Critic Kate Copstick meets the bane of humanity (and his seven kids) in Kenya

Mama Biashara’s Kate Copstick at a happier time in Kenya

Kate Copstick currently in Kenya

Comedy critic, writer and occasionally TV presenter and producer Kate Copstick is in Africa, working with her Mama Biashara charity.

It funds small-scale sustainable businesses in the poorer areas of Kenya. Their slogan is: Giving a Hand Up, Not a Hand Out.

Mama Biashara is also involved in medical work, as these edited extracts from Copstick’s diaries last week show.

The full versions are on her Facebook page.

Copstick covers all of her own costs out of her own pocket.

100% of all money given to the charity goes to its work; none goes to her or her helpers.


WEDNESDAY

I head to Kawangware to drop my stuff off at my new home before going on to pick up Doris and make for Kiambaa and its many wormy, scabby-headed children.

The rain has scattered those waiting for the medical in Kiambaa. Your child might be riddled with worms and crusted with ringworm but heaven forfend it might get damp. And so Doris takes us out into the back of beyond to see one of our Mama Biashara groups in action.

We financed a group of lads to start their own building group. It is going really well and they have good steady work, but not so as they can exactly splash the cash in helping others. So they have decided to splash their expertise. They identify families in dire need, accommodation wise, and sort them out using begged and donated materials and their own time and building skills.

Here, in what could be an idyllic setting, I am introduced to the bane of humanity. I realise that sounds harsh… OK, along with First World Selfishness and Greed, organised religion, war and man’s general inhumanity to man, ONE of the banes of humanity.

Current patchwork home for mum, dad and their seven children

Current patchwork home for mum, dad & their seven children

A little man who cannot see further than his own testicles seems entirely unconcerned that his beautiful (talk about out of his league) wife is now breastfeeding his seventh child while the other six barefoot, raggedy, hungry fruit of his criminally fertile loins look on. At least No 7 is getting fed.

Their ‘home’ is a kind of patchwork mabati (iron sheeting) hut : 40% rust, 30% holes, 10% plastic patching. There is no food to be seen. Our lads are going to remake the hovel so this Father of the Year can shelter his contribution to world hunger warmly and in the dry.

“How do you feed your children ?” I ask Daddy.

He shrugs: ”Kibarua”.

Casual labouring that can pay a quid a day when he gets it.

“What other business do you know?” I persevere, hoping for a chink of light in this family’s long dark tunnel. Even an oncoming train would be something. Nothing. And he appears unfazed by his complete inability to do anything but squirt sperm at waiting ova. I find myself, to be honest, angry rather than sympathetic. The sheer, total hopelessness, the apathy, the resignation.

I am a little ashamed to say I contribute some money to the building fund and walk away. Without giving anything more.

Mama Biashara’s Doris (left) with the family

Mama Biashara’s Doris (left) with the family

Now, writing this two days later, I am a little remorseful. Still more angry than anything else. But I will send Doris some money to get them some food. And we will go back. But taking with us SOME form of contraception. My first choice would be a large pair of scissors.

However, the building fund desperately needs contributions. So, if you are less hard-hearted than I am, then please do help. It is a truly wonderful thing that the Mama Biashara guys are doing for this family and I am so, so chuffed that our group is so determined to give back any way they can.

THURSDAY

The day from hell. Only because of money worries. So much need, so much I could do, so little money and more than half of it has gone. Ah for the days when I was constantly topping up my personal coffers with a heady mix of porn and motorbikes and I could just pay for everything here. Long long gone… Although if anyone wants a great TV series on either topic…

Doris, one of Mama Bishara’s main workers

Dependable Doris, Mama Bishara volunteer

FRIDAY

My lodgings are with a sweet old bloke who was doing quite well for himself as a professional chef until his wife got cancer and all their worldly goods were sold to pay for her inept treatment. Her grave is outside the door of the house.

He had been reduced to running a small bakery as his wife got sicker but the Luhya tradition says that, with widowing comes enforced isolation. You are not allowed to run your business. And people do not come near you. Only the old can approach the bereaved. And so his business died shortly after his wife.

