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Copstick on real life and death in Kenya

Continuing the diary extract blogs from nine days ago…

Comedy critic and journalist Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya, working with her charity Mama Biashara.

Among other things, it aims to help people out of poverty by giving them start-up money (and advice) to create their own small, self-sustaining businesses. 

These extracts from Copstick’s diary are heavily-edited for length. The uncut originals are on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.

So this is part of what happened, in Kenya, a little over a week ago…


FRIDAY

The coach from Nairobi for Awendo leaves at 8.00am.

After Kisii, in really quite quiet rural areas, suddenly vast swathes of land are being dug up for huge roads. And, by the looks of it, huge highways are being built. No idea why. No-one here has any idea why other than the President’s obsession with his ‘legacy’. 

Yet again, the devastated remains of tiny roadside businesses can be seen along the way. The work means that sometimes the road (as was) disappears altogether into mud and dust. The plans for the road to be built and the destruction of businesses to make way for it give no suggestion as to how long the work will take. Arrival is not important here. This is not even travelling hopefully. It is just booking the ticket and cancelling everything else. 

We get to Awendo at about 5.30pm. Even the Kenyans are pissed off. Jayne is there with a local taxi.

We start seeing business people immediately. 

The evening funding goes pretty well. All individual businesses. Fish, fried fish, bananas, petrol. The last surprises me because of the new petrol tax. But they are selling in half litres to people with sugar cane squishers and there is still wriggle room for profit at that level. 

FYI thanks to the government’s War on the Poor, kerosene – which the very poorest of people use for light – is now more expensive than diesel. So the poorest children can no longer see to do homework or try to read books. But the fattest of Kenyans can drive the biggest of gas guzzlers. Our little old ladies who sell kerosene by the thimbleful so they and their neighbours can see in the hours of darkness are devastated. 

Colonialism and its legacy can be blamed for a lot, but the passing of new taxes that punish and extort only the poor, while destroying the smallest businesses and cutting off the route to starting new small businesses in the way this government is doing requires an active greed, a terrifying selfishness and an overwhelming lack of care for the poorest people. 

The only thing that talks in Kenya now is money. If you have none you are no-one. Maybe that is the legacy of colonialism. But the Kenyans who are now in power sure love and work very hard to keep it alive.

SUNDAY

I get up at 8.00am, marvelling at my ability to do so. The Kenyans are sniggering at how long I sleep. They have been up since 6.00am.

Big news is that a load of houses nearby were set fire to in the night. As a reprisal for the three young men who attacked and killed a male family member with pangas (machetes) in a neighbouring field. There was a ‘dispute’ over family land. This is the local way of settling it. The houses are still smouldering. 

MONDAY

I read a piece in one of the newspapers about how to be a successful stand-up comedian in Kenya. The instructions were: funny accents (make fun of other tribes and other nationalities, Nigerians being particularly fertile ground because they talk funny), make fun of poor people, uneducated people, people from rural areas and old people. Dress up in a parody of whatever group you are having a go at. Basically racism, sexism and punching down.

TUESDAY

We arrive back in Nairobi at 4.45am. It is cold and dark and the centre of town is a strange mix of hustlers and prostitutes at the end of their night’s work, drunk and slightly the worse for wear but really friendly… and market traders at the start of their day. 

We wait in a bunch for a matatu (privately owned minibus) and I end up sharing with four people and five huge sacks of oranges and sweet potatoes. 

Later, we meet Doris for something to eat. We will definitely be going to Mombasa on Friday so we have tickets to buy. 

There are a load of Glam ladies there and Doris wants me to meet with them to discuss the ongoing working relationship between us. Thanks to the government’s War on the Poor, it is incredibly difficult for Mama Biashara to set up tiny businesses the way we used to and turn people’s lives around. 

So Doris has developed this amazing network of businesswomen and women with a reasonable amount of money (many of them from the streets themselves) who need/want workers for all sorts of jobs. They now trust Mama Biashara and the people we get for them. So we are putting hundreds (maybe even thousands) of men and women into employment. 

Good wages, decent treatment, frequently accommodation and food come with the job, so ideal for Phoenix Project people who need to be relocated away from their abuser. 

Our ‘official stamp’ has come from the maker. Load of bollocks, if you ask me, but everyone has one if you are an organisation. And I am giving all the volunteers a certificate to show (a) Mama Biashara is legit and (b) they are legit. So we need The Stamp. 

WEDNESDAY

Vicky meets us at Majengo. Pretty much everywhere has a Majengo. An area on the outskirts where refugees or displaced people live. A slum amongst slums. 

There are three groups. We huddle in a small room and I ask if we can open the door – just because I am a fan of things like seeing what I am doing and breathing. But they are terrified we will be seen and attacked. So the door closes. 

