Tag Archives: Nairobi

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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Kate Copstick in Kenya: uplifting bras, election promises and a Chinese IOU

Meanwhile, away from the pre-occupations of the UK, real life and death continue in Kenya, where comedy critic Kate Copstick is 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.

Here are the latest edited extracts from her diary, starting in Mombasa.

Fuller versions are on her Facebook page.


Mama Biashara helper Vicky with cheap de-worming tablets.

SATURDAY – A WEEK AGO

We do a load of de-worming and the usual stuff. There is quite a lot of ringworm so the tea tree oil gets a hammering. And many, many more lady-problems including a girl of fifteen who is (I translate directly from the Swahili) “removing meat” when she has a period, plus three women in their thirties whose periods have stopped, quite a lot of painful sex and much spotting.

There are, of course, loads of anaemic old ladies and a lot of  ‘kizunguzungu’ (dizziness). But when I make them drink a bottle of water with some ORS (soluble hydration tablets), they perk up and react as though I have made Illness History. It gets dark and I can see nothing so we wind down after about four hours. The tiny local pharmacy has been really helpful. My load of ointments for rashes and sore backs runs out early on.

I get a replacement SIM card for the stolen Mama Biashara phone and Doris sets about the Herculean task of recovering her contacts.

Our matatu ride back to the ferry is uncomfortable to say the least. The memo about only allowing people on the matatu if there is an available seat must have got lost in the post and we are crammed in like sausage meat in a condom. My insect bites are growing and the floor of the matatu seems to be on fire. But we reach the ferry and cool off on the short trip across.

Helper Doris (left) with Vicky in Mombassa

SUNDAY

Doris cannot get in touch with the ladies with the bleached skin – they use household bleach for skin whitening – because she has not yet got her phone contacts back. All my clothes are claggy and so I throw caution to the winds and don a dera. Even although I have no buttocks. The swelling caused by some massive mozzie bites plumps them up a bit but, next to Doris I just look like someone has let the air out of a real person. However the dera is UNBELIEVEABLY comfortable.

We go and see Ally, get more deras to sell, go and check on our friends at the pan shop in the old town and then head back to the City Mall to get Wi-Fi. And allow Doris another leg massage. We watch the ‘goats’ and the farmers come and go and Doris tells me tales of her past lives in Mombasa. She was a great, great ‘goat’ in her time.

She tells me the last time we were here she found a girl in the toilets crying. Her old, white farmer had brought her here and told her she could eat for up to 600 shillings. She had mistakenly ordered something more expensive and the bill was 1,000 shillings. He was demanding the extra 400 from her and she was tearfully calling friends to get contributions.

The main – often jammed – road out of Mombasa to Nairobi.

MONDAY

Up at sparrow’s fart and forced to get a taxi as there is waaaaay too much luggage for a tuk tuk.

I run around town looking for some big plastic bags to protect my stuff and get everything parcelled up just in time to be pointed at a notice which says that Modern Coast will no longer accept luggage in plastic bags. Luckily this is Kenya and 100 shillings to the luggage boy gets everything safely inside. I sleep. And sleep.

And wake to find I am being rained on. The air conditioning, which worked at the start of the trip, is now letting in the rain which is lashing outside and it is all coming in through the vents. A vague-looking bloke starts covering everything with Sellotape.

Ten hours to Nairobi.

David awaits at the side of Mombasa Road. He has his cousin’s car which has definitely seen better days. OK, let’s be frank, better decades.

Its primary characteristics include a non-opening passenger door, a dashboard which radiates heat from somewhere, a dodgy wheel (endless squeaking) and windows with a mind of their own. But it goes.

How far has yet to be seen.

In Gikomba, “a politician with an eye on local votes has announced he is doing something about the sewer”

In my absence from Nairobi’s KillZone, aka Gikomba, a politician with an eye on local votes has announced he is doing something about the sewer. Hoorah.

That ‘something’ turns out to be dumping a giant mountain of sand and hardcore on the road…

…totally blocking it to anything apart from sherpas and tropical mountain goats.

