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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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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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Kate Copstick and child rape in Kenya

Yesterday’s extracts from Kate Copstick’s diary saw her arrive in Kenya but with nowhere to stay except with an acquaintance’s aunt. Now read on…


Kate Copstick, as seen by Joanne Fagan

TUESDAY

I bid a cordial farewell to Joan’s Auntie and pack my stuff into the car. Now, please, titter ye not, but I seem to have acquired a groin strain. I ‘felt something go’ when howking the heavier of my bags up the stairs yesterday. And howking it back down this morning hasn’t helped. But enough of my groin.

The Kenyan Government has blacked out all news media and as much online information as it can. Very long story short, Raila Odinga – Leader of the Opposition – lost the first (annulled) election and then refused to take part in the second election but has declared himself the People’s President and is being sworn in today in Uhuru Park. All quite odd and petulent.

As far as I can see on what is left of social media here, and on some morning pay to view channels, everyone looks really happy and there is no violence. The government has withdrawn all the police and security forces, thus pretty much ensuring a peaceful time. Maybe happy Luos are not what the government thinks people should be seeing. But a total media blackout?

The Raila In The Park thing has pretty much closed the town down and so we get to Corner in record time. Felista and The Chairman have found me a bedsitter in Corner. They have decided I should not go to High Rise (which was proposed last night) because the girl who owns the hostel on offer is ‘a drunkard’. Rich coming from The Chairman whose blood alcohol level generally makes him a fire risk wherever he goes.

We go and see several possibilities.

And find my new home.

A bedsit with a loo INSIDE perched above the main drag of Dagoretti Corner. Massive padlocked gate on the outside of the building, big locked gate inside leading to stairs and another gate before my well-locked door opens onto Casa Copi. So pretty secure. Although, if there is a fire, SOMEONE had better bring the bloody keys.

Doris arrives and a whole new universe opens up for the Rape Crisis Centre project. Last night we had put out feelers ‘on the ground’ regarding child rape and the viability of a rescue and refuge place. The Mama Biashara phone practically melted down.

We had phonecalls from everywhere. Including some people who work for child services in Kikkuyu and who say they are ‘overwhelmed’ with the number of cases they get. We have a meeting with them tomorrow – or at least Doris has.

But the huge can of worms we have opened is even more complicated and icky and damaging than mere child rape. Apparently there is a huge ‘unmentionable’ bottom to this criminally violent iceberg. This is the vast number of women whose husbands rape their children and who do not report it because they have maybe four children with the man and cannot afford to reveal the crime and involve the police. I had never even considered that.

The women stay because they do not have the wherewithal to go. Extra horror to go with your horror, ma’am?

A group of a dozen women have contacted us and we are trying to find a way to meet them without being seen. We will probably travel to somewhere much closer to them so they do not need to be out for long and arouse (not a great choice of words) the suspicions of their rapist husbands.

We continue to flesh out the new project… logistics, services, the fact that the Mama Biashara network can now offer a woman help and support in most areas of Kenya. And I have an idea. For a name. The Phoenix Project – it rose itself from the ashes of the first project and the women and the children we help will rise too!

Kate Copstick’s luxurious new living quarters in Nairobi

WEDNESDAY

I am become once more the Enola Gay of poo. Out of the blue, ejecting explosive loads with dire effect for the surrounding area.

It happens in UK too, so do not go blaming Kenya. Anyway, I go to Junction. And I go to the loo.

We go to Naivas (a supermarket) and I go to the loo.

As we are passing Prestige (another supermarket) I feel bomb doors opening. I leap out and go to the ground floor loos.

POLITE NOTICE: PLEASE USE THE WASHROOMS ON THE SECOND FLOOR says the door.

I clench and go upstairs.

POLITE NOTICE: PLEASE USE THE WASHROOMS ON THE THIRD FLOOR says the door.

I pause, concentrate, clench and go upstairs.

Bombs away and all that.

I see a Forex Bureau. I check, just in case something magical has happened to the exchange rate.

143.6ksh to the pound.

I go in. I talk to a lovely speccy boy and ask if I can get an bit extra for changing a lot of money. 143.8 he says – and, indeed, as he shows me his screen, the rate is actually falling. I suddenly feel like I am Gordon Gecko

“Sell! Sell!” I cry (Well I don’t but that is how I see it happening) and I thrust Mama Biashara’s precious collection of used notes at him. (NB: slight exaggeration for comic effect here.)

