Tag Archives: Africa

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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Kate Copstick in Kenya – an autopsy, corruption, de-worming and digging

Mama Biashara logo

Last week, I posted a blog about comedy critic Kate Copstick, currently in Kenya, where her Mama Biashara charity works. 

Here are further edited extracts from her current diary:


Kate Copstick working for Mama Biashara in Kenya

Kate Copstick working for her Mama Biashara charity in Kenya

TUESDAY

I have time to talk with Felista about some of the problems the Awendo (strictly speaking I think many of them come from Kisumu) are causing. Apart from the rapist teachers, the sex crazed teens who refuse to wear knickers and the hopelessly infested heads (ringworm) and guts (worms), there is a group of boys who used to keep escaping to go swimming with one of the teachers.

One young lad was excluded from the fun because he was not very well. So he got out on his own one night and dived in. And didn’t come out.

When the body was discovered and the parents informed, they were of course:

(a) distraught at the death of their son and

(b) delighted at the possibility of making some money out of it.

They declared the boy had been beaten at DECIP (the children’s home Felista created and runs) – beaten in the water, which is why he drowned. They got 20,000 from somewhere and demanded an autopsy. No payment, no autopsy here.

Felista had just got back from watching it.

The ‘accused’ and the ‘accusers’ WATCH the autopsy procedure.

“He had a saw and he Bzzzzzzzzz,’” says Felista, doing rather a good impression of taking the top of a head off. “Then…” – She mimes lifting the skull away – “he says This is the brain. Have you ever seen a brain? And then he says: Look! Look! Is there any injury? No”. And then he says…” – Felista mimes pulling the skin away from the skull – “Look! Look! These are the eyes! Can you see any injury? No!

She mimes the entire post mortem with some enthusiasm. The Y-shaped incision… the cracking of the ribs… looking at the heart and liver… looking at the water in the lungs…

Quite a morning.

Copstick with Mama Biashara co-worker Felista

Busy Felista with Kate Copstick, working for Mama Biashara

WEDNESDAY

Felista is out somewhere but I pack what I have for her into some boxes and David and I head for DECIP. There is SO much work being done on the slum roads around this area. Nice tarmac roads for the nice people they hope will come and live in the massive apartment blocks that are being thrown up all over the place.

Throwing up massive apartment blocks is the Kenyan politicians’ money-laundering method of choice. They just sweep the poor off the place like they are dust. Their houses demolished; their shops bulldozed. Almost the whole of a little slum village called Mutego has gone. The big stone built church remains. Natch.

I totally bottle-out of doing the sex talk for the randy Luo teens. I will bring Doris and she can do it. I am not sure I could keep a straight face while advising girls not to have sex. A bit like Oliver Reed lecturing on the evils of alcohol.

We go to a (literally) rust brown village beside the bypass near Kikkuyu, park up, open the boot and start. By the time it is beginning to get dark, we have dewormed 350. Oh yes. 350 people. We have given out cough syrups and cod liver oil (each child gets a fish oil capsule with the dewormers – Thank you HTC), gallons of diclofenac gel and mini mountains of pain killers, glucosamine and antifungal ointment. I wipe pus, poke at scabs, palpate lumps and distended abdomens and stem a tidal wave of acid stomach… Generally all good stuff.

The people for whom I do not have the meds are told to come back tomorrow – A lady with tonsils like red and white rugby balls, several urinary tract infections, some diarrhea and an equal amount of constipation. (“My pupu hard, like a goat”)

There is one recurring problem: women with pain around the waist area and numbness in the legs. I am no chiropracter, but a lot of the ladies carry massive bundles of firewood on their backs, anchored with a sash around their forehead. So squished vertebrae and squashed discs are not exactly surprising. They are all going to stretch and slap on the diclofenac gel and see if there is any improvement.

Copstick (in blue) at Mama Biashara project

Copstick at a previous Mama Biashara project

THURSDAY

Julius arrives first and we go over the massage training… Most of Cheptulu and surrounding area suffers from whole body soreness and a massage really fixes them till the next load of firewood or water has to be carried.

