Category Archives: Poverty

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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Very wet Kate Copstick in Kenya – “My exhausted teeth bounce off the meat”

Kate Copstick currently in Kenya, working for Mama Biashara

Last Monday, comedy critic Kate Copstick flew to Kenya, where her Mama Biashara charity is based.

It gives small grants to struggling individuals and small groups to start small self-sustaining businesses.

The charity survives solely on donations. Copstick receives no salary and covers 100% of her own expenses, including flights and accommodation. 

Below are highly edited extracts from her diary, posted in full on her Facebook page.


WEDNESDAY

We head to the wholesale stationers off River Road to get Felista a load of stuff for the school and the cybercafe. But David gets a bit lost, there are roadworks and the traffic is at a standstill. Another hour and a half plus borderline heavy metal poisoning from the appalling toxic fumes around here.

We crawl out of the area, having failed to make the stationery place and go to Eastleigh. I am buying dried milk in bulk for my recipe for Poor Man’s Plumpy Nut. The malnutrition on the Coast is terrible. And when the kids get ‘kwashiokor’ – the big belly protein deficiency – the people frequently turn to witch doctors to cure then. And then they die. I am going to teach them to make a version of plumpy nut – which is basically peanut butter, a little oil, dried milk (for the whey) and a vitamin mix. We are also going to show them how to grow peanuts (a crop ideally suited to the climate there). I get 2.5kilo tins for about £10.50. I buy five tins.

My lungs feel like the filter on a well-used Dyson.

David and I make for Kawangware. Which is more or less a hooting, toxic smog-shrouded, bad-tempered car-park of gridlocked vehicles. David is going to show me a bedsit he thinks would be suitable for me. The lovely hotel in the killzone is absolutely wonderful. But it is £10 a night. Which adds up when you are here for a month.

The bedsit is in a new block. Tiny but sooo clean with electricity on a token and actual running water. It is £80 a month. Location wise it is great. Loads of wee stalls, bars and David lives just down the road. However I am off to Mombasa for at least a week, then back, then Awendo. And I don’t have time to buy a mattress and whatnot. So we agree I will take it next time (or one in the same block) and pay in advance.

THURSDAY

Nakumatt, it turns out, as I wander the half-empty shelves in search of bicarbonate of soda (pretty much a wonder remedy) and castor oil (disgusting but effective), has filed for bankruptcy. This is like Tesco going broke. And follows on after Uchumi went to the wall (er… let’s say that’s like Morrissons).

The new boy – or rather nouveau garçon – on the block is a French giant called Carrefour and it is annihilating the locals.

David and I go back to Gikomba and eat fish and rice. The we go to my room and select bras for his wife to sell. The bras are such a great business – there are dozens and dozens of women who have been started in business with a bag of bras from the exuberantly-bosomed British lady friends of Mama Biashara.

FRIDAY

Doris, one of Mama Biashara’s key helpers

09.57 – Off to get the bus to Mombasa.

Doris got the VIP train trip while I am stuck on a bus for a minimum 9 hour trip. There is still flooding so, if this is the last you hear of me, I want Sarah Chew to have my bondage boots and I leave my penis collection to the V&A.

In an interesting twist, I have the raging trots.

Why do I never carry a butt plug when I really need one?

The coach has seen better days. Many of them. There is no promised WiFi and no aircon. The man next to me has boundary issues as well as a weight problem. As night falls, the windows are all closed. Kenyans are paranoid about getting cold. We should arrive at 21.00 latest. We don’t. We do not arrive at 22.00. By 23.00 we are in a jam of epic proportions. All you can see are massive container trucks. Massive.

And I get a very good look at them because they are not moving. And neither are we. For about an hour and a half.

The man across the aisle is either sleep singing very badly or talking in tongues. This is the main road out of Mombasa. It is just a two lane street. Now with container trucks parked on both sides. And renegade coach drivers who, every time they see a small gap, simply drive up the wrong side of the road, thus creating a much, much worse jam further up. It is like a slow motion game of Tetris. And not a traffic cop in sight.

When I finally do arrive (00.45), Doris and I go to the late night bar. She has ordered food. My exhausted teeth bounce off the meat. Things rarely get cooked to tenderness here because of the cost of fuel.

Doris is itching like crazy. In an act of selfless humanity I stuff my arm down the back of her clothing and scratch her bites. They feel like mozzie bites, but she has a couple of little vesicles that do not look mozzie related at all. She slept over on the South Coast last night after being unable to get to the Mijikenda villages we were targeting. The entire area is flooded. Nothing in, nothing out. Unless by canoe. Absolutely nothing being done about it.