As he counts, I tell him about Mama Biashara… and ask if there is no way he could make it 144 “for the children” (killer line to use this). He asks his boss. His boss comes in. His boss is called Vikram Dave. I tell his boss about Mama Biashara.

“Do you ever need donations?” he says. “In my community we have many people who have things to give… clothes, food, books… they arrive in containers from UK and we must find people to donate them to. Also school fees.”

Now, excitement like this is a parlous thing for a woman in my condition. But we talk, I get his card, I am about to email him and he says if I give him a list of my people that his people could donate to then, if they can come to Nairobi, they can do a presentation and hand stuff over. Lots and lots of stuff. And school fees. All this and the best exchange rate I have had in years and years. And all because I had to rush to the toilet on the third floor. This could be seen as a religious experience.

Meanwhile, Doris has been presented with another horrible, open can of worms. And we have another kind of rapey horror to contend with. Well two really. One is the young girls who are raped by their fathers or brothers and conceive a child with them but are too terrified to tell their mothers. We are meeting with a group of them on Saturday. The girls in this group found each other because they live in the same area. Now they are 17 or 18 and heard about the new Mama Biashara project. They called the number. They want to get away from the area they are in with their rapist fathers. And we are going to provide the wherewithal.

Doris has also been told that the other women – the ones whose child has been raped by its father but who feel they cannot go because there are three or four other children and they are supported by the father – will meet us at a secret place on Friday. Twelve of them.

And – as Jimmy Cricket was wont to say – there’s more.

Mama Biashara has been contacted by a woman who works with Maasai girls who have been raped and who have no way to get help because in these communities it is all worked out between the rapist and the girl’s father. Usually the handing over of a goat will suffice to gloss over the nasties. And if the girls dared to report anything they would be outcasts forever.

We are waiting to hear when we can meet this woman. She is finding it almost impossible to get these girls to speak out. Understandably.

Maybe we need to start a woman’s village like the one they have down near the coast and another up in Samburu … it is a real thought.

CONTINUED HERE


Mama Biashara subsists solely on donations from the public and from sales at its London shop. Copstick covers 100% of her own costs, including flights and accommodation and takes zero. 100% of all donations go to the charity’s work. You can donate HERE

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Kate Copstick: Tribal cleansing in Kenya continues stealthily – still unreported

In yesterday’s blog, I ran three edited extracts from journalist Kate Copstick‘s diary. She is currently working with her Mama Biashara charity in Kenya. The story continues in these edited extracts from her diary, which she has been posting on her Facebook page.

Tuesday 21st November

Still no news from Oliver. Doris is now linked into several groups on WhatsApp, trying to help mothers and wives find their missing boys. All young men. Bodies are turning up in far-flung hospital morgues. Beaten men are being dumped by roadsides far from their homes. This is ethnic (well, tribal) cleansing by stealth. But no mention in the press …

And, if this is how it is in Nairobi, then out in the villages…

We need to find a way to get the displaced women out of Kisii county. Farm lorries seem to be the best way. VIcky is still up there but treading very carefully. She now has some help from villagers and farmers who have no problem in helping the refugees. The plan is to pay one of the big farm lorries to ferry them out in smaller groups.

I hear that half a dozen houses were torched in Kibera last night. I recount our tale of Oliver. No one looks hopeful. I tell about the bodies dumped. There is a lot of nodding. “That is what they do,” says Mwangi. Everyone has a tale of young men being ‘disappeared’ in the night.

Wednesday 22nd November

The mothers’ group is up and running. We start to think about a name for the rescue house when it opens in January. The women are – in stark contrast to how they were at our first meeting – nothing if not to the point.

STOP RAPE is the most popular suggestion. STOP MEN RAPING is another. I suggest it might be slightly in yer face. And point out, jokingly, that these “Kill All Men” titles are not always helpful. They actually quite like KILL ALL MEN, especially when I mention T-shirts.

Doris appears. Nothing from Oliver but she is in a bad way, having just spent the morning miles away in a place called Tigoni, with a group of mothers also looking for their disappeared sons.

The network of mums (now numbering about 46 in Nairobi alone and centred on Mama Biashara as a point of communication) does internal alerts whenever a body turns up, wherever it is. And mums go.

If they find their man alive or dead, his name is taken off the list of the missing.

