Category Archives: Poverty

Flying toilets, taking new drugs and having a penis enlargement operation

Comedy critic Kate Copstick and I record a weekly Grouchy Club Podcast. It covers more than gossip about the comedy industry as do the monthly, live Grouchy Club meetings. Inevitably, after this week’s was finished, the conversation carried on. Three main anecdotes cropped up…


Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya (Photo by Schreibkraft)

Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya (Photograph by Schreibkraft)

FLYING TOILETS

The podcast is recorded in Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity shop in Shepherds Bush, London.

The charity works in Kenya, helping small business start-ups.

When over in Nairobi, Copstick lives in slum areas and had this description of the ‘flying toilets’ in Kibera, Nairobi, said to be the largest urban slum in Africa. 

* * * * *

The houses are incredibly close together – you can’t really extend your arms in the little rat runs between the houses. It is much better now but originally there was allegedly 2,000 people to every one long-drop toilet.

Now the government have put in some standpipes and there are public toilets but you are still sharing a toilet with a helluva lot more people than you would like to. If you go out into the darkness of the night – and you really can’t see in front of your face – you have no idea what you are stepping on, you creak open the door of the long-drop toilet and have no idea what state it’s in. It’s a bit Russian Rouletty. You may also get killed or attacked on your way there or back.

So, if you wake up in the middle of the dark night and think: “God! I desperately need a shit!” – which people do a lot because there is a lot of diarrhea around – what you do is go outside and take a shit into a plastic carrier bag, then tie the top of the carrier bag and take the little butterfly bit at the top and whirl it round your head like a Scotsman flinging the hammer. When it gets to peak velocity, you let go and it flies away into the night as far as it can.

Obviously, in an ideal world, you aim high and generally what will happen is that somebody a couple of streets or houses away will hear a SPLATT! on their corrugated iron roof and they will think: Oh fuck! Somebody’s flying toilet! I must remember to go up and scrape it off in the morning!

The shit is in a plastic bag but, when the plastic bag lands, it generally splits open. Also, if you are in a big family – my mate Sylverster has a one-bedroom house for seven of them – as the children get older, when it’s not raining, the girls sleep inside the house but the boys sleep on the roof. So that can get messy.


Kate Copstick prepares for a Grouchy Club

Kate Copstick prepares for a Grouchy Club

WHITE BLOOD CELLS

For many years, Copstick has suffered from the painful and debilitating disease lupus. It is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue in many parts of the body.

Until 2½ months ago she was in agony most of the time…

* * * * *

Since the lupus struck, I have always had a low white blood cell count – neutropenia. The white cells are the fighter cells and scavenger cells. When you get a bruise, the neutrophils go in and clear away all the damaged blood.

Last June, they put me on this new medication – methotrexate – which I injected into the flub on my stomach. It is a kick-ass drug. It’s used in chemotherapy – for leukaemia and other cancers. Then they found out it really worked for rheumatoid arthritis and, through that, they found it worked for other auto-immune diseases like lupus.

I got put on methotrexate last June/July. Then in August in Edinburgh I got bacterial pneumonia and they thought it might be the methotrexate and I kept taking it and they said: “Oh, your white blood cell count keeps going down.”

Then suddenly, 2½ months ago, I felt great; I felt fantastic. Nothing had been changed in the drugs but I suddenly felt physically great. And the best I’ve felt psychologically for years. I was actually happy. I felt happy. Just wonderful. No pain; no headaches; no tinnitus; no cold sweats; and the white blood cell count had gone down even more.

Then, two weeks ago, the doctors said the white blood cell count had become very dangerously low.

I said: “I’m feeling fine!”

They said: “No no no no no. You’re very dangerously low.”

They kept asking me if I had temperatures and beadaches.

I said: “No! I feel wonderful!”

So, last week, they told me to stop taking the methotrexate because they thought that was lowering the white blood cells. I stopped taking it and I feel like shit this week. As soon as I stopped the injections, I got the pain back – tiredness, pain, headache, dizziness – all the lupus shit.

I mean, everything you take, every normal mainstream medication that you take does something bad to you. I think it should be about what makes you feel good. I’m fucking fed up feeling like shit. I’ve felt like shit for a lot of years, a lot.

Nothing bad seemed to be happening with the low white blood cells and I was feeling great and I reckon for me that’s better than being like this and taking handfuls of tramadol and dihydrocodeine and anything else I can lay my hands on just so I can be functional.


Devils on Horseback

“A bit like Devils on Horseback” which is dates stuffed with almonds and wrapped in bacon

PENIS ENLARGEMENT

In her TV production hat, a few years ago, Copstick developed, wrote and produced a series for the Bravo TV channel called World of Pain.

