Tag Archives: Kawangware

Comedy critic Kate Copstick in Kenya: charity, child rape, schools, tribalism

Continuing on from yesterday’s blog, more edited diary extracts from Kate Copstick in Kenya, working for her Mama Biashara charity… The full diaries are on her Facebook page.


Doris, one of Mama Bishara’s main workers

WEDNESDAY

Doris is in the High Court this morning, taking her rat of an ex-husband for some support for the kids. He has never given a penny. David is both disapproving and skeptical: “This is Kenya. This cannot happen.”

I have finally reached Jayne in Awendo. I get a texted wish list that includes nail polishes, sanitary pads, perm curlers, school shoes and sundry other needs. She also, she says, ‘needs to talk’ about my finding her a sponsor for the school. This is such old ground. She knows I was against the school in the first place.

Schools are simply unsustainable without a hugely and eternally generous donor. She educates the poorest and the neediest in mud huts her husband built and it is all great but then she also insists on a Graduation Day for the tinies where they spend money they do not have on bloody mini mortarboards and diddy gowns.

Mama Biashara just cannot get involved in schooling.

However anyone out there who would like to take one on…

I get the same from Felista.

Actually my very dear old (not that old) school friend Rachel has just sent Felista a wedge of money to help pay for the teachers in her school at DECIP. Felista was ecstatic. I don’t think either Jayne or Felista has ever met a child she couldn’t love. Having said which, Felista is currently struggling with some of the kids brought to her from Awendo.

“Eh, the Ruos!” she says. “Crazy people!”

The Luo tribe and the Kikkuyu are a bit like Rangers and Celtic Football Clubs in Glasgow.

“We have a beeeeeg girl at DECIP, and she is a Rrrruo and she dances nikid. NIKID! And she is beeeeeg!”

Felista, stalwart Mama Biashara co-worker with Copstick

Felista doing an impression of a naked, plump, large-breasted Luo sixteen year old “dancing nikid” is something that will live with me for a long time.

“She says it is her culture,” Felista tells me, screwing up her face. “THIS is not culture. To dance nikid.”

We head out and plunge into the gooey, smelly, crazy mess that is Gikomba market. I get a load of sanitary towels at a wee wholesalers and we decide to make for River Road to get started on Jayne’s list. It does not go particularly well. The traffic is solid. When the jams are like this, there are small crashes and broken down cars and trucks every few hundred yards, creating a jam within a jam. It takes an hour and a quarter to make what should be a ten minute journey.

I hurtle up and down River Road (on foot. There is no hurtling anywhere in a car). The big cosmetic wholesaler is rammed. I am all for physical contact but this is crazy. Sweaty. And deeply unpleasant.

As I fight my way up to the back where the nail polishes are stacked I am horrified to see two fully armed soldiers: flack jackets, helmets and AK47s. It is a bloody cosmetic shop!! Maybe they are expecting a jihad against vain, non-burka-wearing women? But with the push and pull of the crowd we are one wrong finger away from nastiness.

I get Jayne’s stuff and leave. Next, I search for wool. Nada. I give up and we go back to Gikomba where, as darkness falls, we get school shoes for Jayne’s orphans, some great scarves, I have a spirited conversation in German with a Kenyan lady ‘ho’ who had lived in Stuttgart for fifteen years. We drew quite the crowd. My giving her my phone number in German practically gets an applause break.

I buy a great watch for £1 and we eat absolutely the finest and most delicious chicken innards ever, grilled to crispy on the outside and served with a red hot salsa from some boys with a grill in the middle of the mud patch that is now New Pumwani Road.

Sorry veggies and vegans, the sight would have appalled you, but at least the Kenyans eat everything from a dead animal. On the grill were liver and heart combos, neck, gizzard, wiggly intestiney bits, feet…

The man from the little kiosk where I sometimes buy milk greets me like a long lost friend. I told him my Kikkuyu name (Nyaguthie, whch means ‘Let’s go’ or ‘Keep going’) and he uses it at every opportunity. He introduces me to his mates and I am almost immediately proposed to. I politely decline. They want to know if I have a husband at home.

“No,” I say. “No husband.”

“Eh! Unachelewa!” exclaims my wannabe hubby. “You are late !!”

Copstick (left) working for her Mama Biashara in Kenya

THURSDAY

I may have mentioned that the ‘roadworks’ have made the journey to and from home an absolute nightmare. With a vast detour necessary through the grimier parts of Gikomba and surrounding areas.

I had noticed, as we squeezed the car through a gap, a young girl selling sugar cane juice so, as we pass this morning, I tell David to stop while I buy some.

As I leave the car I feel the front wheel of a pikipiki collide with my leg. This particular tiny rat run is beloved of the pikipiki boys.

I turn and rip into him, channeling Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy, I roar: “I’m walking here!!”

