With our election victory sealed and my man Yabin Ofumbi sworn in to office, it was obvious that as his closest ally, I was in “things”.
One of the benefits that came with being a prefect was an entitlement to a cubicle. I remember this was in KABALEGA Dormitory (occupied by O’level students). I think it was initially designed as a Store. We were four in it. On the extreme partition was a guy called Mutagaya , the outgoing DH prefect (a staunch mulokole like this) and another guy Talenga who was the Ofumbi’s Deputy (I heard he died a few years ago–RIP). The cubicle was partitioned into 3 sub-cubicles — the size of an average Ventilated Improved Pit latrine (VIP).
We were in the middle, sharing a double decker bed. Ofumbi was on top (so now you can estimate the quantity of beans-inspired gas I used to “swallow” every night from the man above). But life was good!
One day, we were very broke and as usual sharing our problems, I recalled something Ofumbi told me some time back. Apparently, he knew how to mend/sow shoes. I told him how we could make some money out this. He was open to it but there was one problem. Ofumbi feared chics. Coming from Tororo College (a single sex school I refused to join for that very reason), he couldn’t swallow the idea of being known as a COBBLER among the female population. Apparently, that was a job popularly associated with Persons with Disabilities (sad).
I told him to relax. I proposed that I will be responsible for collecting shoes from fellow students, especially chics and I will hold out as the actual cobbler. Having improved on my relations with them, I had a number of female friends and since chics have a lot of shoes, they were a good (if not only) target for our business. So as far as Ofumbi was concerned, his name would remain “clean” while mine would head to the gutters. He bought in.
The next day, I started talking to students how I could fix their shoes. Many of them laughed at me and took it as one of my usual jokes. I convinced one chic and she gave me her pair. After a day, I delivered during lunch time. She was so shocked! The shoes had been skillfully worked on (this Ofumbi man should leave medical practice and return to being a cobbler). Trust women with ‘lugambo’. Within no time, our business had caught fire. Many knew about it.
There was another factor to our business success; the death of one of the Estates workers (some guy from Arua who used to do this cobbler work as side income). His death created a vacuum that we strategically filled in.
With prices ranging from between 200/= to 500/= (I was responsible for negotiating and concluding deals hence MARKETEER), we were ‘loaded’.
Work was flowing in everyday and our working time was before supper and after prep and then weekends. Suddenly, we could afford to buy milk, sumbusas and cakes at break time. Our budget was 1000/= (milk-500; sumbi-200; cake 300) per day for our breakfast. Once we made over 5,000/= over weekend, we knew breakfast for the whole week was sorted.
This was progress. I would take weeks without writing to my mum or calling to ask for money. I returned home at the end of the term and was all glowing. I remember my mum saying “acamu do ijo e boarding ba” which loosely translates to boarding life is treating you well (I wish she knew the secret).
Being in a cubicle also presented another business opportunity i.e. provision of storage services. At the end of the term, we would collect student’s suitcases and mattresses and keep in our room. We used to charge between 1000/- to 3000/= (depending on the quantity). My work was to record the names and properties kept. This meant that at the start of the next term, we had some money to play with while our pocket money was safely kept at the Bursar’s office.
Additionally, Ofumbi also knew how to shave so we smuggled a shaving machine to our cubicle (We didn’t have a mirror fixed on the wall. The client had to hold a broken piece of glass window pane if they wanted to see themselves being shaved). Money was flowing in. Then my mum had also given me a phone (I wrote about this sometime ago) so I was also busy offering “Public Pay Phone” services for students in the night. Sadly, the phone was confiscated by Mr. Kirya one unfortunate morning.
So as cobblers, barbers, call service providers and our storage business, my S.6. (2005) was arguably the most financially independent phase of my life. With no costs (electricity bills, rent, PAYE, NSSF etc) to be paid, we were hogging net profits.