Tag Archives: poverty

Everyday life goes brutally on in Kenya

British comedy critic and African diarist Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya, working for her Mama Biashara charity.

Mama Biashara (which translates as ’Business Mother’) tries to give a helping hand, small amounts of money and lots of advice to people who have nothing so they can start self-sustaining small businesses.

Its ability to fund relies solely on donations and Copstick receives no money of any kind for her work. She herself covers the cost of her own flights and her own accommodation/living expenses while in Kenya.

Her accommodation tends to be in the slums of Nairobi, which has its side effects…

Here are two edited extracts from her diary during the last week.


WEDNESDAY

SO here’s a thing. The laxative properties of aloe vera MUST NOT be underestimated. The litre or so that I drank yesterday has had the same effect on my innards as Barnes Wallis had on a Nazi dam.

Around three in the morning, all hell is unleashed. By noon I am emitting clear liquid. But I am a plucky old bint and with the aid of a soda (sugar) loperamide and 1000mg of paracetamol (pounding headache and turbo-charged bowels) plus more soda, David and I head off to Kangeme, one of Nairobi’s stinkier areas, to do a funding. 

There are 70 women in the group. All have the same problem. Husbands who beat them and/or rape them. These women have run away, mainly from the same area.

First a couple go, try to get work, maybe get a place to stay and then others come. Before you know it you have a community of beaten and abused women trying to make a new life.

However, they have no money, no wherewithal to start anything up. Generally, they will bring their youngest children with them and leave the others. But all they plan is to go back and get them. When they have a safe life to bring them to. A Mama Biashara lady has given some of them a room with some bunk beds in it. At least this is somewhere safe to sleep.

Currently, these women are on the street – because the set-up costs for prostitution are, let’s face it, low. 

But street prostitution in a slum area is precarious, going-on dangerous – and that’s on a good day. All the women have been assaulted by ‘clients’. 

As far as I can make out, around ten have been stabbed, one had her arm broken in three places with a metal bar and, currently, three are in hospital. Doris has been helping them for a few months, getting the younger ones little jobs as “dummies” for a hair and make-up college. I think “models” is the preferred term. They get 2.50, a day relaxing, getting something to eat and a lovely new hairdo. Others, Doris has found casual jobs when she can. One, in fact, has to leave the meeting as she has to go and cook chapati for a posh lady with a meeting. 

They are lovely women. And their business plans are pretty good. Sweet potato and arrowroot, fruit and carrier bags, eggs and sausages… all solid businesses. Each group is ten women – seven groups, so 70 women in all – with an average of 26 children in each group of ten, so 182. The bill is about 600 pounds. In the charity VFM stakes, that is pretty impressive. Even though I say so myself. Groups are deffo the way.

There is security, self-policing, mutual support and buying power there.

THURSDAY

Doris is off organising the buying with the ladies we funded yesterday. Some will leave for their new lives today and some tomorrow. Doris is very impressed with their knowledge and attitude with the buying. This is an important point in the process – Doris (or Vicky or Purity) watch the women to see how they are in a business situation – product knowledge, ability to strike a bargain and hold their own in a negotiation – because that will tell us a lot about any weaknesses the business might have. 

Felista sends me a slew of pictures of walls and piles of bricks. And a list of building materials which seems to feature mainly doors. And a photo of a bill for 120 quid with Not Paid written across the top. 

Mary from the Mary Faith Home calls to say their electricity has been cut off. The bill has not been paid. And the girls have still not been for their ultrasound. 

Maybe the CEO of Save the Children could hand over just a little of her £245,000 salary (plus perks) and help save these children.


Mama Biashara accepts donations HERE and runs a charity shop in Shepherds Bush, London, staffed by volunteers and (when she is in the UK) Copstick. 100% of the money earned in the shop goes directly to Mama Biashara’s work in Kenya, without any deductions.

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, Charity, Kenya, Poverty, prostitution

Kate Copstick’s small charity gives poor people a helping hand up not hand-out

Kate Copstick… as seen by Joanne Fagan

Following up on the last blog, here is an extract from last Friday’s diary kept by journalist/comedy critic Kate Copstick, working for her Mama Biashara charity in Kenya.

Mama Biashara helps people out of abject poverty by giving them small grants to start their own small, self-sustaining businesses.

Copstick receives no salary and no money to cover her own personal costs. She pays for her own overheads, flights and accommodation. 100% of all monies donated are spent on the charity’s work, which is run by volunteers.


FRIDAY

Off back to Kajiado, pausing only to squeeze the very last out of the money Mama Biashara has to spend. The exchange rate has not improved.

We are checking on more businesses and then doing a funding. I am majorly stressed that the money will not last. And I have more than a week to go!

I have to send DECIP their monthly budget of about £180 (depending on exchange rate).

Vicky puts her people into bigger groups and points them at properly good businesses. So really these groups out here – the ones fleeing sexual abuse and tribal violence – are the best ‘Value For Money’ that Mama Biashara spends.

I do realise that terrified women fleeing unspeakable sexual violence to them and their children should not really be seen in terms of Value For Money but that, as they say, is how one rolls in a charity like Mama Biashara.

Our first stop is a construction site where one of our groups of young guys is building an entire compound. A big house and several smaller houses in a square. It is VERY smart. But the woman who has hired them is there and she does not want her place photographed unless we pay something. Also this group is one started by our fumigation men and most of the members are guys who have ‘been inside’. They are terrified that, if the police see that they are making money, then they will come and extort as much as they can. And they would. So no pictures. You will have to take my word for the quality of the work. It is excellent.

