An insurance guy is coming over to our office. He’s coming to sell an insurance policy because that’s what an insurance guy would be coming to do if they were to come to your office. We’ve never met him. All we know is that he’s called Kevin. So mysterious, “the unveiling of Kevin.” Most insurance guys come with a laptop bag and many documents printed out, some in very small print that only an owl would read. But owls don’t need insurance so we are on our own in the face of the fine print. Most wear dark suits and have branded pens. Most smile, that same smile that doctors give you just before they inject you. A smile that says, ‘this might sting a little but you will be glad I did it later because it’s for your own good.” Some come in high heels and skirt suits and call you “dear” and if they have known you for a while they will upgrade you and call you “dearest.” There is always a calculator on the body of an insurance person and when they remove it, their fingers blur over the keys when they punch numbers so fast even an owl can not follow. Most are good with math, even though not all of them were good in math in high school. Math is their bread. Most have a sheets with rows and columns with many numbers. They use words like “subrogation” and “omnibus clause,” which sort of reminds you of the Tv program, “Neighbours Omnibus.” Most have mastered the art of small talk; the first minute of a phone conversation will be something like, “How is biashara, dearest?….it is….I’m telling you…but things will always get better….imagine…..and how are the kids? Did the youngest finally stop wetting the bed?….God is great….now, dearest, when can I pass by for a catch up?….of course….yes, that’s okay with me…thursday it is….11:25am is perfect.Ok, my dear, you stay safe. Bye. Be blessed.”
Fred is wearing happy socks because it’s a happy day. I’m telling him, “Are you going to go for this gala tonight in your African bowtie?” His company – Belva Digital – has just made it into KPMG’s Top 100 SMEs, a great leap from the dark one-roomed dungeon we used to squat in to the big table of KPMG. I know about the bowtie because he only wears it when a) he’s going to schmooze with an important client and b) to an evening shindig where people wear tuxedos and hold their drinks with serviettes. I don’t envy him.
“The dress code is black and gold,” he says, “do you always avoid these events because you don’t have a suit or anything gold?”
“Boss, I have a suit. But it’s for funerals,” I say.
“What time did you say this guy is coming?” He looks at his watch. Kevin has a slot for 9am but it’s now knocking 9:13am. Fred has a 9:45 am after. I have to go pick up my passport from the French embassy. We – like everybody else in this town – have things to do. I make some tea and sip it as I look at emails. Fred is chuckling at some meme. Outside we can hear the sound of a ballast mixer and hollering construction workers in the next compound, another storeyed building that the world doesn’t need is mushrooming.
At 9:21am we are informed that Kevin has finally arrived.
Kevin is tinkering with his laptop when we walk in the boardroom. He has come with a partner/ sidekick, a lady called Eddah. She’s petite. She doesn’t say much. She has a file with papers and a phone. We can’t see any calculators, yet. There is a time for calculators.
Here is what Kevin doesn’t say. Kevin doesn’t say, “Gentlemen, forgive me but when I was coming here a buffalo suddenly appeared from nowhere and rammed into the side of my car. I drive a small car because I’m all about protecting the environment, so my car flipped, rolled twice and tossed everything out in the process, my gym bag, my lip balm, my maasai rungu, my ego, everything. But this is the price we pay for living in Africa, you never know when a wild animal will charge at you when you are rushing for a meeting, right? It was terrifying to say the beast… uhm sorry, to say the least. Anyway, that’s why I’m late and I’m so sorry for that. But look here are some cookies as a peace offering. [Retrieves cookies he bought downstairs from the supermarket] My grandmother made them, they are her special cookies. They are believed to prolong life but also help with indigestion, which I might have caused by my lateness, hahaha.”
We would have laughed, nibbled his cookies and asked if the buffalo is okay. Then asked if the grandmother is still alive or she had baked them en masse before passing and all the grandchildren were each given 300 pieces as inheritance to last them a few years.
