Category Archives: Poverty

Copstick in Kenya: Good news and bad

More edited ongoing extracts from the diary of Kate Copstick who is currently in Kenya working for her Mama Biashara charity which gives small grants to help poor people start their own self-sustaining businesses. It also gets involved in wider social issues. 

The full diary is posted on her Facebook page.


Kate Copstick (left) working for Mama Biashara in Kenya

MONDAY

I am more than a little pissed off to learn that my 22kg of donated bras is not yet ready for collection. Something about being lost in Paris. Tomorrow, says Morris the Export Man.

I go to Corner to meet Doris. I am, to be honest, rather dreading this. Our last attempt at getting some actual paperwork done ended, if you remember, somewhat tumfily (Scottish word, a tumf is a bad mood). Since then, her texts have been entirely in Kiswahili (never a good sign) and quite formal.

But she is fine.

However, the news from the weekend is troublesome.

Since we accidentally opened this Kenya-sized can of worms and found a pit of snakes, the ghastliness has just kept on coming. All of it hidden away, all of it culturally approved (by men, mostly) and none of it ever, ever addressed.

While I was with Nais (see yesterday’s blog), Doris was around Limuru meeting a group of girls (14 in all but only 5 made it out to the meeting) who are living in a sort of forest area far outside the town. These girls (aged about 15-18) are in the same state that the Kangeme girls were.

Sent by their parents to relatives ‘in town’. The relatives say the girls will get an education or vocational training. But, when they arrive, they are house slaves for the women and sex slaves for the men. The girls are much the same in demeanour as the Kangeme girls – utterly cowed.

But they had got to hear about the Kangeme girls and got a borrowed phone and called Doris. She has absolutely no idea how they got the number. They have no skills, no ideas about business. And they are pretty much broken. We discuss what options we have. When these girls leave their community it has to be like the Kangeme girls and the women from the quarry we rescued – they all just have to disappear. Or any who are left will be beaten.

We explore creating temporary safe houses – mine here in Corner, for a start. Doris says leave it with her so I do.

We go to Chicken Master and continue to administrate over lunch. I get all the info on the Magadi and Namanga groups and then Doris tells me something terrible but which will be wonderful. The leader of the first group, Ntoto Sayoon, has been in touch from his new home.

The charcoal business is up and running and everyone is so happy. But he has a best friend. And another friend. Who are still in the old village. They are in the same position that Ntoto was. The Maasai men show their dislike of incoming men by raping their wives and children in front of them. Ntoto’s best friend did not come to Mama Biashara for funding because he did not believe it was for real. He did not believe anyone would help them, much less get them out and into a new life.

So now Ntoto wants to bring his friends into his charcoal group. He says they will share their houses with them till they get somewhere and they will share the business. Gulp.

The bad news is that, as a result of the repeated rapes, both his best friend’s wife and young daughter are pregnant. And his wife is now unwell after trying to abort by hitting herself in the stomach with a hammer.

In other news, we have also been contacted (no idea how this number is getting around…) by a group of Maasai girls from up north.

Up North in Kenya is not the joyous beer, whippets, flat caps and real tea experience that it is in England. It is quite killy. And women are quite a long way below goats in the respect stakes.

This group of around twelve girls – average age 12 – have all been ‘cut’ (female genital mutilation). All are in agony.

After the entire clitoral area is removed like taking the top off a boiled egg with a teaspoon, the girls are sewn shut with parcel twine. All these girls have massive infections. The girl who spoke to us mentioned pain, pus and maggots (which are currently probably saving their lives). She says the smell in the classroom is appalling and all the boys laugh at them. If they try to remove the stitches to clean the giant wound, they are beaten.

Not quite sure what else to say here… We are working on it.

Doris, one of Mama Bishara’s main workers

TUESDAY

I have been asked to find a Jewish Cemetery by the fragrant Sarah Chew back in London. She makes the oddest requests, but I feel I can make a fist of this one.

David has no idea what I am talking about. “What is Jewish?” he asks.

The cemetery is a tragic sight. Not a headstone left intact, totally overgrown, full of litter and homeless people enjoying an al fresco bottle of glue. This is not anything to do with anti-Semitism. This is just Kenya. If no-one is actually defending something or paying money for it, it just gets trashed.

I take pictures and we leave to spend an hour and a quarter travelling 200 yards and get beaten up (just poor Mary, not David or myself) by a real bastard of a matatu driver. Mary has a nasty scar down one side now. I am not quick enough to figure out the Swahili for “Your mother sucks cocks in hell” and had to settle for “Mchinga” (stupid) and a wanking gesture… as he drove off – not daft enough to do it while he was beside us). I feel I have let myself down badly on the sweary insult front.

Market is quiet and we get back to Corner relatively quickly. My arms look like scabby mince, my face resembles a pink bag of marbles and I cannot take another night of mosquito torture.

