Comedy Kate Copstick is in Kenya, where her Mama Biashara charity is based.
These are edited extracts from her diary there. Fuller versions on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.
WEDNESDAY 18th NOVEMBER
Kenya is wet. But warm. And very excited about the Pope coming to visit.
I planned to go to Mombasa to help the crispy ladies with the chemical burns from the toxic skin whitener (see an earlier blog).
However the woman who sold them the cream is bribing them to stay away from the police and is paying for their treatment.
I get to Shalom and Felista is waiting there. We talk about her newest arrivals at DECIP, the home that Mama Biashara built. There is a little baby. Maybe a month old, they think. Police found it where it had been left, on the main railway line, dressed in a new kanga.
There are three large, well-funded homes between where it was found and Felista. None of them would open their doors. So the police walked the miles to Felista and she took the baby. Which is now thriving.
Then there is the two year old girl who was being used as more or less a house slave by her mother. When she arrived at DECIP, she would endlessly brush the floor and wash up plates and cups because she feared she would be beaten if she didn’t. At two years old.
And finally, because Felista now has something of a reputation for helping girls and boys who have been sexually abused, people brought her a young, naked, pregnant, woman who had run out of Ngong Forest. She will not speak (except muttering to herself), seems permanently famished, keeps trying to steal knives which she hides up her sleeves and is generally Not A Happy Bunny. She is much calmer now but still no-one knows anything about her.
So now to business.
Felista has opened a cyber cafe in Kawangware as an income-generating project for DECIP. Which really needs income. Last time I was here I contributed the cost of a printer. Except Felista didn’t buy a printer. She paid the deposit on the premises, wired it up for internet and painted it. A wonderful man has filled it with 8 beautiful desktop computers and done all the IT work. It gets a lot of traffic already, but it still doesn’t have a printer.
I agree to go with Felista the next day to talk to the IT guy about this all-singing, all-dancing laser printer that is apparently the sine qua non of the cyber cafe.
I load Felista up with baby milk and nappies for the new arrival, pens and pencils for the school, a couple of bras the size of small bell tents and a pile of sanitary pads and David takes her home.
It turns out I will not be going to Mombasa by train… The train was derailed by flooding on Tuesday. And I cannot justify (or afford really) a flight.
THURSDAY 19th NOVEMBER
One of the big challenges here is the utter inability of anyone to comprehend that getting money is not easy for me. I tell them about the shop in London. Souad and Letitia work there five days a week without fail, pushing for sales, explaining to people about the charity, working really hard. And for nothing except a warm glow. Aunty Biashara – my sister Amanda – comes schlepping in from all over the place to help out. She has been in the shop now since 2009 when we first opened. She has a proper job but still takes the time to help. We are all getting quite knackered. And sales are not always high. 75% of the money I spend in Kenya comes from the shop. My expected Lotto win has not materialised and it is a real slog keeping the charity financially bouncy. We have recently asked for more volunteers– to no avail. But we need them before Souad, Letitia and Amanda drop dead from exhaustion!
I get to Junction and start organising the sending of funds to the Coast.
There is a group of 30 older people who have been offered the job of collecting rubbish and sorting it into various categories for the local council. But they need wellies and gloves and overalls and rakes and wheelbarrows. So they get their grant from us. Which is about £250. Less than a tenner each.
Then there is a group of younger people for whom Doris has organised a contract with Mombasa Beach Hotel for 1500 jelly coconuts every couple of days. They are going to get them in the interior where they are cheaper and bring them back to the hotel in a big handcart. They will buy at 20 bob and sell at 50 bob. There are 28 of them. 1500 is the minimum the hotel will take. What they really want is 5000. So the business is going to grow.
Then there are the beach boys – guys with no real education and no training. One group has the chance to do keep fit with local ladies who want to learn to ride bicycles for exercise. So this group of 20 will get 10 bicycles to kick off their business (a bike going for £15 special price from a local dealer).
A second beach group are sort of unofficial lifeguards and unpaid Beach Patrol but they help teach kids to swim (and adults) and want lifejackets, floats and flippers etc. I send enough for ten of each to kick them off.
There is a group of men who climb the coconut palms for a living. The money is crap and the danger of falling to a squishy death is high. Most do not live past 30. I tell Doris that I would rather talk to them about another business than pay to rent a copse of palms for them to harvest. They cannot do another business, apparently. These guys are ‘chosen’ at birth by the local witchdoctor who has a vision that they will be a great tree climber. From then, they are taught to climb the palms. No school. No nothing except palm tree climbing and coconut harvesting. And early death. I tell Doris we need to think carefully about this.
FRIDAY 20th NOVEMBER
We head to town to the incredibly helpful man who has given all her desk top computers and organised the IT for the cyber cafe. On the bus, Felista tells me about another boy (he is about 19) at DECIP (“He is mental”, says Felista) who likes to help cooking in the kitchen. Finding that there was no firewood to cook the children’s porridge, he took one of the young girls into Waithake and sold her to a woman for 50 shillings. Which he brought back proudly and gave to Felista to buy firewood. The girl was immediately rescued.
Felista hoots with laughter. “DECIP is become a place for mental people” she says.
It seems that the laser printer is, indeed, a bit of a bargain. And so we buy it. Plus power surge protection (absolutely necessary here) and some other bits and bobs.
As I quiz the nice man (Peter) about running costs and repairs, Felista gets a call from DECIP where they have just received another newbie. A two week old baby which was abandoned by a teenage mum at a police station. Well, at least I have just brought some baby milk.
SATURDAY 21st NOVEMBER
We head to town to get a load of stationery for Felista’s cyber. I have been in touch with Doris since last night on a half hourly basis. She is trying to get back from Mombasa. I am quite glad I did not go. She was in a crowd of 300 people waiting for the midnight bus (one bus) to Nairobi. She did not get on. But at 4.30am she and three other people paid £20 each to get in the back of a big lorry making the journey. They are stuck in the massive jam that is the Mombasa Highway. By 12 noon today they are less than a hundred miles from Mombasa. The traffic is stationary. Animals are prowling. A kid goes for a wee behind a bush and is mauled by a hyena. Doris’s truck drivers leap out and kill it with stones. The child is bleeding profusely.
Doris forwards me a WhatsApp message advising me to tell all my team that Nairobi is about to be struck with a wave of bombings. It lists the usual suspects. And says the bombers are hiding in Eastleigh until given the signal. 4th Street apparently. However I still feel safer here than I would in London … which surely must be next on the list.
We go to Kawangware to Felista’s cyber. It is actually quite impressive. Nice computers (thanks to Peter). A new massive printer (thanks to Mama Biashara) and it is doing brisk business.
Felista has yet another new arrival to tell me about. Five days old and the mother came to dump it at DECIP. She already has eight children, has separated from her husband (who has four of the kids with him and they are to be found roaming the streets in Kawangware) and has a new boyfriend who will not have the new baby in his house.
Felista wants me to come to DECIP tomorrow and talk to the mother and see if I can get anything out of the non-speaking crazy naked lady from the forest.