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Chapo’s can lead you from business to pleasure


What on earth was I thinking??

My mother always used to tell me how “real men don’t cry;” but when your buyers haven’t paid you for pieces that they bought over six months ago, when you have spent over half of your working capital on an event to prove to people who really don’t matter that you are worth something, when you can’t pay your employees or in my case my artists their dues, when you have to go to your mother’s house to eat because you can’t afford a meal, it’s honestly very difficult to keep the tears in.

The problem was that silly event. After going to Europe and attending fancy art shows where people talked as though they had something rather uncomfortable lodged somewhere unpleasant in their bodies, you begin to think “maybe I can do the same thing at home.” Then you do go home and try the same thing, and the majority of the people who show up are relatives who haven’t seen you since you were thiiiiis big and can’t wait to get to the free food. The very few serious buyers that attend get scared off very quickly because of how angry your ‘family members’ get when the chicken wings cool down. Ben didn’t even bother showing up, and as much as I hate to admit it, I thought if I managed to pull off even one good show he would be proud of me. Jealous of me even. But I am slowly learning in this life we really can’t have everything.

One night when I was leaving the studio after a depressing night of trying to find money in the books, Rosemary (or Rosie as she had affectionately been nicknamed much to her displeasure) came at me like I was some celebrity.

“Gabuuuuu! Shika this new painting I literally just finished hours ago. I couldn’t wait until tomorrow for you to see it.”

“Eh sawa Rosie, come inside I see vizuri.”


“Wow. Just wow. This is by far the best piece of work you have ever done. What inspired this greatness?”

“Ku sema ukweli, you.”

“Heh! How do you mean? I am sure I had nothing to do with this beauty, this is truly all you.”

“If it wasn’t for you and that conversation we had those many months ago, I would not have been able to sell my paintings and quit my job. As in Gabu, my work is hanging all over town! From Consolidated Bank Headquarters to my local, to Harambee House!! None of it would have been possible without you. And it’s not just that. It’s knowing that even though times are tough right now you haven’t given up. You are still pushing and doing everything you can to make sure that things will get better.”

At that moment I did something my mother really would not have been proud of, I cried.

I cried in front of another human being. In front of a woman.

It was such a strange sensation to be so proud and so ashamed of yourself all in one breath. Life really knows how to throw those curve balls. It was good for me though, to cry and let it all out. It got better after that. Not entirely businesswise, things got worse and I had to start sleeping on Rosie’s couch because I couldn’t afford rent but I remained energized and hungry for success. What changed? I believed that eventually things would get better because they had to, people believed me and were relying on me.

“Gabu, where is your Dad? If you don’t mind me asking. You are always talking about your Mum and you guys have this amazing bond but you never mention him.” Rosie asked me one night after she made some deadly chapos. Come to think of it buttering me up with those chapati’s before she asked difficult or touchy questions was probably a tactic of hers.

“He passed away when I was around 9 in a car accident. Everyone would always tell me that alcohol was bad and that that was the real killer so for the longest time I believed he was the victim of a drunk driver but one night my mother broke it down for me and told me he was the drunk driver, and he had killed two people in the accident. After that our relationship was never the same, I became very protective of her because I couldn’t imagine everything she went through during that dark time. From what I hear he was a passionate businessman who operated a bunch of small vibanda’s around town. His kuku sama and chips was apparently very legendary.”

“Thank you for answering my question.” And with that she got up, smiled at me and took my plate to the kitchen. As she proceeded to the sink it hit me how much I really enjoyed watching her walk away. She was a fantastic cook, had become my best friend, a true supporter of my dreams, was amazing company and was good looking. Why had I been wasting all this time? I blame it on the business. It was the one that distracted me.

The very next day I got up extremely early, rushed over to my mother’s to make the modern version of kuka sama and chips – shawarma – spent all the money I had left on the most expensive flowers I could pay for and rushed back to Rosie’s to surprise her and declare my new found feelings for her.

She walked in, saw the food and the flowers then sat down. She didn’t say anything or react which was worrying but not necessarily negative so I still had hope. She began to eat in silence without lifting an eye from me, almost daring me to speak before she did.

“Yes, I approve. This is a brilliant idea. A shawarma business on the side to ensure we always have working capital makes complete sense! I am assuming that you used your Dad’s old recipe as inspiration? It’s amazing.” She finally said after finishing both our shawarmas. For a smart girl Rosie really can be silly.

“Well err, thanks. And that really is a good idea. But that wasn’t my intention. I wanted to do something special for you. Rosie of mine, you’ve been there and you mean something to me. I want to be with you, and mean something to you if you’ll let me.”

“It’s about time! I was thinking to myself, how many more chapatis am I going to make before this fool realizes that we are legit and perfect for each other? Sawa. We’ll be together one day, but today I am tired let me sleep we’ll talk tomorrow.” And she was gone. After that no one really had to say anything, or bring it up ever again. I would come home from the studio and find some of my things had moved from their place in the living room -which had become my de facto bedroom – to inside the closet in her room. Then all of a sudden we were sharing her bed and she was coming to Mum’s with me, we were just together. There was no grand event or specific moment when I knew we were together, life just happened and we were. Which is the way I imagine it happens for everyone.

Much to her persuasion or harassment -call it what you like – I finally opened the shawarma joint! With help from my bank of course.  It started out at the studio for people who worked nearby but in time I – sorry we- had enough capital to buy a mobile shawarma cart and we took our business to the streets. The profits helped me pay all my workers on time, my girlfriend and I managed to move into a bigger place, and I was able to spend some money on marketing which increased visibility for the studio which eventually increased sales! We were back on track baby!

The name of the shawarma business?