“Samahani, Mteja wa Nambari Uliyopiga Hapatikani Kwa Sasa.” – The one sentence each and every one of us has encountered more than enough times. As frustrating as that sentence can be for most mobile phone users, the voice behind it is soothing enough to make sure we do not completely lose our minds.
We have all for the longest time wondered who is behind that voice and after a staggering 15 years, her cover has been blown. You could say ‘Mteja Amepatikana.’
Her name is Ms. Maggie Wazome, a Mombasa born lady whose voice has annoyed many Safaricom customers whenever they cannot reach a person through their mobile phones.
In a candid interview with Daily Nation’s Lifestyle, Ms Maggie revealed that she had been waiting for the opportune time to open up, which she believes is now — when the mobile service provider is marking 15 years since it was switched on.
The popular prompt was recorded months before Safaricom began its operations in October 2000.
The Blanes Secretarial College alumnus landed the gig after 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 the time she was not an employee of Safaricom.
“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.
“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.’”
Maggie beat 16 others on her way to becoming a wildly familiar voice.
“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.
Ms Maggie met Crawford when she worked part-time at KBC where she was part of the team behind ‘Ugua Pole na Lucozade’, a Sunday afternoon show hosted by legendary presenter Fred Obachi Machoka.
Mr Machoka had recommended that she voices commercials and that is how she met Crawford.
She also worked as a presenter at Radio Citizen in its early years. After quitting Radio Citizen, she worked as a personal assistant at a firm that was a subsidiary of Booker Tate. It was while working at that firm that she got to record the “mteja” statement with Crawford’s agency.
Trained as a personal assistant, Ms Wazome developed interest in presenting, following words said to her by one-time KBC presenter Tido Muhando.
“I met him in Nairobi with a group of people. Just by hearing my voice, he said, ‘My goodness, this voice sounds like radio voice.’ And that’s what led me to all these other places. He is the person who discovered me,” Ms Wazome noted.
Encouraged by that, she enrolled at Kenya Institute of Mass Communication.
Four months after she had received news that her voice had been accepted, Ms Wazome saw a newspaper advertisement in which Safaricom was looking for customer care representatives among other staff. She applied for it and, during the interview, the panel was shocked when she said she was the one behind the “mteja” voice.
“They made me repeat it and they were like, ‘Oh my goodness!’ Maybe that helped me get the job, I don’t know,” she said.
After training, she was then posted to the customer care desk; charged with handling customers’ concerns. In a few months, she was then promoted to her current position- Support Analyst at Safaricom’s customer care department.
The mother of two, a daughter aged 22, and a son, 21, also revealed what her social life has been like and why the job is more suited for women than men.
“When my friends are introducing me to a group of people, they want everyone to know that I am the ‘mteja’ lady. So if the person being told does not believe me, I have to repeat the line. I have done it a thousand times,” she said.
“The best part is, I sometimes hear myself when I’m calling someone,” she said adding, “It feels a bit awkward but, you know, I guess I’m just proud to know that I present a message; a message of umepatikana ama hujapatikana (you are reachable or not). That’s what it is.”
Why always women?
“Women have a lean voice that soothes the client and pampers them. It is pleasant to the ears. The voice lowers your temperature,” she said.
“If it were a man (telling customers that the subscriber is unavailable), callers would die of trauma.”
Additional Reporting by Daily Nation