The house is sweet. No electricity and no running water but I have a toilet in the corner of my room which I can sit on and flush with a jug of water. It is a bit pongy, being, as it is, just an open hole, in a porcelain basin, to the sewer. But at least I do not need to worry about my appalling lack of skill in directing my pee in a long drop. Padding around clutching an oil lamp is positively atmospheric. Having said which, despite the flame, you can see almost bugger all. When I blow it out I am alone with the darkness and the pong of paraffin. And agonising acid stomach. I crunch antacids by the handful.

I empty a packet of ten. I consider the article I read that said women often experience a heart attack as a burning pain in the chest and think it is indigestion.

I consider whether I might be having a heart attack and have another couple of antacids.

I then remember something that popped up online when I last had electricity, to say nothing of WiFi, that said taking too many antacids can lead to a stroke. I wonder which would give me a better chance – marooned here, as I am, in the middle of absolutely nowhere.

Everyday foot work for Mama Biashara

Everyday work faced by the Mama Biashara charity in Kenya

SATURDAY

Today is medical day and I set off on a bike with my Big Box of Medicine. There are already people there, of course. Usually the earlier they arrive, the healthier they are. We create areas – one for jiggers, one for de-worming and one for ringworm.

We set up basins of heavily disinfectanty water, I make up bottles of coconut and teatree oil (for ringworm) and off we go. I have bought needles for jigger removing and a couple of experts set to. My group is ever growing so I get stuck in among the dozens of old ladies and men with sore everything, headaches, ‘rashes’ and ‘ulsas’, for which read acid indigestion. My favourites are the lady who “feels sick when I think of eating vegetables”, the lady who has suffered loss of appetite and can only eat twice a day and the lady who was “threatened by a cow”.

From 11.00am till around 7.00pm, in the glorious outdoors outside Julius’ house, I see 53 people, we de-worm a further 24, we de-jigger about 15 and treat a dozen or so for ringworm, three of whom are so bad they need the systemic meds. Those who had jiggers removed get shoes and the remaining shoes are given to the most needy barefoot amongst those who come.

There are also some properly poorly people. There is a thin woman who has had the raging trots for two months, a vomiting girl with a temperature, a genuinely fluey lady with a temperature and an old lady with appalling shingles.

“Rashes” she says, wincing as she lifts her blouse. I expect the usual scabby, flakey, pimply clusters. But she reveals the kind of shingles that would persuade one to believe Noel Coward, that if they ever meet in the middle she will die.

Meanwhile, we have collected a group of young drunks demanding dawa and an impressive audience of locals.

“They have come to see the celebrity” says Julius.

Ah! How I remember what that felt like… Opening school fêtes, autograph signing sessions alongside Mike Smith, requests for photos…

This is not quite the same thing. More “see whitey give away free stuff”.

Of course, word spreads and the queue grows rather than diminishes. Julius grows harassed, what with the drunk boys and the hangers-on and the children, not unexpectedly, howling as the clumps of jiggers are dug out of their tiny feet.

Then a boy sneaks in to steal shoes and Julius goes completely banzai, picks up a stick and chases him up the path belting him when he can. There is a palpable ripple of approval. I am unsure as to what to do.

We go back to my lodgings and eat the best ugali I have ever tasted. Although, to be fair, to say that you ‘taste’ ugali is a little like saying you ‘feel’ air. Fearing a return of my stroke / heart attack dilemma of last night I try drinking black tea instead of milky coffee.


There is a Mama Biashara donation page HERE.

And there is a 7-minute documentary online showing Copstick at work in the village of Kawangware in 2012:

1 Comment

Filed under Africa, Charity, Kenya

One response to “Critic Kate Copstick meets the bane of humanity (and his seven kids) in Kenya

  1. Owen Morgan

    I admire the work she’s doing enormously, but would urge her not to slag off organised religion. It is the church-based charities like CAFOD and Christian Aid who you can really trust to get things done in the Third World- ALL the money you donate goes out to help, unlike Oxfam which gives most of their money to corrupt employed middlemen.
    If you want to give to a big charity working in Africa or other deprived parts of the world, give to the religious-based ones FIRST, not last. unicef is another good one as it operates under the auspices of the UN.

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