The pikipiki boy is so gobsmacked he apologises while his colleagues hoot with laughter.

I am meeting Joan to give her a bag of sunscreen for her albino group in Kibera and a load of HTC’s Cod Liver Oil and Kids’ Fish Oil.

“This is life” nods Felista, who has joined us for lunch.

“It is” agrees Joan.

The little hut we built for Dan and Joan’s disabled therapy group has been demolished to make way for more soldiers to camp out at the Kibera DC’s office. There is an election looming and Kibera is always a hotspot. But Joan has all the stuff with her at her new house. So it will be built again. She had to move because a lot of the work she and Dan do is with sexually abused children.

The men, generally, are immediately released on police bail (if caught). And the Kibera courts are notorious for saying “Men will be men” and letting perpetrators off with a small fine to rape again.

So Joan and Dan get a LOT of threats.

Dan gives me their current file which includes a girl, now in Nairobi Women’s Hospital with seventeen stitches holding her together, raped by her stepfather… a trio of three and four year olds, one of whom cannot leave her room because, if she sees a man, she just starts screaming “No! No! No! No! No!”… some six and seven year olds raped by uncles… and a girl of twelve who is six months pregnant by her next door neighbour.

Child rape is endemic here, with Kibera and Kawangware seeming to be particularly bad.

“Luhya and Kisii men,” says Joan.

“Luo men,” says Felista.

Joan says nothing, Joan is Luo. She currently has four raped girls staying with her because they are not safe around their own families and there is nowhere else for them to go.

At Corner we meet Andy again. He has been chasing green stone for building and has just returned from Juja. We drink beer, eat stewed goat and then politics rears its ugly head.

David is 100% Kikkuyu. If a pile of shit in a bag stood for president, as long as it was Kikkuyu shit, he would vote for it.

Andy is so horrified by David’s refusal to acknowledge that President Uhuru Kenyatta has basically sold Kenya to the Chinese to get a railway and some decent roads to his credit that he will not even shake hands with him as we part.

David hoots with laughter.

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Filed under Charity, Kenya, Poverty

Critic Kate Copstick meets the bane of humanity (and his seven kids) in Kenya

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

Kate Copstick currently in Kenya

Comedy critic, writer and occasionally TV presenter and producer Kate Copstick is in Africa, working with her Mama Biashara charity.

It funds small-scale sustainable businesses in the poorer areas of Kenya. Their slogan is: Giving a Hand Up, Not a Hand Out.

Mama Biashara is also involved in medical work, as these edited extracts from Copstick’s diaries last week show.

The full versions are on her Facebook page.

Copstick covers all of her own costs out of her own pocket.

100% of all money given to the charity goes to its work; none goes to her or her helpers.


WEDNESDAY

I head to Kawangware to drop my stuff off at my new home before going on to pick up Doris and make for Kiambaa and its many wormy, scabby-headed children.

The rain has scattered those waiting for the medical in Kiambaa. Your child might be riddled with worms and crusted with ringworm but heaven forfend it might get damp. And so Doris takes us out into the back of beyond to see one of our Mama Biashara groups in action.

We financed a group of lads to start their own building group. It is going really well and they have good steady work, but not so as they can exactly splash the cash in helping others. So they have decided to splash their expertise. They identify families in dire need, accommodation wise, and sort them out using begged and donated materials and their own time and building skills.

Here, in what could be an idyllic setting, I am introduced to the bane of humanity. I realise that sounds harsh… OK, along with First World Selfishness and Greed, organised religion, war and man’s general inhumanity to man, ONE of the banes of humanity.

Current patchwork home for mum, dad and their seven children

Current patchwork home for mum, dad & their seven children

A little man who cannot see further than his own testicles seems entirely unconcerned that his beautiful (talk about out of his league) wife is now breastfeeding his seventh child while the other six barefoot, raggedy, hungry fruit of his criminally fertile loins look on. At least No 7 is getting fed.

Their ‘home’ is a kind of patchwork mabati (iron sheeting) hut : 40% rust, 30% holes, 10% plastic patching. There is no food to be seen. Our lads are going to remake the hovel so this Father of the Year can shelter his contribution to world hunger warmly and in the dry.

“How do you feed your children ?” I ask Daddy.

He shrugs: ”Kibarua”.

Casual labouring that can pay a quid a day when he gets it.

“What other business do you know?” I persevere, hoping for a chink of light in this family’s long dark tunnel. Even an oncoming train would be something. Nothing. And he appears unfazed by his complete inability to do anything but squirt sperm at waiting ova. I find myself, to be honest, angry rather than sympathetic. The sheer, total hopelessness, the apathy, the resignation.

I am a little ashamed to say I contribute some money to the building fund and walk away. Without giving anything more.