One group is going to sell sweet potatoes and arrowroot (boiled and grilled), one is a cleaning group and the third is a Phoenix Group. They had gone to a Maasai area because they were offered building work there. But the Maasai have turned on them. And the usual weapons of physical and sexual violence have been deployed, as ever, frequently towards children. The group want to go back to their own area. Which is unfortunately far away. But Mama provides fare and money to set up a group business once they are there. I also asked Vicky to keep me in touch with a view to adding coffee selling to the miraa business they are starting with. This leaves me pretty much out of money.

We go to Limuru and meet the lovely Vixen for a make up workshop for a dozen girls. I have brought loads of stuff from the UK. Does anyone fancy donating more make up? Hair straighteners? Decently powerful hairdryers? Brushes? 

Our make up businesses are doing amazingly well. In Kisumu, Mombasa, Kitale … around three hundred girls. 

The girls being trained today are young mums. Which means the babies are in the workshop too. So the small room is a cocktail of smells: cheap make-up, body odour, breast milk and baby poo.

Meanwhile I talk to Joy, who is a refugee from Narok where troubles are reaching a terrible pitch with daily killings, shootings, hospitals full of people with arrows poking out of every body part, house burnings and livestock slaughterings. Joy has no idea where the rest of her family is. They just ran from their burning house. She is staying with a local (Glam) lady for the moment but she needs a way of making a living.

Then we head off. To look for somewhere to eat. 

Two bites into a lump of dead something I lose a front tooth. A whole tooth. A whole front tooth. Gone. Out. All I can think of is NOW I HAVE TO GO TO THE DENTIST and my world collapses in around me like a bubble gum bubble on an upturned face. 

I try not to panic. Or cry. But it is tough. The appalling combination of my greatest fear (dentist) and the hideous prospect of the quite honestly impossible costs involved take my breath away. I freeze. 

To be fair, the missing part is a crown that was put in thirty years ago. But it has broken off right along the gumline. I can feel my hands go numb. I am dizzy. I am in my own, personal hell. Genuinely, I wish my leg had broken and not my tooth.

I am having something of a panic attack just writing this so I am going to stop now.

… CONTINUED HERE … 


Mama Biashara is totally financed by individual donations and from sales in its London charity shop. You can donate here. Copstick receives no money. She covers all her own costs including travel to and accommodation in Kenya. 100% of everything donated goes to the charity’s work.

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Kate Copstick on Kenyan problems in a country changing fast for good or bad

Copstick at Mama Biashara’s shop in London

Comedy critic and journalist Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya, working with her charity Mama Biashara.

The charity, among other things, aims to help people out of poverty by giving them start-up money (and advice) to create their own small, self-sustaining businesses. 

But changes in Kenya are currently causing major problems for Mama Biashara and the people it helps, as these latest extracts from Copstick’s diaries show.

The extracts have been edited by me for length. The uncut originals are on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.


Hawkers at Mwariro Market, in Kariokor, Nairobi

MONDAY 

David arrives and we go off to Kariokor to get bag shells and beads so that the Mary Faith girls can start making the Happy Bags to sell in the Mama Biashara charity shop in London.

En route David helpfully points out buildings that have been demolished in the new wave of destruction. We also pass endless stretches of roadside where there used to be little kiosks and small Mama Biashara level businesses. Now there is nothing. I have absolutely no idea in what way this could be seen as an improvement. 

Kariokor is baking under the sun. David drops me at the British High Commission for my meeting with Geraint Double-Barrelled (not his real name). 

We sit in the High Commission’s garden and talk about: 

  1. the ‘Fast Track’ grant he had suggested I apply for but the application form for which absolutely defeated me with its demands for a log matrix and committees for every step of the way. Geraint is hugely sympathetic. He says that the guys who put these forms together have more or less lost the ability to speak ‘human being’. By the time we have gone through a few things, he has me convinced to try again, wade through the ghastly jargon and go for it for The Phoenix Project.
  2. my idea to bring a group of the Mama Biashara suppliers – the real artisans – over to the UK and do a sort of cultural/Mama Biashara business showcase is not feasible, he says. Apparently not with something so small. Although if we can find a sponsor… 
  3.  the ongoing problem of the sexual assaults being carried out by members of the British Army in Kenya on the young women of Nanyuki. We were alerted to this about a year ago. I could find no-one who would speak to me. This is nowhere near Geraint’s remit but he listened sympathetically and says he will flag it up to the Deputy High Commissioner. He is a genuinely decent bloke. 

We go back into town. Doris wants to eat at the Pork Place and, over delicious chunks of pork and a bottle of beer, I discover why she is feeling so ‘overwhelmed’. 

It is not only in Nairobi town that the City Councils have turned on the small businesses. Out in Kenol, where Doris lives, the bulldozers are sent in at night to destroy small kiosks and roadside stalls. She was awoken by the screaming and crying of the business people as they saw their livelihoods wiped out. 

She has been fielding calls from hysterical Mama Biashara people from Rongai where the same thing is happening. Anything and anyone not doing business inside private property is bulldozed, arrested and/or has their goods confiscated. Hundreds of small businesses have been ground into the dust in just a couple of days. Many are businesses that Mama Biashara started. 

