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Humans of Nairobi at the ATM - Thoughts and Stuff

Humans of Nairobi at the ATM


Early this year I met a lady. A totally random lady. She made me get in touch with the scarce, yet crucial element of simply being human. Are you, or have you met those people who forget that everyone else is human? This city is full of such. This one was and is an exception.

Inhaling the air of Nairobi infuses its dwellers and residents alike with insensitivity to others. Whether the person in need is a friend or a stranger. That had been my notion all along. Until this day when this lady did something I’m yet to hear of.

It was end-month. Money was supposedly in the bank. This is the part where money is referred to as a salary. I had fallen victim, like many of us, to the belief that cheques in Kenya can clear within a day. I’m even told that RTGS transactions also have slight delays.

Like any average newly graduated Kenyan, I’d looked forward to laying my hands on a few notes. Even for as long as the matatu ride from Kenyatta to Langata would last, before I knocked at my landlord’s huge door, armed with a few notes. This is the part where money is known as rent. A few notes, at least in this city, determine whether you’ll stay under a decent roof or face a humiliating eviction.

Anyway, I digress. I took a walk towards Prestige Plaza. I was armed not only with my ATM card but also with hope that finally the salary had checked in. The rat-race is real, I tell you. My mind was over-working itself sifting through my memories trying to remember whether there was any outstanding debt. I am a Lannister. Cough! Cough! Yea, HELB can wait.

I arrived at the row of ATM booths at Prestige. I went to the [redacted] bank’s ATM. That was my bank then. Sorry, that’s where I banked my money.

“Ukitaka kuona balance tumia hio,” said the guard on duty.  “Kama ni pesa utatoa na ATM ingine”.

The banks ain’t loyal.

My alternative ATM when this bank’s machines were down was NIC Bank’s. So I checked my balance.


As usual, I started the process of withdrawing 95% of the cash. Debts. Fares. 50/- movies. Rent. Food. Name it. My brain raced. I would be soon parted with my money. I was no fool though.

After punching my PIN and indicating the amount I needed (not 95%), I gave the ATM time to fish the notes from wherever they are stored, count and possibly sneak in an extra note, and then spit out the cash. Soon, a bundle of notes was ejected by the machine.

“Bzzzz! Bzzzz! Bzzzz!”. The ATM’s printer was busy at work . I hadn’t touched the money yet. I was so excited to read the balance. You remember while growing up, say when you were 5 or 6 years old, you’d put food into your mouth, savour the taste and then return it in your hands so that it doesn’t run out? Yes, that was me. Some, fixations we possess, meh!

I pulled the receipt from the slit through which it was dispensed. A minute had elapsed. I just needed to read the balance to confirm that, even though I had the option of emptying my account in the spur of a moment. I got so lost in that useless excitement.

The ATM must have lost patience. The NIC Bank ATM. It swallowed the wad of notes.

“[Expletive!], where did my money go to?” I muttered to myself. This had never happened to me. I pushed my fingers into the cash dispenser, trying to shove my hands into the cash-dispensing machine’s throat. Nothing. There was no money.

There were two people behind me. They looked like they banked with NIC. The other banks, including the one where I banked, had queues at their ATMs. I won’t mention which ones but you have an idea of how long Equity bank’s queues can get, right?

“Boss,” I said while approaching the guard present. “Dough zangu zimelost bana. Hii ATM imemeza dough kabla nichukue”.

“Ume-call customer care?”, he responded. What a response. Nobody cared. Not even customer care. If they cared, all their numbers shown must work. None went through.

“24/7 customer care…blah..blah”. That’s what was on the poster above the ATM.

The lady who was behind me was from a gym. Don’t ask how I knew. She looked fit though. Very fit. I noticed this much later. She had been watching me desperately trying to get in touch with my bank’s customer care. Have you ever noticed that when you really want customer care to really care, they just don’t care? I was in such a tight spot. My 10,000/- couldn’t just be swallowed like that (sic!).

I waited for the lady to conduct her transaction before I went back to the machine to make it throw up all the cash: my cash and every other note hidden behind the wall. Nothing. The lady had withdrawn her cash. Nothing more. My money never even made an attempt to sneak from the ATM.

Don’t ask me what my bank’s customer care  said. They didn’t care. And I don’t care what they said. I began to walk away, feeling robbed. Since it was 7pm I couldn’t access any open branch to report the matter. The decision to go home was made and I was on my way.

“Excuse me,” I heard a voice right behind me. “I saw what happened to you. I’d like to help”.

“No thanks. I’m good,” I said. Pride. Ego. I’m-a-man-I-got-this feeling. All these kicked in.

“No, I insist. I can tell you really need that cash. I’m sure it’s something urgent or important to you”

“It’s ok. I’ve reported and I’ll get my money back”

“Come, I have some extra money in my account. How much was it?”

“Nyef! Nyef! No..oh..oh..” I protested. I declined. Back and forth it went.

“Ten thousand,” I finally told her.

“Ok, I’ll get you the 10k. I don’t know you but I trust that you’ll pay back whenever the bank refunds you”

She queued briefly and came back. She squeezed a wad of notes in my hand.

“Go do what you had to do with the 10k. I understand that such things happen.”

She began walking away before I responded.

“Hey,” I called out. “Why did you do this? I didn’t need it.”

“You needed it.”

Long story short. I am the one who insisted on getting her number and bank details. A Lannister, no?

There are people who are genuinely helpful in this city. Rare but their gestures can’t go unnoticed. I believed I didn’t need any help but it took a great deal of humility to accept help from a total stranger who never even wanted to know my name. But they trusted me to repay whenever I’d be sorted out.


[Photo credit: Flickr]

8 thoughts on “Humans of Nairobi at the ATM

    1. Lemmy, that’s the point. Such gestures are so rare that when this happened to me I had to verify that it was real. The cash meant a lot since it was my 7th month in employment.

    1. Very rare indeed. It made me realize that we all have an opportunity to transform the life of a total stranger in this city.

    1. James, if I cooked up this story there would be nothing to gain. I had to share it. Rare gestures from rare folks in this city.

  1. I read this post and as the story unfolded my eyes became bigger with my eyebrows rose …Waoh that’s a lesson to all of us,that God uses people to help us and that we should be avail ourselves to be agents of good deeds too….nice piece Shiku!

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