Tag Archives: Kibera

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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Flying toilets, taking new drugs and having a penis enlargement operation

Comedy critic Kate Copstick and I record a weekly Grouchy Club Podcast. It covers more than gossip about the comedy industry as do the monthly, live Grouchy Club meetings. Inevitably, after this week’s was finished, the conversation carried on. Three main anecdotes cropped up…


Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya (Photo by Schreibkraft)

Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya (Photograph by Schreibkraft)

FLYING TOILETS

The podcast is recorded in Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity shop in Shepherds Bush, London.

The charity works in Kenya, helping small business start-ups.

When over in Nairobi, Copstick lives in slum areas and had this description of the ‘flying toilets’ in Kibera, Nairobi, said to be the largest urban slum in Africa. 

* * * * *

The houses are incredibly close together – you can’t really extend your arms in the little rat runs between the houses. It is much better now but originally there was allegedly 2,000 people to every one long-drop toilet.

Now the government have put in some standpipes and there are public toilets but you are still sharing a toilet with a helluva lot more people than you would like to. If you go out into the darkness of the night – and you really can’t see in front of your face – you have no idea what you are stepping on, you creak open the door of the long-drop toilet and have no idea what state it’s in. It’s a bit Russian Rouletty. You may also get killed or attacked on your way there or back.

So, if you wake up in the middle of the dark night and think: “God! I desperately need a shit!” – which people do a lot because there is a lot of diarrhea around – what you do is go outside and take a shit into a plastic carrier bag, then tie the top of the carrier bag and take the little butterfly bit at the top and whirl it round your head like a Scotsman flinging the hammer. When it gets to peak velocity, you let go and it flies away into the night as far as it can.

Obviously, in an ideal world, you aim high and generally what will happen is that somebody a couple of streets or houses away will hear a SPLATT! on their corrugated iron roof and they will think: Oh fuck! Somebody’s flying toilet! I must remember to go up and scrape it off in the morning!

The shit is in a plastic bag but, when the plastic bag lands, it generally splits open. Also, if you are in a big family – my mate Sylverster has a one-bedroom house for seven of them – as the children get older, when it’s not raining, the girls sleep inside the house but the boys sleep on the roof. So that can get messy.


Kate Copstick prepares for a Grouchy Club

Kate Copstick prepares for a Grouchy Club

WHITE BLOOD CELLS

For many years, Copstick has suffered from the painful and debilitating disease lupus. It is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue in many parts of the body.

Until 2½ months ago she was in agony most of the time…

* * * * *

Since the lupus struck, I have always had a low white blood cell count – neutropenia. The white cells are the fighter cells and scavenger cells. When you get a bruise, the neutrophils go in and clear away all the damaged blood.

Last June, they put me on this new medication – methotrexate – which I injected into the flub on my stomach. It is a kick-ass drug. It’s used in chemotherapy – for leukaemia and other cancers. Then they found out it really worked for rheumatoid arthritis and, through that, they found it worked for other auto-immune diseases like lupus.

I got put on methotrexate last June/July. Then in August in Edinburgh I got bacterial pneumonia and they thought it might be the methotrexate and I kept taking it and they said: “Oh, your white blood cell count keeps going down.”

Then suddenly, 2½ months ago, I felt great; I felt fantastic. Nothing had been changed in the drugs but I suddenly felt physically great. And the best I’ve felt psychologically for years. I was actually happy. I felt happy. Just wonderful. No pain; no headaches; no tinnitus; no cold sweats; and the white blood cell count had gone down even more.

Then, two weeks ago, the doctors said the white blood cell count had become very dangerously low.

I said: “I’m feeling fine!”

They said: “No no no no no. You’re very dangerously low.”

They kept asking me if I had temperatures and beadaches.

I said: “No! I feel wonderful!”

So, last week, they told me to stop taking the methotrexate because they thought that was lowering the white blood cells. I stopped taking it and I feel like shit this week. As soon as I stopped the injections, I got the pain back – tiredness, pain, headache, dizziness – all the lupus shit.

I mean, everything you take, every normal mainstream medication that you take does something bad to you. I think it should be about what makes you feel good. I’m fucking fed up feeling like shit. I’ve felt like shit for a lot of years, a lot.

Nothing bad seemed to be happening with the low white blood cells and I was feeling great and I reckon for me that’s better than being like this and taking handfuls of tramadol and dihydrocodeine and anything else I can lay my hands on just so I can be functional.


Devils on Horseback

“A bit like Devils on Horseback” which is dates stuffed with almonds and wrapped in bacon

PENIS ENLARGEMENT

In her TV production hat, a few years ago, Copstick developed, wrote and produced a series for the Bravo TV channel called World of Pain.

* * * * *

It was about things like pain for pleasure, sporting pain, all different things. And one episode was called Suffer To Be Beautiful which was about people having plastic surgery and all the crazy shit they do.

So I went to New York to film a penis enlargement operation. It was around the year 2000 and there was nobody in Britain who would allow me to film them. Those who go for penis enlargement tend to want people to imagine that’s how they always have been naturally.

