Tag Archives: Kate Copstick

Comedy critic Kate Copstick’s back – bitten in Kenya & banned on Facebook

Copstick’s back in Mombassa, Kenya – as banned by Facebook

Below, more edited extracts from Kate Copstick’s diary. The last ones were three days ago

She is currently in Kenya, where her Mama Biashara charity gives seed money to impoverished people wanting to start self-sustaining businesses. It also gives medical aid and advice to those people whom other charities overlook.

Her last diary extracts were about insect bites, traffic jams and the prostitutes of ‘Ho Central’ in Mombassa.

Yesterday, she posted a photo of her back covered in insect bites on her Facebook page and Facebook immediately blocked it as unsuitable imagery. I would not necessarily dispute this, but have no such qualms about displaying it.

Now read on…


A 50 km traffic jam on the Nairobi-Mombassa road in 2015

TUESDAY

My selfless provision of an all-you-can-eat buffet for the nightlife in my mattress continues. Luckily no one here is remotely interested in my body as I look positively plague ridden. The boss man says he will move me to another room. The tiny mattress inhabitants will be devastated.

The traffic jam still stretches into the distance. Last night the police made a load of lorries turn round and go back to where they came from. So far, one woman has given birth in the jam and one old man has died.

Doris called a lawyer she knows for advice about the goings-on in Ho Central. We were thinking of going to see the Big Boss Policeman. But the lawyer suggested a magistrate at the Shanzu Court who he thinks will be helpful.

So we are in a matatu – me with ginormous mango in plastic bag – going to Shanzu. I am panicking because my fingers are all sticky from the mango and I cannot shake hands with a judge like that. I buy a bottle of water.

We find the judge and we have the most surprising meeting I have had in Kenya.

We explain the horror of the night before. I run through my understanding of the law and the parameters of what the police can legally do. The magistrate is appalled about the brutality we witnessed. She has suspected shit was going down as she has been seeing injured girls coming before her in court. She is very understanding of the girls. She usually sentences them to sweep the courtyard, to go and see a counsellor… she is on our side.

“Society has turned its back on these girls,” she declaims. “They are just doing what they must to feed their children”.

She takes our contacts and makes a list of the people she is going to contact. She has control of several counties and is contacting head police officers, judges and magistrates and the Big Bod himself, police wise. She controls a big committee that oversees a huge area and deals with complaints and procedural hoo-ha. She wants us to come and speak at it.

OK… so our heads are now firmly above the parapet, at least in Mombasa, but in a good cause. I hope the meeting will be soon.

The stifling ferry to Ukunda (photograph from TripAdvisor)

WEDNESDAY

We go back across the ferry to Ukunda to do a meeting with the working girls there. They are also being terrorised and extorted by local police. We have leaflets, information, tea tree douche and metronidazole. We are going to drop the meds with Vicky in Ukunda and make a trip to a market in Lunga Lunga which is the border post with Tanzania. Vicky says there is a huge market there.

I am excited because if I can buy a load of stuff here, the necessity for going back to Nairobi lessens. Mombasa, for all I am in constant, sweaty discomfort with the myriad bites and am mildly, subconsciously worried about the various fevers that abound here, given my lack of white blood cells, is sooooo much more relaxing than Nairobi.

We dice with more heavy metal poisoning on the ferry – passengers and heavy goods vehicles board and stand together for the crossing. And the disembark is quite a smoggy experience.

The country bus to Lunga Lunga is like something from a movie. The door is open as are the windows. None of this Nairobian obsession with pneumonia arriving with every gust of fresh air. The bus is piled high with bundles of flour and things in boxes with airholes punched in the sides, big bundles of water containers and sacks of veggies. It is crammed.

The conductor could not be more helpful. At a place called Ukunda we pass the bags with meds and milk through the window to Vicky and I get a mango from a lady hawker. We are few when the bus pulls into the Lunga Lunga stage. And Doris and I are confused. It appears to be a petrol station of sorts. No town.

Copstick-eye-view of pikipiki trip on road out of Lunga Lunga

We explain to the crush of smiley pikipiki boys about the soco and they all look puzzled. I mention wood carvings and they nod. We board pikipikis. Eight kilometers, they say. Not quite as Vicky described. Eight kilometers down the road and through the Customs post, we are at the Tanzanian border when we turn right and go cross-country.

Finally we arrive at a little collection of tents made from coconut leaves. Good news: there is definitely carving going on. Bad news: there is bugger all else.

Nada. Nothing.

