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Copstick in Kenya: rain catching, money problems, Elvis’ son, a soldier’s question

Here are the latest (shortened) excerpts from comedy critic Kate Copstick’s diary in Kenya, where she is working for her Mama Biashara charity. It starts in Western Kenya. Full versions are on her Facebook page.


SUNDAY

My phone has gone for charging at the one house in the location with electricity. I head to the town pharmacy. Elvis tells me his son is being overtaken by a fungus. The pharmacy has no castor oil. Or anything else to ease a passage. The constipated will have to hold on. No problem for them under the circumstances.

But I do get pediatric cough syrup and reinforcements for the antihistamine and antiseptic creams. There are already loads of people waiting when we get back to Julius’ place and so I get out the boxes and start again. I have already given out 50 tubes of diclofenac gel and we are more than halfway through the de-wormers.

A small boy called Musa is brought along. He is thin, limp and obviously has congenital problems I can’t fix. Most worryingly, he is filthy and dressed in rags while his two siblings who come with him and his Granny are shiny and well and clean and nicely dressed.

I ask the shosho why the mother is not looking after Musa and there is much embarrassed silence. I clean him up a bit and give him vitamins and a drink and lots of cuddles. I tell the shosho I want to see him again. I ask Julius to keep an eye on him.

When they have gone, Julius says he knows the family and the mother “does not care for Musa because he is not a good child”.

Local ladies making the Mama Biashara designed raincatcher

I break off from medical stuff to teach the locals how to make a raincatcher. Of course it is only the women who turn up to learn.

Julius has bought the wrong chicken wire so we first have to sew two strips of the stuff together to make a two metre wide base. Then we cut the plastic sheeting to size and place it on top. The wire is curled round the edge and, again, sort of sewn into place. It is baking hot. I worry about the plastic melting. But it doesn’t. We make ropes out of plaited string and take the whole thing off down to Julius’ banana patch and hang it up over the 1,000 litre water tank.

Then I go back to coughs and sore backs. I am getting slightly droopy as there seems to be no end in sight. A local lady has made mutuya for me and it is in the house to be taken to my resting place for me to eat tonight. But I need something now. It is five o’clock and I have been out here since ten. I feel a break might be in order. I get the mutuya (beans baked in the sun and then cooked till they are a kind of porridge) and discover it to have a salt content comparable to that of the Dead Sea.

So I have some water.

I go inside to talk to four women Julius has mentioned as being particularly ‘down’. They have about 23 children between them. Julius has very kindly said I can give them his underwear consignment (some bought from Eastleigh and some donated by the beautiful and generously-bosomed Friends of Mama Biashara) to start up a business. I will send more for Julius when I get back.

Julius has a traditional mud house. So no electricity and it is pretty much pitch black except where the sun comes through the open door. Which is where I sit.

I show the ladies the bras… some soft, some sports, some underwired but simple and some like nothing that has ever been seen in Western Kenya.

Mama Biashara’s bra ladies – like pilgrims at the Turin Shroud

They fondle and wonder. And when I tell them some of these bras can cost 5,000 shillings they gaze at them much in the manner of a pilgrim at the Turin Shroud.

They will sell them from a space in the market on the two market days and go around hawking the rest of the week.

I cannot explain how much joy and hope three bags of bras and a large bag of knickers (various) can bring to needy women.

MONDAY

I ask Doris to put some cream on my neck and shoulders.

She shrieks: “What is it?”

“What’s what?”

“Here! It looks like you have been boiled!”

“Ah… Sunburn.”

“It is HORRIBLE!”

“That is what happens when wazungu go in the sun.”

She pokes at my pink.

But still smears on the gunk and tells me the good news.

Doris, one of Mama Bishara’s main workers

We have had FANTASTIC feedback from the medical days we did at Gikamburi. Best of all, women have been telling Doris of the revelation of cooking with the stove outside. No smoke, no fumes, no congestion, no coughs, no snot, no sick children, no limp babies. They are telling Doris that even the men are commenting on how well they feel. FINALLY we have got through to people. And now, the word is spreading.

