Tag Archives: Africa

Copstick in Kenya does a roaring trade

The Mama Biashara HQ at the Nairobi Showgrounds this week (Doris, centre in red)

The Mama Biashara HQ at the Showground this week (Mama B organiser Doris, centre right in red)

To round off this week’s blogs about comedy critic Kate Copstick in Kenya, here are some final extracts from her diary.

Her small-scale business start-up charity Mama Biashara has been working at the annual Nairobi International Trade Show:


SATURDAY 3rd OCTOBER

Doris calls to say the City Council gang have been round again extorting money from the little people. Otherwise all is going well at The Show. We now have over 200 women and over 100 guys working there. Most recently we added 10 new guys doing shoeshine. And a roaring trade.

SUNDAY 4th OCTOBER

Felista arrives with a gift of eggs but for some reason I am in such pain that I cannot get out of bed. An hour later and I am up but very very sore. Pain that feels as if it is in my bones. I take my last quarter Oxycontin and soon feel better. I chat with Felista and Cecilia who joins for a bit. Doris texts from the Showground (where everything is being packed up and sorted out), to say that Mama Biashara has kicked off 324 BRAND NEW business people at the Show this week. And that is not counting the already established Mama B peeps who were also there making a good amount.

Our big success, says Doris, was – surprisingly – the young men (60 of them, many ex-drunkards and casualties of the government’s crack down on illegal booze) who did the garbage collection. They made 1,000 shillings per day. Which is more than they ever dreamed. We are thrilled. The sugar cane people have big new orders and our cocktails are much in demand…

All good.

I leave Felista at the Mali Cafe to have lunch and go to Junction to use WiFi and do a little necessary shopping. I do a lot of packing as everything is going to the airport tomorrow. Not much soapstone means things are easier packing wise. Although somehow two lovely rosewood carvings are already broken.

MONDAY 5th OCTOBER

David arrives at 9.30am and we start loading the car. I have brought Dollars this time which is much better as the Shilling is pretty much in the financial toilet at the moment. I contact the marvellous Les Phillpott (Our Man At Heathrow) to arrange customs clearance on Thursday (which is when Benson The Cargo Man says it will arrive) and head to have some lunch.

I am meeting Jayne and Doris later and they opt for Shalom (grrrrrr – 100 bob for a coffee !). I go through a load of business proposals. I am VERY strict as most of them seem to be operating on a profit of about £1.50 per day. I do a lot of what is now called “your mathematics” and explain why these businesses are not sustainable. Jayne makes copious notes and nods a lot. Doris arrives, still buzzing from the success of the show.

Sorry this ends abruptly but I have to go to the loo…


Back in Britain with more stock for the Mama Biashara shop in London’s Shepherd’s Bush, Copstick will be recording the weekly Grouchy Club Podcast with me this Friday.

And there will be live (free) Grouchy Club chat shows at the Mama Biashara shop in Shepherd’s Bush on Tuesday 13th October, Tuesday 10th November, Tuesday 8th December and Tuesday 22nd December.

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Copstick, corruption and Coke in Kenya

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

Mama Biashara’s Kate Copstick

Comedy critic Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya for her charity Mama Biashara. I occasionally include highly edited pieces from her diary in this blog. (For unedited versions, see the Mama Biashara Facebook page.)

Today, here is another one. It starts a week ago.


FRIDAY 25th SEPTEMBER

My friend Rebecca is dead. She died last night. We have been WhatsApping each other morning and night but she stopped replying on Wednesday. I don’t really know what to do. She was so sick and in such pain and people are saying things like “She is at peace now” but I know Rebecca would rather not be at peace and be back here with a good roast chicken and a cheeky MummyJuice. Rebecca saved my life. When I was in what they are wont to call “a bad place” and doing all manner of silly things of a hugely self-destructive nature, she saved me. She would just not let go until I sorted myself out. And now she is dead.

SATURDAY 26th SEPTEMBER

I am not sure what I am doing but I suppose I had better do something.

I look for a mosquito net (which I keep failing to buy) but settle for a plug-in mozzie repellant called DOOM instead. Mozzies are not the horror for me that they were as one of the great things about being fully ‘roided-up is that the bites no longer swell up like ghastly pink humps but just behave like normal bites. So I barely notice them until I run a hand over my skin and notice it is as if I have had some of those implants where you get ball bearings put under your skin.

The newspapers say the teachers’ strike is over but there is much grumbling. The story on the front page shares space with one about a female Cabinet Minister who is being asked to explain a 700 million shilling deficit in her budget. The money has just disappeared. From a government which keeps saying the country does not have enough cash to give the teachers a raise.

I miss my conversation with Rebecca and play 23 games of Solitaire instead. God bless smartphones.

SUNDAY 27th SEPTEMBER

It is Sunday and I am feeling ridiculously sorry for myself.

I have washed my hair (I can highly recommend Toss Liquid Laundry Detergent – it gives a lovely soft feel) and cleaned the toilet. Someone in the block of flats which overlooks our little compound is listening to first a Take That compilation and then Terry Jack’s “Seasons in the Sun”. At least it is robust competition for the singing coming from the churches which we have on three sides. Having said which, stand anywhere in Nairobi and you have churches on three sides of you. It makes Rome look positively Godless. I have just walked up the road to Shalom for milky coffee and free WiFi. The cloud of dust which enveloped me as the cars passed on their way to Cornerstone Church has meant that the Toss will have to come out again later.

MONDAY 28th SEPTEMBER

I am awoken by a text from Doris telling me she is at the Showground with 86 Mama Biashara ladies and 30 boys. She had been trying to get our people work at the Nairobi International Trade Show – the Big Event of the Nairobi year in terms of business and enterprise and the place where Mama B’s whole Sugar Cane Empire kicked off last year.

Having been knocked back by everyone for lack of paper qualifications, suddenly word of mouth kicked in and our ladies are running the Kenya Police Canteens (three of them – civilians, scrambled-egg-on-shoulder and lower ranks) and doing all the baking on quite a posh cake stall. Our lads are portering on the first couple of days (for good money and, again, word of mouth reassured the employers that Mama B’s people are Good People). Having actually got into the Showground (at 6am) and now that everyone knows what they are doing, Doris is busy finding little spots where Mama B peeps can do business. We will catch up later, she says.

Doris arrives from the Show and I get the skinny on what is happening.

More Mama B people are being added all the time… To the 86 another 20 mamas and then to the 30 boys 10 more to do facepainting, 10 to sell water, 10 to sell ice cream and 10 to sell coffee at night from a thermos urn.

TUESDAY 29th SEPTEMBER

To Kijabe Street market for heaps of loveliness for the Emporium. Now when I buy from Mwangi and Dorcas and a few others we do our business under a sack or behind a tent because Chinese eyes and cameras are everywhere looking for new designs to copy and mass produce. Mwangi is despairing.

