Tag Archives: poverty

Flying toilets, taking new drugs and having a penis enlargement operation

Comedy critic Kate Copstick and I record a weekly Grouchy Club Podcast. It covers more than gossip about the comedy industry as do the monthly, live Grouchy Club meetings. Inevitably, after this week’s was finished, the conversation carried on. Three main anecdotes cropped up…


Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya (Photo by Schreibkraft)

Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya (Photograph by Schreibkraft)

FLYING TOILETS

The podcast is recorded in Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity shop in Shepherds Bush, London.

The charity works in Kenya, helping small business start-ups.

When over in Nairobi, Copstick lives in slum areas and had this description of the ‘flying toilets’ in Kibera, Nairobi, said to be the largest urban slum in Africa. 

* * * * *

The houses are incredibly close together – you can’t really extend your arms in the little rat runs between the houses. It is much better now but originally there was allegedly 2,000 people to every one long-drop toilet.

Now the government have put in some standpipes and there are public toilets but you are still sharing a toilet with a helluva lot more people than you would like to. If you go out into the darkness of the night – and you really can’t see in front of your face – you have no idea what you are stepping on, you creak open the door of the long-drop toilet and have no idea what state it’s in. It’s a bit Russian Rouletty. You may also get killed or attacked on your way there or back.

So, if you wake up in the middle of the dark night and think: “God! I desperately need a shit!” – which people do a lot because there is a lot of diarrhea around – what you do is go outside and take a shit into a plastic carrier bag, then tie the top of the carrier bag and take the little butterfly bit at the top and whirl it round your head like a Scotsman flinging the hammer. When it gets to peak velocity, you let go and it flies away into the night as far as it can.

Obviously, in an ideal world, you aim high and generally what will happen is that somebody a couple of streets or houses away will hear a SPLATT! on their corrugated iron roof and they will think: Oh fuck! Somebody’s flying toilet! I must remember to go up and scrape it off in the morning!

The shit is in a plastic bag but, when the plastic bag lands, it generally splits open. Also, if you are in a big family – my mate Sylverster has a one-bedroom house for seven of them – as the children get older, when it’s not raining, the girls sleep inside the house but the boys sleep on the roof. So that can get messy.


Kate Copstick prepares for a Grouchy Club

Kate Copstick prepares for a Grouchy Club

WHITE BLOOD CELLS

For many years, Copstick has suffered from the painful and debilitating disease lupus. It is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue in many parts of the body.

Until 2½ months ago she was in agony most of the time…

* * * * *

Since the lupus struck, I have always had a low white blood cell count – neutropenia. The white cells are the fighter cells and scavenger cells. When you get a bruise, the neutrophils go in and clear away all the damaged blood.

Last June, they put me on this new medication – methotrexate – which I injected into the flub on my stomach. It is a kick-ass drug. It’s used in chemotherapy – for leukaemia and other cancers. Then they found out it really worked for rheumatoid arthritis and, through that, they found it worked for other auto-immune diseases like lupus.

I got put on methotrexate last June/July. Then in August in Edinburgh I got bacterial pneumonia and they thought it might be the methotrexate and I kept taking it and they said: “Oh, your white blood cell count keeps going down.”

Then suddenly, 2½ months ago, I felt great; I felt fantastic. Nothing had been changed in the drugs but I suddenly felt physically great. And the best I’ve felt psychologically for years. I was actually happy. I felt happy. Just wonderful. No pain; no headaches; no tinnitus; no cold sweats; and the white blood cell count had gone down even more.

Then, two weeks ago, the doctors said the white blood cell count had become very dangerously low.

I said: “I’m feeling fine!”

They said: “No no no no no. You’re very dangerously low.”

They kept asking me if I had temperatures and beadaches.

I said: “No! I feel wonderful!”

So, last week, they told me to stop taking the methotrexate because they thought that was lowering the white blood cells. I stopped taking it and I feel like shit this week. As soon as I stopped the injections, I got the pain back – tiredness, pain, headache, dizziness – all the lupus shit.

I mean, everything you take, every normal mainstream medication that you take does something bad to you. I think it should be about what makes you feel good. I’m fucking fed up feeling like shit. I’ve felt like shit for a lot of years, a lot.

Nothing bad seemed to be happening with the low white blood cells and I was feeling great and I reckon for me that’s better than being like this and taking handfuls of tramadol and dihydrocodeine and anything else I can lay my hands on just so I can be functional.


Devils on Horseback

“A bit like Devils on Horseback” which is dates stuffed with almonds and wrapped in bacon

PENIS ENLARGEMENT

In her TV production hat, a few years ago, Copstick developed, wrote and produced a series for the Bravo TV channel called World of Pain.

* * * * *

It was about things like pain for pleasure, sporting pain, all different things. And one episode was called Suffer To Be Beautiful which was about people having plastic surgery and all the crazy shit they do.

