Refusing a token of appreciation wouldn’t go over very well.

On Friday, Loon took me to meet with Cesilia.  She special requested our meeting.  She wanted to show me her home and business inventory.  Wanted advice on how to increase business volume.  Wanted me to include her business as part of foreign investor consideration.

I guess she would be considered a peasant because her standard of living seemed to fit.  Rents a small abode.  Very small.  Across the way from Ilboru Lutheran Church and a stone’s throw from Ilboru Secondary School and Mwangaza Education Center (training center mostly for teachers).  Has a couple daughters who speak English.  She doesn’t.  Attended a few seminars, workshops hosted by Ilboru Lutheran Church.  Took as much in as she could from the translators that I employed.

We talked about some alternatives.  I didn’t come up with many innovative ideas.  She knows her business and doesn’t want to change her way of making a living.  Just wants more inventory so she can sell more bananas and avocados to secondary school students.  Maybe to nearby vendors.  She buys her inventory from farmers, puts them in a ramshackle shed, held up by sticks, covered with come corrugated metal, if I recall correctly, and walled with various fabrics.  Could really use a refrigerator, also.  With a refrigerator, she could buy more product each time, keep it longer, and either reduce purchase expeditions or increase sales.

At the conclusion of our meeting, she gave me a bunch of small bananas.  Enough to eat in the car during our subsequent trip to see a waterfall.  Felt guilty accepting her gift.  Felt like the advice I had shared constituted nothing near the value of a bunch of bananas.  But she insisted.  She also gave me multiple hugs, multiple “thank you’s”, and friendship smiles that would melt an iceberg.

Monday (yesterday), I accepted the invitation to see Anna’s grocery business.  She, along with her two daughters and her husband, picked me up, drove me across town to her place of business (also just down the dirt road from Ilboru Church and all, and hosted our discussion of ideas for increasing her business volume.  Like Cesilia, she doesn’t speak or understand English.  Daughters do, at least the oldest.  Served as translator.

Like Cesilia, she wants to stick with her business because she knows it, remains comfortable with it, and just plain doesn’t want to consider a different one.  Her market comes from locals, mainly, who stop by and buy things.  Ilboru Safari Lodge lies right across the road.  Class A place, after you enter the gates.  We stayed there, nine years ago.  Doesn’t supply much, if any, business to Anna.

There are so many small shops like hers around Arusha that, if I advised anybody about starting a business, I would advise against the grocery business.  Shop owners saturate the market.  Ideas for distinguishing oneself from other shops tend to run dry. Getting people to buy from you mostly consists of waiting for them to show up at your barred window.

I reviewed the ideas that I presented in our workshop on the retail business.  I had actually selected Anna for my example of a retail operator during our workshop assembly.  A flat out random selection, except that she constituted the typical retail vendor among many others.

She hadn’t implemented any ideas, thus far.  So, we talked about the following:

  1. Run a loss leader promotion,
  2. Clean up shop to make it more presentable and appealing (really needs it, but she feels it would make little to no difference),
  3. Run a “blue light special” from time to time during the day. Include a rotating blue light on the front of her shop, perhaps add a siren of some kind, to draw attention to ten minute buying opportunities.  She smiles at this idea, thinks it might truly be innovative.  May go shopping with her daughter to find a light and siren.
  4. Negotiate new signs for the front of her shop. The current ones bled white paint over the other white and red canvass surface.  Could hardly read the words, like “wakala” (agent, for cell phone recharging).  Coca Cola sign not bad, but the others really need replacement.
  5. Utilize a punch card promotion. Hand out new punch cards at the beginning of each month, offer punches for every 10,000 TSH spent (about 5 bucks), hold a drawing at the end of each month.  Winner gets a free one-hour massage by Anna.  Little cost.  Might build loyalty, anticipation.  I think she’ll do this.

When we finished, I confessed that I really had no new good ideas.  A new business and new market might work, but that seemed out of the question.  Felt bad about suggesting the “clean-up”.  But, beyond the initial suggestion during the workshop, it seemed all the more important, upon my visit.  Pointed out the things that needed cleaning and fresh paint.  Should I have just shut up?  Not my style.

When we wound up, Anna wanted to present me a gift from her shop.  Daughter pleaded with me to accept it.  Could not refuse.  Looked around the shop.  Spotted jars of peanut butter, figured that if left up to me, that’s what I would suggest.  Found out later, peanut butter generally cost about 5000 TSH (less than $2.50).  Even that would have left me feeling like an undeserving recipient.

When I assented, she opened up the display case and hauled out two Maasai blankets.  Told me to choose the color I liked.  Had already bought one a few weeks ago.  Spent maybe 12,000 TSH (about $6).  Knew immediately that it was too big a gift to accept.  Maybe the most expensive item in the shop.  But I had already agreed.  Besides, refusal would likely have constituted a lack of courtesy.  I picked the blue one. Had a red one, already.

More icebergs melting.  My heart, too.

Goodluck (husband) took me home.  Electric still out, as it was all over town.  My energy pretty much drained, like the electric and laptop battery.  Could do nothing more, other than take a nap.  I took a nap.

Still thinking about the gifts I received.  Still feeling guilty, undeserving.

Came down here resolved to resist all mzungu (white guy) habits of giving money away.  Want to encourage transactions between me and others.  Tempted to break my resolution.  Maybe buy a refrigerator for Cesilia.  Maybe provide Anna with funds to increase her inventory, also.  That’s what she thinks she needs, more than anything else.  Could sell more stuff, buy stuff in greater bulk to avoid frequent inflated prices of wholesale goods between bigger purchases.

Won’t do these things.  At least not now.  May include their “business planning ideas” to potentially interested investors back in Colorado (maybe just me).  High risk.  Probably wouldn’t get money back.  But arms-length transactioning would still beat flat out charity.  We’ll see.

Can’t help but think about the acceptance of gifts from those least able to afford them.  Again, a humbling experience.  Wonder what Christ would do?

Oh yeah, I already know.

Very humbling!