In the back streets of Corner we meet a great group of prozzies and pimps.

“I love your hair,” says one girl. “Can I touch it?”

So I go over and she runs her fingers through my hair, as does her friend.

“So natural,” she says. She offers me a feel of her braids. “Mine is from China.”

“You look nice,” one of the pimpy lads tells me. “Are you available for service?”

This is the closest I have come to being chatted-up in years. I smirk girlishly.

“Some other day,” I tell him.

We get a net and meet Doris. She has been back out to Limuru and played an absolute blinder. Five of the girls managed to get away from their ‘families’ and make it to town. Doris has persuaded some of the well-off customers of our Glam project (you say what you want and for how much money and we find it for you… sort of a personal shopping service) to take the girls in and give them a job as, more or less, au pairs.

Very good money, nice accommodation and – best of all – these women are offering to sponsor the girls to be trained in either hairdressing, rug making or sewing. PLUS they are not even afraid that the ‘families’ will come after them.

“If they come we will expose what they have been doing,” say the ladies.

Amazing!!!

Doris is going back tomorrow to try and collect the rest. Mama Biashara will be providing fares to get them wherever they are going.

This is where the years and years of setting up small businesses all over really comes into its own. When the call goes out, Mama Biashara people will help. That is The Way of Mama Biashara.

Now back to Casa Copstick and we open the Big Box of Bras. I want to sort them out so we can make sure they go to the right women (the old ladies of Western are not that keen on underwiring).

As we sort them, I realise Mama Biashara knows some seriously well-stacked ladies in the UK. There are some gorgeous undies. Doris is working out where best for them to go and we will start distributing.

I manage to set up my mozzie net using a mop and a slight rearrangement of furniture.

Bliss. Bliss.

Bliss is a night undisturbed by mosquitoes.


Copstick receives no money from the charity and covers all her own expenses, including flights and accommodation. The Mama Biashara charity survives solely on financial donations (you can donate HERE) and on sales in its London shop.

 

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Kate Copstick – lies on the fly in Kenya

British comedy critic Kate Copstick founded and runs the Mama Biashara charity in Kenya. She spends getting-on-for six months a year there. She takes no money from the charity and covers 100% of her expenses out of her own pocket. She flew to Kenya at the weekend.

These are edited extracts from her diary, which she posts on her Facebook page. The videos below are taken from YouTube by me to give an idea of the areas. They are not by Copstick.


Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya

SATURDAY

I arrive to find that our wonderful new Child Rape Rescue Centre (and my new home in Nairobi) is in difficulties.

A gang of local men are threatening to break in and rape all the children again and rape Joan as well. Four ladies came yesterday bringing clothes and food for the children and were set-upon and beaten. The gang of local men feel this is the best way to express their lack of enthusiasm at having a Luo woman running a project helping some Luo children (as well as many other tribes) in Ngando which they say is now proudly Kikkuyu. I am horrified. And puzzled. Ngando is not a Kikkuyu place. It is very mixed and all my friends there are Luo. The group of children range in age from 3 to 16. Including one boy. But they are all different tribes.

Last night I stayed with Joan’s delightful aunt and today we are looking for another house for the project.

I share my bedroom with a group of ravenous mosquitoes.

The Ngando area in Nairobi, Kenya

SUNDAY

I am woken by a call from a slightly concerned David. He has been waiting for 30 minutes and Joan keeps telling him that I cannot be woken and that she has tried and failed. I leap(-ish) from bed, examining my fresh batch of mozzie bites and go downstairs.

“I feared you had been taken by the Luos,” says David.

We head for Satellite where there is a house available. We leave Joan and Tall Silent Dan there to wait for the landlady’s return from church and David and I go off and do a few things. Then I decide we will go to Ngando. I want to see the house for myself. And the renegade Kikkuyu threatening child rape.

Ngando is as I remember. Busy, buzzy and friendly. We park up outside the house that Joan had shown me in November. I get out and chat to the many children playing in the doorway. None of whom have heard of Joan. I didn’t feel I knew the chatty six year old in the party dress well enough to ask if she had been brutally raped recently.

There was a group of young men lounging about outside on the opposite side of the road. According to them, they do not know Joan, or anything about a project, much less ladies being beaten up at the house. I call Joan.

She is not at all pleased to hear I am in Ngando. Apparently this is not the house but, she says, she cannot give us directions to the real house. I tell her we will pick her up at Satellite and then come back to Ngando and she can take us.

At Satellite, Joan is pretty boot-faced. She is convinced I have been ‘corrupted’ by David.

There is a bit of a stand-off and we end up NOT going to Ngando but taking Joan and Tall Silent Dan back to Auntie’s place and then David and I go to the pub, drink beer and do battle with a chicken so tough it should be joining the SAS. I also meet a man who only turns out to be the Managing Editor of Standard Media (TV, radio and newspapers).

