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Hustling abroad: What it takes Kenyans to earn a little extra in a foreign land

By Agnes Aineah | Published Wed, August 2nd 2017 at 09:46, Updated August 2nd 2017 at 09:50 GMT +3

 

NAIROBI, KENYA: When Bonaventure Ikwara graduated in customer consultancy at the University of Bournemouth in 2011, he flew back to Kenya hoping to start a gratifying career. What followed was what he terms as days washed down the drain during his internship at a resort in Mombasa.

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"I thought I was wasting my time waking up very early and sleeping late, tired, only to be paid sh5, 000 a month," Bonaventure says.
He says it is this unappealing experience that kindled the desire in him to look for a job out of Kenya, and some seven years later, he asserts that his dream couldn't be realized in a better way.
Bonaventure who now works in Qatar for a telecommunications company that pays him USD 15000 (sh155, 850) per month also easily landed a side hustle that pays him more than what he gets at his main job.
With his spare time, Bonaventure acts as the middle man between rich Arab businessmen who sell jewelry and their customers.
"Aside my main job, I have been providing buyer-seller transactions for an Arabic Syrian acquaintance who owns more than 3 international supplying companies in Europe. My job compels me to fly more to Congo, Uganda & Rwanda," Bonaventure says.

From the side hustle, Bonaventure says he pockets USD 5000 (sh519, 500) every month, which is three times more than what he earns from his main job.
"I realized Kenya presented a hard time to job seekers. When one finally got a job, they worked many hours with very little pay," Bonaventure says.
He says he was lucky enough to meet a friend who introduced him to a travel agent and in a week, the agent had readied a visa for him to fly out of the country, only to land his first ever job as a consultant in Qatar shortly after.
Bonaventure admits that he is able to survive solely on the side hustle without the hurdle of taking another job but observes the insecurity that surrounds the hustle.

"It is nothing I can say will always be available. Besides, the business is a dangerous venture as it involves protecting tycoons who are always targeted by robbers," he says.

"I remember an instance way back when I had to deal with hoax hallmarks branded on the jewels. This cost me a lot when my proprietor realized a fake diamond stone hidden inside the original ones," Bonaventure recalls.
As the intermediary between the rich Syrian businessmen who specialize in jewelry and the buyers, Bonaventure says that he takes the risk of flying to places otherwise considered dangerous by the tycoons.

As a result of the perceived danger surrounding the hustle, he says that it is the kind of venture taken up by the hard core individuals who are able to take risks. He however distances himself from crime and says he indulges in the hustle to boost his coffers.

He says to survive in the hustle, it calls for a personality that exudes honesty so as to be trusted by the rich Arab businessmen.
"In Qatar, you also need to play your cards carefully across all the businessmen. You have to prove your loyalty but at the same time keep a distance from them. And if you let them learn your weakness, they are always ready to drain both your strength and personality," Bonaventure says of the rich Arab businessmen.
According to Bonaventure, the side occupation is more engaging than his main job, as it also accords him the relish of flying to many countries.

Additionally, the 28-year-old says he is able to maintain a comfortable life for his family back in Kenya apart from paying for his education.

And Anne Muganda, a Masters student in structural engineering at University of Belgrade in Serbia says she rushes out of class to get some cash from acting as an extra in movie shootings and adverts.

"That is the main thing most us do here since it is not a permanent commitment. You can still concentrate on your school work and maybe take one or two days to do the shooting, and earn some money." Anne says.

Apart from this, she says that there are agencies that find jobs for college students. Students therefore are always spoilt of choices as jobs like packaging goods for companies and stores, babysitting, answering calls for firms and many others are always at their disposal.

As such, students always are on the lookout of such advertisements in which they enroll for the holidays or just before the semester becomes too busy with assignments.

She says that unlike in Kenya where college students recoil from certain types of hustle, Kenyans in Serbia pursuing university education find no reason to spurn any manner of hustle as long as it is legitimate and brings home extra cash.