Kevin doesn’t say that. Instead, he kicks off the meeting like you would try start an old Volkswagen beetle that hasn’t been driven in months. He says, “Uhm, thanks for agreeing to meet us, I’m Kevin and this is Eddah. [Obama pause]. I don’t know how much you know about this new product that we call the Critical Illness Cover…”
And off this old Kevin jalopy gets on the road, chugging and billowing black smoke behind. He’s started on the wrong foot, the room can tell. When you are late you can never start on the right footing, not when you don’t come with grandma cookies or a beautiful story that makes people either laugh or reach out for your hand [ladies] and ask you earnestly, “are you okay?”
I know Fred’s temperament; if he comes to a meeting of this nature with his laptop, a meeting that requires only his ear, then I know he’s got one foot out that room and he’s probably thinking of his African bowtie. I sit at the head of the table, Fred sits to my right, back to the door, Eddah sits opposite him, to my immediate left and Kevin and his laptop sit a chair down the table to Eddah’s left.
They are from UAP/ Old Mutual Group. Old friends.
You have to be sorry for Kevin. If he isn’t feeling the cold temperature of the room he doesn’t show it, he ploughs on, his feet crunching on ice, telling us about critical illness and why it’s important that we consider taking this cover for the eventuality. The difference between this cover and a medical cover, he tells us, is that they pay you the full sum assured as soon as you are diagnosed. They don’t pay the hospital, or your spouse, or next of kin, they hand you every last red cent to do whatever you want to do with it. That catches Fred’s attention. I see him stir slightly in his seat. You can pay a monthly, quarterly, bi monthly or yearly premium of anything from 1K a month to 15K a month.
“What do you consider critical illness?” Fred asks. He’s like Bill Clinton or Henry Kissinger; he can multitask. He can study a spreadsheet, listen to a podcast and listen to a presentation. I, on the other hand, is like Mr Bean, I can do only one thing at a time but even with that one thing I will still get distracted. Kevin lists off the critical illnesses; stroke, cancer, open heart surgery, aortic surgery, major organ transplant, heart attack, accidental brain damage, Parkinson’s, dementia, kidney failure, paralysis, coma, multiple sclerosis, motor neuron disease, connective tissue disease…
“Dementia and Parkinson’s is something grey haired people like Biko would get,” Fred quips with a smile. Eddah laughs. Kevin chuckles. I don’t think it’s that funny. I refuse to laugh, but because today is Fred’s big date with KPMG, I chuckle so as not to ruin this red-letter day.
Truth is, because we are healthy (or healthy looking) we all imagine that they can never get into a coma or get paralysed, or get our cars gored by a buffalo and roll and we get brain damaged or have kidney failure because we are (considerably) young and our parents pray for us and we own a rosary. But then when shit hits the fan and we are forced to make posters for a funds drive and put it up on Facebook and all our friends rally and contribute to a MPesa number and we go to India or we pay some of the money to ICU and we make it or we die. But one day our friends will stop caring and contributing because there will be lethargy towards such initiatives because cancer would have come to most of our doorsteps and so it will be each man for themselves. Because I think cancer is only just warming up, doing stretches and all.
“Guys, unfortunately I have to run for another meeting,” Fred says picking up his laptop. I suspect he wants to finish his meetings early so that he can go soak in a bathtub, slide into his suit and bowtie and go sit at the table of kings and queens. His company just got into the top 100 companies, he doesn’t want to hear about open heart surgeries, that’s for old greying people like me. He’d rather sit at a table with Mama Zenani (that’s his boss) and sip whisky with other chosen business nobles. Which is a shame because he missed the point where Kevin and Eddah turned the meeting around and the room warmed up with laughs and numbers were crunched and we talked about children and boyfriend who support their women who have had double mastectomy.
As Fred darts out of the room, Eddah takes over the oar and starts talking about cancer stats in Kenya and talks about how one might find themselves in problems when they find out in their hour of need that cancer was not covered or if it is there is a clause called sublimit for such cases. I say, “What do you mean?” She explains that, say you have an inpatient cover of 10 million but your sublimit only allows you to get 1 million cover. Which means there are tons of you out there imagining that since you have a cover of 10 million or even 5million that’s the full amount you are covered for, but it’s not. There is an animal called sublimit. I say, “What?!” She asks who my provider is and she pulls out the category of my cover and, yes, I’m not covered for the full amount based on my sublimit should I get cancer or some terminal illness. “Always get an agent who walks you through the fine print,” she smirks.