When I get back to the house, Joan and Tall Silent Dan are nowhere to be seen. But her Auntie is puzzled. She had been told I would be staying for a month. I run through the situation to date and she shakes her head.

And so to bed.

Doris, one of Mama Biashara’s key helpers

MONDAY

Still no sign of Joan and Tall Silent Dan.

Joan’s cousin Kevo and I agree that there is almost certainly no house in Ngando. I go.

We make it to the bank at Kawangware.

Doris is there looking fabulous. The new manager is smiley but Standard Issue. The exchange rate is not good so we go off to Forex. Via a meeting with Felista. At a new meeting place behind a petrol station in Corner.

I explain The Joan Situation and we agree I need to get a place on this side and forget working with her. Although I do not believe in babies being thrown out with bathwater – Joan might have been lying through her teeth to me but she has her good points. At the moment, though, I need to move on.

The Place Behind the Garage turns out to be a hotbed of business and politics. Big groups of men in suits huddle round tables discussing. As is the way with suited Kenyans, everyone is the Chair of something or the Head of something and the entire ecosystem operates by pulling strings – You pull strings for me and I will pull strings for you. Everyone eventually becomes someone’s puppet, but even puppets have puppets. Like the dog and the fleas.

Through Felista and her son, strings are pulled for me and possible flats and houses start to appear from nowhere. And so I sit and discuss the community project here at Corner of which Felista’s son is the Chairman. He talks about his ‘girls’. Who turn out to be anything from 18 to 35.

“Women,” I say.

“To me they are girls,” he says.

I clench my keeping-calm parts.

Kate Copstick with Mama Biashara co-worker Felista

They are vulnerable, many single mothers, none of them has formal education, some have no ID. There are twenty six, he says. Or maybe fifty. By the time I have asked a few more questions there are maybe a hundred. Some involved in petty crime, many in prostitution and quite a lot in drugs.

And now I get an education in drug addiction on the Kenyan street.

The seriously addicted girls form a small group, they put in what little money they have and buy a hit of their drug of choice. One girl gets high and then the others draw off a syringe of her blood and inject it into themselves to get a hit off her hit. My mind is not easily boggled. But boggled it is now.

I have a powerful feeling I can do absolutely bugger all for these girls. Some things you cannot fix with TLC and a business grant and I think this is probably up there. However we agree that I will meet with the women who are helpable by an enthusiastic amateur like myself.

I am not going to let the project supporting victims of child rape just go, and Doris, Felista and I get our heads together over the possibilities. Of course, Felista has been rescuing abused children since she started. Mainly orphaned and abandoned. But she puts them together again and, in several cases, looks after their children. Because – well – at age eleven, your parenting skills are limited.

She has two girls with her now. Age fifteen and each has a baby of about three or four years old. At DECIP the mums are getting an education and support. My reservation is that when kids come to Felista they stay. And there is rarely a chance of bringing the rapist to justice. But we thrash ideas out.

Joan’s Auntie calls me. I am about to explain that I think I need to move out and she says Joan has called her and told her to get rid of me. Happy days. But we discuss the situation. Turns out Joan had also said I would be paying Auntie a month’s rent. Ah well.

I have a Mortein plug-in now and so there are no mosquitoes.

SPOILER ALERT – It is all fantastic. I am not homeless and the project is reborn as The Phoenix Project, much better than before.

CONTINUED HERE

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Multiple rape and desperation in Kenya and an appeal from critic Kate Copstick

Following on from my previous blog – more extracts from comedy critic Kate Copstick’s diary, slightly edited. Full versions on her Facebook page. She is in Kenya where her Mama Biashara charity is based.

Mama Biashara (‘Business Mother’) gives small sums to impoverished individuals and small groups to help them start self-supporting small businesses.

Their slogan is that it is a hand up not a hand out.


Doris, one of Mama Bishara’s main workers

Saturday 4th November

I get a call from Doris who has had a call from Vicky to say that the farmers who own the land in Kisii, where the refugees are huddled, have let it be known that, if anyone brings any form of help to the refugee community, all hell will break loose (I loosely translate from the angry Kisii).

So we are holding off on our mercy mission. David and I cancel our trip to the Indian Blanket Supremo and the medical supplies wholesaler. I head straight to the market.

Doris also tells me that, overnight, the government has pulled a U-turn on the NHIF restriction (mentioned in the previous blog). It will now continue unrestricted. I am saying nothing. But am impressed with the swiftness of the reaction. It is the right decision.

Doris has gone out to Limuru to see a group of people she is desperate to help. They are currently working for £1 per day on a big tea farm. They are wholly uneducated, helpless, hopeless people. Too frightened even to try starting a business in case they are thrown out and lose their £1 per day. They want us “to empower them” says Doris.

The Mama Biashara method of a brisk talking-to, a decent business plan, a good chain of supply and a useful choice of business location, topped off with start up grant and a hearty hug is obviously not going to work here. Doris says she will update me.