I filmed the entire operation. It was absolutely fascinating. I was the cameraperson. When we sent it to the compliance lawyers, most of it ended up on the cutting room floor not because it was erotic but because there was just so much blood. Somebody was having the shaft of his penis split open with a scalpel and the skin peeled…

What I did not realise was that every man is born with as much penis length as anyone can give you. It just depends if you are a show-er or a grow-er.

If you are a show-er, even when you are flaccid, it is all hanging out there.

If you are a grow-er, there is more to come from inside.

So what they do, when somebody wants more length, is make two cuts in the inguinal area – just above the pubic bone – one on either side – and in there are the ligaments that hold the penis in place and they snip those.

Then – this is true – one doctor or a very strong nurse holds the patient on the operating table while the other doctor grabs the penis and pulls. And I am talking PULLS. We are talking like tug-of-war. And they yank out as much of the penis as they can.

Then they stitch up the little incisions and you are now a show-er.

What surprised me is that men who want more length want it for the locker room. They want it for that moment when the Calvin Kleins hit the carpet and another person – male or female – gets their first look at what you are packing.

This guy I was filming wanted more length. So they did that. But he also wanted more girth.

Enhancement can help a bit on girth with what they call ‘harvested tissue’. Have you ever larded a joint of meat? Where you take strips of fat…

Anyway, what they do is get the penis and slit open the skin down the length of it and then… Have you ever buttered the breast of a chicken before you roasted it?

What you do is you ease your hands in between the flesh and the skin of the chicken and you open it up so the skin separates from the flesh.

So, with penis enhancement, they get little rectangles of harvested tissue, lift the skin of the penis away from the shaft and wrap these bits of tissue around the shaft. Then they sew that bit up and do another bit until… It’s a bit like Devils on Horseback or a beef olive.

Then they stitch the skin back into place and wrap it all in very tight elastic bandage. Then the person goes away with lots of painkillers and hopes that they only think clean thoughts.

Because the single biggest problem with the process is guys who go away from the hospital, take their painkillers and, after a day or so, wake up with a bit of morning glory and burst all their stitches.

As for pee-ing, initially you are catheterised but the answer after that is to pee very very carefully.

How do you get harvested tissue? With a scalpel and a dead body.

So be careful when you sign your organ donor card. You may think you will be giving sight to the blind, but you could end up giving girth to the under-endowed and find yourself wrapped around some tiny-dicked guy’s enlarged penis.

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Filed under Health, Humor, Humour, Kenya, Medical, Poverty, Sex

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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Cutting edge camera technology reveals great open-sewered slums of the world

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

“You were thinking about making a 5-minute science fiction film called Avatar last time I saw you,” I reminded Danish director Nicolai Amter yesterday. “I never told you, but I thought it was a very uncommercial title.”

“Oh, that was ten years ago or more,” replied Nicolai. “Before the other Avatar or The Matrix or Minority Report came out.”

“So maybe we have not seen each other this century,“ I said.

“Maybe not,” agreed Nicolai.

He and I used to work together at Scandinavian TV channels TV3 and TV1000.

“My Avatar film was back when I still needed a DoP (Director of Photography),” mused Nicolai. “When I went out as a director, standing next to a DoP I often felt I knew as much as he did and I knew exactly the kind of lighting required, but I didn’t know all the camera gear required.

“I started out as a music photographer and then I got into music videos in Copenhagen and then I ended up in TV promotions and now I’m getting back into the whole photography thing because of the new Canon 5D camera – an amazing stills camera which also shoots amazing video.

“When it first came out and I saw a test, I sold all the video equipment I had and bought it and it changed the way I work. It liberated me from needing a DoP on a lot of projects: I can shoot everything myself.”

“So what are your plans now?” I asked.

“Getting some work in London for a change,” Nicolai told me. “It seems every time a job comes up, it’s always back in Africa – in Kenya or Nigeria or Ethiopia or Ghana or Tanzania. I’ve spent so much time in Africa over the last year….”

“Nigeria??!!??” I laughed. “Any views on Lagos?”

“It’s very intense,” replied Nicolai.

“Mmmm…,” I said.

“The people are very friendly,” said Nicolai. “There were a couple of experiences, but nothing that involved me. They were local misunderstandings between other people, I think. But it did mean I and the camera had to make a hasty retreat back to the car while it got sorted out.”

NicolaiAmter_

Nicolai yesterday, at the opening of his exhibition in London

Nicolai and I met again yesterday because I went to the opening day of an exhibition of his at Antenna Studios in London’s Crystal Palace: a series of photos he shot at the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya. It runs until the end of the month.

“People can buy prints of the photographs,” Nicolai told me. And I also have a book.

Any money that comes out of it will go into projects for the people living in the slum.

Kibera is reportedly Africa’s largest urban slum. A census in 2009 found it housed 170,070 people. A railway line runs through the slum, which has its own railway station. The slum is contaminated with human and animal shit, due to the open sewers and what has been called “frequent use of ‘flying toilets’ – people shit in bags and throw them away on the ground. Obviously, Kibera is heavily polluted by this shit, garbage, soot, dust etc.

