Tag Archives: Kenya

The £2,500 theft and Copstick in Kenya

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

Mama Biashara’s Copstick on a previous Kenyan visit

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

She flew there last Friday.

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

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

Mama Biashara logo


SATURDAY

Doris at the ferry in Mombassa

Mama Biashara helper Doris at the ferry in Mombassa, Kenya

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

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

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

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

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

SUNDAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copstick with Mama Biashara co-worker Felista

Copstick with Mama Biashara worker Felista on previous visit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They have now gone.

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

MONDAY

Some of the Kenyan children helped by Mama Biashara

Some of the Kenyan children helped by Mama Biashara money

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

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

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

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

But the message is not getting out there enough.

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

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

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

Marvellous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kate Copstick – de-worming in Kenya while her sister is handcuffed in London

My Grouchy Club co-host Kate Copstick is still in Kenya, working for her charity Mama Biashara.

These are edited extracts from her latest diary entries.


katecopstick_facetimeTHURSDAY

We get a call from the lady in Dagoretti Market who is supposed to be organising the de-worming. She is hysterical. The elders of the village want to burn her, she says. They have said she is bringing the Devil (me) to poison the children. In an interesting twist, they also claim I am Illuminati.

Always batting for both teams, me.

So there will be no medical. Not today.

But we will meet the woman and try to arrange for it to happen somewhere away from the village.

This is becoming quite a pattern. Doris and David think it might be because we are heading toward election time and anyone in politics – however lowly – wants to claim anything good that happens as the work of their party. Meanwhile they are up to their overactive testicles in sick kids and worn-out women.

I whip round the market, collecting stuff I have ordered and trying to avoid being trapped by desperate people wanting me to buy something so they will have enough for a bus fare home. Business in all areas of tourism is down. The government, the police, the medical profession, the city council operatives and six out of ten teachers are all just criminals of one level or another, but yer basic wainanchi is a great human being. While I do not give a flying fuck about the owners of the big white-walled resorts and the cutesy “Ooo! Look! It’s a zebra!” safari lodges, their cleaners and cooks and drivers are the ones who really suffer when tourists don’t come.

I get a frantic call from Felista who says that the torrential rain is flooding the dorms at Decip and she needs a ton of sand, a ton of ballast, waterproofing, cement, wire mesh and a load of other stuff. I harrumph. But David and I go out to Decip and wade around in the mud and the generalised gloop and, indeed, something needs to be done.

Luckily my school friend Rachel has just sent one of her lifesaving moneygrams from Austria. And so Felista gets the budget for repairs and the kids will sleep dry tonight.

Sometime soon (yeah, right) they have been promised connection to some sort of drainage and sewer system.

FRIDAY

I get a matatu to Junction for the WiFi and am embroiled in the craziest jam ever.

On a road which is basically one lane in each direction, those heading from Dagoretti Corner towards Kawangware have created FIVE lanes of traffic all going in one direction. And no one gives way to anyone, ever, here.

It is a masculine pride thing, I think. Any time there is a tiny gap it is filled with part of a motorbike. The one which oozes next to my window is carrying an electric lawnmower.

SATURDAY

My trip to the market is irritating. I get embroiled in a bit of a hoo-ha with the lady from the soapstone opposite Mwangi.

I bought a lovely red plate there last visit and ordered four more in different colours from the bloke I thought was running the stall. Gave a deposit of £25 and got receipt etc.

It now turns out that the bloke was not in charge of the stall but was a friend of the lad who was SUPPOSED to be running the stall for the real owner, a fiery lady who has now returned.

The other bloke – Dennis – is a broker and took the order for someone else but has now disappeared with the money – 900 bob of hers and 2,100 of mine. The fiery lady is incandescent. She makes me look calm and considered.

“Now there will be a war!!” she bellows.

I really would not like to be Dennis.

Felix, the lad who was supposed to be in charge of the stall but who took a bung to let broker Dennis steal the feisty lady’s customer, is fired before my eyes. I leave.

