Tag Archives: Kenya

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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Copstick in Kenya with a following wind, donkey poo and soil nutrients

Comedy critic Kate Copstick is currently still in Kenya, working for her Mama Biashara charity, which 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. 

The charity exists solely on donations and money raised in its charity shop in London’s Shepherds Bush.

Here are the latest edited extracts from Copstick’s diary, starting last weekend.

Full versions are on her Facebook page.


The SGR: “Customers on the first few trips have been loud”

SUNDAY

I am very happy. Doris calls to say we are down to the last few in consideration to do the training of onboard staff for the new SGR (Standard Gauge Railway Project).

Customers on the first few trips have been loud in their complaints about the staff. At the risk of sounding racist, I think this might have been because the staff are currently being trained by the Chinese. Anyway, through our contacts there for the construction workers, we were offered a chance to try for the training work.

I dash off a document and schedule outline for our training programme peppered with phrases like “the customer is king” and defining ‘modules’ in our course. I also create Mama Biashara’s CHI of customer care: Charming, Helpful, Informative.

If we get this then we would be allowed to get some Mama Biashara ladies and gents into work on the trains. Plus it would be HUGE for us generally.

Quite honestly, almost everything in the document is what I learned from Daddy Copstick while working in the fruit shop on Gauze Street in Paisley. We had GREAT customer care there. Even for two tomatoes and a quarter cucumber.

Mama Biashara stalwarts Doris (left) & Vicky

MONDAY

Back to Eastleigh for more powdered milk. It is having extraordinary effects although probably any food would have extraordinary effects on these kids. Reports are that they sleep, they don’t cry, they are going to the loo and they are “becoming strong”.

I do keep reminding Doris and Vicky that this is an emergency food and that the kids cannot live on it long term. So far, Vicky has got the stuff to three villages, around 80-90 kids in each and we are on day nine.

The refugee villages of Refugee and Mogadishu are in serious need.

I finally have my bearings, geographically: the Lamu Archipelago is off the coast of Kenya close to the Somali border. The biggest Island is Lamu, but our peeps are spread over other smaller islands. The villages of Mogadishu and Refugee are on small islands closest to the Somali border and travel is by canoe.

We are also getting requests from Mijikenda villages on the mainland for Poor Mama’s Plumpy Nut. The same applies there. They cannot rely on it long term. So what we are going to do is teach them to grow something.

At the moment they grow nothing. And the soil is sandy. But the deeper soil is not too bad. With a following wind, some donkey poo and soil nutrients, I am fairly sure they could grow potatoes and even tomatoes, both of which are OK in sandy soil..

The London attack is not huge news here. Three blokes with knives is no biggie in Gikomba but, when I show the picture of the bloke with his pint running, there is a wave of admiration.

I go to Langatta to visit Linda, bedridden sister of our stalwart London volunteer Sonja. She is improving and there is a bit of interest in the homestead, which she is trying to sell. Selling property in a nightmare in Kenya. Financial rip-off lurks around every corner. People sell land they do not own, people buy land with money they do not have and the land registration process is both labyrinthine and corrupt.

Then to Dagoretti Corner to meet with Andy Dean, an entirely admirable young man who, thanks to a lot of hard work, dedication and a bit of being in the right place at the right time, has a job managing a huge project in Western Kenya. Funded by an amazing man called Bob and his huge rose farm, the place is an orphanage, school, clinic and a load else. The rose farm is like no other I know in Kenya: all workers fully kitted-out in protective gear, regular medical checks and great working conditions.

Mama Biashara Kenya co-worker Felista with Kate Copstick

TUESDAY

We buy sacks and fertiliser for the Mijikenda. They cannot plant fields because, although this is their ancestral land, after the Brits left, Kenyatta just took it – so now it is ‘government’ land and they are mere squatters.

That is tolerated. But doing something like growing crops would be frowned upon. Probably with guns and bulldozers. So we are sending sacks and they make vertical fields. Potatoes and tomatoes grow really well like this.

Now to the tiny stall in the thief-ridden interior of a huge building on Moi Avenue. They have amazing Sudanese Shea Butter. Last time I went here my bag was slashed. I leave the bag with David and go in clutching my phone.

