Tag Archives: AIDs

Political killings in Kenya and in the UK

On Friday (in London) I recorded the weekly Grouchy Club Podcast with comedy critic Kate Copstick on a bad line from a noisy cafe in Nairobi.

Copstick is in Kenya until this coming Friday, working with her Mama Biashara charity, which helps deprived individuals and groups to start up their own small legitimate businesses to support themselves; and also deals with medical problems.

Here are some more highly-edited extracts from her diary entries which appear in full on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.


Mama Biashara logo

TUESDAY 14th JUNE

Equal opportunity rejection yesterday… A Presbyterian organisation turned down my pleas for help and we were told that the Moslem children of Kibera would rather be worm-ridden and scabby-headed than have us help as I am ‘unclean’. Not even an infidel. Unclean. To be fair, that is actually quite true at the moment

Doris calls to cancel our afternoon de-worming in Kibera. She says she has been warned off because there is a LOT of tension following some members of the government publicly calling for the shooting of the Leader of the Opposition. Doris has been told to leave if she wants to be safe. So she leaves. Shortly thereafter I get sent a photo of a woman’s body burning on the streets of Kibera.

David and I sit in a massive jam on Moi Avenue caused by the fact that a matatu sacco has its stage there and, on a small two lane road, one lane is permanently blocked solid with parked buses. Ten of the buggers I counted. Why is it allowed? I wonder aloud. I am told: It is not allowed. It is against the law and by laws and City Council rules. But these buses are owned by MPs and so no one will touch them.

In the city centre, everyone is talking about the Kuria – the guy who started all the hate speech and calls for Raila to be killed – and his cronies. Nairobi is not happy.

WEDNESDAY 15th JUNE

A woman burned to death in the streets of Kibera.

A woman burned to death in the streets of Kibera, Kenya.

The government have put six of the hate speech MPs in the cells. The opposition want theirs released immediately as it was the government MPs who started it all. I fully expect one of them to threaten to scweam and scweam until he ith thick. But, instead, they threaten more disruption.

On Facebook yesterday, I posted a fucking picture of a woman ON FIRE in Kibera. They went crazy in Kibera a set a couple of random people on fire because they were the wrong tribe. NOT ONE COMMENT ON FACEBOOK !!! WTF are people about?

I mean, I know that the Orlando massacre was horrific and appalling and now all right-thinking people are standing in silence in Old Compton Street because – of course – that will change everything and not just because it will make THEM feel better. But for fuck’s sake. Sorry. Rant over.

Has America come round to the disappointing realisation that Orlando might just have been old-fashioned homophobia and not new and exciting and politically useful terrorism?

THURSDAY 16th JUNE

A new Mama Biashara juice bar

A new Mama Biashara juice bar recently opened in Nairobi.

As the picture I posted on Facebook of an actual woman on actual fire during riots in Kibera got not one reaction, I thought I would revert to something nicer in the hope that people will notice. This is part of a Mama Biashara Juice Bar. And this tiny space is home to sixty business people : chapati and coffee sellers, sugar cane juice makers, fresh fruit salad and juice sellers, samosa makers and boiled egg peeps. Mostly funded yesterday and raring to go.

I go to the market at Junction to collect stock. Worryingly, Evans – who is making two chess sets for us – has not returned from Kisii. And his phone is not going through.

Online, I read about the MP who has been shot and stabbed in the UK. Bloody hell!

For once, the craziness in the UK exceeds the craziness in Kenya.

Here, all hell has broken loose because some MPs were calling for the assassination of the leader of the opposition. In the UK, they have actually killed an MP. These are bad times. I feel like watching a Shirley Temple film or going to see Spencer JonesHerbert, just to reassure myself that there is sweetness around somewhere.

And my wonderful Uncle Bob has had a stroke. And a child has been eaten by an alligator (or something) at Disney World. And a magpie is stealing blue tit chicks in my stepsister’s garden in Scotland.