* * * * *

It was about things like pain for pleasure, sporting pain, all different things. And one episode was called Suffer To Be Beautiful which was about people having plastic surgery and all the crazy shit they do.

So I went to New York to film a penis enlargement operation. It was around the year 2000 and there was nobody in Britain who would allow me to film them. Those who go for penis enlargement tend to want people to imagine that’s how they always have been naturally.

I filmed the entire operation. It was absolutely fascinating. I was the cameraperson. When we sent it to the compliance lawyers, most of it ended up on the cutting room floor not because it was erotic but because there was just so much blood. Somebody was having the shaft of his penis split open with a scalpel and the skin peeled…

What I did not realise was that every man is born with as much penis length as anyone can give you. It just depends if you are a show-er or a grow-er.

If you are a show-er, even when you are flaccid, it is all hanging out there.

If you are a grow-er, there is more to come from inside.

So what they do, when somebody wants more length, is make two cuts in the inguinal area – just above the pubic bone – one on either side – and in there are the ligaments that hold the penis in place and they snip those.

Then – this is true – one doctor or a very strong nurse holds the patient on the operating table while the other doctor grabs the penis and pulls. And I am talking PULLS. We are talking like tug-of-war. And they yank out as much of the penis as they can.

Then they stitch up the little incisions and you are now a show-er.

What surprised me is that men who want more length want it for the locker room. They want it for that moment when the Calvin Kleins hit the carpet and another person – male or female – gets their first look at what you are packing.

This guy I was filming wanted more length. So they did that. But he also wanted more girth.

Enhancement can help a bit on girth with what they call ‘harvested tissue’. Have you ever larded a joint of meat? Where you take strips of fat…

Anyway, what they do is get the penis and slit open the skin down the length of it and then… Have you ever buttered the breast of a chicken before you roasted it?

What you do is you ease your hands in between the flesh and the skin of the chicken and you open it up so the skin separates from the flesh.

So, with penis enhancement, they get little rectangles of harvested tissue, lift the skin of the penis away from the shaft and wrap these bits of tissue around the shaft. Then they sew that bit up and do another bit until… It’s a bit like Devils on Horseback or a beef olive.

Then they stitch the skin back into place and wrap it all in very tight elastic bandage. Then the person goes away with lots of painkillers and hopes that they only think clean thoughts.

Because the single biggest problem with the process is guys who go away from the hospital, take their painkillers and, after a day or so, wake up with a bit of morning glory and burst all their stitches.

As for pee-ing, initially you are catheterised but the answer after that is to pee very very carefully.

How do you get harvested tissue? With a scalpel and a dead body.

So be careful when you sign your organ donor card. You may think you will be giving sight to the blind, but you could end up giving girth to the under-endowed and find yourself wrapped around some tiny-dicked guy’s enlarged penis.

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Filed under Health, Humor, Humour, Kenya, Medical, Poverty, Sex

An actor’s tale: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”

Peter Stanford took tea with me at Soho Theatre

Peter Stanford sipped tea at Soho Theatre Bar

The last time I blogged about Mensa member Peter Stanford was in June four years ago, when he was taking part in the annual Naked Bike Ride in London.

A couple of weeks ago, he was telling me: “Yes.  I am moving out of the hostel for the homeless to a Church’s Housing flat soon and do not know how much notice I will have. (Four hour’s notice to get in the hostel.)  Library computer running out. If you blog about me, will it affect my chances of getting acting work? Should it therefore be anonymous?”

When we met, we decided it would not.

We met in the Soho Theatre Bar.

“So currently,” I said, “you are living a transient life…”

“I am living in a hostel, yes. I was sleeping rough, living on the pavement, from last Christmas to about April this year.”

“I suppose, as an actor,” I said, “it doesn’t matter where you are.”

“And I have a bicycle,” said Peter. “I haven’t got my youth, but I have my stamina and I can cycle across London and back. Swimming and cycling I can still do.”

Why he is homeless is complicated and he feels too personal to print, as it might affect someone else.

"I have turned down two offers from producers saying: Tell your story"

Turned down 2 offers from producers saying: Tell your story

He also told me: “I have turned down two offers from producers saying: Tell your story about middle class homelessness.”

“You were,” I said, “almost in Sacha Baron Cohen’s movie Grimsby.

“Well…” he replied. “I got an email from one of the agencies saying: Would you object to being a urinating vicar in the film called Grimsby? So I told them: Not at all; sign me up. But then I never heard from them again.

