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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 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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Lynn Ruth Miller on San Francisco filth, hot & cold US comedy and stifling PC

Lynn Ruth back performing in a changed city

London-based American comic and 84-year-old burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller continues her three-week series of gigs in and around San Francisco and finds, after four years away, that the US has changed…


San Francisco was once a beautiful, sophisticated city where no man stepped out his front door unless he was dressed in shirt, tie and jacket.  Women wore hats, gloves and designer clothes always. Now it is not that way at all.  

The city feels overcrowded, noisy and filthy. Today, I walked from one end of the city to the other (you can actually do that here) and I saw homeless people who set up their own colonies cluttered with blankets, torches, heaters, empty cartons of food, pots, pans and the necessities of their lives.  

These people have no sanitation facilities and the odor that surrounds them is not very nice. They are very aggressive and taunt passers-by, insisting on money from them or just making them get out of their way.

I think of myself as a Socialist and I firmly believe we need to help those who cannot help themselves. But I was decidedly uncomfortable as I passed these clusters of filth and debris and my liberal philosophy was severely shaken. Perhaps my charitable concern for humanity is not so generous when I am faced with standards of living I never dreamed human beings lived in.

And that is what these upper middle class people I am with these days all insist. They say that many homeless people WANT to live that way. 

My darling dog-sitter Leo tells the story of a pan handler who was featured on Sixty Minutes (a TV news program) who made hundreds of dollars in his ragged clothes then went around the corner, shed his rags for conventional garb and drove to his luxury home not far away.  Could this really be?

I for one cannot believe that.  

When I saw these grey, battered human beings who were actually hard to distinguish from the litter they were sleeping in, huddled together reeking of marijuana and human waste, I could only believe that this American society with its emphasis on the need to be rich as a status symbol as well as a means of comfort and the unquenchable thirst for luxury – huge cars, expensive clothes, food that costs five times what it is worth – has created a huge underbelly of people who are trapped in the system and have no idea of how to get out.

A case in point is a man I knew casually before I left San Francisco four years ago. His is a successful reviewer and has always supported himself comfortably. For some reason he will not disclose, he was evicted from his flat and evidently it happened too quickly for him to locate a place to stay. He is desperate and, because he has never had to cope with this kind of hardship before, he has made a horrid pest of himself, calling people who hardly know him begging for a place to sleep.  

He gives the impression that he has no money at all, though the truth is he can feed himself and he can take care of himself.

BUT, if he wants a private place to live, he will have to pay well over $3,000 a month plus a deposit and, since he is a freelance writer, he is considered a bad risk.  

He is terrified to go to a shelter because, in San Francisco, they are known for their high crime rate and their incidence of robbery, rape and destruction. He is so paralyzed with self-pity that he cannot think clearly and makes himself such a pest that now no-one wants to help him.

When I was with him, I couldn’t wait to get away. He whines; he demands you  call everyone you know immediately; he complains that the place he has secured for the night at a ridiculous cost will be taken away from him.  He tries to shame you into buying him food when he has plenty of money to buy his own.

He is terrified. He reminds me of a squirrel who has plenty to eat but stores up as much food as possible for the lean winter ahead.

Once I was away from him, his obnoxious cloying and insistent behavior, I was able to put the situation into perspective. I realized that here is a typical middle class human being who never had to fight for survival suddenly put into a situation that he has never expected to encounter.   

And he is not alone in this expensive, unsympathetic, cold and demanding city.  

He is one step away from those people I saw huddled in the street defecating in gutters and taking food from dumpsters. His plight is not just heartbreaking. It is maddening that a society as wealthy as this one not only allows this to happen, but has created a perfect climate to reduce the middle class to live according to lower class standards they do not understand.  

They are desperate and cannot understand how they fell into this gutter of need with no way to fight the system.

All it takes is one thing – in his case an eviction, in others a job loss and in others an injury that debilitates them.

I like to think this cannot happen in the UK.

But I know without even asking that it does.

On a brighter note, the next night my friend Alan took me into Sacramento and I had the time of my life (again).   

I featured at The Sacramento Punchline with Turner Sparks.  

I met Turner when I was in Hanoi and he is a kind, outgoing comedian who makes his living not in comedy clubs but in men’s groups, wineries and other organizations looking for a laugh instead of a lecture. He is from Sacramento and, when he goes home to visit his folks, he puts on a comedy show at The Sacramento Punchline.