None of these alerts is ever, ever made by the hospital. The young men are dumped on them in the night. If they do have ID, the hospitals (so the group have been told) have been instructed to destroy the ID. So only mothers and sisters and wives and friends can identify them, as long as they are prepared to search.

This morning, there was just a badly beaten body to identify. And Doris was there to take care of the distraught mother. This young lad was a student at a technical college on his way home. Taken with two friends. They are yet to be found.

Jayne calls (from Awendo). She has been going to KIsumu to visit a boy in hospital. The matatu she is in has been hijacked on the way and now she has nothing but her phone which she hid when the hijackers took everything from everyone. I send her the money to get home.

Thursday 23rd November

Doris says her friend in the horrendously abusive relationship has been much enlightened by my info on BDSM.

Now she knows what’s what she is keen to take my advice to get out. Especially as the latest news is that he has bought a state-of-the-art knife sharpener and has applied for a gun licence. Easier said than done in a society where:

  1. the man can do no wrong, only the woman can fail in a marriage and
  1. her family is toxic with Christianity and will probably explode at the mention of anything sexual. Especially extreme bondage and the kind of demeaning shit this monster is into. But she is going to talk to her parents and try to rouse the family group behind her.

Still no sign of Oliver.

His auntie/guardian (Oliver is an orphan) is now in on the search.

Friday 24th November

The poor abused woman with the psycho husband has moved out and is with her parents, where he will not dare reach her.

I bring her up to speed on the child rape rescue centre project and ask if she can think of a name. I want something hard-hitting. Punchy. Says it as it is.

Swahili is not the greatest language for saying it as it is in a punchy way.

“I know what you want, Copi” says Doris. “But you must not…”

“Not what?” I ask, girlishly.

“Call it something like TOMBE TOMBE BABA MBAYA” she says.

I am convulsed with a mixture of hysterical laughter and out-and-out admiration for Doris’ brilliance.

It scans… It trips off the tongue… It says it like it is…

It translates roughly as FUCK FUCK BAD DADDY.

Oh how I wish…

I am hearing the Christmas single… seeing the crowds chanting our name…

If only…

She then suggests I name it after Daddy Copstick. Don’t think I had not thought of that, but BIG BOB’S HOME FOR THE REPEATEDLY DEFILED is not a name I see gaining popularity.

I get brought up to speed with the whole ‘disappeared’ saga.

We have found another young man. Doris has spoken to him (in case he knows Oliver) and he says he was taken in a group of three by men who appeared out of nowhere (again, in Huruma) and identified themselves as police.

The boys were bundled into a van. There were many more boys in the van. The boy offered up his ID but the men tore it up in front of him. The captives had sacks over their heads. They were taken to somewhere unknown and beaten to within an inch of their lives. Or further.

The boy does not remember how long they were there. But then they were divided up and dumped in various outlying locations – some alive and some dead.

The boy woke up in a hospital about three hours from Nairobi where he pretended he could not speak because everyone there was speaking Kikkuyu and he did not want to give himself away as a Luo and face a repeat of what he had just been through.

He watched and waited and said he was treated very well. Finally, a cleaner came in the night and let him use her phone. He alerted his parents. He is now unable to walk properly but alive and safe.

And then something amazing happens.

Doris gets a call.

Oliver’s mother has been contacted by someone saying they think they know where he is. They are waiting for another phone call. He is in some sort of a retreat for pastors and priests outside Sultan Hamoud – which is about a third of the way to Mombasa. Two and a half hours without traffic.

And he is alive. Injured but alive.

The mother is already on her way there.

Saturday 25th November

I awake to a dozen messages on my phone.

The mum had reached the place where Oliver was but the men there were terrified to let him go with her. Doris persuaded her uncle to drive her to the place, getting there about four in the morning. The men running the retreat knew only that Oliver had been dumped on their doorstep in the middle of the night and that, twice since then, a group of men has arrived, demanded entrance and asked if there is a boy here who arrived at night.

The men say they are going to tell the enquirers, if they come back, that Oliver just escaped. He was badly bashed about head, severe wounds on his back where he was beaten and an injury to his leg. He says the men in the retreat treated him really well, but just kept him secluded and never told him where he was.

The men in the retreat, says Doris, seemed more frightened than Oliver.

Anyway, Oliver and his family are off back to his home area now. Doris says he just cried and cried all the way back to Nairobi. HIs mother is planning a ‘cleansing’ ceremony when they get home. For whatever good that will do.

In more good news, the first 20 women have left Kisii en route to their new life. This is all wrapping up rather well.

