Category Archives: Africa

Kate Copstick in Kenya and in trouble

On Tuesday, I will be hosting the Grouchy Club live in London without co-host Kate Copstick. She is in Kenya, working with her Mama Biashara charity. It helps deprived individuals and groups to start up their own small legitimate businesses to support themselves.

Here is a heavily-edited version of the Kenyan diary entries she has been posting on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.


Copstick in Kenya

“I am having something of an accommodation crisis.”

SATURDAY 4th JUNE

I am having something of an accommodation crisis in Nairobi.

Someone told my (Seventh-day Adventist) landlady that I come to Kenya to train people how to be gay. So she has evicted me.

Doris has just about given herself a stroke spending the past few weeks trying to find another place on my budget, which was £50 for three weeks.

When David picks me up at the airport, we drive for about an hour before reaching my new home. It is far out in the geographical, not the John Denver, sense. On the road from Dagoretti Market to Karen. Thankfully not close enough to Dagoretti Market to smell or hear the abattoir. But a real bugger for transport or walking. The room is big and I have a toilet inside !!! My mattress is on the floor and my bucket (now redundant what with the en suite) under a wee sink. Which actually has running water. So, except for the geographical location, it is bloody wonderful.

The place is a sort of a knocking shop… Chaps rent rooms and bring their girlfriends. Or vice versa. The sign on the gate says Home from Home.

As I sit in my new accommodation and look around – bare plaster walls, bare tiled floor, room empty except for my mattress on the floor – I cannot help but think that, if someone asked me where I was, I should say “Ahm in masel”. That translates as “I am in my cell” but also ” I am in by myself” It is not really that funny. But I am cold and damp and it seems hilarious when you are here.

I tell the Pamoja Boys and Martin Sombua about the trip to Samburu. They have heard all about the British soldiers raping local girls. It also happens around Nanyuki, apparently, where there is a big army base. They catch them when they are tending to the animals, or going for water apparently. The other talk is all of civil unrest and ethnic cleansing. There are now weekly demos/riots in the city centre – Tear Gas Mondays they call them. The opposition parties want the wildly corrupt electoral commission reformed. Unsurprisingly, the Government do not agree. Next year’s elections will, I fear, be messy.

SUNDAY 5th JUNE

I get a matatu to Karen. The fare is 20 bob but, because of my colour, I am charged 30 bob. I get off at The Hub, a new shopping centre.

Most of the outlets in The Hub are not yet open. Which does little to undermine the sheer, gobsmacking, breathtaking, indecent opulence of the place once you are inside. A sweeping palatial staircase leads to a balustraded second level, a massive stone flagged piazza opens up surrounded by porticoed walkways, a jazz band plays and children are riding around on life-size toy ponies which move forward as the child posts (as in a posting trot) up and down on the saddle. I walk through another archway to find fountains playing alongside a boating lake. A BOATING LAKE. Turning left I chance upon a chap who offers me gluten-free artisanal breads. He is part of their weekly Organic Farmers’ Market. There are biodynamic jellies and vegan spreads, organic wines and thoughtful sorbets. I cannot speak. I am in Vegas. It just seems so so wrong.

I meet Doris. She comes back to my cell and picks up three baby dolls for babycare training (we are MUCH in demand) and a load of rubber rings: armbands and beachballs for our burgeoning groups in Mombasa. Amazing to think a lad can make more money renting out Poundland blow up swimming aids than he can renting out himself.

Doris goes and I curl up with my slightly damp blankets and a game of solitaire. In the next room, a baby starts crying. A man’s voice starts to sing something local-sounding. The child continues to whine. And, just as I thought it could not get any worse, the man changes tune. And starts to sing Coldplay’s Yellow. The child likes it.

The Kenyan national flag

The Kenyan national flag

MONDAY 6th JUNE

David arrives. His car is in the Sick Car Hospital after a drunk driver hit him head on. He has a borrowed car. It makes a clunking noise in any gear below 4th.

We take a road that loops a little around the town centre in case they have started demonstrating early. The demonstrations are fairly peaceful. The uniformed thugs ‘policing’ them are not.

The Ngong Road looks like a war zone. And it is really. A war between rich and poor. Once the road had wide chunks at the side where people sold flowers and plants and turf and stuff. Then there were newspaper kiosks and snack stops. A whole little micro economy. Under lovely old trees.

The whole lot has been bulldozed. There is some sort of a plan to widen the road so the fat cats don’t have to wait behind a matatu when they are driving to a meeting. The contract will of course be given to the Chinese on a government deal.

No one is ever compensated or offered an alternative. This is money coming into Nairobi and, instead of helping the poor, it is simply forcing them out. Lord knows what they will do to the Kibera people when the road goes through. I now hate everyone in a 4×4 on principle. A radical idea but it is working for me for the moment.

Down on the coast, we are helping the ex sex workers who have destroyed their skin by scrubbing it with household bleach twice daily, I took them E45 and they are hailing it as a miracle. They are able to walk outside without pain (although they shouldn’t), they can sleep and their skin is coming back.

TUESDAY 7th JUNE

We have a meeting with Margaret – my ex landlady – to see if there is any hope of a rapprochement. I go bearing gifts of cod liver oil, garlic and iron as she is run-down and poorly. She meets us outside the property on the street. She is very nice but explains that, because of what The Scriptures say, they cannot have me living there because, if they help me, it would be as if they themselves are helping gay people. It was Poundland’s coloured and flavoured condoms what did for us.

We leave and even David – who is a Kenyan man and therefore thinks gay men are just ill and gay women don’t exist – is outraged.

But you cannot go against The Scriptures.

This is The Hub. Unreal. And Doris, as Sondheim would say ... On the steps of the palace

This is the Hub – with Doris, as Sondheim would say, on the steps of the palace…

WEDNESDAY 8th JUNE

We head for Ongata Rongai, a big town in the heartland of the area where (President Daniel arap) Moi‘s land-grabbing habit reached its apotheosis. There is enough bad blood between the Kikkuyu and the Maasai to transfuse the cast of Twilight.

The women we are going to fund are the pariah’s of the area – mixed tribe. The sons and daughters of a Maasai/Kikkuyu union. Think Catholic and Protestant marriage in Northern Ireland and you are close. Our women (and men) are working in a stone quarry for a tiny pittance, if they get paid at all. And I am talking about a quid a day. For breaking stones.

When troubles erupt – and they are now – these people are the targets’ targets. We have half a dozen groups and we are meeting at the home of another of Doris’ friends from her old life. This lady married one of her customers. She has a fab house and a huge business in electronics which her husband set up. And when Doris contacted her she has stepped up not just to the plate but to the whole dinner service. She will be overseeing and mentoring the groups we fund today.

Doris and I head back home and stop at The Hub so that I can show her this extraordinary temple to money. We drink a cocktail on the inner square. And gape.

I look the place up.

4 billion Kenya shillings. “Local investors.” Hmmmmm. 30,000 square feet of retail space. And the boating lake. This has to be dirty money. All money this big is dirty here. Interestingly, when I have a look at the local paper the headline tells of 4.2 billion being stolen from the National Youth Service. Money given out to three building companies, one of which was not even registered and two which were registered as business names only.

Sometimes I wonder what the actual fuck I am doing here …

THURSDAY 9th JUNE

I am meeting Felista who says she has found a place for me to stay that is more convenient. We look at three places. They were a bit like old Gorbals tenements. Or something from Little Dorrit. Not dreadful, but they were no nearer to town than I am now and the fact that by the time we got in the car to go back we had already attracted a couple of groups of men with the look of vampires in a convent made me think that perhaps I am safer where I am.