Next is a detergent business. These twelve ladies started in July with a grant of about £80 to sell soap powder and bar soap. Now the group (which has grown from 12 to 20) wholesales all manner of cleaning liquids which they mix themselves. They have big regular orders and also sell retail… some do deliveries, some do the mixing, one minds the store and some go looking for plastic bottles to pack the detergents and bleaches in. Their tiny hole in the wall might not look much but it is the heart of a big business now.

Mama B funds allows people to help themselves out of poverty

We visit to one of Mama Biashara’s greengrocers – a small collection of stalls selling tomatoes and greens, mangoes, butternut squash, fresh peas and a load more. This group is 15 strong and the ladies who are not here on the stall today are either chasing orders or out looking at farms with a view to new suppliers.

I also get a text from Jayne to say that the egg group we started with the quarry workers in Rongo (on Tuesday) with four trays of eggs to boil and sell, are now on ten trays. In three days. Not bad, as business expansion goes.

Now to the funding.

Four women and one man are in our little ‘safe’ house owned by a Mama Biashara businesswoman set up long ago. They all look half dead. I cluck exasperatedly and we get the bloke to go and buy sodas, bread and bananas. “I cannot discuss business with people who are sleeping,” I tetch.

Vicky leans over to me: “They are rape victims; be kind,” she murmurs. To be fair they have travelled – as tends to be the way with these groups – for miles to get here.

The guy’s group is selling miraa and that means great profit and rapid expansion (usually). All the groups are Phoenix groups (which means they are being targetted with sexual violence. Mostly this happens because they are the wrong tribe in the wrong place. Think Catholics and Protestants in Ireland during the Troubles. But no bombs. Just rape and battering.

In this particular group, 5 children, 7 women and 1 man have already been raped).

The next group want to move from Birika to Makueni and sell fish (both fresh and fried). 6 women have already been raped and 4 children – aged 2,4,6 and 7 years. Getting them the hell out of Birika would seem to be of the essence.

The next group are selling maize and beans (6 women and 5 young children have already been raped so hanging around is not a great option), then there is another bean group and one who want to sell butternut squash and who top the horror league at 8 children and 8 women having been raped already.

“80 adults and 207 children will be getting a safe, secure life.”

So, all in all, 80 adults and 207 children will be getting a new, safe, secure life, as of tomorrow.

Even before the last funding is done, Vicky is on the phone to the lorry drivers who help us (for money, of course) to move these groups away from a nightmare and into safety. All the necessary stuff to start the businesses will be bought tomorrow or brought by lorry.


Mama Biashara survives solely on money donated to it and money from its volunteer-manned charity shop in Shepherds Bush, London. 100% of all monies received are spent on the charity’s work.

You can donate to Mama Biashara via wonderful.org – CLICK HERE

Leave a comment

Filed under Charity, Kenya

As Mama Biashara expands in Kenya, ongoing abuse but upcoming hope…

Writer and critic Kate Copstick is in Kenya, where her Mama Biashara charity helps people out of abject poverty by giving them small grants to start small, self-sustaining businesses. They help set up businesses that will give them a life. Where necessary, Mama Biashara gives training and helps with creating a customer base.

The Mama Biashara slogan is: A HAND UP, NOT A HANDOUT. Copstick receives no salary and no money to cover her own personal costs. She pays for her own overheads, flights and accommodation.

100% of all monies donated are spent on the charity’s work.

Below are a couple of edited extracts from Copstick’s diary this week. Full versions are on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.


The farm we are visiting today. Wheat as far as the eye can see

WEDNESDAY

Off to check on a Mama Biashara farming business and do some funding.

The farm is amazing. The quarry business I posted pictures of last trip has spawned so many offshoot businesses. Once people get money, they think about creating their own group and starting afresh. 

The quarry begat a potato farm. That farm begat another farm. It did so well it begat a hotel and yet another farm. This is the farm we are visiting today. 

Wheat (as far as the eye can see) is planted alongside maize, a fabulous field of carrots and a big field that has already been harvested, dug over, and is now being planted with potatoes. There is water, which comes from the Mau Forest, and the crops are huge. 

The first wheat group has taken the profit from their harvest and are already away discussing taking over another field with the Maasai who owns it. Over the various plots here, there are about fifty Mama Biashara business people. 

We go to our local ‘safe’ house for a funding. 

There are five groups: all of them battered, abused women with children who are being abused as a way of forcing the mothers out of the community.

Once upon a Kenyan election, it used to be the thing for MPs to give out parcels of land in the Mau Forest – mainly to Maasai – in exchange for their people’s votes. Huge tracts of land disappeared into the political maw. 

Now these people are being evicted and are going back to where they came from. A lot of them came from around here. And now they want their lands back from the people they rented to and do pretty much what it takes to get them out. These women are caught up in this. 

Many came here as farmhands and dairy workers. Now the returning Maasai just want them gone. 

The women put up with outrageous levels of abuse. 

One group, when I ask if the women are being abused as well as the children, tell me: “Only what is normal”.

And being beaten is normal. 

The groups are bigger than normal – 15 women in each – but, then, the levels of violence have escalated. The women are mainly going back to their own areas, where they will be welcome and looked after. 

We set up businesses selling boiled maize, washing powder, porridge, carrier bags, chapatis and boiled sweet potato. One woman from the chapati group has her tiny, sodomised child with her. 

The child has not been taken to hospital because a hospital will demand a police report for a child with these injuries. And the women cannot report anything to the police in their own area because the police will do nothing but report the woman to the rapist who will beat her at best, kill them both at worst. So no police report. 

The child is being, I am reassured, “cured with leaves”. 