So I went to New York to film a penis enlargement operation. It was around the year 2000 and there was nobody in Britain who would allow me to film them. Those who go for penis enlargement tend to want people to imagine that’s how they always have been naturally.

I filmed the entire operation. It was absolutely fascinating. I was the cameraperson. When we sent it to the compliance lawyers, most of it ended up on the cutting room floor not because it was erotic but because there was just so much blood. Somebody was having the shaft of his penis split open with a scalpel and the skin peeled…

What I did not realise was that every man is born with as much penis length as anyone can give you. It just depends if you are a show-er or a grow-er.

If you are a show-er, even when you are flaccid, it is all hanging out there.

If you are a grow-er, there is more to come from inside.

So what they do, when somebody wants more length, is make two cuts in the inguinal area – just above the pubic bone – one on either side – and in there are the ligaments that hold the penis in place and they snip those.

Then – this is true – one doctor or a very strong nurse holds the patient on the operating table while the other doctor grabs the penis and pulls. And I am talking PULLS. We are talking like tug-of-war. And they yank out as much of the penis as they can.

Then they stitch up the little incisions and you are now a show-er.

What surprised me is that men who want more length want it for the locker room. They want it for that moment when the Calvin Kleins hit the carpet and another person – male or female – gets their first look at what you are packing.

This guy I was filming wanted more length. So they did that. But he also wanted more girth.

Enhancement can help a bit on girth with what they call ‘harvested tissue’. Have you ever larded a joint of meat? Where you take strips of fat…

Anyway, what they do is get the penis and slit open the skin down the length of it and then… Have you ever buttered the breast of a chicken before you roasted it?

What you do is you ease your hands in between the flesh and the skin of the chicken and you open it up so the skin separates from the flesh.

So, with penis enhancement, they get little rectangles of harvested tissue, lift the skin of the penis away from the shaft and wrap these bits of tissue around the shaft. Then they sew that bit up and do another bit until… It’s a bit like Devils on Horseback or a beef olive.

Then they stitch the skin back into place and wrap it all in very tight elastic bandage. Then the person goes away with lots of painkillers and hopes that they only think clean thoughts.

Because the single biggest problem with the process is guys who go away from the hospital, take their painkillers and, after a day or so, wake up with a bit of morning glory and burst all their stitches.

As for pee-ing, initially you are catheterised but the answer after that is to pee very very carefully.

How do you get harvested tissue? With a scalpel and a dead body.

So be careful when you sign your organ donor card. You may think you will be giving sight to the blind, but you could end up giving girth to the under-endowed and find yourself wrapped around some tiny-dicked guy’s enlarged penis.

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Filed under Health, Humor, Humour, Kenya, Medical, Poverty, Sex

An actor’s tale: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”

Peter Stanford took tea with me at Soho Theatre

Peter Stanford sipped tea at Soho Theatre Bar

The last time I blogged about Mensa member Peter Stanford was in June four years ago, when he was taking part in the annual Naked Bike Ride in London.

A couple of weeks ago, he was telling me: “Yes.  I am moving out of the hostel for the homeless to a Church’s Housing flat soon and do not know how much notice I will have. (Four hour’s notice to get in the hostel.)  Library computer running out. If you blog about me, will it affect my chances of getting acting work? Should it therefore be anonymous?”

When we met, we decided it would not.

We met in the Soho Theatre Bar.

“So currently,” I said, “you are living a transient life…”

“I am living in a hostel, yes. I was sleeping rough, living on the pavement, from last Christmas to about April this year.”

“I suppose, as an actor,” I said, “it doesn’t matter where you are.”

“And I have a bicycle,” said Peter. “I haven’t got my youth, but I have my stamina and I can cycle across London and back. Swimming and cycling I can still do.”

Why he is homeless is complicated and he feels too personal to print, as it might affect someone else.

"I have turned down two offers from producers saying: Tell your story"

Turned down 2 offers from producers saying: Tell your story

He also told me: “I have turned down two offers from producers saying: Tell your story about middle class homelessness.”

“You were,” I said, “almost in Sacha Baron Cohen’s movie Grimsby.

“Well…” he replied. “I got an email from one of the agencies saying: Would you object to being a urinating vicar in the film called Grimsby? So I told them: Not at all; sign me up. But then I never heard from them again.

“I can,” he continued, “think of other tales to destroy one’s self-image – being invited onto Take Me Out, turning up on set in my normal clothes for the role of a squatter and being told: You’ve been to costume and make-up then?

“On the other hand, I was writing out my theatrical CV the other day and it looks quite impressive. I sang at the London Palladium with Robbie Williams. I sang at the London Coliseum with ELO.”

“With Robbie Williams?” I asked.

“I was ‘a fat popstar’,”he explained. “At the time, Robbie Williams was getting a lot of flak in the press for looking fat, so he wrote a song and all these fat people ran out and sang No-One Likes a Fat Pop Star. And I’ve sung opera in my time.”

Peter Stanford: one man in his time plays many parts

Peter Stanford… “One man in his time plays many parts…”

“Weren’t you Henry VIII?” I asked.