We are firmly steered away from the actual carving by a large man who does not look local. We are shown the duka (the shop). To say it is a disappointment would be like saying The Sun newspaper is frequently, unfortunately worded. We leave. Bouncing cross-country. Back up the eight kilometers to the stage. And back to Ukunda where we have left the medicines and the stuff for Poor Mama’s Plumpy Nut. It is dark when we reach Ukunda.

No girls are around because the police have swooped again and the ones who have not been beaten up/’arrested’ are now in hiding.

So we go on to discuss the Great Lamu Raincatcher Project. A big group of old ladies on Lamu want to put a raincatcher in their village. Water is a huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge problem in Lamu. A raincatcher would be perfect.

A Mama Biashara style raincatcher erected earlier this year

OK, I say they wanted a raincatcher. They actually wanted a water tank. But when I explain to Vicky about the raincatcher and show her the pictures from last time in Western, she almost needs a rub down with a wet copy of Water Fancier’s Monthly.

So Lamu gets its first raincatcher with a 3,000 litre tank. We arrange to return tomorrow by which time we hope the girls will be out and about again.

Vicky goes off with 7.5 kg of dried milk and the rest and Doris and I get a matatu back to the ferry and a tuk tuk home.

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Copstick in Kenya: “They have huge sticks. They have huge guns. AK-47s.”

A couple of days ago, I posted diary extracts from Kate Copstick in Kenya, where her Mama Biashara charity gives seed money to impoverished people wanting to start self-sustaining businesses. It also gives medical aid and advice to those people whom other charities overlook.

These are edited extracts. Fuller versions are posted on Copstick’s Facebook page.


SUNDAY

Kate Copstick working for Mama Biashara charity  in Kenya

I risk electrocution and plug my phone in to charge, close to where the torrential rain is coming through the roof. On the TV is a loud, happy-clappy, interminable church service and from outside comes the more restrained call from many mosques around the city. Around all the Goddy places the terrible, terrible shit goes on.

Doris is in agony with all her bites. I promise we will get bicarbonate of soda and make her less itchy. To be fair, I am horrified to note, I am catching up fast on the unsightly bump front. My back looks like a couple of pounds of mince and my left side feels like the bottom of a football boot. I check the symptoms of Dengue Fever again. The buggering things are like Ninjas here. I have neither seen nor heard one. In Nairobi you at least hear the little bastards. Here – nothing until the lumps and bumps catch fire.

We get a tuk tuk to the ferry and join the sea of people (no pun intended) waiting for the crossing. It is free and fast and unsettlingly efficient for Kenya. We get a matatu and reach Chungwe, our medical location.

The villagers are suspicious at first. None of the people Doris had spoken to have turned up but we soon have a massive crowd. All the de-wormers go, we hand out kids’ cod liver oil and there are loads of coughs and colds, a man with possible malaria, some UTIs, a man who had had bloody poo and was turned away from the hospital because he had no money, a load of rashes and a worrying little girl of two with itching and pain ‘down there’ and diarrhoea.

We are out in the open and there is nowhere private to go. I ask the mother if ‘someone’ might have done ‘something bad’. She looks blank. But she has a husband. And a brother. We are coming back on Tuesday. So I give her stuff for the itching and a mild kaolin mix for the trots and we will see her then, somewhere private.

There is a LOT of malnutrition here. Kids who look like babies turn out to be three years old. So Tuesday will also be about nutrition

MONDAY

Doris, one of Mama Biashara’s key helpers

More torrential rain and a sad sight as I get out of bed to find two humongous cockroaches, apparently dead, lying on their backs on the beautifully clean floor of my room. I hope it is not an omen, as I scratch my ever-increasing number of lumps and bumps. We are meeting Vicky for an update on All Things Coastal.

I need to get some dosh out and finish my research on the law regarding the behaviour of the police in ‘Ho Central’. We are heading back there and I want to have a leaflet for the girls, explaining their rights. Not that the police respect their rights, but it will be a help.

The flooding is quite bad, with the extra frisson that, if the lake on the road has a pothole in it, the water suddenly doubles or triples in depth and you are, well, almost literally up shit creek without a paddle.

We are dropped at the City Mall where we are joined by Vicky. Her update is a delight. The fumigators from last time are ‘fumigating everything’. And now have three groups. Life on Lamu in the poor areas has been ‘transformed’.

People have electricity, they have food and the men are no longer idle. Everyone is doing business. Unfortunately, the men are less keen on sharing the money they have with their wives. So another 60 of the older ladies have asked for funding. Vicky reckons that 20 is the ideal number for a group and so one group wants to sell eggs (hard boiled with kachumbari: they are a phenomenally popular snack), another to make samosas and the third to sell Smokies – a popular sausage sold by the roadside as a snack. The 60 ladies are kicked-off in business for about £350. Hoorah!