According to recent figures that were released by GeoPoll Rapid, Kenyan youth are ranked highly in Africa among millennials seeking side hustle.
In the findings that were released early this year, Kenya has the second highest number of youth with hustles at 40.8 percent, behind Nigeria at 44.4 percent.
Even then, there is a section of Kenyans living abroad who do not feel the urge to take up side hustles owing to the circumstances they find themselves in within their host countries.
Marcia Janet, a Kenyan who works as an ICU/Anesthesia nurse in Germany, people with full time jobs find no reason to look for a side hustle.

"In Germany most people who do side hustles are students. The regular work people survive only on one job because the government ensures the salary system is enough to pay bills. Every employer has a set minimal hour wage. This means that at the end of the day the salary from one job is always enough," Janet says.

She points out the ease with which college students in Germany get side hustles ranging from conducting research for research firms, providing content for technology companies and many others and says that getting such jobs is not a challenge as long as a student legally lives in Germany

As a result, Janet says that as compared to Kenya, it is easy to maintain an impressive work-life balance for the working class in Germany.

"Balancing work and life is easy because the work system here is monitored and regular. That means we work with the hours system which ensures you get the opportunity to enjoy an equal balance between work and private life. I have enough time after work or on my free days to practice my hobbies which are cycling, meeting friends, and playing pinballs," she says.

According to Anyanga Farida, who works as a catering supervisor at a foodservice and support services company in USA, circumstances force Kenyans living in the US to look for side hustles.

"People may not know this but life in the US is very expensive. One for instance requires a car to keep up with their daily errands. This in turn comes with other costs including insurance for your vehicle, gas money every week, maintenance of the car and other responsibilities," Farida, who is also a nursing student in the US establishes.

To supply for such demands, Farida says that she gets side coins from helping a friend who cooks at parties specifically on weekends.

"From that, I get the money I need for small expenses such as putting gas for my car," she says.

According to Farida the endeavor though juicy comes with major challenges such as inability to accord enough time to her studies, which she expects to complete in 2019.

She agrees to the fact that getting side hustles in the US isn't as much a hurdle as it is back in Kenya, a situation that makes many Kenyans living in the US take as much jobs as they want.

"The only problem is that the jobs pay very little. What one earns in an hour is not even enough to get them a decent breakfast," Farida says.

In the US, most side hustles pay about USD8.5 (sh883) an hour, an amount that according to Farida, is not bad for someone living in Kenya.

"Additionally, side hustles deny people time to focus on other things like pursue their education and even catch up with family. I believe that is why many Africans living here have not been able to attain high levels of education," Farida establishes.

She says that unlike in Kenya where university students shun certain kinds of hustle such as baby-sitting and answering calls for companies, these are welcome endeavours for college students living in the US.

"That is why college students rely on their families to provide for them throughout college and even after. We have a terrible culture of waiting for manna to drop from heaven," she says.

Another Kenyan living and working in the US who shares similar work-life balance issues says he works almost every single hour each day.

Raymond Ochieng works at a hospital as a medical assistant during the day from 6.00 am to 3.00 pm. After that, he makes it to the gym where he trains people from 5.00pm to 9.00pm from Monday to Thursdays. Starting Friday through to Sunday, he works as a security guard in the nightclub.

"I practically find no time to concentrate on my private life including catching up with my loved ones as I have to juggle a main job with three side hustles," Ochieng says.

As a result, Ochieng says he ends up extremely exhausted and lags behind in social life as he works 70 hours a week.

"In fact, there are always more pressing issues on my remaining few hours because I still fight as a pro boxer and so I have to stay in shape," he says.

Ochieng says that keeping side hustles in the US comes with a myriad of challenges as one always has to be watched full time, especially from the main job.

He reiterates Farida's sentiments and complains that despite the hard work and other sacrifices involved, side hustles in the US do not pay well to match the expensive lifestyle.

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