Doris is in town searching for the little spritzing bottles we need to take to Samburu and arm the local women against sexual attack – hence the chilli vinegar. This simple but effective deterrent worked wonders during a spree of gang rape in Nairobi. An eyeful of chilli vinegar will soon put paid to ideas of, well, anything really.

I am massively stressed at the thought of the trip to Awendo. I think, because I am living in the cell at the back of beyond and everything is taking exponentially longer and the money is running out and I am feeling ridiculously lonely (whine whine whine), the thought of the utter lack of autonomy that there is when I go to Awendo plus the fact that it takes a day to get there and a day to get back and I do not have that time to spare, the volcano of despair that is bubbling inside is fed by this further indication that nothing I ever do will be enough and I will always be disappointing someone.


Copstick’s Grouchy Club Podcast, recorded during the above period is online.

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Dreams and vomit and murderers in Kenya with comedy critic Kate Copstick

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

Kate Copstick is in Kenya

Comedy critic Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya, where her Mama Biashara charity is based. It helps impoverished, sidelined people to start up their own small businesses.

She is usually based in Nairobi but, last Saturday, she went to Mombassa.

Below is a highly cut-down version of her diary, which she posts in full on Mama Biashara’s Facebook page.


SATURDAY 12th MARCH

We go off to the end of Mombasa where Bamburi Cement lives. It is SO quiet compared to Nairobi. Almost no traffic, no hooting and screaming. And no plague of police looking for bribes. In a little slum area north of the factory area, Vicky (of Vicky’s Cleaners fame) is waiting. We have a training session to do.

Since we first funded her, Vicky has had successes all over Kenya and into Tanzania. In keeping with what I have decided to call the Mama Biashara Model because it sounds important, Vicky has – with Mombasa now as her base – started working with older commercial sex workers (women she describes beautifully as “they have … a history”), male commercial sex workers and ex-crims who cannot ever get proper work because to be employed as anything you need a ‘certificate of good behaviour’ which you cannot get if you have been to prison.

She trains them (she is a phenomenal trainer) in all manner of skills and gives them the work when she gets new contracts (which she does all the time). Some have had enough work from Vicky alone to set themselves up in businesses. This trip, we are meeting a half dozen or so groups who have plans but need a bit of Mama Biashara luuuurve (and money, obviously).

At night, I have the most extraordinary dreams. Wonderful dreams, unlike any I can remember. They are full of people I know from all over my life and we are all in a show. I am, as well as that, invited to join Fascinating Aida and we spend a while practicing harmonies. I am so happy.

Normally all my dreams revolve around me being forced onstage (no, really) to fill in in a play – quite often Shakespeare – where I have not been to rehearsals and have only had a cursory glance at the script and no one will let me look at it again even though I know that, if I can just get the first line, the rest will come. But I have to go onstage and I can ruin everything for everyone. They are scary and stressful and guilt-ridden and horrible.

This dream was joyful. I was, again, asked to fill in in the play. But this time I was playing a corpse and so I could do nothing wrong. People would pick me up when I had to be moved and everything would just happen round about me. There was the small matter of a killer on the loose but he was caught before I went onstage.

Doris at the ferry in Mombassa

Doris warns the ferry trip to the south side is fraught with peril

SUNDAY

I have realised that Mombasa for humans is like water for sharks: you have to keep moving or you die. Movement creates a small breeze (or large breeze if you are bobbling along in a tuktuk.

We get a matatu from town to the ferry over to the south side. Doris has rather given me the impression that The Ferry is an impressive trip, fraught with peril. Turns out it is a voyage of some four minutes. On weekdays, about 3,000 people cram on but today we are few. Yes there has been a capsizing. Once. But the thing seems to be managed with a quite un-Kenyan efficiency.

We go down to the public part of Diani Beach. Like Pirates Bay (where we were yesterday), there are hawkers and renters of rubber rings. But this is much posher. There are some (but surprisingly few) white people here. Mainly large older men with slim young local girls. And the price of the jelly coconuts has suddenly doubled.

We are having no luck getting together our recycling training group and we still do not know if we will be allowed into the village where widows are sent to be used as sex toys for rich Swahili men, so we make out way back to the ferry, stopping for phone charging and food at a place where the owner makes an immediate play for Doris. Having said which, “You are well filled-out” is not necessarily a universally acceptable chat-up line.

Doris (left) with Vicky in Mombassa

Doris (left) with Vicky of Vicky’s Cleaners

MONDAY

We go back out to Bamburi and find Vicky with the last of the funding groups – six women who want to make viazi karai (a Swahili delicacy) and a group of twenty young guys who want to rent out beach kit at Pirates Beach. The guys are a mix of ex rent boys and ex cons – not as iffy as it sounds. Loads of people get swept up – almost literally – in the frequent ‘street clean up’ campaigns put together by City Councils. Homeless, beggars, thieves and the rest all get collected and dumped in prison where they more or less disappear).

These guys want to get up and out and their progress at the beach will be monitored by police and City Council. They just need the capital to get started. As we talk, I realise that there is, even amongst serious hardmen like this. a real taboo about revealing that some of the guys are gay. It is extraordinary to see their spokesman almost blush to say the word.

Doris takes me to Old Mombasa Town. We dive off into the warren of streets that is the old town: a little like Marrakesh and a little like Venice. This place is home to a myriad street snacks, all delicious. We find a hole in the wall where an old beardy bloke is drinking what is definitely coffee. We ask if we can come in. We can. We drink superb coffee. We watch the Old Town world go by. It is a very other world. Doris observes that the place smells like an Indian Paan House.

“It is,” nods beardy man.

“I love paan,” I pipe up – having chewed it in London after meals as a fennel-heavy breath freshener.

“These ones are very good,” offers beardy man.

It doesn’t taste like the London paan. It tastes like chewing incense. I swallow the juice. Then suddenly I feel slightly numb.

I spit it out into a napkin. The ‘buzz’ intensifies and it feels like the top of my head has come off. I find I can neither speak properly nor do anything much. Like move. Which is unfortunate as what I know without shadow of a doubt is that I am about to vomit.

Doris says that what happens is I turn purple.

I can see my arms and they have certainly changed colour. And purple is not far off it. Luckily I have been sitting right at the door – watching the world go by – and so, powerless to do anything else, I vomit. My puke almost hits the middle of the road. I try to say sorry but my mouth won’t work. The old men in the shop are very helpful.

“Water,” they say, “and milk. Gargle and spit.”

I cannot even hold a mug of water. Doris holds it and I drink. And puke again. The owner of the shop (no, it transpires, beardy welcoming man was not the owner, merely a regular and he has now left) has come back and is creating hell that the old lady would have let me try the chewwie stuff.

Doris explains that I wanted to try it. She herself was about to try it. I am still retching into the bucket but try to back her up. Doris helpfully takes a photo. Now all the people in the shop are helping. Buckets of water swirl away the puke from the front of the shop. A tuktuk is summoned. I cannot stand to get into it for another five minutes. By then I can mumble apologies to all and clamber into the seat. We get back to the hotel where I explode in the other direction.

Kate Copstick cares in Kenya

Kate Copstick has wonderful dreams in Kenya

TUESDAY

I have more wonderful dreams and yet again sleep like a baby. I am insistent that we return to the Paan Shop with gifts for the old lady and her husband as an apology for yesterday.