I get round the market in about four hours. I am knackered and sore and my tiny ears are ringing to the cries of “Mama Biashara! You are my Mother! Promote me!” I can only disappoint so many people in a day without breaking.


Felista needs money for a non-underwater kitchen in Nairobi

Sunday 5th November

I am going to DECIP (the home for children that Mama Biashara built) to make some little videos to put up on Facebook in the hope of getting some money for Felista. She is a woman with a heart the size of Kenya and has been rescuing kids from abandonment, abuse, rape and destitution for a decade.

Mama Biashara sends her about £170 per month. She gets nothing from the government, although the Children’s Department are very supportive. She is the reason I am in Kenya and I often feel bad, as I hare off all over the country setting up businesses for the desperate poor, that I do not do more for her.

So we are going to put out some pleas for help for her and I will set up a MyDonate page for her. She is someone who infuriates me but whom I am so very proud to know.

I have brought her some shoes, a bag, a skirt and two tops. Felista almost never gets anything for herself. Even the one room in the home that should be hers is always full of the youngest children playing and looking for a cuddle.

DECIP has had improvements. A marvellous lady paid for the dormitories to be re-floored so the water doesn’t flood them any more, the passageway from dorm to dorm is now covered over and the water from the roof harvested, many places have new roofing, and a nice rich Chinese man is going to build a big hall for them to use for exams and recreation.

At this time it is proving really difficult to help people – because of the numbers of weapon-wielding other people in the way. So I am going to concentrate more on DECIP this trip. And see what we can do there.


Some of the needy children at DECIP in Nairobi

Monday 6th November

I suddenly start to feel decidedly not OK. Just the usual crap, but that tends to mean getting horizontal and trying to sleep it out.

That not being possible, I turn to the small packet of gifts from our newest volunteer Chris.

There are few things that can go wrong with the human body that have not gone wrong with Chris.

There is absolutely no upside for her. But for me, it means that any painkiller is available. And I have with me a selection of the finest. I curl up till all is made chemically well.

Now I have a meeting with Joan. Through her we have worked quite extensively with the albino community and with groups of women with badly disabled kids. The businesses we started with the mothers are doing really well in Kibera, apparently. I will go and visit. Joan’s main work is with child victims of sexual violence.

When we last met she was in a little house in Kabira with six small girls who had been raped and one older girl, mentally and physically challenged, and also a victim of rape. I wrote about them on my last trip.

During the endless, tit for tat, post and para election violences here, a group of militant kikkuyu took it upon themselves to attack the compound where Joan was sheltering the girls. All of them were beaten – from the two-and-a-half year old rape victim to Joan herself. Everyone ran. But Susan, the big girl, was too frightened and she hid. And was discovered. And was beaten and raped again. Everything was stolen from inside Joan’s house.

The men from the compound caught the rapist. They took him to the local police station (well, the one that had not been burned down). Where he was released because the police did not want the militants to come and burn down their police station too.

The girls are now with Joan’s aunt but that cannot continue. She is looking at places in Ngando and has been offered a four bedroom, stone built, self-contained house beside the Catholic church. Great security.

What I am thinking is that Mama Biashara can help pay the rent here, we will help set it up as soon as we can and we will support it as a Mama Biashara project for victims of child rape and sexual abuse.

All of the current group of victims are the children of women who do low-rent commercial sex work. The girls are locked in the house while the mothers go out at night. Which is why they are so vulnerable to passing rapists. Mama Biashara would – as part of this project – work with the mums and set them up in a decent small business so they can give their daughters a proper secure home.

I am hugely enthused about this and we are going to see the house tomorrow.

Anyone fancy taking money out of their offshore tax haven and using it to help these kids?

You can now uncross your fingers about the money from the lovely trust who helped us before. We did not get anything. They are concentrating on more formal, UK-based charities. Pretty devastating for Mama Biashara. And it means, short of a miracle, I will be cutting my trip here a bit short.

Going to my tent now.


Mama Biashara subsists solely on donations and from sales at its London shop. Copstick covers 100% of her own costs, including flights and accommodation and takes zero. 100% of all donations go to the charity’s work. You can donate HERE

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Kate Copstick in Kenya: elections, violence and disappearing people

On Monday, Kate Copstick flew to Kenya, where her Mama Biashara charity is based. She keeps a diary which she posts on her Facebook page. Below are edited extracts, starting with Copstick ill in the U.K.

Monday 30th October

Kate Copstick in London – as seen by Joanne Fagan

Things are not looking good. I have felt like Death Has A Bad Headache for most of the last week. Spent yesterday in bed.

I am leaving behind an Emporium – the Mama Biashara shop in Shepherd’s Bush – on an emotional knife edge and a more or less empty bank account. My wad is slimmer than it has been for many years. I am practising saying: “No, I am sorry, small, gnarled, starving person, I cannot help you as I have insufficient funds”.