He is also keen that I reconsider building the well. If the soil is loam all the way down, we could just about afford it.

But, if we hit rock, then the costs skyrocket. Plus we don’t have a water diviner. Snigger ye not.

I saw it work when we dug the well in Juja. I am considering asking if I can borrow the rods.

We arrange massage training for Friday as soon as I arrive and then medical Saturday (with massage) and, hopefully, Raincatcher-making on Sunday. Unless I get the rods…

Now, back to the Education Project. This is bigger than Mama Biashara has ever attempted and it is looking good.

Better still, it is possible because of a Mama Biashara business.

Around four years ago, Mama B met with a group of chokora (street boys) who wanted a grant for a printing business. There was something great about them, so they got it and the business started.

They got a great place in town, business was booming and, every month, these guys would take four boys from the streets and train them in graphic design, print and computer skills. Every one of these boys is employed. Most of them by the big print companies. But now the big companies are getting irritated by the amount of business our guys are getting and are starting to make life difficult for them.

So our guys have moved and work at night and underground (not literally).

Added to this, one of them is standing as a candidate for the local county elections – for the little people. It is SO exciting.

So now, back to the project again.

They are printing, at cost price, 2,000 posters and 20,000 flyers which will go across the whole of Kenya. I have written the content of the flyers and posters.

In 2013, the Basic Education Act was passed, making all basic education free in government schools. However, what is happening – because greed and corruption is a way of life here – is that head teachers and even class teachers create so-called Registration Fees, cooking fees, cleaning fees, standing-up fees, sitting-down fees etc. And, if the children fail to come up with the money, they are sent home from school.

So this leaflet explains (with quotes from the Act and the Constitution) that this is illegal. It is a crime. As is the levying of Examination Fees (as of last year).

People have gone crazy for these leaflets. They have already been translated into 20 tribal languages and are heading to all corners of Kenya. The people in Turkana want big posters to put on their camels and stuff has already gone to Narok for the Maasai. As I type, the nine languages spoken by the Mijikenda on the coast are being typed up. It is really rather exciting.

And our candidate – whose name is Timothy but who is known as NJuguna Wa Keja – is using this as part of his platform.


The Mama Biashara charity gives sensible sums of money to help locals start sustainable small businesses in the poorer areas of Kenya.

Their 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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The £2,500 theft and Copstick in Kenya

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

Mama Biashara’s Copstick on a previous Kenyan visit

Comedy critic Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya, where her Mama Biashara charity gives sensible sums of money to help locals start sustainable small businesses in the poorer areas of Kenya.

She flew there last Friday.

Last Wednesday, £2,500 destined for the charity’s work in Africa was stolen from the Mama Biashara shop in London. At the time of writing, a donations page for the charity remains open for another 24 days and monies from the first night of promoter Mike Leigh’s new Comedy Happening night in London on 16th March are also being donated to Mama Biashara.

Below is an edited version of Copstick’s latest diary from Kenya. No-one takes any salary from Mama Biashara and Copstick covers 100% of her 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.

Mama Biashara logo


SATURDAY

Doris at the ferry in Mombassa

Mama Biashara helper Doris at the ferry in Mombassa, Kenya

I am sleep deprived and knackered when I land. But get painlessly through customs and immigration, which is wonderful.

Situation update in Kenya is: there is a serious drought and a State Of Emergency has been announced. However I, although my personal luck is currently waving goodbye as it disappears over the horizon beyond dreadful, have brought the rain with me. Last night and this morning there has been rain – even in Nanyuki (which is impressive). Everyone is happy.

Doris is resplendent in new braids in grey and black (a gift from a friend).

I run through part of my To Do List and Doris says she thinks we should concentrate on things other than business set-ups because business is appalling in Kenya at the moment. Some big companies are relocating, small companies are closing and tiny Mama Biashara type businesses are in a dire state. All food prices have gone up and water has become very expensive.