This comedy club is the poor sister of the San Francisco comedy club with the same name and the two men who were in the line up (no women of course) were polite but not particularly welcoming. After being enveloped like a long lost grandma in the burlesque community here, I was more aware of the comics’ coldness than I would have been if I had not been so spoiled by Jim Sweeny and Dottie Lux and their cast of caring, ego-boosting women.

Here is a description I found of the comedy scene in San Francisco and the United States in general:


It seems safe to say that we are in a second golden age for stand-up comedy – or, as has more often been said, a second comedy boom.

The first boom started in the 1980s when stand-up comedy went mainstream, making TV and movie stars of comedians like Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Bill Cosby and Jerry Seinfeld. But, as is true that with the economy, that boom was followed by a bust: essentially a stand-up recession as comedy clubs across the country closed during the 1990s and all but the biggest acts went dormant. 

Now, with the rise of the alternative comedy scene and the internet, stand-up comedy is booming and relevant once again, with podcasts, social media, YouTube, Netflix, and dozens of channel/website hybrids hungry for comedians’ original content and relevancy.


What that does not say is how the emphasis on political correctness has stifled content.  

In the San Francisco area, the biggest inhibitor is the need to tread carefully when making any remark at all about sexual identity. I hear stories of people being ostracized and ignored because they referred to a Tranny (and we have beautiful ones in the Bay area – eat your heart out Brighton) as ‘she’ instead of ‘they’.

I notice this hesitancy to touch controversial topics in every show I see here and the one in Sacramento was no different. The topics were all safe and, because they didn’t touch a nerve, they weren’t that funny either.  

The heart of comedy is the shock value of the punchline. I personally would hate to see that squelched in a misguided effort of trying to spare feelings.

The next day I returned to Burlingame and met my wonderful friend Brett to go to Oakland for Samson Koletar’s comedy show at the Spice Monkey.

Samson is an Indian-born comedian from Mumbai who is amazingly enterprising and has established the Spice Monkey as a comedy club with one show on Thursday and two each night on Fridays and Saturdays. He is also Jewish and tours the country in a show called You Are Funny, But You Don’t Look Jewish featuring three other comedians from various origins: Italian, Vietnamese, African. His humor is gorgeous, intelligent and wry.  

This Thursday night I was booked in an all-male line up (as was the Sacramento show). No-one but Samson and I seemed to have any jokes. The audience was very small, no more than 20 people, but they wanted to laugh and that made it a lot easier on the performers.  

What surprised me as I sifted though my set to find jokes that would amuse them is how much my comedy has become British.

To people in the UK it seems very American, but to Americans it smacks of a foreign flavor they cannot quite identify. For example, the word ‘knickers’ here means trousers that are cut off at the knee. ‘Trainers’ are people not shoes. And ‘cunt’ is such a filthy word no-one dares use it any more than they would call a black person a… a… an ’N word’.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Copstick in Kenya: Good news and bad

More edited ongoing extracts from the diary of Kate Copstick who is currently in Kenya working for her Mama Biashara charity which gives small grants to help poor people start their own self-sustaining businesses. It also gets involved in wider social issues. 

The full diary is posted on her Facebook page.


Kate Copstick (left) working for Mama Biashara in Kenya

MONDAY

I am more than a little pissed off to learn that my 22kg of donated bras is not yet ready for collection. Something about being lost in Paris. Tomorrow, says Morris the Export Man.

I go to Corner to meet Doris. I am, to be honest, rather dreading this. Our last attempt at getting some actual paperwork done ended, if you remember, somewhat tumfily (Scottish word, a tumf is a bad mood). Since then, her texts have been entirely in Kiswahili (never a good sign) and quite formal.

But she is fine.

However, the news from the weekend is troublesome.

Since we accidentally opened this Kenya-sized can of worms and found a pit of snakes, the ghastliness has just kept on coming. All of it hidden away, all of it culturally approved (by men, mostly) and none of it ever, ever addressed.

While I was with Nais (see yesterday’s blog), Doris was around Limuru meeting a group of girls (14 in all but only 5 made it out to the meeting) who are living in a sort of forest area far outside the town. These girls (aged about 15-18) are in the same state that the Kangeme girls were.

