Category Archives: Africa

Comic Njambi McGrath’s autobiography

I had a chat with comedy performer Njambi McGrath at the Museum of Comedy in London. Her autobiographical memoir Through the Leopard’s Gaze is published today in print and as an audio book. The blurb reads:

“Beaten to pulp and left for dead, 13 year old Njambi found the courage to escape, fearing her assailant would return to finish her. She walked all night risking wild animals, robbers and murderers in the Kenyan countryside, before being picked up by two shabbily dressed men. She spent her life burying memories of that fateful day and night…”


JOHN: So you’ve written your autobiography and it’s all about your appalling family life back in Kenya.

NJAMBI: Basically, it’s a journey back into my life, triggered by the death of my father in 2014. A few things had happened before that. My brother was getting married just before, which threw things into chaos.

JOHN: In Kenya.

NJAMBI: Yes. My father and I had been estranged for a very long time. The last time I had seen him was when he beat me and left me to die… Fast forward… My brother was getting married and my father was invited and I went into complete meltdown. All I could think about was everything that happened to me when I was 13 years old.

“…and then it ended up opening a whole Pandora’s Box…”

So I wanted to talk to my father about it before the wedding, because I felt like I was going to explode – and that meeting was disastrous because he brought his entire family and I wasn’t able to speak to him.

Then, after the wedding – It had brought up all the trauma in me – I rang him and we organised a meeting. But he didn’t turn up to that meeting because he died.

I completely lost my mind. So I decided to write a book. It started off as a journey to tell the world what a horrible man my father was and then it ended up opening a whole Pandora’s Box: all the evils of the world.

So it is a journey back into my childhood and into my parents’ childhood, to try and discover why they were so messed up. And it seems like History plays a major role.

JOHN: Blame the British?

NJAMBI: I cannot do a show about my life without mentioning the British. That is an important point, because my parents grew up at a horrible, horrible time: they grew up during the Mau Mau Uprising in the 1950s. 

They were children then. So you can imagine my father, as a young boy, seeing women brutalised every single day of their lives… You would grow up thinking that was normal. They had grown up at a horrible time. But I didn’t know that.

When people are traumatised by a major event, once they are free from it, they tend to want to forget about it. They don’t pass it on to their children but maybe not realising they have been traumatised and can’t face up to it and, if it’s not addressed, their children will be traumatised. It’s called Generational Trauma.

JOHN: Your book is called Through the Leopard’s Gaze. Why that title?

NJAMBI: Because, when I was a child, we lived in a beautiful area called The White Highlands. When the British arrived, they took it for themselves. They kicked out my tribe – the Kikuyu farmers – and took the land for themselves. They put the Kikuyu people in ‘reservations’.

JOHN: When did you come to Britain?

NJAMBI: When I was just coming up to 19.

JOHN: I only spent the first 8 years of my life in Scotland; the rest mostly in London. But I feel Scottish not English. You spent the first 18 years of your life in Kenya…

NJAMBI: We are so confused! My husband is English. My two daughters are British. I have two sisters and two brothers. We all came over, but my brothers moved back to Kenya.

JOHN: And your mother is…

NJAMBI: She died just over a month ago – in December – on Friday the 13th. 

JOHN: Your book will also be your Edinburgh Fringe show in August?

“At least you’re not black black”

NJAMBI: The show will be called Black Black because, the night before I got married, my husband’s mother said: “When I found out that David was marrying a woman from Africa, I was horrified. But at least you’re not black black.”

My mother was very black; my grandmother was very black. So it is a show where I am paying homage to the blackest people I know. It is a comparison between me and my life now and my grandmother. She lived through the Nazi era. She and I were put into institutions. I went to boarding school in Kenya; my grandmother was put in a British ‘concentration’ camp in Kenya. We were both controlled by the British.

JOHN: This is going to be billed as Comedy in Edinburgh?

NJAMBI: (LAUGHING) Yes. You can talk about something serious, but find the funny in it. In a comedy show, I would like to make people think as well as laugh. 

JOHN: Politics as well?

NJAMBI: Like I said, I cannot do a show about my life without mentioning the British. It has led some people to say I’m racist. But how can I be racist if everything is affected by everything that the British did to us? My education. I speak English. Everything. The land that we lived in. The coffee that was introduced by the British. I cannot not talk about the British.

JOHN: Anything else on the horizon?

NJAMBI: I wrote a sitcom – I have a writing partner. We finished writing it just before the Edinburgh Fringe last year. It’s with a production house. Someone once said to me: “Write about what you know.” Well, I’m an immigrant and there are issues surrounding immigration… And we are currently writing a feature film – well, you gotta try! In it, I am a black African woman with an Austrian lesbian and a Jamaican woman.

JOHN: You are busy…

NJAMBI: And I’m writing my first novel. I’m past halfway. And, out of this one, I think I could write a children’s book – using an element of it.

JOHN: Very busy!

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Filed under Africa, Kenya, Psychology, Racism, Writing

Everyday life goes brutally on in Kenya

British comedy critic and African diarist Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya, working for her Mama Biashara charity.