All the ladies who used to sell in the huge traffic jams for which Rongai is famous have been arrested and beaten up or lost their stock when running away. 

Then Purity called from Limuru to say that it is happening there too. All Mama Biashara’s second hand book businesses have been demolished; there is now not a single small business to be seen. It is like a ghost town, says Purity. 

All of this on the orders of Kiambu Governor Waitoto in Limuru (who actually started out as a hawker himself) and Governor Mike Sonko in Nairobi. It is an absolute disaster. And utterly overwhelming. 

The same is, according to Vicky, happening in Mombasa and along the coast. It is as if the rich in Kenya have declared out-and-out war on the poor. There is no option for people at these levels. No social security, no benefits of any kind at all. Once the business is wiped out as comprehensively as is happening now, they have, literally, nothing. So desperate men turn to crime, women turn to prostitution and a lot of people just die. It may well be that this is the plan. 

In terms of what Mama Biashara does, we can no longer set up these tiny seed businesses that have grown so well over the years. No-one, it seems, can do any kind of anything on public land. 

TUESDAY

The Mama Biashara peeps I had told about the meeting with Mr Double-Barrelled are disappointed that I am not off buying their tickets to London but, I reassure them, I am not giving up. 

Land Securities – our longtime benefactors and landlords in London – might just be interested in sponsoring a sort of cultural thingy – to tour their many shopping malls maybe. We shall see.

They have been extraordinarily good to us.

We meet up with Doris and Purity and discuss the awfulness of the social cleansing pogrom the cities and towns are perpetrating.

The Powers That Be have the following reasons for these Clearances…

The President is obsessed with his ‘legacy’ (standing at 221 billion debt to the Chinese at the mo) of infrastructure. Roads are being built, forced through, widened and, in many cases, yes, massively improved all over the cities. 

But this has only a negative effect on the poorest of people. You can die by the side of a beautifully constructed superhighway going somewhere you will never see. 

There is a huge black economy here in Kenya and the hawkers are part of it. Pretty much all the starter Mama Biashara businesses are.

In Nairobi – and here I sympathise with the Powers That Be – you could walk along, say, River Road, and hawkers are elbow to elbow. 

But there are also shops there, frequently selling the same stuff as the hawkers, except paying massive rents and taxes and whatnot. So it seems fair that you cannot hawk outside a shop selling the same as you, or block its entrance. 

But, in true Mama Biashara fashion, Purity is already finding a way through the destruction for our ladies. FYI Purity got her starter grant about seven years ago and her businesses are doing really well, have expanded, moved and, wherever she is, she is our eyes and ears on the ground and she is SO helpful to the women. 

Most roadside shops are built on a concrete platform with a wee bit that pokes out the front. If our people are there, they are safe. So Purity has been going around asking shopkeepers – and frequently being asked by them because bodies on the stoop are good security – if our people can do their business on the stoop (no sniggering at the back, you know what I mean). 

This is our way forward. Our ladies who work inside buildings doing food etc are all OK and another way we are going forward is simply to make our stuff that is so popular (like the samosas) and the clients have to send a bike to the village to collect.

Nairobi – It is changing fast, but is it always for the better?

WEDNESDAY

The road building is evident everywhere. Massive structures have gone up in Kenol where, at some point, there will be a flyover. Miles of roadside are now just rubble, waiting for a road extension.

If they had any sense they would bang on an emissions tax and every lorry and matatu that belches out thick – bordering on solid – black gunk would either pay up, clean up, or get off the road. Revenue, ecology and easing traffic… But, of course, the lorries and matatus are owned by Big People so nothing bad happens to them. 

Suswa has become HUGE since last I was there. And all the way along the road across the Rift Valley there are huge new developments. Mainly Chinese, once you get close enough to read the writing. Or Somali. But the landscape is no longer flat. Suswa now has a big hotel, a hot springs spa thing and a tourist centre where you can go and watch the Parliament of Monkeys.

… CONTINUED HERE


Mama Biashara is totally financed from sales in its London charity shop and by individual donations. You can donate here.

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Copstick and the abused Kenyan girls

Kate Copstick is Mama Biashara

The UK’s most influential comedy critic, Kate Copstick, is currently working with Mama Biashara, the charity she started in Kenya.

This is the (edited) second series of extracts from her diary. The first was posted a couple of days ago.

The full version is on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.


SATURDAY

The government has closed the forests and so there is pretty much no (legal) charcoal or firewood.unless it comes in from Tanzania at exorbitant cost. Fine for the rich but very unfine for the poor who cannot afford gas, much less electricity to cook with. 

We have had huge success with recycled fuel briquettes using a variety of biowaste according to region. Unfortunately our success drew the attention of the charcoal cartels (oh yes there are such things) and our groups were either physically attacked or threatened into submission. So our groups have split up into smaller, less threatening-looking chunks and spread out. We are teaching people how to make the briquettes so they can use them themselves and save money.