“Yes. At Hampton Court. But my best story of being a homeless actor was when I was living on the streets. I went to the library to do my emails and was offered the chance to be the new face of Stella Artois beer. I had not told any agents that I was sleeping on the pavement.

We would be filming in Rumania, they told me, so we will put you up in a five star hotel for a week and then buy you out for eight thousand Euros. Is that acceptable?

“I told them that it was and thought that I must get the job for the irony alone. Pavement to 5 Star hotel, then back to the pavement (if I know anything about the wait before payment). I was going to be a Victorian doctor in the ads. Unfortunately, I didn’t get it.”

“But you almost got it,” I asked, “by going to the library?”

Peter’s multiple London library cards

Peter’s has multiple London library cards

“Oh, every day I go to the library and log on: Wandsworth, Ealing, Kingston, Southwark, Greenwich… Westminster is good because it’s open until 9.00pm. They are all good places to go and sleep. I once fell asleep while I was cycling.”

“What?”

“Fortunately,” Peter continued, “I didn’t go under a bus. I went to other way and hit a kerb, flew through the air and landed on my knee. It woke me up.”

“So how do you survive financially?”

“When I became homeless, for the first time in my life, I signed on the dole. I had been living off my acting and living with a relative. I was always brought up to be frugal.”

“I think,” I said, “you’re allowed to work up to something like 16 hours a week and still sign on?”

“Something like that.”

“How many acting jobs do you get a month?”

“Two or three. I’ve been auditioning a lot. I was a vicar the other week. When they gave me the address, it was where they had had my uncle’s cremation last year.”

“You seem to be getting typecast as vicars,” I suggested.

“Well, I have a deep voice, so I am either good guys or bad guys. A deep voice means evil or benign. A psychopath or wise old man.”

“There’s no way out of this, is there,” I asked, “unless you get a big role?”

“There is my one-man show about James Robertson Justice,” said Peter.

“Except,” I said, “no-one remembers who he was.”

“Alas,” said Peter.

“You wrote it for yourself,” I prompted.

James Robertson Justice in his prime

Actor James Robertson Justice

“I was writing it as a one-man play about James Robertson Justice and someone was interested and, three quarters of the way through, he suddenly asked: Could you make it about Brian Blessed instead? I told him the main reason I couldn’t do that was it was based on James Robertson Justice’s life.”

“Ironically,” I said, “the best person to play the part of James Robertson Justice would be Brian Blessed.”

“That part’s taken,” laughed Peter. “By me.”

“You have already performed it?”

“Written and performed it.”

“You could do it at the Edinburgh Fringe,” I suggested.

“I could do it anywhere. I’ve got a friend for free accommodation in Edinburgh, but I have never been to the Fringe.”

Peter Stanford at Wellington Arch, London, yesterday

Peter Stanford at the Naked Bike Ride in 2012

 

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Kate Copstick – de-worming in Kenya while her sister is handcuffed in London

My Grouchy Club co-host Kate Copstick is still in Kenya, working for her charity Mama Biashara.

These are edited extracts from her latest diary entries.


katecopstick_facetimeTHURSDAY

We get a call from the lady in Dagoretti Market who is supposed to be organising the de-worming. She is hysterical. The elders of the village want to burn her, she says. They have said she is bringing the Devil (me) to poison the children. In an interesting twist, they also claim I am Illuminati.

Always batting for both teams, me.

So there will be no medical. Not today.

But we will meet the woman and try to arrange for it to happen somewhere away from the village.

This is becoming quite a pattern. Doris and David think it might be because we are heading toward election time and anyone in politics – however lowly – wants to claim anything good that happens as the work of their party. Meanwhile they are up to their overactive testicles in sick kids and worn-out women.

I whip round the market, collecting stuff I have ordered and trying to avoid being trapped by desperate people wanting me to buy something so they will have enough for a bus fare home. Business in all areas of tourism is down. The government, the police, the medical profession, the city council operatives and six out of ten teachers are all just criminals of one level or another, but yer basic wainanchi is a great human being. While I do not give a flying fuck about the owners of the big white-walled resorts and the cutesy “Ooo! Look! It’s a zebra!” safari lodges, their cleaners and cooks and drivers are the ones who really suffer when tourists don’t come.

I get a frantic call from Felista who says that the torrential rain is flooding the dorms at Decip and she needs a ton of sand, a ton of ballast, waterproofing, cement, wire mesh and a load of other stuff. I harrumph. But David and I go out to Decip and wade around in the mud and the generalised gloop and, indeed, something needs to be done.

Luckily my school friend Rachel has just sent one of her lifesaving moneygrams from Austria. And so Felista gets the budget for repairs and the kids will sleep dry tonight.

Sometime soon (yeah, right) they have been promised connection to some sort of drainage and sewer system.

FRIDAY

I get a matatu to Junction for the WiFi and am embroiled in the craziest jam ever.