Back in my Nairobi home, I discover we have no water and I lug a jerrycan round to my cell so I can wash some clothes. Oh yes. That is how we roll here at Mama Biashara. My hopes of having hot water explode with my kettle on a dodgy plug, so a cold wash has to do. Then I organise the pile of de-wormers, malaria medication, painkillers and calcium, cod liver oil and garlic, multivitamins and cough syrup to be sent to Jayne in Awendo and Julius in Western.

Thence to bed. I play Solitaire obsessively every night, because it is about creating order out of chaos it is incredibly therapeutic for my fraught mind. I have wildly scatological dreams. A first for me… and not in a good way.

FRIDAY 17th JUNE

The administration block of Kenyatta Hospital

Administration block of Kenyatta National Hospital, Nairobi.

There are a couple of things I have forgotten to mention and one new horror to regale you with.

It turns out that Joan’s account of there being no more free ARVs for HIV+ people in Kenya is true. Médecins Sans Frontières is withdrawing from most places – Homa Bay has gone and Kibera is on the way out. Their clinics are being taken over by the Kenyan Health Authorities which means paying for everything and being treated by doctors who are – in general – doctors in name only.

Felista was also called to a meeting by the NACC (National AIDS Control Council) along with all concerned parties in the Dagoretti area to be told that the ARVs have almost run out completely and there are no more testing kits. It is one way, I suppose, of keeping your HIV infection stats looking chipper – just don’t test people.

In other news, a news crew (Kenyan) got into a small room in Kenyatta Hospital (the biggest in Eastern Africa… A beacon of light and hope blah blah blah) where 36 people were crammed in various stages of injury. These are people who had been injured in an accident and brought to Kenyatta Emergency Department. When it transpired after a couple of days that they could not pay their bill, they were dumped off the ward into this small room. Just a room – absolutely nothing that could be construed as an amenity – and relatives have to bring them food and clothing. No beds, just the stone floor. Some still bandaged up. A couple still bloodied. One bloke has been there for a year.

SATURDAY 18th JUNE

Copstick with Mama Biashara co-worker Felista

Kate Copstick (right) with Mama Biashara co-worker Felista

I am still angry with the world.

There is a new girl whom Felista wants me to see. Also the dormitory floors are oozing water. And the gate is falling apart.

The new girl – Shiko – was rescued from her uncle. She was sent to live with him after her parents died. She was beaten and locked in a back room. She is mentally impaired because of the appalling traumas she has been through – including being trapped in that locked room when fire broke out and being very very badly burned. It is impossible to tell how badly. Her scars are horrible and she has almost lost a hand. She exhibits quite a lot of obsessive behaviour – as a lot of the badly-abused kids at Felista’s do when they arrive – and eats paper. But she responds to stroking and when we put some music on she dances with me.

Another girl, Muthoni, came to Felista utterly broken after ten years of sexual abuse at the hands of her uncle from the age of five. The uncle has not been imprisoned. He said that, because he ‘married’ her when she was thirteen (and had already been abusing her for eight years) it was all OK. The police agreed.

Muthoni is now a bouncing, healthy, happy teenager. She is very cuddly – sort of like a large seven year old – and she can now see men without screaming. Recently, she has told Felista she wants a husband.

So there is great hope for the new girl Shiko. And Muthoni is looking after her.


MAMA BIASHARA EXISTS SOLELY BECAUSE OF DONATIONS. COPSTICK RECEIVES NOTHING AND SHE COVERS NONE OF HER EXPENSES IN ANY WAY. THE MAMA BIASHARA WEBSITE HAS DETAILS OF THEIR WORK.

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A visit to a Chicago sex summit and how to get through the Canada-US border

This morning I received a message from Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, who lives on a boat in Vancouver.

I felt I should share it.


Anna Smith, Chicago Virgin

Anna looks back on her recent trip visiting a Chicago Virgin

I am back from Chicago.

I was there for four days to help initiate the first North American Sex Worker Summit.

Sex workers (including strippers) are technically not allowed to enter the United States because of our moral turpitude, whatever that means.

Fortunately, Richard Branson doesn’t seem to have a problem with that, so we stayed in his hotel – The Chicago Virgin – where we sat in a spacious conference room around an enormous table which was decorated with flags of the United States, Canada and the United Nations. The standard blue and white United Nations flags had the words United Nations of Sex Workers added to the bottom. We discussed problems and defined policy for the North American region of the international Network of Sex Work Projects.