The flooding is still crippling transport to and from the island. People drown with monotonous regularity. On the boat Vicky came on, one woman was swept overboard and the fisherman had to save her by casting their fishing net overboard and landing her like a big fish.

We get a tuk tuk out to Mtwapa. It is raining again. We set up and talk to the ladies in ‘our’ bar. They are impressed by the leaflets and by what we are telling them. We go walkabout. The next big group of girls work out of a sort of lodging house. Well, brothel. The girls rent a room and then they are freelance agents. They do not believe what we are telling them. The rain gets heavy. So we go inside the house.

We soon have a big group. And they are excited. We explain about being ready to film whenever the police swoop. Film them in their criminal activities. The women understand about the loitering aspect. But, they tell us, if there is no-one outside, the police just come into their rooms, and demand 3,000 to leave, and this is not even when the girls have a client. We get through to them though. And we are in the middle of arranging a big meeting when there are shrieks from outside.

We rush out. A big jeep has parked there. About ten huge men in army combat gear are dragging girls into it. They have huge sticks the thickness of baseball bats but maybe four feet long. They also have huge guns. AK-47s. It is like a vicious, violent, heavily-armed version of the Childcatcher. It is horrifying to watch and they do it without compunction.

In two months, five sex workers have been murdered. Some of the placards read: SEX WORKERS – DON’T KILL THEM

In the back of the jeep, two of them are laughing. The women are manhandled with appalling ferocity. It is stunningly shocking. I am maybe twenty feet from the jeep, staring open mouthed in horror.

The big guy at the back with the AK-47 just grins at me as they drive off. Doris is devastated.

She is having immediate flashbacks to her own days on the streets. She is genuinely traumatised.

We hand out as many leaflets as we can and talk with one of the girls who escaped the men. Doris and I go back to base and do some handing out of douches and diclofenac gel and Flagyl and advice. We more or less have the matatu back to town to ourselves. And it is so relaxing. Half eleven and all is completely safe.

We get a tuk tuk from town and do not even have to bargain. At midnight in Nairobi any taxi driver would be demanding 2,000 for our trip across the bridge and into the never-ending jam. Our lovely tuk tuk man asked for 350.

I take my ever-increasing collection of pink lumpy bumpy bits to bed and scratch myself to sleep.


… CONTINUED HERE

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Very wet Kate Copstick in Kenya – “My exhausted teeth bounce off the meat”

Kate Copstick currently in Kenya, working for Mama Biashara

Last Monday, comedy critic Kate Copstick flew to Kenya, where her Mama Biashara charity is based.

It gives small grants to struggling individuals and small groups to start small self-sustaining businesses.

The charity survives solely on donations. Copstick receives no salary and covers 100% of her own expenses, including flights and accommodation. 

Below are highly edited extracts from her diary, posted in full on her Facebook page.


WEDNESDAY

We head to the wholesale stationers off River Road to get Felista a load of stuff for the school and the cybercafe. But David gets a bit lost, there are roadworks and the traffic is at a standstill. Another hour and a half plus borderline heavy metal poisoning from the appalling toxic fumes around here.

We crawl out of the area, having failed to make the stationery place and go to Eastleigh. I am buying dried milk in bulk for my recipe for Poor Man’s Plumpy Nut. The malnutrition on the Coast is terrible. And when the kids get ‘kwashiokor’ – the big belly protein deficiency – the people frequently turn to witch doctors to cure then. And then they die. I am going to teach them to make a version of plumpy nut – which is basically peanut butter, a little oil, dried milk (for the whey) and a vitamin mix. We are also going to show them how to grow peanuts (a crop ideally suited to the climate there). I get 2.5kilo tins for about £10.50. I buy five tins.

My lungs feel like the filter on a well-used Dyson.

David and I make for Kawangware. Which is more or less a hooting, toxic smog-shrouded, bad-tempered car-park of gridlocked vehicles. David is going to show me a bedsit he thinks would be suitable for me. The lovely hotel in the killzone is absolutely wonderful. But it is £10 a night. Which adds up when you are here for a month.

The bedsit is in a new block. Tiny but sooo clean with electricity on a token and actual running water. It is £80 a month. Location wise it is great. Loads of wee stalls, bars and David lives just down the road. However I am off to Mombasa for at least a week, then back, then Awendo. And I don’t have time to buy a mattress and whatnot. So we agree I will take it next time (or one in the same block) and pay in advance.