I collect my massive order of medicines from the pharmacy and reassure the lovely Ruth that Goff is well although his mother in law died. She sends her condolences. There is a slight hiccup when I discover that the meds for the old guy with syphilis come in the form of a vaginal pessary. But other than that and my despair at the continuing stanglehold of The Clap upon the wrinklies of Awendo, the pharmacy trip is very jolly. I even get a huge very strong box to take away (great for packing for return trip).

Rebecca’s cousin texts me to say they are going to be turning off Rebecca’s phone and giving me her number so I can stay in touch about the funeral.

WEDNESDAY 30 SEPTEMBER

The Showground is divided (like everything else in Kenya) into those with money and those scrabbling in the dirt to make a living. And those with money are only really interested in making more. And so, as the big companies like McDonalds and KFC have noticed that their takings were not reaching ‘targets’ on the first couple of days and also noticed that all the little mamas selling chapatis and Kenyan food were doing a roaring trade down where the little people gather, they simply bung the City Council kanjos something and – hey totally fucked up presto – last night dozens of the mamas were rounded up and arrested.

They have their medical certificates … they are officially on site … but money talks. Doris starts her day by chasing down the van with our few mamas (most of ours are working in big kitchens on site) and bunged the officers another wedge to get them out. Our neighbour Lucy had all her equipment stolen and all her ladies taken to Langatta Women’s Prison where they will wait till someone pays a bribe to get them out.

The Prez is supposed to be coming tomorrow so that is when things will really take off. Meanwhile something WONDERFUL has happened. Quite without any work on our part. Doris takes me to one side and says we were offered a fridge by Coca Cola.

I cut her off and explain that ANY interaction with the massive global evil that is the Coca Cola empire will result in the withdrawal of all Mama Biashara support. For which read money. And me. Doris knows this and they wanted a guarantee of our tiny kibanda buying rather a lot of their appalling world diminishing product.

“But what of this…?” says Doris as a large truck marked Club pulls up. Coca Cola have simply bought everything that stands in their path here in Africa and so most drinks, should you care to look at the label, are just Lupine Coke in Local Goat’s clothing.

But Club – it turns out as I descend upon the truck and ask to inspect a bottle – are an entirely Kenyan operation. The parent company is called Highland – famous here for water and for squash. I am beside myself with delight.

I help them squeeze the fridge into our tiny kibanda. We are at the speartip of the fight against Coca Cola in Kenya. Their new range is EXACTLY what CC (I cannot even bring myself to write their name again) offer – cola, lemon and lime (Sprite), Orange (Fanta), Bitter Lemon (Krest – a once Kenyan brand which they bought) and Ginger (Stoneys ditto). Plus fruity drinks like mango and guava. I am on a mission. I pay for twenty bottles and everyone who comes up and claims only to drink C gets a free sample – you don’t like it, you don’t buy. They ALL bought ! All the sodas are selling.

Then I meet the Head of Marketing for Highland. He is, oddly, Greek. We are meeting next week to see what we can cook up to help push the product and bring about the downfall of The Evil Empire in Kenya.

THURSDAY 1st OCTOBER

Apparently, the City Council have been around again demanding a £50 bribe from every stall who want to cook anything. The Big Companies had a meeting and demanded that all food of all kinds should be banned from the little people area. Only toys can be sold. So the City Council (notice initials also CC) came around to demand the bribe to ignore the bribe that they had got from the Big Companies. They have a go at Doris but we are not cooking. All our sweeties are wrapped. And now we have Highland fighting our corner. We have their fridge. We are their people. She stands her ground and we are left alone. They are like some sort of foul vermin that attacks the weakest.

They arrested our neighbour Lucy and held her in Langatta until she paid the bribe. They really are filth. When you walk in the posher areas of the show there are no City Council to be seen. At all. They know where their victims are.

I chat to another Top Bod from Highland. Doris does an AMAZING pitch about why sex workers are the best sales people (I pitch in with “You cannot sell anything until you can sell yourself”) and we also come up with a possible slogan… “Pleasure was our business, now business is our pleasure” ??? I chat away about the plusses of having people on the ground, especially when, as Club is, you are trying to break into the slum and poorer areas. He is interested and we part with an exchange of business cards and promises to meet.

I leave at about 6.30pm. We rock off down the road and are stopped from turning right down the empty usual road by a fat twat of a policeman. We are sent off down the road towards Ngong Forest. Along with a massive jam of cars. Ngong Forest also known as Ambush Alley. With dozens of cars crawling through it. The police have decided to create a jam further up Ngong Road so that the main road to the Showground looks clear for them. Bastards. We take a shortcut across a football pitch and I get home.

Shortly after that there was a massive barrage of gunfire from the Showground. Like war had broken out. So much that I thought it was fireworks. What had happened, Doris explains, is that the KDF (Kenya Defence Force) had come into her area, told all the citizens to ‘lalla chini’ (lie low) and fired off a massive barrage of firepower into the sky. And I mean MASSIVE. Doris and the others were left cowering in the kibanda on the ground. As were all the other little people. The KDF personel announced to the little people that they wanted to show “who is in control here”. Quite scary really, as they are psychopaths to a man. A bit of gunfire on the Ngong Road too. However I manage to sleep like a log.

… CONTINUED HERE …

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Karl Schultz with Joz Norris – Two UK weirdo comics talk about women etc

Karl Schultz (left) and Joz Norris yesterday

Karl Schultz (left) and Joz Norris chatted over tea yesterday

So I said I would do a blog chat with comic Karl Schultz about a charity gig which he is organising in London on Monday. Karl brought along Joz Norris, who is co-organising the gig. Somewhere along the way, the conversation went off course.

“What’s the show?” I asked them yesterday.

“It’s Karl & Joz’s Over The Top Christmas Love-In at the Bloomsbury Theatre,” said Karl.

“For Karl’s charity,” added Joz.

“You have a charity?” I asked Karl.

“Oasis. It’s the one I run in Barking and Dagenham. It basically gives somewhere to go in the week to homeless people, unemployed people, people trying to come off drugs – recreational, free meals and stuff.”

On YouTube, Karl tells a story about his charity.

Monday’s charity show at the Bloomsbury Theatre includes comics Bridget Christie, John Kearns, Tim Key, Josie Long and Sara Pascoe.

“When did you start the charity?” I asked Karl.

“Last December. About 75% of the money from the gig is going to that charity, but I’m also going out to South Africa with my dad for a couple of weeks and we know some projects out there which could do with money.

“When I told someone I was going out to South Africa, someone said: Oh, you’re going on ‘holiday’ are you? ‘Holiday’. Apparently South Africa where people go with sex addictions. There’s a clinic or something. But I’m going out with my dad, who’s a Salvation Army major.”

Joz said: “I had some kids from a South African township stay with me in 2007. My mum did the African premiere of Karl Jenkins’ The Armed Man Mass for Peace. She had breakfast with Desmond Tutu twice and the choir came over here and stayed in my room and I had to stay in the shed all week. I taught them about iPods.”

“Did they have iPods?” I asked.

“No,” admitted Joz.