We discuss names. Gotta have a name.

I mention something Doris suggested the other night. And Joan loves it. So, for the time being, we have the working title :

BRAVEHEARTS – MAMAS FIGHTING RAPE

If anyone can do better, I would love to hear. Acronyms are good.

Though I still like TOMBE TOMBE BABA MBAYA.

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Kate Copstick in Kenya: “There is an odd failure to report this in the papers.”

Journalist Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya working with her Mama Biashara charity, which gives small sums of money and advice to poor people so they can set up their own small, self-sustaining businesses which will allow them to help themselves out of poverty.

Mama Biashara’s slogan is:

A HAND UP, NOT A HAND OUT.

Copstick and Mama Biashara make no money from this and 100% of all money donated to the charity is used for the charity’s work. Copstick works for free, receives no money herself and covers 100% of her own costs.

She keeps a diary which she posts in full, when possible, on her Facebook page. These three (edited) extracts from last weekend give, I think, a fair idea of the background within which Copstick and Mama Biashara have to work.


Friday 17th November

Doris calls with news from Kisii. Yes, we are STILL trying to find a way to help the women hiding out in Kisii County (as mentioned in previous blogs/diary extracts).

Good News: between Vicky and themselves, they have found some farmers and villagers who are not tribalist to the point of violent criminal insanity and who will give them jobs. That is about thirty of them with at least a life-raft to cling to.

Bad News: there is a something between a gang and a sect with absolutely the worst aspects of each which operates in Kisii. They are called the Chinkororo. They rule the place. They arrived in one of the decent, helpful villages a couple of days ago, called everyone together, pointed at a random woman in the crowd, declared her to be a witch, doused her in petrol and set her on fire. While everyone watched. Pour décourager les autres, one assumes. If, say, a screaming, terrified child tried to run away or even look away, one of the gang would hold its head and force it to watch. Until the woman died screaming and squirming.

Vicky was sent this on a smartphone video.

Doris saw it and is still traumatised. Doris is not traumatised easily.

There are a lot of silences in our phone call.

Then I get a call from Joan, wondering where I am.

“Still sick?” She worries. “It can be malaria.”

She has some good news, though. Earlier in the week she had called me about a girl – just newly eleven years old, raped when she was 10 and now pregnant. She wanted to know if we could find a doctor to give the girl what is generally referred to here as a ‘wash and blow-dry’. The wonderful… er… hairdresser… who had helped some very young girls for us before has moved to Turkana but it seems Joan found one herself. The girl is now great, and currently home with her mother.

We are getting increasingly worried about Oliver, the marvellous Mobile Phone Whisperer who was going to spearhead our training of young women in mobile phone repair. I had asked that he come to Nairobi to meet with me so we could discuss things properly. Despite all warnings from Vixen and Doris, he went to stay with some friends in Huruma – a scary place at the best of times but, with all the political nastiness still happening, now properly dangerous.

We heard, via Vixen, that, in a night of the kind of ethnic cleansing that happens in places like that at times like this, Oliver had been beaten up while trying to leave the slum. Oliver is Luo. That is all that it takes to get you beaten up. Or worse. He went into hiding and has not been heard from since. It is a nightmare. Huruma is not the kind of place you go wandering around looking for a lost mate.

Doris wants to come over and pick up some headed letter stuff that I set up so we could give people letters of recommendation. Vixen has found jobs for about twenty women in a resort in Malindi and it looks like this could be the start of an ongoing relationship with the owner, who knows the backgrounds of our ladies and is happy to give them a chance, a good training (hotel and kitchen staff) and a really good salary. But he wants a letter of recommendation. Kenyans LOVE letters, certificates… anything on paper.

Plus Doris wants to talk.

Saturday 18th November

There is still no sign of Oliver, but what is emerging is a huge community of mums and wives who are searching for young men who have simply disappeared across areas like Huruma and Mathare. Every other day a body will turn up in some place far away, the other side of Nairobi and a flurry of hope/dread will stir. So far, no Oliver.

Luos are being kicked out of Kenol (on the outskirts of Nairobi), says Doris. They just get a visitor in the night who tells them to go or suffer the consequences.

Kabiria (where Joan lives) is on a knife edge.

Kawangware has sporadic outbursts of what can only be called ‘ethnic cleansing’. Things are not happy.

But there is an odd failure to report any of this in the papers.