BA have changed the aircraft to one of those ones that carry a ‘We are not really for the poor’ message. The plane is almost entirely First and Club Class which you trail through before reaching the 25 rows of ‘cheap seats’, way back in the tail. I console myself with the fact that survivors of a catastrophic air crash are almost always found in the tail section. Staff are lovely, food is dire.

Customs in Nairobi want to know if I have anything to declare. I decide that shouting “Your election was a sham and your so-called President an insult to the starving poor of your country” is not what is being called for, so I mention I have cheese and English beer for my friend Alan. They want to know if I have more than $10,000.

Hah!! If only. If only.

Wildebeest, where I stay in Nairobi, is calm and dark and my flaps open to admit me and my bags. I sleep, waking only to munch yet another handful of Rennies Extra. My attempt to come off Omeprazole has not been a success.


Kate Copstick (left) working for Mama Biashara in Kenya

Tuesday 31st October

I am, to my surprise, up at 8.30am. My tiny tent is like a sauna. Which is quite lovely. I open my flaps and head to have coffee and do some admin.

The market in Kijabe Street is an emaciated shell of its usual self. Many traders have simply not come; most have only half the stuff they usually bring. Everyone is downbeat about the lack of business and the paucity of tourists. I am welcomed like a cow carcass in a bearpit.

I talk a LOT of politics on my rounds, get essential travel information (“Do not go to Awendo it is crazy there, you will be killed!”), buy some great stuff and attempt to pack the car.

This is a different car. This one has a big bash in the front, the doors don’t really open from the inside and the boot is fused shut. The windows do open but only when David rubs the bare wires on his door together. Then we get a shower of sparks and a window opens; you rarely know which one it is going to be. We cram everything into the back seat and go to Kawangware (one of the unburnt bits) to meet Doris.

And now some good news!

The Pork Place in Kawangware has re-opened. We celebrate with some of their finest dry fry with greens. We then do shopping for Doris and David. I have to give them a strict limit because funds are so very short this trip. Doris heads to a matatu and David drops me and my many bits and bobs at Wildebeest.

I cram everything I have bought between my flaps and into the tiny tent in complete darkness. I forgot to buy a torch. And my phone is dead. I attempt to identify my five different meds by touch. And neck the assortment.

I sleep.


Wednesday 1st November

Mama Biashara’s rain catcher – very simple but very effective

I am hailed by a thin American with a tweedy cap and a non-hipster moustache. Brian is with another charity – Mama Maji – and he tells me about the manual brick presses his peeps are giving to communities in need of a way to get, store and sell water to make water tanks. The bricks are waterproof and made from soil plus 1% cement. NO need for firing. The brick press sounds amazing. And costs about £800 a pop. Which is something someone could fundraise for. Couldn’t you?

In exchange, I tell Brian about Mama Biashara’s Raincatchers and Mama Biashara’s Special Condiment (white vinegar laced generously with birdseye chillies and matured till the fumes it gives off would knock down an angry hippo).

We bottle it in little sprays and advise women to apply vigorously to the eyes and, if bared, genital area of an attacker. It has worked incredibly well in all the areas we have taken it to. Stopped attacks in Mombasa, Nairobi… even when the British Army was concerned. Guaranteed to reduce a wannabe rapist to a pink, puffy and streaming-eyed, sobbing ball of blind pain at your feet. And discourage others. It is also delicious on rice or chips if you like things spicy.

Brian wants to send it to Homa Bay, where violently sexual attacks on women on the way to the lake to fetch water are on the increase.

Vicky comes to tell me about the results of para-election(s) violence in Kisii and Homa Bay. My sources have already regaled me with tales of rioting and arson, shooting and general violence all over the area. So I am expecting the worst.

Her story takes me one step away from shrieking “Screw the lot of you!” and flouncing out for an early flight home. However, there are 60 people in Kisii County (plus countless children) who need Mama Biashara very badly.

Since the ‘election’ in August, in many areas, things have been bad and getting worse. Already, 63 men that Vicky herself knows about have disappeared. Just disappeared. No bodies, nothing. Just, suddenly, no husband, no father…

More recently, around the election rerun, tribalism in the areas not held by the party in power has been getting desperate as anyone who looks slightly like a voter floating the wrong way is hunted down.

The sixty that Vicky has come to me about are absolute outcasts. Forty women and twenty men who committed the unforgivable crime of marrying outside their tribe.

Kisii people who married a Luo faced terrible treatment. They had been working across the county border in Homa Bay. There they were beaten, their houses set on fire, their businesses set on fire and the people forced to run in the night or be killed. They ran back across the border into Kisii County – “Home”.

But there the women are paraded through any town they go to, being publicly whipped. No-one will give them shelter, much less food or a way to earn a living. So they are currently sleeping in fields, open air, in the rain and the cold. Starving and desperate. Vicky went to visit them. Vicky is also a sort of outcast. An outsider who married a Kisii. But they do not attack her (any more) because she has two children who have been brought up Kisii.

