The Love Central - Hope in the face of economic struggle: The story of Imani

Hope in the Face of Economic Struggle: The Story of Imani

I didn’t have half the capacity but I had to respond in the most assuring tone possible.

The idea and hope of a typical Nigerian graduate is to land a white-collar job after completing the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). Unfortunately, this hardly ever happens, as only about 10 out of 100 graduates find a good job after completing NYSC.

Graduating with a first-class degree doesn’t guarantee an automatic job. Funny as it may sound, graduating with a pass and having a prominent parent are all the first-class degrees needed to gain employment.

Nigerian youths have learned to acquire skills in different areas ranging from hairdressing, tie-and-dye, fashion design, Dog Breeding, farming, shoemaking, etc. Through these skills, lots of graduates earn a living, and quite a number of people have been rescued from poverty and joblessness.

Imani’s Story

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I sell fried yams and sweet potatoes as well <br>Image credit Google

Every morning since I completed my National Youth Service programme, I wake up in hopes of a miracle. Unfortunately, it’s been more like waking up to a new, impossible dream. I make well over ten thousand naira every day from my Akara business. Well, not just Akara; I sell fried yams and sweet potatoes as well.

Growing up in a family like mine, your first instinct would be to develop a positive business mind. So even on days when it rained cats and dogs, I would improvise to avoid my efforts of washing beans, peeling, and cutting yams and sweet potatoes over the night from being a waste.

It’s been 3 years in this business and I cannot say that I have achieved anything. I still go to the same spot every day, still sell to the same customers and the only utensil I have changed so far is the frying spoon. I pay Solimat to help serve my customers in the mornings and evenings….I work two shifts: mornings and evenings.

All through the week except for Sunday mornings—that’s reserved for God! I have been contemplating increasing the cost of my fries or simply cutting down on the servings. The prices of foodstuffs have skyrocketed and I have been earning lesser figures, trying to keep my customers happy and satisfied.

The Innovation

While reading through some business ideas on Google, an idea popped into my head; I could actually open an online branch of my business and receive orders from people outside my current business location. My elder brother, Sambo, is a tech guy and would be in the best position to put me through.

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My elder brother Sambo is a tech guy and would be in the best position to put me through<br>Image credit freepik

I’d just need to offer a full plate of my fries to get his full attention and cooperation. Sambo managed to open an Instagram page for my Akara business and designed a business logo for me. He went further to get a business line and offered to write a business proposal for me. We spent an entire week trying to put all the ideas together and finally, everything was in order and ready to kick off.

I had flyers at my local Akara spot and introduced a complementary zobo drink for customers who bought fries above five hundred naira. I watched my customers increase within 2weeks… felt like a dream!

I was the lead singer in my church’s choir and rehearsals on Saturday evenings were compulsory. I have always struggled with this reality, but since the increase in demand for my fries, I have contemplated leaving the choir. The guilt was eating me up….am I betraying the God who has finally answered my prayers or do I need to face reality and do what needs to be done without sentiments?

My business was at the point where I had always dreamed of….my goodness, it had exceeded my imagination. I received a call on the business line for the first time, a call from a food vendor in the heart of the city. She wanted to know if I had the capacity to handle a live serving at a party coming up this weekend.

I didn’t have half the capacity but I had to respond in the most assuring tone possible. “How many guests are we looking at?” I asked in the most professional tone I could garner up. The voice on the other end of the phone was calm, mature, and stern. I could tell she was a woman who’s been in the business for a very long time.

“I am expecting nothing less than 800 guests, but I am approximating a total of 1000 guests to be on the safe side,” she replied. In my 3 years in the akara frying profession, I have never prepared to serve more than a hundred people. How do I manage 1,000 guests? We concluded the call by agreeing to meet in two days after I had drawn out a cost estimate and a plan on how to set up at the venue of the party.

The Plan

I stayed up all night thinking and putting down notes on every idea that sprung up in my head. The only staff I had was Solimat and I needed way more than 5 staff to get the job done. This was my first event and I needed to put in my best….this has to work, I thought to myself. I began to imagine the people I would meet, the connections and finally achieving my dream of becoming a national name in this Akara (bean balls) business.

I drew up a list of my friends who could help me cater to the guests, how much I would pay them, and the cost of renting two large frying pans and takeaway packs for 1000 guests. How many mudus (measuring plates) of beans would I need? How large would I measure the akara (bean balls)?? I had no idea how many tubers of yam I would need nor was I sure of the number of sweet potatoes I had to purchase, but I knew I had to make it work perfectly.