I think if people were really looking, they would find that just as many people are being killed now as were killed in the 2008 riots. It is just being managed more carefully this time. Kept sporadic, geographically spaced out. Just young men disappearing from slum areas… who just happen to be Luo. The sixty odd in Kisii who disappeared while Vicky has been up there have not reappeared. People are now looking for a mass grave.

Sunday 19th November

Talking to Doris again I remember that I never DID tell you what she wanted to talk about on Friday.

We have been approached about all manner of domestic and sexual abuse. But nothing like this case. And it is all the fault of UK Kink.

Precis: middle class Kenyan (male), presumably a massive bully, physically and emotionally. Goes to Oxford. Discovers BDSM. Totally perverts it to cover and give a modicum of imagination and sophistication to his own bullying tendencies. Marries a sweet Kenyan virgin. And lives a 24/7 full-on BDSM existence. She is abused physically and mentally.

We are talking to the extent that, before he leaves in the morning, he ‘marks’ her by pissing on her and she is not allowed to wash it off. Oh yes. Because she was so innocent when he married her and is so controlled by him, she thinks this happens in all marriages.

Only now, because he left his browser open and she saw some of the pages he likes, she has she begun to realise what is happening is not normal.

On behalf of BDSM fans everywhere, I am outraged at what this man is doing. I give Doris a gallop through the basics of BDSM, garnished with personal anecdotes and heavy on consent. It takes a lot to gobsmack Doris but gobsmacked she is. Utterly.

We are going to meet up with this woman and see how she wants to proceed. I am thinking a day in a dungeon with the CopMistress and no safe word.

Great news from Brian. Mama Biashara’s Special Condiment has been VERY popular with the ladies of Homa Bay. A refuge for abused girls was suffering regular break ins by state police who would stop off on their way from the pub for a quick rape of some already abused and vulnerable girls. A full face of Mama Biashara’s Condiment is a surefire way to distract a man from any planned action in the jap’s eye area to the searing agony in his other eyes. Production is underway, so that all the women can be safe. Well, safer.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Kate Copstick in Kenya: elections, violence and disappearing people

On Monday, Kate Copstick flew to Kenya, where her Mama Biashara charity is based. She keeps a diary which she posts on her Facebook page. Below are edited extracts, starting with Copstick ill in the U.K.

Monday 30th October

Kate Copstick in London – as seen by Joanne Fagan

Things are not looking good. I have felt like Death Has A Bad Headache for most of the last week. Spent yesterday in bed.

I am leaving behind an Emporium – the Mama Biashara shop in Shepherd’s Bush – on an emotional knife edge and a more or less empty bank account. My wad is slimmer than it has been for many years. I am practising saying: “No, I am sorry, small, gnarled, starving person, I cannot help you as I have insufficient funds”.

BA have changed the aircraft to one of those ones that carry a ‘We are not really for the poor’ message. The plane is almost entirely First and Club Class which you trail through before reaching the 25 rows of ‘cheap seats’, way back in the tail. I console myself with the fact that survivors of a catastrophic air crash are almost always found in the tail section. Staff are lovely, food is dire.

Customs in Nairobi want to know if I have anything to declare. I decide that shouting “Your election was a sham and your so-called President an insult to the starving poor of your country” is not what is being called for, so I mention I have cheese and English beer for my friend Alan. They want to know if I have more than $10,000.

Hah!! If only. If only.

Wildebeest, where I stay in Nairobi, is calm and dark and my flaps open to admit me and my bags. I sleep, waking only to munch yet another handful of Rennies Extra. My attempt to come off Omeprazole has not been a success.


Kate Copstick (left) working for Mama Biashara in Kenya

Tuesday 31st October

I am, to my surprise, up at 8.30am. My tiny tent is like a sauna. Which is quite lovely. I open my flaps and head to have coffee and do some admin.

The market in Kijabe Street is an emaciated shell of its usual self. Many traders have simply not come; most have only half the stuff they usually bring. Everyone is downbeat about the lack of business and the paucity of tourists. I am welcomed like a cow carcass in a bearpit.

I talk a LOT of politics on my rounds, get essential travel information (“Do not go to Awendo it is crazy there, you will be killed!”), buy some great stuff and attempt to pack the car.

This is a different car. This one has a big bash in the front, the doors don’t really open from the inside and the boot is fused shut. The windows do open but only when David rubs the bare wires on his door together. Then we get a shower of sparks and a window opens; you rarely know which one it is going to be. We cram everything into the back seat and go to Kawangware (one of the unburnt bits) to meet Doris.

