bedsitter. It cost 12,000 shillings. After all her calculations, including the money she would send home at the end of every month, she was able to save 20,000 shillings. She was spending less on transport. Her parents were not in close proximity, and therefore they would no longer ask her to cater for every single expense that arose.
Nandy helped her mother to set up a business, where she would earn some money that could take her through the month. As for her father, he was now on pension, and she prayed that he would spend that money wisely. It would not be enough for everything but he would need to find a way to make it work.
By moving out of her parent’s house, Nandy got enough clarity to help them invest their money and earn from it. She was living peacefully, and she wondered why she hadn’t made the decision earlier.
“Black tax will kill you, my friend. You have to find a way to go around it. On one hand, you don’t want to be rude or to say no to the people that raised you, but on the other, you don’t want to be imprisoned. Because black tax is a financial prison. We all need to be liberated from it,” Nandy said to her friend.