Now, believe it or not, it gets worse.

I am planning my trip to take them plastic to make shelters, cooking pots, the wherewithal to start small businesses, clothes, food, medicine etc. But I cannot.

Because, if the local Kisiis see a mzungu (or, indeed ANYONE) helping the outcasts or giving them things, then all hell will break loose. Nothing particularly bad would happen to me, probably, but the outcast community would be attacked and all donations taken from them.

So we will have to drip feed them our help. Starting with some plastic and old sacking to make shelters… then tools… cooking pots (everything must look old and worn)… food… etc etc.

We will take the stuff as far as Kisii where Vicky can get safe storage. Then a couple of the drivers of the farm lorries that go down to the county border will take the things. Vicky knows them. We will pay them a little. Every day, every trip, a little more. So hopefully these people and their children won’t die out there in the fields.

The Rennies get a hammering through the night… must be my churning bile.

Mama Biashara survives solely on donations and money from its shop in London. 100% of all monies collected go to the charity’s work. Copstick covers all her own expenses herself, including travel and accommodation. She takes nothing from the charity. You can donate HERE.

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Comedy critic Kate Copstick in Kenya: charity, child rape, schools, tribalism

Continuing on from yesterday’s blog, more edited diary extracts from Kate Copstick in Kenya, working for her Mama Biashara charity… The full diaries are on her Facebook page.


Doris, one of Mama Bishara’s main workers

WEDNESDAY

Doris is in the High Court this morning, taking her rat of an ex-husband for some support for the kids. He has never given a penny. David is both disapproving and skeptical: “This is Kenya. This cannot happen.”

I have finally reached Jayne in Awendo. I get a texted wish list that includes nail polishes, sanitary pads, perm curlers, school shoes and sundry other needs. She also, she says, ‘needs to talk’ about my finding her a sponsor for the school. This is such old ground. She knows I was against the school in the first place.

Schools are simply unsustainable without a hugely and eternally generous donor. She educates the poorest and the neediest in mud huts her husband built and it is all great but then she also insists on a Graduation Day for the tinies where they spend money they do not have on bloody mini mortarboards and diddy gowns.

Mama Biashara just cannot get involved in schooling.

However anyone out there who would like to take one on…

I get the same from Felista.

Actually my very dear old (not that old) school friend Rachel has just sent Felista a wedge of money to help pay for the teachers in her school at DECIP. Felista was ecstatic. I don’t think either Jayne or Felista has ever met a child she couldn’t love. Having said which, Felista is currently struggling with some of the kids brought to her from Awendo.

“Eh, the Ruos!” she says. “Crazy people!”

The Luo tribe and the Kikkuyu are a bit like Rangers and Celtic Football Clubs in Glasgow.

“We have a beeeeeg girl at DECIP, and she is a Rrrruo and she dances nikid. NIKID! And she is beeeeeg!”

Felista, stalwart Mama Biashara co-worker with Copstick

Felista doing an impression of a naked, plump, large-breasted Luo sixteen year old “dancing nikid” is something that will live with me for a long time.

“She says it is her culture,” Felista tells me, screwing up her face. “THIS is not culture. To dance nikid.”

We head out and plunge into the gooey, smelly, crazy mess that is Gikomba market. I get a load of sanitary towels at a wee wholesalers and we decide to make for River Road to get started on Jayne’s list. It does not go particularly well. The traffic is solid. When the jams are like this, there are small crashes and broken down cars and trucks every few hundred yards, creating a jam within a jam. It takes an hour and a quarter to make what should be a ten minute journey.

I hurtle up and down River Road (on foot. There is no hurtling anywhere in a car). The big cosmetic wholesaler is rammed. I am all for physical contact but this is crazy. Sweaty. And deeply unpleasant.

As I fight my way up to the back where the nail polishes are stacked I am horrified to see two fully armed soldiers: flack jackets, helmets and AK47s. It is a bloody cosmetic shop!! Maybe they are expecting a jihad against vain, non-burka-wearing women? But with the push and pull of the crowd we are one wrong finger away from nastiness.

I get Jayne’s stuff and leave. Next, I search for wool. Nada. I give up and we go back to Gikomba where, as darkness falls, we get school shoes for Jayne’s orphans, some great scarves, I have a spirited conversation in German with a Kenyan lady ‘ho’ who had lived in Stuttgart for fifteen years. We drew quite the crowd. My giving her my phone number in German practically gets an applause break.

I buy a great watch for £1 and we eat absolutely the finest and most delicious chicken innards ever, grilled to crispy on the outside and served with a red hot salsa from some boys with a grill in the middle of the mud patch that is now New Pumwani Road.