On a road which is basically one lane in each direction, those heading from Dagoretti Corner towards Kawangware have created FIVE lanes of traffic all going in one direction. And no one gives way to anyone, ever, here.

It is a masculine pride thing, I think. Any time there is a tiny gap it is filled with part of a motorbike. The one which oozes next to my window is carrying an electric lawnmower.

SATURDAY

My trip to the market is irritating. I get embroiled in a bit of a hoo-ha with the lady from the soapstone opposite Mwangi.

I bought a lovely red plate there last visit and ordered four more in different colours from the bloke I thought was running the stall. Gave a deposit of £25 and got receipt etc.

It now turns out that the bloke was not in charge of the stall but was a friend of the lad who was SUPPOSED to be running the stall for the real owner, a fiery lady who has now returned.

The other bloke – Dennis – is a broker and took the order for someone else but has now disappeared with the money – 900 bob of hers and 2,100 of mine. The fiery lady is incandescent. She makes me look calm and considered.

“Now there will be a war!!” she bellows.

I really would not like to be Dennis.

Felix, the lad who was supposed to be in charge of the stall but who took a bung to let broker Dennis steal the feisty lady’s customer, is fired before my eyes. I leave.

There is a girl at Felista’s for whom Mama Biashara paid college fees. Now she is on the final stage and has had a very successful placement at one hospital and is supposed to move to another placement at another hospital. But the hospitals charge the students for the placements. Of course they do. This is Kenya. £50, though. So I send the money off. Now Njoki will graduate and will be a lab technician. Not bad for an abandoned kid from the slums.

Doris is knackered. Her father is ill and is now losing weight and there seems to be nothing she can do to persuade him to help himself. He refuses to go for the prostate cancer test. One of her sons (who are about six or seven) was caught telling a girl to remove her panties so he could lie on top of her and the entire neighbourhood has turned on Doris. She is still not that well.

She is overwhelmed with people coming to Mama Biashara needing help and she said that, while she was really ill, she just stopped taking business plans. Our great plan to do Medical Days has been a disaster as we have been stymied by petty politics at every turn. Doris is at the end of her tether.

I buy coffee, we talk, I reassure, we agree to meet on Monday and make a Grand Master Plan. I also make her promise that every single plan and request will just get passed on to me. Immediately. She no longer tries to keep the gate; she just opens it. Till she feels better.

Because of Mama Bashara’s lack of funds, she has to do a LOT of saying No and this is a hugely stressful thing to do. I know. I have to do it too. It is making life as Mama Biashara difficult to say the least.

I go home and schlepp my bags and boxes into my increasingly crazy-looking bedroom.

And then I get a text from London asking for my help.

The volunteers at the Mama Biashara shop in Shepherds Bush – Amanda, Letitia and Souad – are in a bit of a pickle.

A small child (offspring of a regular customer) has handcuffed my sister Amanda with a pair of antique London Metropolitan Police handcuffs given to me by the Staines Police as a thankyou gift for chairing the final of their schools quiz.

I lost the key about twenty years ago.

I was not worried as the handcuffs were in the bottom drawer of my desk and I never imagined that anyone would be so cretinously stupid as to use them. And lock them.

They call the police. Who want to know how we got the police issue handcuffs.

Then they call the fire brigade. Who have to cut sister Amanda out of the cuffs.


There is a Mama Biashara donation page HERE.

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Filed under Charity, Kenya

Critic Kate Copstick meets the bane of humanity (and his seven kids) in Kenya

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

Kate Copstick currently in Kenya

Comedy critic, writer and occasionally TV presenter and producer Kate Copstick is in Africa, working with her Mama Biashara charity.

It funds small-scale sustainable businesses in the poorer areas of Kenya. Their slogan is: Giving a Hand Up, Not a Hand Out.

Mama Biashara is also involved in medical work, as these edited extracts from Copstick’s diaries last week show.

The full versions are on her Facebook page.

Copstick covers all of her own costs out of her own pocket.

100% of all money given to the charity goes to its work; none goes to her or her helpers.


WEDNESDAY

I head to Kawangware to drop my stuff off at my new home before going on to pick up Doris and make for Kiambaa and its many wormy, scabby-headed children.

The rain has scattered those waiting for the medical in Kiambaa. Your child might be riddled with worms and crusted with ringworm but heaven forfend it might get damp. And so Doris takes us out into the back of beyond to see one of our Mama Biashara groups in action.

We financed a group of lads to start their own building group. It is going really well and they have good steady work, but not so as they can exactly splash the cash in helping others. So they have decided to splash their expertise. They identify families in dire need, accommodation wise, and sort them out using begged and donated materials and their own time and building skills.

Here, in what could be an idyllic setting, I am introduced to the bane of humanity. I realise that sounds harsh… OK, along with First World Selfishness and Greed, organised religion, war and man’s general inhumanity to man, ONE of the banes of humanity.