Mama Biashara (which translates as ’Business Mother’) tries to give a helping hand, small amounts of money and lots of advice to people who have nothing so they can start self-sustaining small businesses.

Its ability to fund relies solely on donations and Copstick receives no money of any kind for her work. She herself covers the cost of her own flights and her own accommodation/living expenses while in Kenya.

Her accommodation tends to be in the slums of Nairobi, which has its side effects…

Here are two edited extracts from her diary during the last week.


WEDNESDAY

SO here’s a thing. The laxative properties of aloe vera MUST NOT be underestimated. The litre or so that I drank yesterday has had the same effect on my innards as Barnes Wallis had on a Nazi dam.

Around three in the morning, all hell is unleashed. By noon I am emitting clear liquid. But I am a plucky old bint and with the aid of a soda (sugar) loperamide and 1000mg of paracetamol (pounding headache and turbo-charged bowels) plus more soda, David and I head off to Kangeme, one of Nairobi’s stinkier areas, to do a funding. 

There are 70 women in the group. All have the same problem. Husbands who beat them and/or rape them. These women have run away, mainly from the same area.

First a couple go, try to get work, maybe get a place to stay and then others come. Before you know it you have a community of beaten and abused women trying to make a new life.

However, they have no money, no wherewithal to start anything up. Generally, they will bring their youngest children with them and leave the others. But all they plan is to go back and get them. When they have a safe life to bring them to. A Mama Biashara lady has given some of them a room with some bunk beds in it. At least this is somewhere safe to sleep.

Currently, these women are on the street – because the set-up costs for prostitution are, let’s face it, low. 

But street prostitution in a slum area is precarious, going-on dangerous – and that’s on a good day. All the women have been assaulted by ‘clients’. 

As far as I can make out, around ten have been stabbed, one had her arm broken in three places with a metal bar and, currently, three are in hospital. Doris has been helping them for a few months, getting the younger ones little jobs as “dummies” for a hair and make-up college. I think “models” is the preferred term. They get 2.50, a day relaxing, getting something to eat and a lovely new hairdo. Others, Doris has found casual jobs when she can. One, in fact, has to leave the meeting as she has to go and cook chapati for a posh lady with a meeting. 

They are lovely women. And their business plans are pretty good. Sweet potato and arrowroot, fruit and carrier bags, eggs and sausages… all solid businesses. Each group is ten women – seven groups, so 70 women in all – with an average of 26 children in each group of ten, so 182. The bill is about 600 pounds. In the charity VFM stakes, that is pretty impressive. Even though I say so myself. Groups are deffo the way.

There is security, self-policing, mutual support and buying power there.

THURSDAY

Doris is off organising the buying with the ladies we funded yesterday. Some will leave for their new lives today and some tomorrow. Doris is very impressed with their knowledge and attitude with the buying. This is an important point in the process – Doris (or Vicky or Purity) watch the women to see how they are in a business situation – product knowledge, ability to strike a bargain and hold their own in a negotiation – because that will tell us a lot about any weaknesses the business might have. 

Felista sends me a slew of pictures of walls and piles of bricks. And a list of building materials which seems to feature mainly doors. And a photo of a bill for 120 quid with Not Paid written across the top. 

Mary from the Mary Faith Home calls to say their electricity has been cut off. The bill has not been paid. And the girls have still not been for their ultrasound. 

Maybe the CEO of Save the Children could hand over just a little of her £245,000 salary (plus perks) and help save these children.


Mama Biashara accepts donations HERE and runs a charity shop in Shepherds Bush, London, staffed by volunteers and (when she is in the UK) Copstick. 100% of the money earned in the shop goes directly to Mama Biashara’s work in Kenya, without any deductions.

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Filed under Africa, Charity, Kenya, Poverty, prostitution

As Mama Biashara expands in Kenya, ongoing abuse but upcoming hope…

Writer and critic Kate Copstick is in Kenya, where her Mama Biashara charity helps people out of abject poverty by giving them small grants to start small, self-sustaining businesses. They help set up businesses that will give them a life. Where necessary, Mama Biashara gives training and helps with creating a customer base.

The Mama Biashara slogan is: A HAND UP, NOT A HANDOUT. Copstick receives no salary and no money to cover her own personal costs. She pays for her own overheads, flights and accommodation.

100% of all monies donated are spent on the charity’s work.

Below are a couple of edited extracts from Copstick’s diary this week. Full versions are on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.


The farm we are visiting today. Wheat as far as the eye can see

WEDNESDAY

Off to check on a Mama Biashara farming business and do some funding.

The farm is amazing. The quarry business I posted pictures of last trip has spawned so many offshoot businesses. Once people get money, they think about creating their own group and starting afresh. 

The quarry begat a potato farm. That farm begat another farm. It did so well it begat a hotel and yet another farm. This is the farm we are visiting today. 

Wheat (as far as the eye can see) is planted alongside maize, a fabulous field of carrots and a big field that has already been harvested, dug over, and is now being planted with potatoes. There is water, which comes from the Mau Forest, and the crops are huge. 