By the time you read this, 88 woman and 177 kids will be in a safe place and starting a new life. Not bad for about £750. Although I must stress that the grants are cut to the absolute bone in order to help as many as possible. 

Mama B gives small grants – A HAND UP, NOT A HANDOUT.

THURSDAY

First up is another Mama Biashara farm. This one is massive. And it has pretty much everything. 

The big advantage here is that the land has an irrigation system fed by a borehole. The rent is 80 a year. There are several groups working the many many crops here: potatoes and carrots, coriander and some other herbs, tomatoes, arrowroot, watermelon and sweet potatoes, cassava, cucumber, butternut squash, onions, passion fruit, pawpaw, mango, lemon and oranges. I am sure I have forgotten some. Also, there is a chicken project and a huge swathe of land growing silage. 

All in all, about 80 Mama Biashara people farm this land, splinter groups either from our other farms or, in the case of the silage and chicken, splinter groups from one of our fumigation groups, themselves started as part of Vicky’s Cleaners. 

Splinter groups are usually three or four from a successful group who take their profit and set themselves up in a new venture. The original group then adds some new people and the splinter group adds about ten in starting their new business. This entire farm is financially self-seeded. Some of the women who run it, who were meant to come and meet us, have disappeared. 

They disappeared, apparently, because they were worried that, because they are doing so well, I had come to demand a cut.

We stride off across a field to where today’s funding groups are sitting.

First is a group headed by four grannies who are fed up with their daughters and grandchildren being molested and beaten by the local men. Fair dos. 

They have identified a good farm with a stable water supply back in their own tribal area and, as they know farming well, they want to take their group there and grow potatoes. Seems like a plan – so 14 adults and 54 children will be setting off tomorrow morning.

The next group is big – 20 adults with 73 children between them. This group have been flagged-up by our people at the quarry. They are already doing casual labouring at another quarry, but this comes with a lot of typical Kenyan shit – like the women being used as unpaid sex workers for the supervisors. 

If they want their job for the next day, they keep the supervisors and their friends happy at night. 

Our quarry boys have identified a rich-looking piece of land in the same area as themselves and negotiated the right to quarry it. Mama Biashara has to pay the £80 licence (City Council, of course) to ensure that the workers are not harassed and set them up with the tools of the quarrying trade. 

It is a big amount of money for Mama Biashara but our original quarry has helped hundreds (maybe 500) people over the three years since it was started, as well as kicking off countless splinter groups. 

Of course, there are more groups that there were supposed to be – seven instead of four – but, when there are women explaining to you that out of their group, eight women and six children have already been raped (they don’t bother to complain about beatings unless I ask… it is ‘normal’), I find it hard to say: “Well, you weren’t on the list, so tough”. 

The constraint is money. 

Did I mention we need more? 

So we sit for a few hours under a tree in the grass and juggle the finances of saving 75 women and 185 children from certain abuse. 

I dazzle with what has become known as “your mathematics”. And we do it. 

Businesses for paraffin and petrol, maize and pease, arrowroot and a cleaning contractors are now set up and (most importantly) money is there to pay for transporting the women away to their new lives. Sometimes that can double the grant, but it is rather of the essence of the whole thing. Vicky has a fleet of lorries on speed dial and we save SO much money transporting large groups of people by truck rather than bus. It is mildly not exactly kosher so to do but needs must. And Vicky’s lorrymen are decent blokes.

All in all, not a bad day, as days go.


You can donate to Mama Biashara via Wonderful.org
 CLICK HERE

1 Comment

Filed under Africa, Charity, Kenya

Praising the Lord in Kenya, as dirt is shovelled over a dead 12 year old boy…

Copstick is in Kenya

Journalist, comedy critic and charity-founder Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya.

She is, once again, working there with her charity Mama Biashara.

Here are the latest extracts from her journal.

Fuller versions are posted on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.


Moses (left) enjoying his favourite nyama choma (roast meat)

Friday 26th April

We head for Mutalia, near Ruai, to visit the family of Moses who died of meningitis last Monday, aged 12. Mama Biashara buys him a coffin. And coffins are important in Kenya. 

We were with Moses in 2010, when he arrived at Felista’s suffering from extreme malnutrition. His baby brother had a serious chest infection, his sisters had infections in liver and spleen and his big brother had a growth on his back. 

Their ‘father’ had abandoned them after their mother died. That was 2010. Their great uncle took them in when they left Felista and Mama Biashara paid school fees and bills. Now the children are with their great aunt. ‘Great’ both in the sense of being their great uncle’s wife and ‘great’ in looking after them when she herself has very little and four children of her own. They call her mum.

All the children flourished. But Moses was the little academic star. He was always No 1 or No 2 in his class. He wanted to be an engineer. He was so much fun. Lively and lovely. And now he is dead. Science tells us we are all stardust, but Moses, more than most. I hope that wherever he is, whatever he is, he is shining brightly.

President Uhuru Kenyatta was seeking a loan from China

Saturday 27th

The market is full of people worrying about the Chinese invasion, new taxes and getting angrier by the second at a government that borrows vast fortunes to build roads while people starve. Everyone – even the Kikkuyu – is finding some happiness in the fact that the president has just come from a trip to China without the extra extra extra loan he went asking for. 

“The Chinas say No. I am very happy,” says one of my pals and we all nod vigorously. 

The personal debt of each individual Kenyan is calculated to be just over £1,000. Much more than a huge percentage of them see in a year. 

Now, do not get me wrong. I am a HUGE fan of their cuisine, the noodle is my staple food. I am in awe of their State Circus and their religion seems lovely. I personally do not have a phone made there, but many of my best friends do. However, the Chinese have all but destroyed the Kenyan fishing people in Lake Victoria. 