There are many problems. The United States currently has the 12th highest rate of AIDS infection in the entire world, ahead of most countries in Africa and Asia. Sex workers have always been on the leading edge of disease prevention, not only practicing safer sex, but producing films, performing at benefits, educating medical professionals, students and youth and doing outreach work including distributing condoms, lube and safe injection supplies where needed. I have done all of those things. Shockingly, in the United States

Anna Smith, Chicago Virgin, with one of her editors

Anna with one of her editors at the Virgin hotel

The hotel was lovely: a 26-storey former office tower. It now has a rooftop bar with an encircling patio and other fashionable bars and restaurants interspersed throughout the building with a spa in the basement.

In the homey coffee shop, I glanced through a little book of photos called Horrible London. While I sat at the coffee bar looking out the window, the Cream song Tales of Brave Ulysses was playing on a record player and that made me feel happy because it reminded me of my friend, dear Martin Sharp, who wrote the lyrics and I knew it would have made him happy that I heard them at that time when I was feeling a bit lonely, before the conference started.

I had been very concerned about crossing the border because, although I used to do that all the time as a dancer, I had not done it in a while.

A lawyer working for the conference had advised me not to bring my cell phone, high heels, lingerie or condoms or anything to indicate I was planning on having a good time – and under no circumstances was I to say I was going to attend a hookers’ convention. I felt a bit lost without the necessities of life and tried to figure out how to explain why I was going all the way to Chicago. Was it to just look at Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks painting? Why had someone else paid for my airfare and hotel?

Fortunately, I had visited a drop-in center for street girls a few days before my trip (there are no drop-in centers for boat girls). I was looking for some more normal clothing, since most of my clothes are either costumes or rags or a combination of both. I found a nice thin loose grey sweater, a cheap quilted pastel plaid vest and a bulky grey below-the-knee skirt. Best of all I met a capable, bright young lady with a shaved head and skin riddled with piercings and tattoos who told me the secret of crossing the border. She said she did it all the time.

Anna Smith, Chicago Virgin

Anna reflects on cross-border dress protocol

How, I wondered, did she get away with it? Surely she would have been detained for hours and scoured for drugs?

They held my sister for an hour – and she dresses in fine hand-woven fabrics and she’s an archaeologist (not my priest sister – she is totally fashionable).

My archaeologist sister is a textile conservator. Well I guess she does look a bit suspicious, because she often wears hand-made clothing rather like what they wore in the Middle Ages.

She’s in Colombia right now because the museum she works for sends her abroad to deliver artefacts because she is entirely trustworthy. She has to carry the artefacts in her hand luggage. If the artefacts are extremely valuable – like some beaten-up flag from an Arctic expedition – they send an armed guard to accompany her. If she has to use the toilet at an airport, the guard watches her luggage. Sometimes, because of the way she dresses, she gets mistaken for a Buddhist monk and that causes confusion, because Buddhist monks don’t usually have armed guards.

She says the rest of her work is bureaucratic and mostly tedious, but I think it’s great. She usually gets to listen to the CBC at work and she has a washing machine and ironing boards in her office. In the summertime, they sometimes park John Lennon’s yellow Rolls Royce in the lobby of the museum and put barriers around it so nobody can touch it. When this happens, my sister goes into a closet and fetches a special long duster that says Rolls Royce Only written on it by hand. She puts on white cotton gloves, slips under the barrier and she dusts each part of the exterior very modestly and precisely, almost like a dance. Japanese tourists especially like to watch her do the dusting.

Anyway, at The Chicago Virgin hotel, I was very, very well behaved and only used the sink for the purpose for which it was designed.

Anna Smith’s Virgin Chicago sheep present

The Virgin Hotel shower sheep present from Richard Branson

I found a little sheep in the shower. I think it is a hotel thing. Someone did a study. A sheep in the shower. I heard some hotels put a doll on your bed, which would be revolting. The sheep I found to be mildly intrusive, but then I took it for a walk.