Two of the Mama Biashara Mary Faith children (posed so as to obscure their identities)

SUNDAY

I go to see Mary Faith.

New girls have been rescued and five of the older girls have been turned away from school because there is no money for school fees.

Firstly Lucy, who is paralysed and a little bit intellectually challenged. Ideal, then, for the men around her to have some fun with.

She was brought to Mary Faith pregnant and she refused to have a termination because she says she wants someone to love her and she thinks the baby will be that someone. Because of the paralysis she needs a Caesarean Section. Two hundred quid.

Then there is Diana, who is four years old and an absolute joy. She stares at me and asks me what I am. I tell her I am a shosho (an old lady). She grabs my arm and scratches gently. She looks at me and asks if my legs are the same as my arms. I roll up my leggings and she shrieks with laughter. She makes me pull them up further. We further inspect my tummy, my back and my bottom, all to hoots of amusement and amazement. Then she inspects my hair – to see if it is real. 

Mary Faith and I tell her that there are lots of people like me. She is wide eyed. She is a little odd and has a stammer, but then she saw her mother beaten and running for her life and then she herself was raped and then abandoned, outside their locked house, by her father. 

So that would tend to make you a bit stammery. At four. But we do counting and singing and she thinks my name is funny, so she is doing really well. 

And then there are the girls who have been sent away from school because there is no money for fees. The fees are about one hundred pounds per girl per term. They are all working really hard at their studies 

Jane is 16 and has a three year old son. She was abused by a family friend and abandoned.

Teresia is 17 and has a daughter aged 3. She was married off at age 14 in order to use the dowry to pay a debt that her grandfather had managed to incur.

Doris is also 17 and was also married off at age 14 by her uncle after both her parents died. The uncle sent Doris’s three siblings with her from West Pokot to her new marital home in Nairobi so she could look after them. Obviously, he wanted nothing to do with them once he had her dowry. She got pregnant, miscarried and was bleeding heavily for six months after her husband abandoned her because she was obviously no good at having children. All four of the family are with Mary Faith. Doris still has appalling gynaecological issues.

Rafina is 16 and is the mother of a two and a half year old boy. She was raped by her paternal uncle in the family home and then, when the pregnancy was apparent, taken to the centre of Nairobi and abandoned. She was sleeping rough when some of the street boys who knew about Mary Faith brought her to the home.

Margaret is 16 and was abused by neighbours when her parents died and she was left alone looking after her siblings. All are now with Mary Faith.

Finally there is Berine, another new girl, aged 16. She was sent by family (after her parents died) to Dandora as a house girl. Sold, basically. There she was abused and impregnated by her employer. As soon as this Prince Charming saw she was pregnant, he threw her out. She found occasional shelter with street sex workers but when she gave birth they also threw her out. 

She was living rough for weeks when the street boys rescued her and brought her to Mary Faith.

So there you have it. I am really hoping Mama Biashara People can come up with the school fees. Even the money for the Caesarean Section. I do not know how you choose who to help. (Donations can be made HERE.)

In other, other news, inspired by Janey Godley, I am working with a group of young guys here who do art and ceramics and all sorts of stuff to see if we can come up with a Mama Biashara T-shirt design and they will handpaint them. Watch this space.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Kate Copstick in Kenya on news you tend not to see reported on BBC TV

Kate Copstick, as seen by Joanne Fagan

Comedy critic and journalist Kate Copstick flew to Nairobi last Wednesday to work with her Kenya-based charity Mama Biashara.

These are her first diary entries from there. I have edited them. Full versions on her Facebook page.


THURSDAY

The market is not busy and my chums there are variously exercised by 

  1. the new fuel tax – 16% – which is having catastrophic effects for them 
  2. the ghastly goings on in Kisumu (see below) 
  3. the riots/killings/house burnings in various areas across the country – all tribal related 
  4. the Chinese and the fact that Kenya is now up to and past its nipples in debt to them. Hence the 16% fuel tax to help Uhuru pay off the 122 billion Kenya shillings that he owes them (payable by 2021) 

The telly is on and the news is covering the hideous rape and murder of a seven months pregnant student in Kisumu. Who just happened to be having an affair with the Governor of Kisumu. After having an affair with his son. She got pregnant and eventually, for various reasons, she forwarded all their texts to his wife and was going to go public with all the gossip when she was kidnapped in a car belonging to said Governor, raped and stabbed multiple times by three goons. 

Now this is bad enough. But as we watch, Mama Bishara helper David voices the opinion of (as helper Felista confirms) “Kenyan men”. 

“She made her cross,” he says forcefully. “How can a woman have sex with a man and then another man and then go to another man? She has brought this on herself. This is what happens.” 

The man at the next table is nodding. 