I get to the market and Oscar The Soapstone is not there. He has a large order of soapstone plates for a really lovely couple in Shepherd’s Bush, London. I call. He will bring them Thursday, he says. I worry that he has left it so late. I placed the order the day I arrived. I sense impending doom.

I catch up with Doris. We are now a gnat’s bollock away from getting 40 young women placed doing promotions for a big cosmetic company. After a Mama Biashara training, the company loves our girls. All ex ‘working girls’. And charming. And GREAT saleswomen.

The SGR people LOVED my document. Mama Biashara’s CHI of customer care could soon be a thing.

But the real tsunami of complaints to SGR has been about the total lack of online booking. To get a ticket, you have to go old school and go down to the station – some way outside the city centre. So first they are addressing that and are looking at training onboard staff some time in July…

Ali has come back into contact from Iftar – one of the smaller islands on the Lamu Archipelago (see above). He has been inundated with refugees from the refugee islands. The raids by the KDF (Kenya Defence Force) and the Somalis are brutal and have now become regular, so many Mamas leave.

Ali has three groups of 15 ladies in each group. They will be selling mandazi (doughnuts), chapati and cooking oil. Everything is more expensive on an island but Ali is great at getting stuff from the mainland and making business ends meet. There is also a group of 4 ladies who will be making the traditional brekkie dish of pigeon peas in coconut chilli sauce.

Mama Biashara raincatchers – catching on around Kenya.

These groups, once established, will be able to absorb, up to a point, newcoming refugees and so the island will be better able to cope with some influx, which will certainly happen. The whole thing – all the businesses – costs about £200. 49 women and an ongoing safety net for new refugees.

Not bad.

Vicky has got the Lamu Raincatcher up and catching, which is great. It will be quite transformative for the community there.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Kate Copstick in Kenya: uplifting bras, election promises and a Chinese IOU

Meanwhile, away from the pre-occupations of the UK, real life and death continue in Kenya, where comedy critic Kate Copstick is working for her Mama Biashara charity, which 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.

Here are the latest edited extracts from her diary, starting in Mombasa.

Fuller versions are on her Facebook page.


Mama Biashara helper Vicky with cheap de-worming tablets.

SATURDAY – A WEEK AGO

We do a load of de-worming and the usual stuff. There is quite a lot of ringworm so the tea tree oil gets a hammering. And many, many more lady-problems including a girl of fifteen who is (I translate directly from the Swahili) “removing meat” when she has a period, plus three women in their thirties whose periods have stopped, quite a lot of painful sex and much spotting.

There are, of course, loads of anaemic old ladies and a lot of  ‘kizunguzungu’ (dizziness). But when I make them drink a bottle of water with some ORS (soluble hydration tablets), they perk up and react as though I have made Illness History. It gets dark and I can see nothing so we wind down after about four hours. The tiny local pharmacy has been really helpful. My load of ointments for rashes and sore backs runs out early on.

I get a replacement SIM card for the stolen Mama Biashara phone and Doris sets about the Herculean task of recovering her contacts.

Our matatu ride back to the ferry is uncomfortable to say the least. The memo about only allowing people on the matatu if there is an available seat must have got lost in the post and we are crammed in like sausage meat in a condom. My insect bites are growing and the floor of the matatu seems to be on fire. But we reach the ferry and cool off on the short trip across.

Helper Doris (left) with Vicky in Mombassa

SUNDAY

Doris cannot get in touch with the ladies with the bleached skin – they use household bleach for skin whitening – because she has not yet got her phone contacts back. All my clothes are claggy and so I throw caution to the winds and don a dera. Even although I have no buttocks. The swelling caused by some massive mozzie bites plumps them up a bit but, next to Doris I just look like someone has let the air out of a real person. However the dera is UNBELIEVEABLY comfortable.

We go and see Ally, get more deras to sell, go and check on our friends at the pan shop in the old town and then head back to the City Mall to get Wi-Fi. And allow Doris another leg massage. We watch the ‘goats’ and the farmers come and go and Doris tells me tales of her past lives in Mombasa. She was a great, great ‘goat’ in her time.