THURSDAY

Nakumatt, it turns out, as I wander the half-empty shelves in search of bicarbonate of soda (pretty much a wonder remedy) and castor oil (disgusting but effective), has filed for bankruptcy. This is like Tesco going broke. And follows on after Uchumi went to the wall (er… let’s say that’s like Morrissons).

The new boy – or rather nouveau garçon – on the block is a French giant called Carrefour and it is annihilating the locals.

David and I go back to Gikomba and eat fish and rice. The we go to my room and select bras for his wife to sell. The bras are such a great business – there are dozens and dozens of women who have been started in business with a bag of bras from the exuberantly-bosomed British lady friends of Mama Biashara.

FRIDAY

Doris, one of Mama Biashara’s key helpers

09.57 – Off to get the bus to Mombasa.

Doris got the VIP train trip while I am stuck on a bus for a minimum 9 hour trip. There is still flooding so, if this is the last you hear of me, I want Sarah Chew to have my bondage boots and I leave my penis collection to the V&A.

In an interesting twist, I have the raging trots.

Why do I never carry a butt plug when I really need one?

The coach has seen better days. Many of them. There is no promised WiFi and no aircon. The man next to me has boundary issues as well as a weight problem. As night falls, the windows are all closed. Kenyans are paranoid about getting cold. We should arrive at 21.00 latest. We don’t. We do not arrive at 22.00. By 23.00 we are in a jam of epic proportions. All you can see are massive container trucks. Massive.

And I get a very good look at them because they are not moving. And neither are we. For about an hour and a half.

The man across the aisle is either sleep singing very badly or talking in tongues. This is the main road out of Mombasa. It is just a two lane street. Now with container trucks parked on both sides. And renegade coach drivers who, every time they see a small gap, simply drive up the wrong side of the road, thus creating a much, much worse jam further up. It is like a slow motion game of Tetris. And not a traffic cop in sight.

When I finally do arrive (00.45), Doris and I go to the late night bar. She has ordered food. My exhausted teeth bounce off the meat. Things rarely get cooked to tenderness here because of the cost of fuel.

Doris is itching like crazy. In an act of selfless humanity I stuff my arm down the back of her clothing and scratch her bites. They feel like mozzie bites, but she has a couple of little vesicles that do not look mozzie related at all. She slept over on the South Coast last night after being unable to get to the Mijikenda villages we were targeting. The entire area is flooded. Nothing in, nothing out. Unless by canoe. Absolutely nothing being done about it.

SATURDAY

I get a text from Doris asking if I have any cream for bites. I do not. I don’t have anything. She asks me to come to her room with any cream at all so I take a huge pot of the Ingram’s that we bring for the sex workers who have destroyed their skin by scrubbing it with household bleach twice a day (to look whiter). She also wants a bucket of water to wash herself. There is no running water today. Unfortunate, given that I am still in a minorly explosive condition. I had a Wet Wipe Rub Down when I got up.

The no-running-water thing does not apply outside, where the rain is TORRENTIAL. A cold shower would actually be possible at many points in the little dining room where the corrugated iron sheeting is allowing substantial amounts of water in. And the water from the guttering is emptying itself into the far corner of the room where the floor is unmade. Brilliantly, the lads who work here are using this water to wash down the floor and all the plastic chairs in the room. Top marks !

I get the call to go to Doris’s room. She is naked on the bed – an impressive, Rubenesque sight, were it not for the fact that she is COVERED from ankle to neck in bites.

We sort out the stuff we will need for tonight’s little clinic for commercial sex workers, pack it up and get into a matatu. The other side of the road – leading out of Mombasa – is just a HGV carpark now. The jam stretches over ten miles. A traffic cop comes into the cafe for a rest (ha!) and we hear him on his radio telling cops in the city centre not to allow any busses to leave the city till further notice. The road to town is falling apart, potholes and flooding everywhere. And the stink from the sewage is horrid. Billions of shillings are allocated here for upkeep of the roads but…

The waterfront at Lamu, Kenya, where Mama Biashara is huge

We matatu it out to Bamburi where we are meeting two groups from Lamu. Mama Biashara is HUGE in Lamu. We have a battalion of girls driving forklift trucks down at the new port construction and three takataka groups (garbage collection – we started one group and the others have grown from it). All the shoeshine boys in the old town are Mama Biashara boys as well as all the gardening and landscaping and all the tile cleaning. All of this has grown out of various groups started through Vicky of Vicky’s cleaners. The ladies today heard about Mama Biashara from the shoeshine boys and have, literally, risked everything to come and see me.