FRIDAY

I fail miserably to get up early and do lots of sorting out. But I do some and then head off to town to meet Doris and a load of lady hawkers with problems. No one chooses to be a hawker. But 60% of the Nairobi population – SIXTY PER CENT – live in what the government choose to call ‘the informal sector’. Slums. Some worse than others. They cannot afford a shop, or a stall so they hawk.

Now that used to be difficult enough but the new Governor of Nairobi, Mike Sonko, elected very much on a “man of the people” ticket, has turned out to be a man of very different people from the huddled masses he claimed to represent. 

Mike is a man of Big Business People.

So it frequently goes like this … 

I have a tiny stall at a roadside in my area. Two things can happen: the government demolishes it to make space for widening a road or making another highway and adding to the Chinese debt OR Mike’s men demolish it because we are not liking the look of the small businesses cluttering the roadsides with their thoughtless attempts at fending off starvation and keeping a roof over their family’s heads.

So, because I cannot trade up and get a formal stall or shop, I trade down and hawk… walking around with my wares (and my young children) or putting my stuff (and my young children) on a sack on a pavement. 

The best prices and highest demand are in the City Centre. Where Mike has just banned hawking. Cue the City Council goons scenting blood and prisons full of old ladies who have been selling carrots or tea at the roadside. 

We are meeting fifteen lady hawkers in town. We start to assemble at the top of Tom Mboya Street in a tiny area which has been deemed safe for hawkers as long as they pay an ‘informal fee’ to the City Council collectors. 

However, it seems that today is a ‘swoop’ day and shrieks from around the corner and a rush of running hawkers tells us the City Council have decided that the informal fee does not work right now and are arresting, confiscating and beating at will. So we run and reassemble across the road. 

I say run. The old lady on crutches goes as fast as she can, the two carrying toddlers waddle and the heavily pregnant girl trots. But, outside, the women are still frightened. So we go to a little cafe. We are safe inside.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Critic Kate Copstick needs money and is offering to provide feel-good pampering

Kate Copstick at the Mama Biashara shop in Shepherds Bush, London

Kate Copstickdoyenne of British comedy critics, founded and runs the Mama Biashara charity which, in Kenya, gives small grants and advice to impoverished individuals, mostly women, to start self-sustaining small businesses which may help them get out of poverty. The charity’s slogan is A Hand Up, Not a Hand Out.

It survives solely on donations and on money raised at the Mama Biashara shop in Shepherds Bush, London. The shop is also the venue for the free, monthly, open-to-all meetings of the comedy industry’s Grouchy Club.

Mama Biashara, in search of more funds for its charity work, is holding a special event in a fortnight (Saturday 7th April, from 2.00pm). I talked to Copstick about it at the shop.


JOHN: So Mama Biashara’s philosophy is…?

COPSTICK: Well, an awful lot of charities are about infrastructure and about ‘things’ – an office or a school or a this or a that. I have always thought you should invest in people and then people can build the things.

JOHN: And neither you nor the volunteers in London nor the volunteers in Kenya get paid any money from the charity.

COPSTICK: No. They’re volunteers. That’s why I am looking for someone to help build a shed in my back garden in London. I am going to Airbnb my flat and move into a shed in my garden, to try and keep afloat financially.

JOHN: So what’s this Saturday thing in a fortnight?

COPSTICK: You know what it is, for ’twas at the Grouchy Club that this idea was born.

JOHN: What idea would that be?

COPSTICK: To be fair, John, I only have a vague recollection, because quite a lot of Jura had been drunk – a delicious single malt whisky brought to the table by the even more delicious Martha McBrier.

Maybe 75% of the money we spend in Kenya is made here in the Mama Biashara emporium of loveliness in Shepherds Bush. However, of late, the emporium of loveliness has not been attracting as many people as it should.

Footfall at Mama Biashara’s shop is affected by supermarkets

JOHN: Why?

COPSTICK: For the last year-and-a-half because the Morrisons supermarket opposite closed, which decimated the footfall. We are now starting to get it back because a Lidl has opened opposite.

At this month’s Grouchy Club, the lovely Samantha Pressdee brought some gorgeous Neal’s Yard stuff and she came up with the idea of a sort of pamper day in aid of Mama Biashara and Martha McBrier revealed herself to be a tarot card reader.

JOHN: As is Samantha…

COPSTICK: Indeed so. She has a done it at the Grouchy Club. And here at Mama Biashara, we have a lovely lady who comes in once or twice a week who sells and uses medicinal grade aromatherapy oil. In fact, the morning after the Grouchy Club at which this plan was hatched I came in, unsurprisingly, with a fairly highly-developed hangover.

I said to her: Headache.

She said: Try peppermint oil.

I said: I don’t like peppermint. I’m a big spearmint fan. But don’t like peppermint.

The Mama Biashara afternoon event will also involve raffle prizes like this one donated by Samantha Ruth Pressdee

She put a tiny little drop of medicinal grade essential peppermint oil, grown in Washington State, on the back of my hand and said: Lick that.