There is a girl at Felista’s for whom Mama Biashara paid college fees. Now she is on the final stage and has had a very successful placement at one hospital and is supposed to move to another placement at another hospital. But the hospitals charge the students for the placements. Of course they do. This is Kenya. £50, though. So I send the money off. Now Njoki will graduate and will be a lab technician. Not bad for an abandoned kid from the slums.

Doris is knackered. Her father is ill and is now losing weight and there seems to be nothing she can do to persuade him to help himself. He refuses to go for the prostate cancer test. One of her sons (who are about six or seven) was caught telling a girl to remove her panties so he could lie on top of her and the entire neighbourhood has turned on Doris. She is still not that well.

She is overwhelmed with people coming to Mama Biashara needing help and she said that, while she was really ill, she just stopped taking business plans. Our great plan to do Medical Days has been a disaster as we have been stymied by petty politics at every turn. Doris is at the end of her tether.

I buy coffee, we talk, I reassure, we agree to meet on Monday and make a Grand Master Plan. I also make her promise that every single plan and request will just get passed on to me. Immediately. She no longer tries to keep the gate; she just opens it. Till she feels better.

Because of Mama Bashara’s lack of funds, she has to do a LOT of saying No and this is a hugely stressful thing to do. I know. I have to do it too. It is making life as Mama Biashara difficult to say the least.

I go home and schlepp my bags and boxes into my increasingly crazy-looking bedroom.

And then I get a text from London asking for my help.

The volunteers at the Mama Biashara shop in Shepherds Bush – Amanda, Letitia and Souad – are in a bit of a pickle.

A small child (offspring of a regular customer) has handcuffed my sister Amanda with a pair of antique London Metropolitan Police handcuffs given to me by the Staines Police as a thankyou gift for chairing the final of their schools quiz.

I lost the key about twenty years ago.

I was not worried as the handcuffs were in the bottom drawer of my desk and I never imagined that anyone would be so cretinously stupid as to use them. And lock them.

They call the police. Who want to know how we got the police issue handcuffs.

Then they call the fire brigade. Who have to cut sister Amanda out of the cuffs.


There is a Mama Biashara donation page HERE.

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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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Comedy critic Copstick to become a nun

Kate Copstick in Kenya last week

Kate Copstick in a non-Christian incarnation

A couple of days ago in this blog, I posted edited extracts from Kate Copstick’s Kenyan diary. 

She is there for her charity Mama Biashara.

Here is another edited extract.


TUESDAY

We are being begged to go to a place just outside Nairobi which is called ‘the home of the Devil’. An unbelievably deprived village.

Sadly, as soon as the mothers were in touch to ask for help with their sick children – who have never even been de-wormed in their lives – the village ‘elders’ muscled in and demanded that, first, I come as their ‘guest of honour’ at a fundraising to build their new church.

Which translates as ‘give us a lot of money’.

The village seems to be run by the church.

Anything that comes in goes directly to the church while the women and children starve and become ill.

The general consensus is that I have no chance of getting to the ground except through the church and they will not let me do that. So we make a cunning plan.

The only way to beat the church here is to BE the church.

And so I shall be going to the ‘home of the devil’ as a nun.

Doris is laying the groundwork now. Sister Catherine Mary. From a tiny retreat in Scotland. The Sisters of Perpetual Poverty. Hence, no massive payout to the scummy elders.

Thanks to an excellent record in Religious Education at school, I can quote scripture till the cows come home. Starting with ‘suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven’.

Unlikely as it sounds to you and me, it takes very little to persuade these horrible men if they think you are from the church or something else important.

I even have a rosary left over from playing a Mother Superior in a play in Edinburgh.

(Continued HERE)

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Political killings in Kenya and in the UK

On Friday (in London) I recorded the weekly Grouchy Club Podcast with comedy critic Kate Copstick on a bad line from a noisy cafe in Nairobi.

Copstick is in Kenya until this coming Friday, working with her Mama Biashara charity, which helps deprived individuals and groups to start up their own small legitimate businesses to support themselves; and also deals with medical problems.

Here are some more highly-edited extracts from her diary entries which appear in full on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.