Our ladies (and men) who were doing SO well for many years have now returned to prostitution, Doris says.

What happened was this. 

The Chinese came, at the invitation of the Kenyan Government, they saw, they liked the tilapia and the tilapia business. They bought entire boatloads of fish, removed the eggs, shipped them back to China and now China farms Lake Victoria tilapia and sells it back to Kenya where it is bought, frozen, sold in supermarkets, because it is much cheaper than the fresh stuff which comes from Lake Victoria. And the Kenyan Government allows this to happen. The Kenyan fishing people of Lake Victoria are collateral damage. 

Moses: “He was so much fun. Lively and lovely. And now he is dead. Meningitis”

Tuesday 30th April

Today is Moses’ burial. 

Langata Cemetary is huge and we are over at the back amongst what Felista tells me are temporary graves for those who cannot afford permanent resting places. 

There is a huge crowd. People from the school, people from churches and I have no idea who else. Also a couple renting out chairs, a bloke selling peanuts and someone setting up a little stall selling soft drinks and snacks just behind the seating area. 

We take our places and, as a tiny, shiny little man in a shiny suit welcomes us, there is much clanking as scaffolding for a gazebo tent is erected and the coffin placed underneath. 

I am invited to sit with the family which is very touching and a great honour. Dinah has pretty much arranged everything and I think it is due to her that so many have come. 

The proceedings start with the tiny, shiny man explaining that we should all be rejoicing because this was God’s plan for Moses. I am thinking that, if it was, it was a rubbish plan. 

We then sing for around ten minutes about how great the Lord is and how wonderful/excellent/glorious/powerful/great/amazing/fabulous is his name, clapping and doing that step-dig step so beloved of the Four Tops. 

Then there is a lovely, lovely bit where people come up and talk a little about Moses (including, in an unexpected turn of events, me). 

Dinah spoke wonderfully and some kids from the school sang. But, apart from that, it was like an extended episode of Nairobi’s Got Pastors. 

There were about six or seven of them, welcomed to the microphone by the tiny, shiny man who has missed his vocation as a comedy club MC because he really whipped up the applause for each pastor. And the pastors’ wives. And every church elder who was with us. And anyone who ran a youth group, church choir or had at any time had anything to do with any church. 

I understood about 60% of what each of the suited and booted septet was saying but no one really mentioned Moses.

They name-checked their churches and I wish I had counted the number of times the words Bwana Sifiwe (Praise be to God) were uttered because I think a record must have been broken. 

I am invited to view the body. I say goodbye and wipe dust off the window covering him. Then there is a scramble for others to see him. 

I have no idea who these people are. 

There is more extended praising of Jesus’ name in song.

The family (and I) are surrounded by the suited and booted ones and prayed over with still no mention of Moses. And then we go to the graveside, marching, as we do, over dozens of unmarked graves. 

Now things rachet up a notch with much howling. 

As Moses goes into the grave, a brightly-dressed woman flings herself to the ground and threshes around shrieking. Most ignore her, but she upsets the small children. 

It turns out that she is an aunt. The mother’s sister. It turns out there is actually a family who have ignored these kids for the nine years they have been with Mama Biashara. The shrieking one is a little late in her feelings for her nephew. 

We stand as the grave is filled-in, which is horrible.

It is made even more horrible by a weeny woman with a bad weave who bursts into enthusiastic song about rejoicing. 

She really goes for it. 

For a long long time. 

Praising the Lord, as dirt is shovelled over a dead twelve year old boy.


Mama Biashara works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. It gives grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. It offers training and employment in everything from phone repairs to manicures. It has built a children’s home, which it still supports. It has created water-harvesting solutions for drought-devastated areas. And it helps those fleeing female genital mutilation, forced marriage, sex slavery and child rape. It receives no grants and survives totally on personal donations (and sales at its shop in Shepherds Bush, London), 100% of which go to its work, none of which goes to Kate Copstick. She herself covers all her own personal expenses, including her accommodation costs and her travel costs.
www.mamabiashara.com

Leave a comment

Filed under China, Death, Kenya, Politics, Poverty, Religion

Lynn Ruth Miller on being stalked in Glasgow and the homeless in London

Lynn Ruth Miller in Glasgow last week

In yesterday’s blog, I was talking to a man who had decided to see what it was like to be homeless for one day on the streets of Manchester.

Now 85-year-old London-based American comic Lynn Ruth Miller gives her own views on homelessness and being stalked in Glasgow…

Here she goes…


I was so successful using my college Spanish in Barcelona (blogged about here) that I decided to give myself the acid test and go someplace where I REALLY could not understand anything anyone said.

Last week I went to Glasgow.

The Markee de Saw (left) and Miss Innocence Bliss in Glasgow

I headlined at the Allsorts Cabaret in Katie’s Bar. This is a burlesque cabaret hosted by the Markee de Saw and Innocence Bliss, both regulars on the burlesque circuit.  

And that was when I got stalked…

It was really very thrilling.

A very young man came into the club while I was waiting to go on stage. He sat very close to me and smiled significantly.

I smiled significantly back.  

What else could I do?  

I couldn’t SAY anything because there was a show going on.

At the interval, I left to put on my costume and his eyes followed me right into the dressing room. This was a brand new experience for me. I found it very awkward to get down to my undies knowing his eyes were right there in the room. After all, we had not even been introduced.

I returned to my table and there he was looking more significant than ever!!!!! 

I managed to haul myself on stage and he was right there with a hand up (to the stage, not my costume). I finished my song about being old just in case no-one noticed (but I think they all did). I sat down next to my stalker and he spoke his first words to me.

