Weaver man


There’s a secluded clearing of trees off James Gichuru Road. It sits in the valley of the road, where the dip from Westy and the dip from Lavi meet. You’ll find Charles Oyoko here – underneath the trees, the river behind him, going about his hand weaving in the back.

Today, on this Thursday, I find him stitching the sponge padding onto the frame of dog basket. These are the final touches. It’s a basket made of bamboo, he tells me, it’s taken him about three days to weave it. It’ll be ready today for shipping off to the client.

I don’t know if you’re aware (because I keep banging on and on about this to whomever cares to listen, even my dentist. It must be why he stuffed my mouth with extra cotton wool, so I could shut the hell up), I run a column in the Saturday Nation. It’s huko in the back pages, after the pages for county ads and ng’ombes. If you get to the obituaries and you haven’t seen my page, then you’ve gone too far. Come back.

The column doesn’t have a name but I call it my ‘Crafts and Culture’ column. I’m mighty proud of it. It didn’t exist in the paper before I began to write it. Because it spawned from that mini-series I did last year about the ‘Hungry lioness that hunts’. The one that featured akina Newton and Wanjiru. Remember it?

Anyway, columns are animals you learn along the way to tame and leash to a tether. Weekly column deadlines get here way too fast.

On this Thursday, I wake up without a story and without a person to interview. (I know.)

After we’d left the digs that morning, I dropped Muna in school, dropped GB at his office then me and my camera drove around Westy and Kilimani looking for someone to interview. Hahha. I swear.

My first prospect – a weaver like Charles – is based off Chaka Road. He flatly says no. Didn’t even give me room to negotiate.

Pengine naeze ku…?


What if we do it without a…?


Na nikitumia jina ya your…?


Then I went to the weavers on Lower Kabete Road, behind Sarit. There were a handful but their first impression didn’t convince me that they’d make me a good story.

I wasn’t giving up. A story had to be found. The space in the paper had to be filled.

Then I remembered seeing these baskets here on James Gichuru Road. So I drove there. I wasn’t even sure it was on this road.

When I turned off Waiyaki Way and took the curvy turns down James Gichuru, I spotted the baskets from a far. I was idiotically thrilled. I remember shrilling to myself, “We have visual, people! We have visual.”


I pussyfoot before asking Charles if I we can chat about the baskets and the process and the business of the baskets for a feature in the gazeti.

Charles is no spring chicken. He’s from Bondo, or some lakeside county. He speaks in a way I imagine he also weaves his baskets – with an experienced thought-about balance of mild sentimentalism, maturity and no bullshit.

He’s a tapestry of the old Nairobi that was built on red-roof maisonettes and the new Nairobi that thrives on Pinterest decor for its modern tight spaces.

He swallows spit for a very long time then finally says, “Sawa. Ni sawa.”

Beyond Charles is Nairobi River, sluggish with urban decay. The sound of its trickle is drowned by the blast from his radio. A radio that has more static than signal.

It’s sunny today. The earth has that rich unforgettable smell of the rain from last night. I know there’s a word for that smell but it’s an ugly word for such a beautiful smell, I refuse to be part of it. In front of Charles is a wide-angle display of the products he’s woven by hand – baskets, storage chests, boxes, magazine racks and pets’ baskets.

I especially love the baskets and storage chests. They have such personality, such texture, such characteristic African-ness in them. The thing about them is that they’re a investment, something you buy once and forget about. And you must buy them gradually because they’re not just functional and versatile and long-lasting but they’re also strong pieces for interior decor – if you’re not careful, they could disrupt your interiors’ cohesion and end up looking like clutter instead of art.

And that’s the other thing, you have to know how to style them.

Pinterest helps a great deal.

I’ll later return to Charles to buy some baskets and chests for Muna’s bedroom, then the pantry then my bedroom. A month for each of them. We moved house so there’s space for me to move the furniture around and try my hand at styling. At ‘making my space beautiful’.

