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Meet the woman who voiced the ‘mteja hapatikani’ message – VIDEO

Whenever you dial a Safaricom number that is switched off, what you hear on the other end is: “Samahani, mteja wa nambari uliyopiga hapatikani kwa sasa (Sorry, the mobile subscriber cannot be reached).”

That is Ms Maggie Wazome’s voice, recorded months before the mobile service provider opened its doors in October 2000.

The word “mteja” as used in Ms Wazome’s message has long become part of everyday Kenyans’ conversations and is a widely accepted colloquial term for being offline.

INGRAINED

So ingrained has the word been in the national language that we traced it in Parliament’s official record, the Hansard, where it was used on the floor of the House on July 10, 2007 by then Khwisero MP Julius Odenyo Arungah.

We also spotted the word in three court judgments. It also features in lyrics of at least two mainstream songs.

Ms Maggie Wazome at her work station. PHOTO | GERALD ANDERSON
Ms Maggie Wazome at her work station. PHOTO | GERALD ANDERSON

Never had the former student of the Blanes Secretarial College dreamt that her voice would be the one to clothe a message that resonates with so many Kenyans.

Ms Wazome, currently a support analyst at Safaricom’s customer care department, does not recall exactly when she hit the studio to voice those lines, but she knows that she beat tens of other ladies who had read the same message.

She was called to read the lines by one Andrew Crawford, who ran a recording studio and who was then in charge of producing commercials at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC).

At that time she was not an employee of Safaricom.

Crawford, she says, never told them what the lines they were recording were intended for.

“I read a few lines that had varied content; and one of them was ‘mteja wa nambari uliyopiga’ I had no idea what they were about,” she said, adding that she did not read the English version of the message.

Little did she know that she had read a line that would earn her the nickname “mteja”.

“At that point I was so young I was just thinking money. I was just thinking, ‘Let me make some little pocket money for myself.’ Little did I know it was going to turn out really in a nice way. So, I did the lines and they told me, ‘Okay, there is a client who is looking for a particular voice; so we will call you back and let you know.’”

She was later called to read the lines once more.

“They told me, ‘You know, there are several of you who are doing these lines. So, the client is going to pick the voice he is happy with.’ Then this particular time I was called and they said, ‘Maggie, there are 16 of you. So, if you’re lucky, the client is going to listen to all of those 16 nice voices and will get back to you.’”

NO IDEA

She won.

“The next call I got, they were like, ‘Okay, Maggie you are the lucky one at the end of the day.’ Up to that time, by the way, I had no idea it was Safaricom. I had no clue whatsoever,” she said.

She would later learn that it was Safaricom that paid for her voice when one of her friends told her that there was a familiar voice on the other end of the line.

Her voice also features in some other automated Safaricom responses.

“If you dial a number and you probably leave out a digit, I am the one behind the Kiswahili prompt that lets you know what to do. There are one or two more I think, which are used at the appropriate time. I recorded all those lines on that same day,” she said.

It is Crawford’s agency that paid her for the recording.