Current patchwork home for mum, dad and their seven children

Current patchwork home for mum, dad & their seven children

A little man who cannot see further than his own testicles seems entirely unconcerned that his beautiful (talk about out of his league) wife is now breastfeeding his seventh child while the other six barefoot, raggedy, hungry fruit of his criminally fertile loins look on. At least No 7 is getting fed.

Their ‘home’ is a kind of patchwork mabati (iron sheeting) hut : 40% rust, 30% holes, 10% plastic patching. There is no food to be seen. Our lads are going to remake the hovel so this Father of the Year can shelter his contribution to world hunger warmly and in the dry.

“How do you feed your children ?” I ask Daddy.

He shrugs: ”Kibarua”.

Casual labouring that can pay a quid a day when he gets it.

“What other business do you know?” I persevere, hoping for a chink of light in this family’s long dark tunnel. Even an oncoming train would be something. Nothing. And he appears unfazed by his complete inability to do anything but squirt sperm at waiting ova. I find myself, to be honest, angry rather than sympathetic. The sheer, total hopelessness, the apathy, the resignation.

I am a little ashamed to say I contribute some money to the building fund and walk away. Without giving anything more.

Mama Biashara’s Doris (left) with the family

Mama Biashara’s Doris (left) with the family

Now, writing this two days later, I am a little remorseful. Still more angry than anything else. But I will send Doris some money to get them some food. And we will go back. But taking with us SOME form of contraception. My first choice would be a large pair of scissors.

However, the building fund desperately needs contributions. So, if you are less hard-hearted than I am, then please do help. It is a truly wonderful thing that the Mama Biashara guys are doing for this family and I am so, so chuffed that our group is so determined to give back any way they can.

THURSDAY

The day from hell. Only because of money worries. So much need, so much I could do, so little money and more than half of it has gone. Ah for the days when I was constantly topping up my personal coffers with a heady mix of porn and motorbikes and I could just pay for everything here. Long long gone… Although if anyone wants a great TV series on either topic…

Doris, one of Mama Bishara’s main workers

Dependable Doris, Mama Bishara volunteer

FRIDAY

My lodgings are with a sweet old bloke who was doing quite well for himself as a professional chef until his wife got cancer and all their worldly goods were sold to pay for her inept treatment. Her grave is outside the door of the house.

He had been reduced to running a small bakery as his wife got sicker but the Luhya tradition says that, with widowing comes enforced isolation. You are not allowed to run your business. And people do not come near you. Only the old can approach the bereaved. And so his business died shortly after his wife.

The house is sweet. No electricity and no running water but I have a toilet in the corner of my room which I can sit on and flush with a jug of water. It is a bit pongy, being, as it is, just an open hole, in a porcelain basin, to the sewer. But at least I do not need to worry about my appalling lack of skill in directing my pee in a long drop. Padding around clutching an oil lamp is positively atmospheric. Having said which, despite the flame, you can see almost bugger all. When I blow it out I am alone with the darkness and the pong of paraffin. And agonising acid stomach. I crunch antacids by the handful.

I empty a packet of ten. I consider the article I read that said women often experience a heart attack as a burning pain in the chest and think it is indigestion.

I consider whether I might be having a heart attack and have another couple of antacids.

I then remember something that popped up online when I last had electricity, to say nothing of WiFi, that said taking too many antacids can lead to a stroke. I wonder which would give me a better chance – marooned here, as I am, in the middle of absolutely nowhere.

Everyday foot work for Mama Biashara

Everyday work faced by the Mama Biashara charity in Kenya

SATURDAY

Today is medical day and I set off on a bike with my Big Box of Medicine. There are already people there, of course. Usually the earlier they arrive, the healthier they are. We create areas – one for jiggers, one for de-worming and one for ringworm.

We set up basins of heavily disinfectanty water, I make up bottles of coconut and teatree oil (for ringworm) and off we go. I have bought needles for jigger removing and a couple of experts set to. My group is ever growing so I get stuck in among the dozens of old ladies and men with sore everything, headaches, ‘rashes’ and ‘ulsas’, for which read acid indigestion. My favourites are the lady who “feels sick when I think of eating vegetables”, the lady who has suffered loss of appetite and can only eat twice a day and the lady who was “threatened by a cow”.

From 11.00am till around 7.00pm, in the glorious outdoors outside Julius’ house, I see 53 people, we de-worm a further 24, we de-jigger about 15 and treat a dozen or so for ringworm, three of whom are so bad they need the systemic meds. Those who had jiggers removed get shoes and the remaining shoes are given to the most needy barefoot amongst those who come.

There are also some properly poorly people. There is a thin woman who has had the raging trots for two months, a vomiting girl with a temperature, a genuinely fluey lady with a temperature and an old lady with appalling shingles.

“Rashes” she says, wincing as she lifts her blouse. I expect the usual scabby, flakey, pimply clusters. But she reveals the kind of shingles that would persuade one to believe Noel Coward, that if they ever meet in the middle she will die.

Meanwhile, we have collected a group of young drunks demanding dawa and an impressive audience of locals.