There is catastrophic flooding along the coastal road. The ladies we meet had paid fishermen to bring them over the flooded areas by canoe. And the flooding ain’t no millpond. Three of their number “didn’t make it”. We are still unsure as to what exactly was meant by that.

The other ladies here have come on behalf of their mothers who were too terrified of drowning to make the trip. A group of 15 ladies want to go into the firewood business. A tree costs about £25 and will – chopped up and bundled – retail at about £150. Unfortunately the trees come from the mainland by canoe so there is no economy of scale as each trip costs another £25. But the profit is still appreciable and the ladies get their grant.

The younger women themselves are representing a group of 23 who want to grow peanuts – a great crop for the island. So another £40 rents another one acre shamba for another two years. Plus the seeds and the rest. As we talk there is a loud crack and the left lens explodes out of my specs. The frame has spontaneously cracked. I put it back in and spend the rest of the time with my head tilted back.


You can donate to Mama Biashara HERE.

…CONTINUED HERE

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If you see a ginger dwarf lying on the ground, would you think: “That’s odd!”

Tanyalee Davis: a big comedy talent from Canada

Last night, comedy critic Kate Copstick and I were in Covent Garden to see the Maple Leaf Trust’s annual Hilarity For Charity gig with profits going to the Canadian Centennial Scholarship Fund.

On the bill were Canadian comics Ryan Cull, Tanyalee Davis and Tom Stade.

Afterwards, we had a drink with Tanyalee.

“I am hopefully getting new hips in the next two years,” she told us: “I have the hips of a 90-year-old with the mentality of a 19-year-old.”

“So what’s next for you now?” I asked.

“Starting on Monday,” she told me, “for the next couple of weeks, I’m going to be FaceTiming and Skyping with some disabled performers in Vancouver who are going to be doing stand-up pretty much for the first time at a three-night event in Vancouver at the end of May. On May 4th, I’m going to Vancouver and working with them in a rehearsal space.”

“May the fourth be with you,” I said.

No-one laughed.

“Why do these people wanna be stand-ups?” I asked. “All stand-ups are mad.”

“I dunno,” Tanyalee replied. “Who knows? Everybody wants to give it a go.”

“What,” Copstick asked, “is your advice going to be?”

“They have sent me some of their material,” replied Tanyalee, “and… there are no jokes… But maybe that’s the problem of seeing stuff as written words. I’m not the best writer by any means but I sell it with my performance. So I’m hoping, once I meet these people on Skype and I see them doing it, I will have advice on their writing and how they perform it. I have just seen the bare bones so far. I’ve been in the business 27 years, so I have some experience.”

“Who has chosen these people?” I asked. “Are they self-chosen?”

“They’re part of a non-profit-making theatre company called Realwheels. They got a government grant to fly over an international performer to mentor.”

“You are Canadian,” I said, “but you live in the UK in Norwich. I have lived in Norwich. For heaven’s sake, why are you living in Norwich?”

“Because I’m part of an anti-bullying campaign,” Tanyalee told me. “A self-empowerment campaign called Great As You Are. I go into schools and work with little snot-nosed kids, but I absolutely love it. It is really rewarding.”

Copstick and Tanyalee in London last night

“Are we talking children-children?” Copstick asked.

“4-7 year olds. Our programme was for a three-year pilot but we’ve already accomplished everything in two years. We’ve now done 4-11 year-olds and maybe 1,000 more kids than was intended. We are putting in another funding application with the Big Lottery Foundation. We want to expand. There are 400 schools in Norfolk and we are only doing 16.”

“Were you ever bullied?” Copstick asked.

“Absolutely. I still get bullied. Oh my God! It’s constant. The other night, some girl came up and just started pushing my (electric mobility) scooter. People yell at me in the streets: Fucking midget! Chase me. Stop dead in front of me going Ahahahaha! and laugh and point at me. And I’m like: What the fuck is your problem?”

“Is that,” I asked, “just in London?”

“In the UK.”

“Moreso than in Canada?” I asked.

“God yes. Nobody’s ever done that to me in Canada.”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“I dunno. I think it is more the drink here. It’s just weird. But that’s why with me doing comedy and hopefully getting on more shows I really want to bring to light how fucking horrible people can be…”

“Yes,” Copstick agreed.