The main thing I bought in Chicago was crisps – a surprising request from a relative in Vancouver. He wanted foreign crisps.

I found the secret to crossing the Canada/US border is, when they ask the reason for your trip, to say: I am going to a Women’s Health Conference.

The immigration official will blanche and hurry you along without many more questions.


As Cream’s Tales of Brave Ulysses was mentioned, here is a video on YouTube with annoyingly tinny vocals.

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Comedy critic Kate Copstick explains to me the importance of Drug Holidays

Kate Copstick sees rays of hope spread in Kenya

Comedy critic Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya, working for her Mama Biashara charity which helps poor people (mostly women) set up their own small businesses. Today she updated me on what has happened to some of the people at a clinic mentioned in my blog a couple of days ago.

__________________________

The lady with the strange brown creeping growth across her corneas  has a collection of antibiotic and antifungal eyedrops and the man with the pus-extruding eye socket has some turbo-charged antibiotics. But it is the ladies with ‘pain’ who are at the front of the queue.

Something wonderful happens here. Really REALLY wonderful.

As I get out the car, I am grabbed from behind. We need David to pick up Zetta and Neil at the airport and I am not shelling out £25 for just that, so we have the luxury of the car all day. The person who grabs me from behind is the little 82-year-old shosho with the 12 grandkids. She is beaming, positively bouncing. She pulls me over to the side of the road and there,  resplendent in the sunshine, is her new business: a whole sack of sweet potatoes set out in neat piles of three on  the ground.

Across the road is the other shosho with the legs like twin Jimmy Krankies. She appears to have perked up with the cod liver oil, Vitamin E, garlic and lecithin. She is out doing business for the first time in a while. But still has no shoes. I go off and do battle with a bloke for a pair of  boat-like sandals with Velcro straps that I hope will go over her massively swollen feet. They do !! They are a little Birkenstock-like but I don’t tell the shosho she now looks like a lesbian.

Josephine has turned up to get her antibiotics (throat and glands) and her acyclovir (shingles). But I want her to come and meet my friend Janet Ogindo.  Josephine only got her HIV diagnosis at our clinic on Wednesday and I want her to talk to someone who can reassure her and advise her. Plus her CD4  count is 234 and I don’t want to take her to a bog standard HIV clinic as they will just bang her full of ARVs – antiretrovirals – right away.

We take her over to Ngando and spend a totally wonderful hour or so with Janet and Joanne. Janet has borderline liver failure now, after ten years on ARVs.  Her CD4 count is good, her viral load is undetectable. All that is killing her now is the sheer toxicity of the drugs. So, like increasing numbers of people over here, she is considering a Drug Holiday.

Joanne already has changed her regimen and takes one month off every three. And feels much better. We all know other people who have either stopped completely, take one month on, one month off or take the drugs only when they have a flare up. All of them seem to be doing very well.

There are support groups for people who want to do this, as doctors  cannot – and generally will not – openly condone it. It does seem to depend on what strain of the virus you have. But I give Janet a huge bag of vitamins and supplements, arrange a supply of beetroot juice and tell her we know where she can get really good nettle tea. She is now a really dear friend and I don’t want to lose her to drug toxicity.

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Top comedy critic Kate Copstick spends $2,500 on prostitutes in Nairobi, Kenya

Oy! Oy! - Kate Copstick reveals her other life

Kate Copstick, the doyenne of Fringe comedy reviewers, is an interesting person. Call her Copstick, never Kate. She used to appear on children’s TV series No 73, owns the TV production company Bobby’s Girl, owns The Erotic Review and was cast as the ‘outspoken’ comedy judge on ITV’s Show Me The Funny.

According to ITV, she “has seen more live comedy and spotted more new talent than any other comedy critic in the UK… with a fearsome reputation on the circuit as being the toughest of the tough, who can either make or break a career.”

She has also been a judge for the Perrier Awards, Amused Moose, So You Think You’re Funny and my own highly-esteemed-by-the-comedy-cognoscenti Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards.