I think he said: “Would you like a drink?” 

But it was hard to catch what he said because, by this time, he had had several shots himself and the music was very loud and he was having a difficult time forming a coherent sentence.  

I think that’s a Glasgow thing.

In seconds, a large glass of white wine appeared as if by magic and the young man fastened his eyes on my bodice. I think he was trying to find my cleavage, which resembles an elongated pleat these days. But his brain couldn’t process what that was.  

I finished my wine and I think he said: ”Would you like another?”

So I nodded (significantly, of course).

I was obviously right because another glass of wine appeared before me.  

And then my stalker took my hand in his and looked even more significantly into what was left of my eyes. 

He tried to stand and failed.  

I was having a bit of trouble focusing myself, but I took his arm to help him up and that was when the bartender threw him out of the bar.

I was still glowing from this romantic encounter when I boarded the train the next morning to return to London Euston.  

My hosts and I walked to the station. It was supposed to be a 30-minute stroll but, partly because my legs are now approximately the size of a chihuahua’s and partly because my thoughts were still locked into memories of the sexiest night of life, it took us an hour to get to the station.  

We only had ten minutes to get to the train.  

My host said he would dash to Sainsbury’s and buy me lunch: a banana, a tangerine, a croissant and a small yogurt.  

As I toddled to my coach, he galloped toward me with a huge bag and thrust it in my arms. When I opened it, I realized he must have thought I wanted to feed the entire coach. I discovered a quart of water, a bag of tangerines, a large bunch of bananas, two croissants and a tub of yogurt ample enough to feed 400 starving Armenians during their revolution.

I managed to eat one of each thing and a few spoonfuls of the yogurt and then pondered on what the hell I would do with all this food because I am Jewish and we do not throw out food.

Meanwhile, the discussion in the coach drifted from Brexit to the homeless problem. 

The woman sitting across from me waxed eloquent on the outrageous way people were pretending to be homeless and fooling us by wearing tattered clothing when, as soon as their day was over, they ran around the corner and jumped into their Mercedes to motor to their luxury flat in Kensington.

I pointed out that some of them really do need our help and she said: “Really? I know for a fact that most of them earn at least £300 a day and they spend it all on heroin or cocaine.”

“Perhaps,” I said, “it would be best to give them food instead of money so they do not spend that 20p we thrust in their empty cup on drugs.”

“Absolutely not,” she said. “They won’t take food anyway. They just want to finance their disgusting habits.”

As she waxed eloquent on the sins of the charlatans sitting on our street corners, I remembered my friend Kevin who reminded me that, if I give money to someone, I have no right to tell him what to spend it on.  

“Did you ever think,” he said, “that drugs might be their only escape from a life too horrible for us to contemplate in our warm comfortable homes with our tables laden with food?”

The train pulled into Euston station and I took my huge bag of food and water along with my suitcase and my backpack with me on my way to Kings Cross to catch the Piccadilly line to go to Covent Garden.  

As I trudged to the station, I saw one of these very homeless people we were analyzing on the train.  

He was a young man in his twenties, shivering in the cold, with an empty cup sitting forlornly at his feet.  

I stopped and handed him the bananas, the bag of tangerines and the water but, before I could manage to throw a few coins in that empty cup, he was halfway through the first banana.

I thought of that woman sitting in a comfortable coach sipping her wine and nibbling at her gourmet salad.  

I thought of the comfortable place I go home to every night and the refrigerator stuffed with more food than I need and I wept.  

I wept for that poor man sitting before me so desperately hungry. He could not wait to eat that banana.  

I wept for that woman and all those like her who cannot see the hunger and the extreme need of people forced to subsist on the paltry coins we throw at them as we hurry from our warm homes to our comfortable offices or to the theatre or to a posh dinner that costs more than they will get in a year in that paper cup that sits at their feet.  

One missed paycheck, one lost job, one debilitating illness… that is all it takes to put every one of us on the street, begging strangers for help.

I do not have answers for how we can stop this growing homeless situation.  

I do know that my giving that boy a bit of fruit did nothing to solve the bigger problem.  

But what else could I do?

So I hurried on to Covent Garden to judge an LBGTQ heat in a club.  

I laughed a lot and drank some wine, but I couldn’t get the memory of that hungry boy out of my mind.

When I got home that night, all I could think of was the people I walk past every day on the street and how little we all do to help those who are not as lucky as we are.

And then I ate my dinner and began to plan for my trip to Amsterdam.

1 Comment

Filed under Glasgow, Humor, Humour, London, Poverty, UK

I met a man with a family. He left home to see what it feels like to be homeless…

Manchester – Piccadilly station

When I was at college, one exercise we did was to record a normal conversation, then transcribe it exactly, word-for-word. When you do that, you realise the chaos of conversations. No sentences. Thoughts and sentences bounce around randomly, half-finished and intermingled. That interests me.

In my online blogs, I tend to ‘clean-up’ what is quoted, so it reads – I hope – more smoothly. And I cut for length. But below is a full and exact, un-cut transcription of a conversation I had at the weekend.

I was in Manchester on Sunday, at Amanda Fleming’s horror short film festival.

On Sunday night, I was sitting in Manchester’s Piccadilly station and was approached by a man asking for money. I almost never give money to beggars because I am always dubious what they will spend it on. 

But I had just bought a pack of two tiramisus from a nearby Sainsbury’s Local. So I gave him one and we ate them together on the bench.

He told me he had decided to live on the streets for a day to see what being homeless was like. He told me his very small daughter had died a few months ago. And (although this was Sunday) he had left home on Friday to see for a day what being homeless was like.