“They have come to see the celebrity” says Julius.

Ah! How I remember what that felt like… Opening school fêtes, autograph signing sessions alongside Mike Smith, requests for photos…

This is not quite the same thing. More “see whitey give away free stuff”.

Of course, word spreads and the queue grows rather than diminishes. Julius grows harassed, what with the drunk boys and the hangers-on and the children, not unexpectedly, howling as the clumps of jiggers are dug out of their tiny feet.

Then a boy sneaks in to steal shoes and Julius goes completely banzai, picks up a stick and chases him up the path belting him when he can. There is a palpable ripple of approval. I am unsure as to what to do.

We go back to my lodgings and eat the best ugali I have ever tasted. Although, to be fair, to say that you ‘taste’ ugali is a little like saying you ‘feel’ air. Fearing a return of my stroke / heart attack dilemma of last night I try drinking black tea instead of milky coffee.


There is a Mama Biashara donation page HERE.

And there is a 7-minute documentary online showing Copstick at work in the village of Kawangware in 2012:

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Filed under Africa, Charity, Kenya

Kate Copstick in Kenya and in trouble

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

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


Copstick in Kenya

“I am having something of an accommodation crisis.”

SATURDAY 4th JUNE

I am having something of an accommodation crisis in Nairobi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUNDAY 5th JUNE

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

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

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

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

The Kenyan national flag

The Kenyan national flag

MONDAY 6th JUNE

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

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

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

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

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

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

TUESDAY 7th JUNE

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

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

But you cannot go against The Scriptures.

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

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

WEDNESDAY 8th JUNE

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

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

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

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

I look the place up.

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

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

THURSDAY 9th JUNE

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

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

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


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

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Dreams and vomit and murderers in Kenya with comedy critic Kate Copstick

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

Kate Copstick is in Kenya

Comedy critic Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya, where her Mama Biashara charity is based. It helps impoverished, sidelined people to start up their own small businesses.

She is usually based in Nairobi but, last Saturday, she went to Mombassa.

Below is a highly cut-down version of her diary, which she posts in full on Mama Biashara’s Facebook page.


SATURDAY 12th MARCH

We go off to the end of Mombasa where Bamburi Cement lives. It is SO quiet compared to Nairobi. Almost no traffic, no hooting and screaming. And no plague of police looking for bribes. In a little slum area north of the factory area, Vicky (of Vicky’s Cleaners fame) is waiting. We have a training session to do.

Since we first funded her, Vicky has had successes all over Kenya and into Tanzania. In keeping with what I have decided to call the Mama Biashara Model because it sounds important, Vicky has – with Mombasa now as her base – started working with older commercial sex workers (women she describes beautifully as “they have … a history”), male commercial sex workers and ex-crims who cannot ever get proper work because to be employed as anything you need a ‘certificate of good behaviour’ which you cannot get if you have been to prison.

She trains them (she is a phenomenal trainer) in all manner of skills and gives them the work when she gets new contracts (which she does all the time). Some have had enough work from Vicky alone to set themselves up in businesses. This trip, we are meeting a half dozen or so groups who have plans but need a bit of Mama Biashara luuuurve (and money, obviously).

At night, I have the most extraordinary dreams. Wonderful dreams, unlike any I can remember. They are full of people I know from all over my life and we are all in a show. I am, as well as that, invited to join Fascinating Aida and we spend a while practicing harmonies. I am so happy.

Normally all my dreams revolve around me being forced onstage (no, really) to fill in in a play – quite often Shakespeare – where I have not been to rehearsals and have only had a cursory glance at the script and no one will let me look at it again even though I know that, if I can just get the first line, the rest will come. But I have to go onstage and I can ruin everything for everyone. They are scary and stressful and guilt-ridden and horrible.

This dream was joyful. I was, again, asked to fill in in the play. But this time I was playing a corpse and so I could do nothing wrong. People would pick me up when I had to be moved and everything would just happen round about me. There was the small matter of a killer on the loose but he was caught before I went onstage.

Doris at the ferry in Mombassa

Doris warns the ferry trip to the south side is fraught with peril

SUNDAY

I have realised that Mombasa for humans is like water for sharks: you have to keep moving or you die. Movement creates a small breeze (or large breeze if you are bobbling along in a tuktuk.

We get a matatu from town to the ferry over to the south side. Doris has rather given me the impression that The Ferry is an impressive trip, fraught with peril. Turns out it is a voyage of some four minutes. On weekdays, about 3,000 people cram on but today we are few. Yes there has been a capsizing. Once. But the thing seems to be managed with a quite un-Kenyan efficiency.

We go down to the public part of Diani Beach. Like Pirates Bay (where we were yesterday), there are hawkers and renters of rubber rings. But this is much posher. There are some (but surprisingly few) white people here. Mainly large older men with slim young local girls. And the price of the jelly coconuts has suddenly doubled.