The training group for recycling is still nowhere to be found and it transpires that the widows’ village is out of bounds as it is under lockdown (along with the rest of the area) as a couple of people have been stabbed on the beach and the murderers have not been found.

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Kate Copstick in Kenya: cerebral palsy, accidents, drugs, epilepsy and paralysis

Copstick at last month;s Edinburgh Fringe

Copstick in the West at the Edinburgh Fringe

I posted the weekly Grouchy Club Podcast today, but without co-host Kate Copstick.

She is in currently in Kenya, where she runs a charity called Mama Biashara, based in Nairobi. It helps deprived individuals and groups to start up their own small businesses to support themselves.

She is posting a daily diary on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.

Below is an edited version of a little of what happened on just two days this week.


TUESDAY 8th MARCH

Kijabe Street market calls and I head off with David. Much loveliness is discussed and ordered.

I am approached by a man with a picture of his 13 year old daughter and a list. I assume some kind of sponsored bungee jump. But no. This is Kenya. He has received phonecalls from a local group (gang would make them sound too organised. These groups are more just opportunistic villains) who kidnapped his daughter from school and are demanding 300,000 shillings for her life. This, I learn, is quite a common occurrence and the police have so many of the cases on their books that they just fob you off to get your child / husband / father back yourself.

As we leave the market, a woman on a pikipiki is involved in an accident. The driver gets up but she is lying in the road. It is now that I receive a reminder of quite how cheap life is here.

“Stop!” I cry.

David looks vaguely irritated.

“Why?”

“This woman is injured!… Look! She cannot stand up.”

David looks and makes a clicking sound. “There is no parking,” he says and he drives past.

“Go around!” I demand – pointing at the roundabout we are joining.

“For what?”

“To help the woman!!”

More clicking from David, plus a tutting noise, as he drives off the roundabout.

“What could we do?” He is self-evidently irritated at my even considering risking a parking ticket to help a woman spreadeagled and twitching in the middle of a main road.

I am incandescent with rage. Such as to leave me speechless for the rest of the journey.

WEDNESDAY 9th MARCH

Kate Copstick. My house. Yes this is more or less all of it. I am standing with my back to the other wall.

The full extent of Kate Copstick’s accommodation in Kenya

Wednesday got off to a very bad start.

I awoke – and I do not exaggerate – crippled with pain.

I was contemplating not getting up at all, but Margaret is at the door at 9.30 to tell me that I have to empty out the storeroom I have been using for what I buy because someone wants to rent it. She is a tad taken aback at the hunched, trembling figure that opens the door. And she says I can empty it out in my own time.

I am tottering around the corner to Shalom for wifi and a hot milky coffee when I am stopped by a burly bloke sent by the shosho who wants – whatever Margaret says – the place emptied now. So the burly bloke helps me and we cram my little house with Mama Biashara loveliness. Then I go to Shalom and take meds plus a small handful of Tramadol.

Although, as my sister Amanda would quickly point out, opiate addiction is NOT my friend, at times like these I find that Tramadol is.

I do not feel like making the trip to Kibera by matatu or pikipiki so I extravagantly get a taxi. There is a room full of blind /deaf/ choking/ twitching/shrieking young humanity there with its mothers.

As soon as the Tramadol kicks in, we get going.

I talk to the families one by one. As I get the horror stories from the mums – mostly housebound because of the kids – I (who am really a King Herod in my heart) just want to sort things out a bit. And so Mama Biashara funds the group.

There is Mama Anita. She is 13 and has severe cerebral palsy. She is doubly incontinent and unable to do anything for herself – like sitting up. She is also blind and deaf.

Mama Ronnie

“Mama Ronnie is a beautiful young woman with more severe cerebral palsy than Anita”

Mama Ronnie is a stunningly beautiful young woman – a 19 year old with even more severe cerebral palsy than Anita. Her son is a big boy. His mother can no longer lift him. Which makes cleaning him and all poo-related activities extremely difficult. Feeding him one meal takes about an hour and a half.

I chat to Mama Ronnie about the possibilities of running a business from the house (poo-covered as it frequently is) and we discuss omena and liquid soap which has a really high profit margin. She gets slightly teary – which is very unusual for these amazing and resilient women.

It turns out that – because she has been unable to pay her rent – the landlord has locked her house. Her landlord, being much stronger than her, has had little difficulty in lifting Ronnie and placing him propped against a wall in the mud outside the door. Mama Ronnie is, naturally, unhappy.

And this, dear reader, is why it is so important that Mama Biashara keeps making money. So that when I meet someone like Mama Ronnie, in a situation like this, we can pay her scuzzy landlord his arrears and let Ronnie back in the house. And go off to Kawangware and buy 150 litres of soap chemicals so that Mama Ronnie (plus five other mums of disabled kids) can start earning and not have rent arrears again. As the meerkat says: “Simples”.

Mary and Joy - the blind twins

Mary and Joy, the blind twins – burns, paralysis and epilepsy

I meet the blind twins – one of whom has whole body burns after pulling a pan of boiling water over herself; Irene, who had a stroke, is intellectually impaired and paralysed down one side and has recently developed epilepsy; two more kids with severe cerebral palsy; and a contingent from the albino community including Alan who wants to be an accountant; Rebecca and her dad; and the absolutely delightful Evanson Kangethe, a brilliant boy who is No 1 in his class and wants to be a footballer. He, representing his community, sends a huge thanks to Sandra Smith who sent them a huge bag of Factor 50 sunscreen.

I tell them about the Oxfam adverts with the sad children but we are laughing too much to recreate them.

Everyone gets a small business – even Irene, who will sit beside her mum and sell sweeties.

This is Chritus who wants to be an accountant

This is Chritus, who wants to be an accountant.

I go off with a shopping list topped by several sizes of what they call here ‘beeeeg diapers’. We get a matatu to Dagoretti Corner where Alan (who is looking after his disabled brother), Joan and Dan eat with me at the Mali Cafe. Doris arrives and they go off and we start to schedule the Mombasa trip. We leave Friday. We have half a dozen big groups to fund but the budgets they have asked for are far more that we can afford.

The bus is 9 quid and our rooms are about 4.50 per night each. I fret over every penny. We are also doing – if we can – some experimental work recycling flip flops and carrier bags. But there is not enough time for me to get the kit I need before we leave. We pack in a quick meet with Felista and I hand over the stuff I have brought her to sell in the cyber cafe – DVDs and headsets mainly.

At last I manage to Facetime Daddy Copstick which is wonderful and we all talk.

I have extremely strange dreams…

(CONTINUED HERE)

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A proposal of marriage to comedy critic Kate Copstick + Jimmy Carr’s money

Some of the Kenyan children helped by Mama Biashara

Some of the Kenyan children helped by Mama Biashara

Comedy critic Kate Copstick has now arrived back in London from her work with her Mama Biashara charity in Kenya. Each time she returns from Kenya, she brings back goods to sell in the Mama Biashara shop in London’s Shepherd’s Bush.

Below are highly-edited extracts from her final week’s diaries. The full versions can be read on the Mama Bashers Facebook page.


