Comedy critic Kate Copstick in Kenya: is she being comprehensively shafted?

Kate Copstick: a cold feeling that usually precedes the discovery that one has been comprehensively shafted

Comedy critic Kate Copstick flew back to Britain from Kenya yesterday.

She had been out there administering her Mama Biashara charity which helps poor women start up self-sustaining businesses.

Inevitably, once out there, things got more complicated and more personal.

This is another extract from her diary.



I have been in touch with Sammi in Ruai about the small boy Michael.

Sammi has agreed to come to Nairobi, meet Kibe, find Michael, talk to the father and, hopefully, take Michael back to Ruai and the rest of his family.

I have decided that the last thing this situation needs is a mzungu (a foreigner) looking like she is doing a Madonna, swooping down on a slum village and carrying off a small child. I arrange to meet them later.

I am constantly on the phone to Doris who is taking some of the women from this week’s workshops to hospital. The pus-producing uterus is being treated, the blind/half-blind/occasionally blind ladies have been seen (no pun intended) and the usual sheaf of pointless prescriptions for Amoxil and Ibuprofen written.

At the market, I am approached by Soapstone David who is worried about his wife – blinding headaches that make her sick, not responding to any known painkiller etc etc. I tell him I am doing a clinic in Kwa Maji on Monday and to bring her along.

I meet Sammi. He explains that the father has agreed for Michael to come back to Ruai and says he accepts the boy is ‘suffering’  where he is. The one fly in the ointment of this happy reunion being that Michael could not be found. So they are to go back to find him tomorrow. Well, Kibe and the boys will go back – Sammi has to do something at the school he says.


I await news from Kibe that the rescue is complete.

I get a call from Kibe saying something about a meeting and ‘complications’. He arrives with the two boys from Ruai (Michael’s big brother Joseph and cousin George) and Michael.

Michael is looking happy and very very healthy. And quite unlike anyone ‘suffering’.

I get the cold feeling that usually precedes the discovery that one has been comprehensively shafted.

We go and have a drink and a talk. Michael doesn’t want to go back to Ruai. Michael is very emphatic about this. Michael says he was beaten by Mrs Sammi in Ruai and had the marks to prove it.

I look at Joseph, his big brother. Joseph looks at his shoes. His eyes fill with tears. Kibe and I look at each other. The details are not forthcoming. Asked if they are all being beaten, Joseph stares at his shoes. Pressed on exactly what is happening, his eyes refill with tears. But all of the children are desperate to get away from Mr and Mrs Sammi. Joseph finally grabs my hand and says he wants to bring his family away from Ruai and get a house beside Kibe’s cousin and look after them there. They all love the school and don’t want to leave the school, but do want to leave the Sammi House.

KIbe and I are devastated. It is like being hit with a brick. However devastation don’t peel no taters… or some other such folksie saying. I buy Joseph a phone – a secret phone. My numbers are in it as is Kibe’s. It is Joseph’s emergency help line. We agree that nothing can really be done till the end of term.  In December, after Christmas, they will move back to Nairobi – hopefully under the care of Kibe’s cousin and his wife. So we need to find them (a) a house and (b) a school.

We drive to Ruai, We do the usual trip to the village in the car with the kids, buy sodas, do a vegetable and charcoal shop and bounce around the countryside with the windows open waving at people. When we get there, Sammi and Mrs Sammi are entirely unperturbed at the non-return of Michael. Mrs Sammi is feeding the new baby. It is vast. I mean HUGE. Like a little hippo in an acrylic knit top.

We leave (me with many meaningful glances and nods at Joseph) and go to Gorogocho, a slum whose name means ‘broken stuff’. Which is what they sell there. Anything technical or mechanical which dies in Kenya is ripped apart and many of those parts end up for sale in Gorogocho.

In Gorogocho, the low tin or mud huts are crammed together tightly. The women’s group is met in a tiny room/house in the interior. The women are terrific. They have all pitched in to buy beads little by little and have made forty sets of necklace/bracelet/earrings. Absolutely NOTHING that I would ever have ordered, but the principle is good. I buy them and we will sell them as a sort of Special Appeal. Meanwhile I do the whole Mama Biashara thing and say I’ll be back in November and will do a workshop and set them up in proper small businesses. They are so delighted the old lady wants to pray.

We head back to Nairobi and I get a phone call from Joseph.

I think: Violence already?

But no, he thinks he has left the earplugs for the phone in the car…

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