The first wheat group has taken the profit from their harvest and are already away discussing taking over another field with the Maasai who owns it. Over the various plots here, there are about fifty Mama Biashara business people. 

We go to our local ‘safe’ house for a funding. 

There are five groups: all of them battered, abused women with children who are being abused as a way of forcing the mothers out of the community.

Once upon a Kenyan election, it used to be the thing for MPs to give out parcels of land in the Mau Forest – mainly to Maasai – in exchange for their people’s votes. Huge tracts of land disappeared into the political maw. 

Now these people are being evicted and are going back to where they came from. A lot of them came from around here. And now they want their lands back from the people they rented to and do pretty much what it takes to get them out. These women are caught up in this. 

Many came here as farmhands and dairy workers. Now the returning Maasai just want them gone. 

The women put up with outrageous levels of abuse. 

One group, when I ask if the women are being abused as well as the children, tell me: “Only what is normal”.

And being beaten is normal. 

The groups are bigger than normal – 15 women in each – but, then, the levels of violence have escalated. The women are mainly going back to their own areas, where they will be welcome and looked after. 

We set up businesses selling boiled maize, washing powder, porridge, carrier bags, chapatis and boiled sweet potato. One woman from the chapati group has her tiny, sodomised child with her. 

The child has not been taken to hospital because a hospital will demand a police report for a child with these injuries. And the women cannot report anything to the police in their own area because the police will do nothing but report the woman to the rapist who will beat her at best, kill them both at worst. So no police report. 

The child is being, I am reassured, “cured with leaves”. 

By the time you read this, 88 woman and 177 kids will be in a safe place and starting a new life. Not bad for about £750. Although I must stress that the grants are cut to the absolute bone in order to help as many as possible. 

Mama B gives small grants – A HAND UP, NOT A HANDOUT.

THURSDAY

First up is another Mama Biashara farm. This one is massive. And it has pretty much everything. 

The big advantage here is that the land has an irrigation system fed by a borehole. The rent is 80 a year. There are several groups working the many many crops here: potatoes and carrots, coriander and some other herbs, tomatoes, arrowroot, watermelon and sweet potatoes, cassava, cucumber, butternut squash, onions, passion fruit, pawpaw, mango, lemon and oranges. I am sure I have forgotten some. Also, there is a chicken project and a huge swathe of land growing silage. 

All in all, about 80 Mama Biashara people farm this land, splinter groups either from our other farms or, in the case of the silage and chicken, splinter groups from one of our fumigation groups, themselves started as part of Vicky’s Cleaners. 

Splinter groups are usually three or four from a successful group who take their profit and set themselves up in a new venture. The original group then adds some new people and the splinter group adds about ten in starting their new business. This entire farm is financially self-seeded. Some of the women who run it, who were meant to come and meet us, have disappeared. 

They disappeared, apparently, because they were worried that, because they are doing so well, I had come to demand a cut.

We stride off across a field to where today’s funding groups are sitting.

First is a group headed by four grannies who are fed up with their daughters and grandchildren being molested and beaten by the local men. Fair dos. 

They have identified a good farm with a stable water supply back in their own tribal area and, as they know farming well, they want to take their group there and grow potatoes. Seems like a plan – so 14 adults and 54 children will be setting off tomorrow morning.

The next group is big – 20 adults with 73 children between them. This group have been flagged-up by our people at the quarry. They are already doing casual labouring at another quarry, but this comes with a lot of typical Kenyan shit – like the women being used as unpaid sex workers for the supervisors. 

If they want their job for the next day, they keep the supervisors and their friends happy at night. 

Our quarry boys have identified a rich-looking piece of land in the same area as themselves and negotiated the right to quarry it. Mama Biashara has to pay the £80 licence (City Council, of course) to ensure that the workers are not harassed and set them up with the tools of the quarrying trade. 

It is a big amount of money for Mama Biashara but our original quarry has helped hundreds (maybe 500) people over the three years since it was started, as well as kicking off countless splinter groups. 

Of course, there are more groups that there were supposed to be – seven instead of four – but, when there are women explaining to you that out of their group, eight women and six children have already been raped (they don’t bother to complain about beatings unless I ask… it is ‘normal’), I find it hard to say: “Well, you weren’t on the list, so tough”. 

The constraint is money. 

Did I mention we need more? 

So we sit for a few hours under a tree in the grass and juggle the finances of saving 75 women and 185 children from certain abuse. 

I dazzle with what has become known as “your mathematics”. And we do it. 

Businesses for paraffin and petrol, maize and pease, arrowroot and a cleaning contractors are now set up and (most importantly) money is there to pay for transporting the women away to their new lives. Sometimes that can double the grant, but it is rather of the essence of the whole thing. Vicky has a fleet of lorries on speed dial and we save SO much money transporting large groups of people by truck rather than bus. It is mildly not exactly kosher so to do but needs must. And Vicky’s lorrymen are decent blokes.