We are having no luck getting together our recycling training group and we still do not know if we will be allowed into the village where widows are sent to be used as sex toys for rich Swahili men, so we make out way back to the ferry, stopping for phone charging and food at a place where the owner makes an immediate play for Doris. Having said which, “You are well filled-out” is not necessarily a universally acceptable chat-up line.

Doris (left) with Vicky in Mombassa

Doris (left) with Vicky of Vicky’s Cleaners

MONDAY

We go back out to Bamburi and find Vicky with the last of the funding groups – six women who want to make viazi karai (a Swahili delicacy) and a group of twenty young guys who want to rent out beach kit at Pirates Beach. The guys are a mix of ex rent boys and ex cons – not as iffy as it sounds. Loads of people get swept up – almost literally – in the frequent ‘street clean up’ campaigns put together by City Councils. Homeless, beggars, thieves and the rest all get collected and dumped in prison where they more or less disappear).

These guys want to get up and out and their progress at the beach will be monitored by police and City Council. They just need the capital to get started. As we talk, I realise that there is, even amongst serious hardmen like this. a real taboo about revealing that some of the guys are gay. It is extraordinary to see their spokesman almost blush to say the word.

Doris takes me to Old Mombasa Town. We dive off into the warren of streets that is the old town: a little like Marrakesh and a little like Venice. This place is home to a myriad street snacks, all delicious. We find a hole in the wall where an old beardy bloke is drinking what is definitely coffee. We ask if we can come in. We can. We drink superb coffee. We watch the Old Town world go by. It is a very other world. Doris observes that the place smells like an Indian Paan House.

“It is,” nods beardy man.

“I love paan,” I pipe up – having chewed it in London after meals as a fennel-heavy breath freshener.

“These ones are very good,” offers beardy man.

It doesn’t taste like the London paan. It tastes like chewing incense. I swallow the juice. Then suddenly I feel slightly numb.

I spit it out into a napkin. The ‘buzz’ intensifies and it feels like the top of my head has come off. I find I can neither speak properly nor do anything much. Like move. Which is unfortunate as what I know without shadow of a doubt is that I am about to vomit.

Doris says that what happens is I turn purple.

I can see my arms and they have certainly changed colour. And purple is not far off it. Luckily I have been sitting right at the door – watching the world go by – and so, powerless to do anything else, I vomit. My puke almost hits the middle of the road. I try to say sorry but my mouth won’t work. The old men in the shop are very helpful.

“Water,” they say, “and milk. Gargle and spit.”

I cannot even hold a mug of water. Doris holds it and I drink. And puke again. The owner of the shop (no, it transpires, beardy welcoming man was not the owner, merely a regular and he has now left) has come back and is creating hell that the old lady would have let me try the chewwie stuff.

Doris explains that I wanted to try it. She herself was about to try it. I am still retching into the bucket but try to back her up. Doris helpfully takes a photo. Now all the people in the shop are helping. Buckets of water swirl away the puke from the front of the shop. A tuktuk is summoned. I cannot stand to get into it for another five minutes. By then I can mumble apologies to all and clamber into the seat. We get back to the hotel where I explode in the other direction.

Kate Copstick cares in Kenya

Kate Copstick has wonderful dreams in Kenya

TUESDAY

I have more wonderful dreams and yet again sleep like a baby. I am insistent that we return to the Paan Shop with gifts for the old lady and her husband as an apology for yesterday.

The training group for recycling is still nowhere to be found and it transpires that the widows’ village is out of bounds as it is under lockdown (along with the rest of the area) as a couple of people have been stabbed on the beach and the murderers have not been found.

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Kate Copstick in Kenya: cerebral palsy, accidents, drugs, epilepsy and paralysis

Copstick at last month;s Edinburgh Fringe

Copstick in the West at the Edinburgh Fringe

I posted the weekly Grouchy Club Podcast today, but without co-host Kate Copstick.

She is in currently in Kenya, where she runs a charity called Mama Biashara, based in Nairobi. It helps deprived individuals and groups to start up their own small businesses to support themselves.

She is posting a daily diary on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.

Below is an edited version of a little of what happened on just two days this week.


TUESDAY 8th MARCH

Kijabe Street market calls and I head off with David. Much loveliness is discussed and ordered.

I am approached by a man with a picture of his 13 year old daughter and a list. I assume some kind of sponsored bungee jump. But no. This is Kenya. He has received phonecalls from a local group (gang would make them sound too organised. These groups are more just opportunistic villains) who kidnapped his daughter from school and are demanding 300,000 shillings for her life. This, I learn, is quite a common occurrence and the police have so many of the cases on their books that they just fob you off to get your child / husband / father back yourself.

As we leave the market, a woman on a pikipiki is involved in an accident. The driver gets up but she is lying in the road. It is now that I receive a reminder of quite how cheap life is here.

“Stop!” I cry.

David looks vaguely irritated.

“Why?”

“This woman is injured!… Look! She cannot stand up.”

David looks and makes a clicking sound. “There is no parking,” he says and he drives past.