(Sorry about the lousy and scanty photos, by the way. Someday I’ll get better at manoeuvring my manual lens and getting some kick ass pics to use here. Let’s work with these. For now.)

This is Charles’ story:

I used to be a casual worker tending flowers. It got to a point where clients were asking for the papyrus baskets to hold the flowers in their balconies and backyards. I knew how to make the baskets, my people back in Western had taught me how to when I was still a young boy. I made one basket, it sold. Made another, it also sold. Made another. I saw a business opportunity.

In 1994, I began to make and sell the baskets fulltime. I’ve been here off James Gichuru Road [Lavington] for 15 years now. You’ll always find me here every day of the week, Monday to Sunday. Morning to evening. Even on the days it rains I’m here.

I weave using papyrus, Napier grass and bamboo stems.

Business was at its best in the early 2000s. Kibaki’s government. There were several tourists coming into the country and others staying. They loved the baskets and chests I was making. Do you know what’s interesting? Foreigners love my products more than Kenyans do. It’s a pity. I’ve noticed that Kenyans prefer the shiny factory-made imports from China; they’re not drawn to these local handmade products.

Most of my clients are now Kenyans. They buy once in a while, some return, several don’t. The dog baskets and sideboards are the most popular products.

My wife and I have three children, they’re all still young, they go to school. I wouldn’t push them to follow in my footsteps and carry on with the business, but I wouldn’t mind it either, if they do. They’ll pursue what their hearts desire. I haven’t taught any of them how to weave yet.

I make the dog baskets from Napier grass and all the other products from papyrus. Napier grass has a property that makes it bend better than papyrus. Papyrus can fold. I reinforce the papyrus products with wire frames, it easily folds around these frames.

Apart from the skill of hand weaving, I’ve also mastered basic carpentry. I make the wooden frames that some of the boxes sit in. For example, the frames for the sideboards. I haven’t learned how to weld metal, I have a fundi who welds the metallic frames for me.

I source the weaving materials from all over Kenya. The papyrus is from Budalangi and Mombasa, but mostly from Budalangi, because that’s where it’s grown on a large scale. I buy the papyrus in a roll. It takes four days for the farmers to process it into a roll ready for weaving.

The quantities I order depend on how many orders I have. Sometimes I order a pickup-full, sometimes it’s only a few rolls.

There’s a lot of competition in this business now. I’m not the only one in this area making the baskets. Down the road, at Peponi Road, there are other weavers. There’s also another weaver on Chaka Road and several others on Ngong Road. We just have to make do with the orders we’re able to get. There’s enough market for everyone.

I’ve never advertised my business. Not by word of mouth, not on social media. I open shop every morning, carry on weaving in the back there, with my radio playing, and wait for clients to walk in.

I source the Napier grass from Kiambu, because there are several dairy farms there. I go to Kiambu myself and search around the farms – there isn’t one farmer I consistently buy from. Some farmers give me the grass at no charge, others sell it to me at a throwaway price.

The thing with Napier grass is transporting it to my workshop here on James Gichuru Road. I buy the grass in huge bundles. I don’t bend or break the grass until I’m ready to use it to for my weaving.

Sometimes people come here to take photos my baskets then they go ask another weaver to make it for them. There’s nothing I can do about it. That’s just how business – and people – are. I’m happy with the ones who order from me.

Bamboo is the most expensive material, it’s sold by the stem. I won’t even tell you how much a bundle of stems cost. I buy it from individuals around Nairobi who grow it on their gardens and backyards, the rich folk. Items made from bamboo last the longest and are more appealing, but they cost an arm and a leg. I haven’t made an item from bamboo in a long time.

These products can last…forever, as long as they’re properly taken care of. They harden with time. Water is the one thing that completely ruins the baskets. Varnish helps to maintain their usability. My clients sometimes return their baskets here for me to add another layer of varnish.

To clean products, dust them with a dry cloth or vacuum them to suck out the dust, never use a damp cloth.

