We met on a dirt road in front of a vegetable market. He was lean (maybe underfed), well over 6 feet tall, and wearing a tattered suit. He was straddling a bicycle seat spinning his pedals faster and faster but not going anyhere. Looking closer, I saw his back wheel hoisted off the ground several inches by a heavy kickstand. Rising above his handle-bars was a cylindrical stone-wheel spinning at a revolution matching his back wheel. Attached to this stone was a rubber “chain” threaded to his back spokes. I approached the man. He stopped pedaling and we greeted each other.
I asked curiously, “What is this?”
“I will show you what I do,“ he replied.
He pressed down on the pedals, his back wheel began to rotate, and the stone wheel at his hands started to turn. He pulled out a butchering knife and placed the edge at a 45 degree angle to the stone. As he forced the knife against the stone, it screeched and red sparks filtered off like a sprinkler. He flipped the knife over and under like a game of hand-slap, paused.... then placed the sharpened edged against the pad of his thumb.
“Una Itwa Nani?” I said (what is your name?)
“Mimi Samuel, but they call me Dr. Knife. This is my steel sharpening charger. I have been doing this since 1984. ” I smiled (Who doesn’t enjoy a good nickname....Magic, Sweetness, Chocolate Thunder came to mind).
“I like your invention. Do you have a name for your bicycle?” I asked fishing for another great line.
Without a pause, Dr. Knife said, “Welcome to my clinic.”
Yes, I could tell I was going to like Dr. Knife right away. You see I like bikes (especially those that are retrofitted...I brought my own break-away bike to Africa but that is another story) and I greatly respect people who make a go with whatever they have to create a business. I immediately invited Dr. Knife to our house to sharpen our entire set of kitchenware (Sara happened to be gone for the weekend). Dr. Knife came over and set up “clinic” in our back yard taking one knife at a time to his stone.
“You see I have this problem..” he said as he picked up our paring knife. “I have a Shamba (Garden) but the rains have stopped. I have dug a boar hole 8 meters down and found water. But you see I have no way to lift the water to my Shamba. I have no..what you call pump. I want to grow onions, tomatoes, and potatoes..they are already beginning to die. Even my family needs food. I am looking for.....well...a donor?”
We continued to talk. I asked Dr. Knife about his family, “I have 6 kids... 3 boys and 3 girls.” I asked him, “WaChristo? (are you a Christian)”?
“My family attends Mass on Sunday but I do not yet attend.”
I said “Mungo (God) would be pleased to see you in church.”
As he removed the last knife from the rotating stone I began slicing through cactus leaves Japanese style to check out his work. “I’d like to come visit your house...meet your family, see your Shamba. I have a bicycle. We can ride down to Old Kijabe Town together.”
I paid Dr. Knife for his Clinic and we exchanged mobile numbers (common occurence in Kenya). “Una Itwa Nane?” Dr. Knife looked at me ready to program my name into his mobile.
“Mimi Dr. Meno (Tooth).” Dr. Knife grinned, released his kickstand, took down his clinic, and coasted out of our yard.