Tanyalee continued: “… and the fact I still get bullied. I’m an adult, a 46-year-old and I still get bullied. I tell the kids that and they’re shocked. I give them an example of when I was by the London Eye a couple of years ago – a tourist area, hundreds of people – I was looking up, wasn’t paying attention and I drove over the kerb and I tipped over and the scooter fell on top of me. There were hundreds of people and not one person stopped to ask me if I was OK. People are so stuck to themselves with blinders on, especially in big cities like London. Everybody’s on their phones: Oh! Ooh! That didn’t happen!

“Even what happened on Westminster Bridge last week (when a terrorist mowed-down pedestrians with a car), there are pictures of people walking past on their mobile phones and there is blood and a person lying on the ground.”

“Nobody ever looks at anybody,” said Copstick.

Kate Copstick and Tanyalee Davis – surely a future double act?

“It’s a Big City mentality,” said Tanyalee. “It’s in Vancouver and Los Angeles and New York and here. We have just gotta get to where we’re going. Get the fuck out of my way! But, I mean, if you see a fucking ginger dwarf lying on the ground with a scooter on top of her, you would surely think: That’s odd!”

Copstick said: “There is probably some kind of police code: Dwarf down!

“Like Black Hawk Down!“ agreed Tanyalee. “Yeah.”

“Maybe,” I suggested, “it is because you are ginger.”

“Yeah,” said Tanyalee. “Maybe that’s the problem. There was this kid (in Norfolk). He was 14 but super-tall for his age and his headmaster told me the boy had had to move school four times because he had been bullied because he had ginger hair. In Australia, they don’t call them ginger; they call them ‘rangas’.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Orangutans,” said Tanyalee.

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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 is de-worming in Kenya

Continuing (in this case) some very shortened excerpts from Kate Copstick’s diary in Kenya, where she is working for her Mama Biashara charity…

Kate Copstick (left) supervises a de-worming session in Kahuho as part of her Mama Biashara work

TUESDAY 3rd MARCH

My bowels are generally getting much better.

On my way from the car to the warehousey place a bloke in a lorry tells me I look sexy and asks if I would like to have sex with him. My wrinkly old heart soars. My day is made. I tell him I am sorry but I am too busy. But thank him for the offer.

We are meeting with Felista in the evening. I have some stuff for her, including some of the Eastleigh panties, some of the FABULOUS range of bras we have had donated and a load of Poundland earphones for her to sell in the cyber cafe.

She is keen to take the whole lot of bras for the girls at DECIP, but the underwired loveliness of the multicoloured, sexy, lacy boobie hammocks we have had given to us is entirely unsuited to the pubescent schoolgirl. Especially the crazy Luo girls she is having so much trouble with.

WEDNESDAY

I awake feeling positively brimming with health. And poo, unfortunately. But no pains, headaches, dizziness, sweats. I feel, in the words of James Brown, GOOD.

We head to a slum village called Kahoho. It is built in a dam. Apparently it floods every time the rain comes. The houses have brick lips on the doors to try and stop the water coming in but to no real avail. We de-worm about a 150 children, treat some ringworm, see a young man COVERED in the stuff and do a few bits and bobs. A young boy has what looks like fungal keritosis in both eyes. He should be going to hospital but the doctors are still on strike.

David and I hand out the medicine. It is fairly obvious the kids would swallow anything if they got to wash it down with a cup of water. They are parched. Loads of them – and their mamas – have ash crosses on their foreheads. Wouldn’t it be marvellous if their faith could help them with water and their worms instead of giving them The Power of The Dirty Mark On Your Forehead for a day?

Doris tells me about the hate mail she was receiving online. She posted on WhatsApp about our little de-worming/ringworm etc clinics and was horribly trolled by a group of DOCTORS warning that ‘small time’ efforts like ours do nothing to help.

Ah, tell that to a village of ladies who, yesterday, were hunched and moaning and today, thanks to some diclofenac gel, some Ibuprofen and a few stretching suggestions, are positively gymnastic. They have sent their thanks. Ditto scabby, rashy, pussy people. And the horde of ladies with ‘ulsas’ cured overnight with a handful of antacids and some advice about not eating a Kilimanjaro sized portion of ugali before bed are ecstatic.

Curing cancer never really was on my To Do list.

But then it seems, dear doctors, it is not on your list either… 88 days on strike and counting.

THURSDAY

Back to Nairobi and our afternoon medical. Or not. Doris calls to say that the whole area we were visiting has been called to attend a meeting with Kabogo (local governor heading towards re-election). For which read that everyone has been given 300 bob to attend the meeting and make it look like Kabogo has a huge amount of support. They will get another 300 bob for their actual vote come election day. As all we have are de-wormers and scab cream, we are gazumped.