As you lick it, you have to breathe in. And, well, it is like somebody has taken the top off your head. Suddenly everything becomes clear, your tubes are clear, your chest feels clear… Hangover… gone! Extraordinary.

So she is going to be coming along on the Saturday afternoon. And there will be people doing foot massage and whatnot. I am going to try and get some live drumming music and it may well be that we have a comedy show in the evening.

JOHN: So people will come into Mama Biashara for free and can look around the shop as normal…

COPSTICK: Yes. It’s sort of an open day. And there will be these added extras they can pay to have – the pampering and tarot reading and foot massage and so on. You can come in and have a tarot reading to see what the future holds. For example: Will your show be a massive hit at the Edinburgh Fringe?

JOHN: And the money raised goes to the Mama Biashara charity.

COPSTICK: Yes.

Hatching the idea were (L-R) Samantha Pressdee, Kate Copstick, Martha McBrier and Siân Doughty

JOHN: This will be in the back bit of the Mama Biashara shop.

COPSTICK: Yes. In the bit where we hold the Grouchy Club and occasionally do comedy shows. When Ngambi McGrath lost the long-time venue for her Heavenly Comedy nights recently, she moved it here until she found a new venue and it was absolutely rammed – I was running around trying to find extra seats.

JOHN: Mama Biashara is a good place if what you are road-testing a show…

COPSTICK: Yes. It’s intimate. There’s no microphone, no proper performance lights but, if what you want to do is get your content tightened, then this is a great place for workshopping. One of the guys who was doing 10 minutes at Heavenly Comedy runs a comedy course and asked if he could do it here which would have been fine except I’m in the throes of a volunteer crisis so I don’t have the manpower or womanpower to keep the shop open on a Tuesday until 8.30pm, except the second Tuesday of every month which is the Grouchy Club.

JOHN: Any other shows coming up here?

COPSTICK: I also offered the space to Alfie Noakes of the We Are Funny project.

An article by Alfie Noakes, as published on chortle.co.uk (Photograph by Steve Best)

He came to see me because he has this Challenge thing going – a topic for an hour-long comedy show. And this topic was initially: Is Radical Feminism Killing Comedy? which was going to be put on at Farr’s School of Dancing in East London. But there were objections from… I don’t know what we should call them. The Ladies of the Left? The Sisters? They objected to the… I suppose to the mere idea that anyone might even debate let alone think such a transgressive idea.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Mama Biashara’s expanding charity work in Kenya – with Kate Copstick

Kate Copstick – at the Mama Biashara shop in London before one of her regular trips to Kenya

In two days’ time, Kate Copstick returns from Kenya, where she has been working for her Mama Biashara charity, which was started to give advice and small amounts of money to poor people (mostly women) so they can support themselves by starting small self-sustaining businesses.

The charity’s work has widened to try to lessen other social problems, as shown in previous blogs and, here, in edited extracts from her diary, we catch up with a little of what she was doing last week, continuing from a previous blog… 


Vicky, holding the latest in cheap de-worming tablets.

WEDNESDAY

I get a call to say that the Meru groups are all moving today to Garissa under the watchful eye of Vicky. For those who did not read the Meru diary, these are twenty women who are escaping their rapist, paedophile husbands who have been sexually abusing their own children. So the twenty women and about ninety children are simply disappearing from their appalling life today and starting another life in another place. The women will form a little community and everyone is part of one of the group businesses. There is a hospital waiting to look at physical damage and a counsellor to address the psychological trauma. Vicky is working on a school for the kids.

Doris calls from Limuru, where the bravest five of the girls who have been being kept as sort of house/sex slaves are leaving for their new lives. Some have children born of the abuse they have suffered. Most of them were brought to Nairobi aged about eight or nine. The sexual abuse started at the latest, six months later and has continued unabated ever since. They have rarely been allowed out of the house to mix with other people. So this rescue has been tricky.

But now they are going.

They all have someone waiting for them – a Mama Biashara person – and a place to stay, well paid, nice work and three days training each week in skills like hairdressing and sewing. These young women have been so abused for so long that we could not have given them their own businesses. They have no confidence, no skills and almost need looking after like children until they can heal a bit and find themselves again. Which they will. Doris has excelled herself here.

The rest of the girls in this group are too terrified to come along. And they have difficulty (which often happens) in believing that someone actually wants to help them. But we are staying in touch.

Helper Felista works hard for Mama Biashara all over Kenya

THURSDAY

We have had great difficulty in keeping in contact with the Maasai girls in Shompole. I do some research and find it is not “there, above Meru” but over, again, towards the Tanzanian border between Lake Magadi and Lake Nacron. Not, in the grand, Kenya scheme of things, far.

I resolve to go on Saturday and come back Sunday or Monday. It turns out Shompole is quite the tourist trap. It is hotching with safari operators, camps, ‘wilderness experiences’, ‘cultural exchanges’ and the rest. I see pictures of jolly Maasai ladies engaging with eager tourists. I am assuming that the old ‘cultural exchanges’ do not include female tourists being held screaming while they are cored like a pineapple and then sewn up with parcel twine (which is what happens in the local version of female genital mutilation).