Also doctors in all government hospitals have been on strike for 77 days and counting. People are lining up outside non-functioning A&E departments to die. Apart from that, everything else is crap too.

SUNDAY

The highlight of my week so far is my new favourite word of all time. Coined by the marvellous Julius, it is ‘grumpling’. Close but subtly different from grumbling. And much friendlier.

We arrange more jiggers treatments (see previous diaries, but it is not pretty), more medical, more shoes and then Julius starts talking about “the well”…

I would love to dig a well. There are 600 people in the community around where Julius lives.

Pro the well: it would bring water to the community and save the women trekking 5 kilometers to get the stuff and, thanks to all the support we have had, if we locate water which is not to deep underground, it is financially doable for us.

Con the well: the cost could be big. If all goes well and the diggers do not hit rock, it would be quite cheap. But rock means big costs. In addition to that, my experience is that, as soon as there is a ‘thing’ here, the heavy mob (there is always a heavy mob in poor areas) appropriate it. My worry is that they would grab the well and start charging the locals. And, when Julius dies, his land goes to his son and his son’s wife who might not be a decent as Julius.

Thoughts, people? Especially those who donated to Mama Biashara.

Without you I would not even be able to consider this.

The alternative is to teach the locals about the Raincatchers I invented for the Maasai.

You create a sort of hammock that you hang from trees, with a hole in the middle which is directly over the opening of a 1,000 litre water tank. The rain is ‘caught’ and collected and pours into the tank AMAZINGLY quickly. Maybe a Raincatcher for every four or five houses would be enough. This can be done at about £50 per raincatcher.

Copstick with Mama Biashara co-worker Felista

Copstick with Mama Biashara worker Felista on previous visit

And now Felista arrives. Her ginormous breasts are in danger of pouring over the edge of the bra (Thank you Sara Mason) she wears and out of her blouse, which is missing a button.

Every time she takes a breath, it is like watching a tsunami of flesh gathering to swamp everything in front of it.

She shows me her skirt, which is similarly missing bits … like quite a lot of material.

“My clothes have all been eaten by a rat,” she announces with hoots of laughter.

As ever, with Felista, there is good news and there is bad news.

She also has been to Nanyuki, (as well as Doris), currently ravaged both by drought and by tribal warfare exacerbated by drought.

“Eh, they are dying like chickens there!” she cries, shaking her head. “Like chickens.”

Back at DECIP (the children’s home she created and runs on a wing, many prayers and a heart the size of a Trump ego), the bus which left in December to take 20 orphans back to their home area in Awendo in December has returned in February with the 20 as well as 49 others. No shoes, hardly any clothes. Forty nine. Because the women in Awendo know Felista will not turn away a child in need. And Awendo and surrounding area is rich in children in need.

So now Felista’s two rooms (bedroom and a sort of sitting room) as well as a store room and the dispensary, are dormitories for the tiny kids while the nursery dorms, as were, house the bigger kids.

Awendo also sent four male teachers, whom Felista has just had to tackle and expel for trying to rape girl pupils. Twelve year olds. When she stopped them and went crazy, they announced:

“But we are teachers. These girls are our meat. This is our culture.”

They have now gone.

The situation is further complicated by the older Luo girls (from Awendo) who are described by a grinning Felista as “crazy for sex”. And so I am going to be teacher for an afternoon at DECIP. Teaching sex education. Oh yes, I know. Dracula in charge of a blood bank and all that, but I will have my sensible hat on.

MONDAY

Some of the Kenyan children helped by Mama Biashara

Some of the Kenyan children helped by Mama Biashara money

I am determined to get some heft behind our campaign to stop teachers and Head Teachers extorting money from the poorest of the poor at government schools by creating illegal charges and then excluding the children when the parents cannot pay them. This is a Big Thing here. And it is the main reason so many of the poorest kids don’t get an education.

Some fat drunk in charge of a school wants an extra wedge so he (or she) creates a ‘sitting on the chairs’ charge or a ‘learning on Mondays’ charge. The parent cannot pay up, so the kid gets sent home.