TUESDAY

Doris is sleeping and doing family things so I change more money and head to the market. David is late and I am moody. And the exchange rate is dropping faster than the scabs from my bedbug bites (abating at last).

The waterfront at Lamu, Kenya, where Mama Biashara works

WEDNESDAY

Doris is still in recovery from Mombasa, but we talk on the phone and she says Vicky is reporting results that are nothing short of miraculous with our Poor Mama’s Plumpy Nut.

She has gone back to Lamu where she knows villages that are literally dying on their feet. News of Poor Mama’s Plumpy Nut has spread and Vicky has been approached by some shoshos from two makeshift villages along close to the Somali border. One has been given the name Refugee and the other Mogadishu.

They are in a sort of no-man’s or everyman’s land. When the Somalis are looking for Kenyan sympathisers they raid these villages and when the Kenyans are looking for Somali infiltrators they also raid these villages. Death is a daily occurrence. Even Vicky is far too scared to go there.

But she teaches the shoshos about Poor Mama’s Plumpy Nut and gives them the ingredients. I am not sure what we can do long term for these people. Nothing we can do there is sustainable. And we can’t get them out because most of them have no ID. For now, Poor Mama’s Plumpy Nut is what we can do.

I am going to set up a fund just for Poor Mama’s Plumpy Nut – it doesn’t cost much. I can get 2.5kg of dried milk powder in Eastleigh for about £12.50 and peanuts are about £1 a kilo. Vicky has seen big results with children being given just two tablespoons per day.

OK, we are not going to make malnutrition and infant death history. We would need Bono for that. But we can make a HUGE difference with very little. Which is, of course, The Way Of Mama Biashara.

Copstick: “We can make a huge difference with very little”

I am meeting Julius (Our Man In Western) at Corner. Things have been going well. The 50-strong group of shoshos we funded to sell sweet potatoes and arrowroot have expanded and brought in three more groups of 14 women each. So the original grant – which was about £250 – has not now funded not 50 women but 92.

The ladies who got the fabulous collection of Mama Biashara’s Bras for the Bouncy Breasted have done less well than expected. Note for the future: the rural ladies of Kenya are not fans of the uplift bra. They have been removing the wire supports. But they love the ‘shouting colours’. And the local prostitutes love them too. So that is something. But our four ladies are now firmly in business. Albeit that what they want now are vests – “for the sweat”.

Big news is that Kenya Power are considering running electricity to the area. Which would be fantastic. Julius gets £50 for the necessary junction box etc on the basis that it will be a base for Mama Biashara’s head shaver and whatnot. We compile a list of the stuff he needs to take back to Western with him.

There is much malaria, he reports. I launch into a lecture about the misuse of malaria drugs. I genuinely worry about sending them when I know that every fever, every bout of the trots and every headache is instantly diagnosed as malaria.

I agree a checklist of symptoms with Julius and demand a list of everyone who is given the medication. We will see. The generic stuff is excellent and not expensive but the Kenyans LOVE to medicate. It is practically a national sport.

Back at the hotel, we watch coverage of the inaugural run of the Mombasa–Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway’s new Madaraka Express. Fabulous. It will be a HUGE help to Mama Biashara.

But President Kenyatta has put Kenya probably irrevocably in debt to The People’s Republic of China. And, if I had to have someone knocking on my door with the You-Owe-Me book, I would not choose them.


Copstick’s Diary continues HERE.

Mama Biashara survives solely on donations and 100% of all donations go to the charity’s work; none to overheads.

You can donate to Mama Biashara HERE.

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Kate Copstick in Kenya and in trouble

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

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


Copstick in Kenya

“I am having something of an accommodation crisis.”

SATURDAY 4th JUNE

I am having something of an accommodation crisis in Nairobi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUNDAY 5th JUNE

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

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

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

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

The Kenyan national flag

The Kenyan national flag

MONDAY 6th JUNE

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

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

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

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

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

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

TUESDAY 7th JUNE

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

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

But you cannot go against The Scriptures.