David and I pass by Garden City Shopping Mall. One of the biggest in East Africa. High end shops, huge restaurants, leisure facilities, you name it, it has it. And the high end shoppers of Nairobi would like to thank you, the British People, because the mall was built with about £12 million’s worth (might be more) of the UK’s Aid money. I take a couple of photos inside but then am followed by security guards, so I split.

We have requests for more cholera leaflets, plus our Why Lightening Your Skin With Household Bleach Is A Bad Thing info, my special What Is This Pus? A Commercial Sex Worker’s Guide To STDs and, sadly, for the Mijikenda (indigenous people along the coast) an explanation (with helpful suggestions) of rickets, scurvy and the sickness they call ‘kwashiokor’, which is malnutrition and the whole big belly horror. The drought is hitting them very hard and they are a poor people anyway. Info will go, in their languages, plus HTC’s marvellous calcium gummies for kids and anything else we can think of but the problem is massive and Mama Biashara (as the striking doctors point out) is very small. Still no reason not to try.

Good news from the coast is that the original group of ladies I helped with their devastated skin problems (20 years of scrubbing with household bleach twice a day… light skin is what the customer wants and the customer is always right) are doing great business with henna decorations and other stuff. The group now numbers 60 and growing. And it seems that with love, shade and a LOT of cream (Johnson and Johnson’s baby cream, Nivea and Ingram’s have all played their part), the skin can recover. At least enough for normal life. It will never regain its youthful bloom …

FRIDAY

We are held up in one queue at the roundabout into Haile Selassie Avenue. As we eventually clear it we see a small, doughnut-shaped police lady is the one directing the non flow of traffic.

David eyes her balefully. “That is why I hate all fat ladies” he says “I HATE them. They think very slowly.”

I let it pass.

Rain has stopped the massage workshop this evening. It will now be done tomorrow afternoon after a medical day. Starting with de-worming and, where necessary, de-jiggering.

Julius seems less than impressed with our Education Campaign posters and flyers. Even in Luhya.

But he goes home with a bunch. And I sleep

SATURDAY

We de-worm with a will. A large drunk man has come to get help with his feet. His toes look like black cauliflower. I see this very well because he refuses to sit with them in the basin of disinfectant and keeps waving them in my face.

Some of the shoshos take him to task and he leaves. Everyone seems to be covered with some sort of pustule or vesicle. One young boy has whole areas of his body crusted with clusters of tiny plooky nastiness. The place is a dermatologist’s playground. Some things are much less frightening than they look – the old scabby leg here can look quite monstrous.

There is a fair old amount of malaria, a lot of vomiting, a large knot of constipation and the usual heartburn, headaches and generally sore bodies.

The sore bodies are instructed to come back tomorrow when there will be a team of highly trained massage people to ease their bits. I lose count of the times I miraculously heal a headache and dizziness with a big mug of water. There are a few REALLY sick kids who are being very brave. It starts to rain again and we scurry to Julius’ new shelter. Unfortunately the roof is not finished and there are no walls. But it is better than the alternative. We continue the medical with many coughs and much congestion.

And then a mildly manic bloke appears, smelling pungently of home brew, but happily so.

He grabs me and shouts: “You healed me!! You healed me!!”

He raises a raggedy trouser leg to reveal a skinny calf with a tiny scar on it. “You healed me!” He repeats. Pointing at the scar.

And I remember. He was drunk then too. In November.

He had a fairly ghastly wound on his leg he said was caused by a njembe. I cleaned it up and made my own larger-sized steristrips and closed it as far as I could then lathered it with antiseptic and antibiotic powder and cream, bandaged it and gave him cod liver oil.

He shows everyone the scar. The scar is TINY. He is extremely happy. Mildly annoying, but happy.

We gather an audience of kids and continue till everyone is seen to. Then I go inside Julius’ house, where it is pitch dark – it is a traditional mud house so no electricity and he doesn’t seem to have a lamp.

We get the new foam mattress on the floor and, starting with my four students in chairs, I teach the very basics of neck and shoulder massage, loosening arms, hand massage and then we get down on the bed and work from neck to foot.

Very general stuff. But I demonstrate with some force, how so much of the problem experienced by all the women comes from the same place. And when I hit their gluteus maximus… well.

The entire thing is watched over by an amused hen who is sitting in a basin in the corner hatching chicks. There are bloody loads of them. At least a dozen. It makes a nice soundtrack to the massaging.

It is getting dark and everyone needs to go home.

More rain will come and you really want to be inside when that happens.