Karl Schultz: one of his more understated stage performances

Karl Schultz: one of his more understated stage performances

“I,” said Karl, “was seeing a girl from Sierra Leone a couple of months ago, but she got sectioned under the Mental Health Act. Three women I’ve seen have got sectioned.”

“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Joz. “That’s your taste. I think you’re drawn to eccentrics.”

“I get approached by depressed women,” said Karl.

“I’m always attracted to mad women,” said Joz, “and they’re always either very short or very tall. But Karl hates short women. He says their bottoms are too close to the ground.”

“I do have a thing for tall women,” admitted Karl.

“Why?” I asked.

“My mum is 5’1”, so there’s no Oedipal thing. But I was brought up in Ghana from the age of 11-14 – the most formative time – and all the Ghanaians hit puberty before me. So, when I went back after the summer holidays, I had grown an inch but, in Ghana, they had grown six inches. So all the girls I was in love with in my class were all tall.

“Earlier this year, I was trying to be a better person and took a short woman on a date – I thought If I can survive it, I will be a better person for it – so we were walking on the South Bank in London drinking our chai lattes and she burnt her tongue on her chai latte and started hopping on the spot and I was looking at her thinking: Is this what it is going to be like?”

“Karl’s got a thing about chai,” said Joz. “He loves taking women – usually tall ones – to drink chai.”

“Well,” said Karl, “you can always see women, but how often can you have a South Bank chai latte?”

Joz Norris grew up in a small English village

Joz Norris is not always seeing women; Karl joined Tinder

“I’m not always seeing women,” said Joz.

“I joined Tinder,” said Karl, “mainly because I felt bad about not doing enough out-of-town gigs. I got into comedy to travel, but I don’t really travel much, other than Edinburgh and China.”

“China?” I said, surprised.

“I went to China a couple of years ago. Did a cabaret out there. In hindsight, I should not have been invited.”

“Anyway,” I said, “on Tinder…”

“I’ve been to Southampton and Penrith,” said Karl. “When I went to Southampton, I got to see where Craig David went to school. I had to do it at the weekend. You can’t do it in the week, because they will move you on.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Well you can’t,” said Karl, “just go snooping on Craig David’s former secondary school during the week. People will say: What’s he doing?

“Fair point,” said Joz.

“What happened in Penrith?” I asked. “Did you get a booking at a local comedy club?”

“Free lodgings and a lovely breakfast,” said Karl. “I had curry for breakfast.”

“The other day,” said Joz, “I had left-over lamb biryani for breakfast.”

“So you got into comedy to travel?” I asked. “But there were other things you could have done. Like become a bus driver.”

“We went to Lake Windermere,” said Karl. “Dove Cottage: Wordsworth’s cottage. You know they always had tiny beds…”

“Yeah,” said Joz.

“Did you really?” I asked him.

Joz shrugged.

“But,” continued Karl, “the part where your head would be was at 45 degrees. That’s why beds were shorter. They believed that demons or ghosts might visit you in the night and, if they saw you almost upright, they might think you were awake and go away.”

“It stops acid reflux too,” I said. “Sitting up in bed.”

“Yesterday,” said Karl, “I thought I was having a heart attack.”

“I had it for the first time about a year ago,” I said. “Acid reflux. It really is like you have acid inside your tubes.”

“Is that how you spontaneously combust?” asked Joz.

“No,” I said.

“Too many eggs,” said Karl.

“The Elephant Man had to sleep sitting up,” said Joz, “because of his huge head… Seriously. I was in the play in 2003; I played the man at the fair.”

“I was intending to do a fairly serious chat with you,” I said.

Karl as his character 'Matthew Kelly’ with some Chinese fans

Karl as his character ‘Matthew Kelly’ with some Chinese fans

“We could do that,” said Karl. “Someone said watching me be happy as my Matthew Kelly character was like watching a crocodile. The character has a calm exterior, but my eyes were very violent. So it was like a crocodile smile.”

“You can hold a crocodile’s mouth shut,” said Joz. “The muscles that open its mouth are very weak, so you can touch the sides and hold the mouth shut.”

“Or use a rubber band,” said Karl.

“Aren’t you supposed to hit them on the nose?” I asked.

“That’s sharks,” said Joz.

“Lick its eyes,” said Karl. “That’s what a zebra does. I saw a video of a crocodile being licked by a zebra. A crocodile hasn’t evolved a natural defence against having its eyes licked.”

“Nor have I,” said Joz.

There is a video on YouTube of a zebra briefly licking a crocodile’s eyes then escaping.

“That’s how you can get away from Joz,” suggested Karl. “Lick his eyes.”

“No-one’s ever tried that,” said Joz. “Mostly, they just say No… I heard that the way to get away from a crocodile is to run in zig-zags, because they can’t move in zig-zags.”

“Or just keep out of Africa and away from the water,” I suggested.

“And Asia,” said Joz. “And America.”

“And zoos,” I suggested.

“London Zoo is so depressing,” said Karl. “They haven’t even got the grey animals now; they’ve moved them all up to Whipsnade Zoo.”

“Grey?” I asked.

“The elephants and rhinos,” said Karl.

“Do they only keep all the colourful ones in London?” I asked.

“They’ve still got the tiger,” said Karl.

“Earlier this year,” said Joz, “I went to London Zoo on a date and I made the girl film me doing an impression of Nelson Mandela all the way round  the zoo.”

“Sounds questionable,” I said.

“It was for a sketch,” explained Joz.

Never ever take ketamine wearing a lion mask at London Zoo

Never ever take ketamine wearing a lion mask at London Zoo

“The first time I went back to London Zoo since I was a kid,” said Karl, “I went with my mate and bought some masks and took ketamine. It was a terrible afternoon. I was in a really bad place.”

“It’s terrible stuff,” agreed Joz.

“He was a giraffe and I was a lion,” said Karl. “Ketamine is the worst drug ever.”

“Well don’t take it,” I said.

“I don’t any more. Have you heard of K-holing? It describes the completely stark, cataclysmic trip of… It’s awful…”

“What’s your idea of heaven?” I asked.

“Taking a tall Ghanaian woman to Lake Windermere,” said Karl.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Filed under Africa, Humor, Humour, Sex, UK

Black-white-not-quite-Pakistani-but-Zimbabwean-Scots comedian Sean Reid

The monthly Africa Comedy Show last night

Last night’s monthly African Comedy Show

Last night I went to the monthly African Comedy Night at the Golders Green Hippodrome in London. Well, it used to be the Hippodrome. Now it is the El Shaddai International Christian Centre.

I have the dimmest of memories of being bussed there as a schoolboy to see some Boy Scout ‘Gang Show’ (I was not a Boy Scout). Between then and the evangelical church, it was home to the BBC Concert Orchestra. I presume it is the evangelical church who have painted the wildly ornate interior blue and white. It is slightly odd.

The African Comedy Night has been running monthly for the last five years (though only two months in Golders Green). It gets an audience of around 400-500.

On the bill last night was Zimbabwean Glaswegian Sean Reid.

