Patients who seek treatment at Coast Provincial General Hospital have to endure the sight of coffins at the entry of the facility cascading silent jitters
Reuben Mwambingu @reubenmwambingu
It could perhaps be one of the most emotionally engaging, yet one of the most hushed discussions that boggles and baffles the minds of many as they approach Coast’s largest referral hospital – Coast Provincial General Hospital in Mombasa.
For some, the seemingly ever flourishing coffin making business adjacent to the hospital’s entrance, cascades silent jitters under their skin scaring them to the very core of their DNAs.
They feel the business thrives heavily on other people’s grief and there is likelihood that the enterprise calls and wishes for more deaths to occur. “I am a frequent visitor of this hospital and sometimes I get admitted, but whenever I see those coffins on display, I always feel like I could be the next user and it scares me,” says Angeline Mwero.
Linet Mwatsao says whenever she alights from a matatu at the hospitalini junction, she imagines that she has a stiff neck to avoid looking at the coffins direction. “I have a real phobia of coffins, in fact I shudder to think how they look, I rarely attend burials and when I attend, I keep a reasonable distance,” Mwatsao reckons.
To others, however, coffin making is indeed a profitable means of livelihood that is relied upon by family and relatives. And so just like other entrepreneurs, they fast and pray for their business to prosper.
Perhaps it is the reason packaging of this extraordinarily bizarre trade, is done with tactful and crafty approach that tends to sooth passer-by mourners.
Comforting words like Huruma Coffin Centre or Poleni Funeral Services, which simply denote compassion are what welcome you as you enter the coffin shops.
On display at these shops are varieties of well-polished and creatively designed caskets. They vary in designs, sizes, colours, and quality. The sizes range from tiny boxes, meant for infants to giant sizes.
But as you approach the outlets, you cannot fail to notice a show of etiquette amongst managers of the businesses.
Coffin sellers do not wear smiling faces as they usher in clients to their shops. Instead, there is always a demonstration of humility and compassion written all over their faces as they take clients through samples for tastes and preferences.
“Much as we handle this business, it does not mean that we are heartless. We also sympathise with mourners. That is why you don’t go wearing a smiley face,” says Dickson Oyuga, the manager at Huruma Coffin Centre, one of the coffin businesses along the street leading to the hospital.
But Oyuga says he plies his trade with absolute passion since it pays his bills. “This is how I pay my bills. I always pray for God’s blessings and believe this is why it has been seamless success,” Oyuga says, but downplays claims that the business prays and hopes for multitudes of death as ‘sheer misconstrution.’
He is of opinion that his business is just like any other furniture business and, therefore, for anyone to attach to weird and wild fears is almost an insult. “When I was new in the business, it was quiet challenging, but I got used to it after a few weeks.
Today I can even rest inside the coffin. Nothing weird about it. I don’t get weird dreams as some people think because this is just normal carpentry,” he says.
Oyuga says only Africans have extreme fear for death, but most foreigners don’t. We have had a case of a white guy coming to book his own coffin. In fact, he tested it to have a feel of it and paid a handsome deposit for it.
His mastery of the trade, Oyuga says has opened doors for other unusual and untapped business opportunities. He is often approached and hired by families to prepare bodies of their relatives in the mortuary.
“Majority of people are necrophobic, they have a phobia for corpses. I am often consulted by strangers to supervise autopsies on their behalf. I also clean bodies and dress them as well,” he says adding that all the above side hustles helps supplement his income.
“A day hardly passes without selling more than three caskets and I hardly go for two days without an extra job,” Oyuga says.
The level of confidence Oyuga, 49, exudes as he dusts and polishes the caskets on display is unmatched, a clear confirmation that his more than 15-year-experience in the business serves him right.
Majeneza, as most people have nicknamed him, breathes, feeds and drinks from his coffin business, no wonder a cupboard at his workshop is an old coffin placed vertically.
The business is lucrative with coffin prices ranging from as low as Sh6,000 to as high as Sh60,000 and the prices can go up to more than Sh100,000 in some special cases where clients demand better quality.
Ayieye Ogada of Poleni Funeral Service is also upbeat and besides coffin making, he offers other funeral supporting packages such as body transportation.
“I pursued carpentry and when I came to Mombasa, I ventured into this business and slowly I grew to become a coffin business owner. Today I feed my family, pay school fees for my children and siblings and life is good.
He says the fear of the business has no basis noting that women are also embracing the trade. “This business never disappoints because no one is immortal. Until you finally meet your death, there is potential of continue earning from other people’s death,” he concludes.