SATURDAY

We go to Jowac where I try to calm my day’s tension with a Tusker beer. Felista arrives, then Doris. Much stewed chicken is eaten. A group of blokes at the table next to us are fascinated by our group. I am asked if I would like one of them to ‘carry me’. Sounds romantic, eh? Nah. It means fuck. I decline. My father would not like it, I tell them. They hoot with laughter. I am then proposed to. Several cows could wend my father’s way were I to accept. I suggest that the gentleman doing the proposing might not be up to (as it were) a Mzungu bride. As my father will be reading this, I will not go into detail about the discussion that followed about the sensory benefits of a dalliance with a woman who has not had eight children before the age of 25, but an hilarious time was had by all. He bought me a Tusker I bought him a quarter bottle of gin (the only way it is sold in these bars). I think we might be married. Hugely jolly times. And my tension of the day is completely dissipated.

SUNDAY

Ghastly. Pouring with rain. I start packing. When the rain stops for a bit, I leg it down to Corner where I meet Hassan. I have known him since very early Mama B days. Almost pre Mama B days. He is now a pikipiki driver and – although two of his daughters have graduated – is still with his nose to the grindstone to educate the rest of his family. I look dubiously at the leaden sky:

“How much to Yaya?”

“£1.”

I get on the bike and we sail off through the puddles.

Around halfway to Yaya, the heavens open again. It is like being in a cold power shower. But, once you are totally wet, you cannot get any wetter. I drip off up into the Yaya Centre.

MONDAY

David arrives at 9.00am to take the first lot of stuff to the cargo depot. When he leaves, I finish re-packing chess pieces inside paper and cardboard inside some hopefully robust baskets inside a box. The biggest one is on order and, if it arrives broken in any way I shall beat myself over the head with the (10kg) board.

David is gone a ridiculous amount of time and it is late when we set off with the second load.

It is all weighed and measured and the bill is about £750. Gulp.

So please, if anyone reading this is one of those customers in Shepherd’s Bush who comes in, picks up something and complains: “Your prices are very high. I could buy this for a twig and a pat of cow dung in my country”, please consider how many sales it takes to recoup £750.

En route to the airport, two ambulances come screaming up the wrong lane of the dual carriageway down to Nyayo Stadium.

“I hate these people,” observes David darkly. “They just don’t like to sit in jam.” Further on, at a big roundabout where there is a big Tusky’s shopping mall on one side and Strathmore University on the other, there is a bit of a to-do.

People are lining the road and indulging in a favourite Kenyan activity – Watching Something Ghastly Happen – This can be followed by Doing The Headless Chicken and Pointless Paranoia.

“Something very bad has happened,” says David with relish, rubbernecking enthusiastically. But we cannot see anything.

It is later we discover that (as has happened before at Kikkuyu University) the KDF (Kenya Defense Force) were carrying out a drill to test the students’ ability to act promptly and sensibly in the event of a terrorist attack like the one at Garissa. However there seems to have been a bit of a communications breakdown.

Because, when the KDF ‘attacked’ (firing rubber bullets and a grenade!!), the student body thought it was for real and one person died, three are in intensive care and over twenty are injured after flinging themselves from third floor windows in a panic.

TUESDAY

The Government – in a much publicised attempt at appearing like they give a shit – brought in a national insurance card at 2,000 Kenya Shillings meaning that all people with one had a way to get medical assistance and access to hospitals when necessary. One year on and, much to the government’s horror, the people had been USING their cards. Immediately, the cost of a card was raised to 6,000 Kenya Shillings. Hmmm.

As is usual the night before I leave, my house is stripped of everything. Felista and Doris share the spoils. I keep my tiny mattress and blankets till the next morning.

WEDNESDAY

David is early! We leave at about 7.15am. Zangi has not arrived to deliver my wooden ankh necklaces. So we just go. David takes the bypass. I worry. Rightly, as it happens.

Up past Langatta, a lorry has overturned and is blocking the way. We join a snail-like procession of diverted traffic. Zangi calls and we agree to meet on the Mombasa Road.

Amazingly, I do make the check-in on time. And the two sanduku are perfectly judged for weight – 19.8kg and 19.4kg.

Turkish Airlines are as lovely on the way back as they were on the way out. And the arrival into London Heathrow was extraordinary – straight off the plane into the passport control hall! No-one there, so straight through. Baggage came pretty quickly. Lovely Customs Men. And so home …

THURSDAY

Cargo has not arrived. Bumped by Kenya Airways AGAIN at the Nairobi end.

Today was not a happy day until, five minutes ago, Jimmy Carr came into the Mama Biashara shop in Shepherd’s Bush, en route to work. He had no idea we were here. Just wandered in. And he made an unexpected and seriously generous donation to Mama Biashara. My faith in life has been restored. For a bit at least. Thank you Mr Carr.

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Comedy critic Kate Copstick face-to-faeces + the Pope and Obama in Kenya

Copstick with Mama Biashara co-worker Felista

Kate Copstick with Mama Biashara co-worker Felista at DECIP

Kate Copstick is in Nairobi, Kenya, where her Mama Biashara charity is based. It helps poor people start their own small self-sufficient businesses.

Below is an edited version of her latest missives, available in full on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.


I am about to try to coax my tiny Vaio to let me write another diary – you will, I know, be delighted to hear. Do not hold your breath, the Book of Kells was written faster that my Sony will allow. However, I have taken time out to tell you of the extraordinarily enormous poo I did early this morning.

One of the interesting features of peeing and pooing into a bucket at night is that it brings you face to face with your arse’s doings. Almost literally in this case. I could swear it had jaws. This thing was like nothing I have ever seen. It is the kind of thing normally seen in close up with an awestruck Sir David Attenborough whispering: “The Kenyan Brown Anaconda is a magnificent creature…”

THURSDAY

Heading across town is not really possible as everything has been closed off for the Pope. His speeches are – for a world figure like him – gloriously in-yer-face. And he KNOWS so much of the shitty stuff about Kenya. He makes some seriously pointed remarks about land grabbing and stealing school playgrounds for development (which Deputy Wm Ruto attempted only a few months ago) and corruption and materialism in government. Go Popester!

We go to my third meeting with the Mums of Disabled Kids group. The group has thinned considerably now they know I am

  1. not stupid and
  2. not limitlessly minted.

So we set up a hardware business (with veggies sharing the space outside), a hair salon (with more veggies outside). Working out the finances of running of a hair salon for African women has the complication factor of trying to build a Rubik’s Cube out of a kit made from Higgs’ Bosons. The permutations of pieces and weaves and oils and chemicals and treatments and the rest is staggering. However we sort it out. And I leave muttering dire warnings of the horrors that will befall them if they misuse Mama Biashara’s money…

I have also brought ten umbrellas for the albino kids and a load of E45. I will also be setting up a drop-off point for bottles and tubes of sunscreen in the Emporium. These kids need Factor 60 and it costs a FORTUNE here.

For the first time in a long time I go to Njenga’s place for soup at lunchtime. This soup is the Kenyan equivalent of Jewish Chicken Soup. A cow’s head and feet bob about in the massive pot of broth and men walk up and down the dirt floor pouring mugs of it from huge plastic jugs. That and some boiled tongue and a bit of kachumbari. Excellent.

Now we head to Felista’s Cyber Cafe and pick up her and some big cardboard cartons. At DECIP, I talk to the two newcomers to the place – Esther who wants to dump her one week old baby here and Obama (she is adamant that is her name) who was found running out of the Ngong Forest in the berr nakid scuddy (as we say in Scotland). A week with Felista and a capsule of cod liver oil each day has worked wonders with them both and both are communicating.

Esther, it turns out, was raped out on the Maasai Mara at a camp where she was working. The child is the result of that rape. And she doesn’t want anything to do with it. She says the baby makes her think about the gang rape. Fair enough. “Why not have an abortion?” I ask. She looks horrified. She is a Christian.