She tells me the last time we were here she found a girl in the toilets crying. Her old, white farmer had brought her here and told her she could eat for up to 600 shillings. She had mistakenly ordered something more expensive and the bill was 1,000 shillings. He was demanding the extra 400 from her and she was tearfully calling friends to get contributions.

The main – often jammed – road out of Mombasa to Nairobi.

MONDAY

Up at sparrow’s fart and forced to get a taxi as there is waaaaay too much luggage for a tuk tuk.

I run around town looking for some big plastic bags to protect my stuff and get everything parcelled up just in time to be pointed at a notice which says that Modern Coast will no longer accept luggage in plastic bags. Luckily this is Kenya and 100 shillings to the luggage boy gets everything safely inside. I sleep. And sleep.

And wake to find I am being rained on. The air conditioning, which worked at the start of the trip, is now letting in the rain which is lashing outside and it is all coming in through the vents. A vague-looking bloke starts covering everything with Sellotape.

Ten hours to Nairobi.

David awaits at the side of Mombasa Road. He has his cousin’s car which has definitely seen better days. OK, let’s be frank, better decades.

Its primary characteristics include a non-opening passenger door, a dashboard which radiates heat from somewhere, a dodgy wheel (endless squeaking) and windows with a mind of their own. But it goes.

How far has yet to be seen.

In Gikomba, “a politician with an eye on local votes has announced he is doing something about the sewer”

In my absence from Nairobi’s KillZone, aka Gikomba, a politician with an eye on local votes has announced he is doing something about the sewer. Hoorah.

That ‘something’ turns out to be dumping a giant mountain of sand and hardcore on the road…

…totally blocking it to anything apart from sherpas and tropical mountain goats.

TUESDAY

Doris is sleeping and doing family things so I change more money and head to the market. David is late and I am moody. And the exchange rate is dropping faster than the scabs from my bedbug bites (abating at last).

The waterfront at Lamu, Kenya, where Mama Biashara works

WEDNESDAY

Doris is still in recovery from Mombasa, but we talk on the phone and she says Vicky is reporting results that are nothing short of miraculous with our Poor Mama’s Plumpy Nut.

She has gone back to Lamu where she knows villages that are literally dying on their feet. News of Poor Mama’s Plumpy Nut has spread and Vicky has been approached by some shoshos from two makeshift villages along close to the Somali border. One has been given the name Refugee and the other Mogadishu.

They are in a sort of no-man’s or everyman’s land. When the Somalis are looking for Kenyan sympathisers they raid these villages and when the Kenyans are looking for Somali infiltrators they also raid these villages. Death is a daily occurrence. Even Vicky is far too scared to go there.

But she teaches the shoshos about Poor Mama’s Plumpy Nut and gives them the ingredients. I am not sure what we can do long term for these people. Nothing we can do there is sustainable. And we can’t get them out because most of them have no ID. For now, Poor Mama’s Plumpy Nut is what we can do.

I am going to set up a fund just for Poor Mama’s Plumpy Nut – it doesn’t cost much. I can get 2.5kg of dried milk powder in Eastleigh for about £12.50 and peanuts are about £1 a kilo. Vicky has seen big results with children being given just two tablespoons per day.

OK, we are not going to make malnutrition and infant death history. We would need Bono for that. But we can make a HUGE difference with very little. Which is, of course, The Way Of Mama Biashara.

Copstick: “We can make a huge difference with very little”

I am meeting Julius (Our Man In Western) at Corner. Things have been going well. The 50-strong group of shoshos we funded to sell sweet potatoes and arrowroot have expanded and brought in three more groups of 14 women each. So the original grant – which was about £250 – has not now funded not 50 women but 92.

The ladies who got the fabulous collection of Mama Biashara’s Bras for the Bouncy Breasted have done less well than expected. Note for the future: the rural ladies of Kenya are not fans of the uplift bra. They have been removing the wire supports. But they love the ‘shouting colours’. And the local prostitutes love them too. So that is something. But our four ladies are now firmly in business. Albeit that what they want now are vests – “for the sweat”.