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

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

WEDNESDAY 8th JUNE

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

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

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

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

I look the place up.

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

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

THURSDAY 9th JUNE

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

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

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


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

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Comedy critic Kate Copstick face-to-faeces + the Pope and Obama in Kenya

Copstick with Mama Biashara co-worker Felista

Kate Copstick with Mama Biashara co-worker Felista at DECIP

Kate Copstick is in Nairobi, Kenya, where her Mama Biashara charity is based. It helps poor people start their own small self-sufficient businesses.

Below is an edited version of her latest missives, available in full on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.


I am about to try to coax my tiny Vaio to let me write another diary – you will, I know, be delighted to hear. Do not hold your breath, the Book of Kells was written faster that my Sony will allow. However, I have taken time out to tell you of the extraordinarily enormous poo I did early this morning.

One of the interesting features of peeing and pooing into a bucket at night is that it brings you face to face with your arse’s doings. Almost literally in this case. I could swear it had jaws. This thing was like nothing I have ever seen. It is the kind of thing normally seen in close up with an awestruck Sir David Attenborough whispering: “The Kenyan Brown Anaconda is a magnificent creature…”

THURSDAY

Heading across town is not really possible as everything has been closed off for the Pope. His speeches are – for a world figure like him – gloriously in-yer-face. And he KNOWS so much of the shitty stuff about Kenya. He makes some seriously pointed remarks about land grabbing and stealing school playgrounds for development (which Deputy Wm Ruto attempted only a few months ago) and corruption and materialism in government. Go Popester!

We go to my third meeting with the Mums of Disabled Kids group. The group has thinned considerably now they know I am

  1. not stupid and
  2. not limitlessly minted.

So we set up a hardware business (with veggies sharing the space outside), a hair salon (with more veggies outside). Working out the finances of running of a hair salon for African women has the complication factor of trying to build a Rubik’s Cube out of a kit made from Higgs’ Bosons. The permutations of pieces and weaves and oils and chemicals and treatments and the rest is staggering. However we sort it out. And I leave muttering dire warnings of the horrors that will befall them if they misuse Mama Biashara’s money…

I have also brought ten umbrellas for the albino kids and a load of E45. I will also be setting up a drop-off point for bottles and tubes of sunscreen in the Emporium. These kids need Factor 60 and it costs a FORTUNE here.

For the first time in a long time I go to Njenga’s place for soup at lunchtime. This soup is the Kenyan equivalent of Jewish Chicken Soup. A cow’s head and feet bob about in the massive pot of broth and men walk up and down the dirt floor pouring mugs of it from huge plastic jugs. That and some boiled tongue and a bit of kachumbari. Excellent.

Now we head to Felista’s Cyber Cafe and pick up her and some big cardboard cartons. At DECIP, I talk to the two newcomers to the place – Esther who wants to dump her one week old baby here and Obama (she is adamant that is her name) who was found running out of the Ngong Forest in the berr nakid scuddy (as we say in Scotland). A week with Felista and a capsule of cod liver oil each day has worked wonders with them both and both are communicating.

Esther, it turns out, was raped out on the Maasai Mara at a camp where she was working. The child is the result of that rape. And she doesn’t want anything to do with it. She says the baby makes her think about the gang rape. Fair enough. “Why not have an abortion?” I ask. She looks horrified. She is a Christian.

Obama has also started speaking. She comes from Mumias. Ran away from home because (I think … her story was a little bit jumbled) her brother and his friends were raping her. On pretty much a regular basis. And she was discovered to have syphilis. Which they said they would treat with ten injections. She ran away to Nairobi.

Where I think some fairly ghastly stuff went on because she had no money and says she was living at ‘Ambassadors’ which is a bus stage in the heart of the ‘up-to-no-good’ area of Nairobi. From there she went to Kibera (never a good move) and then ran away to the Ngong Forest to find someone to pray for her pain. She gets blinding headaches and suffers from what she calls the falling down disease which usually translates as epilepsy. She also has open sores on her legs. But she is sweet and stunningly beautiful. So she is going to the hospital on Monday for a full check up (I hope) and they will kick off some serious antibiotic treatment.


