Home Throwback #Timbitii: When Old Money Speculation Got Me Burnt

#Timbitii: When Old Money Speculation Got Me Burnt

I am not speculating as the old money, the Sh. 1000 note, goes out of circulation.

A one-cent coin, part of the old money used in Kenya
The old money that gave me a very expensive lesson| Image: Courtesy

Earlier this month, the Man Beater said, “Start clearing your monies, the deadline for the old money is nigh.” I really don’t know who that statement was aimed at, or how newsy it was expected to be, but it was said anyway.

One of my few cousins who freely banter the MB replied “Throw us something. I am sure you have a box of old notes somewhere.” We laughed, then enjoyed lunch.

Sure enough, the ever broke Man Beater of Tsavo has been finding a thousand here and another one there for the last two weeks. His wife too. I am highly suspicious of the claims that they are just happening upon the money; I too believe they were hoarding it.

But that is not the story here. The story is how I am treating the currency change with suspicion. Here on the slopes, we say he who has been previously burnt sees smoke and runs away. ‘He’ in this case refers to yours truly.

Let me explain…

1999 was a year of great business opportunity. I would have said ‘The Year of The Lord 1999,’ but I really doubt if that was the year of The Lord. The confusion that marked that year can by no means be associated with the Almighty.

You see, it is in that year that people were told that the world would end as the year wound down. This meant that prices of all commodities, especially those owned by people of extremely strong or extremely weak faith, plummeted.

People were selling houses and land and cows and cars at throw-away prices, but there weren’t that many buyers either. So prices dropped even further. And I got conned.

The culprit was none other than my cousin Nyuki.

Nyuki, the family con at the time, was used to conning everyone. He could con a lactating baby of its mother’s milk-or breast- and he could con a dying grandmother of the money tied to one creased end of her lesso. We call it ‘múthiori.’ Being about a decade old, thus, meant I was fair game.

There is nothing new under the sun

When you hear the Good Book say that there is nothing new under the sun, do not doubt even for a second. In the same way cons in Nairobi are able to smell money on you today, Nyuki could tell you were loaded from a mile away in 1999!

How he learned that I was hoarding sixty-five shillings I have no idea. How had I accumulated such a windfall in the 20th Century, you ask? Well, it was a mix of both favour and enterprise. Back then, I was the favourite child of the extended family. My relatives who lived in towns would often give me a few coins when they came visiting. Grandma too. Grandpa gave me mandazi, my mother gave me food and my father gave me a beating every now and then. Regularly if you may.

Anyway, I had 65 whopping shillings and Nyuki’s determination was to make the money his own.

So he came to me with a proposition.

“You know you are clever person,” he began. That should have been my first red flag, but I was young and naïve. And rich.

Lesson one: My country people, if anyone approaches you and tells you that you are a clever person, run! You are about to get conned. The same goes for statements like ‘People love you,’ ‘People listen when you speak,’ et cetera.

“Now,” Nyuki continued, “If you have twenty shillings, I can show you an easy way to make it two thousand.”

“Lies!” I replied. I would have used a more sophisticated word like ‘crap’ or ‘bullshit,’ but again I was a Sunday schooler and an ardent singer of the song ‘Children who hurl insults/ will be taken to Satan’s/ they will be dragging Magigi/ until their backs comoka-como!’ Magigi is the Embu word for ‘disgusting;’ to ‘comoka’ is to snap. I keep digressing.

Lesson two: If anyone approaches you with any of the statements above, or its variations, the right answer is not to deny. That’s motivation. The right answer is to acknowledge; that catches them unawares and makes them feel like you are seeing right through their bullshit- even when you are not.

“Everyone says you are the sharp brain in our family; our future,” our con continued. He had my attention.

Lesson 3: Flattery is dangerous or effective, depending on which side of it you happen to be.

Long story short, Nyuki eventually convinced me to invest all of my sixty-five shillings in old money, coins to be specific. Do you remember those coins that had a hole in the middle? He told me that if I buy them for five shillings each, I could later re-sell to a dealer he would show me at 100 bob a piece. Sixty-five shillings got me 13 coins in all, which would translate into 1300 shillings!

1300 hundred shillings back then was a lot of money. I could not imagine what I would do with such money. My greatest worry was actually where I’d tell the Man Beater I got it.

Did I eventually re-sell my stock?

Well, the people I went with to St. Thomas and Box 1 will tell you that my bunch of keys was unusually big. Besides my locker and box keys (which had no use really, but that’s another story on its own) the keyring had thirteen distinct King Georgivs V coins. People mocked me and called me ‘mshamba’ for them, but I wore them with pride all along. For two reasons. One, I grew up on farm and never got to understand why, thus, the term ‘mshamba’ would be viewed as derogatory. Two, and most importantly, I wore the cents as a medal for a literally expensive lesson. I wore them with such pride that the rascals at Box One eventually stole them from my neck (I later wore them as a pendant) when I was asleep one night. Dangerous fellas, those!

The Collapse

When I asked Nyuki about the promised dealer later, his reply was reassuring. “There is a small hitch at the moment,” he said, “At the moment, I am told he is only buying Queen Elizabeth money. But hold on strong. The market for King George is opening soon at an even better price.”

Lesson three: Now, as then, a conman will never tell you that a deal has fallen through. They will take you round in circles- streetwise known as ‘making you beat P.E’- until you throw in the towel, sometimes literally.

The reason I am telling you this story is because A-Oaf, a fellow village drunk, approached me with the proposition that we buy old one-thousand shilling notes for a price of 700/- shillings then he would show me a place to resell. “You, Mugambi, are a clever person,” he told me.

My reply was simple, precise and conclusive: Ú!

Mimi I’m never getting into these deals anymore. It is one of the reasons I have remained broke to date, but ní okay. I saw people buy writing accounts, anga Public Likes mara sijui Forex Trading anga ndúí! Personally,I did not, have not and will not board. I learned with mine, if you know what I mean.

It’s #Timbitii, the return


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