Kate Copstick in Kenya: uplifting bras, election promises and a Chinese IOU

Meanwhile, away from the pre-occupations of the UK, real life and death continue in Kenya, where comedy critic Kate Copstick is working for her Mama Biashara charity, which gives seed money to impoverished people wanting to start self-sustaining businesses. It also gives medical aid and advice to those people whom other charities overlook.

Here are the latest edited extracts from her diary, starting in Mombasa.

Fuller versions are on her Facebook page.


Mama Biashara helper Vicky with cheap de-worming tablets.

SATURDAY – A WEEK AGO

We do a load of de-worming and the usual stuff. There is quite a lot of ringworm so the tea tree oil gets a hammering. And many, many more lady-problems including a girl of fifteen who is (I translate directly from the Swahili) “removing meat” when she has a period, plus three women in their thirties whose periods have stopped, quite a lot of painful sex and much spotting.

There are, of course, loads of anaemic old ladies and a lot of  ‘kizunguzungu’ (dizziness). But when I make them drink a bottle of water with some ORS (soluble hydration tablets), they perk up and react as though I have made Illness History. It gets dark and I can see nothing so we wind down after about four hours. The tiny local pharmacy has been really helpful. My load of ointments for rashes and sore backs runs out early on.

I get a replacement SIM card for the stolen Mama Biashara phone and Doris sets about the Herculean task of recovering her contacts.

Our matatu ride back to the ferry is uncomfortable to say the least. The memo about only allowing people on the matatu if there is an available seat must have got lost in the post and we are crammed in like sausage meat in a condom. My insect bites are growing and the floor of the matatu seems to be on fire. But we reach the ferry and cool off on the short trip across.

Helper Doris (left) with Vicky in Mombassa

SUNDAY

Doris cannot get in touch with the ladies with the bleached skin – they use household bleach for skin whitening – because she has not yet got her phone contacts back. All my clothes are claggy and so I throw caution to the winds and don a dera. Even although I have no buttocks. The swelling caused by some massive mozzie bites plumps them up a bit but, next to Doris I just look like someone has let the air out of a real person. However the dera is UNBELIEVEABLY comfortable.

We go and see Ally, get more deras to sell, go and check on our friends at the pan shop in the old town and then head back to the City Mall to get Wi-Fi. And allow Doris another leg massage. We watch the ‘goats’ and the farmers come and go and Doris tells me tales of her past lives in Mombasa. She was a great, great ‘goat’ in her time.

She tells me the last time we were here she found a girl in the toilets crying. Her old, white farmer had brought her here and told her she could eat for up to 600 shillings. She had mistakenly ordered something more expensive and the bill was 1,000 shillings. He was demanding the extra 400 from her and she was tearfully calling friends to get contributions.

The main – often jammed – road out of Mombasa to Nairobi.

MONDAY

Up at sparrow’s fart and forced to get a taxi as there is waaaaay too much luggage for a tuk tuk.

I run around town looking for some big plastic bags to protect my stuff and get everything parcelled up just in time to be pointed at a notice which says that Modern Coast will no longer accept luggage in plastic bags. Luckily this is Kenya and 100 shillings to the luggage boy gets everything safely inside. I sleep. And sleep.

And wake to find I am being rained on. The air conditioning, which worked at the start of the trip, is now letting in the rain which is lashing outside and it is all coming in through the vents. A vague-looking bloke starts covering everything with Sellotape.

Ten hours to Nairobi.

David awaits at the side of Mombasa Road. He has his cousin’s car which has definitely seen better days. OK, let’s be frank, better decades.

Its primary characteristics include a non-opening passenger door, a dashboard which radiates heat from somewhere, a dodgy wheel (endless squeaking) and windows with a mind of their own. But it goes.

How far has yet to be seen.

In Gikomba, “a politician with an eye on local votes has announced he is doing something about the sewer”

In my absence from Nairobi’s KillZone, aka Gikomba, a politician with an eye on local votes has announced he is doing something about the sewer. Hoorah.

That ‘something’ turns out to be dumping a giant mountain of sand and hardcore on the road…

…totally blocking it to anything apart from sherpas and tropical mountain goats.

TUESDAY

Doris is sleeping and doing family things so I change more money and head to the market. David is late and I am moody. And the exchange rate is dropping faster than the scabs from my bedbug bites (abating at last).

The waterfront at Lamu, Kenya, where Mama Biashara works

WEDNESDAY

Doris is still in recovery from Mombasa, but we talk on the phone and she says Vicky is reporting results that are nothing short of miraculous with our Poor Mama’s Plumpy Nut.

She has gone back to Lamu where she knows villages that are literally dying on their feet. News of Poor Mama’s Plumpy Nut has spread and Vicky has been approached by some shoshos from two makeshift villages along close to the Somali border. One has been given the name Refugee and the other Mogadishu.

They are in a sort of no-man’s or everyman’s land. When the Somalis are looking for Kenyan sympathisers they raid these villages and when the Kenyans are looking for Somali infiltrators they also raid these villages. Death is a daily occurrence. Even Vicky is far too scared to go there.

But she teaches the shoshos about Poor Mama’s Plumpy Nut and gives them the ingredients. I am not sure what we can do long term for these people. Nothing we can do there is sustainable. And we can’t get them out because most of them have no ID. For now, Poor Mama’s Plumpy Nut is what we can do.

I am going to set up a fund just for Poor Mama’s Plumpy Nut – it doesn’t cost much. I can get 2.5kg of dried milk powder in Eastleigh for about £12.50 and peanuts are about £1 a kilo. Vicky has seen big results with children being given just two tablespoons per day.

OK, we are not going to make malnutrition and infant death history. We would need Bono for that. But we can make a HUGE difference with very little. Which is, of course, The Way Of Mama Biashara.

Copstick: “We can make a huge difference with very little”

I am meeting Julius (Our Man In Western) at Corner. Things have been going well. The 50-strong group of shoshos we funded to sell sweet potatoes and arrowroot have expanded and brought in three more groups of 14 women each. So the original grant – which was about £250 – has not now funded not 50 women but 92.

The ladies who got the fabulous collection of Mama Biashara’s Bras for the Bouncy Breasted have done less well than expected. Note for the future: the rural ladies of Kenya are not fans of the uplift bra. They have been removing the wire supports. But they love the ‘shouting colours’. And the local prostitutes love them too. So that is something. But our four ladies are now firmly in business. Albeit that what they want now are vests – “for the sweat”.

Big news is that Kenya Power are considering running electricity to the area. Which would be fantastic. Julius gets £50 for the necessary junction box etc on the basis that it will be a base for Mama Biashara’s head shaver and whatnot. We compile a list of the stuff he needs to take back to Western with him.

There is much malaria, he reports. I launch into a lecture about the misuse of malaria drugs. I genuinely worry about sending them when I know that every fever, every bout of the trots and every headache is instantly diagnosed as malaria.

I agree a checklist of symptoms with Julius and demand a list of everyone who is given the medication. We will see. The generic stuff is excellent and not expensive but the Kenyans LOVE to medicate. It is practically a national sport.

Back at the hotel, we watch coverage of the inaugural run of the Mombasa–Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway’s new Madaraka Express. Fabulous. It will be a HUGE help to Mama Biashara.

But President Kenyatta has put Kenya probably irrevocably in debt to The People’s Republic of China. And, if I had to have someone knocking on my door with the You-Owe-Me book, I would not choose them.


Copstick’s Diary continues HERE.

Mama Biashara survives solely on donations and 100% of all donations go to the charity’s work; none to overheads.

You can donate to Mama Biashara HERE.

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Filed under Charity, Kenya, Poverty

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