Sorry veggies and vegans, the sight would have appalled you, but at least the Kenyans eat everything from a dead animal. On the grill were liver and heart combos, neck, gizzard, wiggly intestiney bits, feet…

The man from the little kiosk where I sometimes buy milk greets me like a long lost friend. I told him my Kikkuyu name (Nyaguthie, whch means ‘Let’s go’ or ‘Keep going’) and he uses it at every opportunity. He introduces me to his mates and I am almost immediately proposed to. I politely decline. They want to know if I have a husband at home.

“No,” I say. “No husband.”

“Eh! Unachelewa!” exclaims my wannabe hubby. “You are late !!”

Copstick (left) working for her Mama Biashara in Kenya

THURSDAY

I may have mentioned that the ‘roadworks’ have made the journey to and from home an absolute nightmare. With a vast detour necessary through the grimier parts of Gikomba and surrounding areas.

I had noticed, as we squeezed the car through a gap, a young girl selling sugar cane juice so, as we pass this morning, I tell David to stop while I buy some.

As I leave the car I feel the front wheel of a pikipiki collide with my leg. This particular tiny rat run is beloved of the pikipiki boys.

I turn and rip into him, channeling Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy, I roar: “I’m walking here!!”

The pikipiki boy is so gobsmacked he apologises while his colleagues hoot with laughter.

I am meeting Joan to give her a bag of sunscreen for her albino group in Kibera and a load of HTC’s Cod Liver Oil and Kids’ Fish Oil.

“This is life” nods Felista, who has joined us for lunch.

“It is” agrees Joan.

The little hut we built for Dan and Joan’s disabled therapy group has been demolished to make way for more soldiers to camp out at the Kibera DC’s office. There is an election looming and Kibera is always a hotspot. But Joan has all the stuff with her at her new house. So it will be built again. She had to move because a lot of the work she and Dan do is with sexually abused children.

The men, generally, are immediately released on police bail (if caught). And the Kibera courts are notorious for saying “Men will be men” and letting perpetrators off with a small fine to rape again.

So Joan and Dan get a LOT of threats.

Dan gives me their current file which includes a girl, now in Nairobi Women’s Hospital with seventeen stitches holding her together, raped by her stepfather… a trio of three and four year olds, one of whom cannot leave her room because, if she sees a man, she just starts screaming “No! No! No! No! No!”… some six and seven year olds raped by uncles… and a girl of twelve who is six months pregnant by her next door neighbour.

Child rape is endemic here, with Kibera and Kawangware seeming to be particularly bad.

“Luhya and Kisii men,” says Joan.

“Luo men,” says Felista.

Joan says nothing, Joan is Luo. She currently has four raped girls staying with her because they are not safe around their own families and there is nowhere else for them to go.

At Corner we meet Andy again. He has been chasing green stone for building and has just returned from Juja. We drink beer, eat stewed goat and then politics rears its ugly head.

David is 100% Kikkuyu. If a pile of shit in a bag stood for president, as long as it was Kikkuyu shit, he would vote for it.

Andy is so horrified by David’s refusal to acknowledge that President Uhuru Kenyatta has basically sold Kenya to the Chinese to get a railway and some decent roads to his credit that he will not even shake hands with him as we part.

David hoots with laughter.

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Copstick in Kenya with a following wind, donkey poo and soil nutrients

Comedy critic Kate Copstick is currently still in Kenya, working for her Mama Biashara charity, which gives seed money to impoverished people wanting to start self-sustaining businesses. It also gives medical aid and advice to those people whom other charities overlook. 

The charity exists solely on donations and money raised in its charity shop in London’s Shepherds Bush.

Here are the latest edited extracts from Copstick’s diary, starting last weekend.

Full versions are on her Facebook page.


The SGR: “Customers on the first few trips have been loud”

SUNDAY

I am very happy. Doris calls to say we are down to the last few in consideration to do the training of onboard staff for the new SGR (Standard Gauge Railway Project).

Customers on the first few trips have been loud in their complaints about the staff. At the risk of sounding racist, I think this might have been because the staff are currently being trained by the Chinese. Anyway, through our contacts there for the construction workers, we were offered a chance to try for the training work.

I dash off a document and schedule outline for our training programme peppered with phrases like “the customer is king” and defining ‘modules’ in our course. I also create Mama Biashara’s CHI of customer care: Charming, Helpful, Informative.

If we get this then we would be allowed to get some Mama Biashara ladies and gents into work on the trains. Plus it would be HUGE for us generally.

Quite honestly, almost everything in the document is what I learned from Daddy Copstick while working in the fruit shop on Gauze Street in Paisley. We had GREAT customer care there. Even for two tomatoes and a quarter cucumber.

Mama Biashara stalwarts Doris (left) & Vicky

MONDAY

Back to Eastleigh for more powdered milk. It is having extraordinary effects although probably any food would have extraordinary effects on these kids. Reports are that they sleep, they don’t cry, they are going to the loo and they are “becoming strong”.