“I can,” he continued, “think of other tales to destroy one’s self-image – being invited onto Take Me Out, turning up on set in my normal clothes for the role of a squatter and being told: You’ve been to costume and make-up then?

“On the other hand, I was writing out my theatrical CV the other day and it looks quite impressive. I sang at the London Palladium with Robbie Williams. I sang at the London Coliseum with ELO.”

“With Robbie Williams?” I asked.

“I was ‘a fat popstar’,”he explained. “At the time, Robbie Williams was getting a lot of flak in the press for looking fat, so he wrote a song and all these fat people ran out and sang No-One Likes a Fat Pop Star. And I’ve sung opera in my time.”

Peter Stanford: one man in his time plays many parts

Peter Stanford… “One man in his time plays many parts…”

“Weren’t you Henry VIII?” I asked.

“Yes. At Hampton Court. But my best story of being a homeless actor was when I was living on the streets. I went to the library to do my emails and was offered the chance to be the new face of Stella Artois beer. I had not told any agents that I was sleeping on the pavement.

We would be filming in Rumania, they told me, so we will put you up in a five star hotel for a week and then buy you out for eight thousand Euros. Is that acceptable?

“I told them that it was and thought that I must get the job for the irony alone. Pavement to 5 Star hotel, then back to the pavement (if I know anything about the wait before payment). I was going to be a Victorian doctor in the ads. Unfortunately, I didn’t get it.”

“But you almost got it,” I asked, “by going to the library?”

Peter’s multiple London library cards

Peter’s has multiple London library cards

“Oh, every day I go to the library and log on: Wandsworth, Ealing, Kingston, Southwark, Greenwich… Westminster is good because it’s open until 9.00pm. They are all good places to go and sleep. I once fell asleep while I was cycling.”

“What?”

“Fortunately,” Peter continued, “I didn’t go under a bus. I went to other way and hit a kerb, flew through the air and landed on my knee. It woke me up.”

“So how do you survive financially?”

“When I became homeless, for the first time in my life, I signed on the dole. I had been living off my acting and living with a relative. I was always brought up to be frugal.”

“I think,” I said, “you’re allowed to work up to something like 16 hours a week and still sign on?”

“Something like that.”

“How many acting jobs do you get a month?”

“Two or three. I’ve been auditioning a lot. I was a vicar the other week. When they gave me the address, it was where they had had my uncle’s cremation last year.”

“You seem to be getting typecast as vicars,” I suggested.

“Well, I have a deep voice, so I am either good guys or bad guys. A deep voice means evil or benign. A psychopath or wise old man.”

“There’s no way out of this, is there,” I asked, “unless you get a big role?”

“There is my one-man show about James Robertson Justice,” said Peter.

“Except,” I said, “no-one remembers who he was.”

“Alas,” said Peter.

“You wrote it for yourself,” I prompted.

James Robertson Justice in his prime

Actor James Robertson Justice

“I was writing it as a one-man play about James Robertson Justice and someone was interested and, three quarters of the way through, he suddenly asked: Could you make it about Brian Blessed instead? I told him the main reason I couldn’t do that was it was based on James Robertson Justice’s life.”

“Ironically,” I said, “the best person to play the part of James Robertson Justice would be Brian Blessed.”

“That part’s taken,” laughed Peter. “By me.”

“You have already performed it?”

“Written and performed it.”

“You could do it at the Edinburgh Fringe,” I suggested.

“I could do it anywhere. I’ve got a friend for free accommodation in Edinburgh, but I have never been to the Fringe.”

Peter Stanford at Wellington Arch, London, yesterday

Peter Stanford at the Naked Bike Ride in 2012

 

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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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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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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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Filed under Africa, Charity, Kenya, Poverty, Sex

Kate Copstick’s charity work in Kenya

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

Kate Copstick when in Kenya

In the latest weekly Grouchy Club Podcast, comedy critic Kate Copstick explains the work of her Mama Biashara charity in Kenya and where the money raised goes to.

NB The following brief extract includes graphic sexual description. It begins with Copstick talking about the Kenyan border with Somalia.


Copstick
The border is very, very porous, so there’s a lot of refugees, mainly a lot of women – all the people who are being as completely fucked-up and fucked-over by Somalian extremist Moslem groups as anybody outside the country. And these ladies have come to rest in Lamu, which is just off the coast of Kenya. It was, at one point a very nice, posh tourist resort for people who wanted to live in ancient villas and whatnot.

But, since the main beach activity became getting kidnapped by pirates, it has become less popular.