Big news is that Kenya Power are considering running electricity to the area. Which would be fantastic. Julius gets £50 for the necessary junction box etc on the basis that it will be a base for Mama Biashara’s head shaver and whatnot. We compile a list of the stuff he needs to take back to Western with him.

There is much malaria, he reports. I launch into a lecture about the misuse of malaria drugs. I genuinely worry about sending them when I know that every fever, every bout of the trots and every headache is instantly diagnosed as malaria.

I agree a checklist of symptoms with Julius and demand a list of everyone who is given the medication. We will see. The generic stuff is excellent and not expensive but the Kenyans LOVE to medicate. It is practically a national sport.

Back at the hotel, we watch coverage of the inaugural run of the Mombasa–Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway’s new Madaraka Express. Fabulous. It will be a HUGE help to Mama Biashara.

But President Kenyatta has put Kenya probably irrevocably in debt to The People’s Republic of China. And, if I had to have someone knocking on my door with the You-Owe-Me book, I would not choose them.


Copstick’s Diary continues HERE.

Mama Biashara survives solely on donations and 100% of all donations go to the charity’s work; none to overheads.

You can donate to Mama Biashara HERE.

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Now top comedy critic Kate Copstick pukes and shoots poo all night in Kenya

In the previous blog, Kate Copstick’s back was covered in (one presumes) insect bites.

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

Now read on…

THURSDAY

I don’t know what went wrong but I puke and shoot poo all night and wake up with a blinding headache. There is no water, so the room is far from fragrant. And I can barely move. Just turning over to let the air at my bites is exhausting. I text Doris to say I will be late getting up. She texts back to say her legs are worse. I fall back asleep. And awake, many hours later, no better.

Except Doris is here with her bad legs. She lifts one onto the bed and I can see that there is quite a lot of pus around the bites where she has been scratching. I give her Grabacin ointment and powder and pass out again.

When I awake, she is worse. And her leg is deffo badly infected. We send a boy for penicillin or an equivalent. Always best to give pharmacies here an option of at least three and hope they have one. In 500mg bombs. I pass out again.

When I awake, Doris has the medicine and is pressing me to a large blackcurrant Fanta. The drink of Nazis. The urine of the devil himself. But I drink. Doris says her leg is much better. The heat is going. I say: “Take one more pill tonight.” Then I pass out again.

I awake about three in the morning and try to Google everything from cerebral malaria to dengue fever. But the connection won’t go through.

Doris – having some leg problems in Kenya

FRIDAY

While not exactly feeling like ruling the world, I am much MUCH better. Neither end is a danger to its surroundings, the headache is no longer crippling and I can get up and walk about. Doris says her leg is improving and I check that she took the second antibiotic bomb last night. She did not. She thought I did not know what I was saying. I freak. And do a short impromptu lecture on the propensity of bacterial infections to bounce back, resistant to everything except napalm.

We go out to the City Mall where we are meeting Dennis, The Man From SGR (Standard Gauge Railway).

While the Chinese companies who have been building roads across Kenya (although, so far, not down to Mombasa) have not been helpful to the locals in that they have brought a lot of their own workers with them, SGR have been using Kenyan labour.

Doris made a connection with a lady called Helen who is Something High Up and, since then, SGR and Mama Biashara have pretty much transformed entire communities.

Hundreds and hundreds of the neediest people are now in great jobs. The men need two hand tools each and one wheelbarrow per ten men. Plus an overall. The women need a couple of cooking utensils and an apron. And they are paid astoundingly well. They are housed, fed and the Chinese even bring a medical clinic around regularly and will give free medication. The people who get the jobs never want to leave.

The Chinese have recently raised the wage to 1,000 a day. Which is more than a teacher makes. Even better, although the first four or five groups of people came from villages near Nairobi, Doris persuaded Helen and Dennis to take the new labour from the poorest villages close to the railway line –  wherever it reached. So this particular project is reaching far further out into the rural areas than Mama Biashara ever has before.

Most recently, the workers are coming from some of the abjectly poor Mijikenda villages in the Coastal area. The transformative effect of this work is quite thrilling. And the SGR company has had its attitude to engaging labour completely turned around.