So that was a shortened version of an average day for Copstick in Kenya…

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Copstick in Kenya: a girl for 50 shillings + threatened wave of Nairobi bombings

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

Kate Copstick at work in Kenya

Comedy Kate Copstick is in Kenya, where her Mama Biashara charity is based.

These are edited extracts from her diary there. Fuller versions on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.


WEDNESDAY 18th NOVEMBER

Kenya is wet. But warm. And very excited about the Pope coming to visit.

I planned to go to Mombasa to help the crispy ladies with the chemical burns from the toxic skin whitener (see an earlier blog).

However the woman who sold them the cream is bribing them to stay away from the police and is paying for their treatment.

I get to Shalom and Felista is waiting there. We talk about her newest arrivals at DECIP, the home that Mama Biashara built. There is a little baby. Maybe a month old, they think. Police found it where it had been left, on the main railway line, dressed in a new kanga.

There are three large, well-funded homes between where it was found and Felista. None of them would open their doors. So the police walked the miles to Felista and she took the baby. Which is now thriving.

Then there is the two year old girl who was being used as more or less a house slave by her mother. When she arrived at DECIP, she would endlessly brush the floor and wash up plates and cups because she feared she would be beaten if she didn’t. At two years old.

And finally, because Felista now has something of a reputation for helping girls and boys who have been sexually abused, people brought her a young, naked, pregnant, woman who had run out of Ngong Forest. She will not speak (except muttering to herself), seems permanently famished, keeps trying to steal knives which she hides up her sleeves and is generally Not A Happy Bunny. She is much calmer now but still no-one knows anything about her.

So now to business.

Felista has opened a cyber cafe in Kawangware as an income-generating project for DECIP. Which really needs income. Last time I was here I contributed the cost of a printer. Except Felista didn’t buy a printer. She paid the deposit on the premises, wired it up for internet and painted it. A wonderful man has filled it with 8 beautiful desktop computers and done all the IT work. It gets a lot of traffic already, but it still doesn’t have a printer.

I agree to go with Felista the next day to talk to the IT guy about this all-singing, all-dancing laser printer that is apparently the sine qua non of the cyber cafe.

I load Felista up with baby milk and nappies for the new arrival, pens and pencils for the school, a couple of bras the size of small bell tents and a pile of sanitary pads and David takes her home.

It turns out I will not be going to Mombasa by train… The train was derailed by flooding on Tuesday. And I cannot justify (or afford really) a flight.

The Mama Biashara shop in London’s Shepherd’s bush

Hard-pressed Mama Biashara shop: Shepherd’s Bush, London

THURSDAY 19th NOVEMBER

One of the big challenges here is the utter inability of anyone to comprehend that getting money is not easy for me. I tell them about the shop in London. Souad and Letitia work there five days a week without fail, pushing for sales, explaining to people about the charity, working really hard. And for nothing except a warm glow. Aunty Biashara – my sister Amanda – comes schlepping in from all over the place to help out. She has been in the shop now since 2009 when we first opened. She has a proper job but still takes the time to help. We are all getting quite knackered. And sales are not always high. 75% of the money I spend in Kenya comes from the shop. My expected Lotto win has not materialised and it is a real slog keeping the charity financially bouncy. We have recently asked for more volunteers– to no avail. But we need them before Souad, Letitia and Amanda drop dead from exhaustion!

I get to Junction and start organising the sending of funds to the Coast.

There is a group of 30 older people who have been offered the job of collecting rubbish and sorting it into various categories for the local council. But they need wellies and gloves and overalls and rakes and wheelbarrows. So they get their grant from us. Which is about £250. Less than a tenner each.

Then there is a group of younger people for whom Doris has organised a contract with Mombasa Beach Hotel for 1500 jelly coconuts every couple of days. They are going to get them in the interior where they are cheaper and bring them back to the hotel in a big handcart. They will buy at 20 bob and sell at 50 bob. There are 28 of them. 1500 is the minimum the hotel will take. What they really want is 5000. So the business is going to grow.