His father is from Glasgow; his mother is from Zimbabwe; he was born in Zimbabwe but left when he was six; then they moved to Mauritius, Nigeria and then to Glasgow when he was aged 12. His dad is a contractor for BP.

Sean is 32 now. I talked to him when he came offstage last night.

“Zimbabwe-Mauritius-Nigeria,” I said. “You were brought up as a British ex-pat.”

“Me and my friend have a term for it,” said Sean. “We call ourselves Afro-pean. But I think as long as you have enough time to get part of the culture, it’ll never leave you as such. I can still understand Shona though I understand more than I can speak, because I don’t get to speak it that often.

“I spent just as much time in Zimbabwe as I did in Nigeria and I feel just as influenced by Nigeria as Zimbabwe, if not a little bit more, because I was more aware.”

“And in Scotland?” I asked. Sean has a pure Scots accent.

“People think I’m Pakistani,” he told me. “because we’re not that culturally aware in Scotland.”

“Is there an African scene in Glasgow?” I asked.

Sean Reid performs at last night’s London show

Sean Reid on stage at yesterday’s comedy show in London

“There is a minor one,” said Sean. “It happens every now-and-again. The turn-out is quite good because there’s a lot more black people up there now.

“This year I’m putting on a gig for Black History Month in October, just to bring things a bit together, because black comedians aren’t really coming up to Scotland and it’s a shame because there IS a market for it but no-one’s really capitalising on it.”

“Is that market just in Glasgow though?” I asked.

“No,” replied Sean.

“There is an unexplained outbreak of Russians in rural Perthshire,” I said.

“It’s weird for us,” said Sean. “because there’s a lot of Poles and Ukranians about – Where the hell are all these white people coming from?”

“Edinburgh is unsettlingly white,” I said.

“Edinburgh is English,” said Sean. “they don’t speak anything that sounds like Scottish at all. If you go to Africa, everyone’s elocution is 20 times better than anyone here in the UK. I was in Zimbabwe last year. All ex-British Colonial places still have the grammar systems in place from when the Colonials left… so when they come here and hear the way people speak here now, they go: This is not English!”

“You were in Zimbabwe last year?” I asked. “Many comedy clubs in Zimbabwe?”

“It’s growing.,” said Sean, surprising me. “I missed it when I was there. I discovered (South African comedian) Trevor Noah this year and I’ve been speaking to some Zimbabwean comics and in September, when I’ve got two weeks off, I’m thinking of maybe going and doing a couple of things down there, just to see what the difference is. It’s just a buzz.

“Trevor Noah,” I pointed out, “is a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner.”

“He’s found the universal funny,” said Sean. “Trevor Noah: he’s my dude. Richard Pryor, Bernie Mac, Trevor Noah.”

Sean Reid, ex-rapper, relaxing in Glasgow

Sean Reid, ex-rapper, more into singing, relaxing in Glasgow

“You used to rap,” I said.

“I’ve stopped rapping and do more singing now,” explained Sean. “It’s got more universal appeal.”

“What’s the difference between music and comedy?” I asked.

“Comedy gives a different buzz. Music is like cocaine and comedy is like ketamine: they give you such different buzzes. I’m not saying I’ve ever done either. I’m just saying music and comedy are both fruit, but they are like different sorts of fruit.

“There’s something very empowering about telling a joke and people understanding where you’re coming from. There’s something totally different about singing a song and someone understanding where the lyric is coming from and having that story behind that line taking you all these different places.”

“You write your own songs?”

“Yes. I was a spoken word artist before everything. I like to play with words. I like to mess around with words.”

“That was why you were a rapper?”

“Yeah. Well, not such a good one, so that’s why I started singing. I was rapping and doing the comedy at the same time. It all kinda evolved at the same time. I’ve done (big Scottish rock festival) T In the Park on the T Break Stage – 3,000 applied and I was one of 16 who made it through in 2009.”

“Your music is online?”

“Yes, on Soundcloud. The best think to do, though, is find me on YouTube. Just hashtag Glitterballs. I’m a bit of a Richard Branson type. I’ve got dreams too. I’m going to be a multi-billionaire. I’ve got a couple of products. I’m going to tap into the Ann Summers market first: I’ve got Glitterballs and SmegFresh.”

“Smeg Fresh?” I asked.

“It’s like FemFresh but it’s for guys. I think a lot of ladies will buy it for the guys – ‘for the cheesiness of the penis’…”

There is an Infomercial on YouTube

“And then there’s GlitterBalls,” said Sean. “They’re just glittery balls. If you hashtag Glitterballs and see what happened when I went around Glasgow… some very interesting results.”

“Which were?”

“I dunno what you guys call ‘em. We call ‘em Jakies – a person who maybe likes too much booze, takes a bit o’ drugs. This one came and whacked his balls out – twice – on cue – because we missed it the first time – and showed us his arse. He’d just shaved his balls the night before.”

“You come down to London much?” I asked.

“This is my first time in two years, but I’m looking to do a lot more stuff because, now I’m single, I’ve got a lot more free time. I’m spending much of my time masturbating, but it chafes after a while so I’m looking for new advances in my enjoyment.

“For me, I just wanna get better at my craft and I want to get that universal laugh. Without that, you’ll crutch on things you know you’re comfortable with.”

“You can’t be seen as being a black comedian,” I said, “because then you’re too ghettoised and typecast.”

“Well, then I’ll be a Pakistani comedian,” laughed Sean.

Sean Reid in the Hippodrome last night

Sean Reid last night – everything except a one-legged lesbian

“You could be a black-white-Pakistani-Scots comedian,” I suggested. “If you could be a one-legged lesbian too, you would have the full set.”

“I’m only a lesbian when I have pussy in my mouth,” said Sean. “…No but I… Yeah, no… I’m sorry; you totally threw me with the lesbian comment… Eh…”

“Do people in England have any trouble understanding your Scottish accent?” I asked. “It seems totally clear to me.”

“No problem. But it’s really weird. A lot of people don’t seem to know there’s black people in Scotland and they’re really shocked when they hear a Scottish accent come out of my mouth. I don’t know people expect from me – which is an added bonus.

“I suppose it’s great for me in that I’m mixed-race and because I look in so many different ways, I can really take the piss out of anybody and people will allow me that little pleasure, especially if it’s something they can relate to… If it’s just straight racist, then a lynching might occur.”

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Filed under Africa, Comedy, Racism, Scotland, Zimbabwe

How to write a comedy show about a serious subject – the British in Africa

Njambi McGrath in Soho last week

Njambi in Soho prepares for Leicester Square show tomorrow

“I suppose a lot of new comics don’t realise you can talk about serious subjects,” Kenyan-born comedian Njambi McGrath told me last week.

When I blogged about her in February, Njambi told me she wanted to write a book about the British colonial period in Kenya – with her parents’ lives as a narrative thread – and, to encourage herself to do the hard work involved in researching it, she would write an Edinburgh Fringe comedy show – Bongolicious – on the same (decidedly non-comedic) subject.

