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Copstick in Kenya with a following wind, donkey poo and soil nutrients

Comedy critic Kate Copstick is currently still in Kenya, working for her Mama Biashara charity, which gives seed money to impoverished people wanting to start self-sustaining businesses. It also gives medical aid and advice to those people whom other charities overlook. 

The charity exists solely on donations and money raised in its charity shop in London’s Shepherds Bush.

Here are the latest edited extracts from Copstick’s diary, starting last weekend.

Full versions are on her Facebook page.


The SGR: “Customers on the first few trips have been loud”

SUNDAY

I am very happy. Doris calls to say we are down to the last few in consideration to do the training of onboard staff for the new SGR (Standard Gauge Railway Project).

Customers on the first few trips have been loud in their complaints about the staff. At the risk of sounding racist, I think this might have been because the staff are currently being trained by the Chinese. Anyway, through our contacts there for the construction workers, we were offered a chance to try for the training work.

I dash off a document and schedule outline for our training programme peppered with phrases like “the customer is king” and defining ‘modules’ in our course. I also create Mama Biashara’s CHI of customer care: Charming, Helpful, Informative.

If we get this then we would be allowed to get some Mama Biashara ladies and gents into work on the trains. Plus it would be HUGE for us generally.

Quite honestly, almost everything in the document is what I learned from Daddy Copstick while working in the fruit shop on Gauze Street in Paisley. We had GREAT customer care there. Even for two tomatoes and a quarter cucumber.

Mama Biashara stalwarts Doris (left) & Vicky

MONDAY

Back to Eastleigh for more powdered milk. It is having extraordinary effects although probably any food would have extraordinary effects on these kids. Reports are that they sleep, they don’t cry, they are going to the loo and they are “becoming strong”.

I do keep reminding Doris and Vicky that this is an emergency food and that the kids cannot live on it long term. So far, Vicky has got the stuff to three villages, around 80-90 kids in each and we are on day nine.

The refugee villages of Refugee and Mogadishu are in serious need.

I finally have my bearings, geographically: the Lamu Archipelago is off the coast of Kenya close to the Somali border. The biggest Island is Lamu, but our peeps are spread over other smaller islands. The villages of Mogadishu and Refugee are on small islands closest to the Somali border and travel is by canoe.

We are also getting requests from Mijikenda villages on the mainland for Poor Mama’s Plumpy Nut. The same applies there. They cannot rely on it long term. So what we are going to do is teach them to grow something.

At the moment they grow nothing. And the soil is sandy. But the deeper soil is not too bad. With a following wind, some donkey poo and soil nutrients, I am fairly sure they could grow potatoes and even tomatoes, both of which are OK in sandy soil..

The London attack is not huge news here. Three blokes with knives is no biggie in Gikomba but, when I show the picture of the bloke with his pint running, there is a wave of admiration.

I go to Langatta to visit Linda, bedridden sister of our stalwart London volunteer Sonja. She is improving and there is a bit of interest in the homestead, which she is trying to sell. Selling property in a nightmare in Kenya. Financial rip-off lurks around every corner. People sell land they do not own, people buy land with money they do not have and the land registration process is both labyrinthine and corrupt.

Then to Dagoretti Corner to meet with Andy Dean, an entirely admirable young man who, thanks to a lot of hard work, dedication and a bit of being in the right place at the right time, has a job managing a huge project in Western Kenya. Funded by an amazing man called Bob and his huge rose farm, the place is an orphanage, school, clinic and a load else. The rose farm is like no other I know in Kenya: all workers fully kitted-out in protective gear, regular medical checks and great working conditions.

Mama Biashara Kenya co-worker Felista with Kate Copstick

TUESDAY

We buy sacks and fertiliser for the Mijikenda. They cannot plant fields because, although this is their ancestral land, after the Brits left, Kenyatta just took it – so now it is ‘government’ land and they are mere squatters.

That is tolerated. But doing something like growing crops would be frowned upon. Probably with guns and bulldozers. So we are sending sacks and they make vertical fields. Potatoes and tomatoes grow really well like this.

Now to the tiny stall in the thief-ridden interior of a huge building on Moi Avenue. They have amazing Sudanese Shea Butter. Last time I went here my bag was slashed. I leave the bag with David and go in clutching my phone.

I get to the market and Oscar The Soapstone is not there. He has a large order of soapstone plates for a really lovely couple in Shepherd’s Bush, London. I call. He will bring them Thursday, he says. I worry that he has left it so late. I placed the order the day I arrived. I sense impending doom.

I catch up with Doris. We are now a gnat’s bollock away from getting 40 young women placed doing promotions for a big cosmetic company. After a Mama Biashara training, the company loves our girls. All ex ‘working girls’. And charming. And GREAT saleswomen.

The SGR people LOVED my document. Mama Biashara’s CHI of customer care could soon be a thing.

But the real tsunami of complaints to SGR has been about the total lack of online booking. To get a ticket, you have to go old school and go down to the station – some way outside the city centre. So first they are addressing that and are looking at training onboard staff some time in July…

Ali has come back into contact from Iftar – one of the smaller islands on the Lamu Archipelago (see above). He has been inundated with refugees from the refugee islands. The raids by the KDF (Kenya Defence Force) and the Somalis are brutal and have now become regular, so many Mamas leave.

Ali has three groups of 15 ladies in each group. They will be selling mandazi (doughnuts), chapati and cooking oil. Everything is more expensive on an island but Ali is great at getting stuff from the mainland and making business ends meet. There is also a group of 4 ladies who will be making the traditional brekkie dish of pigeon peas in coconut chilli sauce.

Mama Biashara raincatchers – catching on around Kenya.

These groups, once established, will be able to absorb, up to a point, newcoming refugees and so the island will be better able to cope with some influx, which will certainly happen. The whole thing – all the businesses – costs about £200. 49 women and an ongoing safety net for new refugees.

Not bad.

Vicky has got the Lamu Raincatcher up and catching, which is great. It will be quite transformative for the community there.

… CONTINUED HERE

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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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