Then there are the beach boys – guys with no real education and no training. One group has the chance to do keep fit with local ladies who want to learn to ride bicycles for exercise. So this group of 20 will get 10 bicycles to kick off their business (a bike going for £15 special price from a local dealer).

A second beach group are sort of unofficial lifeguards and unpaid Beach Patrol but they help teach kids to swim (and adults) and want lifejackets, floats and flippers etc. I send enough for ten of each to kick them off.

There is a group of men who climb the coconut palms for a living. The money is crap and the danger of falling to a squishy death is high. Most do not live past 30. I tell Doris that I would rather talk to them about another business than pay to rent a copse of palms for them to harvest. They cannot do another business, apparently. These guys are ‘chosen’ at birth by the local witchdoctor who has a vision that they will be a great tree climber. From then, they are taught to climb the palms. No school. No nothing except palm tree climbing and coconut harvesting. And early death. I tell Doris we need to think carefully about this.

Children at Mama Biashara’s DECIP in Kenya

Children at Mama Biashara’s DECIP in Nairobi, Kenya

FRIDAY 20th NOVEMBER

We head to town to the incredibly helpful man who has given all her desk top computers and organised the IT for the cyber cafe. On the bus, Felista tells me about another boy (he is about 19) at DECIP (“He is mental”, says Felista) who likes to help cooking in the kitchen. Finding that there was no firewood to cook the children’s porridge, he took one of the young girls into Waithake and sold her to a woman for 50 shillings. Which he brought back proudly and gave to Felista to buy firewood. The girl was immediately rescued.

Felista hoots with laughter. “DECIP is become a place for mental people” she says.

It seems that the laser printer is, indeed, a bit of a bargain. And so we buy it. Plus power surge protection (absolutely necessary here) and some other bits and bobs.

As I quiz the nice man (Peter) about running costs and repairs, Felista gets a call from DECIP where they have just received another newbie. A two week old baby which was abandoned by a teenage mum at a police station. Well, at least I have just brought some baby milk.

SATURDAY 21st NOVEMBER

Some of the Kenyan children helped by Mama Biashara

Some of the Kenyan children helped by Mama Biashara

We head to town to get a load of stationery for Felista’s cyber. I have been in touch with Doris since last night on a half hourly basis. She is trying to get back from Mombasa. I am quite glad I did not go. She was in a crowd of 300 people waiting for the midnight bus (one bus) to Nairobi. She did not get on. But at 4.30am she and three other people paid £20 each to get in the back of a big lorry making the journey. They are stuck in the massive jam that is the Mombasa Highway. By 12 noon today they are less than a hundred miles from Mombasa. The traffic is stationary. Animals are prowling. A kid goes for a wee behind a bush and is mauled by a hyena. Doris’s truck drivers leap out and kill it with stones. The child is bleeding profusely.

Doris forwards me a WhatsApp message advising me to tell all my team that Nairobi is about to be struck with a wave of bombings. It lists the usual suspects. And says the bombers are hiding in Eastleigh until given the signal. 4th Street apparently. However I still feel safer here than I would in London … which surely must be next on the list.

We go to Kawangware to Felista’s cyber. It is actually quite impressive. Nice computers (thanks to Peter). A new massive printer (thanks to Mama Biashara) and it is doing brisk business.

Felista has yet another new arrival to tell me about. Five days old and the mother came to dump it at DECIP. She already has eight children, has separated from her husband (who has four of the kids with him and they are to be found roaming the streets in Kawangware) and has a new boyfriend who will not have the new baby in his house.

Felista wants me to come to DECIP tomorrow and talk to the mother and see if I can get anything out of the non-speaking crazy naked lady from the forest.

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Copstick in Kenya does a roaring trade

The Mama Biashara HQ at the Nairobi Showgrounds this week (Doris, centre in red)

The Mama Biashara HQ at the Showground this week (Mama B organiser Doris, centre right in red)

To round off this week’s blogs about comedy critic Kate Copstick in Kenya, here are some final extracts from her diary.