Doris has already been approached by women from two nearby villages, lured by tales of my ability to cure. Gikamburi ladies have been enthusiastic in their delight in life minus heartburn, constipation, aching backs, swollen ankles and all the nastiness that smokey houses brings. Tonsil lady still needs them removed but they have calmed down for now and all the rashes and lumps and bumps are responding really well to whatever goo I gave.

I feel quite Gregory House.

TUESDAY

Massive day.

We pick up 80 litres worth of detergent perfume for Julius (turns out that when he said the perfume had “gone off” he did not mean gone bad; he meant evaporated). We hit the pharmacy for antifungal eyedrops for the boy in Kahuho and antibiotics for Damaris in Western, plus a gallon of castor oil for the goat people.

Then I change what money I have left only to find the exchange rate has plummeted. WTF people!!!! Every penny counts to some of us !!

Kijabe Street, Nairobi – not somewhere to park a 4×4 vehicle

Thence to Kijabe Street where I am picking up a consignment of dresses from Monica. Her car has been clamped by one of the little shits around the parking area. I know why. It is a big flashy 4×4 and they obviously smell money.

I collect from everyone I can and desperately try to avoid spending any money. I have changed my last thousand but almost all of that will go on the cargo costs on Friday. I also hand out a load of our education leaflets in Swahili, Luo and Kikuyu. Market people are little people, generally, and need this information.

Now we go back to Eastleigh. Having given away Julius’ stock, I need to replace it. We cross our fingers that hell will not have been unleashed today.

Everything is pretty quiet. Although there is a truck of fully armed, flack jacketed and helmeted soldiers at the top of the street. They are doing a bit of stop and search.

We get in OK and Julius gets his knickers but, on the way out, we are stopped.

A ridiculously macho soldier in full combat gear indicates we should come over to the kerb.

“Where have you come from?”

“Er, in life or today?”

“Today.”

He is not amused.

“From buying bras and panties in Eastleigh to send to Western.”

“You have a business there??”

“No I am a charity. NO business.”

“Ah. So if you are a charity what do you have to give me?”

A pause.

I wonder if he is joshing.

Probably not. The ‘josh’ content in this kind of conversation does not tend to be high.

“I can give you some advice… Be nice to people, do not be unnecessarily violent and perhaps you could take some of your colleagues to Samburu and sort out the war that is happening there.”

He leaps back as if stung.

“I cannot go to Samburu! The people there are crazy! My colleagues cannot go.”

“Ah well. There we have it.”

We shake hands and drive on.

David is in hysterics:

“You have confused him so much!!”

The Mama Biashara raincatcher – finally erected


No-one takes any salary from Mama Biashara and Kate Copstick covers 100% of her own expenses herself. She takes no money from the charity nor from any donations to the charity. 100% of all money donated is spent on the charity’s projects.

Donations to the charity can be made HERE.

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

Mama Biashara logo

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

Here are further edited extracts from her current diary:


Kate Copstick working for Mama Biashara in Kenya

Kate Copstick working for her Mama Biashara charity in Kenya

TUESDAY

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

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

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

(a) distraught at the death of their son and

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

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

Felista had just got back from watching it.

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

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

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

Quite a morning.

Copstick with Mama Biashara co-worker Felista

Busy Felista with Kate Copstick, working for Mama Biashara

WEDNESDAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copstick (in blue) at Mama Biashara project

Copstick at a previous Mama Biashara project

THURSDAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So now, back to the project again.

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

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

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

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

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


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

Their slogan is “Giving a  hand up. Not a hand out.” 

No-one takes any salary from Mama Biashara and Kate Copstick covers 100% of her own expenses herself. She takes no money from the charity nor from any donations to the charity. 100% of all money donated is spent on the charity’s projects.

Donations to the charity can be made HERE.

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The £2,500 theft and Copstick in Kenya

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

Mama Biashara’s Copstick on a previous Kenyan visit

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

She flew there last Friday.

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

Below is an edited version of Copstick’s latest diary from Kenya. No-one takes any salary from Mama Biashara and Copstick covers 100% of her expenses herself. She takes no money from the charity nor from any donations to the charity. 100% of all money donated is spent on the charity’s projects.

Mama Biashara logo


SATURDAY

Doris at the ferry in Mombassa

Mama Biashara helper Doris at the ferry in Mombassa, Kenya

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

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

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

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

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

SUNDAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copstick with Mama Biashara co-worker Felista

Copstick with Mama Biashara worker Felista on previous visit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They have now gone.

