21-01-2022 by Freddie del Curatolo
A few days ago I happened to personally listen to the dialogue, inside a large supermarket on the Kenyan coast, between an Italian man of a certain age (presumably a long-term tourist) and his local companions, a boy and a girl.
The gentleman, obviously in a fluent Italian so that his partners could understand better (!), complained about the fact that a 500 grams package of pasta from our country cost 350 shillings.
"In Italy I pay one euro and fifty, and better brands!" he told the boys, in a surprised tone.
The two Kenyans must have thought that everything must be cheaper in Italy, that's why the mzungu are richer than us. On the other hand, someone had already told us that a cleaning lady there earns in just one hour what we bring home in two or three whole days. If it costs half as much to eat, it's easy to understand.
But let's not underestimate the young Kenyans, even if on the coast they are a bit more naive and less informed than in Nairobi: probably, unlike the Italian sojourner, they know the rules of import and export. For example, Kenyans definitely prefer white cornmeal polenta to pasta. They eat it every day, with their families or even in their restaurants, the famous "sima" to make ugali, or polenta with its sauce.
A kilo of that flour in Italy costs € 1.30, in Kenya less than half that, or Kes. 65 (about 50 cents at the current exchange rate). But the price refers to flour produced in Italy, such as that of Molino Peila, in the province of Turin. If you were to look for flour from imported ugali, the price would go up to € 5.90, for products imported mainly from Venezuela. Some years ago, to my amazement, in a supermarket for foreigners in Reggio Emilia, I found a package of "Taifa", the white corn flour from Kenya. It cost exactly three times as much as in Kenya.
Absolutely natural, given that the customs duties and taxes of the country in which it is sold must be added to the original cost price.
Coming back to our package of pasta and the Italian gentleman, it is worth knowing that an import-export company of Italian products, after buying the products wholesale in our country, has to fill a 20 or 40 feet container, pay for the transport from the Italian warehouses to the port of departure of the cargo ships, the transport of the container itself and the final transport from the port of Mombasa to its warehouse in Kenya. In addition to a fixed cost for customs clearance and excise duties on imported products, to which taxes will be added later on the earnings from the sale.
This process, which has always taken place, must be continually updated with the increase in excise and customs duties, which at the beginning of 2022 have increased yet again, and with inflation. The complaining gentleman has probably been in Kenya for a while and will return to Italy in a few months, so he will have experienced how compared to the last time he was here, the shilling is much weaker and the purchasing power of the euro against him is much stronger.
For those who, like me, live here all year round, the prices of imported products have increased in an almost unsustainable manner. So if the desire for spaghetti or rigatoni is eating me up inside, rather than going to a local supermarket where I would spend even more, I go directly to the importer and do something crazy. Then I see the taggiasche olives and Sicilian capers (because lately, those who import also import the right things) and I leave the Toyota registration book as a pledge.
Of course, you can't live on chapati and delicious vegetables alone.
There is a solution, and it is smart shopping. In the meantime, check who those Italian importers are who continue to jump through hoops to guarantee quality products at minimum markups, with all the difficulties involved, and are often treated like usurers because wine and extra virgin olive oil cost twice as much as at Esselunga.
But it is also pleasant to learn how to alternate, or mix, the indispensable products of the Peninsula with local resources. For example, get busy and go meet the fisherman who will bring you a grouper for 3 euros per kilo (in Italy, ours is 38 euros) and clean and fillet it for 50 cents. Or a 2 kilo octopus for less than 10 euros (in Italy 80) and so on. And in the penne rigate, put a less noble fish sauce, which costs even less, instead of Riomare tuna. You don't like fish? Free-range chicken at 2.50 euros per kg, in Italy organic chicken costs between 12 and 16 euros.
Kenya is increasingly expensive, especially for those who do not know how to live the Kenyan way.
And for those who don't know how or don't want to do their shopping with reason.
Including the purchase of imported products.
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