“How is the book coming along?” I asked her last week.

“Hard work,” she told me. “And emotional. I’ve been phoning my mother, who’s back in Kenya, but she speaks with great difficulty because she’s got Parkinson’s Disease and she needs someone to translate to me what she’s saying.

“The British used to come to a village and collect people, make them dig their own graves and then shoot them.

“My grandmother was born at the time a lot of the Settlers moved in. I was reading about the traditions in the time when my grandmother was circumcised and the etiquette and the dances they had to do two or three months beforehand.

“The missionaries all came to East Africa to ‘save’ us. They all had spheres of influence. The ones local to my grandmother were Scottish. Presbyterians.

“She turned to the church because she was looking for solace but, in order for her to be accepted, she had to abandon all cultural practices, because the church people found some cultural practices to be morally repugnant – and these were people from Glasgow!”

“What cultural practices were repugnant?” I asked.

“They way they dressed; their dancing; the way they used to cut their ears.”

“Sounds like a Saturday disco night in Glasgow,” I said.

“How strong is religion in Scotland?” Njambi asked me.

“Don’t even ask,” I said. “If you’re Catholic or Protestant in Glasgow, you’re in a lot of trouble, but being black gives you a Get Out of Jail card… So some of the stuff you’ve been researching for the book will be in the Edinburgh show?”

Njambi McGrath - Bongolicious

Njambi will be Bongolicious in Edinburgh

“I can’t put everything in, of course,” said Njambi, “and there are some things I am omitting because they are rather gruesome. For example, I won’t talk about shooting into the graves, because it’s already clear what’s happening.”

“And,” I said, if you have 55 minutes of brutality, it loses impact. You don’t want to cheapen the material with laughs, but it helps to pace the show.”

“It’s difficult,” said Njambi. “There are some areas where people can laugh – like about the Settlers, who were ridiculous. The stuff that is very deep I can’t joke about. Like the soldiers who used to come in at night and ask the women if they wanted their children to be raped or killed… I’m working like crazy to find a few more punchlines.”

“Sometimes people laugh from relief,” I said.

Njambi is performing a preview of Bongolicious at the Leicester Square Theatre tomorrow night and then at other venues. She tests parts of it every week at her comedy club – Heavenly Comedy – in Shepherd’s Bush.

“I want to test the reaction on real audiences,” she tells me. “I want it to end up like a rollercoaster.”

“What about the end?” I asked. “You sort-of need to have an ‘Up’ at the end, which is difficult to pull off without cheapening what’s gone before.“

“The end of the story is much more positive,” explained Njambi, “because it is about my parents and that’s a positive thing – two young people who get together and save enough money to buy a farm – They survived, despite all odds, when many people didn’t survive. Maybe around 300,000 people were killed. Some are in mass graves. Some are in a museum… In a museum!”

“Your mother must be very proud,” I said.

“She is just happy to be heard,” Njambi told me. “My mother is 67; she struggles massively to talk. All these things happened and there was no acknowledgement. Life moved on as if nothing had happened. The reason it has made me so emotional is I grew up without knowing anything about it. My parents, either consciously or unconsciously, didn’t mention any of it.

“My mother has only just told me how the children were called to go and see public hangings. There was an incident where Mau Maus had been blown up with hand grenades and the children were taken out of school to go and see the mutilated bodies.”

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Filed under Africa, colonialism, Comedy, Kenya

Comedians in crisis and eight children whimper unseen behind a locked door

One man’s momentary improvisation has lasted

Thirty years ago, in 1982, the actor Rutger Hauer improvised a monologue in a film. The original script had read:

I’ve known adventures, seen places you people will never see, I’ve been Offworld and back… frontiers! I’ve stood on the back deck of a blinker bound for the Plutition Camps with sweat in my eyes watching the stars fight on the shoulder of Orion…I’ve felt wind in my hair, riding test boats off the black galaxies and seen an attack fleet burn like a match and disappear. I’ve seen it, felt it…!

Rutger Hauer changed this when the scene was shot in Blade Runner to:

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

His momentary improvisation has lasted and been remembered.

The original, written script… it is as if it never existed.

Last night, my eternally-un-named friend was cleaning the top of a very old bedside table. It is possibly 100 years old. Perhaps it was made in 1912 or 1922 or even earlier. Just before – or just after – the First World War. Obviously, being that old, there were marks on and in the wood.

Things had happened to the table – lots of tiny split-second things over the course of perhaps 100 years – which marked the wood. It remains scarred after all this time. The table could easily have been thrown away in the last 100 years. And then the scars would not exist.

Just like people.

At some point, the table will be thrown away and destroyed. Then it will not exist. Even the memory of it will not exist.

So it goes.

In the UK, apparently, many comedy clubs are getting perhaps half as many customers as they did a couple of years ago and are cutting back or closing down. “There is a crisis in the live comedy business” and a group of comedians and club owners are meeting in London tomorrow to discuss what they can do about it.

This is very important to them, because they are talking about their livelihoods, how they earn enough money to (just about) survive. In that sense, it is by far the most important thing in the world.

But, to put their troubles into perspective, here is an e-mail I received from comedy critic Kate Copstick this morning, currently working out in Kenya for her Mama Biashara charity. She tells me about something which happened yesterday.

______________________________________________________________________

SATURDAY

Doris has gone off to Limuru where there is a problem with a childminder mistreating kids.  She calls me from Limuru and explains that they had to batter down the door of the woman’s house at 11.00am and found eight children whimpering, famished and covered in their own poo and pee.

The mothers of the kids are what might be termed chang’aa whores – ie they will have sex with a guy for booze. A little like our time-honoured tradition of crack whores. But cheaper. And more prone to death, blindness and insanity (yer basic side effects of chang’aa – a brew that makes poteen look like a banana smoothie).

The women leave their kids with the ‘childminder’ while they go out at night and do what they do.

Sadly, in this case, the childminder simply dosed them with adult strength Piriton and left them while SHE went out overnight to do what she did.

According to Doris, the police were great: “They beat the women till they sobered up and then locked them in the cells”.

We are probably going to Limuru tomorrow with some food and meds for the kids. But, longer term, there is very little we can think of to do for a baby with a monster for a mother.

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Filed under Africa, Kenya, Movies

Kate Copstick in the slums of Kenya: ethnic tension, evictions and rent boys

Kate Copstick in London earlier this week

Comedy critic Kate Copstick was last heard-of in this blog on Tuesday, just before she headed off to Kenya, where her Mama Biashara charity helps poor people – mostly women – start up their own small businesses.

This morning, I got an e-mail telling me what has been happening in Kenya:

____________________________

THURSDAY

The first workshop I did with Doris was in an outlying area where we had financed 32 women.

Their businesses were generally doing very well. Again, some were doing amazingly well.

However, we are nearing election time.

Which means unrest.

The women we financed were Kikuyu women. Their landlord (even slums have landlords) is a Luo.

Last election time, there was a great deal of violence directed at Kikuyu. And so no Luo wants Kikuyus on his land come the election – just in case.