Then she tells me about her sister who had a double mastectomy but who was lucky that she had NHIF pay for almost everything in post-cancer care which is the most cost. I say, “NHIF? Really?” This is something Fred will never know because he’s off to soak his feet in a bathtub. She says, “The product is called Enhanced NHIF cover, with outpatient going to up to 1M and inpatient 10M. This is probably the best medical cover invented and good thing is that it works. You can only get it as a part of a recognised entity like a chama or corporate. Get it if you can, it helped my sister immensely.”
I thought, the Government of Kenya works!
The way I see it, we are all in this big ship. The captain, a man with a big salt and pepper beard and a big leather belt circling his girth has said that the journey will be long and the weather ahead is going to get treacherous so please wear a life jacket, fellas. But in the ship are chaps who don’t entirely believe that the sea is going to get rough ahead and if anyone dies it won’t be them. So they use their life jackets as pillows. They drink wine and dance on the deck. Some sunbath in yellow bikinis, applying sunscreen and drinking margaritas. But the storm could be coming or it could be a smooth sail, nobody knows what the sea holds. But when the storm comes, those with life jackets have a better chance of surviving.
“How is your sister handling not having both breasts?”
“She got prosthetic breasts, but obviously it’s not easy. The tough part is the chemo, it’s poison, basically, and it changes your moods and your body. Thankfully now she’s functioning well, she even goes to work,” she says. “But the thing with cancer is that there is always a chance of a relapse and so I see how she lives her life. She appreciates each day she’s healthy, she lives it to the fullest because you never know what will happen tomorrow, you can wake up and go straight to ICU because often when the cancer relapses it comes back with a vengeance.”
“It comes back pissed off,” I say. “It comes back thinking, ‘Oh, you think you can scare me with chemo?’” Kevin chuckles.
“Is she married, kids?” I ask her.
“She has a boyfriend. He has been very supportive,” she says. “Some men just take off when you lose your breasts. Which is fine, I wouldn’t want a man like that.”
Me neither, I think to myself.
“Are you married?” I ask her. She laughs and looks at Kevin as if Kevin is the priest who officiated the wedding.
“No,” she says.
“Are you married, Kevin?”
“Yes. One kid.”
“How old are you Kevin?”
“And you, Eddah?”
She laughs and says, “A lady never says her age.”
“If she looks good, she does,” I say. She asks me to guess and I say, 28- years, because when a woman asks you her age and she looks a certain age, you quickly subtract five years from it. So she looks just about Kevin’s age.
She laughs and says, “42.”
I say, “Noooo!”
She says, “Yup!”
“Lies!” I say.
We all agree in the room that she doesn’t look 42-years. She looks like they went to school with Kevin. I ask them if they have taken this cover they are selling ama they are just peddling something they have been sent to sell. “You know, back in the day our parents never took insurance, they educated us hoping that we would take care of them in old age.” Eddah says. “But now we don’t educate our children in the hope that they will help us. We make other plans for our retirement that will make us least dependent on our children’s help.”
I nod vigorously like we are in parliament. It’s almost sycophantic. The air in the room is now warm. Kevin is no longer in ice. We are laughing and talking about life and it’s eventualities. They are telling me stuff I didn’t know about insurance and I’m liking them and honestly thinking about this cover. Eddah saves the day and she does it without cookies. At the end of the meeting, they give me their business cards UAP Old Mutual cards with titles like, “Broker Relationship Manager” and “Sales Manager.” I don’t have a business card. I’m in jua kali, we just read out our phone numbers.
I realise that we didn’t offer them tea. Which makes us look bad. Because people like being offered tea even if they don’t want tea. It feels nice to be asked if you would like a cuppa. We never got cookies from the chaps from UAP Old Mutual, but we learnt about sublimit and critical illness cover and most importantly, as a peace offering Kevin gave me his pen, a corporate branded pen that writes very well. You can tell a company from the type of merchandise they make. And even if we never do business, we never take this cover, I will look at this pen and it will remind me of the day a buffalo almost ruined our meeting.