Reach Charles: 0717302351

Lunch money
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Florence Bett-Kinyatti


Columnist Saturday Nation Writer Craft It Author of best-selling ‘SHOULD I?’ and ‘HOW MUCH?’ ~ Guiding word: Overdrive Subscribe to our Newsletter👇🏾 eepurl.com/igmN8P
  • Dear God, 
It’s me again.

I don’t pray as often as I need to, You know that. I don’t kneel by my bed in child-like humility, as Muna does. I don’t whisper a prayer in the morning. Or at noon. Perhaps just in the evening. 

This going-to-church habit is a constant false start. So is reading the Word. 

I’m often guilty but I also know: You and I have a language only we can understand. 

I speak to You through this gift You bestowed upon my Kale shoulders, this gift to write in colour. It’s a gift that sometimes feels like a curse, a burden I have no choice but to pursue. 

Yet other times – most times, actually – it’s the very breath of my essence. Everyday I sit to write, when the words flow from my head and heart through my fingers to the page, I feel You next to me. 

You are here, Lord. Hovering. Lingering. Swooshing about in Your regal robes, like a character from Bridgerton.

Sometimes You get so close I can feel You breathing on my neck and I’m like, ‘Err, God, do You mind, personal space?’

And You chuckle uncomfortably. ‘He-he, of course. Of course.’

I’m here to tell You, Thanks!

I hosted my first in-person event last March, Lord, thank You to all the lovely ladies who granted me their time and full attention. 

I’ve carried them in my heart since and every day, my prayer is that You bring them closer to the life of abundance they each seek. To their own version of wealth. 

I always call them by their name: Becky. Purity. Lindsay. Wangui. Naomi. Shiqow. Mercy. Liz. Winnie. Polly. Nduta. Lynet. 

And Mike. 

Dear Lord, I’m prepping for my next in-person event in June, Inshallah. 

Walk with me as I get there. 

Love always,

  • Highlights from our first-ever in person event hosted by Craft It and @financialfitbit 
Thanks to all the lovely ladies — and gent, hehe — who honoured us with the privilege of their time and attention. And colourful energy. It’s been weeks since and it’s only now that I’m coming down from the high. 

Thank YOU!

🎥 @mikemuthaka 

#craftit #author #MakeYourMoneyMatter #personalfinance #money
  • I am a woman.

I’m strong. I’m brilliant. I’m like a comet shooting across the sky, I’m so bright you have to put on shades to see me.

I’m almost 40, I’m almost fully realising myself as a woman and the power of womanhood I possess.

I’m so powerful that if KPLC connected me to the national grid, I’d power up this country and we’d never have another blackout.

Ho! Ho! Ho!


To recognize and celebrate International Women’s Day today, I’d like to recognize and celebrate eight women.

I have eight things to give away to each of these women:
a) Two tickets to my upcoming event on March 18 with @financialfitbit Theme is ‘Make your money matter’
b) Three autographed copies of my book ‘Should I?’
c) Three autographed copies of my other book ‘How Much?’

To participate:
1. Like this post
2. Tag women who deserve a win of either event ticket or book (tag as many women as you like)
3. Tell us what you’d like her to win and why she deserves the win
4. Make sure your tagged women follow @_craftit and @financialfitbit 

Here are the rules for the giveaway:
— One woman, one win
— Winners will be contacted via DM
— Giveaway closes at the end of this week, Inshallah, on Sunday 12 March
— Only open to people living in Kenya

All the best!

(Swipe right to see the women I’m celebrating.)

#craftit #internationalwomensday
  • My 2022 word of the year was Wholesome. 

Wholesome meant engaging in moderation and in pursuits that didn’t leave me feeling yucky.

An example: there’re weekend nights I’d go out then have too much to drink. On the drive home, I’d tell GB to stop the car every half mile so I could throw up on the side of the road. Then I’d take three working days recovering. 


No more of that nonsense.

Now I have only two doubles of Singleton whiskey and chase it with water. I eat less food and I eat better. I take my supplements. I treat myself to an early bedtime and arise with my body clock, no alarm.