I obviously never necessarily believe what I am told by people asking for money. So I cannot guarantee anything he told me is true. 

But I switched on my iPhone during the conversation. Obviously, a vast invasion of his privacy. I will no doubt rot in hell. But I have obscured any details which could identify the man who may or may not be who he said he was. I have called him David. That is not the name he gave me. Everything else he said is quoted exactly.

BEWARE: This is quite long but, with luck, progresses interestingly!


JOHN: When did you leave home? Friday?

DAVID: We’ve really been depressed. All the family’s been depressed because of the loss. Me wife said: “You need a night out with your friends.” So every weekend she’s dressing me up well: “You’ll look nice tonight.”

Anyway, I got wrong train. I got there 15 minutes. They were only 15 minutes behind me. So… But they were on the next train. They were only 15 minutes.

JOHN: You decided you wanted to be a homeless man for a day?

DAVID: Yeah. I want to go home now. I want your advice on how to get to (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY) from here. Can you tell me how to get to (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY) or (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY) or…

JOHN: Best to phone your wife. I’m only up here for the day. Why did you want to be homeless for a day? Are you a sociology professor or something?

DAVID: I just wanted to see what they went through and I couldn’t do it. I could not do it. I am here, going home now.

JOHN: You started on Friday? Or this morning?

DAVID: Friday, I got the fuck beat out of me before my friends got there. I smoked.

JOHN: What? Weed?

DAVID: No. I train (PUBLIC SERVICE WORKERS) believe it or not. I train them how to be safe when (THEY DO THEIR JOB), hopefully. And they call me a chicken coward, because I’m the one that can’t do it, so I teach it. There’s a slightly higher grade that I am on, but we don’t live very well.

JOHN: So you’re a (PUBLIC SERVICE) person.

DAVID: I’m a (PUBLIC SERVICE WORKER) trainer, I would say. Trainer, supervisor, yeah, yeah. I do training courses: gotta pass it. I’ve got a company. A few people work for me as well.

JOHN: So you decided you wanted to be homeless…

DAVID: I’m coming out of the hospital. I’m in Manchester. I discharged meself cos I’m pissed-off and I didn’t want to be near anyone. I’m not staying in that bed no longer. I’m not doing this. But there was a man and I said: “Could I have half of your cigarette?” 

And he said: “No.”

I said: “I’m not without money. I would give you a pound.”

(AT THIS POINT, A HOMELESS MAN CAME UP TO US) 

HOMELESS MAN: “I’m sorry for asking…Can you spare a…”

JOHN: I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

DAVID: Ay. Ay-up, ay-up, ay-up. I’ve just been like this all day.

(THE HOMELESS MAN WALKED AWAY)

I’ve got five people in me family. Well, four people in my family now. Because of me wages… Because of me dad’s business, me dad says: “You’ll never ever, ever, ever raise £60,000.”

I said: “If you’d sell it me for 60,000… 60,000?” 

He says: “60,000? It’s worth ten times that,” he says. “If you ever raise £60,000 on yer own” he’ll sell a share of it to us. Anyway, I bought an ice cream van. I bought an ice cream van… Tell me when you’re bored.”

JOHN: No,no. You’re keeping me warm inside the station. This is good.

DAVID: It were very very hard with the ice cream van, as I found out and I had to go begging back to me dad, saying: “It’s winter time. I’m going out and I’m taking £15 and using £10 diesel, I’m using £3 stock; I’m making £2, £3, £4 a day, dad. Please bail me out. 

He said: “I told you this. I told you that.” Blah blah blah.

JOHN: I’ve always wondered what ice cream van men do in the winter.

DAVID: What they do in the winter is what I didn’t know. They save a lot of fucking money through the summer.

JOHN: Anyway… Back in the day and being homeless…

DAVID: Yeah. I tried it. What time is it now?

JOHN: When’s your train?

DAVID: I’ve no idea. I haven’t even booked to get. What time is it? Is it half past? It might not come.

JOHN: Almost half past ten. Where are you going to? (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY)? There’s one at 10.47.

DAVID: Where? Where to? Where to?

JOHN: To (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY). Platform 1. 10.47. That’s in 20 minutes time.

DAVID: How do I get to get from (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY) then to get to (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY) or (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY)?

JOHN: I have no idea. God knows.

DAVID: Is there one for (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY) or is there owt?

JOHN: No. There’s just Crewe, Leeds, Buxton, Chester… and Blackpool, for some reason. If you can get to (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY), you can get your wife to collect you.

DAVID: Yeah. You’re right. You’re right. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. But I haven’t got a penny to ring.

JOHN: (LAUGHS) Was this a very long-winded Can I have some money for the telephone routine?

DAVID: No. I’m sorry, mate. No. I will not accept. Please do not do that. Do not do that. No. I didn’t mean it like that. There’s free phones. There’s free phones. I didn’t believe it. I dialled my dad on his mobile. I dialled him on his landline. I dialled me wife. Are there any of me kids there I can talk to? I broke down in tears. I said: “Daddy’s staying out here another night if he possibly can… just to see what it’s like to be homeless. I’ll be home tomorrow”.

I don’t think I need any money to get a ticket. Are people still working in that little hole?

JOHN: The information booth? Looks like it.

DAVID: What time’s that train to (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY)?

JOHN: 10.47 – 17 minutes time.

DAVID: Something happened and I went absolutely berserk and I absolutely lost the plot completely, tried a few drugs, really dangerous stuff.

JOHN: Today? Or after the ice cream van?