All in all, not a bad day, as days go.


You can donate to Mama Biashara via Wonderful.org
 CLICK HERE

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Stuff the British media seldom – and UK TV News almost never – report on

The British tend to be very sniffy about US TV’s  international coverage, because the Americans supposedly report little and know less of the world outside.

But British TV is just as bad.

Major events in China, the Far East and India, in Africa and South America go totally unreported and unknown on UK TV, where the same parochial 5 or 6 stories get repeated in each half hour or quarter hour of our news bulletins.

My friend Lynn, with her husband Frank, has been travelling in West Africa.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted her blogs from the Ivory Coast and, delayed for safety reasons, from pirate-infested waters in the Gulf of Guinea.

Whoever hears anything in the UK about the Ivory Coast or the ongoing pirate problem in the Gulf of Guinea?

This missive from Lynn is from Morocco… or maybe it is from Western Sahara. It depends on your political viewpoint.


The SADR (Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic) flag

We have maintained email silence whilst travelling through Western Sahara and Morocco. All the maps were taken down and information removed as they showed Western Sahara and we were told not to carry anything with a mention of it and especially not a photo of the SADR (Sahrawi Arab Democratic Front) flag and to only refer to the country as Morocco.

I was told that, on 29th March this year, following a UN report, the Polisario (recognised by the UN as the official body for the Sahrawi) withdrew their road blocks on the Mauritanian border and agreed a ceasefire and that Morocco had offered semi-autonomy to the region but not sovereignty.  

Disputed ‘Western Sahara’ with Mauritania and Algeria to the east; Morocco to the north and the islands of Tenerife/Gran Canaria to the west

Morocco has the support of France and the USA, whereas Algeria supports the Polisario/Sahrawi arabs.

I was also told that the Moroccans have built a 1,700 mile wall north to south and there are varying accounts of 5-10 million landmines.

Last October, the International Court of Justice’s verdict was to hold a referendum.

Referenda have been mooted several times but never held, with Mauritania withdrawing decades ago and abandoning their claim. Moroccans are being resettled in the south to increase numbers and the building projects are prolific but eerie as there are so few people or evidence of habitation in all the new parks, playgrounds, office blocks, government buildings, airport and railway stations. Even the enormous barracks and gendarmerie seemed deserted. It all has the feel of a vacant film set.

We drove to the largest city, Laayoune, literally a city in the desert, 10 miles from the Atlantic Ocean with nothing else around it for 1,000 miles. Perhaps everyone was told to stay indoors until we left, much as we were told to behave until we had avoided the pirates in the Gulf of Guinea.

TV crew interview ’someone’ in Laayoune, Western Sahara

In fact, it appears that we were the news in Laayoune.

To add to our armed police escort, there were armed traffic police to close roads on the route as we travelled in convoy, the army to guard our lunch stop at a nomadic Sahrawi Arab camp, armed tourist police, plain clothes police and, to add to the circus, a TV crew was with us all day.

A TV interviewer appeared at the Sahrawi camp but I didn’t get an answer on who he or his interviewee were. 

There were also photographers (one of whom was plain clothes police determined to get a head shot of everyone and unamused by Frank’s gurning and back-turning).

All were seriously twitchy about cameras so no usable photos.

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Filed under Africa, Morocco, Politics

Copstick: “a graphic insight into another gift the white colonialists left Kenya…”

Kate Copstick working for her Mama Biashara charity in Kenya

Comedy critic and journalist Kate Copstick today returns to London from one of her regular trips Kenya, where she is works for her Mama Biashara charity. Below are the latest (shortened) excerpts from her diary. Full versions are on her Facebook page.

Mama Biashara’s slogan is “A hand up, not a hand-out”. It gives relatively small amounts of start-up money for small businesses which can become self-supporting. It also provides free health advice and medicines where it can.


Copstick (in blue) at a Mama Biashara project

WEDNESDAY

There is good news – after my threats of reporting them to the World Health Organization, the doctors at the local hospital are behaving themselves and the general health of the community is quite good. Our one salon is now four, the tomato and sukuma wiki (sort of kale) ladies are doing amazing business and the young guy we originally worked with setting up a chapati business and then expanded to a little hotel (cafe) has now taken on four other lads into the biz. Ditto the computer lad for whom we bought a printer – he is training local lads by the fistful. We get stuck into the business plans – 26 in all, with 41 people involved.

One interesting thing is that, having seen how well the women do when they have their own little business, quite a lot of men have decided that doing something of a businessy nature is A Good Thing, even if only not to feel emasculated by their wives. And, although the men tend to pitch much higher than the women, they do do good business.

The pitch plans are really well laid out now. After seven years of ploughing through “I buy a sack from the farm and sell and I get 200 bob and my fare is 100 bob each way” type plans, we have finally got people to think logically about the business set up. And understand the difference between gross and net profit.