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

MONDAY

Some of the Kenyan children helped by Mama Biashara

Some of the Kenyan children helped by Mama Biashara money

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

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

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

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

But the message is not getting out there enough.

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

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

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

Marvellous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Brexit vote to leave Europe was a lie. Percentages were more like 10/90.

The pencil is more powerful than the pen?

The pencil is more powerful than the pen or the sword?

Yesterday, I was travelling in an Overground train in London and got chatting to someone who works as a plumber. Let’s call him Peter (not his name).

Peter the Plumber is maybe in his late twenties. I could be way out. He could be in his early thirties but, if I had to guess, I would put him at maybe 29 years old.

We bonded on a lot of things, though not everything.

He thought the police were corrupt from bottom to top. He thought the court system had nothing to do with justice and was a game for lawyers and judges. He thought the drug laws were ridiculous – it is legal to willy-nilly prescribe variations of heroin and cocaine for medical purposes but not marijuana.

He said he did not vote in elections because the whole political and ruling system was corrupt. If he were to vote for anyone, he told me, he supposed it would be Jeremy Corbyn. I suggested maybe the Green Party and he was not averse to that but, as he thought the whole system was unworkable, there was no point.

I suggested, if there were a candidate or a party he thought had the correct policies and beliefs, then, by voting for them and increasing their majority even by one, he was giving them more profile and more visible backing – he should vote for them even if he believed they had no chance of winning.

“Like Jeremy Corbyn,” he suggested.

But he is not going to vote in elections because he believes the whole system is corrupt.

“Why do they give you pencils to mark the ballot paper in voting booths?” he asked me. “The people who mark you down as having voted and the people sitting outside the polling stations have pens. Why do they give you pencils to vote with? Pencils are more expensive than pens.”

I said I thought it odd that, as far as I know, when policemen write down statements, they are required to do it in pencil not pen. (I could be wrong that it is a requirement.)

brexitmapbbcHe said he did not believe the Brexit vote to leave the European Union was correct. The vote was 52% to leave. “I think the real vote,” he told me, “was more like 90% to 10%.”

“In which way?” I asked.

“To leave,” he said. “No-one I know wants to be in Europe. The Scots have it right. They want to leave the UK because they don’t want this other place making decisions for them. They want to make their own decisions.”

Let’s leave aside the fact that a high percentage of Scots voted to remain in the European Union.

Given the fact that many people who voted ‘Remain’ in the Brexit referendum find it unacceptable that there was a ‘Leave’ vote because everyone they know voted ‘Remain’… I thought it was interesting that youngish Peter The Plumber, who shows all the signs of being a true Corbynite and an anti-Establishment Left-Winger could not believe that the ‘Leave’ vote was as low as 52%.

Everyone thinks they are ‘normal’ and average and that their mostly self-chosen circle of friends and acquaintances are the norm. Everyone thinks they know what the majority of ‘normal people’ think.

Everyone is almost always wrong because they see and hear in their own bubble of ’normality’.

And, yes, I know if I write ‘everyone’ I should not write ‘they’ and ’their’ – I should write ‘he or she’.

But let’s not be pedantic. It is normal to use ‘they’ to mean ‘he or she’. Isn’t it?

Well, it seems that way to me.

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Kate Copstick in Kenya and in trouble

On Tuesday, I will be hosting the Grouchy Club live in London without co-host Kate Copstick. She is in Kenya, working with her Mama Biashara charity. It helps deprived individuals and groups to start up their own small legitimate businesses to support themselves.

Here is a heavily-edited version of the Kenyan diary entries she has been posting on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.


Copstick in Kenya

“I am having something of an accommodation crisis.”

SATURDAY 4th JUNE

I am having something of an accommodation crisis in Nairobi.

Someone told my (Seventh-day Adventist) landlady that I come to Kenya to train people how to be gay. So she has evicted me.

Doris has just about given herself a stroke spending the past few weeks trying to find another place on my budget, which was £50 for three weeks.