Sent by their parents to relatives ‘in town’. The relatives say the girls will get an education or vocational training. But, when they arrive, they are house slaves for the women and sex slaves for the men. The girls are much the same in demeanour as the Kangeme girls – utterly cowed.

But they had got to hear about the Kangeme girls and got a borrowed phone and called Doris. She has absolutely no idea how they got the number. They have no skills, no ideas about business. And they are pretty much broken. We discuss what options we have. When these girls leave their community it has to be like the Kangeme girls and the women from the quarry we rescued – they all just have to disappear. Or any who are left will be beaten.

We explore creating temporary safe houses – mine here in Corner, for a start. Doris says leave it with her so I do.

We go to Chicken Master and continue to administrate over lunch. I get all the info on the Magadi and Namanga groups and then Doris tells me something terrible but which will be wonderful. The leader of the first group, Ntoto Sayoon, has been in touch from his new home.

The charcoal business is up and running and everyone is so happy. But he has a best friend. And another friend. Who are still in the old village. They are in the same position that Ntoto was. The Maasai men show their dislike of incoming men by raping their wives and children in front of them. Ntoto’s best friend did not come to Mama Biashara for funding because he did not believe it was for real. He did not believe anyone would help them, much less get them out and into a new life.

So now Ntoto wants to bring his friends into his charcoal group. He says they will share their houses with them till they get somewhere and they will share the business. Gulp.

The bad news is that, as a result of the repeated rapes, both his best friend’s wife and young daughter are pregnant. And his wife is now unwell after trying to abort by hitting herself in the stomach with a hammer.

In other news, we have also been contacted (no idea how this number is getting around…) by a group of Maasai girls from up north.

Up North in Kenya is not the joyous beer, whippets, flat caps and real tea experience that it is in England. It is quite killy. And women are quite a long way below goats in the respect stakes.

This group of around twelve girls – average age 12 – have all been ‘cut’ (female genital mutilation). All are in agony.

After the entire clitoral area is removed like taking the top off a boiled egg with a teaspoon, the girls are sewn shut with parcel twine. All these girls have massive infections. The girl who spoke to us mentioned pain, pus and maggots (which are currently probably saving their lives). She says the smell in the classroom is appalling and all the boys laugh at them. If they try to remove the stitches to clean the giant wound, they are beaten.

Not quite sure what else to say here… We are working on it.

Doris, one of Mama Bishara’s main workers

TUESDAY

I have been asked to find a Jewish Cemetery by the fragrant Sarah Chew back in London. She makes the oddest requests, but I feel I can make a fist of this one.

David has no idea what I am talking about. “What is Jewish?” he asks.

The cemetery is a tragic sight. Not a headstone left intact, totally overgrown, full of litter and homeless people enjoying an al fresco bottle of glue. This is not anything to do with anti-Semitism. This is just Kenya. If no-one is actually defending something or paying money for it, it just gets trashed.

I take pictures and we leave to spend an hour and a quarter travelling 200 yards and get beaten up (just poor Mary, not David or myself) by a real bastard of a matatu driver. Mary has a nasty scar down one side now. I am not quick enough to figure out the Swahili for “Your mother sucks cocks in hell” and had to settle for “Mchinga” (stupid) and a wanking gesture… as he drove off – not daft enough to do it while he was beside us). I feel I have let myself down badly on the sweary insult front.

Market is quiet and we get back to Corner relatively quickly. My arms look like scabby mince, my face resembles a pink bag of marbles and I cannot take another night of mosquito torture.

In the back streets of Corner we meet a great group of prozzies and pimps.

“I love your hair,” says one girl. “Can I touch it?”

So I go over and she runs her fingers through my hair, as does her friend.

“So natural,” she says. She offers me a feel of her braids. “Mine is from China.”

“You look nice,” one of the pimpy lads tells me. “Are you available for service?”

This is the closest I have come to being chatted-up in years. I smirk girlishly.

“Some other day,” I tell him.

We get a net and meet Doris. She has been back out to Limuru and played an absolute blinder. Five of the girls managed to get away from their ‘families’ and make it to town. Doris has persuaded some of the well-off customers of our Glam project (you say what you want and for how much money and we find it for you… sort of a personal shopping service) to take the girls in and give them a job as, more or less, au pairs.