Jayne is impressed by our Education Project leaflets. But she thinks we should also do something about secondary school education. Which is not free for anyone. Even the government schools demand fees. Then, on top of the fees, the grasping headmasters and school boards demand other (illegal) fees – for cooking, for toilet cleaning, for use of the ancient school bus, for example. I also get a graphic insight into another gift the white colonialists left Kenya. The concept of Flashman type prefects and fagging. This is in government schools.

Two boys in a highly-thought-of government secondary school were found recently with their backs broken after what sounds like a hazing. When you go into the first form secondary, it is the expected thing that you will be ‘tortured’. By the prefects.

Doris arrives, having had a terrible day. She tried to take the meds to our ringworm & oral thrush lady. One would think, given the state of her, she would be desperate for the bloody meds, but no-show. Doris tried to track down the firewood ladies who all want to see me about their pains and ghastly acid stomach. The village of prozzies has decided (after a visit from their local politician) that I must have some bad intentions and am probably coming to experiment on them, so they have cancelled their medical day.

Copstick & Mama Biashara’s big-hearted, hard-working Felista

THURSDAY

By half one it seems pretty certain that the medical is not going to happen. When pressed, Doris says that the women who, yesterday, wanted us to come, have now been told by someone – and are convinced – that I am coming with bad intentions, to experiment on them.

To be fair, it is always a hurdle to be jumped – the total disbelief of many of the people we work with that anyone would come and help them for free. And give them medicine for free.

Felista changes the meet from Java to Shalom. A Fat Shiny Bloke arrives along with Men In Hats, I never trust a Fat Shiny Man. He obviously wrote the book on Patronising With A Smile. He gets out his laptop and The Mzungu appears on Skype from Canada. She uses phrases like “We want you to know we are on your side” and starts far too many sentences with “I am sensing …”

The Mzungu and Shiny Man are from an organisation called Lift The Children. They support 75 children’s homes in Kenya. And elsewhere I think. They are big. They give DECIP (a children’s home run by Mama Biashara’s helper Felista) about £250 a month. Which is great. However, for this, they seem to want control of the home. They have sent Felista a formal ‘Warning Letter’ about withdrawal of funds, specifying that the home is dirty and in need of repair (pretty much true), that the beds are old (true), that the children are frequently messy and in torn clothes (true) and that she does not have their recommended ratio of one member of fully trained staff per ten children (absolutely true). They want all this remedied.

I point out, as calmly as I can, that Felista herself would jump at the chance to remedy all of this, but it is entirely a matter of having insufficient funding. Fat Shiny Man disagrees.

“It is not about money” he smirks.

Really.

I also point out that if Shiny Man ever looked at the children themselves, talked to them, he would see that they are so happy. They are secure, loved, reasonably well fed and they have self confidence. They are looked after medically and they love being at DECIP because they have freedom.

The authorities bring children to Felista that they cannot place elsewhere. Severely damaged and abused children. Because they have seen that – and I quote – “Felista heals them with love”. And she does.

I know kids there who have arrived totally withdrawn and incontinent, crazy and angry, or just tiny, malnourished, wobbly things. And now they are having fun, they are happy, they are confident. I suggest that there is more to a well-looked-after child than a shiny face and a smart uniform.

Shiny Man witters on about ‘making a bad impression’. The Mzungu makes some fair points. There are too many kids at DECIP. And this is a problem. But the authorities, the police and the community keep dumping kids on her and Felista has a heart the size of Lake Turkana.

Mama Biashara: “We do not know this little girl’s name. She was sent away from hospital with a diagnosis of witchcraft and a £200 bill.”

FRIDAY

We pack the car and head to the airport. I hate this morning. Just handing over an amount of money that would change the lives of fifty people to a grubby little man in a grubby little office so the stuff can get sent on a probably corrupt airline to the UK. This time it cost £800. Plus about £90 to clear it at the other end. It never fails to depress and upset me. Anyone with any contacts with any airline that flies to Nairobi… how good are you at emotional blackmail??

Doris says some women have come and said there is a boy the village who is now a total orphan. They want us to give him the de-worming medicine and if he is not dead in an hour they will come with their children. Bit by bit people arrive. They always check with each other about how safe it is… and what my reasons could be for coming here.

We de-worm and de-scab. The garlic and Flagyl take a hammering. There are a load of urinary tract infections, a ton of tonsillitisy throats and a lovely lady with oral thrush. Luckily I have the meds. A small river of castor oil is dispensed for those who have problems with their ‘tumbo’ and, after rigorous questioning, reveal they have not been to the loo in four days. We give all the usual advice about not cooking indoors, not just eating a mountain of ugali before bed and drinking enough water.

There is a lovely old lady who has a body full of aches and pains (she gets an extra tube of diclofenac gel just cos I like her), a load of giggling girls who just want something for free and more snot than you could soak a box of Kleenex in. Some kids scream and run from the mzungu. Others are fascinated and want to touch my skin. Three hours goes by very quickly.


Much-needed donations to Mama Biashara can be made HERE.

No-one takes any salary from the charity and Kate Copstick covers 100% of her own expenses herself. She takes no money from the charity nor from any donations to the charity. 100% of all money donated is spent on the charity’s projects.