Every year, 100% of any profit from staging the Malcolm Hardee Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe (no costs are deducted) goes to the Mama Biashara charity run by Copstick. She is currently in Kenya and sent me this:

__________

Yesterday afternoon I spent  $2,500 on prostitutes in Nairobi. Fifty two of them, in fact. Fifty girls and two boys.

My charity (how I hate the proto-Christian smugness of that word) Mama Biashara works in the slums setting women (mainly) up in small businesses to pull them out of the absolute poverty in which they are living and elevate them to simple poverty. It is, I have found, generally the best I can do.

Most sex workers here are girls with no education and no skills who turn to the street as a last resort to feed, house and clothe their children. Offer them a chance to do some other business and they leap at it. Mama B just gives them a financial trampoline to leap over the big barrier called ‘set up costs’. I say big barrier – usually $25 suffices.

Most of the girls (and two boys) are great. They mainly have good workable business plans – some even great. Waldah – an absolute charmer – is not fazed when I balk at the cost of a hot sausage selling machine. She has identified one and the owner has told her his price. Which is too high for Mama B.

“Eh” says Waldah, twinkling, “I am a sex worker… I can persuade him to lower his price!” 

There is one older woman, a widow,  from out near Mombasa who has come specially to see me. She is in her late forties. She has four children and now they are all in secondary school or college. When her hotel (cafe) business was simply not making enough money to pay school fees she did the only thing she could to give her children the education she believes they deserve – she went on the game. I felt like giving her a medal, never mind a business grant. 

She got 5,000ksh (about $50) which will enable her to set up a much bigger and smarter cafe. We are staying in touch to see how things go. She is the loveliest woman, a real quiet, gentle person. I hope her kids appreciate her.

One boy was a victim of the post-election violence in the Rift Valley. His family were killed and he lived on the streets for two years. Now – by becoming a rent boy – he has accommodation. But he has researched a business selling hot sausages (yes, yes, as opposed to selling his own ‘hot sausage’). There is, he assures me, a great demand.

Martin is quite a high-end (if you will pardon the expression) rent boy. He has a degree in International Relations, speaks perfect English, Farsee and Russian and worked successfully in PR till his employer sacked him for being gay.

“So you have real skills!” I remark.

“I’ve got skills!” affirms Martin, “I can get a ten inch cock up my arse”.  

His mother recently died and left him her house. Not exactly in the most salubrious setting, but it could be worse. There are two bedrooms. Sadly all the furniture was sold for funeral expenses. Martin wants to furnish the second bedroom (already decorated in fabulously flamboyant colours) and rent it out to gay people (workers, researchers, writers… people from activist groups or just travellers) as a place where they will be welcomed and safe when they visit Nairobi. Homosexuality is not at ALL safe in Kenya.  I think this is a great idea. A Brighton-style B&B in the heart of Homophobialand.

Everyone, as well as their start up grants, gets a dozen condoms and a small vibrator. Martin gets a Durex special vibrating cock ring.  He beams with delight as he lopes off to his next client.

“Charge extra,” I advise.

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Filed under Africa, Charity, Comedy, Gay, Health, Kenya, Sex

The death of an unknown man who was a “legend”

Mij Currie, died in Colchester on New Years Eve.

He was the older brother of Scots comedienne Janey Godley. He was born Jim Currie, but was always known as Mij (their father’s name Jim spelled backwards).

He was unknown except to his family and friends, but he was the person who first persuaded his friend Jerry Sadowitz to perform as a magician then as a comedian – Jerry’s first shows were at Janey’s pub in the East End of Glasgow.

According to a Tweet yesterday, Jerry’s reaction to Mij’s death was “he was a fucking legend”.

Mij had been addicted to heroin for years, then addicted to methadone… then he became HIV Positive… then he got cancer… he pretty much beat them all. When he was given chemotherapy for his cancer, they told him to expect nausea and for his hair to fall out. Neither happened. Presumably he had abused his body so much previously in his life that chemotherapy was a mere gnat’s bite.

The last time I met him, we walked along Frinton seafront, chatting. He was a nice, gentle man whenever I met him, though he had been very violent when younger (there are horrifying tales in Janey’s autobiography Handstands in the Dark).