Very good money, nice accommodation and – best of all – these women are offering to sponsor the girls to be trained in either hairdressing, rug making or sewing. PLUS they are not even afraid that the ‘families’ will come after them.

“If they come we will expose what they have been doing,” say the ladies.

Amazing!!!

Doris is going back tomorrow to try and collect the rest. Mama Biashara will be providing fares to get them wherever they are going.

This is where the years and years of setting up small businesses all over really comes into its own. When the call goes out, Mama Biashara people will help. That is The Way of Mama Biashara.

Now back to Casa Copstick and we open the Big Box of Bras. I want to sort them out so we can make sure they go to the right women (the old ladies of Western are not that keen on underwiring).

As we sort them, I realise Mama Biashara knows some seriously well-stacked ladies in the UK. There are some gorgeous undies. Doris is working out where best for them to go and we will start distributing.

I manage to set up my mozzie net using a mop and a slight rearrangement of furniture.

Bliss. Bliss.

Bliss is a night undisturbed by mosquitoes.


Copstick receives no money from the charity and covers all her own expenses, including flights and accommodation. The Mama Biashara charity survives solely on financial donations (you can donate HERE) and on sales in its London shop.

 

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Kate Copstick – lies on the fly in Kenya

British comedy critic Kate Copstick founded and runs the Mama Biashara charity in Kenya. She spends getting-on-for six months a year there. She takes no money from the charity and covers 100% of her expenses out of her own pocket. She flew to Kenya at the weekend.

These are edited extracts from her diary, which she posts on her Facebook page. The videos below are taken from YouTube by me to give an idea of the areas. They are not by Copstick.


Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya

SATURDAY

I arrive to find that our wonderful new Child Rape Rescue Centre (and my new home in Nairobi) is in difficulties.

A gang of local men are threatening to break in and rape all the children again and rape Joan as well. Four ladies came yesterday bringing clothes and food for the children and were set-upon and beaten. The gang of local men feel this is the best way to express their lack of enthusiasm at having a Luo woman running a project helping some Luo children (as well as many other tribes) in Ngando which they say is now proudly Kikkuyu. I am horrified. And puzzled. Ngando is not a Kikkuyu place. It is very mixed and all my friends there are Luo. The group of children range in age from 3 to 16. Including one boy. But they are all different tribes.

Last night I stayed with Joan’s delightful aunt and today we are looking for another house for the project.

I share my bedroom with a group of ravenous mosquitoes.

The Ngando area in Nairobi, Kenya

SUNDAY

I am woken by a call from a slightly concerned David. He has been waiting for 30 minutes and Joan keeps telling him that I cannot be woken and that she has tried and failed. I leap(-ish) from bed, examining my fresh batch of mozzie bites and go downstairs.

“I feared you had been taken by the Luos,” says David.

We head for Satellite where there is a house available. We leave Joan and Tall Silent Dan there to wait for the landlady’s return from church and David and I go off and do a few things. Then I decide we will go to Ngando. I want to see the house for myself. And the renegade Kikkuyu threatening child rape.

Ngando is as I remember. Busy, buzzy and friendly. We park up outside the house that Joan had shown me in November. I get out and chat to the many children playing in the doorway. None of whom have heard of Joan. I didn’t feel I knew the chatty six year old in the party dress well enough to ask if she had been brutally raped recently.

There was a group of young men lounging about outside on the opposite side of the road. According to them, they do not know Joan, or anything about a project, much less ladies being beaten up at the house. I call Joan.

She is not at all pleased to hear I am in Ngando. Apparently this is not the house but, she says, she cannot give us directions to the real house. I tell her we will pick her up at Satellite and then come back to Ngando and she can take us.

At Satellite, Joan is pretty boot-faced. She is convinced I have been ‘corrupted’ by David.

There is a bit of a stand-off and we end up NOT going to Ngando but taking Joan and Tall Silent Dan back to Auntie’s place and then David and I go to the pub, drink beer and do battle with a chicken so tough it should be joining the SAS. I also meet a man who only turns out to be the Managing Editor of Standard Media (TV, radio and newspapers).

When I get back to the house, Joan and Tall Silent Dan are nowhere to be seen. But her Auntie is puzzled. She had been told I would be staying for a month. I run through the situation to date and she shakes her head.

And so to bed.

Doris, one of Mama Biashara’s key helpers

MONDAY

Still no sign of Joan and Tall Silent Dan.