Obama has also started speaking. She comes from Mumias. Ran away from home because (I think … her story was a little bit jumbled) her brother and his friends were raping her. On pretty much a regular basis. And she was discovered to have syphilis. Which they said they would treat with ten injections. She ran away to Nairobi.

Where I think some fairly ghastly stuff went on because she had no money and says she was living at ‘Ambassadors’ which is a bus stage in the heart of the ‘up-to-no-good’ area of Nairobi. From there she went to Kibera (never a good move) and then ran away to the Ngong Forest to find someone to pray for her pain. She gets blinding headaches and suffers from what she calls the falling down disease which usually translates as epilepsy. She also has open sores on her legs. But she is sweet and stunningly beautiful. So she is going to the hospital on Monday for a full check up (I hope) and they will kick off some serious antibiotic treatment.


So that was a shortened version of an average day for Copstick in Kenya…

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Kate Copstick’s insight into everyday life in Kenya, including the Chinese effect

Copstick (in blue) at Mama Biashara project

Copstick (in blue) at Mama Biashara project

Comedy reviewer Kate Copstick is in Kenya.

That is where her Mama Biashara charity is based and does its work.

Below is an edited (by me) insight into life in Kenya at the moment, culled from Copstick’s current diaries.

The sort of stuff that never gets reported in ’the West’.

Copstick’s full diaries are on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.


SUNDAY

Doris gets into Nairobi at about 3.00 am. At my insistence, she gets a taxi home to Kenol. Unfortunately her problems do not stop there. She tells me later “there has been an unfortunate occurrence” in Kenol.

Night shift policemen in Kenya are to be feared.

They clock on, take their big guns, do one circuit of their beat and then go to the pub. Where they drink until morning. At about 5.00am, they come out, pick up their guns and do one more circuit (at which point they are dangerous), clock off and go home. Just as Doris was getting home, a drunk policeman shot two completely innocent men on a pikipiki (motorbike taxi).

By the time she woke up later that day, Kenol was a war zone. A thousand pikipiki boys from all over the region descended and attacked the police station demanding the drunk cop be arrested. The police did not seem to think he had done anything wrong.

And so, to deter the pikipiki boys who were barricading themselves in for a fight, the police shot and killed several of them and started throwing tear gas about the place.

Doris, her kids and all of her neighbours fled the area.

MONDAY

I meet up with Joanne – cousin of my late friend Janet – who is working with all manner of needy groups, especially one I met the last time I was here –  mothers of disabled children.

Mental and physical disabilities are not well catered for here. The twelve year old daughter of the group leader was raped and impregnated, giving birth just before my last visit. The four year old a few door along (also mentally challenged) was also raped. By a neighbour. The police did nothing so the women got together and marched him to the police station. Where the police refused to arrest him. So they took him to another police station and refused to leave until they did arrest him.

Joanne tells me about the group of albino children she is working with. They live in fear as there is a roaring trade in albino body parts in Tanzania. Strong magic, apparently. So I say I will meet up with this group and we arrange a meet for Wednesday down in Kibera.

Joanne and I part and I head to Junction to meet Doris.

Doris’ journey back from Mombasa had been horrendous. Apart from the child attacked by the hyena there was also a white man having a heart attack to keep interest up in Doris’ stationary traffic jam.

There are roadworks going on to do with the train line and ‘improving’ the last stretch of the Mombasa Highway and the job has been given (who would have guessed?) to the Chinese.

They are not great on:

  1. the materials they use which, of course, they bring from China (lest there be any hint of aiding the local economy) and which are marginally less than Fit for Purpose
  2. making sure the roads are finished properly so that when the rains come and huge trucks drive along them they don’t just fall apart.

Plus the workers would appear to be following that best-loved of Confucius’ sayings: When your government has their government in its pocket, there is no need to get a wriggle on with the job. And so the roadworks are taking forever and what road is worked seems to fall apart at the drop of a ten ton truck and a bit of rain.

According to Doris, Mombasa is the most horribly racist place imaginable.

In the nineteenth century, the Omani Arabs from Zanzibar took Mombasa from the Portuguese and, even when the whites (that’ll be us, Brits) rolled in and took over declaring all land not under cultivation to be ‘Crown Land’, the people were still under the sovereignty of the Sultan of Zanzibar.

Mombasa and a 10 mile wide Coastal strip was leased by the Brits from the Sultan. But the people were still his people.

This is the basis of the argument made by the Mombasa Republicans who say Mombasa was never part of Kenya and should be allowed to cecede immediately.

Nowadays, the city and coastal strip still has a huge Arab population. They are the rich and the middle classes and they treat the indigenous people like shit. Doris says if you are black instead of brown you are nothing – a sub-species of humanity.

Among the wider African population, skin lightening is the single biggest ‘thing’ in the cosmetic industry here. Doris says she could feel the looks and the attitude eating away at her self-esteem.

Then she tells me about the Mijikenda widows.

The Mijikenda are an indigenous tribe. The main one.

According to Doris (and she went to this village to see for herself), when the women are widowed, they are ceremonially walked to a village outside the city area where they live for the rest of their lives, forbidden to leave.

On a Friday (and Doris was there on a Friday) the local chief brings a charabanc of businessmen to the village and they have sex with the women, believing that they are ‘clean’, and pay them with a sack of rice and a five litre container of cooking oil.

“It is a cultural thing” says Doris, shrugging.

TUESDAY

I have a very worrying conversation with Mwangi – who designs and makes fabulous jewellery.

I am ordering a collar and ask for it in turquoise (which always sells well). “Not possible,” I am told.

Mwangi shows me the last ornate collar he made in turquoise… The colour is rubbing off the beads even before it has been sold. The same with the burnished gold beads. This is because the government of Kenya have opened up the bead market to China, which is flooding the market with their shit beads.

The Czech beads which everyone had been working with for decades are priced out of the market. One of Nairobi’s best and longest standing bead shops has already gone out of business rather than buy the Chinese rubbish and real artists like Mwangi are finding it almost impossible to get the good beads they need. The real beads have the colour all the way through. The Chinese ones are either black or white and are just sprayed with the colour – which does not last long.

This move could devastate one of Kenya’s oldest and most famous traditions.

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Copstick in Kenya: a girl for 50 shillings + threatened wave of Nairobi bombings

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

Kate Copstick at work in Kenya

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.

The Mama Biashara shop in London’s Shepherd’s bush

Hard-pressed Mama Biashara shop: Shepherd’s Bush, London

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.

Children at Mama Biashara’s DECIP in Kenya

Children at Mama Biashara’s DECIP in Nairobi, Kenya

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

Some of the Kenyan children helped by Mama Biashara

Some of the Kenyan children helped by Mama Biashara

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.

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Kate Copstick on married life in Kenya

Kate Copstick. My house. Yes this is more or less all of it. I am standing with my back to the other wall.

Where Kate Copstick lives when in Nairobi: “Yes this is more or less all of it. I am standing with my back to the other wall.”

More news from comedy critic Kate Copstick, who is currently in Kenya, where her charity Mama Biashara gives small grants and advice to mostly women wanting to start small businesses which can raise them out of their extreme poverty.

Note. Zimbabwean men in Kenya tend to have more than one wife.

A blog from Kenya a couple of days ago mentioned that Mama Biashara has stalls at the Nairobi International Trade Show – the Big Event of the Nairobi year in terms of business and enterprise – and that the President was due to pay a visit. Now read on…


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

Copstick, currently in Kenya

FRIDAY 2nd OCTOBER

It is another slightly odd day when nothing happens as it should.