Her small-scale business start-up charity Mama Biashara has been working at the annual Nairobi International Trade Show:


SATURDAY 3rd OCTOBER

Doris calls to say the City Council gang have been round again extorting money from the little people. Otherwise all is going well at The Show. We now have over 200 women and over 100 guys working there. Most recently we added 10 new guys doing shoeshine. And a roaring trade.

SUNDAY 4th OCTOBER

Felista arrives with a gift of eggs but for some reason I am in such pain that I cannot get out of bed. An hour later and I am up but very very sore. Pain that feels as if it is in my bones. I take my last quarter Oxycontin and soon feel better. I chat with Felista and Cecilia who joins for a bit. Doris texts from the Showground (where everything is being packed up and sorted out), to say that Mama Biashara has kicked off 324 BRAND NEW business people at the Show this week. And that is not counting the already established Mama B peeps who were also there making a good amount.

Our big success, says Doris, was – surprisingly – the young men (60 of them, many ex-drunkards and casualties of the government’s crack down on illegal booze) who did the garbage collection. They made 1,000 shillings per day. Which is more than they ever dreamed. We are thrilled. The sugar cane people have big new orders and our cocktails are much in demand…

All good.

I leave Felista at the Mali Cafe to have lunch and go to Junction to use WiFi and do a little necessary shopping. I do a lot of packing as everything is going to the airport tomorrow. Not much soapstone means things are easier packing wise. Although somehow two lovely rosewood carvings are already broken.

MONDAY 5th OCTOBER

David arrives at 9.30am and we start loading the car. I have brought Dollars this time which is much better as the Shilling is pretty much in the financial toilet at the moment. I contact the marvellous Les Phillpott (Our Man At Heathrow) to arrange customs clearance on Thursday (which is when Benson The Cargo Man says it will arrive) and head to have some lunch.

I am meeting Jayne and Doris later and they opt for Shalom (grrrrrr – 100 bob for a coffee !). I go through a load of business proposals. I am VERY strict as most of them seem to be operating on a profit of about £1.50 per day. I do a lot of what is now called “your mathematics” and explain why these businesses are not sustainable. Jayne makes copious notes and nods a lot. Doris arrives, still buzzing from the success of the show.

Sorry this ends abruptly but I have to go to the loo…


Back in Britain with more stock for the Mama Biashara shop in London’s Shepherd’s Bush, Copstick will be recording the weekly Grouchy Club Podcast with me this Friday.

And there will be live (free) Grouchy Club chat shows at the Mama Biashara shop in Shepherd’s Bush on Tuesday 13th October, Tuesday 10th November, Tuesday 8th December and Tuesday 22nd December.

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Copstick, corruption and Coke in Kenya

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

Mama Biashara’s Kate Copstick

Comedy critic Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya for her charity Mama Biashara. I occasionally include highly edited pieces from her diary in this blog. (For unedited versions, see the Mama Biashara Facebook page.)

Today, here is another one. It starts a week ago.


FRIDAY 25th SEPTEMBER

My friend Rebecca is dead. She died last night. We have been WhatsApping each other morning and night but she stopped replying on Wednesday. I don’t really know what to do. She was so sick and in such pain and people are saying things like “She is at peace now” but I know Rebecca would rather not be at peace and be back here with a good roast chicken and a cheeky MummyJuice. Rebecca saved my life. When I was in what they are wont to call “a bad place” and doing all manner of silly things of a hugely self-destructive nature, she saved me. She would just not let go until I sorted myself out. And now she is dead.

SATURDAY 26th SEPTEMBER

I am not sure what I am doing but I suppose I had better do something.

I look for a mosquito net (which I keep failing to buy) but settle for a plug-in mozzie repellant called DOOM instead. Mozzies are not the horror for me that they were as one of the great things about being fully ‘roided-up is that the bites no longer swell up like ghastly pink humps but just behave like normal bites. So I barely notice them until I run a hand over my skin and notice it is as if I have had some of those implants where you get ball bearings put under your skin.

