(A version of this piece was published on the Indian news site WSN)
This time, her trip coincided with the terrorist attack on the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi. So far, she has been stopped by the police, had £800 stolen and been stalked by gunmen. Because of the perceived danger elsewhere, she and helper Doris decide to hold Mama Biashara meetings at Nakumatt Junction – Nakumatt being Kenya’s biggest chain of quite posh supermarkets. Copstick tells Doris:
We’ll meet there, because they’ve got guards and a huge car park and we’re not going to get held up, unless it’s terrorists who just blow the whole place up. It’s as safe as Westgate… It’s as safe as Westgate…
“So,” Copstick told me, “I was on my way to meet Doris at Nakumatt Junction and there’s a thing called the Nairobi Show – it’s part trade fair, part industry fair, part fairground – and everybody goes, including every petty criminal in the Nairobi area.
“When I was leaving my tiny slum palace, it was chucking-out time at the Nairobi Show, which is a bit like Millwall, Arsenal and QPR all chucking-out of the same football ground at the same time. So I had my bag strapped round me and my bum bag under my coat.
“After I took my law degree in Scotland, I nearly did a PhD in something called Victimology which says that, in the case of an apparently motiveless crime – if someone just walks down the street and is horribly attacked – there is something about the victim that attracts the criminal. Not anything conscious but in the same way that, if you get on the back of a horse, a horse will know if you’re terrified and it will do crazy things with you…
“I’ve never been scared in Kenya.
“I was really upset by the theft of the money. I was mildly un-nerved that armed gunmen were roaming Dagoretti Corner with a view to robbing me. And I’d never really experienced anything like the crowds that were in Dagoretti Corner as I walked down. All the time – every two minutes – there were young guys making pincer movements, one on either side of me – Hey! Hello shosho!
“No, no. Get off! I know you’re all thieves! Get off! Get off!
“The longer I walked, the more nervous I got. I had my bag strapped over my body and I was clutching it and was quite scared by the time I got down to a traffic island where the major junction is. I was thinking: I just want this to stop! I should never have come out! I just want this to stop!
“I’ve never ever felt like that in Kenya before.
“It’s a big traffic island with grass and little hedges, so I thought I’d walk across it because it was low and everyone could see it and there were no little dark corners. If I went round the traffic island, I would have been going off into the dark where there are ditches and all kinds of stuff.
“So I started to cross the traffic island and suddenly behind me there was like a herd of young guys in their late teens or early 20s – there were maybe seventeen or eighteen of them plus one very big guy. They weren’t scruffy. They were well-dressed in sportswear. And I just thought: Fuck!
“I stopped walking and I thought I’ll go back but, as I stopped walking, the big guy looked straight at me and I thought Game over.
“…because I knew I looked pathetic, scared and – to be honest – I did not look athletic, like I could suddenly turn on my heels and run.
“Then it was like a cartoon. You know like Roadrunner is there and suddenly – Whooooshh! – he’s here beside you? Like a streak of light. It was like that and this big guy knocked me back through a hedge and had his knee on my chest and had what I thought was a gun barrel pressing into my stomach. Now I think maybe it was his forefinger and middle finger poking into my solar plexus.
“Do nothing! Do nothing! He just kept saying Do nothing! Do nothing! but he didn’t seem to be doing anything himself. He had his knee in my chest and I think I was just so scared. And then he must have started pulling at my bag but, of course, it didn’t come off because the strap was wrapped round my body. So, as he pulled at it, I sort-of got pulled upright and down across the other side of the path into the other hedge… I mean, their topiary was just so devastated by all this.
“The other guys were just standing round us, which I now know is a standard thing they do to stop anyone coming to help you. One guy attacking. Fifteen or sixteen standing round going: Eeaayy! Mzungu! Mzungu!
“He was pulling away at my bag and I remember hearing my voice saying: LOOK – FOR GOODNESS SAKE! – IT’S WRAPPED ROUND MY BODY! and I realised He’s panicking and he obviously didn’t have a gun or a knife, so then I just started kicking him on his thighs and hips and then he started pulling on the bum bag and I felt something give and he took a step back and they all started running off in different directions and that was when I turned slightly girlish.
“I went a bit blubbery, stood up and I could see the whole traffic island was surrounded by a traffic jam at a standstill and people were hanging out of bus windows watching… There were two traffic policemen watching… Everybody was just watching, doing nothing… And, even after the guys ran away, the only person who came up was a little 5-year-old boy who came up and pulled my coat and said Shosho. (meaning Old Lady) Did they hurt you? That was the worst thing. Being called Shosho.
“I blubbered: They took all my money!
“And then I thought: Wait a minute…. I still had my bag. And I still had my bum bag, because the only thing he’d taken was the very front smallest pocket of the bum bag, which contained an £8 Nokia phone with no airtime on it, my Kenyan house keys – with no indication of where the house was – and three or four receipts for de-worming syrup.
“Between my bum bag and my satchel bag – because I was on my way to do a funding at Nakumatt – I had about 100,000 shillings (£800) plus my passport. I almost felt a wave of sympathy for the robbers.
“All that hassle just for some de-worming receipts.”