The Mama Biashara shop, staffed by volunteers and Copstick herself, is in Shepherd’s Bush, London.

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Copstick in Kenya: rain catching, money problems, Elvis’ son, a soldier’s question

Here are the latest (shortened) excerpts from comedy critic Kate Copstick’s diary in Kenya, where she is working for her Mama Biashara charity. It starts in Western Kenya. Full versions are on her Facebook page.


SUNDAY

My phone has gone for charging at the one house in the location with electricity. I head to the town pharmacy. Elvis tells me his son is being overtaken by a fungus. The pharmacy has no castor oil. Or anything else to ease a passage. The constipated will have to hold on. No problem for them under the circumstances.

But I do get pediatric cough syrup and reinforcements for the antihistamine and antiseptic creams. There are already loads of people waiting when we get back to Julius’ place and so I get out the boxes and start again. I have already given out 50 tubes of diclofenac gel and we are more than halfway through the de-wormers.

A small boy called Musa is brought along. He is thin, limp and obviously has congenital problems I can’t fix. Most worryingly, he is filthy and dressed in rags while his two siblings who come with him and his Granny are shiny and well and clean and nicely dressed.

I ask the shosho why the mother is not looking after Musa and there is much embarrassed silence. I clean him up a bit and give him vitamins and a drink and lots of cuddles. I tell the shosho I want to see him again. I ask Julius to keep an eye on him.

When they have gone, Julius says he knows the family and the mother “does not care for Musa because he is not a good child”.

Local ladies making the Mama Biashara designed raincatcher

I break off from medical stuff to teach the locals how to make a raincatcher. Of course it is only the women who turn up to learn.

Julius has bought the wrong chicken wire so we first have to sew two strips of the stuff together to make a two metre wide base. Then we cut the plastic sheeting to size and place it on top. The wire is curled round the edge and, again, sort of sewn into place. It is baking hot. I worry about the plastic melting. But it doesn’t. We make ropes out of plaited string and take the whole thing off down to Julius’ banana patch and hang it up over the 1,000 litre water tank.

Then I go back to coughs and sore backs. I am getting slightly droopy as there seems to be no end in sight. A local lady has made mutuya for me and it is in the house to be taken to my resting place for me to eat tonight. But I need something now. It is five o’clock and I have been out here since ten. I feel a break might be in order. I get the mutuya (beans baked in the sun and then cooked till they are a kind of porridge) and discover it to have a salt content comparable to that of the Dead Sea.

So I have some water.

I go inside to talk to four women Julius has mentioned as being particularly ‘down’. They have about 23 children between them. Julius has very kindly said I can give them his underwear consignment (some bought from Eastleigh and some donated by the beautiful and generously-bosomed Friends of Mama Biashara) to start up a business. I will send more for Julius when I get back.

Julius has a traditional mud house. So no electricity and it is pretty much pitch black except where the sun comes through the open door. Which is where I sit.

I show the ladies the bras… some soft, some sports, some underwired but simple and some like nothing that has ever been seen in Western Kenya.

Mama Biashara’s bra ladies – like pilgrims at the Turin Shroud

They fondle and wonder. And when I tell them some of these bras can cost 5,000 shillings they gaze at them much in the manner of a pilgrim at the Turin Shroud.

They will sell them from a space in the market on the two market days and go around hawking the rest of the week.

I cannot explain how much joy and hope three bags of bras and a large bag of knickers (various) can bring to needy women.

MONDAY

I ask Doris to put some cream on my neck and shoulders.

She shrieks: “What is it?”

“What’s what?”

“Here! It looks like you have been boiled!”

“Ah… Sunburn.”

“It is HORRIBLE!”

“That is what happens when wazungu go in the sun.”

She pokes at my pink.

But still smears on the gunk and tells me the good news.

Doris, one of Mama Bishara’s main workers

We have had FANTASTIC feedback from the medical days we did at Gikamburi. Best of all, women have been telling Doris of the revelation of cooking with the stove outside. No smoke, no fumes, no congestion, no coughs, no snot, no sick children, no limp babies. They are telling Doris that even the men are commenting on how well they feel. FINALLY we have got through to people. And now, the word is spreading.

Doris has already been approached by women from two nearby villages, lured by tales of my ability to cure. Gikamburi ladies have been enthusiastic in their delight in life minus heartburn, constipation, aching backs, swollen ankles and all the nastiness that smokey houses brings. Tonsil lady still needs them removed but they have calmed down for now and all the rashes and lumps and bumps are responding really well to whatever goo I gave.

I feel quite Gregory House.

TUESDAY

Massive day.

We pick up 80 litres worth of detergent perfume for Julius (turns out that when he said the perfume had “gone off” he did not mean gone bad; he meant evaporated). We hit the pharmacy for antifungal eyedrops for the boy in Kahuho and antibiotics for Damaris in Western, plus a gallon of castor oil for the goat people.

Then I change what money I have left only to find the exchange rate has plummeted. WTF people!!!! Every penny counts to some of us !!