(The Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway will be inaugurated in Kenya in two days time. There is a New China TV video of it on YouTube.)

There used to be The Bloke In The Office who made people form a line, and, if they were the right tribe (ie his tribe) then they might get a job. But he is being completely circumvented now and all the jobs are filled via Dennis and Mama Biashara. Exciting stuff.

We had worked out an allowance of 600 bob for two hand tools and the same for a decent overall – around £9 in all. And a decent second-hand wheelbarrow is just under £20. Dennis does it for us. No backhander, no commission… He is a bit of a convert to the Mama Biashara way of thinking. And it has resulted in the company getting an incredibly hardworking workforce. And major… er… brownie points for him.

Dennis goes. While we are here, Doris gets a leg massage in one of those big chairs that squish and poke and vibrate you. She is wildly enthusiastic about the effects.

We head to Mtwapa. We want to check how things are there since our chats with the magistrate. We discover that the police have not swooped since we spoke to the magistrates. Which is great. We talk to more girls who most definitely ARE ‘loitering’ and explain the law to them. And how ‘your phone is your friend’ in terms of filming police brutality.

There are various health problems including one girl who has endometriosis. Which must be particularly horrific in her job.

I am wilting a bit and we collect our things to go. Which is when Doris discovers that her Mama Biashara phone has been stolen. This is a little basic Nokia. Cost £15. So it has not been stolen to sell. But it has ALL Doris’s Mama Biashara contacts in it. From years back. This is quite disastrous. And done only out of badness. We are both a bit stunned. The bloke who runs the bar is puzzled. Who? Why?

We get a matatu back to town. It is driven by a man who looks like he has come straight from winning an Evil Uncle Abanazer Lookalike Competition. He has both eyes on the sky. He is driving like he wants to arrive yesterday. I had no idea a matatu could go this fast. He sees the new moon, slams on the brakes, stops the vehicle, grabs a bottle of water, leaps out, goes to the side of the road, kneels down and washes his bits. Happy Ramadan.

He leaps back in and we hurtle on. After one near miss, I murmur: Please take care, I do not want to die here on the road. He bangs the steering wheel and shouts something about Mungu Kubwa (Big God) and something about himself and being fine and 37. For a horrible moment I consider that he is informing me that, while the going rate for the big time jihadis is 52 virgins, there is another verse that says you can still get 37 if you just wipe out a couple of infidels in a matatu crash.

Happily I realise he has been telling me he has been driving like this for 37 years just fine. We still get off a stop early and get a tuk tuk home.

A reminder of Copstick’s back.

SATURDAY

The post-phone-theft gloom remains. Plus I still seem to be amassing red itchy, stingy, lumpy bits. And I cannot help but scratch. I feel at this point we should raise our glasses to Chalky, my on-guard white blood cell. He is doing a sterling job in the face of many challenges. To assuage the agony of the itchiness I have a cold shower. Which is the only kind available. The effect is immediate. Instead of pink puffy skin with angry red bumps and scabs, I now have pale bluey white skin with angry red bumps and scabs. Which is actually more horrifying.

We are going to the South Coast again today but pause to buy a new Nokia for Mama Biashara. And to get Doris another leg massage. It helps massively.

The ferry is rammed and I find myself under a humongous sack of something veggie along with the guy who is actually carrying it. There a chicken (alive) and fish (dead) and carts piled ridiculously high with stuff for the market. I have no idea where Doris is. I have a cardboard carton full of medication for the clinics this afternoon and this evening and, as I shoulder it, I feel I fit right in. Except I am white and my load does not weigh more than twice my own bodyweight.

Doris and I end up at totally different bus stops and, by the time she makes it to mine, I have received two proposals of… well… something of a warm and sticky nature.

The friendliness continues as the makaanga on the matatu offers me a share of his bag of miraa. I take a tiny bunch of the leaves, remove them from the stalk and chew them. They taste like… er… leaves… and are the very mildest of stimulants. You need to chew for about a day before you get any effect.

But I was touched he offered.


Mama Biashara survives solely on donations
and 100% of all donations go to the charity’s work,
none to overheads.

You can donate to Mama Biashara HERE.

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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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