Mama Biashara’s Doris (left) with the family

Mama Biashara’s Doris (left) with the family

Now, writing this two days later, I am a little remorseful. Still more angry than anything else. But I will send Doris some money to get them some food. And we will go back. But taking with us SOME form of contraception. My first choice would be a large pair of scissors.

However, the building fund desperately needs contributions. So, if you are less hard-hearted than I am, then please do help. It is a truly wonderful thing that the Mama Biashara guys are doing for this family and I am so, so chuffed that our group is so determined to give back any way they can.

THURSDAY

The day from hell. Only because of money worries. So much need, so much I could do, so little money and more than half of it has gone. Ah for the days when I was constantly topping up my personal coffers with a heady mix of porn and motorbikes and I could just pay for everything here. Long long gone… Although if anyone wants a great TV series on either topic…

Doris, one of Mama Bishara’s main workers

Dependable Doris, Mama Bishara volunteer

FRIDAY

My lodgings are with a sweet old bloke who was doing quite well for himself as a professional chef until his wife got cancer and all their worldly goods were sold to pay for her inept treatment. Her grave is outside the door of the house.

He had been reduced to running a small bakery as his wife got sicker but the Luhya tradition says that, with widowing comes enforced isolation. You are not allowed to run your business. And people do not come near you. Only the old can approach the bereaved. And so his business died shortly after his wife.

The house is sweet. No electricity and no running water but I have a toilet in the corner of my room which I can sit on and flush with a jug of water. It is a bit pongy, being, as it is, just an open hole, in a porcelain basin, to the sewer. But at least I do not need to worry about my appalling lack of skill in directing my pee in a long drop. Padding around clutching an oil lamp is positively atmospheric. Having said which, despite the flame, you can see almost bugger all. When I blow it out I am alone with the darkness and the pong of paraffin. And agonising acid stomach. I crunch antacids by the handful.

I empty a packet of ten. I consider the article I read that said women often experience a heart attack as a burning pain in the chest and think it is indigestion.

I consider whether I might be having a heart attack and have another couple of antacids.

I then remember something that popped up online when I last had electricity, to say nothing of WiFi, that said taking too many antacids can lead to a stroke. I wonder which would give me a better chance – marooned here, as I am, in the middle of absolutely nowhere.

Everyday foot work for Mama Biashara

Everyday work faced by the Mama Biashara charity in Kenya

SATURDAY

Today is medical day and I set off on a bike with my Big Box of Medicine. There are already people there, of course. Usually the earlier they arrive, the healthier they are. We create areas – one for jiggers, one for de-worming and one for ringworm.

We set up basins of heavily disinfectanty water, I make up bottles of coconut and teatree oil (for ringworm) and off we go. I have bought needles for jigger removing and a couple of experts set to. My group is ever growing so I get stuck in among the dozens of old ladies and men with sore everything, headaches, ‘rashes’ and ‘ulsas’, for which read acid indigestion. My favourites are the lady who “feels sick when I think of eating vegetables”, the lady who has suffered loss of appetite and can only eat twice a day and the lady who was “threatened by a cow”.

From 11.00am till around 7.00pm, in the glorious outdoors outside Julius’ house, I see 53 people, we de-worm a further 24, we de-jigger about 15 and treat a dozen or so for ringworm, three of whom are so bad they need the systemic meds. Those who had jiggers removed get shoes and the remaining shoes are given to the most needy barefoot amongst those who come.

There are also some properly poorly people. There is a thin woman who has had the raging trots for two months, a vomiting girl with a temperature, a genuinely fluey lady with a temperature and an old lady with appalling shingles.

“Rashes” she says, wincing as she lifts her blouse. I expect the usual scabby, flakey, pimply clusters. But she reveals the kind of shingles that would persuade one to believe Noel Coward, that if they ever meet in the middle she will die.

Meanwhile, we have collected a group of young drunks demanding dawa and an impressive audience of locals.

“They have come to see the celebrity” says Julius.

Ah! How I remember what that felt like… Opening school fêtes, autograph signing sessions alongside Mike Smith, requests for photos…

This is not quite the same thing. More “see whitey give away free stuff”.

Of course, word spreads and the queue grows rather than diminishes. Julius grows harassed, what with the drunk boys and the hangers-on and the children, not unexpectedly, howling as the clumps of jiggers are dug out of their tiny feet.

Then a boy sneaks in to steal shoes and Julius goes completely banzai, picks up a stick and chases him up the path belting him when he can. There is a palpable ripple of approval. I am unsure as to what to do.

We go back to my lodgings and eat the best ugali I have ever tasted. Although, to be fair, to say that you ‘taste’ ugali is a little like saying you ‘feel’ air. Fearing a return of my stroke / heart attack dilemma of last night I try drinking black tea instead of milky coffee.


There is a Mama Biashara donation page HERE.

And there is a 7-minute documentary online showing Copstick at work in the village of Kawangware in 2012:

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Filed under Africa, Charity, Kenya