Kijabe Street, Nairobi – not somewhere to park a 4×4 vehicle

Thence to Kijabe Street where I am picking up a consignment of dresses from Monica. Her car has been clamped by one of the little shits around the parking area. I know why. It is a big flashy 4×4 and they obviously smell money.

I collect from everyone I can and desperately try to avoid spending any money. I have changed my last thousand but almost all of that will go on the cargo costs on Friday. I also hand out a load of our education leaflets in Swahili, Luo and Kikuyu. Market people are little people, generally, and need this information.

Now we go back to Eastleigh. Having given away Julius’ stock, I need to replace it. We cross our fingers that hell will not have been unleashed today.

Everything is pretty quiet. Although there is a truck of fully armed, flack jacketed and helmeted soldiers at the top of the street. They are doing a bit of stop and search.

We get in OK and Julius gets his knickers but, on the way out, we are stopped.

A ridiculously macho soldier in full combat gear indicates we should come over to the kerb.

“Where have you come from?”

“Er, in life or today?”

“Today.”

He is not amused.

“From buying bras and panties in Eastleigh to send to Western.”

“You have a business there??”

“No I am a charity. NO business.”

“Ah. So if you are a charity what do you have to give me?”

A pause.

I wonder if he is joshing.

Probably not. The ‘josh’ content in this kind of conversation does not tend to be high.

“I can give you some advice… Be nice to people, do not be unnecessarily violent and perhaps you could take some of your colleagues to Samburu and sort out the war that is happening there.”

He leaps back as if stung.

“I cannot go to Samburu! The people there are crazy! My colleagues cannot go.”

“Ah well. There we have it.”

We shake hands and drive on.

David is in hysterics:

“You have confused him so much!!”

The Mama Biashara raincatcher – finally erected


No-one takes any salary from Mama Biashara and Kate Copstick covers 100% of her own expenses herself. She takes no money from the charity nor from any donations to the charity. 100% of all money donated is spent on the charity’s projects.

Donations to the charity can be made HERE.

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Kate Copstick is de-worming in Kenya

Continuing (in this case) some very shortened excerpts from Kate Copstick’s diary in Kenya, where she is working for her Mama Biashara charity…

Kate Copstick (left) supervises a de-worming session in Kahuho as part of her Mama Biashara work

TUESDAY 3rd MARCH

My bowels are generally getting much better.

On my way from the car to the warehousey place a bloke in a lorry tells me I look sexy and asks if I would like to have sex with him. My wrinkly old heart soars. My day is made. I tell him I am sorry but I am too busy. But thank him for the offer.

We are meeting with Felista in the evening. I have some stuff for her, including some of the Eastleigh panties, some of the FABULOUS range of bras we have had donated and a load of Poundland earphones for her to sell in the cyber cafe.

She is keen to take the whole lot of bras for the girls at DECIP, but the underwired loveliness of the multicoloured, sexy, lacy boobie hammocks we have had given to us is entirely unsuited to the pubescent schoolgirl. Especially the crazy Luo girls she is having so much trouble with.

WEDNESDAY

I awake feeling positively brimming with health. And poo, unfortunately. But no pains, headaches, dizziness, sweats. I feel, in the words of James Brown, GOOD.

We head to a slum village called Kahoho. It is built in a dam. Apparently it floods every time the rain comes. The houses have brick lips on the doors to try and stop the water coming in but to no real avail. We de-worm about a 150 children, treat some ringworm, see a young man COVERED in the stuff and do a few bits and bobs. A young boy has what looks like fungal keritosis in both eyes. He should be going to hospital but the doctors are still on strike.

David and I hand out the medicine. It is fairly obvious the kids would swallow anything if they got to wash it down with a cup of water. They are parched. Loads of them – and their mamas – have ash crosses on their foreheads. Wouldn’t it be marvellous if their faith could help them with water and their worms instead of giving them The Power of The Dirty Mark On Your Forehead for a day?

Doris tells me about the hate mail she was receiving online. She posted on WhatsApp about our little de-worming/ringworm etc clinics and was horribly trolled by a group of DOCTORS warning that ‘small time’ efforts like ours do nothing to help.

Ah, tell that to a village of ladies who, yesterday, were hunched and moaning and today, thanks to some diclofenac gel, some Ibuprofen and a few stretching suggestions, are positively gymnastic. They have sent their thanks. Ditto scabby, rashy, pussy people. And the horde of ladies with ‘ulsas’ cured overnight with a handful of antacids and some advice about not eating a Kilimanjaro sized portion of ugali before bed are ecstatic.

Curing cancer never really was on my To Do list.

But then it seems, dear doctors, it is not on your list either… 88 days on strike and counting.

THURSDAY

Back to Nairobi and our afternoon medical. Or not. Doris calls to say that the whole area we were visiting has been called to attend a meeting with Kabogo (local governor heading towards re-election). For which read that everyone has been given 300 bob to attend the meeting and make it look like Kabogo has a huge amount of support. They will get another 300 bob for their actual vote come election day. As all we have are de-wormers and scab cream, we are gazumped.