He once believed he was the rock star Bryan Ferry.

Everyone has an effect on everyone else. The butterfly effect.

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UFOs, toad-vomiting, the KGB, the CIA and Saddam Hussein’s gay marriage

I went to the first day of the Fortean Times‘ UnConvention at the University of Westminster today to see comedian Helen Keen’s hour long show It Is Rocket Science! which blends science, comedy and bizarre facts and unusually sat among even more bizarre fare. She was wildly enthusiastic, even by her high standards.

Fortean Times is the self-proclaimed ‘Journal of Strange Phenomena’ which non-readers assume concocts loony stories of crop circles, UFOs and conspiracy theories but which regular readers know casts a sceptical eye on anything strange and apparently inexplicable.

Presentations in today’s UnConvention included Ian Ridpath comprehensively demolishing the so-called Rendelesham Forest UFO Incident by going back to the original sources – US Air Force reports, UK police records and audio tapes actually recorded at the time – to reveal rational and arguably even mundane explanations of allegedly alien events which have escalated into OTT UFO myth – basically, he convincingly argued that the alleged ‘alien craft’ was a combination of a known falling fireball that night and a local lighthouse’s flashing light. It was an interesting dissection of how a myth gathers momentum.

As was Jan Bondeson’s talk on “The Bosom Serpent” – hundreds of years of stories of snakes, frogs and even a hen lurking inside people’s bodies. Jan, a senior lecturer and consultant rheumatologist at Cardiff University by day, came over as a cross between Dr Strangelove and Jimmy Carr with a droll line in dry humour. I was particularly impressed with his telling of the true tale of Catharina Geisslerin, the so-called Toad-Vomiting Woman of Altenburg, and how the cure for another historical figure’s frog-vomiting was to drink three pints of horse urine. Well, I guess that would cure you of complaining about anything else although the alternative remedies of luring snakes out of their lair in people’s stomachs by enticing them with sweet-smelling milk or cheese or even using an improvised fishing rod seem a tad easier.

Then there was Mark Pilkington on myth-making by the world’s Intelligence services and tales of how a Chinese lantern can become a time-travelling Nazi flying saucer and how Communist insurgents in the Philippines were routed by the CIA’s leaked fictional rumours of a winged vampire (something only topped by Helen Keen’s revelation in It Is Rocket Science! of American plans in World War II to attack mainland Japan using thousands of bats with miniature bombs attached to them).

Aside from Mark Pilkington’s tales of the KGB’s First Directorate and their successful plot to spread a false rumour that AIDs resulted from CIA plans to develop a genetic and/or ethnic weapon… and the Rand Corporation’s 1950 paper by Jean M.Hungerford on “The Exploitation of Superstitions for Purposes of Psychological Warfare”, I was particularly interested to hear that the US Government’s short-lived Psychological Strategy Board as long ago as the early 1950s had suggested using existing respected cultural organisations to spread stories.

In the 1990s, I knew a Western European who, during the Cold War, had been a deep cover sleeper agent for the Soviets. He had been ‘run’ via the East Germans. When he was caught by the Americans in Germany, they debriefed him in Washington, but not in any CIA or Defense Department building. He was instead debriefed by the CIA in the offices of a major international cultural magazine.

The most fascinating thing I learnt during today’s UnConvention, though, was about Generoso Pope Jnr, a man I had never heard of before. Formerly employed by the CIA’s psychological warfare unit and with links to the Mafia (his son’s godfather was mob boss Frank Costello), Generoso Pope Jnr bought the New York Enquirer in 1952 (allegedly with money from Costello) and re-named it the National Enquirer, spawning future stories which not only claimed that the existence of the Mafia was a myth concocted by the Communists but also, via its sister paper the Weekly World News, publishing stories of an alien face on the Moon, the dead Elvis Presley seen working in local grocery stores and a gay marriage between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden with the happy couple adopting a shaved ape baby named Robert, who posed as a human child.

Now THAT’s what I CALL a conspiracy theory!

And who would have thought either the Mafia or the CIA had a sense of humour?

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