So these Somali ladies are there and we got to hear through someone who knew someone who knew someone who knew someone who knew someone who knew this lady’s daughter… We got sent this little video.

WhatsApp is an app that Africans use all the time to send pictures of everything and I get sent videos on it all the time and I have yet to receive a video where you go: Oh, that’s lovely!

It’s always something hideous that’s been shot covertly or because someone needs my help or because we’re being threatened. I get quite a lot of threatening videos – you know – This will happen to you if you don’t back off…

John
And what are the pictures?

Copstick
The ones that they send to frighten me are usually of people being burned alive and  beaten up. But this one was – and it’s slightly fuzzy so, at the beginning – and it’s small because it’s come from WhatsApp, so I put it on my laptop – and I went: Ooh..What’s th… Oh my God!…

It was like a purple, fist-sized lump of flesh with three kind of big holes going down into it with pus around the edge of the holes. And, just as you’re thinking Fuck me! that is somebody’s labia majora, a finger comes in with white glove on – a plastic glove – and lifts it up and the shot ‘develops’ to go right into the entrance of this lady’s vagina, right underneath the clitoral hood. And it’s just alive with hundreds of maggots…


Copstick goes on to explain how Mama Biashara will help. Also updated HERE.

The latest Grouchy Club Podcast can be heard on Podomatic and is also available to download from iTunes.

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Filed under Charity, Kenya, Poverty, Somalia

Why comic Trevor Lock thinks some Third World aid is a holocaust of lies

Trevor Lock is Not Joking... again

Honest… Trevor Lock is Not Joking… again

The Proud Archivist venue in London’s Haggerston is suddenly, definitely trendy. I went to see Trevor Lock’s Not Joking show there last month. And he is performing it there again this Friday.

So I thought we should have a blog chat about it.

We did not.

“What else are you doing?” I asked him.

“Next Wednesday,” he told me, “I’m doing Paul B Edwards’ Crock of Mould at the Backyard Comedy Club in Bethnal Green. It used to be regular, with Al Murray, Harry Hill and…”

Trevor is compering a Crock of Mould soon

Trevor is compering a Crock of Mould soon

“Was this last century?” I asked.

“Yes. And now he’s revamping it with me as host, Miles Lloyd, Joz Norris and various people.”

“A regular team?” I asked

“I guess so. We’re doing it up at the Edinburgh Fringe next year.”

“And,” I asked, “after Crock of Mould?”

“I’m flying to the South Americas at the beginning of December.”

“Ah,” I said, “I suspect there are many stories to be told about the South Americas and you have never told me any of them.”

“And I never shall,” said Trevor.

“Why are you flying to the South Americas?” I asked.

“Ah… erm… I don’t know my purpose, but… erm…”

“But you know your destination?”

“Exactly.”

“Colombia?”

“I may go to Colombia.”

“Bolivia?”

“I may go to Bolivia. I’m definitely going to end up in Rio.”

“Rio?” I asked. “It’s full of people with knives who want to rob you.”

“My ex-wife has landed up there.”

“Ah,” I said. “How long are you going for?”

“I don’t know. I will be back in the UK in the summer.”

“You lived in South America, didn’t you?” I asked.

“Yes. Not for very long. I told you the last time you blogged about me.”

“I only write it,” I said. “I don’t read it.”

Trevor Lock aka Mr Terrier in 2009 - now released

Trevor Lock was Mr Terrier in this 2009 film

“If you did read your own blog, “ said Trevor, “you would know that I made a movie. It was finally released in Peru in August. It was very well received and may come to the London Film Festival next year.”

“Lima was a tad unsafe when I was there in the 1983,” I said. “though not as dangerous as Bogota.”

“I feel safer in Lima than I do at Loughborough Junction in London,” said Trevor.

“But,” I said, “Lima’s a pisshole.”

“I love Lima,” said Trevor.

Children living in mud homes outside Puno in 1983

Children living alone in their mud homes outside Puno, 1983

“Puno was almost as bad,” I said. “Terribly poor. But I was there in 1983. It could now be the richest, most wonderful place on earth. I am feeling very old. When my grandfather was young, he went to Canada and he used to tell me as a kid what Canada was like with its raised wooden sidewalks instead of stone pavements. It wasn’t for ages that I realised what he was describing was not modern cities in the 1960s but 19th century Wild West style towns in the 1910s or whenever he went there. Because he was that old. So I tell people knowledgeably about what Peru and South America are like, but I am actually talking about what they were like when I saw them a third of a century ago in 1983.”

“Yeah,” said Trevor, “and that was before things got really bad. That was just before (the excesses of the Maoist guerrilla group) Sendero Luminoso. Peru was clearly suffering in the 1980s.”