First thing in the morning, after my Akara (bean balls) sales, I took a bike to the market. As I walked through the stores in the market, I glanced at my list, and for every price check I did, I made a note. I was able to secure some discounts for the items I needed and I prepared to meet my first client the next morning with my invoice ready.

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She studied my invoice and nodded as she looked through it

We met at her residence, which was a big house located in the most expensive part of the state. She looked nothing like her voice. As we sat to begin our meeting, she served two glass cups of fruit juice and some biscuits. She studied my invoice and nodded as she looked through it. I sat there, wondering if my prices were too high or if she thought they were too cheap.

She asked a few questions and stared me deep in the eyes as I responded; it was as if she wanted to see through my soul. She must have been in this business for quite some years. As we reached an agreement, she wrote me a cheque to cover the cost of all the items I needed while assuring me that I’d get the balance of my money the day after the event.

Preparing for the upcoming event was the most challenging thing I have had to face in my 30 years of living. I fell back on meeting my customers’ needs every morning and I couldn’t trust Solimat to handle it all by herself. I had no choice and could only apologize to them.

As I waited for Mama Rukky to finish sewing the aprons that my staff would wear to serve the guests, I realized I never asked my client how she heard about me. I shoved the thought aside….it didn’t really matter as long as I was making my money and getting popular amongst the rich folks.

I received a call from Sambo as I made my way through our dark street. We hadn’t had light for almost a week and this had always been the order of the day in my hood. No cold water to quench your thirst on a very hot afternoon, no hot water for a warm bath when the weather is very cold in the mornings, no light to even see your way through dark streets like mine, but we move!

The Break-Through

Sambo had hired a mini truck to convey my staff and I along with the items needed for the event. I knew Sambo very well and being this nice was never his thing. I almost cried as I thanked him over the phone. Sambo didn’t live with us in the house. In this part of town, when you get to a certain age, living with your parents is like a sign of failure and a thing of shame.

No one really knew where Sambo lived but he came to the house every Sunday afternoon with some cash and foodstuff and that was it; we only saw him once a week. He secured a job at a construction company going on 5 years now and used the better part of his pay to support the entire family.

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Image from Gencraft

Sambo was stubborn, rude, and sometimes selfish, amongst other things, but he never forgot or abandoned his family. We left for the city center as early as 6 am to avoid any road traffic. We got to the event center in good time and set up all that was needed. We didn’t start mixing the Akara until we got a signal from the client herself.

It was at the event center that I found out that my client was Hajia Zuwaira Danjuma, the wife of Alhaji Mustapha Danjuma, the owner of MD Construction Company, where my brother works. The event proper began about an hour behind schedule and within the first 3 hours, we had served out all the fries.

Amazingly, all the over 1000 guests were served, while some even had extra packs for their drivers and personal assistants that accompanied them. I had lost hope in achieving my dream of becoming successful, let alone being a successful Akara vendor. Akara o! Not the regular small chops.

I drifted back to the days when I would struggle to keep the firewood burning and prevent the rain from getting into the oil. How the area boys harassed me till I started to bribe them with some Akara. The challenges I faced almost threw me off my balance amidst the constant mockery from my classmates who thought I was wasting my certificate and beauty.

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I am fully booked for the next 3 months<br>Image credit freepik

Sitting in the vendor’s meeting as a full member and taking notes on the services required of me for the next few upcoming events feels surreal. I am fully booked for the next 3 months, and I still manage to come out morning and night at my home spot. I have 10 staff under my employment and my utensils are better than the ones I started with.

I have coolers and branded take-away packs….people have to know who to call when they taste my Akara (bean balls). I created a menu that I present to my clients so they know that Akara can come in different flavors and recipes. I have grown more in 4 months than I did in the past 3 years of frying Akara, but I know that without the challenges of the first 3 years, I wouldn’t have been strong enough to stand the challenges I’ve faced so far.

Even though I was unable to secure a good job after my NYSC, I have achieved more than I would have if I had been employed. I have provided job opportunities, developed my business sense, expanded my business, and trained young people. Solimat has grown enough in the business and learned on the job that she handles the home spot alone when I’m unavailable.

My name is Imani, and I am an Akara vendor.

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