I do keep reminding Doris and Vicky that this is an emergency food and that the kids cannot live on it long term. So far, Vicky has got the stuff to three villages, around 80-90 kids in each and we are on day nine.

The refugee villages of Refugee and Mogadishu are in serious need.

I finally have my bearings, geographically: the Lamu Archipelago is off the coast of Kenya close to the Somali border. The biggest Island is Lamu, but our peeps are spread over other smaller islands. The villages of Mogadishu and Refugee are on small islands closest to the Somali border and travel is by canoe.

We are also getting requests from Mijikenda villages on the mainland for Poor Mama’s Plumpy Nut. The same applies there. They cannot rely on it long term. So what we are going to do is teach them to grow something.

At the moment they grow nothing. And the soil is sandy. But the deeper soil is not too bad. With a following wind, some donkey poo and soil nutrients, I am fairly sure they could grow potatoes and even tomatoes, both of which are OK in sandy soil..

The London attack is not huge news here. Three blokes with knives is no biggie in Gikomba but, when I show the picture of the bloke with his pint running, there is a wave of admiration.

I go to Langatta to visit Linda, bedridden sister of our stalwart London volunteer Sonja. She is improving and there is a bit of interest in the homestead, which she is trying to sell. Selling property in a nightmare in Kenya. Financial rip-off lurks around every corner. People sell land they do not own, people buy land with money they do not have and the land registration process is both labyrinthine and corrupt.

Then to Dagoretti Corner to meet with Andy Dean, an entirely admirable young man who, thanks to a lot of hard work, dedication and a bit of being in the right place at the right time, has a job managing a huge project in Western Kenya. Funded by an amazing man called Bob and his huge rose farm, the place is an orphanage, school, clinic and a load else. The rose farm is like no other I know in Kenya: all workers fully kitted-out in protective gear, regular medical checks and great working conditions.

Mama Biashara Kenya co-worker Felista with Kate Copstick

TUESDAY

We buy sacks and fertiliser for the Mijikenda. They cannot plant fields because, although this is their ancestral land, after the Brits left, Kenyatta just took it – so now it is ‘government’ land and they are mere squatters.

That is tolerated. But doing something like growing crops would be frowned upon. Probably with guns and bulldozers. So we are sending sacks and they make vertical fields. Potatoes and tomatoes grow really well like this.

Now to the tiny stall in the thief-ridden interior of a huge building on Moi Avenue. They have amazing Sudanese Shea Butter. Last time I went here my bag was slashed. I leave the bag with David and go in clutching my phone.

I get to the market and Oscar The Soapstone is not there. He has a large order of soapstone plates for a really lovely couple in Shepherd’s Bush, London. I call. He will bring them Thursday, he says. I worry that he has left it so late. I placed the order the day I arrived. I sense impending doom.

I catch up with Doris. We are now a gnat’s bollock away from getting 40 young women placed doing promotions for a big cosmetic company. After a Mama Biashara training, the company loves our girls. All ex ‘working girls’. And charming. And GREAT saleswomen.

The SGR people LOVED my document. Mama Biashara’s CHI of customer care could soon be a thing.

But the real tsunami of complaints to SGR has been about the total lack of online booking. To get a ticket, you have to go old school and go down to the station – some way outside the city centre. So first they are addressing that and are looking at training onboard staff some time in July…

Ali has come back into contact from Iftar – one of the smaller islands on the Lamu Archipelago (see above). He has been inundated with refugees from the refugee islands. The raids by the KDF (Kenya Defence Force) and the Somalis are brutal and have now become regular, so many Mamas leave.

Ali has three groups of 15 ladies in each group. They will be selling mandazi (doughnuts), chapati and cooking oil. Everything is more expensive on an island but Ali is great at getting stuff from the mainland and making business ends meet. There is also a group of 4 ladies who will be making the traditional brekkie dish of pigeon peas in coconut chilli sauce.

Mama Biashara raincatchers – catching on around Kenya.

These groups, once established, will be able to absorb, up to a point, newcoming refugees and so the island will be better able to cope with some influx, which will certainly happen. The whole thing – all the businesses – costs about £200. 49 women and an ongoing safety net for new refugees.

Not bad.

Vicky has got the Lamu Raincatcher up and catching, which is great. It will be quite transformative for the community there.

… CONTINUED HERE

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

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

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

Fuller versions are on her Facebook page.


Mama Biashara helper Vicky with cheap de-worming tablets.

SATURDAY – A WEEK AGO

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

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

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

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

Helper Doris (left) with Vicky in Mombassa

SUNDAY

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

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

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

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

MONDAY

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

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

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

Ten hours to Nairobi.

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

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

How far has yet to be seen.

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

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

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

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

TUESDAY

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

The waterfront at Lamu, Kenya, where Mama Biashara works

WEDNESDAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Copstick’s Diary continues HERE.

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

You can donate to Mama Biashara HERE.

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