“Go around!” I demand – pointing at the roundabout we are joining.

“For what?”

“To help the woman!!”

More clicking from David, plus a tutting noise, as he drives off the roundabout.

“What could we do?” He is self-evidently irritated at my even considering risking a parking ticket to help a woman spreadeagled and twitching in the middle of a main road.

I am incandescent with rage. Such as to leave me speechless for the rest of the journey.

WEDNESDAY 9th MARCH

Kate Copstick. My house. Yes this is more or less all of it. I am standing with my back to the other wall.

The full extent of Kate Copstick’s accommodation in Kenya

Wednesday got off to a very bad start.

I awoke – and I do not exaggerate – crippled with pain.

I was contemplating not getting up at all, but Margaret is at the door at 9.30 to tell me that I have to empty out the storeroom I have been using for what I buy because someone wants to rent it. She is a tad taken aback at the hunched, trembling figure that opens the door. And she says I can empty it out in my own time.

I am tottering around the corner to Shalom for wifi and a hot milky coffee when I am stopped by a burly bloke sent by the shosho who wants – whatever Margaret says – the place emptied now. So the burly bloke helps me and we cram my little house with Mama Biashara loveliness. Then I go to Shalom and take meds plus a small handful of Tramadol.

Although, as my sister Amanda would quickly point out, opiate addiction is NOT my friend, at times like these I find that Tramadol is.

I do not feel like making the trip to Kibera by matatu or pikipiki so I extravagantly get a taxi. There is a room full of blind /deaf/ choking/ twitching/shrieking young humanity there with its mothers.

As soon as the Tramadol kicks in, we get going.

I talk to the families one by one. As I get the horror stories from the mums – mostly housebound because of the kids – I (who am really a King Herod in my heart) just want to sort things out a bit. And so Mama Biashara funds the group.

There is Mama Anita. She is 13 and has severe cerebral palsy. She is doubly incontinent and unable to do anything for herself – like sitting up. She is also blind and deaf.

Mama Ronnie

“Mama Ronnie is a beautiful young woman with more severe cerebral palsy than Anita”

Mama Ronnie is a stunningly beautiful young woman – a 19 year old with even more severe cerebral palsy than Anita. Her son is a big boy. His mother can no longer lift him. Which makes cleaning him and all poo-related activities extremely difficult. Feeding him one meal takes about an hour and a half.

I chat to Mama Ronnie about the possibilities of running a business from the house (poo-covered as it frequently is) and we discuss omena and liquid soap which has a really high profit margin. She gets slightly teary – which is very unusual for these amazing and resilient women.

It turns out that – because she has been unable to pay her rent – the landlord has locked her house. Her landlord, being much stronger than her, has had little difficulty in lifting Ronnie and placing him propped against a wall in the mud outside the door. Mama Ronnie is, naturally, unhappy.

And this, dear reader, is why it is so important that Mama Biashara keeps making money. So that when I meet someone like Mama Ronnie, in a situation like this, we can pay her scuzzy landlord his arrears and let Ronnie back in the house. And go off to Kawangware and buy 150 litres of soap chemicals so that Mama Ronnie (plus five other mums of disabled kids) can start earning and not have rent arrears again. As the meerkat says: “Simples”.

Mary and Joy - the blind twins

Mary and Joy, the blind twins – burns, paralysis and epilepsy

I meet the blind twins – one of whom has whole body burns after pulling a pan of boiling water over herself; Irene, who had a stroke, is intellectually impaired and paralysed down one side and has recently developed epilepsy; two more kids with severe cerebral palsy; and a contingent from the albino community including Alan who wants to be an accountant; Rebecca and her dad; and the absolutely delightful Evanson Kangethe, a brilliant boy who is No 1 in his class and wants to be a footballer. He, representing his community, sends a huge thanks to Sandra Smith who sent them a huge bag of Factor 50 sunscreen.

I tell them about the Oxfam adverts with the sad children but we are laughing too much to recreate them.

Everyone gets a small business – even Irene, who will sit beside her mum and sell sweeties.

This is Chritus who wants to be an accountant

This is Chritus, who wants to be an accountant.

I go off with a shopping list topped by several sizes of what they call here ‘beeeeg diapers’. We get a matatu to Dagoretti Corner where Alan (who is looking after his disabled brother), Joan and Dan eat with me at the Mali Cafe. Doris arrives and they go off and we start to schedule the Mombasa trip. We leave Friday. We have half a dozen big groups to fund but the budgets they have asked for are far more that we can afford.

The bus is 9 quid and our rooms are about 4.50 per night each. I fret over every penny. We are also doing – if we can – some experimental work recycling flip flops and carrier bags. But there is not enough time for me to get the kit I need before we leave. We pack in a quick meet with Felista and I hand over the stuff I have brought her to sell in the cyber cafe – DVDs and headsets mainly.

At last I manage to Facetime Daddy Copstick which is wonderful and we all talk.

I have extremely strange dreams…

(CONTINUED HERE)

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