Copstick and Alister at the Mama Biashara shop yesterday
Since 2008, comedy critic Kate Copstick has been running her Mama Biashara charity in Kenya.
As well as health care projects and workshops, it gives small grants and helps poor people (especially women) set up their own small businesses which may give them a lift to a better life.
Last week, she returned from one of her frequent visits to Kenya. Her trip there coincided with the terrorist attack on the Westgate Shopping Mall.
“So you had a hellish time in Kenya?” I asked her yesterday at the Mama Biashara shop in Shepherd’s Bush. Also in the shop was volunteer helper Alister.
“It was probably,” she said, “bad karma following me after my unforgivable suggestion in your blog… You know what I did, Alister? Looking back, I can’t believe I did it – I suggested that women might like to take a little responsibility for their actions.”
“Alister, were I to meet you in a bar and I was already pissed and I wrapped myself round you, bought you several drinks, had more drinks myself, asked you if you wanted to come home with me, took you home, upstairs, got naked with you, lay down on the bed with you, what would you think I was planning?”
“A sleepover?” suggested Alister
“So you would not leap aboard and fuck my brains out?” asked Copstick.
“Definitely not,” said Alister. “Although, if I worked for Help The Aged, maybe I would.”
“Well,” said Copstick, “just because I suggested if a girl acts like she’s up for it, dresses like she’s up for it, walks like she’s up for it, talks like she’s up for it, drags a guy into a horizontal position and takes his clothes off… then he might get the idea that she was up for it… Apparently that’s wrong.”
“So,” I said, “some may argue this resulted in bad karma in Kenya.”
Copstick on happier earlier trip
“I arrived in Nairobi on the 16th of September,” said Copstick. (That was the day the blog was published.) “And, from that very first day, it went wrong. My mate Dave, the man with the car – ‘Dave The Deathtrap’, they call him – had had his Deathtrap confiscated. So I had to get a regular taxi. I bunged everything in the back and thought: Well, at least it’s a shiny, lovely, new taxi so we’re not going to get stopped by the police.
“So we were stopped by the police.
“They did all that stuff of shining the torches in the back of the car right in your eyes. They couldn’t find anything wrong with the car, so they said: Oh, you have committed an offence. You’re not wearing your seatbelt. You have to pay a fine.
“So I said: OK, terribly sorry. Take me to the police station, charge me and I’ll pay the fine. At which point, they dragged me out of the car and said: It’s not for you to tell us to take you to the police station! It’s for us to decide to take you to the police station!
“I said: Terribly sorry. That’s what I meant. Take me to the police station, charge me and I’ll pay the fine – at which point there was lots of Kenyan harrumphing.
“Why can you not just pay the fine here?” they asked.
“Well, if I pay it here, I told them, it’s not a fine, is it? It’s kitu kidogo (meaning something small i.e. a bribe) and I don’t pay kitu kidogo. There was a great deal more harrumphing. I kept insisting on being taken to the police station. They thought I was crazy, but they let us go. I remember thinking I so hope that’s not an omen, because I’d never been stopped before on the way from the airport. But then there was the whole Westgate shopping mall hoo-ha – the attack by Al-Shabaab terrorists.”
“You weren’t near there?” I asked.
“I can’t afford to shop there,” said Copstick. “But, to show they were doing something, the police started randomly rounding up boys in slums and either arresting or shooting them and a lot of the Mama Biashara workshops we had planned were cancelled because the idea of a white woman dressed in black having meetings with lots of young guys in slums was just going to be tempting fate too much… The police would have been saying: Ey! You are Samantha!
“They called Samantha Lewthwaite (the UK-born white woman who was initially suspected of being involved in the Westgate attack) Dada Mzungu, which means White Sister, so the shouting would have gone: Ey! You’re Dada Mzungu! – No! I’m Mama Biashara!
“Even I thought it would be tempting fate because, once you’re arrested in Kenya, such a world of shite opens up.
“So I went off to Owendo down near the Tanzanian border – the arse end of nowhere, fairly ghastly – but Mama Biashara is doing loads of stuff there and it’s fantastic.
“The first night I arrived I was full of Yoohooo! Marvellous! Tomorrow, up-and-at-em! Loads of good work to do!
“So I go to bed – I had a little cupboard they slotted a bed into – and, in the morning, I get up and stand on a 1,000 shilling note, which is worth about £8. I think: That’s very strange. But there’s another one on the floor and then I find my bum bag which is open and I think This isn’t good, so I check and there’s maybe 10,000 shillings left where there had been around 100,000 shillings.”
“How much is that?” I asked.
“About £800,” Copstick told me. “The youngest son told me he had woken up at 5.00am and the front door was open. They reckoned somebody the previous night – somebody who knew the house and had had money from me before and knew where I kept my money, knew I always brought cash and knew where I slept – had come in and hidden somewhere, probably under my bed, and come out when everyone was asleep, taken the money and gone out leaving the door open.
Copstick, in Mama Biashara yesterday, remembers the trip
“News update – as always, your blog is the first to know – they think they might have found her. There’s a local woman who had previously been given money by Mama Biashara who all-of-a-sudden, despite having no money, paid off all her children’s school fees including arrears, bought school uniforms for them all and disappeared. So, with Sherlock Holmesian logic, they think it might be her.
“The thing is I don’t want anything horrible to happen to her. It’s more in sorrow than in anger. She wasn’t really stealing from me. She was stealing from everyone else who could have got a grant from that money. It’s alright for me. I can come back to London and my apartment in Shepherd’s Bush to the high living to which I am accustomed and the slightly stinky toilet.”
“Indeed,” I said, “you were never going to end up with the money yourself. You only had it there to give it away.”
“Yes,” said Copstick, “But it did start to put even more of a downer on the trip and I did develop something of a pouty lip.
“And, when I went back to Nairobi, the police were still rounding up all the wrong people with added GBH…”
(CONTINUED HERE… IN WHICH ARMED MEN COME FOR COPSTICK…)