Tag Archives: railways

Now top comedy critic Kate Copstick pukes and shoots poo all night in Kenya

In the previous blog, Kate Copstick’s back was covered in (one presumes) insect bites.

She is currently in Kenya, working for her Mama Biashara charity.

Now read on…

THURSDAY

I don’t know what went wrong but I puke and shoot poo all night and wake up with a blinding headache. There is no water, so the room is far from fragrant. And I can barely move. Just turning over to let the air at my bites is exhausting. I text Doris to say I will be late getting up. She texts back to say her legs are worse. I fall back asleep. And awake, many hours later, no better.

Except Doris is here with her bad legs. She lifts one onto the bed and I can see that there is quite a lot of pus around the bites where she has been scratching. I give her Grabacin ointment and powder and pass out again.

When I awake, she is worse. And her leg is deffo badly infected. We send a boy for penicillin or an equivalent. Always best to give pharmacies here an option of at least three and hope they have one. In 500mg bombs. I pass out again.

When I awake, Doris has the medicine and is pressing me to a large blackcurrant Fanta. The drink of Nazis. The urine of the devil himself. But I drink. Doris says her leg is much better. The heat is going. I say: “Take one more pill tonight.” Then I pass out again.

I awake about three in the morning and try to Google everything from cerebral malaria to dengue fever. But the connection won’t go through.

Doris – having some leg problems in Kenya

FRIDAY

While not exactly feeling like ruling the world, I am much MUCH better. Neither end is a danger to its surroundings, the headache is no longer crippling and I can get up and walk about. Doris says her leg is improving and I check that she took the second antibiotic bomb last night. She did not. She thought I did not know what I was saying. I freak. And do a short impromptu lecture on the propensity of bacterial infections to bounce back, resistant to everything except napalm.

We go out to the City Mall where we are meeting Dennis, The Man From SGR (Standard Gauge Railway).

While the Chinese companies who have been building roads across Kenya (although, so far, not down to Mombasa) have not been helpful to the locals in that they have brought a lot of their own workers with them, SGR have been using Kenyan labour.

Doris made a connection with a lady called Helen who is Something High Up and, since then, SGR and Mama Biashara have pretty much transformed entire communities.

Hundreds and hundreds of the neediest people are now in great jobs. The men need two hand tools each and one wheelbarrow per ten men. Plus an overall. The women need a couple of cooking utensils and an apron. And they are paid astoundingly well. They are housed, fed and the Chinese even bring a medical clinic around regularly and will give free medication. The people who get the jobs never want to leave.

The Chinese have recently raised the wage to 1,000 a day. Which is more than a teacher makes. Even better, although the first four or five groups of people came from villages near Nairobi, Doris persuaded Helen and Dennis to take the new labour from the poorest villages close to the railway line –  wherever it reached. So this particular project is reaching far further out into the rural areas than Mama Biashara ever has before.

Most recently, the workers are coming from some of the abjectly poor Mijikenda villages in the Coastal area. The transformative effect of this work is quite thrilling. And the SGR company has had its attitude to engaging labour completely turned around.

(The Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway will be inaugurated in Kenya in two days time. There is a New China TV video of it on YouTube.)

There used to be The Bloke In The Office who made people form a line, and, if they were the right tribe (ie his tribe) then they might get a job. But he is being completely circumvented now and all the jobs are filled via Dennis and Mama Biashara. Exciting stuff.

We had worked out an allowance of 600 bob for two hand tools and the same for a decent overall – around £9 in all. And a decent second-hand wheelbarrow is just under £20. Dennis does it for us. No backhander, no commission… He is a bit of a convert to the Mama Biashara way of thinking. And it has resulted in the company getting an incredibly hardworking workforce. And major… er… brownie points for him.

Dennis goes. While we are here, Doris gets a leg massage in one of those big chairs that squish and poke and vibrate you. She is wildly enthusiastic about the effects.

We head to Mtwapa. We want to check how things are there since our chats with the magistrate. We discover that the police have not swooped since we spoke to the magistrates. Which is great. We talk to more girls who most definitely ARE ‘loitering’ and explain the law to them. And how ‘your phone is your friend’ in terms of filming police brutality.

There are various health problems including one girl who has endometriosis. Which must be particularly horrific in her job.

I am wilting a bit and we collect our things to go. Which is when Doris discovers that her Mama Biashara phone has been stolen. This is a little basic Nokia. Cost £15. So it has not been stolen to sell. But it has ALL Doris’s Mama Biashara contacts in it. From years back. This is quite disastrous. And done only out of badness. We are both a bit stunned. The bloke who runs the bar is puzzled. Who? Why?

We get a matatu back to town. It is driven by a man who looks like he has come straight from winning an Evil Uncle Abanazer Lookalike Competition. He has both eyes on the sky. He is driving like he wants to arrive yesterday. I had no idea a matatu could go this fast. He sees the new moon, slams on the brakes, stops the vehicle, grabs a bottle of water, leaps out, goes to the side of the road, kneels down and washes his bits. Happy Ramadan.