So this landlord served eviction notices on the entire community. The men in the community cut up a bit rough. And so, one night, the landlord came with a bulldozer and flattened the entire area. Houses, possessions, businesses … All flattened in one night. Some places were even set on fire if the tenants clung on.

So now our 32 Kikuyu women are homeless and possessionless as well as businessless.

The same thing has happened to the groups of women we funded outside Narok in the rural Rift Valley.  Because this community was mixed – some Maasai, some Kikuyu and some mixed blood – they have been evicted and the Kikuyu and the mixed bloods sent off to different areas.  These woman are regrouping, but the groups have been split up according to tribe now and so it is all change.

Here, there is always some sort of new challenge that we cannot even imagine in the UK.  And the only place to learn is down here at grass-roots level.

In other news, the bloke with the pus-filled lungs and the infected piles responded to the medication I gave him and is now healthy and gainfully employed in Westlands, the women with high blood pressure have responded incredibly well to high strength garlic supplements, there are little businesses all over Kawangware, the Limuru group are blooming, the mira boys are expanding at a rate of knots and, all in all, we have won more than we lost.

FRIDAY

Thank goodness for my wellies !!

The little workshop with the Dispossessed is in a small settlement now situated in a swamp. I generally think when the liquid one is wading through has a bluey green tinge and an iridescent shimmer… with bits bobbing around… it is best to have impermeable footwear.

The other thing I notice here is that almost all the women are HIV+  and several of them are looking after orphans as well as their own children. The family is strong here. Grandparents and aunties look after a woman’s children when she dies. It is an impressive thing to do considering no-one exactly has extra anything to share.

There is also a group of eight rent boys who have a terrific business plan for a small butchery business.

They buy from the local abattoir and sell fresh meat to small  businesses as well as cooking and selling the rest themselves.  They get about £150 from us to start the entire business including a month’s rent on the small place they have found near the terminus (great for selling food).  They have worked out their profit and have plans for eventual expansion.

Lovely guys.  And a good group dynamic.

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Filed under Africa, Charity, Kenya, Politics

Mad inventor John Ward approached by African charity with a claw hammer

In yesterday’s blog, comedy critic Kate Copstick touched on corruption in Africa when she talked about potential problems her Mama Biashara charity faced in Kenya.

John Ward’s snow machine

Mad inventor John Ward tells me he had a strange meeting several years ago in Northamptonshire. He is, perhaps more accurately described as an eccentric creator of bizarre contraptions. The strange things he can do with his hands do not bear too much thinking about.

Because he occasionally appears in newspaper articles and TV items, he sometimes gets cold calls from people who have tracked him down.

“I had a phone call a while ago from a bod from some wonderful sounding mob,” he told me yesterday. “The bod said they did fund raising for Africa. After a  long phone call, I arranged to meet him for lunch in Northampton.

“I was curious, so I dialled 1471 to check his telephone number. But it was a ‘number withheld’ jobby… This could be a wind-up, I thought, but I needed to go shopping in Northampton anyway.

“So I met him as arranged outside the main shopping centre in town, close to the market, and we wandered off to a nearby eaterie. He was the usual charity-type bod wearing the standard issue slack, ill-fitting – or somebody else’s – suit with a shirt collar size about eight times what he really took and he had a very ‘wet fish’ handshake that reminded me how strong our pet rabbit was.

“The idea, it turned out, was to get me to go to a part of Africa where the locals were building things like sheds and wells… but they lacked the skills to build them in such a way that they would be still standing/workable weeks or hopefully, years on.

Why me? I enquired.

John Ward drives home in his self-constructed Wardmobile

“He then produced from his briefcase a claw hammer and put it on the table, much to the surprise of some punters sitting at other tables near us.

“I made a mental note not to order bread rolls in this eaterie if this was what you needed to cope with them.

“I told him I had got a similar one and I was in no hurry to buy another just yet, thank you very much.

“He said: You are looking at a £1,275 hammer.

Is it made of solid gold? I asked.

No, he said, It is just a normal standard Stanley hammer.

“He told me that money was raised by his group in the UK and was sent out to the Colonies and assorted equipment was bought with the money. But, on close inspection of the paperwork, it had turned out the cost of buying one hammer had been £1,275.

“Corrupt elements were syphoning off the loot and BMW and Mercedes were maybe on overtime to meet the demand from officials for their products over there.

“He told me the British fund raisers did not want to ‘make a fuss’ about it.

So why do you want to talk to me? I asked.

“He explained that one way around the local mafia getting their hands on the folding stuff was to send people out with an eye for building and with money that they had themselves.

“He said he had seen some of my ‘stuff’ and felt that, even though I was not a trades person as such – as in bricklayer, carpenter etc – he realised I could think on my feet and felt that was what was really wanted… I would get results.

“I had a reasonable meal with him which did not involve bread rolls and use of the claw hammer but I pointed out I was not all that interested as they wanted me to be away for about six months. The financial side was not that bad, I have to say, but six months of my life? – As I was not that passionate about the ’cause’, it was a No-No in my book.

“After about an hour or so, we shook hands and parted.

“On the way home, I realised that the business card he was going to give me had not materialised, so I did not know exactly who or what he represented other than the stuff he told me vaguely about the ‘fund raisers’ in general.

“I suspect that it was somehow connected with HMG.

“It is all,” said John Ward, “part of life’s rich pastry.”

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Filed under Africa, Charity, Eccentrics, Inventions

Feared UK comedy critic Kate Copstick now has links with African criminals and has started dealing drugs in Kenya

(This piece was also published by India’s We Speak News and by the Huffington Post)

Kate Copstick at her Mama Biashara charity shop yesterday

Early tomorrow morning Kate Copstick, doyenne of British comedy critics, flies to Africa for three weeks.

Yesterday in London, at her Mama Biashara shop in Shepherd’s Bush, I was talking to her about possibilities for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at next year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

Every year, 100% of any money collected at the Awards show goes to Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity, which helps poor people in Kenya – mostly women – start up their own small businesses.

I organise the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards but take no money of any kind for it and cover none of my expenses because, that way, comedians and others know there can be nothing financially dubious about it (always a possibility with anything connected to the late Malcolm).

100% of any money collected at the end of each Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show is given (with no deductions) to Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity which, similarly, deducts no money for its running costs.

Copstick takes no money of any kind in any way from Mama Biashara and covers none of her expenses. She pays for her flights to Kenya and any other expenses she incurs in running the charity she pays for herself.

“A little goes a long way,” she told me yesterday, “as long as you don’t start paying out expenses.”

“Because it’s a short and slippery slope?” I said.

“Yes,” said Copstick, “because, once you start, you may say Well, maybe we’ll take a few pennies just for a coffee or Well, the charity could pay for lunch with a possible donor… Next thing it’s OK, we’ll cover justifiable travel expenses. Then it’s I was a bit late so I had to get a taxi. And then, because it’s about Mindset, once you think it’s OK to take a little, it’s only a question of degree before you take bigger amounts. I think taking anything is wrong.