DAVID: No. (LAUGHS) After the death of me daughter.

JOHN: Oh, yes. Sorry.

DAVID: You’re not following this right, are you… We’ll get there. We’ve a long time, haven’t we?… No, it were me daughter. At least I could laugh then. It were the first time I could actually laugh and say: “No, me daughter; not the ice cream man.” That’s first time I’ve laughed and said her name. Me daughter.

(PAUSE)

JOHN: That might be the last train to (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY). There isn’t another one on the board. You’ve got 17 minutes. That might be the last one.

DAVID: What, now?

JOHN: In 16 minutes.

DAVID: I’m gonna go there first (the information booth) and see if there’s one gonna take me to (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY). That there (the tiramisu) were absolutely beautiful and I’ve had absolutely nowt to eat all day. I got a slice of pizza. 

Some dear said: “I haven’t got any money for you, sweetheart, but, if you want something to eat, you can have something.” 

It’s fucking dangerous out there; it’s shit; I’ve never seen anything like it. That spice – just with phtum phtum-phtum. You can see in street with… we buy each other… and there’s police there and… It’s in front of them. They can’t do anything about it. There’s nothing about it.

JOHN: Is spice the big thing now?

DAVID: Not where I live. I’ve never noticed it. That’s why I… “Can I have a drag of your ciggie?” and he said: “No!” –  Because he paid for it, obviously. A lot of money. £5. I says: “I’ll give you a pound for a drag.” He says: “Yes. But only two drags or three drags. Do you want three drags?”

I thought: He’ll charge me £1 for two or three drags? A roll-up, not a cig. A fuckin’ roll-up. But I got nowt. So I took it. 

I had two drags and I started having third drag and I started feeling funny. So I were walking about, didn’t really know where I was, very disorientated. Couldn’t find train station, bus station, nothing, slept where I thought I oughta sleep, got absolutely annihilated – me wallet has got money in, me phone, me credit cards got took off me; it’s cost me nearly £700 so far. 

It’s not too bad. I’ll get most of it back on insurance. I’ve got quite a good job. I’m not rich. I am not rich. But I have a good job as you can imagine – who trains the (PUBLIC SERVICE WORKERS). 

JOHN: Is the drug problem in Manchester now spice not smack?

DAVID: No, it’s not smack. No, no. It’s… No, no. Spice. Spice. But I got…

JOHN: What effect does spice have? Is it like cocaine? Kapow!!

DAVID: Have you had cocaine?

JOHN: No.

DAVID: No. So you don’t know. Cocaine goes be-weugh! But, no, I’m fairly good be-weugh, but that first one we was talking about, the… the… eh… the heroin. That’s BANG! That goes straight in. But no, the one that you said…

JOHN: Spice or cocaine?

DAVID: That is the most subtle one. That is the one you will have a sniff of and not know what it’s done to you, whatsoever, cos it’s so subtle, yeah?

JOHN: I think coke is really dangerous.

DAVID: It’s not very dangerous. I’ve sniffed thousands of…

(A MAN COMES UP AND ASKS US FOR MONEY)

DAVID (TO BEGGAR): Mate, I’m the same as you.

BEGGAR: I know you, man.

DAVID: I know you as well. I’m the same as you do. I’m just trying to get ten bob out of him (POINTING AT ME) me’sen. I’ve got another 13/14 minutes yet.

(THE MAN WALKS AWAY)

I hope them things (information booths) are open. If, for any reason, I can’t, can you lend me some money for phone? You can come with me to see that I phone me wife to pick me up.

JOHN: I’m past caring. Here, you can have £2. It’s a story. It’s a story. It’s a good story.

DAVID: Can you put my details in your phone so I can give you the £2 back for being so kind to me.

JOHN: How about £60,000? If you ARE going to make a phone call – I don’t think you are – you’ve got 11 minutes to the train leaving.

DAVID: How far is it to the fucking thing?

JOHN: I don’t know. Platform 1.

DAVID: Platform 1. Do you buy your ticket and then get on the train and they come and inspect it?

JOHN: I guess so. Platform 1.

DAVID: Platform 1?

(A YOUNG WOMAN IN HER 20s APPROACHES US)

YOUNG WOMAN: Guys, I’m really sorry to ask, but is there any chance you can spare a little bit of change for…?

DAVID: Darling, I’m in the same position as you.

YOUNG WOMAN: Are ya?

DAVID: This is me dad. He’s just come out to give me some money.

YOUNG WOMAN: Alright. No worries.

DAVID: I’m sorry, sweetheart.

YOUNG WOMAN: I’m shitting it. I’m just trying to get home.

DAVID: I’m the same. Me dad’s good to me. He feeds me chocolate.

YOUNG WOMAN: At least you’ve got a dad. 

DAVID: I wish I’d got a mum and I wish I’d got a baby. They both died.

LOUDSPEAKER ANNOUNCEMENT: The train approaching Platform 1 is the…

Leave a comment

Filed under Drugs, Poverty, UK

What it is like for Kate Copstick living, working and running a charity in Kenya

Journalist Kate Copstick’s work with her Mama Biashara charity in Kenya has been covered in this blog over the last few years. 

Mama Biashara helps poor people (especially women) set up their own small self-supporting businesses which may give them a lift to a better life – a hand up, not a hand out. It also gets involved in educational and health care projects.

In the last blog here, rather than cover the charity’s work directly, I posted extracts from Copstick’s diary which give an impression of the things she encounters more generally in Kenya.