I get a call from Felista who is sounding not at all well. I was supposed to meet her to give her some money for some lengths of pipe for the sewage system at the home. She had explained earlier: “The pipe which is here is very small and the poo-poos are now very big and they are blocking, blocking and returning into the cho”.

I find her slumped on a bench in a pharmacy.

She has a pain in her chest which sounds like heartburn. But she seems very weak (unusual). The pharmacist has given her Omeprazole.

“It works like a charm,” he says.

“IT is a PPI (a proton-pump inhibitor),” I hoot. “These are serious drugs and you cannot hand them out like sweeties”.

“But it works,” he smiles. “In one hour she will be fine.”

“What do you give for a headache?” I mutter. “Morphine?”

He chuckles.

In an hour, Felista is not fine. And the pain has shifted to her back.

I ask the PPI King if he has a blood pressure meter. He has. Felista’s blood pressure is high: 177/104. But no shortness of breath, no clamminess, no racing or thready pulse.

I chat to the PPI King about likely antibiotics for the girls in Shompole. He does not seem that bothered by my description of the problem.

“That is the Maasai. That is what they do,” he nods.

I get Augmentin in high doses, iodine, hydrogen peroxide (for when it is time for the maggots to go) and take Felista next door to drink tea. She is not perking up that much, so I put her in a taxi. Sadly the cost of a wee ECG here is ridiculous. But I might see if we have any pullable strings.

High tech under the dashboard of the Mama Biashara car

FRIDAY

David and I eat peas and rice in the little place downstairs and go to the car. Which has apparently died. Completely. Not a flicker. The usual rearranging of cardboard bits on the battery and banging the contacts with a spanner do not work. A mechanic is called. An hour and a half later, the car comes back to life.

“It is a fuse,” pronounces David.

The car dies again.

We do a lot of pushing her around the dusty compound while David attempts to start her up.

We apply jump leads.

Another half hour and she is going again.

“Doris is again working her magic…”

SATURDAY

More sexually abused girls from the forest community outside Limuru have come forward. Seven of them; four with babies.

In a slight twist to the usual story, one of them was brought to Nairobi aged twelve, by her older sister. It is her sister’s husband who has been raping her ever since and it is his baby she has.

Doris is again working her magic within the Mama Biashara community and has found the seven girls places with our Glam customers. Accommodation, food and very well paid house work plus, in all cases, the all-important training. In one case the Glam lady has four shops and is looking to train our refugee girls for all of them.

The feedback about the girls who left last week for their new homes is very positive. The host ladies are delighted and the girls are thrilled. We may have discovered a whole new way of dealing with sexually abused teens. FYI all of the groups will be getting counselling: that is part of the package we set up.

It occurred to me that some of you might see the whole child rape/sexual abuse/FGM thing as being Mama Biashara ‘spreading herself too thin’.

Let me explain how and why this is working.

At the moment, about 75% of Mama Biashara’s income comes from the London shop. Currently the shop is breaking me. And I have no real idea for how much longer it is viable. The problems are both personal and personnel.

I have to find a way to make Mama Biashara more attractive to funding bodies/fundraisers/donors. This means being (I have been advised) much more specific. Very few people are wonderful enough to give money to give away to people to change their lives through setting up a small business. Apparently that is too ‘vague’.

Serendipitously, the whole child rape project reared its ugly head. The day we put our feelers out on the ground to see what was lurking there, it turned into the Hydra. The women whose husbands were raping their children but who could not leave… the sex slave girls… and even Maasai women who were prepared to run from their clan to save their daughters from FGM are now Mama’s constituency. They are all being saved the Mama Biashara way – by being made strong and independent by having their own, sustainable businesses.

And now I am hoping that we are more eligible for grants.

I have admitted defeat on the ‘just do the right thing’ front.

I have to continue doing the right thing but be prepared to parcel it up the way the trusts/donors/fundraisers want to see it.

Yes, we will still do de-worming and ringworm days. Yes, we will still do all the civil rights information leaflets and health information. But that is easy peasy.

Now we have a bigger job adding on counselling, medical care and relocation expenses. Girls will get training (as the sex slave girls did) and Maasai girls will get the education they have been refused (there is a small school at the centre in Rombo). But it is still all the Mama Biashara Way.

We still have our groups in Awendo (hotbed of all things non-consensual and unnatural where sex is concerned, Western and the Coast. As well as the new communities growing in Dodoma (in Tanzania – we are literally an international charity!), Nanyuki, Garissa and the rest.


Mama Biashara exists solely on donations and from sales at its London shop. Copstick takes no money for herself in any way. 100% of donations and of the shop’s earnings go to the charity’s work.

You can donate HERE.