When David picks me up at the airport, we drive for about an hour before reaching my new home. It is far out in the geographical, not the John Denver, sense. On the road from Dagoretti Market to Karen. Thankfully not close enough to Dagoretti Market to smell or hear the abattoir. But a real bugger for transport or walking. The room is big and I have a toilet inside !!! My mattress is on the floor and my bucket (now redundant what with the en suite) under a wee sink. Which actually has running water. So, except for the geographical location, it is bloody wonderful.

The place is a sort of a knocking shop… Chaps rent rooms and bring their girlfriends. Or vice versa. The sign on the gate says Home from Home.

As I sit in my new accommodation and look around – bare plaster walls, bare tiled floor, room empty except for my mattress on the floor – I cannot help but think that, if someone asked me where I was, I should say “Ahm in masel”. That translates as “I am in my cell” but also ” I am in by myself” It is not really that funny. But I am cold and damp and it seems hilarious when you are here.

I tell the Pamoja Boys and Martin Sombua about the trip to Samburu. They have heard all about the British soldiers raping local girls. It also happens around Nanyuki, apparently, where there is a big army base. They catch them when they are tending to the animals, or going for water apparently. The other talk is all of civil unrest and ethnic cleansing. There are now weekly demos/riots in the city centre – Tear Gas Mondays they call them. The opposition parties want the wildly corrupt electoral commission reformed. Unsurprisingly, the Government do not agree. Next year’s elections will, I fear, be messy.

SUNDAY 5th JUNE

I get a matatu to Karen. The fare is 20 bob but, because of my colour, I am charged 30 bob. I get off at The Hub, a new shopping centre.

Most of the outlets in The Hub are not yet open. Which does little to undermine the sheer, gobsmacking, breathtaking, indecent opulence of the place once you are inside. A sweeping palatial staircase leads to a balustraded second level, a massive stone flagged piazza opens up surrounded by porticoed walkways, a jazz band plays and children are riding around on life-size toy ponies which move forward as the child posts (as in a posting trot) up and down on the saddle. I walk through another archway to find fountains playing alongside a boating lake. A BOATING LAKE. Turning left I chance upon a chap who offers me gluten-free artisanal breads. He is part of their weekly Organic Farmers’ Market. There are biodynamic jellies and vegan spreads, organic wines and thoughtful sorbets. I cannot speak. I am in Vegas. It just seems so so wrong.

I meet Doris. She comes back to my cell and picks up three baby dolls for babycare training (we are MUCH in demand) and a load of rubber rings: armbands and beachballs for our burgeoning groups in Mombasa. Amazing to think a lad can make more money renting out Poundland blow up swimming aids than he can renting out himself.

Doris goes and I curl up with my slightly damp blankets and a game of solitaire. In the next room, a baby starts crying. A man’s voice starts to sing something local-sounding. The child continues to whine. And, just as I thought it could not get any worse, the man changes tune. And starts to sing Coldplay’s Yellow. The child likes it.

The Kenyan national flag

The Kenyan national flag

MONDAY 6th JUNE

David arrives. His car is in the Sick Car Hospital after a drunk driver hit him head on. He has a borrowed car. It makes a clunking noise in any gear below 4th.

We take a road that loops a little around the town centre in case they have started demonstrating early. The demonstrations are fairly peaceful. The uniformed thugs ‘policing’ them are not.

The Ngong Road looks like a war zone. And it is really. A war between rich and poor. Once the road had wide chunks at the side where people sold flowers and plants and turf and stuff. Then there were newspaper kiosks and snack stops. A whole little micro economy. Under lovely old trees.

The whole lot has been bulldozed. There is some sort of a plan to widen the road so the fat cats don’t have to wait behind a matatu when they are driving to a meeting. The contract will of course be given to the Chinese on a government deal.

No one is ever compensated or offered an alternative. This is money coming into Nairobi and, instead of helping the poor, it is simply forcing them out. Lord knows what they will do to the Kibera people when the road goes through. I now hate everyone in a 4×4 on principle. A radical idea but it is working for me for the moment.

Down on the coast, we are helping the ex sex workers who have destroyed their skin by scrubbing it with household bleach twice daily, I took them E45 and they are hailing it as a miracle. They are able to walk outside without pain (although they shouldn’t), they can sleep and their skin is coming back.