And now some good news!

The Pork Place in Kawangware has re-opened. We celebrate with some of their finest dry fry with greens. We then do shopping for Doris and David. I have to give them a strict limit because funds are so very short this trip. Doris heads to a matatu and David drops me and my many bits and bobs at Wildebeest.

I cram everything I have bought between my flaps and into the tiny tent in complete darkness. I forgot to buy a torch. And my phone is dead. I attempt to identify my five different meds by touch. And neck the assortment.

I sleep.


Wednesday 1st November

Mama Biashara’s rain catcher – very simple but very effective

I am hailed by a thin American with a tweedy cap and a non-hipster moustache. Brian is with another charity – Mama Maji – and he tells me about the manual brick presses his peeps are giving to communities in need of a way to get, store and sell water to make water tanks. The bricks are waterproof and made from soil plus 1% cement. NO need for firing. The brick press sounds amazing. And costs about £800 a pop. Which is something someone could fundraise for. Couldn’t you?

In exchange, I tell Brian about Mama Biashara’s Raincatchers and Mama Biashara’s Special Condiment (white vinegar laced generously with birdseye chillies and matured till the fumes it gives off would knock down an angry hippo).

We bottle it in little sprays and advise women to apply vigorously to the eyes and, if bared, genital area of an attacker. It has worked incredibly well in all the areas we have taken it to. Stopped attacks in Mombasa, Nairobi… even when the British Army was concerned. Guaranteed to reduce a wannabe rapist to a pink, puffy and streaming-eyed, sobbing ball of blind pain at your feet. And discourage others. It is also delicious on rice or chips if you like things spicy.

Brian wants to send it to Homa Bay, where violently sexual attacks on women on the way to the lake to fetch water are on the increase.

Vicky comes to tell me about the results of para-election(s) violence in Kisii and Homa Bay. My sources have already regaled me with tales of rioting and arson, shooting and general violence all over the area. So I am expecting the worst.

Her story takes me one step away from shrieking “Screw the lot of you!” and flouncing out for an early flight home. However, there are 60 people in Kisii County (plus countless children) who need Mama Biashara very badly.

Since the ‘election’ in August, in many areas, things have been bad and getting worse. Already, 63 men that Vicky herself knows about have disappeared. Just disappeared. No bodies, nothing. Just, suddenly, no husband, no father…

More recently, around the election rerun, tribalism in the areas not held by the party in power has been getting desperate as anyone who looks slightly like a voter floating the wrong way is hunted down.

The sixty that Vicky has come to me about are absolute outcasts. Forty women and twenty men who committed the unforgivable crime of marrying outside their tribe.

Kisii people who married a Luo faced terrible treatment. They had been working across the county border in Homa Bay. There they were beaten, their houses set on fire, their businesses set on fire and the people forced to run in the night or be killed. They ran back across the border into Kisii County – “Home”.

But there the women are paraded through any town they go to, being publicly whipped. No-one will give them shelter, much less food or a way to earn a living. So they are currently sleeping in fields, open air, in the rain and the cold. Starving and desperate. Vicky went to visit them. Vicky is also a sort of outcast. An outsider who married a Kisii. But they do not attack her (any more) because she has two children who have been brought up Kisii.

Now, believe it or not, it gets worse.

I am planning my trip to take them plastic to make shelters, cooking pots, the wherewithal to start small businesses, clothes, food, medicine etc. But I cannot.

Because, if the local Kisiis see a mzungu (or, indeed ANYONE) helping the outcasts or giving them things, then all hell will break loose. Nothing particularly bad would happen to me, probably, but the outcast community would be attacked and all donations taken from them.

So we will have to drip feed them our help. Starting with some plastic and old sacking to make shelters… then tools… cooking pots (everything must look old and worn)… food… etc etc.

We will take the stuff as far as Kisii where Vicky can get safe storage. Then a couple of the drivers of the farm lorries that go down to the county border will take the things. Vicky knows them. We will pay them a little. Every day, every trip, a little more. So hopefully these people and their children won’t die out there in the fields.

The Rennies get a hammering through the night… must be my churning bile.

Mama Biashara survives solely on donations and money from its shop in London. 100% of all monies collected go to the charity’s work. Copstick covers all her own expenses herself, including travel and accommodation. She takes nothing from the charity. You can donate HERE.

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