Part of the Mama Biashara shop in London’s Shepherd’s Bush

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Filed under Charity, Kenya, Rape

Comedian Louise Reay is being sued over a Fringe show about free speech

Louise Reay, has come up against a brick wall, not in China

Last year, comic Louise Reay previewed her then-upcoming Edinburgh Fringe comedy show Hard Mode at critic Kate Copstick’s increasingly prestigious London charity emporium Mama Biashara.

It was the first time I knew Louise had separated from her husband.

Beyond that fact and a lot of rather arty Chinese references, I discovered no details of why they had separated. That is relevant to what follows.

The  blurb for Hard Mode read:


“Based on a dialogue with Ai Weiwei and featuring a team of masked police, this provocative show explores censorship”

Imagine how you’d act if you were always being watched? Imagine if you couldn’t speak freely? Imagine if the Chinese government bought the BBC?

An immersive comedy show where the audience experiences life in an authoritarian regime. Yay!

Based on a dialogue with Ai Weiwei and featuring a team of masked police, this provocative show explores censorship and surveillance.

Hard Mode is the latest show from multi award-winning comedian and journalist, Louise Reay.

‘Reay can legitimately claim to be unique’ (Independent)

‘Truly fantastic, utterly out there’ (Al Murray)

**** (Skinny)


“I am being sued. It’s really happening”

Last night, I got an email from Louise. She is currently in Australia, performing at the Adelaide Fringe. Her email read:

Dear John – I am being sued. It’s really happening. 

She is being sued by her estranged husband because he objected to what he claims was in her Hard Mode show.

I can only assume her estranged husband has not heard of The Streisand Effect.

Louise has started a GoFundMe crowdfunding page. It reads:


Hi! I am Louise Beamont, my stage name is Louise Reay.

I hope you’ll forgive me – but I need to ask you something.

You see, I am being sued over one of my stand-up shows.

Not just by anyone. By my husband (now separated of course).

He has a lot more money than me and he says that I accused him of abusing me in my show. And so he’s suing me, which in my opinion is simply an attempt to silence me.

As standup comedians, I believe it’s the very definition of our job to talk about our lives and social issues.

So this has become a free speech issue – and free speech means everything to me. As a Chinese speaker, I’ve spent many years in China and experienced the social impact when people do not have this freedom. I’ve also spent many years making documentaries for the BBC with vulnerable people whose voices are rarely heard.

And, I cannot begin to tell you how difficult an experience it has been to have my Edinburgh show censored.

I think therefore it’s really important for me to defend myself in this case.

And I’m afraid I need your help please because. I need to pay lawyers you see.

Here’s a bit more detail ….

I am a stand up comedian and documentary-maker, with a particular interest in speaking out for oppressed people.  On Tuesday 30 January 2018, I was served with defamation, privacy and data protection proceedings by my husband from whom I am separated. I cannot tell you how oppressive that feels.

The claim is in relation to a comedy show that I performed last year. a few times last year. It was a 50 minute show about censorship and authoritarianism, asking the audience to imagine that the BBC had come into the control of the Chinese government.

During that show, I referred to my husband a couple of times – perhaps 2 minutes’ worth of reference in a 50 minute show. The main gist of those references was to tell the audience how sad I was that my marriage had broken down recently. He has complained about 2 performances of my show in London, and my shows at the Edinburgh Fringe.

He is seeking £30,000 damages, his legal costs (which I can only assume will be massive) and an injunction stopping me from publishing statements about him. This is despite the fact that I gave him an undertaking (a sort of legal promise – without admitting liability of course) not to mention him in any further performances of the show, as soon as his lawyers complained. Indeed, all further performances of the show at the Edinburgh Fringe were without reference to him.

Defamation and privacy cases like this can be very expensive to defend. At present, I do not have the funds to defend this case. Therefore, I’d be very grateful for any assistance with costs. I have struggled greatly to pay all of my costs to date but and cannot afford to pay a barrister to prepare my defence.

I am confident I can defend the claim. However, these sorts of cases are fraught with uncertainty. It will depend on what the judge finds the words mean and possibly on whose testimony the judge prefers.

I am therefore seeking to raise an initial fund of at least £10,000. I might need to raise more as the case goes on.

If I am successful in defending this case, I hope to secure the recovery of some of my legal expenses from him (around 70% is typical I’m told). If I am able to recover some of my legal expenses, I will reimburse all those who have contributed to my defence fund in proportion to what each party has contributed.

Funds raised in this crowdfunder shall be used solely for my legal expenses. If I lose the case and damages and costs are awarded to my husband, I shall be personally liable for those. I’m told that, if this happens, it could be in the hundreds of thousands of pounds, and I will be bankrupt.

In any responses to this message can I please ask that you don’t post any negative comments about my husband. I’m not trying to embarrass him with this plea. I’m desperate. I need help. It’s about free speech … just like my show was.

Thank you very much for reading.


The link to the GoFundMe crowdfunding page is HERE

MORE ON THIS STORY HERE

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Filed under Censorship, Comedy, Legal system