TUESDAY 7th JUNE

We have a meeting with Margaret – my ex landlady – to see if there is any hope of a rapprochement. I go bearing gifts of cod liver oil, garlic and iron as she is run-down and poorly. She meets us outside the property on the street. She is very nice but explains that, because of what The Scriptures say, they cannot have me living there because, if they help me, it would be as if they themselves are helping gay people. It was Poundland’s coloured and flavoured condoms what did for us.

We leave and even David – who is a Kenyan man and therefore thinks gay men are just ill and gay women don’t exist – is outraged.

But you cannot go against The Scriptures.

This is The Hub. Unreal. And Doris, as Sondheim would say ... On the steps of the palace

This is the Hub – with Doris, as Sondheim would say, on the steps of the palace…

WEDNESDAY 8th JUNE

We head for Ongata Rongai, a big town in the heartland of the area where (President Daniel arap) Moi‘s land-grabbing habit reached its apotheosis. There is enough bad blood between the Kikkuyu and the Maasai to transfuse the cast of Twilight.

The women we are going to fund are the pariah’s of the area – mixed tribe. The sons and daughters of a Maasai/Kikkuyu union. Think Catholic and Protestant marriage in Northern Ireland and you are close. Our women (and men) are working in a stone quarry for a tiny pittance, if they get paid at all. And I am talking about a quid a day. For breaking stones.

When troubles erupt – and they are now – these people are the targets’ targets. We have half a dozen groups and we are meeting at the home of another of Doris’ friends from her old life. This lady married one of her customers. She has a fab house and a huge business in electronics which her husband set up. And when Doris contacted her she has stepped up not just to the plate but to the whole dinner service. She will be overseeing and mentoring the groups we fund today.

Doris and I head back home and stop at The Hub so that I can show her this extraordinary temple to money. We drink a cocktail on the inner square. And gape.

I look the place up.

4 billion Kenya shillings. “Local investors.” Hmmmmm. 30,000 square feet of retail space. And the boating lake. This has to be dirty money. All money this big is dirty here. Interestingly, when I have a look at the local paper the headline tells of 4.2 billion being stolen from the National Youth Service. Money given out to three building companies, one of which was not even registered and two which were registered as business names only.

Sometimes I wonder what the actual fuck I am doing here …

THURSDAY 9th JUNE

I am meeting Felista who says she has found a place for me to stay that is more convenient. We look at three places. They were a bit like old Gorbals tenements. Or something from Little Dorrit. Not dreadful, but they were no nearer to town than I am now and the fact that by the time we got in the car to go back we had already attracted a couple of groups of men with the look of vampires in a convent made me think that perhaps I am safer where I am.

Doris is in town searching for the little spritzing bottles we need to take to Samburu and arm the local women against sexual attack – hence the chilli vinegar. This simple but effective deterrent worked wonders during a spree of gang rape in Nairobi. An eyeful of chilli vinegar will soon put paid to ideas of, well, anything really.

I am massively stressed at the thought of the trip to Awendo. I think, because I am living in the cell at the back of beyond and everything is taking exponentially longer and the money is running out and I am feeling ridiculously lonely (whine whine whine), the thought of the utter lack of autonomy that there is when I go to Awendo plus the fact that it takes a day to get there and a day to get back and I do not have that time to spare, the volcano of despair that is bubbling inside is fed by this further indication that nothing I ever do will be enough and I will always be disappointing someone.


Copstick’s Grouchy Club Podcast, recorded during the above period is online.

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Comedy critic Kate Copstick: Kenya rant

Kate Copstick

Kate Copstick – from vomiting to spitting proverbial blood

Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya working with her Mama Biashara charity.

In a blog a week ago, she took something which appeared to be paan in Mombasa.

It turned her purple and made her vomit copiously.

Now she is back in Nairobi…

What follows is extracted from the diary which she has been posting on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.


SATURDAY

It turns out that the chewie stuff I had in Mombasa is actually called kuber. And is quite hard hitting stuff. It packs serious quantities of THC plus a load of other psychotropic hooha. And it comes mixed with the chewing tobacco the peeps in the cafe showed me. Apparently regular chewing gives you all manner of ghastliness including oral cancer. But I assume, by that time, you are so comprehensively removed from reality that you don’t care…

SUNDAY

I talk to Monica The Dress. Her brother (59) has just been diagnosed with Stage 4 prostate cancer. The doctor announced this to him while explaining that, if anything was to be done, he had better pay £5,000 immediately. That was just so the doc could tell him he is dying. Then another £4,000 for a CT scan … and another £5,000 for a doctor to explain the CT scan.