I am supposed to have a meet with Doris and more of the Zimbabwean Third Wives Club who need a grant to start business. They are trapped in the ghastly jam caused by the Prez going to the Show (he was scheduled to go yesterday but, of course, he is late). Lest the Prez be tainted by anything approaching real life in Nairobi, the roads are cleared and all normal traffic held back while his motorcade sweeps by.

When Doris does arrive she has two young women with her, representing the two groups of Zimbabwean Third Wives. The groups could not come en masse – there are 50 women in one group and 62 in the other. The young women are charming. We discuss the businesses.

I ask if the ladies could let me know how many children the women in the group have. The total is 479 for both groups.

Many of these young women already have 5 children by the age of 17 or 18. They are married at 12 and impregnated almost immediately. The young women I am sitting with are 17 and 18. They have 8 children between them. The first and second wives sometimes have as many as 12. The men do and give absolutely nothing by way of support.

The living conditions are pretty horrific – given the enormous numbers of children and the extreme poverty in which they live. They do not, Doris tells me, even have enough unga (flour) to make solid ugali. Their ugali is like soup. It should be like cake. They sleep as many as twenty to a room.

Now that the Zimbabwean community here is a couple of generations old, women of the Third Wives’ ages are looking for another way. Mama Biashara was the first ever help they were given.

These are the women for whom we ran the Secret School (but we don’t have the infrastructure or resources to continue it – much as we would like). These are the women for whom (at their begging request) Doris supplies the pill. These are women who, in secret, are doing massive business across Sudan. The effects can be seen in the much improved living conditions of their families, their nutrition, the number of their children going to school… but apparently the wazee (the much MUCH older husbands) are beginning to talk… to notice the money coming in. And this is dangerous for our women. But they are desperate to continue. And expand. They want a better life for themselves and their (many) children. They are going further underground with their supply lines.

Third wives are aged anything from 12 to 20. After that they are sort of discarded as hubby gets another 12 year-old and they are left to support the children and feed the husband.

I really want to offer them an alternative.

Their community operates like a sort of sect. Any deviation from its religious rules meets with fairly ghastly consequences. They have their own ‘courts’ and their own punishments. Any girl not getting married when told to would be an absolute pariah in the community. An outcast. But not allowed to leave. Ditto any mother not allowing her 12 year-old to be laid waste (literally and metaphorically) by some 50 year-old in the market for Wife No 4.

There is no real option for the young women who want out and there are many now.

The women who have had the experience of going to Sudan to do business love the freedom, love the power, love the life of independence and they want to learn to read and to write and they want their girls to have a proper chance in life. They are brought up in this closed community ruled by men with their over-active rods of iron. I want to give them an option. An escape route. We are not going to persuade anyone, we are not going to do a hard sell, but I want to (and it is a way off) establish a refuge for up to ten Wives at a time, with their children.

They come, they get acclimatised to life outside, they continue their business and make money but no longer have to hide it. And, when they are ready, and have found somewhere they think they can live happily, they go. And thus we establish little mini-communities of Zimbabwean ladies all over the place. But without the men forcing them to do anything. Least of all forcing them to hand their 12 year-old daughters over to a a 50 year-old man.

It needs a lot of planning. Somewhere very safe. And it will need a fair old wedge of money. I am very much against the march of Middle Class White ‘Liberalism’ hurtling in to trample all over cultures which are thousands of years old and ways of life that suit the people living them. But too, too many of these young women have come to us now wanting out. Wanting a different life for themselves and their kids.

Sorry I have been wittering on quite repetitively.

But I have never met a 17 year-old with 5 children before. It is an experience I found quite difficult.

Doris goes off to the show.

I start packing for Monday when we take the stuff to the airport cargo area.

Doris calls to ask what would cause a 21 year-old woman to scream in pain and say her chest is burning. I ask if her chest is, in fact, burning. It is not. I ask the usual – What has she eaten/drunk? Where exactly is the pain? Has it happened before? Are there any other symptoms? – and have only just got into my quasi-medical stride when Doris texts to say that the young woman knows what is wrong. She is possessed by demons.

I lie on my mattress and look at my WhatsApp conversations with Rebecca right up until the day before she died. Suddenly, before my eyes, her picture disappears from the profile to be replaced by some ghastly, pouting, lipsticked, anorexic 14 year-old.

The phone had, as promised, been stopped and the number was now someone else’s.

I turn to my new addiction. Solitaire. Known to us older people as Patience. I play it obsessively. I understand that this is about making order from chaos. And it comforts me. My phone tells me I have spent 34 hours playing since I started about a month and a half ago.

I am visited by the two, now grown-up, kittens I knew when I lived in the other little house here. One is seal point and the other tortoiseshell and very reminiscent of William, the cat who entered and enhanced Daddy Copstick’s life for a while and then left as suddenly as he came. They are ridiculously affectionate. To the point of developing (in the case of William Jnr) a tiny feline erection as I played with him (not like that!).

I notice he has MASSIVE balls (for a cat his size) and immediately re-christen him Malcolm (after Malcolm Hardee, of course). I have never actually been as close up and personal with a young cat’s tackle, but Malcolm made his attributes hard to miss.

A couple of games of Solitaire later I sleep.

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Copstick, corruption and Coke in Kenya

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

Mama Biashara’s Kate Copstick

Comedy critic Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya for her charity Mama Biashara. I occasionally include highly edited pieces from her diary in this blog. (For unedited versions, see the Mama Biashara Facebook page.)

Today, here is another one. It starts a week ago.


FRIDAY 25th SEPTEMBER

My friend Rebecca is dead. She died last night. We have been WhatsApping each other morning and night but she stopped replying on Wednesday. I don’t really know what to do. She was so sick and in such pain and people are saying things like “She is at peace now” but I know Rebecca would rather not be at peace and be back here with a good roast chicken and a cheeky MummyJuice. Rebecca saved my life. When I was in what they are wont to call “a bad place” and doing all manner of silly things of a hugely self-destructive nature, she saved me. She would just not let go until I sorted myself out. And now she is dead.

SATURDAY 26th SEPTEMBER

I am not sure what I am doing but I suppose I had better do something.

I look for a mosquito net (which I keep failing to buy) but settle for a plug-in mozzie repellant called DOOM instead. Mozzies are not the horror for me that they were as one of the great things about being fully ‘roided-up is that the bites no longer swell up like ghastly pink humps but just behave like normal bites. So I barely notice them until I run a hand over my skin and notice it is as if I have had some of those implants where you get ball bearings put under your skin.

The newspapers say the teachers’ strike is over but there is much grumbling. The story on the front page shares space with one about a female Cabinet Minister who is being asked to explain a 700 million shilling deficit in her budget. The money has just disappeared. From a government which keeps saying the country does not have enough cash to give the teachers a raise.

I miss my conversation with Rebecca and play 23 games of Solitaire instead. God bless smartphones.

SUNDAY 27th SEPTEMBER

It is Sunday and I am feeling ridiculously sorry for myself.

I have washed my hair (I can highly recommend Toss Liquid Laundry Detergent – it gives a lovely soft feel) and cleaned the toilet. Someone in the block of flats which overlooks our little compound is listening to first a Take That compilation and then Terry Jack’s “Seasons in the Sun”. At least it is robust competition for the singing coming from the churches which we have on three sides. Having said which, stand anywhere in Nairobi and you have churches on three sides of you. It makes Rome look positively Godless. I have just walked up the road to Shalom for milky coffee and free WiFi. The cloud of dust which enveloped me as the cars passed on their way to Cornerstone Church has meant that the Toss will have to come out again later.