Somewhat bizarrely, the slum has its own newspaper – the Kibera Journal and its own radio station – Pamoja FM. It even has a film school.

One of Nicolai’s photos of conditions in Kibera

One of Nicolai’s photos of the Kibera slum

One recent report said: “The ground in much of Kibera is literally composed of refuse and rubbish. Dwellings are often constructed atop this unstable ground, and therefore many structures collapse whenever the slum experiences flooding, which it does regularly. This means that even well-constructed buildings are often damaged by the collapse of nearby poorly constructed ones.”

“Why were you in Kibera?” I asked Nicolai.

“My brother is based out in Nairobi,” Nicolai said, “working mainly for the BBC as a freelance journalist. I went out to help him on a film for the BBC Media Trust.

“We were filming there for the BBC and, because my brother had done reports from there before, he knew a guy who lived there who worked as a fixer for the BBC. So I could hook up with him and go back later and walk around.

“At one point, I was walking around with him and all my film gear and we saw these three young girls from some NGO coming towards us with three armed guards. And I thought: Wait a minute! You need three armed guards and I have several thousand pounds worth of equipment here and only one unarmed guy!

“I did ask him: Am I safe here? and he said, No problem at all.”

As for me, I have never seen African poverty; in fact, I have never been to Africa.

Children living alone in their ‘homes’ outside Puno, Peru, 1983

Children living alone in their ‘homes’ outside Puno, Peru, 1983

But when I was in Lima, Peru, in the early 1980s, it was clearly one of the armpits of the world.

I could understand why some people supported the extremist-bordering-on-psycho rebels, the Sendero Luminoso Maoist guerrillas.

In Lima, the local tour guide took me to what she called a ‘beautiful Spanish street’. It looked like it had been hit by an earthquake: the buildings were falling apart. That turned out to be because it had been hit by an earthquake.

I wondered why people were apparently flowing into Lima from the countryside to live in the slums. When I went into the countryside and saw the poverty there, I realised why.

Nicolai said to me yesterday: “It seems to me, in Nairobi, there are rich areas with slum areas not very far from them. All the help and all the maids and so on are living in the slums. A lot of the people walking out of the slums in the morning are going to their jobs as cooks or maids or whatever.”

“I remember,” I told Nicolai, “being in a yurt slum on the outskirts of Ulan Bator in Mongolia in 1985. There was mud and shit and open sewers everywhere but, in the morning, everyone was coming out of their yurts dressed in smart, spotlessly-clean clothes, crossing gnarled planks across the open sewers and going off to be secretaries and office workers or whatever in the Russian-style concrete blocks in the middle of town. Very surreal.”

“The craziest thing I saw in Kibera,” said Nicolai, “were open sewers with plastic pipes in them, carrying clean water. Just by using that clean water, you could avoid cholera and all sorts of diseases but, because it’s in the open sewer, it gets polluted by all the dirty water.”

“I presume,” I said, “that the young children are relatively happy, because they have known nothing different?”

One of Nicolai’s exhibited photos of Nairobi’s Kibera slum

“We’re not living; we’re just surviving” (Photo by Nicolai)

“It seemed to me,” said Nicolai, “that all the young kids were quite happy running around but, as they started to grow up, they started to feel downtrodden by the whole situation.

“People kept telling me: We’re not living; we’re just surviving. They’re stuck in a horrible situation. They get paid so little from the work they do that they just can’t afford to live any better. They will continue to work as maids and security people for the middle classes and upwards.”

“When I was in Lima in the 1980s,” I told Nicolai, “there were people living in abject poverty in the slums and, a short distance away, there were people driving Mercedes Benzes and playing in private tennis clubs and it seemed to me the problem was that there was no significant middle class. There was nothing for the people in the slums  to aspire to. People had no hope of climbing out of the slums. Not them. Not their children. Not their grandchildren. No hope.”

“There’s some hope in Kibera,” said Nicolai, “because Africa is starting to boom and there’s much more investment. It feels like a lot of the young people who went abroad – to MIT and so on – are starting to move back. In Nairobi, they have people doing web design and iPhone apps.”

“Are you going back to Kibera again?” I asked.

“Possibly,” replied Nicolai. “Last year I was in Africa five times filming for NGOs and so on. I came back a month ago from Ethiopia, where I did a job for the British Council: an English course they run up in north Ethiopia, teaching the kids using wind-up MP3/radio players with solar panels on them. They teach the kids English on those.

“I really like Ethiopia. It’s the most friendly and easy-going place I’ve been in Africa. They’re very proud because they never had any colonisation. They’ve always been independent. They did have the Italians, but they kicked them out. They have their own language, their own calendar and even have their own time. If the sun goes down at six, they basically say, OK. Six is midnight and seven is one o’clock and so on. Everybody else in the world has decided on a single unified time, but not in Ethiopia – We do it our way! – I like that.”

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