Here are some more brief, edited extracts starting more than a week ago. Fuller versions appear on the Mama Biashara Facebook page


THURSDAY

Faith (14-year-old, raped and impregnated by her father; mentioned in the last blog) is STILL being held by Kenyatta Hospital in Nairobi. The psychological and emotional toll of being imprisoned like this is unimaginable. I suspect the monsters of Kenyatta Hospital are responsible for destroying this girl’s ability to trust another human being forever.

FRIDAY

Arriving in Mombasa is like walking in front of an industrial hairdryer and it is fabulous. The Shiloh (our accommodation of choice) is full of Somalis who are here to unload cars at the docks, so we have to go upstairs where there are four more rooms. However they cost 7.50 a night instead of 4.00. And mine has no water. But there is no choice. 

Mombasa has got rid of the massive rubbish dump at the bridge that used to make the trip into town such a nightmare. The acres of mountains of rotting shit and unrotting plastic have gone. So has the smell. They have even put down some top soil and there are small palms and sunflowers growing. The water on the other side has lost its slick of disgustingness. It is a transformation. One has to wonder quite where it has all gone… but the ride to town no longer requires a facemask and a strong stomach.

I bloody love Mombasa.

“We end up having our little funding workshop on the beach…”

TUESDAY

Vicky is trying to find a safe place to meet the first groups who want funding.

Since the bombings came back, especially here on the coast, every meeting of people is suspected of being Al-Shabaab planning something nasty.

And stick a white woman in the mix and it is imagined nothing good could possibly be happening. The last time we were here we were arrested, if you remember, and spent six hours in Ukunda Police Station. Vicky was seriously traumatised by that and she is terrified of it happening again. 

Which is how we end up having our little funding workshop on the beach. 

We are on the beach till the sun goes down and then go to our usual place for pilau. Chef must be having an off day as mine tastes like grit and Doris ends up puking violently at the side of the road.

And while she is puking I find myself in the middle of a to-do. 

As Vicky and I are sitting, a scrawny boy comes up to the table and extends a hopeful hand. As he does so, an elderly man stomps past and absolutely whacks him with a rolled up newspaper. 

I can barely believe what I see but, as soon as I realise what has happened, I chase the man into the restaurant. He has disappeared.

As I come out, I see the same boy being manhandled by an extremely disagreeable type dressed in raggedy brown and looking like he is not entirely sober. I stomp across, get between him and the boy and demand that he leave him alone. He grabs, I grab and push the boy behind me. We then have what is best described as a stare-and-twitch-off. He has obviously never been confronted by a crazy old Scottish lady at full throttle and is at least 50% weirded-out. 

I give him the Copstickian Death Stare. He is not that impressed; he stays where he is and just glares back at me. Then he twitches as if to come forward and I twitch sideways, keeping the boy behind me. I shout at him to go away (sorry, not very Kill Bill but the best I could do at the time). He growls back. 

Then a bloke from the restaurant arrives. The dodgy raggedy bloke leaves and I release the boy who runs off in the opposite direction. The restaurant man says the boy is a thief. Raggedy bloke is there as a look out. He comes almost every night. 

I suggest that:

(a) getting some foul layabout from a nearby gutter to beat him up is not going to help the boy and

(b) if this is the case, then he is obviously being run by someone of whom he is more afraid than he is of getting beaten at the restaurant. Restaurant man shrugs and says: “He is just chokora” (a street child).

What with the gritty pilau, the food poisoning and the on-street fighting, I have enjoyed myself more.

WEDNESDAY

Sadly, no beach today. Vicky’s groups are coming from the other end of Mombasa. Two groups have become four but, again, I know how hard it is to triage people’s misery and need.

We meet in a little space at the end of the row of upstairs rooms at our place. It is really quiet and safe. As I sort out chairs, I am joined – no more than four feet away – by an incredibly handsome monkey. Grey fur and a black face.

I have nothing for him, but we sort of chat and tilt heads at each other. 

He then, as he crouches, opens his legs and I see he has: 

(a) the most beautiful cobalt blue testicles and

(b) a full-on monkey erection, which is sweetie pink.

Relatively speaking, this boy is most impressive. Every so often, he passes a little money paw over his tiny pink policeman’s helmet. The only people I have ever seen do this are male porn stars on set – just to ‘keep the engine running’. 

I am thrilled with my new friend. However, sensing no food in the offing, he goes and we start work. 

We see a group who are being abused and frequently drugged then gang-raped – a group whom Vicky describes as “funky Moslems” (non-strict Moslems living in a very conservative area). Again, like yesterday, the wives of the strict Moslem men hire thugs to sexually abuse the children to force the mothers out. Plus women from the Kokoto mines where sexual abuse is constant. And a group of reformed female prisoners who are being seriously abused in their community. A good variety of businesses, and everyone is relocated to somewhere safe. 48 adults and 176 children.

SUNDAY

Back in Nairobi.

Tonight we have electricity.

Today, I looked in a mirror for the first time in ten days because my cheeks felt sort-of scaley. Bloody forgot about my lupus not liking the sun and I have now got two crusty red cheeks. Slathering on the cortisone and hoping it will go away.

For some reason my right hip is giving me the most appalling gyp. Slathering on the diclofenac.

I took my methotrexate this morning and just met Felista but had to cut and run to the nearest space and puke and retch for ten minutes.

… CONTINUED HERE


The view from Copstick’s far from luxurious home window… She used to live in a metal container…

Copstick takes no money of any kind for herself from the Mama Biashara charity and covers none of her own costs in running the charity nor for travelling to and from and living in Kenya.

Mama Biashara itself relies solely on donations and from sales of goods in its shop at Shepherds Bush, London. The website is HERE.

Leave a comment

Filed under Charity, Kenya, Travel