At 6 a.m. everyday, Dorah Mong’ina wakes up with goal of serving two “masters”; travelers looking for curios and making ends meet for her small family of 4. Riding on the belief that life has its ups and downs, you will always find her by her stand of curios ready to serve you diligently. I met her in Naivasha; Fishermans Camp to be more precise. She strikes the confusing demeanor of a humble parent but an aggressive business person. The soft spoken lady has been at it for 3 years and doesn’t intend to go slow anytime soon. Carrying on from where her parents left, Dorah strives to serve her masters daily.
We all love souvenirs; that small but significant reminder of a probably short but memorable experience in your life. In this scenario let’s call them curios. A curio is a small and unusual object that is considered interesting or attractive. They have been with us for quite a while and comprise an assortment of locally crafted goods; some creative, others wicked. At Dorah’s stand you will find a variety of products ranging from soapstone carvings, traditional African drums, maasai shukas, wooden carvings, animal sculptures, drinking bowls, earrings, beaded bracelets, wooden board games, stools, African masks and beautifully painted batiks.
For quite some time most Kenyans have had some reservations for curio shops. First there is the notion that curios are meant for foreign tourists only. After all you knock our toes onto those stones daily as you walk to your house. Sic. Then there is the probability of finding an amazing work of art at an exorbitant price has always been another point of discouragement. But times have changed. There is something for everyone. This might be what my Marketing Lecturer used to call market segmentation or is it differentiation? All the items at the curio stand are within our reach. Curio prices ranges from a sh49 bracelet to a sh2999 animal sculpture. It doesn’t end here, all this depends on your bargaining power. Are you telling me you can’t forego those 2 bottles of Jameson and buy your sister a great curio?
Dorah decries the seasonality of the business and the tourism sector as a whole. Sometimes she even goes a week without a single sale but amidst her slow speech she is quick to console herself that she should take heart, “You never know what the Lord has is in store for you tomorrow,” she continues. When business is good however, she is able to pay her kids’ school fees, buy some food and on top of that send her parents a small token.
Despite the fluctuation in sales at different times of the year, the curios business is still close to Dorah’s heart. She singles out meeting different people from different backgrounds as the most interesting aspect of her job. As we conclude our little chat, a group of Chinese tourists swarm her stand. We leave her smiling while serving her “masters”. Only she and I know that after that transaction she will be a few shillings closer to the dream she has always wanted.
Call Dorah on +254711865589 for some curio. She is based in Naivasha but it’s a small world don’t you think? At least you now know you will be making a difference is someone’s life.