MONDAY 28th SEPTEMBER

I am awoken by a text from Doris telling me she is at the Showground with 86 Mama Biashara ladies and 30 boys. She had been trying to get our people work at the Nairobi International Trade Show – the Big Event of the Nairobi year in terms of business and enterprise and the place where Mama B’s whole Sugar Cane Empire kicked off last year.

Having been knocked back by everyone for lack of paper qualifications, suddenly word of mouth kicked in and our ladies are running the Kenya Police Canteens (three of them – civilians, scrambled-egg-on-shoulder and lower ranks) and doing all the baking on quite a posh cake stall. Our lads are portering on the first couple of days (for good money and, again, word of mouth reassured the employers that Mama B’s people are Good People). Having actually got into the Showground (at 6am) and now that everyone knows what they are doing, Doris is busy finding little spots where Mama B peeps can do business. We will catch up later, she says.

Doris arrives from the Show and I get the skinny on what is happening.

More Mama B people are being added all the time… To the 86 another 20 mamas and then to the 30 boys 10 more to do facepainting, 10 to sell water, 10 to sell ice cream and 10 to sell coffee at night from a thermos urn.

TUESDAY 29th SEPTEMBER

To Kijabe Street market for heaps of loveliness for the Emporium. Now when I buy from Mwangi and Dorcas and a few others we do our business under a sack or behind a tent because Chinese eyes and cameras are everywhere looking for new designs to copy and mass produce. Mwangi is despairing.

I collect my massive order of medicines from the pharmacy and reassure the lovely Ruth that Goff is well although his mother in law died. She sends her condolences. There is a slight hiccup when I discover that the meds for the old guy with syphilis come in the form of a vaginal pessary. But other than that and my despair at the continuing stanglehold of The Clap upon the wrinklies of Awendo, the pharmacy trip is very jolly. I even get a huge very strong box to take away (great for packing for return trip).

Rebecca’s cousin texts me to say they are going to be turning off Rebecca’s phone and giving me her number so I can stay in touch about the funeral.

WEDNESDAY 30 SEPTEMBER

The Showground is divided (like everything else in Kenya) into those with money and those scrabbling in the dirt to make a living. And those with money are only really interested in making more. And so, as the big companies like McDonalds and KFC have noticed that their takings were not reaching ‘targets’ on the first couple of days and also noticed that all the little mamas selling chapatis and Kenyan food were doing a roaring trade down where the little people gather, they simply bung the City Council kanjos something and – hey totally fucked up presto – last night dozens of the mamas were rounded up and arrested.

They have their medical certificates … they are officially on site … but money talks. Doris starts her day by chasing down the van with our few mamas (most of ours are working in big kitchens on site) and bunged the officers another wedge to get them out. Our neighbour Lucy had all her equipment stolen and all her ladies taken to Langatta Women’s Prison where they will wait till someone pays a bribe to get them out.

The Prez is supposed to be coming tomorrow so that is when things will really take off. Meanwhile something WONDERFUL has happened. Quite without any work on our part. Doris takes me to one side and says we were offered a fridge by Coca Cola.

I cut her off and explain that ANY interaction with the massive global evil that is the Coca Cola empire will result in the withdrawal of all Mama Biashara support. For which read money. And me. Doris knows this and they wanted a guarantee of our tiny kibanda buying rather a lot of their appalling world diminishing product.

“But what of this…?” says Doris as a large truck marked Club pulls up. Coca Cola have simply bought everything that stands in their path here in Africa and so most drinks, should you care to look at the label, are just Lupine Coke in Local Goat’s clothing.

But Club – it turns out as I descend upon the truck and ask to inspect a bottle – are an entirely Kenyan operation. The parent company is called Highland – famous here for water and for squash. I am beside myself with delight.

I help them squeeze the fridge into our tiny kibanda. We are at the speartip of the fight against Coca Cola in Kenya. Their new range is EXACTLY what CC (I cannot even bring myself to write their name again) offer – cola, lemon and lime (Sprite), Orange (Fanta), Bitter Lemon (Krest – a once Kenyan brand which they bought) and Ginger (Stoneys ditto). Plus fruity drinks like mango and guava. I am on a mission. I pay for twenty bottles and everyone who comes up and claims only to drink C gets a free sample – you don’t like it, you don’t buy. They ALL bought ! All the sodas are selling.

Then I meet the Head of Marketing for Highland. He is, oddly, Greek. We are meeting next week to see what we can cook up to help push the product and bring about the downfall of The Evil Empire in Kenya.

THURSDAY 1st OCTOBER

Apparently, the City Council have been around again demanding a £50 bribe from every stall who want to cook anything. The Big Companies had a meeting and demanded that all food of all kinds should be banned from the little people area. Only toys can be sold. So the City Council (notice initials also CC) came around to demand the bribe to ignore the bribe that they had got from the Big Companies. They have a go at Doris but we are not cooking. All our sweeties are wrapped. And now we have Highland fighting our corner. We have their fridge. We are their people. She stands her ground and we are left alone. They are like some sort of foul vermin that attacks the weakest.

They arrested our neighbour Lucy and held her in Langatta until she paid the bribe. They really are filth. When you walk in the posher areas of the show there are no City Council to be seen. At all. They know where their victims are.

I chat to another Top Bod from Highland. Doris does an AMAZING pitch about why sex workers are the best sales people (I pitch in with “You cannot sell anything until you can sell yourself”) and we also come up with a possible slogan… “Pleasure was our business, now business is our pleasure” ??? I chat away about the plusses of having people on the ground, especially when, as Club is, you are trying to break into the slum and poorer areas. He is interested and we part with an exchange of business cards and promises to meet.

I leave at about 6.30pm. We rock off down the road and are stopped from turning right down the empty usual road by a fat twat of a policeman. We are sent off down the road towards Ngong Forest. Along with a massive jam of cars. Ngong Forest also known as Ambush Alley. With dozens of cars crawling through it. The police have decided to create a jam further up Ngong Road so that the main road to the Showground looks clear for them. Bastards. We take a shortcut across a football pitch and I get home.

Shortly after that there was a massive barrage of gunfire from the Showground. Like war had broken out. So much that I thought it was fireworks. What had happened, Doris explains, is that the KDF (Kenya Defence Force) had come into her area, told all the citizens to ‘lalla chini’ (lie low) and fired off a massive barrage of firepower into the sky. And I mean MASSIVE. Doris and the others were left cowering in the kibanda on the ground. As were all the other little people. The KDF personel announced to the little people that they wanted to show “who is in control here”. Quite scary really, as they are psychopaths to a man. A bit of gunfire on the Ngong Road too. However I manage to sleep like a log.

… CONTINUED HERE …

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Karl Schultz with Joz Norris – Two UK weirdo comics talk about women etc

Karl Schultz (left) and Joz Norris yesterday

Karl Schultz (left) and Joz Norris chatted over tea yesterday

So I said I would do a blog chat with comic Karl Schultz about a charity gig which he is organising in London on Monday. Karl brought along Joz Norris, who is co-organising the gig. Somewhere along the way, the conversation went off course.

“What’s the show?” I asked them yesterday.

“It’s Karl & Joz’s Over The Top Christmas Love-In at the Bloomsbury Theatre,” said Karl.

