Tag Archives: Mijikenda

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

Comedy critic Kate Copstick is currently still in Kenya, working for her Mama Biashara charity, which gives seed money to impoverished people wanting to start self-sustaining businesses. It also gives medical aid and advice to those people whom other charities overlook. 

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

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

Full versions are on her Facebook page.


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

SUNDAY

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

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

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

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

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

Mama Biashara stalwarts Doris (left) & Vicky

MONDAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mama Biashara Kenya co-worker Felista with Kate Copstick

TUESDAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mama Biashara raincatchers – catching on around Kenya.

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

Not bad.

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

… CONTINUED HERE

Leave a comment

Filed under Charity, Kenya, Poverty

Kate Copstick’s insight into everyday life in Kenya, including the Chinese effect

Copstick (in blue) at Mama Biashara project

Copstick (in blue) at Mama Biashara project

Comedy reviewer Kate Copstick is in Kenya.

That is where her Mama Biashara charity is based and does its work.

Below is an edited (by me) insight into life in Kenya at the moment, culled from Copstick’s current diaries.

The sort of stuff that never gets reported in ’the West’.

Copstick’s full diaries are on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.


SUNDAY

Doris gets into Nairobi at about 3.00 am. At my insistence, she gets a taxi home to Kenol. Unfortunately her problems do not stop there. She tells me later “there has been an unfortunate occurrence” in Kenol.

Night shift policemen in Kenya are to be feared.

They clock on, take their big guns, do one circuit of their beat and then go to the pub. Where they drink until morning. At about 5.00am, they come out, pick up their guns and do one more circuit (at which point they are dangerous), clock off and go home. Just as Doris was getting home, a drunk policeman shot two completely innocent men on a pikipiki (motorbike taxi).

By the time she woke up later that day, Kenol was a war zone. A thousand pikipiki boys from all over the region descended and attacked the police station demanding the drunk cop be arrested. The police did not seem to think he had done anything wrong.

And so, to deter the pikipiki boys who were barricading themselves in for a fight, the police shot and killed several of them and started throwing tear gas about the place.

Doris, her kids and all of her neighbours fled the area.

MONDAY

I meet up with Joanne – cousin of my late friend Janet – who is working with all manner of needy groups, especially one I met the last time I was here –  mothers of disabled children.

Mental and physical disabilities are not well catered for here. The twelve year old daughter of the group leader was raped and impregnated, giving birth just before my last visit. The four year old a few door along (also mentally challenged) was also raped. By a neighbour. The police did nothing so the women got together and marched him to the police station. Where the police refused to arrest him. So they took him to another police station and refused to leave until they did arrest him.

Joanne tells me about the group of albino children she is working with. They live in fear as there is a roaring trade in albino body parts in Tanzania. Strong magic, apparently. So I say I will meet up with this group and we arrange a meet for Wednesday down in Kibera.

Joanne and I part and I head to Junction to meet Doris.

Doris’ journey back from Mombasa had been horrendous. Apart from the child attacked by the hyena there was also a white man having a heart attack to keep interest up in Doris’ stationary traffic jam.

There are roadworks going on to do with the train line and ‘improving’ the last stretch of the Mombasa Highway and the job has been given (who would have guessed?) to the Chinese.

They are not great on:

  1. the materials they use which, of course, they bring from China (lest there be any hint of aiding the local economy) and which are marginally less than Fit for Purpose
  2. making sure the roads are finished properly so that when the rains come and huge trucks drive along them they don’t just fall apart.

Plus the workers would appear to be following that best-loved of Confucius’ sayings: When your government has their government in its pocket, there is no need to get a wriggle on with the job. And so the roadworks are taking forever and what road is worked seems to fall apart at the drop of a ten ton truck and a bit of rain.

According to Doris, Mombasa is the most horribly racist place imaginable.

In the nineteenth century, the Omani Arabs from Zanzibar took Mombasa from the Portuguese and, even when the whites (that’ll be us, Brits) rolled in and took over declaring all land not under cultivation to be ‘Crown Land’, the people were still under the sovereignty of the Sultan of Zanzibar.

Mombasa and a 10 mile wide Coastal strip was leased by the Brits from the Sultan. But the people were still his people.

This is the basis of the argument made by the Mombasa Republicans who say Mombasa was never part of Kenya and should be allowed to cecede immediately.

Nowadays, the city and coastal strip still has a huge Arab population. They are the rich and the middle classes and they treat the indigenous people like shit. Doris says if you are black instead of brown you are nothing – a sub-species of humanity.

Among the wider African population, skin lightening is the single biggest ‘thing’ in the cosmetic industry here. Doris says she could feel the looks and the attitude eating away at her self-esteem.

Then she tells me about the Mijikenda widows.

The Mijikenda are an indigenous tribe. The main one.

According to Doris (and she went to this village to see for herself), when the women are widowed, they are ceremonially walked to a village outside the city area where they live for the rest of their lives, forbidden to leave.

On a Friday (and Doris was there on a Friday) the local chief brings a charabanc of businessmen to the village and they have sex with the women, believing that they are ‘clean’, and pay them with a sack of rice and a five litre container of cooking oil.

“It is a cultural thing” says Doris, shrugging.

TUESDAY

I have a very worrying conversation with Mwangi – who designs and makes fabulous jewellery.

I am ordering a collar and ask for it in turquoise (which always sells well). “Not possible,” I am told.

Mwangi shows me the last ornate collar he made in turquoise… The colour is rubbing off the beads even before it has been sold. The same with the burnished gold beads. This is because the government of Kenya have opened up the bead market to China, which is flooding the market with their shit beads.

The Czech beads which everyone had been working with for decades are priced out of the market. One of Nairobi’s best and longest standing bead shops has already gone out of business rather than buy the Chinese rubbish and real artists like Mwangi are finding it almost impossible to get the good beads they need. The real beads have the colour all the way through. The Chinese ones are either black or white and are just sprayed with the colour – which does not last long.

This move could devastate one of Kenya’s oldest and most famous traditions.

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, Charity, Kenya