Tag Archives: circumcision

Kate Copstick’s Kenya: underwear, circumcision and marrying a Moslem

Some of the Kenyan children helped by Mama Biashara

Some of the Kenyan children helped by Mama Biashara charity

Yesterday’s blog was about comedy critic Kate Copstick’s Kenyan charity Mama Biashara, which helps local women and others with seed money and advice on starting small-scale businesses. I guess Copstick spends maybe six months of the year out there.

This is part of her latest report on life there this week.

Bear in mind when reading it that, according to the Daily Mail this week, initiation ceremonies at Oxford University can involve future Prime Ministers sticking their penis into a dead pig’s mouth.


I meet Julius – a long longtime Mama Biashara stalwart.

Recently it was the ‘initiation’ season.

Initiation (for the Luhyas of Western Kenya) involves taking the boys (aged about 13/15) out into the bush, stripping them naked and circumcising them. Circumcision like this is a big thing for many tribes.

“It is all about,” says Julius, “your blood being spilled on the earth and joining you to the land forever.”

The little bleeders (as we might call them) are left for a night, then given an animal skin apron and left for another night and then given another animal skin blanket to wrap themselves in and then, says Julius, “they are heroes”.

Women at this time are used only to prepare and carry food to the bush and leave it for the menfolk to eat. The new heroes are immediately a cut above the female of the tribe. Pun accidental but I like it.

Julius suggests a new business for Mama Biashara – selling ladies’ underwear.

Many Western Kenyan women walk 30 km per day to and from the fields where they collect a big tub of soil which, if they are lucky, contains tiny particles of gold. “They have great problems,” says Julius, “with their sweaty swingy breasts and their chafing thighs.” So this new business will sell sports bras and biker shorts. Plus normal bras and panties.

As a humanitarian, I hate to think of thighs chafing in the searing heat of Western Kenya and I tell Julius we will go to Eastleigh and buy the stock.

He would like to have a gift of bra and panties for his new wife, he says. She makes him healthy, he says. He has three kids and she has two and I have a feeling we are heading for more underwear. They are not having any more children, says Julius. I tell him I am delighted to hear it. But then he explains the pressure every man is under to produce as many children as possible.

He then details the tradition concerning childless men and women. When they die, they are buried face down with a thorny branch shoved up their arse.

I am horrified. But apparently childlessness is the worst disgrace you can commit.

I suspect my offer of condoms will be rejected.

Apropos of a chat about Western Kenyan sex workers and my saying that I had never met a Kenyan man who did not avail himself of the services of a commercial sex worker, Julius goes on – he is a bottomless fund of local belief – to tell me about how Kikuyu ladies turn to sex work for the money. And that non commercial Kikuyu ladies demand commitment but are a bit shit at sex.

“Brown ladies,” he says, “have sex in their blood.” Lighter skinned women are hot to trot and don’t care who is in the saddle. And there is something about the thighs of “brown ladies” which casts a spell on men and they are powerless to resist their wiles. Men, it seems, are helpless in the grip of a brown lady’s thighs.

“Black thighs do not have the same power,” says Julius.

He and I go off to Eastleigh.

This is basically Little Somalia: a massive slummy sprawl absolutely seething with business of all kinds.

Say what you like about the Somali people, but they can get you anything from anywhere and do it at a rock bottom price. We buy the anti-thigh-chafing bikers and loads of knickery stuff and bras. Julius is fondling a camisole with lacy trimming and sparkly bits. The kind of thing that might, I suspect, be worn by a sexually rampant “brown lady”. He also suggests we get some knickers with high cut thighs in a sort of hideous red leopard print.

“The shoshos are making bricks from mud,” I remind him. “Why do you want them to dress like sex workers?”

The young lady (in full ninja) with the beautiful eyes, who is the shop owner, crinkles them in laughter.

Julius wants to know whether he could marry a Moslem girl without converting.

“No,” we are told by the Lovely Eyes Girl and her slightly-less-lovely but still-attractive mother.

“What if the Moslem girl converted to Christianity?” he asks.

We get a few variations of burning in hell.

“But it is the same God,” points out Julius (hugely broadminded for him).

There still seems to be a lot of burning in hell going on.

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How I ate in a Chinese restaurant in London’s Soho with four New York Jews

Lewis Schaffer on stage last night

(This was also published in the Huffington Post)

Last night, I went to see American comedian Lewis Schaffer’s ongoing 90-minute twice-weekly Free Until Famous comedy show in London’s Soho. Every time a different show, but I almost got bushwhacked in Leicester Square by the ever-persuasive Dan March, flogging his excellent monthly sketch show Skitsophrenia. Well, it’s a show featuring The Real MacGuffins, but Dan is one of ‘em. It’s very good. I saw it at the Edinburgh Fringe.

“I’ll come and see it in May,” I told Dan. I’m away in April.”

“Where?” he asked.

“I’m not saying,” I replied.

“When did you get back from Adelaide?” he asked.

“I never went,” I replied. “It’s the power of bullshit in blogging. It just seems like I did because I quoted people’s e-mails so often.”

I had told Lewis Schaffer I was coming with comedian Bob Slayer but, at the last moment, Bob could not make it. I suspect he is probably still hiding from the wrath of expatriate Australians after his sojourn in Oz where, I imagine, the good people of Perth and Adelaide may bear the psychological and emotional scars for years.