The newspapers say the teachers’ strike is over but there is much grumbling. The story on the front page shares space with one about a female Cabinet Minister who is being asked to explain a 700 million shilling deficit in her budget. The money has just disappeared. From a government which keeps saying the country does not have enough cash to give the teachers a raise.

I miss my conversation with Rebecca and play 23 games of Solitaire instead. God bless smartphones.

SUNDAY 27th SEPTEMBER

It is Sunday and I am feeling ridiculously sorry for myself.

I have washed my hair (I can highly recommend Toss Liquid Laundry Detergent – it gives a lovely soft feel) and cleaned the toilet. Someone in the block of flats which overlooks our little compound is listening to first a Take That compilation and then Terry Jack’s “Seasons in the Sun”. At least it is robust competition for the singing coming from the churches which we have on three sides. Having said which, stand anywhere in Nairobi and you have churches on three sides of you. It makes Rome look positively Godless. I have just walked up the road to Shalom for milky coffee and free WiFi. The cloud of dust which enveloped me as the cars passed on their way to Cornerstone Church has meant that the Toss will have to come out again later.

MONDAY 28th SEPTEMBER

I am awoken by a text from Doris telling me she is at the Showground with 86 Mama Biashara ladies and 30 boys. She had been trying to get our people work at the Nairobi International Trade Show – the Big Event of the Nairobi year in terms of business and enterprise and the place where Mama B’s whole Sugar Cane Empire kicked off last year.

Having been knocked back by everyone for lack of paper qualifications, suddenly word of mouth kicked in and our ladies are running the Kenya Police Canteens (three of them – civilians, scrambled-egg-on-shoulder and lower ranks) and doing all the baking on quite a posh cake stall. Our lads are portering on the first couple of days (for good money and, again, word of mouth reassured the employers that Mama B’s people are Good People). Having actually got into the Showground (at 6am) and now that everyone knows what they are doing, Doris is busy finding little spots where Mama B peeps can do business. We will catch up later, she says.

Doris arrives from the Show and I get the skinny on what is happening.

More Mama B people are being added all the time… To the 86 another 20 mamas and then to the 30 boys 10 more to do facepainting, 10 to sell water, 10 to sell ice cream and 10 to sell coffee at night from a thermos urn.

TUESDAY 29th SEPTEMBER

To Kijabe Street market for heaps of loveliness for the Emporium. Now when I buy from Mwangi and Dorcas and a few others we do our business under a sack or behind a tent because Chinese eyes and cameras are everywhere looking for new designs to copy and mass produce. Mwangi is despairing.

I collect my massive order of medicines from the pharmacy and reassure the lovely Ruth that Goff is well although his mother in law died. She sends her condolences. There is a slight hiccup when I discover that the meds for the old guy with syphilis come in the form of a vaginal pessary. But other than that and my despair at the continuing stanglehold of The Clap upon the wrinklies of Awendo, the pharmacy trip is very jolly. I even get a huge very strong box to take away (great for packing for return trip).

Rebecca’s cousin texts me to say they are going to be turning off Rebecca’s phone and giving me her number so I can stay in touch about the funeral.

WEDNESDAY 30 SEPTEMBER

The Showground is divided (like everything else in Kenya) into those with money and those scrabbling in the dirt to make a living. And those with money are only really interested in making more. And so, as the big companies like McDonalds and KFC have noticed that their takings were not reaching ‘targets’ on the first couple of days and also noticed that all the little mamas selling chapatis and Kenyan food were doing a roaring trade down where the little people gather, they simply bung the City Council kanjos something and – hey totally fucked up presto – last night dozens of the mamas were rounded up and arrested.

They have their medical certificates … they are officially on site … but money talks. Doris starts her day by chasing down the van with our few mamas (most of ours are working in big kitchens on site) and bunged the officers another wedge to get them out. Our neighbour Lucy had all her equipment stolen and all her ladies taken to Langatta Women’s Prison where they will wait till someone pays a bribe to get them out.

