Kate Copstick’s Kenya: underwear, circumcision and marrying a Moslem

Some of the Kenyan children helped by Mama Biashara

Some of the Kenyan children helped by Mama Biashara charity

Yesterday’s blog was about comedy critic Kate Copstick’s Kenyan charity Mama Biashara, which helps local women and others with seed money and advice on starting small-scale businesses. I guess Copstick spends maybe six months of the year out there.

This is part of her latest report on life there this week.

Bear in mind when reading it that, according to the Daily Mail this week, initiation ceremonies at Oxford University can involve future Prime Ministers sticking their penis into a dead pig’s mouth.


I meet Julius – a long longtime Mama Biashara stalwart.

Recently it was the ‘initiation’ season.

Initiation (for the Luhyas of Western Kenya) involves taking the boys (aged about 13/15) out into the bush, stripping them naked and circumcising them. Circumcision like this is a big thing for many tribes.

“It is all about,” says Julius, “your blood being spilled on the earth and joining you to the land forever.”

The little bleeders (as we might call them) are left for a night, then given an animal skin apron and left for another night and then given another animal skin blanket to wrap themselves in and then, says Julius, “they are heroes”.

Women at this time are used only to prepare and carry food to the bush and leave it for the menfolk to eat. The new heroes are immediately a cut above the female of the tribe. Pun accidental but I like it.

Julius suggests a new business for Mama Biashara – selling ladies’ underwear.

Many Western Kenyan women walk 30 km per day to and from the fields where they collect a big tub of soil which, if they are lucky, contains tiny particles of gold. “They have great problems,” says Julius, “with their sweaty swingy breasts and their chafing thighs.” So this new business will sell sports bras and biker shorts. Plus normal bras and panties.

As a humanitarian, I hate to think of thighs chafing in the searing heat of Western Kenya and I tell Julius we will go to Eastleigh and buy the stock.

He would like to have a gift of bra and panties for his new wife, he says. She makes him healthy, he says. He has three kids and she has two and I have a feeling we are heading for more underwear. They are not having any more children, says Julius. I tell him I am delighted to hear it. But then he explains the pressure every man is under to produce as many children as possible.

He then details the tradition concerning childless men and women. When they die, they are buried face down with a thorny branch shoved up their arse.

I am horrified. But apparently childlessness is the worst disgrace you can commit.

I suspect my offer of condoms will be rejected.

Apropos of a chat about Western Kenyan sex workers and my saying that I had never met a Kenyan man who did not avail himself of the services of a commercial sex worker, Julius goes on – he is a bottomless fund of local belief – to tell me about how Kikuyu ladies turn to sex work for the money. And that non commercial Kikuyu ladies demand commitment but are a bit shit at sex.

“Brown ladies,” he says, “have sex in their blood.” Lighter skinned women are hot to trot and don’t care who is in the saddle. And there is something about the thighs of “brown ladies” which casts a spell on men and they are powerless to resist their wiles. Men, it seems, are helpless in the grip of a brown lady’s thighs.

“Black thighs do not have the same power,” says Julius.

He and I go off to Eastleigh.

This is basically Little Somalia: a massive slummy sprawl absolutely seething with business of all kinds.

Say what you like about the Somali people, but they can get you anything from anywhere and do it at a rock bottom price. We buy the anti-thigh-chafing bikers and loads of knickery stuff and bras. Julius is fondling a camisole with lacy trimming and sparkly bits. The kind of thing that might, I suspect, be worn by a sexually rampant “brown lady”. He also suggests we get some knickers with high cut thighs in a sort of hideous red leopard print.

“The shoshos are making bricks from mud,” I remind him. “Why do you want them to dress like sex workers?”

The young lady (in full ninja) with the beautiful eyes, who is the shop owner, crinkles them in laughter.

Julius wants to know whether he could marry a Moslem girl without converting.

“No,” we are told by the Lovely Eyes Girl and her slightly-less-lovely but still-attractive mother.

“What if the Moslem girl converted to Christianity?” he asks.

We get a few variations of burning in hell.

“But it is the same God,” points out Julius (hugely broadminded for him).

There still seems to be a lot of burning in hell going on.

1 Comment

Filed under Kenya

One response to “Kate Copstick’s Kenya: underwear, circumcision and marrying a Moslem

  1. Anna

    Yes, there is. haha.

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