“Luckily enough for me, I own my flat, I had some money saved up and my vices were only alcohol, Class A drugs, very young men and older women… and I’d given up most of them. People can guess which ones I’ve not given up.

“So my outgoings – if you’ll pardon the expression – are minimal. As for the charity, we don’t have any big donors and there are no deductions. If someone spends £5 in this shop, that’s £5 going into the pot and it only takes five £5 and I’ve started a woman in a business in Kenya. That’s her life and her family’s life changed. They’re not rich, they’re never going to be rich, but they’re independent and there’s the psychological thing of self-respect.”

“What happens to the shop when you’re in Kenya?” I asked.

“It’s a bit of a nightmare,” replied Copstick. “Despite all the ‘friends’ who say I’ll do anything to help and Oh! It’s a lovely shop! they all disappear like snow off the proverbial dyke – the dry stone variety, not the kd laing variety – when I say I’m going to Kenya for three weeks. Would you do a couple of hours in the shop? They’re all bastards. You’re all cunts.

“So my sister comes in a bit and we’ve a couple of other volunteers but sometimes I have to put a big notice up on the door saying Terribly sorry. Opening hours will be incredibly irregular while I’m away spending vast amounts on prostitutes and rent boys.

“AND jailbirds,” Copstick added. “That was a new one, last time. I was persuaded slightly against my better judgment – but it’s all worked out well. There was a group of young men in their twenties who had recently been released from prison and, bad as the prison system is here, in Kenya it’s even worse.

“It’s pretty-well fucked-up here in Britain but, in Kenya, one rogue policeman can arrest you, put you in prison and then just ‘lose’ the paperwork so nobody even knows you’re there. And we’re not exactly talking the Kray Twins of Nairobi. One guy had been arrested for smoking dope. One guy had been arresting for attempting – but not succeeding in – pickpocketing.”

“So,” I asked, “people are getting thrown in prison for Dickensian crimes like stealing cheese off a wheelbarrow?”

“Absolutely,” said Copstick. “But these boys had been eventually released from prison and there were four groups of ex-cons that Mama Biashara funded. I’m quite excited. All the businesses are going well and I’ll be checking up on them when I go this time.

“With one of them – it’s really quite exciting, this – Mama Biashara has gone into drug dealing. I realise that the clean-cut readers of your blog won’t know what I’m talking about, but there is a herb called khat, well-known to Somalis. Anyone who has ever had a Somali taxi driver will have noticed the constantly-moving jaw and greenish teeth.”

“Have you ‘had’ many Somali taxi-drivers?” I asked.

“Many, many, many,” replied Copstick. “It’s a mild stimulant.”

“The herb?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Copstick. “It’s known as mira in Kenya and it’s entirely legal there and here in the UK. Over here, we get little stumpy stems which, by the time you’ve chewed them, you’re exhausted, so it doesn’t matter what stimulant effect the herb has. In Kenya, you get the fresh leaves and there’s a massive Somali population. They love it and the profit margin is astronomical. It’s a Friday evening thing. On the way home, the guys pick up a bottle of booze and a bunch of mira…”

“…and get half-khat,” I suggested.

“…and chomp away,” said Copstick. “I was amazed at the profit margin, so there’s a Mama Biashara group selling mira, a group selling chickens, a group selling goats.”

“There’s a bigger profit margin on cocaine,” I suggested.

“Well,” said Copstick, “there’s not much of it about it Kenya.”

“And they can’t afford heroin or cocaine,” I said.

“Exactly,” said Copstick. “In the slum areas – which is really all I know – glue is the thing. They have industrial strength glue which they sniff. I mean toxic. And, until very recently, they had something called chang’aa which is a home-brewed illicit alcohol fortified with ethyl alcohol. The main side-effects are blindness and death. When people there say I’ve got a blinding hangover, they literally mean a blinding hangover. It was recently outlawed, but…”

“So,” I interrupted, “you’ve been branching out from ladies to criminals. These young men – like the attempted pickpocket – What sentences had they served?”

“Most,” explained Copstick, “had been in prison for about 18 months without ever coming to court or without even being arraigned, because you just disappear into the system and, if you’re poor, you don’t have a lawyer and you can’t afford to bribe anybody. So that’s it. You’re scuppered. Unless you get picked up by some organisation who’re willing to help. It’s horrific there.”

In my blog back in September,” I reminded her, “you were talking about building a Mama Biashara centre out in Kenya.”

“We had the chance,” said Copstick, “but, after meeting the ex-crims and a couple of experiences where we came up against some local bureaucrats and a couple of rogue policemen who were dealing with gay rent boys, it was kind of brought home to me that, the minute I raise Mama Biashara’s head above the parapet, the 100% of money that goes to Kenya will, in fact, be going into official pockets all over the place. They’re lying, cheating, stealing bastards. That’s from the government right down to the lowest-of-the-low of officialdom.

“The local chiefs are actually pretty good to deal with because they live there among their people and understand their people. But I realised, if I had a centre, officials would say Oh! You’ve painted it the wrong colour! You need to pay us this amount or Oh! You didn’t have this certificate or that certificate! and they’re like blackmailers. If you pay once, you never stop paying.”

“So there won’t be a Mama Biashara centre?” I asked.

“No,” confirmed Copstick. “That would be wonderful. But the cost in backhanders would never stop. And it’s tragic. Because, to have that base, to have the clinic, to have the little peanut butter making place would be fabulous. But it’s one of the things you just have to accept: the whole system is too corrupt and, if you’re going to do good, you have to be a guerilla.

“And, when people know a white female is involved… Once they know you’re there, once they know where to get you, once they know where to come to frighten you… That’s the other thing I’ve had to accept. As much good as Mama Biashara does – and it does truckloads of good – unless I’m quite careful…

“If officials see that people are getting money from Mama Biashara… It happened once… Someone Mama Biashara gave money to… The week after I left, her landlord came up to her and said Hey! You got a mzungu – a white friend – So your rent is doubled!

“I have to be careful how I help people: that I don’t damage them by helping them, because no-one is safe. It’s just a different way. Everyone has a massive amount of bastard potential in a different way from here. No-one is your friend.”

“What’s it like here in the UK?” I asked.

“I think most people are on the make a bit here,” said Copstick. “People really don’t care here. People are not nice. People really do not want to help. They’re happy to say they want to help, but it’s very much a What’s in it for me? society where everybody already has something.

“OK – mixed metaphor coming up here – the gatekeepers of the safety net are not the nicest of people, but the safety net is there. Nobody is going to die of starvation here. I’m not going to say nobody’s going to be homeless, but there is a safety net here, if you want to use it.

“But, in Britain, there is an attitude. Not just Britain, but the white Western world. Black Africa is different.

“If the stuff in this shop had been made in Italy, people would go Ooh! £20? That’s so cheap! If I say Africa, they say, Oh, that’s very expensive, isn’t it? Like everyone in Africa should be living on beads and a packet of nuts.