Copstick’s full diary entries are posted on her Facebook page.

Mama Biashara’s 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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Around comedy critic Kate Copstick in Kenya: beatings, killings and corruption

More edited extracts from comedy critic Kate Copstick‘s diary

She is currently in Kenya, working for her Mama Biashara charity.

Around her, life goes on as normal.

Mama Biashara logo

SUNDAY

We are supposed to be doing a big medical in Kibera this afternoon but I am feeling ghastly. I postpone, hopefully till tomorrow. And stay in bed till noon. When I still feel shit, but slightly less so.

I have Things To Do.

I must sort things out with Evans the Soapstone, the Great Mustard Oil Search continues and I am sure there are other things but, in my befuddled state, I cannot remember. I visit the loo and leave. And go back to visit the loo again. And leave again.

I walk up to where I can get a matatu all the way to Yaya and find myself walking past the unedifying sight of a tall, drunk Rastaman kicking a sitting boy in the head. With some force.

He stops to hurl abuse and then starts kicking again.

The boy does this thing which I have seen here over and over again. He does nothing. He just sits there and lets himself be punched and kicked.

I view the watching crowd. I walk closer (although not much) to the Ninja Rastaman and shout at him to stop. He looks up, sees the crazy old lady and then simply continues.

But at least I have stirred the others into doing something.

A couple of young guys go over to break up the beating. It takes three of them to get the Rastaman off the boy. Who is ushered away. Unfortunately the first thing that happens when both of them are released is that the boy flips Ninja Rasta the finger. They both hare off up the middle of the main road.

The matatu I get gives up as soon as we get into traffic and dumps its passengers. I get another and finally find mustard oil at Chandarana. But stupidly expensive.

I see Evans the Soapstone, meander round the rooftop soco and make VERY full use of the facilities the place offers. Doris is not answering, so I go home to sleep and poo. Not at the same time, I hasten to add. First I call Kemo to see about tomorrow in Kibera.

Wednesday is better, I am told. We have a short chat about our catering to the tired, the poor, the huddled masses etc and the marginalised communities. And I discover there are no gay people in Kibera. No. Because if there were, they would be killed. I guess my Gender Identity and Politics seminar will have to wait.

MONDAY

I feel ridiculously guilty at my time-wasting. Given the enthusiasm of the lovely people who contributed to our Emergency Fund I feel the least I could do is be a blur of achievement.

I buy some goodies for Linda, the bedbound sister of our marvellous volunteer Sonja. They are in the process of selling their erstwhile family home, so anyone who fancies seven and a half sun soaked acres in Langatta, form an orderly queue.

Linda knows lots of posh white people here and, up around Laikipia, towards Samburu and Pokot where the drought is horrific and the pastoralists count their wealth and status entirely in cattle, said pastoralists are invading the farms, estates and wildlife conservancies looking for pasture for their bank account.

And these bank accounts are HUGE.

Thousands of starving, thirsty cattlepounds. And the pastoralists (sounds so nice, doesn’t it ? Now add a large gun, intellectual blinkers, anger, stupidity and utter lack of empathy…) are simply driving the bank accounts on and across the land, killing people who get in their way and burning whole farms to the ground. Encouraged by the local MP. And they are doing terrible things to their own people. Of course, most of the dead are their own. I am all for respecting culture. But this is just fucked up.

Pausing only for me to snap some flowery photos for Sonja, we essay a trip to Eastleigh.

Just as we bounce down the main street (I love the smell of concrete dust in the morning), all hell breaks loose.

Suddenly, from everywhere, hordes of men are running, wielding lumps of wood the size of cricket bats (long cricket bats) in what can only be described as an unfriendly manner.

I was about to get out of the car, but decide against it.

They run past the car and on up the main street. There is violence up ahead. What is happening is that Eastleigh shop owners have hired a small army of large thugs to beat up anyone who is hawking in the area.

Eastleigh used to be thick with hawkers. They were everywhere. And sold some great stuff for some great prices. But the city council cracked down on the stall holders, who now have been made to go a bit official and pay tax. These are stalls in the street. And now that they have to do that, they do not want the hawkers, who are mobile and undocumented and so untaxed, undercutting them and taking their business.

This, the City Council cannot be arsed to do anything about.

So the stallholders have done it their way. The avalanche of young bad boys is over in a flash, carrying on down the street. And they are not remotely interested in us. They are paid per badly injured hawker.

We pootle around a bit to make sure it is all over.

But there must be something in the air because, about five minutes later, two fully ninja’d up ladies start a fight. A physical fight. It takes three guys to separate them.

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