SATURDAY

I get a text from Doris asking if I have any cream for bites. I do not. I don’t have anything. She asks me to come to her room with any cream at all so I take a huge pot of the Ingram’s that we bring for the sex workers who have destroyed their skin by scrubbing it with household bleach twice a day (to look whiter). She also wants a bucket of water to wash herself. There is no running water today. Unfortunate, given that I am still in a minorly explosive condition. I had a Wet Wipe Rub Down when I got up.

The no-running-water thing does not apply outside, where the rain is TORRENTIAL. A cold shower would actually be possible at many points in the little dining room where the corrugated iron sheeting is allowing substantial amounts of water in. And the water from the guttering is emptying itself into the far corner of the room where the floor is unmade. Brilliantly, the lads who work here are using this water to wash down the floor and all the plastic chairs in the room. Top marks !

I get the call to go to Doris’s room. She is naked on the bed – an impressive, Rubenesque sight, were it not for the fact that she is COVERED from ankle to neck in bites.

We sort out the stuff we will need for tonight’s little clinic for commercial sex workers, pack it up and get into a matatu. The other side of the road – leading out of Mombasa – is just a HGV carpark now. The jam stretches over ten miles. A traffic cop comes into the cafe for a rest (ha!) and we hear him on his radio telling cops in the city centre not to allow any busses to leave the city till further notice. The road to town is falling apart, potholes and flooding everywhere. And the stink from the sewage is horrid. Billions of shillings are allocated here for upkeep of the roads but…

The waterfront at Lamu, Kenya, where Mama Biashara is huge

We matatu it out to Bamburi where we are meeting two groups from Lamu. Mama Biashara is HUGE in Lamu. We have a battalion of girls driving forklift trucks down at the new port construction and three takataka groups (garbage collection – we started one group and the others have grown from it). All the shoeshine boys in the old town are Mama Biashara boys as well as all the gardening and landscaping and all the tile cleaning. All of this has grown out of various groups started through Vicky of Vicky’s cleaners. The ladies today heard about Mama Biashara from the shoeshine boys and have, literally, risked everything to come and see me.

There is catastrophic flooding along the coastal road. The ladies we meet had paid fishermen to bring them over the flooded areas by canoe. And the flooding ain’t no millpond. Three of their number “didn’t make it”. We are still unsure as to what exactly was meant by that.

The other ladies here have come on behalf of their mothers who were too terrified of drowning to make the trip. A group of 15 ladies want to go into the firewood business. A tree costs about £25 and will – chopped up and bundled – retail at about £150. Unfortunately the trees come from the mainland by canoe so there is no economy of scale as each trip costs another £25. But the profit is still appreciable and the ladies get their grant.

The younger women themselves are representing a group of 23 who want to grow peanuts – a great crop for the island. So another £40 rents another one acre shamba for another two years. Plus the seeds and the rest. As we talk there is a loud crack and the left lens explodes out of my specs. The frame has spontaneously cracked. I put it back in and spend the rest of the time with my head tilted back.


You can donate to Mama Biashara HERE.

…CONTINUED HERE

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

Kate Copstick working for her Mama Biashara charity in Kenya

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

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


Copstick (in blue) at a Mama Biashara project

WEDNESDAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THURSDAY

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

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

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

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

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

“It is not about money” he smirks.

Really.

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

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

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

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

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

FRIDAY

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


SUNDAY

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

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

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

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

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

Local ladies making the Mama Biashara designed raincatcher

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

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

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

So I have some water.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MONDAY

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

She shrieks: “What is it?”

“What’s what?”

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

“Ah… Sunburn.”

“It is HORRIBLE!”

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

She pokes at my pink.

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

Doris, one of Mama Bishara’s main workers

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

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

I feel quite Gregory House.

TUESDAY

Massive day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where have you come from?”

“Er, in life or today?”

“Today.”

He is not amused.

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

“You have a business there??”

“No I am a charity. NO business.”

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

A pause.

I wonder if he is joshing.

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

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

He leaps back as if stung.

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

“Ah well. There we have it.”

We shake hands and drive on.

David is in hysterics:

“You have confused him so much!!”

The Mama Biashara raincatcher – finally erected


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

Donations to the charity can be made HERE.

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Kate Copstick is de-worming in Kenya

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

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

TUESDAY 3rd MARCH

My bowels are generally getting much better.

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

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

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

WEDNESDAY

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

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

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

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

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

Curing cancer never really was on my To Do list.

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

THURSDAY

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

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

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

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

FRIDAY

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

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

I let it pass.

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

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

But he goes home with a bunch. And I sleep

SATURDAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is getting dark and everyone needs to go home.

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


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

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

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

Donations to the charity can be made HERE.

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