Lewis Schaffer – always call him ‘Lewis Schaffer’, never just plain ‘Lewis’ – it’s more memorable in publicity terms – managed a stonker of a show, good from start to finish, despite five 18-year-old American girls in the front row who appeared to have had a major humour bypass or possibly even a humor bypass.

They were particularly offended by Lewis Schaffer’s circumcision routine and by his closing Holocaust routine – which still includes the best Holocaust joke I have ever heard.

After the show, I went with Lewis Schaffer, a New Yorker called Peter who lives in London and Jenna, the girl who rents Peter’s apartment in New York, to a Chinese restaurant in Soho. On the way, bizarrely, we bumped into Jenna’s father Steve. He is passing through London, working, for a week. Don’t ask. I didn’t.

So that’s how I ended up in a Chinese restaurant in London’s Soho with four New York Jews and that’s where the question came up:

“Who is John and what does he do?”

Steve asked Lewis Schaffer.

As I have mentioned before in this blog, I have never been able to explain what I do. I wish someone could tell me.

“Do you know the phrase fingers in pies?” Lewis Schaffer asked Steve.

Steve nodded.

Lewis Schaffer shrugged and nodded towards me.

“I was working with Reg Hunter…” said Lewis Schaffer.

“Who’s that?” Steve asked.

“There are only five American comedians who are of any note in this country,” explained Lewis Schaffer. “There’s the black guy which is Reg Hunter. There’s the left wing guy which is Rich Hall. There’s the hippy guy which is Dave Fulton. There’s the gay guy which is Scott Capurro. And there’s a fifth…”

“You?” I prompted.

“No, I’m not noteworthy,” Lewis Schaffer replied absentmindedly. “Anyway there’s one more. But there’s not enough room in this country for even four, because they hate American comedians here because we’re not one of the tribe… So I was working with Reg over at the Arts Theatre… I liked Reg. Same as Peter,” he said, nodding at the young guy sitting opposite him. “Just as soon as I met Peter, I liked the guy. Did you sense Lewis Schaffer liked you?”

Peter shrugged.

“With you, John,” Lewis Schaffer said, looking at me, I didn’t know if I would like you or not, because you’re a shambolic, horrible-looking mess of a man. You don’t shave. You need your hair cut. It’s longer in the back. It’s like a Larry David kind of haircut. It’s like a mullet. I just met you and I didn’t know exactly what you did or what you wanted from me and I still don’t… So I said to Reg Hunter, who was my friend at the time – he doesn’t call me now. He doesn’t speak to me. People don’t like me.”

Jenna laughed loudly.

“Stop it!” said Lewis Schaffer. “We’re not in New York. This is why you’re going to hate living here. You’ve gotta lower your expectations.”

“Look at the food,” said Jenna.

“It looks good from a distance,” said Lewis Schaffer. “But then you taste it… It’s like my penis.”

“Small portions,” I said.

“It’s probably true,” said Steve, “that all comedians have small penises, because the whole comedy thing is a result of…”

“No,” said Lewis Schaffer, “I just pretend that I’ve got a small penis for the sake of comedy. “My penis is very large – it’s nine inches long. I measured it this morning. I put the ruler in backwards – 12 – 11 – 10 – 9 inches. How long into the skin are you allowed to jam the ruler?… So I asked Reg: What about this guy John Fleming? He looks like a shambolic mess.

“A shambolic mess?” Steve asked.

“Look at this man,” Lewis Schaffer said to Steve, pointing to me, “This man is a dictionary definition of shambolic.”

“Is ‘shambolic’ not a word in America?” I asked.

“No,” said Lewis Schaffer. It’s not a word here either. There is no word ‘shambolic’ in English dictionaries.”

“There is,” I protested.

“There isn’t,” said Lewis Schaffer. “There’s no word for ‘gullible’ in the dictionary either.”

“In America?” I asked.

“Anywhere,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“Yes there is,” I protested.

“John,” said Jenna. “He’s just trying to make you seem gullible.”

“Very smart girl,” said Lewis Schaffer to Steve. “Your daughter’s very smart… So, I said to Reg, Is he a reasonable guy? Look at the way he looks? He hasn’t shaved. So he said… I can’t remember the funny quote, but he said…”

“Who said?” asked Steve.

“This guy Reg Hunter,” explained Lewis Schaffer, “He’s the Number One comedian in this country.”

“Does this guy really even exist?” asked Steve.

“Yes,” insisted Lewis Schaffer. “He said I like the way he looks…”

“Who?” asked Steve.

“John,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“I’ve never met him!” I interrupted.

“He said I like the way he looks,” Lewis Schaffer continued, “because, in this country, you never trust a man who wears new clothes – because he’s trying too hard.”

There was a long pause.

“Trying too hard?” asked Steve.

“Trying too hard,” repeated Lewis Schaffer. “Because in this country… Well, maybe he didn’t say that. But I’m saying that. That’s what Reg Hunter said.”

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Well,” said Lewis Schaffer, “I don’t want to misquote him. I don’t want to put words into Reg’s mouth which he didn’t say because I want to use it in my show.”

“I often get mistaken for Brad Pitt,” I said.

No-one laughed.

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