All these charges are illegal. Including the omnipresent ‘registration fee’.

We spread the word everywhere we can when we are in the slum areas and I have written a leaflet, quoting the relevant bits of the Act and screaming in bold letters: “No child can be sent away from a government school because of money.” 

But the message is not getting out there enough.

Yesterday a lady told me her kids’ school levies a ‘cleaning charge’ twice a week. 200 pupils each pay 50 bob. Twice a week. And the cleaner is paid 200 bob tops. Twice a week. The rest goes in the headmaster’s pocket. Illegal. But kids get sent home if they do not pay it.

So I go to the Education Officer’s office and have a chat. He listens. He nods. And then he says:

“Firstly I must tell you that everything you say is true”.

Marvellous.

Then he says: “…and I must congratulate you on being so bold. These people are volatile.”

“Thieves and those who spend their lives conning money out of orphaned children often are,” I say. He smiles.

They tend to smile a lot, these officer types. Not widely, but a lot.

The upshot was that either the official types are just scared to take on the bastards or the bastards are paying them off so that the larceny might continue.

Whatever, he did say he would support a poster campaign (and have posters all over the Chief’s offices), would encourage me to speak on radio and would help with lists of parents associations to which we could speak.

Probably not me as the whole white thing is not great when push comes to shove.

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Kate Copstick – de-worming in Kenya while her sister is handcuffed in London

My Grouchy Club co-host Kate Copstick is still in Kenya, working for her charity Mama Biashara.

These are edited extracts from her latest diary entries.


katecopstick_facetimeTHURSDAY

We get a call from the lady in Dagoretti Market who is supposed to be organising the de-worming. She is hysterical. The elders of the village want to burn her, she says. They have said she is bringing the Devil (me) to poison the children. In an interesting twist, they also claim I am Illuminati.

Always batting for both teams, me.

So there will be no medical. Not today.

But we will meet the woman and try to arrange for it to happen somewhere away from the village.

This is becoming quite a pattern. Doris and David think it might be because we are heading toward election time and anyone in politics – however lowly – wants to claim anything good that happens as the work of their party. Meanwhile they are up to their overactive testicles in sick kids and worn-out women.

I whip round the market, collecting stuff I have ordered and trying to avoid being trapped by desperate people wanting me to buy something so they will have enough for a bus fare home. Business in all areas of tourism is down. The government, the police, the medical profession, the city council operatives and six out of ten teachers are all just criminals of one level or another, but yer basic wainanchi is a great human being. While I do not give a flying fuck about the owners of the big white-walled resorts and the cutesy “Ooo! Look! It’s a zebra!” safari lodges, their cleaners and cooks and drivers are the ones who really suffer when tourists don’t come.

I get a frantic call from Felista who says that the torrential rain is flooding the dorms at Decip and she needs a ton of sand, a ton of ballast, waterproofing, cement, wire mesh and a load of other stuff. I harrumph. But David and I go out to Decip and wade around in the mud and the generalised gloop and, indeed, something needs to be done.

Luckily my school friend Rachel has just sent one of her lifesaving moneygrams from Austria. And so Felista gets the budget for repairs and the kids will sleep dry tonight.

Sometime soon (yeah, right) they have been promised connection to some sort of drainage and sewer system.

FRIDAY

I get a matatu to Junction for the WiFi and am embroiled in the craziest jam ever.

On a road which is basically one lane in each direction, those heading from Dagoretti Corner towards Kawangware have created FIVE lanes of traffic all going in one direction. And no one gives way to anyone, ever, here.

It is a masculine pride thing, I think. Any time there is a tiny gap it is filled with part of a motorbike. The one which oozes next to my window is carrying an electric lawnmower.

SATURDAY

My trip to the market is irritating. I get embroiled in a bit of a hoo-ha with the lady from the soapstone opposite Mwangi.

I bought a lovely red plate there last visit and ordered four more in different colours from the bloke I thought was running the stall. Gave a deposit of £25 and got receipt etc.