He leaps back in and we hurtle on. After one near miss, I murmur: Please take care, I do not want to die here on the road. He bangs the steering wheel and shouts something about Mungu Kubwa (Big God) and something about himself and being fine and 37. For a horrible moment I consider that he is informing me that, while the going rate for the big time jihadis is 52 virgins, there is another verse that says you can still get 37 if you just wipe out a couple of infidels in a matatu crash.

Happily I realise he has been telling me he has been driving like this for 37 years just fine. We still get off a stop early and get a tuk tuk home.

A reminder of Copstick’s back.

SATURDAY

The post-phone-theft gloom remains. Plus I still seem to be amassing red itchy, stingy, lumpy bits. And I cannot help but scratch. I feel at this point we should raise our glasses to Chalky, my on-guard white blood cell. He is doing a sterling job in the face of many challenges. To assuage the agony of the itchiness I have a cold shower. Which is the only kind available. The effect is immediate. Instead of pink puffy skin with angry red bumps and scabs, I now have pale bluey white skin with angry red bumps and scabs. Which is actually more horrifying.

We are going to the South Coast again today but pause to buy a new Nokia for Mama Biashara. And to get Doris another leg massage. It helps massively.

The ferry is rammed and I find myself under a humongous sack of something veggie along with the guy who is actually carrying it. There a chicken (alive) and fish (dead) and carts piled ridiculously high with stuff for the market. I have no idea where Doris is. I have a cardboard carton full of medication for the clinics this afternoon and this evening and, as I shoulder it, I feel I fit right in. Except I am white and my load does not weigh more than twice my own bodyweight.

Doris and I end up at totally different bus stops and, by the time she makes it to mine, I have received two proposals of… well… something of a warm and sticky nature.

The friendliness continues as the makaanga on the matatu offers me a share of his bag of miraa. I take a tiny bunch of the leaves, remove them from the stalk and chew them. They taste like… er… leaves… and are the very mildest of stimulants. You need to chew for about a day before you get any effect.

But I was touched he offered.


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

You can donate to Mama Biashara HERE.

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Chinese Communism and how it overlaps British Rail bureaucracy

Last night, I went to the Empire cinema in Leicester Square for the opening ceremony of this week’s China Image Film Festival in London – the biggest Chinese film festival in Europe.

The ceremonial side involved lengthy bouts of people explaining that everyone had worked very hard and how culturally important film was and encouraging rounds of applause for officials who stood up and waved to the audience. After 40 minutes, I whispered to the friend who was with me:

“This is like living under communism.”

There were the distinguished guests from various organising committees and some officials had flown in specially from Beijing but also present, inexplicably, were the former mayor of Redbridge in suburban London and the Chairman of South Cambridgeshire District Council, who gave a speech in which he said he had visited China, but never seen any Chinese films there, so he was grateful for this opportunity. The man standing by him who translated his speech into Chinese looked a bit surprised, as if he could not understand who this man was or why he was giving a speech.

I had some sympathy with the translator.

The former mayor of Redbridge gave no speech, which I thought was a pity, as I would have been interested to hear what he said.

The opening film of the Festival was Apart Together, which won the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay at last year’s Berlin Film Festival.

In one scene a couple, married for almost 50 years, decide to get divorced but discover that they cannot get divorced without first having a marriage certificate which they do not have because they got married shortly after the chaotic civil war between Mao Tse-tung’s Communists and Sun Yat-sen’s Kuomintang nationalists when official marriage certificates were the last thing on people’s minds.

So they have to get officially married in order to be officially divorced on the same day.

Communist bureaucracy, eh?

Phoaw!

How the almost entirely Chinese audience laughed!

No wonder they love Yes, Minister on TV in China!

After the ceremony and screening, I got a tube up to St Pancras station and leapt into the front carriage of a Capital Connect Thameslink train, just before it was due to set off.

On the seat opposite me was a small but expensive-looking pack of 15 computer CDs left behind by someone.

As I was sitting at the very front of the train, I jumped off and tried to give them to the train driver.

“I’m not allowed to accept any lost property,” he said apologetically. “You have to give it to the station staff – that bloke down there the other side of the barrier.”

It was an eight-carriage train. I looked at my watch. It was two minutes before the train was due to leave.

“I won’t have time to do it and get back on the train,” I told the driver. “And the station I am going to is unmanned at this time of night.”

“What you could do,” he told me, sympathetically, “is leave it on the seat and, if it’s still there at the end of the journey, I can collect it when I check the carriages.”

So I did that.

Whether anyone nicked the discs or whether they were still there when he checked the carriage I do not know.

I am a lover of the surreal but not of bureaucracy.

But rules is rules, eh? They’re there for a reason.

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Filed under China, Consumer Affairs, Movies, Travel