Mama Biashara logo

TUESDAY 14th JUNE

Equal opportunity rejection yesterday… A Presbyterian organisation turned down my pleas for help and we were told that the Moslem children of Kibera would rather be worm-ridden and scabby-headed than have us help as I am ‘unclean’. Not even an infidel. Unclean. To be fair, that is actually quite true at the moment

Doris calls to cancel our afternoon de-worming in Kibera. She says she has been warned off because there is a LOT of tension following some members of the government publicly calling for the shooting of the Leader of the Opposition. Doris has been told to leave if she wants to be safe. So she leaves. Shortly thereafter I get sent a photo of a woman’s body burning on the streets of Kibera.

David and I sit in a massive jam on Moi Avenue caused by the fact that a matatu sacco has its stage there and, on a small two lane road, one lane is permanently blocked solid with parked buses. Ten of the buggers I counted. Why is it allowed? I wonder aloud. I am told: It is not allowed. It is against the law and by laws and City Council rules. But these buses are owned by MPs and so no one will touch them.

In the city centre, everyone is talking about the Kuria – the guy who started all the hate speech and calls for Raila to be killed – and his cronies. Nairobi is not happy.

WEDNESDAY 15th JUNE

A woman burned to death in the streets of Kibera.

A woman burned to death in the streets of Kibera, Kenya.

The government have put six of the hate speech MPs in the cells. The opposition want theirs released immediately as it was the government MPs who started it all. I fully expect one of them to threaten to scweam and scweam until he ith thick. But, instead, they threaten more disruption.

On Facebook yesterday, I posted a fucking picture of a woman ON FIRE in Kibera. They went crazy in Kibera a set a couple of random people on fire because they were the wrong tribe. NOT ONE COMMENT ON FACEBOOK !!! WTF are people about?

I mean, I know that the Orlando massacre was horrific and appalling and now all right-thinking people are standing in silence in Old Compton Street because – of course – that will change everything and not just because it will make THEM feel better. But for fuck’s sake. Sorry. Rant over.

Has America come round to the disappointing realisation that Orlando might just have been old-fashioned homophobia and not new and exciting and politically useful terrorism?

THURSDAY 16th JUNE

A new Mama Biashara juice bar

A new Mama Biashara juice bar recently opened in Nairobi.

As the picture I posted on Facebook of an actual woman on actual fire during riots in Kibera got not one reaction, I thought I would revert to something nicer in the hope that people will notice. This is part of a Mama Biashara Juice Bar. And this tiny space is home to sixty business people : chapati and coffee sellers, sugar cane juice makers, fresh fruit salad and juice sellers, samosa makers and boiled egg peeps. Mostly funded yesterday and raring to go.

I go to the market at Junction to collect stock. Worryingly, Evans – who is making two chess sets for us – has not returned from Kisii. And his phone is not going through.

Online, I read about the MP who has been shot and stabbed in the UK. Bloody hell!

For once, the craziness in the UK exceeds the craziness in Kenya.

Here, all hell has broken loose because some MPs were calling for the assassination of the leader of the opposition. In the UK, they have actually killed an MP. These are bad times. I feel like watching a Shirley Temple film or going to see Spencer JonesHerbert, just to reassure myself that there is sweetness around somewhere.

And my wonderful Uncle Bob has had a stroke. And a child has been eaten by an alligator (or something) at Disney World. And a magpie is stealing blue tit chicks in my stepsister’s garden in Scotland.

Back in my Nairobi home, I discover we have no water and I lug a jerrycan round to my cell so I can wash some clothes. Oh yes. That is how we roll here at Mama Biashara. My hopes of having hot water explode with my kettle on a dodgy plug, so a cold wash has to do. Then I organise the pile of de-wormers, malaria medication, painkillers and calcium, cod liver oil and garlic, multivitamins and cough syrup to be sent to Jayne in Awendo and Julius in Western.

Thence to bed. I play Solitaire obsessively every night, because it is about creating order out of chaos it is incredibly therapeutic for my fraught mind. I have wildly scatological dreams. A first for me… and not in a good way.