Joan’s cousin Kevo and I agree that there is almost certainly no house in Ngando. I go.

We make it to the bank at Kawangware.

Doris is there looking fabulous. The new manager is smiley but Standard Issue. The exchange rate is not good so we go off to Forex. Via a meeting with Felista. At a new meeting place behind a petrol station in Corner.

I explain The Joan Situation and we agree I need to get a place on this side and forget working with her. Although I do not believe in babies being thrown out with bathwater – Joan might have been lying through her teeth to me but she has her good points. At the moment, though, I need to move on.

The Place Behind the Garage turns out to be a hotbed of business and politics. Big groups of men in suits huddle round tables discussing. As is the way with suited Kenyans, everyone is the Chair of something or the Head of something and the entire ecosystem operates by pulling strings – You pull strings for me and I will pull strings for you. Everyone eventually becomes someone’s puppet, but even puppets have puppets. Like the dog and the fleas.

Through Felista and her son, strings are pulled for me and possible flats and houses start to appear from nowhere. And so I sit and discuss the community project here at Corner of which Felista’s son is the Chairman. He talks about his ‘girls’. Who turn out to be anything from 18 to 35.

“Women,” I say.

“To me they are girls,” he says.

I clench my keeping-calm parts.

Kate Copstick with Mama Biashara co-worker Felista

They are vulnerable, many single mothers, none of them has formal education, some have no ID. There are twenty six, he says. Or maybe fifty. By the time I have asked a few more questions there are maybe a hundred. Some involved in petty crime, many in prostitution and quite a lot in drugs.

And now I get an education in drug addiction on the Kenyan street.

The seriously addicted girls form a small group, they put in what little money they have and buy a hit of their drug of choice. One girl gets high and then the others draw off a syringe of her blood and inject it into themselves to get a hit off her hit. My mind is not easily boggled. But boggled it is now.

I have a powerful feeling I can do absolutely bugger all for these girls. Some things you cannot fix with TLC and a business grant and I think this is probably up there. However we agree that I will meet with the women who are helpable by an enthusiastic amateur like myself.

I am not going to let the project supporting victims of child rape just go, and Doris, Felista and I get our heads together over the possibilities. Of course, Felista has been rescuing abused children since she started. Mainly orphaned and abandoned. But she puts them together again and, in several cases, looks after their children. Because – well – at age eleven, your parenting skills are limited.

She has two girls with her now. Age fifteen and each has a baby of about three or four years old. At DECIP the mums are getting an education and support. My reservation is that when kids come to Felista they stay. And there is rarely a chance of bringing the rapist to justice. But we thrash ideas out.

Joan’s Auntie calls me. I am about to explain that I think I need to move out and she says Joan has called her and told her to get rid of me. Happy days. But we discuss the situation. Turns out Joan had also said I would be paying Auntie a month’s rent. Ah well.

I have a Mortein plug-in now and so there are no mosquitoes.

SPOILER ALERT – It is all fantastic. I am not homeless and the project is reborn as The Phoenix Project, much better than before.

CONTINUED HERE

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Multiple rape and desperation in Kenya and an appeal from critic Kate Copstick

Following on from my previous blog – more extracts from comedy critic Kate Copstick’s diary, slightly edited. Full versions on her Facebook page. She is in Kenya where her Mama Biashara charity is based.

Mama Biashara (‘Business Mother’) gives small sums to impoverished individuals and small groups to help them start self-supporting small businesses.

Their slogan is that it is a hand up not a hand out.


Doris, one of Mama Bishara’s main workers

Saturday 4th November

I get a call from Doris who has had a call from Vicky to say that the farmers who own the land in Kisii, where the refugees are huddled, have let it be known that, if anyone brings any form of help to the refugee community, all hell will break loose (I loosely translate from the angry Kisii).

So we are holding off on our mercy mission. David and I cancel our trip to the Indian Blanket Supremo and the medical supplies wholesaler. I head straight to the market.

Doris also tells me that, overnight, the government has pulled a U-turn on the NHIF restriction (mentioned in the previous blog). It will now continue unrestricted. I am saying nothing. But am impressed with the swiftness of the reaction. It is the right decision.

Doris has gone out to Limuru to see a group of people she is desperate to help. They are currently working for £1 per day on a big tea farm. They are wholly uneducated, helpless, hopeless people. Too frightened even to try starting a business in case they are thrown out and lose their £1 per day. They want us “to empower them” says Doris.