His family organised a fundraising to take him to India for treatment (what anyone with any money here does) but did not get enough and so he has just left for Uganda where a doctor has decreed that he will remove the man’s testicles for a fee.

MONDAY

Oh please, please, please let this week not go on as it has started.

I get into the Treasury Department. There are five elevators. One is for goods, three are for normal mortals and one is for VIPs. The VIP elevator has gold doors. Not solid, one assumes, or they would have been stolen. But shining golden doors nevertheless. I want to spit. But I don’t. I get to the twelfth floor, get directions and go to Mr Wanyambura’s office. No queues, no, nothing really. I realise very quickly that there would be no point in any queues.

I explain my presence in his office. I tell him about the irritating scrawny woman and the £50 fine / tax / scam / bribe. I tell him what scrawny woman said and what the Revenue and Customs brochure says about an exemption certificate.

“Ah,” he says, in that way that Kenya people in any position of any kind of authority have when they are about to sting you for some money or deliberately piss in your Sugar Pops just for fun. “Ah. That is where it becomes difficult.”

What passes for my hackles raised themselves.

“We no longer give exemption certificates. By order of the Government.” He leaves the room and comes back with a photocopy of a letter that does indeed state that the Government has ordered that there will be no tax exemption of charitable donations. The tax should be paid – wait for it – by the BENEFICIARIES. I explain that my beneficiaries are mainly on the street, penniless, frequently homeless. He shrugs.

He tells me how he cried when the rule came in. How his boss cried. There is, apparently, no lower limit for this tax on help. And so one tub of cod liver oil… one packet of sanitary towels… and the Kenyan Government – one of the most appallingly corrupt institutions in the world, one which is currently harbouring a woman who has presided over 271 MILLION shillings disappearing from her department and whose regional outposts in the country have squandered and stolen their way to a debt of untold BILLIONS with utter impunity – will want to get its pudgy, filthy, criminal fingers on its cut.

The depth and the breadth of the government’s crimes against their electorate are quite quite unbelievable. These politicians make our lot seem positively benign. Tony Blair would fit well with them – but, compared to the Kenyan government, Dave Cameron and his pals are schoolboys playing naughty games on the pupils from the girls’ school next door.

I am white hot with rage. And utterly impotent.

As I walk through the winding pathways of the Westlands Triangle, one of the women tells me to watch my bag. I look. Someone (no doubt in town) has taken a Stanley knife and slashed it. The idea is they slash the bag and everything drops out and you walk on unaware. But my lovely neoprene bag, bought in Age UK for £2 is too tough for them. The slash only made it to the third layer and my belongings are all safe. I love that bag though.

So, all in all, Monday is not shaping up well.

I am considering a plangent letter to the Department of Overseas Development. I am entirely unsure that people are generally aware of this new rule… Suddenly I realise why people chew kuber.

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A proposal of marriage to comedy critic Kate Copstick + Jimmy Carr’s money

Some of the Kenyan children helped by Mama Biashara

Some of the Kenyan children helped by Mama Biashara

Comedy critic Kate Copstick has now arrived back in London from her work with her Mama Biashara charity in Kenya. Each time she returns from Kenya, she brings back goods to sell in the Mama Biashara shop in London’s Shepherd’s Bush.

Below are highly-edited extracts from her final week’s diaries. The full versions can be read on the Mama Bashers Facebook page.


SATURDAY

We go to Jowac where I try to calm my day’s tension with a Tusker beer. Felista arrives, then Doris. Much stewed chicken is eaten. A group of blokes at the table next to us are fascinated by our group. I am asked if I would like one of them to ‘carry me’. Sounds romantic, eh? Nah. It means fuck. I decline. My father would not like it, I tell them. They hoot with laughter. I am then proposed to. Several cows could wend my father’s way were I to accept. I suggest that the gentleman doing the proposing might not be up to (as it were) a Mzungu bride. As my father will be reading this, I will not go into detail about the discussion that followed about the sensory benefits of a dalliance with a woman who has not had eight children before the age of 25, but an hilarious time was had by all. He bought me a Tusker I bought him a quarter bottle of gin (the only way it is sold in these bars). I think we might be married. Hugely jolly times. And my tension of the day is completely dissipated.

