What’s so “Supa” about the “Duka”?

The Kijabe mission station in Kenya has been in existence for over 100 years. A large number of missionaries live and work here at the Rift Valley Academy for missionary children, Kijabe Hospital (Africa Inland Church), or Moffat Bible College. Many more missionaries pass through Kijabe for short-term mission projects or to pick up or drop off their children attending RVA. A number of amenities have sprung up in this community which has been inhabited by Western missionaries for, well, generations now. For example, potable water flows from the tap at RVA (though we do rely on large tanks on site filled with water pumped from an underground well), and there are electrical outlets fitted for appliances brought from America in many homes at the station.

A number of outside vendors have also discovered the profitability of delivering certain goods to the mission station. One butcher, specializing in select cuts of meat and German-style sausages, makes monthly deliveries to Kijabe for those who pre-order. Another cheese company will do the same. Prices are comparable to what you might pay in the United States, if not slightly more, but we appreciate the convenience.

Not all missionaries are able to make weekly or even monthly trips into Nairobi to go shopping, even though the capital is only one hour away by car. Many missionaries here don’t own a car, so we usually wait until we can catch a ride with somebody else going to town. And during the school term, RVA staff often have packed schedules so that it may be difficult for them to find a block of several hours needed to make a trip to Nairobi and return before dark.

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So where can we shop locally? A ten-minute walk from the gate of RVA will bring you to a series of shops called “the dukas”. Duka is the Swahili word for ‘shop’. Here you can find sellers of fruits and vegetables, a butcher, a small restaurant, a mechanic, and a couple of carpenters. No doubt there is more that I am not aware of. The first shop, or duka, that you come to is called the Supa Duka, or supermarket (‘supa’ just being another spelling of super that fits with the African pronunciation of that word). From the looks of it, though, even calling it a “mini-mart” might be an overstatement. The inside of the Supa Duka isn’t much larger than a one-car garage, and there is room enough for only one island of shelves in addition to those against the walls. This beckons one to ask, “What’s so ‘supa’ about the Supa Duka?”

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But, oh, what you can pack on those shelves! In contrast, a standard-sized duka would be nothing more than a kiosk where the cashier standing behind a screen of chicken wire hands you items from the very limited supply on the shelf behind her. But as the only source of nonperishable food items and toiletries in Kijabe, our Supa Duka does stock quite a bit, even if the goods are slightly pricier than those in the true supermarkets in Nairobi. At our neighborhood Supa Duka, we can still obtain ground beef, hot dogs, chicken, eggs, sodas, cookies, oil, flour, basic kitchen items and even an assortment of greeting cards (but you won’t find alcohol or cigarettes–click here to ready why). This selection, combined with the fruit and vegetable stands across the street, means that we have just about everything we need to get through the week. It’s our one-stop shop! And that’s what’s so ‘supa’ about the ‘duka’.

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