It now turns out that the bloke was not in charge of the stall but was a friend of the lad who was SUPPOSED to be running the stall for the real owner, a fiery lady who has now returned.

The other bloke – Dennis – is a broker and took the order for someone else but has now disappeared with the money – 900 bob of hers and 2,100 of mine. The fiery lady is incandescent. She makes me look calm and considered.

“Now there will be a war!!” she bellows.

I really would not like to be Dennis.

Felix, the lad who was supposed to be in charge of the stall but who took a bung to let broker Dennis steal the feisty lady’s customer, is fired before my eyes. I leave.

There is a girl at Felista’s for whom Mama Biashara paid college fees. Now she is on the final stage and has had a very successful placement at one hospital and is supposed to move to another placement at another hospital. But the hospitals charge the students for the placements. Of course they do. This is Kenya. £50, though. So I send the money off. Now Njoki will graduate and will be a lab technician. Not bad for an abandoned kid from the slums.

Doris is knackered. Her father is ill and is now losing weight and there seems to be nothing she can do to persuade him to help himself. He refuses to go for the prostate cancer test. One of her sons (who are about six or seven) was caught telling a girl to remove her panties so he could lie on top of her and the entire neighbourhood has turned on Doris. She is still not that well.

She is overwhelmed with people coming to Mama Biashara needing help and she said that, while she was really ill, she just stopped taking business plans. Our great plan to do Medical Days has been a disaster as we have been stymied by petty politics at every turn. Doris is at the end of her tether.

I buy coffee, we talk, I reassure, we agree to meet on Monday and make a Grand Master Plan. I also make her promise that every single plan and request will just get passed on to me. Immediately. She no longer tries to keep the gate; she just opens it. Till she feels better.

Because of Mama Bashara’s lack of funds, she has to do a LOT of saying No and this is a hugely stressful thing to do. I know. I have to do it too. It is making life as Mama Biashara difficult to say the least.

I go home and schlepp my bags and boxes into my increasingly crazy-looking bedroom.

And then I get a text from London asking for my help.

The volunteers at the Mama Biashara shop in Shepherds Bush – Amanda, Letitia and Souad – are in a bit of a pickle.

A small child (offspring of a regular customer) has handcuffed my sister Amanda with a pair of antique London Metropolitan Police handcuffs given to me by the Staines Police as a thankyou gift for chairing the final of their schools quiz.

I lost the key about twenty years ago.

I was not worried as the handcuffs were in the bottom drawer of my desk and I never imagined that anyone would be so cretinously stupid as to use them. And lock them.

They call the police. Who want to know how we got the police issue handcuffs.

Then they call the fire brigade. Who have to cut sister Amanda out of the cuffs.


There is a Mama Biashara donation page HERE.

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

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

Kate Copstick is in Kenya

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

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

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


SATURDAY 12th MARCH

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doris at the ferry in Mombassa

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

SUNDAY

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

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

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

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

Doris (left) with Vicky in Mombassa

Doris (left) with Vicky of Vicky’s Cleaners

MONDAY

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

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

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

“It is,” nods beardy man.

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

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

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

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

Doris says that what happens is I turn purple.

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

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

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

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

Kate Copstick cares in Kenya

Kate Copstick has wonderful dreams in Kenya

TUESDAY

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

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

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

Copstick with Mama Biashara co-worker Felista

Kate Copstick with Mama Biashara co-worker Felista at DECIP

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

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


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

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

THURSDAY

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

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

  1. not stupid and
  2. not limitlessly minted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Copstick (in blue) at Mama Biashara project

Copstick (in blue) at Mama Biashara project

Comedy reviewer Kate Copstick is in Kenya.

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

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

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

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


SUNDAY

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

Night shift policemen in Kenya are to be feared.

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

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

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

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

MONDAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

They are not great on:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then she tells me about the Mijikenda widows.

The Mijikenda are an indigenous tribe. The main one.

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

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

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

TUESDAY

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

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

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

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

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

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