SUNDAY

Ghastly. Pouring with rain. I start packing. When the rain stops for a bit, I leg it down to Corner where I meet Hassan. I have known him since very early Mama B days. Almost pre Mama B days. He is now a pikipiki driver and – although two of his daughters have graduated – is still with his nose to the grindstone to educate the rest of his family. I look dubiously at the leaden sky:

“How much to Yaya?”

“£1.”

I get on the bike and we sail off through the puddles.

Around halfway to Yaya, the heavens open again. It is like being in a cold power shower. But, once you are totally wet, you cannot get any wetter. I drip off up into the Yaya Centre.

MONDAY

David arrives at 9.00am to take the first lot of stuff to the cargo depot. When he leaves, I finish re-packing chess pieces inside paper and cardboard inside some hopefully robust baskets inside a box. The biggest one is on order and, if it arrives broken in any way I shall beat myself over the head with the (10kg) board.

David is gone a ridiculous amount of time and it is late when we set off with the second load.

It is all weighed and measured and the bill is about £750. Gulp.

So please, if anyone reading this is one of those customers in Shepherd’s Bush who comes in, picks up something and complains: “Your prices are very high. I could buy this for a twig and a pat of cow dung in my country”, please consider how many sales it takes to recoup £750.

En route to the airport, two ambulances come screaming up the wrong lane of the dual carriageway down to Nyayo Stadium.

“I hate these people,” observes David darkly. “They just don’t like to sit in jam.” Further on, at a big roundabout where there is a big Tusky’s shopping mall on one side and Strathmore University on the other, there is a bit of a to-do.

People are lining the road and indulging in a favourite Kenyan activity – Watching Something Ghastly Happen – This can be followed by Doing The Headless Chicken and Pointless Paranoia.

“Something very bad has happened,” says David with relish, rubbernecking enthusiastically. But we cannot see anything.

It is later we discover that (as has happened before at Kikkuyu University) the KDF (Kenya Defense Force) were carrying out a drill to test the students’ ability to act promptly and sensibly in the event of a terrorist attack like the one at Garissa. However there seems to have been a bit of a communications breakdown.

Because, when the KDF ‘attacked’ (firing rubber bullets and a grenade!!), the student body thought it was for real and one person died, three are in intensive care and over twenty are injured after flinging themselves from third floor windows in a panic.

TUESDAY

The Government – in a much publicised attempt at appearing like they give a shit – brought in a national insurance card at 2,000 Kenya Shillings meaning that all people with one had a way to get medical assistance and access to hospitals when necessary. One year on and, much to the government’s horror, the people had been USING their cards. Immediately, the cost of a card was raised to 6,000 Kenya Shillings. Hmmm.

As is usual the night before I leave, my house is stripped of everything. Felista and Doris share the spoils. I keep my tiny mattress and blankets till the next morning.

WEDNESDAY

David is early! We leave at about 7.15am. Zangi has not arrived to deliver my wooden ankh necklaces. So we just go. David takes the bypass. I worry. Rightly, as it happens.

Up past Langatta, a lorry has overturned and is blocking the way. We join a snail-like procession of diverted traffic. Zangi calls and we agree to meet on the Mombasa Road.

Amazingly, I do make the check-in on time. And the two sanduku are perfectly judged for weight – 19.8kg and 19.4kg.

Turkish Airlines are as lovely on the way back as they were on the way out. And the arrival into London Heathrow was extraordinary – straight off the plane into the passport control hall! No-one there, so straight through. Baggage came pretty quickly. Lovely Customs Men. And so home …

THURSDAY

Cargo has not arrived. Bumped by Kenya Airways AGAIN at the Nairobi end.

Today was not a happy day until, five minutes ago, Jimmy Carr came into the Mama Biashara shop in Shepherd’s Bush, en route to work. He had no idea we were here. Just wandered in. And he made an unexpected and seriously generous donation to Mama Biashara. My faith in life has been restored. For a bit at least. Thank you Mr Carr.

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