There was a time when we could buy whatever brand we wanted. Every family had unwritten rules about favorites, and as a child you only found out when you finally made a mistake. Slowly, you learned that ng’khaya we only buy Kiwi, Downings bread, Surf washing powder, Geisha bathing soap, Chimombe milk and Colgate toothpaste. If you were sent to the shops, and you brought back Nugget, or Lobels, or Sunlight, or Jade, or Fresh milk, or Close Up, you were in trouble. “Siqalise nini ukugeza ngeJade wena?” my mother would chide. (When did we start using Jade (soap))?
There were secret wars with neighbors who used other brands. “KoGrace banatha iFresh.” (Grace’s family uses Fresh milk). And when we ran out of Kiwi, and had to ask for some shoe polish from neighbors, it was disappointing to get Nugget. It felt as if you were reversing all the gains you had made with Kiwi. That is how seriously we took these brands.
Things began to change with commodity shortages though. Any type of bread was now welcome. At one time, you were even lucky to get bread! The worst change was with laundry soaps. As the Perfection’s, the Dolphin’s and the Impala’s disappeared, we got the Green Soap and the Brown Soap. Brown Soap was so hard to get off clothes, and it smelled bad. I think they tricked us: brown soap was just a stain that you put on your clothes. As you tried to remove it, you also removed all the other stains from your clothes! Libona njani?
But the ultimate brand war was not between the traditional brands. It was Chinese goods (so called Zhing Zhongs – excuse me Chinese readers) versus all the other goods. The Chinese goods were very cheap, but they also didn’t last long. In some cases, they only lasted a few hours. Many people got new shoes etown, wore them on the way back only to watch them fall apart. Some of us thought ours would last longer if we looked after them better, but that wasn’t the case. It didn’t matter if you only wore yours on Civies Day or you went hunting in them. The days of those shoes were numbered. (But the crocodile slippers were a different story yo!).
Still, the Chinese goods served us well, especially with cheap gifts for loved ones. The cheapest flowers, wrist watches, perfumes and greeting cards… Wouldn’t it be funny if we mentioned the prices when we presented these gifts: “I love you honey. Here’s a $2 watch and a $3 necklace!” But we didn’t. Nonetheless, it didn’t take the loved ones long to know the prices because, in a few days, the gold chain looked like copper. And that way, everyone slowly learned the mantra of Chinese shops: Buy One and Come Back Tomorrow!
The only war that survived the coming of the Chinese goods, the classroom war, was the Eversharp 15M vs Bic war. I was a fan of the Eversharp 15M, and despised Bic pens. I’m still a 15M fan, but I’m now thinking of trying a Xinhua…
Let me know what your favorite brands were!