Comrade Artemio and Shining Path guerrillas

Comrade Artemio and Sendero Luminoso Maorist guerrillas

“If ever anywhere deserved Sendero Luminoso,” I said, “it was Peru. There was no middle class. The poor were never ever going to get out of the shit. There was nothing to aspire to. Miraflores in Lima was all private tennis courts and Mercedes Benz cars and everywhere else was a shambolic nightmare of abject poverty.”

“Yes,” said Trevor, “that was basically my experience when I went there for the first time. I saw the poorest people I had ever seen and I met the richest people I had ever met. It was just absurd. Utterly absurd.”

“In the countryside,” I said, “you could see the way the Incas used to successfully farm the hills in terraces and yet, when I was there, people were starving at the bottom of the hills with cows with ribs which stuck out. Lima was absolute shit. It deserved to be nuked. But you like it.”

“I love it,” said Trevor. “What I like is the overlap of different classes and cultures.”

“But there is no overlap is there?” I asked.

“Well, there is,” said Trevor.

These are the rich. Those are the poor,” I said. “Ne’er the twain shall meet.”

An ordinary street in Lima in 1983

Street in 1983 Lima – either earthquake-hit or just run down

“They are completely intertwined,” argued Trevor. “You can’t have rich without poor. You can’t have poor without rich. And, being an alien, being a gringo, I can pass between these worlds. In a sense, you are right that they can’t mix. But the most obscenely richest people in Peru are all nursed and brought up by the poor. You go into the parks of the rich neighbourhoods and you see all these little white babies being pushed around by their much darker mothers. But, of course, they’re not their mothers – they are indiginous employees – wet-nurses, maids, household staff. The parents have played a very little role in the upbringing of their children.”

“Much like the English upper classes,” I said.

“It’s incredible,” said Trevor. “Amazing. It is really, really fascinating to see even quite old children who are not with their parents. My friend is from Spain – he’s got a little kid. He drops his kid off at school every morning and he is the only parent – the only blood relative – dropping a child off at school in the morning. Everyone else is being dropped off by their nannies.”

“It would have been like that when I was there,” I said.

Trevor Lock may go to a variety of counties in South America

Trevor Lock surely knows more about modern Peru than I do

“It’s changed since the 1980s, though,” said Trevor. “For a while, it was the fastest-growing economy in the world, though it’s slowed-down considerably now. They called it the Abu Dhabi of South America.”

“And you like it,” I said.

“You see the industrial, Western civilisation stripped naked,” said Trevor. “Like most of South America and much of Africa, compulsory schooling has destroyed the culture. The poor in the countryside have been sold the bullshit that, if you have a better education, you can have a better life in the cities. The subsistence farming that worked for centuries has been destroyed.”

“So,” I said, “good news and bad news for Peru.”

“Well,” said Trevor, “up in the remote places there are still communities that do live from the land, but most of the places are mono-cultural agriculture growing one crop for some money and then they have to buy shitty food from a shop. Their children now have to go to school and they have to be sent off at the beginning of term and travel three days to the nearest school and come home at the end. It’s horrific. But that’s progress. And some pricks over here go over there and facilitate it.

“I’m regularly asked to perform at benefit gigs to raise money to build schools in Third World countries.”

“And what,” I asked, “do you say?”

“Well,” said Trevor, “if it feels like they might have an open mind, I will explain and, if not, I will just politely decline.”

“Because?” I asked.

“Because it’s a holocaust. It’s holocaust of lies. You’ve seen the slums of the major towns. You’ve seen it.”

“What’s the way round it?” I asked.

TrevorLock_Soho_Flowers

Trevor Lock: “I think a  lot of people have a religious instinct”

“There is no way round it,” said Trevor. “I don’t know what the answer is… I dunno… I think a lot of people have a religious instinct and, when you don’t have a church to go to – as many people now don’t – you have to get into something else. So you get into ‘helping’ developing countries and ‘saving’ the poor. You can’t export your religion any more, because you don’t have one. But you can export your values and your politics. You can export your world view.

“So you tell them: Stop growing all these different kind of vegetables, just grow this one kind of vegetable and I will give you all this money and then you can send your children to school and, in 20 years time, they can be lawyers and estate agents in the city. Brilliant.”

“When,” I said, “Japan managed to have a nuclear disaster AND a tidal wave, I was amazed people were donating money to them. Japan is one of the richest countries in the world.”

“It’s a religion,” said Trevor.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Filed under Charity, Peru, Poverty, Third World, Travel