The Prez is supposed to be coming tomorrow so that is when things will really take off. Meanwhile something WONDERFUL has happened. Quite without any work on our part. Doris takes me to one side and says we were offered a fridge by Coca Cola.

I cut her off and explain that ANY interaction with the massive global evil that is the Coca Cola empire will result in the withdrawal of all Mama Biashara support. For which read money. And me. Doris knows this and they wanted a guarantee of our tiny kibanda buying rather a lot of their appalling world diminishing product.

“But what of this…?” says Doris as a large truck marked Club pulls up. Coca Cola have simply bought everything that stands in their path here in Africa and so most drinks, should you care to look at the label, are just Lupine Coke in Local Goat’s clothing.

But Club – it turns out as I descend upon the truck and ask to inspect a bottle – are an entirely Kenyan operation. The parent company is called Highland – famous here for water and for squash. I am beside myself with delight.

I help them squeeze the fridge into our tiny kibanda. We are at the speartip of the fight against Coca Cola in Kenya. Their new range is EXACTLY what CC (I cannot even bring myself to write their name again) offer – cola, lemon and lime (Sprite), Orange (Fanta), Bitter Lemon (Krest – a once Kenyan brand which they bought) and Ginger (Stoneys ditto). Plus fruity drinks like mango and guava. I am on a mission. I pay for twenty bottles and everyone who comes up and claims only to drink C gets a free sample – you don’t like it, you don’t buy. They ALL bought ! All the sodas are selling.

Then I meet the Head of Marketing for Highland. He is, oddly, Greek. We are meeting next week to see what we can cook up to help push the product and bring about the downfall of The Evil Empire in Kenya.

THURSDAY 1st OCTOBER

Apparently, the City Council have been around again demanding a £50 bribe from every stall who want to cook anything. The Big Companies had a meeting and demanded that all food of all kinds should be banned from the little people area. Only toys can be sold. So the City Council (notice initials also CC) came around to demand the bribe to ignore the bribe that they had got from the Big Companies. They have a go at Doris but we are not cooking. All our sweeties are wrapped. And now we have Highland fighting our corner. We have their fridge. We are their people. She stands her ground and we are left alone. They are like some sort of foul vermin that attacks the weakest.

They arrested our neighbour Lucy and held her in Langatta until she paid the bribe. They really are filth. When you walk in the posher areas of the show there are no City Council to be seen. At all. They know where their victims are.

I chat to another Top Bod from Highland. Doris does an AMAZING pitch about why sex workers are the best sales people (I pitch in with “You cannot sell anything until you can sell yourself”) and we also come up with a possible slogan… “Pleasure was our business, now business is our pleasure” ??? I chat away about the plusses of having people on the ground, especially when, as Club is, you are trying to break into the slum and poorer areas. He is interested and we part with an exchange of business cards and promises to meet.

I leave at about 6.30pm. We rock off down the road and are stopped from turning right down the empty usual road by a fat twat of a policeman. We are sent off down the road towards Ngong Forest. Along with a massive jam of cars. Ngong Forest also known as Ambush Alley. With dozens of cars crawling through it. The police have decided to create a jam further up Ngong Road so that the main road to the Showground looks clear for them. Bastards. We take a shortcut across a football pitch and I get home.

Shortly after that there was a massive barrage of gunfire from the Showground. Like war had broken out. So much that I thought it was fireworks. What had happened, Doris explains, is that the KDF (Kenya Defence Force) had come into her area, told all the citizens to ‘lalla chini’ (lie low) and fired off a massive barrage of firepower into the sky. And I mean MASSIVE. Doris and the others were left cowering in the kibanda on the ground. As were all the other little people. The KDF personel announced to the little people that they wanted to show “who is in control here”. Quite scary really, as they are psychopaths to a man. A bit of gunfire on the Ngong Road too. However I manage to sleep like a log.

… CONTINUED HERE …

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