“When I say to people Well, they have no water, they say Well, they’re used to it. There is a very definite mindset that somehow the black African doesn’t feel pain, doesn’t feel hunger, doesn’t feel thirst, doesn’t feel anything in the same way white people do.”

“Or,” I suggested, “that they feel those things, but they’re used to it.”

“Yes,” said Copstick, “That’s what people think here and so they think that makes it OK.”

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Filed under Africa, Charity, Comedy, Crime, Drugs, Kenya, Racism

Comedy critic Kate Copstick’s ‘Grand Master Plan’ to build an HQ in Kenya

Kate Copstick: critical charity work, now building, in Kenya

Most years, I stage a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the Free Festival during the Edinburgh Fringe. Any money donated by people at the end of the show is given to comedy critic Kate Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity. No money is deducted for any overheads; 100% goes to the charity.

Copstick is currently in Kenya. Her charity helps poor women start up self-sustaining businesses. This is another extract from her diary.

____________________________________________________________________

Tuesday

As I have the usual mountain of medication and stuff to take with me – and as No 23, Arse End of Nowhere makes this village sound positively central compared to where it is – we are taking David (bang goes another £20) and the car.

David asks if I know about the broker in the group yesterday. I clench. David had heard some of the women talking about someone taking 1,000 shillings from every woman who was given a grant. As the biggest grant is 3000 shillings… anything that I think has been clenched before now positively goes into spasm.

I call Doris.

There is a stunned silence at the end of the phone.

The workshop is cancelled. We rendezvous in Kenol where Doris lives and start calling round the women from yesterday. As soon as we start phoning and asking questions, the village telegraph kicks into action and soon we are fielding calls from them. Of course hysteria, internecine rivalries and general gossip mongering create a tsunami of crap. Everything from extortion to gang warfare is hinted at.

We find the woman who says she was involved. Oddly, her name is Purity.

There were just seven others we hear. I demand they come to Limuru on pain of being summoned by the Chief (err… local Chief, not Proclaimers‘ ‘The Chief’). We head to Limuru. I wonder whether I am in the grip of ‘roid rage, as I have pushed my daily dose up to 10mg for the time being. Probably not, I decide.

We meet the seven on a hillside next to the Bata Shoe factory. I am grim-faced. I told them, I say, that if they mis-used even one shilling of my money I would hunt them down. Well I have heard that someone has been demanding 1,000 shillings from those who received a grant. And I have hunted.

Through tears and waving hands we hear that Purity (who is a really smart, together woman) had suggested to ten women that, as nothing like this (ie me coming out of the blue to give a grant for business) had ever happened before, nor was likely to happen again, they should take the opportunity to put a little aside into a savings account and, by the time I come back to check, they would have bought a donkey and cart and have a whole new business on the side as well as their own individual businesses.

She took 1,000 shillings from each woman (seven as it happened) who wanted in on the savings scheme because I had been handing out the grants in 1,000 shilling notes. She went to the bank, got change and refunded 900 shillings to each woman. The account they were opening was an interest paying account and they each planned to put (after the initial 100 shillings) about 70 shillings into it each week.

I rescind my demand to have all the money returned to Mama Biashara, but not before explaining why we came after them. And why ALL and ANYTHING other than business that concerns the money from Mama Biashara must be done openly and with the consent of Mama Biashara.

I check that all the businesses will be able to start 100 shillings down on their grant. And then ask why, if they CAN, did the women ask for a grant that was higher than they needed. Anyway, all is well that ends well and, bearing a woolly capful of a tiny version of fruit that we call loquats or nisperos over here (unbelievably sweet and moreish), we leave.

As it is now too late for a workshop, we meet with Julius in Satellite to discuss Mama Biashara’s Grand Master Plan. And drink hot chocolate.

The meeting is slightly complicated by the fact that the man outside has fired up his rudimentary barbie to cook mutura (a little like Kenyan haggis but without the oatmeal) and the surrounding area is thick with charcoal smoke and burning fat fumes. But you get used to it.

Julius wants to arrange a medical clinic for Monday for about fifty people. He also wants to do microfinance but I tell him that I don’t trust his group with money (we have previous that ended with my getting the Chief and the police involved) so he can bring ten hand-selected businesses to apply.

“You promised…” he begins. I cut him off.

“I NEVER promise,” I remind him.

“You say you try…”

I give him my patented Mama Biashara look that says “My head does not zip up the back”. It used to say (and in my defence I can only claim it was an expression I heard over and over in my Scottish childhood) “I didn’t come up the Clyde on a banana boat” – until I realised the full horror of what that actually meant. What can I say? I am a recovering racist. One day at a time…

We arrange the medical clinic, agree fifteen businesses, agree that Doris can add a dozen or so cases from the area, agree that Julius’ phone is indeed “sick”, agree to buy him a new one (God Bless Nokia), and get on to discussing Mama Biashara’s Grand Master Plan.

Mama Biashara has been offered use of a plot of land in Kwa Maji, an area very handy for bus transport, thriving with businesses and not prone to violence, even in election periods. An area I know well.

We want to build a large structure – an enormous hut, as it were. It will have electricity  and water from a large tank (which we will erect on a tower) which will get filled once or twice a week according to consumption. Inside, the structure will have the following divisions:

  1. Mama Biashara’s office.
  2. Mama Biashara dispensary (a small division of the office for medical supplies and basic consultations).
  3. Meeting / training / workshop space. A multi purpose space which can also be rented out to other groups when free.
  4. The Pads Project: pulp from juiced sugar cane is brought in in huge sacks to be turned into sanitary pads and Pampers. This space will have a vestibule for clothing and footwear changing and will be kept as sterile as is possible in a slum area.
  5. Njoogo Project: peanut butter production. We already have a deal from one of Kenya’s big supermarkets to take unbranded jars of peanut butter from us. They will brand and give their own quality stamp. Vestibule as above.

Each of the areas will have its own entrance.

Around the outside of the structure will run a sort of covered verandah.

On this verandah outside Nos 4 and 5 will be delivery and storage areas.

Outside nos 1 and 3 will be space for baby businesses.

When Mama Biashara starts a business and feels that the person needs a little support to begin with, the business will start outside the Mama Biashara Centre – using our electricity (where necessary) and water and being monitored by Mama Biashara. Each baby business will get one month to get on its metaphorical feet and then be replaced with another. This is  NOT a training ground, just a little initial  monitoring.

Loos will probably be outside. But nice. And clean. With a place for workers to shower in the same block.

It might be that we have to hire an askari (a guard). If so, I have someone in mind.

Here Doris, John Kibe and probably Julius would be part of a Mama Biashara official presence.

The building would, of course, be branded to buggery with the names and logos of anyone who helps get it up. I want to start in November and am meeting to finalise the “I am letting you use my land” agreement on Monday (ish … a Kenyan Monday).

And when I say “structure” we are not, of course, talking bricks and mortar but probably corrugated iron sheets on a wooden base. Which means we don’t need planning permission.

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