I spend a lot more time hanging with my kids, Muna and Njeeh. 

I buy fewer things. 

I play the piano. 

I created a disciplined routine for my work and take Thursdays off. 

You catch my drift…

Wholesome has become my lifestyle. 

(By the way, I was asked, ‘Where does this word-of-the-year come from, Bett?’ I don’t know about other people but for me, the words present themselves when I’m journaling. My spirit tells me what it needs; I must be still enough to listen and brave enough to obey.)

My word for 2023 is Overdrive.

My two books have unlocked new opportunities for me as a writer and creative. As an urban brand. I’d honestly not foreseen them. 

I know that if I adjust my sails to where the wind is blowing, these opportunities will translate to wealth.

Last Friday, I listed all the work I’m already doing and all the new opportunities – potential and realised – knocking at my door.

I asked myself, ‘What am I taking up here and what am I dropping?’

The response, ‘None – we go into overdrive and smartly pursue them all.’

#craftit #urbanguide
  • Years ago, my best friend said to me, ‘Bett, we’re almost 40 – forget makeup, let’s take care of our skin instead.’

I had to laugh because this was coming from Terry. Terry my Kisii pal, this fine gyal with skin the colour of honey, the only practising SDA in my circle. 

Terry had spent her 20s and early 30s sleek with Arimis. That’s right, the milking jelly with a lactating cow on its logo. 

Arimis addressed all her skin pickles back then. It was her problem fixer. Her Olivia Pope. It’s the one thing that always said, It’s handled.

Now here she was preaching to us about a consistent skincare regimen in the AM and PM.


It wasn’t until Terry shared her selfies on our girls WhatsApp group that I stopped laughing. It wasn’t until we stood next her – and took these selfies – that I reeally stopped laughing: Terry’s skin was youthful and toned, plump. Hydrated. Moistured but not shiny. 

It looked like it had been kissed by the Greek goddess of radiance. 

So we gathered around her feet and said, ‘Forgive us, master. We are ready now. Teach us everything you know.’

She did. 

Terry and I now spend plenty of time before work and before bed squeezing out little portions of expensive skincare products from expensive tubes, we layer them on our face in a calculated measure.

This serum here is for the circles under my eyes and the fine lines around my mouth.

Turns out I’ve been giving away too much of my face: I’ve been looking too hard, laughing too easily.

I’ll have to spend the next year into my 40s with my eyes half shut and laughing little. I'll have a resting bitch face.

Don’t blame me, blame the retinol.

And age.

#craftit #urbanguide #urbangirl
  • I’m Bett. I’m the author of your favourite books about money. I’m hosting an in-person event in March, Inshallah: This is my personal invite to you.

#craftit #moneymaker #moneyinkenya
  • I am hosting my first money event this March, Inhsallah. It’s the first of quarterly events I have planned for the year. 

(Give me a moment here so I pull myself together long enough to write this. I’m smiling very hard right now, ha-ha, I look like a donkey.)


The event will be in-person. On a Saturday morning, a loose three hours which, I am certain, you’d have burned on some other pursuit you couldn’t account for later. (I’d probably be oiling the hinges of a squeaky door or decluttering my sock drawer.)

My guest host for this edition is Lynet Kyalo. 

Lynet is a personal finance coach under her brand @financialfitbit She also hosts @getyourbagrightpodcast 

Buy your tickets from our Market.

Early bird tickets are discounted until the end of this month.

Limited slots available. 

#craftit #millenialmoney #moneyevent #moneymaker
  • Sometimes I sit down and read my own book. 

Odd, huh?

Reading my own stories is like an out-of-body experience. Or getting introduced to myself again. An outward journey inward.

It’s fascinating.

I also read because I need to improve my writing for my next project.

We call them the Elements of Craft: things like sentence structure and punctuation, word placement, story length etc, they all inform your reading experience.

This is what makes the book easy to read, and has you turning the pages.

Cop your autographed copy and #betteryourmoney 

#craftit #howmuch #millenialmoney #moneymaker

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