FRIDAY 17th JUNE

The administration block of Kenyatta Hospital

Administration block of Kenyatta National Hospital, Nairobi.

There are a couple of things I have forgotten to mention and one new horror to regale you with.

It turns out that Joan’s account of there being no more free ARVs for HIV+ people in Kenya is true. Médecins Sans Frontières is withdrawing from most places – Homa Bay has gone and Kibera is on the way out. Their clinics are being taken over by the Kenyan Health Authorities which means paying for everything and being treated by doctors who are – in general – doctors in name only.

Felista was also called to a meeting by the NACC (National AIDS Control Council) along with all concerned parties in the Dagoretti area to be told that the ARVs have almost run out completely and there are no more testing kits. It is one way, I suppose, of keeping your HIV infection stats looking chipper – just don’t test people.

In other news, a news crew (Kenyan) got into a small room in Kenyatta Hospital (the biggest in Eastern Africa… A beacon of light and hope blah blah blah) where 36 people were crammed in various stages of injury. These are people who had been injured in an accident and brought to Kenyatta Emergency Department. When it transpired after a couple of days that they could not pay their bill, they were dumped off the ward into this small room. Just a room – absolutely nothing that could be construed as an amenity – and relatives have to bring them food and clothing. No beds, just the stone floor. Some still bandaged up. A couple still bloodied. One bloke has been there for a year.

SATURDAY 18th JUNE

Copstick with Mama Biashara co-worker Felista

Kate Copstick (right) with Mama Biashara co-worker Felista

I am still angry with the world.

There is a new girl whom Felista wants me to see. Also the dormitory floors are oozing water. And the gate is falling apart.

The new girl – Shiko – was rescued from her uncle. She was sent to live with him after her parents died. She was beaten and locked in a back room. She is mentally impaired because of the appalling traumas she has been through – including being trapped in that locked room when fire broke out and being very very badly burned. It is impossible to tell how badly. Her scars are horrible and she has almost lost a hand. She exhibits quite a lot of obsessive behaviour – as a lot of the badly-abused kids at Felista’s do when they arrive – and eats paper. But she responds to stroking and when we put some music on she dances with me.

Another girl, Muthoni, came to Felista utterly broken after ten years of sexual abuse at the hands of her uncle from the age of five. The uncle has not been imprisoned. He said that, because he ‘married’ her when she was thirteen (and had already been abusing her for eight years) it was all OK. The police agreed.

Muthoni is now a bouncing, healthy, happy teenager. She is very cuddly – sort of like a large seven year old – and she can now see men without screaming. Recently, she has told Felista she wants a husband.

So there is great hope for the new girl Shiko. And Muthoni is looking after her.


MAMA BIASHARA EXISTS SOLELY BECAUSE OF DONATIONS. COPSTICK RECEIVES NOTHING AND SHE COVERS NONE OF HER EXPENSES IN ANY WAY. THE MAMA BIASHARA WEBSITE HAS DETAILS OF THEIR WORK.

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Kate Copstick in Kenya and in trouble

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

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


Copstick in Kenya

“I am having something of an accommodation crisis.”

SATURDAY 4th JUNE

I am having something of an accommodation crisis in Nairobi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUNDAY 5th JUNE

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

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

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

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

The Kenyan national flag

The Kenyan national flag

MONDAY 6th JUNE

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

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

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

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

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

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

TUESDAY 7th JUNE

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

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

But you cannot go against The Scriptures.

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

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

WEDNESDAY 8th JUNE

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

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

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

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

I look the place up.

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

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

THURSDAY 9th JUNE

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

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

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


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

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Comedy critic Kate Copstick: Kenya rant

Kate Copstick

Kate Copstick – from vomiting to spitting proverbial blood

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

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

It turned her purple and made her vomit copiously.

Now she is back in Nairobi…

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


SATURDAY

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

SUNDAY

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

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

MONDAY

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

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

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

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

What passes for my hackles raised themselves.

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

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

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

I am white hot with rage. And utterly impotent.

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

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

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

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