David and I pass by Garden City Shopping Mall. One of the biggest in East Africa. High end shops, huge restaurants, leisure facilities, you name it, it has it. And the high end shoppers of Nairobi would like to thank you, the British People, because the mall was built with about £12 million’s worth (might be more) of the UK’s Aid money. I take a couple of photos inside but then am followed by security guards, so I split.

We have requests for more cholera leaflets, plus our Why Lightening Your Skin With Household Bleach Is A Bad Thing info, my special What Is This Pus? A Commercial Sex Worker’s Guide To STDs and, sadly, for the Mijikenda (indigenous people along the coast) an explanation (with helpful suggestions) of rickets, scurvy and the sickness they call ‘kwashiokor’, which is malnutrition and the whole big belly horror. The drought is hitting them very hard and they are a poor people anyway. Info will go, in their languages, plus HTC’s marvellous calcium gummies for kids and anything else we can think of but the problem is massive and Mama Biashara (as the striking doctors point out) is very small. Still no reason not to try.

Good news from the coast is that the original group of ladies I helped with their devastated skin problems (20 years of scrubbing with household bleach twice a day… light skin is what the customer wants and the customer is always right) are doing great business with henna decorations and other stuff. The group now numbers 60 and growing. And it seems that with love, shade and a LOT of cream (Johnson and Johnson’s baby cream, Nivea and Ingram’s have all played their part), the skin can recover. At least enough for normal life. It will never regain its youthful bloom …

FRIDAY

We are held up in one queue at the roundabout into Haile Selassie Avenue. As we eventually clear it we see a small, doughnut-shaped police lady is the one directing the non flow of traffic.

David eyes her balefully. “That is why I hate all fat ladies” he says “I HATE them. They think very slowly.”

I let it pass.

Rain has stopped the massage workshop this evening. It will now be done tomorrow afternoon after a medical day. Starting with de-worming and, where necessary, de-jiggering.

Julius seems less than impressed with our Education Campaign posters and flyers. Even in Luhya.

But he goes home with a bunch. And I sleep

SATURDAY

We de-worm with a will. A large drunk man has come to get help with his feet. His toes look like black cauliflower. I see this very well because he refuses to sit with them in the basin of disinfectant and keeps waving them in my face.

Some of the shoshos take him to task and he leaves. Everyone seems to be covered with some sort of pustule or vesicle. One young boy has whole areas of his body crusted with clusters of tiny plooky nastiness. The place is a dermatologist’s playground. Some things are much less frightening than they look – the old scabby leg here can look quite monstrous.

There is a fair old amount of malaria, a lot of vomiting, a large knot of constipation and the usual heartburn, headaches and generally sore bodies.

The sore bodies are instructed to come back tomorrow when there will be a team of highly trained massage people to ease their bits. I lose count of the times I miraculously heal a headache and dizziness with a big mug of water. There are a few REALLY sick kids who are being very brave. It starts to rain again and we scurry to Julius’ new shelter. Unfortunately the roof is not finished and there are no walls. But it is better than the alternative. We continue the medical with many coughs and much congestion.

And then a mildly manic bloke appears, smelling pungently of home brew, but happily so.

He grabs me and shouts: “You healed me!! You healed me!!”

He raises a raggedy trouser leg to reveal a skinny calf with a tiny scar on it. “You healed me!” He repeats. Pointing at the scar.

And I remember. He was drunk then too. In November.

He had a fairly ghastly wound on his leg he said was caused by a njembe. I cleaned it up and made my own larger-sized steristrips and closed it as far as I could then lathered it with antiseptic and antibiotic powder and cream, bandaged it and gave him cod liver oil.

He shows everyone the scar. The scar is TINY. He is extremely happy. Mildly annoying, but happy.

We gather an audience of kids and continue till everyone is seen to. Then I go inside Julius’ house, where it is pitch dark – it is a traditional mud house so no electricity and he doesn’t seem to have a lamp.

We get the new foam mattress on the floor and, starting with my four students in chairs, I teach the very basics of neck and shoulder massage, loosening arms, hand massage and then we get down on the bed and work from neck to foot.

Very general stuff. But I demonstrate with some force, how so much of the problem experienced by all the women comes from the same place. And when I hit their gluteus maximus… well.

The entire thing is watched over by an amused hen who is sitting in a basin in the corner hatching chicks. There are bloody loads of them. At least a dozen. It makes a nice soundtrack to the massaging.

It is getting dark and everyone needs to go home.

More rain will come and you really want to be inside when that happens.


Copstick’s full diary entries are posted on her Facebook page.

Mama Biashara’s slogan is “Giving a  hand up. Not a hand out.” 

No-one takes any salary from Mama Biashara and Kate Copstick covers 100% of her own expenses herself. She takes no money from the charity nor from any donations to the charity. 100% of all money donated is spent on the charity’s projects.

Donations to the charity can be made HERE.

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Filed under Africa, Charity, Medical, Poverty