The Mama Biashara method of a brisk talking-to, a decent business plan, a good chain of supply and a useful choice of business location, topped off with start up grant and a hearty hug is obviously not going to work here. Doris says she will update me.

I get round the market in about four hours. I am knackered and sore and my tiny ears are ringing to the cries of “Mama Biashara! You are my Mother! Promote me!” I can only disappoint so many people in a day without breaking.


Felista needs money for a non-underwater kitchen in Nairobi

Sunday 5th November

I am going to DECIP (the home for children that Mama Biashara built) to make some little videos to put up on Facebook in the hope of getting some money for Felista. She is a woman with a heart the size of Kenya and has been rescuing kids from abandonment, abuse, rape and destitution for a decade.

Mama Biashara sends her about £170 per month. She gets nothing from the government, although the Children’s Department are very supportive. She is the reason I am in Kenya and I often feel bad, as I hare off all over the country setting up businesses for the desperate poor, that I do not do more for her.

So we are going to put out some pleas for help for her and I will set up a MyDonate page for her. She is someone who infuriates me but whom I am so very proud to know.

I have brought her some shoes, a bag, a skirt and two tops. Felista almost never gets anything for herself. Even the one room in the home that should be hers is always full of the youngest children playing and looking for a cuddle.

DECIP has had improvements. A marvellous lady paid for the dormitories to be re-floored so the water doesn’t flood them any more, the passageway from dorm to dorm is now covered over and the water from the roof harvested, many places have new roofing, and a nice rich Chinese man is going to build a big hall for them to use for exams and recreation.

At this time it is proving really difficult to help people – because of the numbers of weapon-wielding other people in the way. So I am going to concentrate more on DECIP this trip. And see what we can do there.


Some of the needy children at DECIP in Nairobi

Monday 6th November

I suddenly start to feel decidedly not OK. Just the usual crap, but that tends to mean getting horizontal and trying to sleep it out.

That not being possible, I turn to the small packet of gifts from our newest volunteer Chris.

There are few things that can go wrong with the human body that have not gone wrong with Chris.

There is absolutely no upside for her. But for me, it means that any painkiller is available. And I have with me a selection of the finest. I curl up till all is made chemically well.

Now I have a meeting with Joan. Through her we have worked quite extensively with the albino community and with groups of women with badly disabled kids. The businesses we started with the mothers are doing really well in Kibera, apparently. I will go and visit. Joan’s main work is with child victims of sexual violence.

When we last met she was in a little house in Kabira with six small girls who had been raped and one older girl, mentally and physically challenged, and also a victim of rape. I wrote about them on my last trip.

During the endless, tit for tat, post and para election violences here, a group of militant kikkuyu took it upon themselves to attack the compound where Joan was sheltering the girls. All of them were beaten – from the two-and-a-half year old rape victim to Joan herself. Everyone ran. But Susan, the big girl, was too frightened and she hid. And was discovered. And was beaten and raped again. Everything was stolen from inside Joan’s house.

The men from the compound caught the rapist. They took him to the local police station (well, the one that had not been burned down). Where he was released because the police did not want the militants to come and burn down their police station too.

The girls are now with Joan’s aunt but that cannot continue. She is looking at places in Ngando and has been offered a four bedroom, stone built, self-contained house beside the Catholic church. Great security.

What I am thinking is that Mama Biashara can help pay the rent here, we will help set it up as soon as we can and we will support it as a Mama Biashara project for victims of child rape and sexual abuse.

All of the current group of victims are the children of women who do low-rent commercial sex work. The girls are locked in the house while the mothers go out at night. Which is why they are so vulnerable to passing rapists. Mama Biashara would – as part of this project – work with the mums and set them up in a decent small business so they can give their daughters a proper secure home.

I am hugely enthused about this and we are going to see the house tomorrow.

Anyone fancy taking money out of their offshore tax haven and using it to help these kids?

You can now uncross your fingers about the money from the lovely trust who helped us before. We did not get anything. They are concentrating on more formal, UK-based charities. Pretty devastating for Mama Biashara. And it means, short of a miracle, I will be cutting my trip here a bit short.

Going to my tent now.


Mama Biashara subsists solely on donations 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 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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