“For Karl’s charity,” added Joz.

“You have a charity?” I asked Karl.

“Oasis. It’s the one I run in Barking and Dagenham. It basically gives somewhere to go in the week to homeless people, unemployed people, people trying to come off drugs – recreational, free meals and stuff.”

On YouTube, Karl tells a story about his charity.

Monday’s charity show at the Bloomsbury Theatre includes comics Bridget Christie, John Kearns, Tim Key, Josie Long and Sara Pascoe.

“When did you start the charity?” I asked Karl.

“Last December. About 75% of the money from the gig is going to that charity, but I’m also going out to South Africa with my dad for a couple of weeks and we know some projects out there which could do with money.

“When I told someone I was going out to South Africa, someone said: Oh, you’re going on ‘holiday’ are you? ‘Holiday’. Apparently South Africa where people go with sex addictions. There’s a clinic or something. But I’m going out with my dad, who’s a Salvation Army major.”

Joz said: “I had some kids from a South African township stay with me in 2007. My mum did the African premiere of Karl Jenkins’ The Armed Man Mass for Peace. She had breakfast with Desmond Tutu twice and the choir came over here and stayed in my room and I had to stay in the shed all week. I taught them about iPods.”

“Did they have iPods?” I asked.

“No,” admitted Joz.

Karl Schultz: one of his more understated stage performances

Karl Schultz: one of his more understated stage performances

“I,” said Karl, “was seeing a girl from Sierra Leone a couple of months ago, but she got sectioned under the Mental Health Act. Three women I’ve seen have got sectioned.”

“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Joz. “That’s your taste. I think you’re drawn to eccentrics.”

“I get approached by depressed women,” said Karl.

“I’m always attracted to mad women,” said Joz, “and they’re always either very short or very tall. But Karl hates short women. He says their bottoms are too close to the ground.”

“I do have a thing for tall women,” admitted Karl.

“Why?” I asked.

“My mum is 5’1”, so there’s no Oedipal thing. But I was brought up in Ghana from the age of 11-14 – the most formative time – and all the Ghanaians hit puberty before me. So, when I went back after the summer holidays, I had grown an inch but, in Ghana, they had grown six inches. So all the girls I was in love with in my class were all tall.

“Earlier this year, I was trying to be a better person and took a short woman on a date – I thought If I can survive it, I will be a better person for it – so we were walking on the South Bank in London drinking our chai lattes and she burnt her tongue on her chai latte and started hopping on the spot and I was looking at her thinking: Is this what it is going to be like?”

“Karl’s got a thing about chai,” said Joz. “He loves taking women – usually tall ones – to drink chai.”

“Well,” said Karl, “you can always see women, but how often can you have a South Bank chai latte?”

Joz Norris grew up in a small English village

Joz Norris is not always seeing women; Karl joined Tinder

“I’m not always seeing women,” said Joz.

“I joined Tinder,” said Karl, “mainly because I felt bad about not doing enough out-of-town gigs. I got into comedy to travel, but I don’t really travel much, other than Edinburgh and China.”

“China?” I said, surprised.

“I went to China a couple of years ago. Did a cabaret out there. In hindsight, I should not have been invited.”

“Anyway,” I said, “on Tinder…”

“I’ve been to Southampton and Penrith,” said Karl. “When I went to Southampton, I got to see where Craig David went to school. I had to do it at the weekend. You can’t do it in the week, because they will move you on.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Well you can’t,” said Karl, “just go snooping on Craig David’s former secondary school during the week. People will say: What’s he doing?

“Fair point,” said Joz.

“What happened in Penrith?” I asked. “Did you get a booking at a local comedy club?”

“Free lodgings and a lovely breakfast,” said Karl. “I had curry for breakfast.”

“The other day,” said Joz, “I had left-over lamb biryani for breakfast.”

“So you got into comedy to travel?” I asked. “But there were other things you could have done. Like become a bus driver.”

“We went to Lake Windermere,” said Karl. “Dove Cottage: Wordsworth’s cottage. You know they always had tiny beds…”

“Yeah,” said Joz.

“Did you really?” I asked him.

Joz shrugged.

“But,” continued Karl, “the part where your head would be was at 45 degrees. That’s why beds were shorter. They believed that demons or ghosts might visit you in the night and, if they saw you almost upright, they might think you were awake and go away.”

“It stops acid reflux too,” I said. “Sitting up in bed.”

“Yesterday,” said Karl, “I thought I was having a heart attack.”

“I had it for the first time about a year ago,” I said. “Acid reflux. It really is like you have acid inside your tubes.”

“Is that how you spontaneously combust?” asked Joz.

“No,” I said.

“Too many eggs,” said Karl.

“The Elephant Man had to sleep sitting up,” said Joz, “because of his huge head… Seriously. I was in the play in 2003; I played the man at the fair.”

“I was intending to do a fairly serious chat with you,” I said.

Karl as his character 'Matthew Kelly’ with some Chinese fans

Karl as his character ‘Matthew Kelly’ with some Chinese fans

“We could do that,” said Karl. “Someone said watching me be happy as my Matthew Kelly character was like watching a crocodile. The character has a calm exterior, but my eyes were very violent. So it was like a crocodile smile.”

“You can hold a crocodile’s mouth shut,” said Joz. “The muscles that open its mouth are very weak, so you can touch the sides and hold the mouth shut.”

“Or use a rubber band,” said Karl.

“Aren’t you supposed to hit them on the nose?” I asked.

“That’s sharks,” said Joz.

“Lick its eyes,” said Karl. “That’s what a zebra does. I saw a video of a crocodile being licked by a zebra. A crocodile hasn’t evolved a natural defence against having its eyes licked.”

“Nor have I,” said Joz.

There is a video on YouTube of a zebra briefly licking a crocodile’s eyes then escaping.

“That’s how you can get away from Joz,” suggested Karl. “Lick his eyes.”

“No-one’s ever tried that,” said Joz. “Mostly, they just say No… I heard that the way to get away from a crocodile is to run in zig-zags, because they can’t move in zig-zags.”

“Or just keep out of Africa and away from the water,” I suggested.

“And Asia,” said Joz. “And America.”

“And zoos,” I suggested.

“London Zoo is so depressing,” said Karl. “They haven’t even got the grey animals now; they’ve moved them all up to Whipsnade Zoo.”

“Grey?” I asked.

“The elephants and rhinos,” said Karl.

“Do they only keep all the colourful ones in London?” I asked.

“They’ve still got the tiger,” said Karl.

“Earlier this year,” said Joz, “I went to London Zoo on a date and I made the girl film me doing an impression of Nelson Mandela all the way round  the zoo.”

“Sounds questionable,” I said.

“It was for a sketch,” explained Joz.

Never ever take ketamine wearing a lion mask at London Zoo

Never ever take ketamine wearing a lion mask at London Zoo

“The first time I went back to London Zoo since I was a kid,” said Karl, “I went with my mate and bought some masks and took ketamine. It was a terrible afternoon. I was in a really bad place.”

“It’s terrible stuff,” agreed Joz.

“He was a giraffe and I was a lion,” said Karl. “Ketamine is the worst drug ever.”

“Well don’t take it,” I said.

“I don’t any more. Have you heard of K-holing? It describes the completely stark, cataclysmic trip of… It’s awful…”

“What’s your idea of heaven?” I asked.

“Taking a tall Ghanaian woman to Lake Windermere,” said Karl.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Filed under Africa, Humor, Humour, Sex, UK