Things are not looking good. I have felt like Death Has A Bad Headache for most of this week. Spent yesterday in bed until the fragrant Sarah Chew arrived bearing enthusiasm and a bottle of cooking brandy. I demurred as I still had someone somewhere sticking pins into the head of a voodoo doll of me. Only explanation. I think you know who you are. She wants to cancel the flight. Not possible, unforch. I am leaving behind an Emporium on an emotional knife edge and a more or less empty bank account. My wad is slimmer than it has been for many years. I am practising saying “no, I am sorry, small, gnarled, starving person, I cannot help you as I have insufficient funds”. I have, not to put it mildly, had a springier spring in my step.
The wonderful Helen arrives on the dot of seven. I clamber in. Helen is an extraordinary woman and a force for good in the world. She also has a huge van and appears untroubled by getting up at ungodly hours to take what remains of a once vibrant Copstick to the airport. She is pretty much perfect.
Terminal 3 is hotching. BA have changed the aircraft to one of those ones that carry a ‘we are not really for the poor’ message. The plane is almost entirely first and club class which you trail through before reaching the twenty five rows of ‘cheap seats’, way back in the tail. We know our place. I console myself with the fact that survivors of a catastrophic air crash are almost always found in the tail section. Staff are lovely, food is dire, film selection is so awful I essay Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and win six figure sums on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.
Customs want to know if i have anything to declare. I decide that shouting “your election was a sham and your so-called President an insult to the starving poor of your country” is not what is being called for so I mention I have cheese and English Beer for my friend Alan. They want to know if I have more than $10,000. Hah !! If only. If only.
Wildebeest is calm and dark and my flaps open to admit me and my bags. I buy David a welcome beer and sleep, waking only to much yet another handful of Rennies Extra. My attempt to come off Omeprazole has not been a success.
I am, to my surprise, up at 8.30am. The tiny tent is like a sauna. Which is quite lovely. I open my flaps and head to have coffee and do some admin.
DAvid is only 10 mins late and we go off to Junction to a) change some money with my friendly Somalis b) get me a replacement simcard for the one that was lost with my Kenya phone. C) get a new Kenya phone which was lost with the simcard.
A) goes well. B) goes VERY slowly but gets done eventually. C) is a disaster because – shock, horror – Nakumatt is closed. ANd a VERY unfriendly notice pinned on the gate chuntering on about being forcibly closed for business pursuant to something and no NAkumatt official may set foot in the premises etc etc etc.
We repair to Naivas down the road where I get a fabulous Nokia with, praise be, a half battery charge.
The market in Kijabe St is an emaciated shell of its usual self. Many traders have simply not come, most have only half the stuff they usually bring. Everyone is downbeat about the lack of business and the paucity of tourists. I am welcomed like a cow carcass in a bearpit. I talk a LOT of politics on my rounds, get essential travel information (do not go to Awendo it is crazy there, you will be killed), buy some great stuff (YOU WILL BUY YOUR CHRISTMAS GIFTS FROM MAMA B … WON’T YOU ?) and attempt to pack the car. This is a different car. This one has a big bash in the front, the doors don’t really open from the inside and the boot is fused shut. The windows do open but only when David rubs the bare wires on his door together. Then we get a shower of sparks and a window opens. YOu simly rarely know which one it is going to be. But it goes. We cram everything into the back seat and go to Kawangware (one of the unburnt bits) to meet Doris.
And now some good news ! The Pork Place in Kawangware has re-opened. We celebrate with some of their finest dry fry with greens. We then do a shopping for Doris and David. I have to give them a strict limit because funds are so very short this trip. Doris heads to a matatu and David drops me and my many bits and bobs at Wildebeest.
I cram everything I have bought between my flaps and into the tiny tent in complete darkness. I forgot to buy a torch. And my phone is dead. I attempt to identify my five different meds by touch. And neck the assortment.
I have yet to meet Alan, mine landlord, but he has picked up his cheese and beer. While I am waiting for Doris to come for our Paperwork and Planning Marathon, I am hailed by a thin American with a tweedy cap and a non-hipster tache. Brian is with another charity – Mama Maji – and as he tells me about the manual brick presses his peeps are giving to communities in need of a way to get, store and sell water to make water tanks. The bricks are waterproof and made from soil plus 1% cement. NO need for firing. IN exchange I tell him about Mama B’s Raincatchers and Mama B’s Special Condiment (white vinegar laced generously with birdseye chillies and matured till the fumes it gives off would knock down an angry hippo). We bottle in little sprays and advise women to apply vigorously to the eyes and, if bared, genital area of an attacker. It has worked incredibly well in all the areas we have taken it too. Stopped attacks in Mombasa, Nairobi … even when the British Army was concerned. Guaranteed to reduce a wanabee rapist to a pink, puffy and streaming eyed, sobbing ball of blind pain at your feet. And discourage others. It is also delicious on rice or chips if you like things spicy. Brian wants to send it to Homa Bay where violently sexual attacks on women on the way to the lake to fetch water are on the increase. It occurs to me that while living down among the hoo ha gives me the best possible view and understanding of the problems here, staying at Wildebeest sometimes introduces me to solutions. The brick press sounds amazing. And costs about £800 a pop. Which is something someone could fundraise for. Couldn’t you ?
Doris is just an hour and a bit late but she gets talking to Brian too and so neither Planning nor Paperwork gets a look in before Vicky calls to say she has arrived at the end of the road. She has come to tell me about the results of para-election(s) violence in Kisii and Homa Bay. My sources at the soco have already regaled me with tales of rioting and arson, shooting and general violence all over the area. So I am expecting the worst.
DOris and I get (separate pikipikis to the end of the road. Doris’s already has an engine part strapped to the seat and watching her slowly and gingerly get on it would have had the clownmeister, Phillippe Gaulier himself slack-jawed with admiration.
Down at the little shanty town at the end of the road there is a man with a big oil drum which he fills with dead cow and boils it for a day. It is reminiscent of the pictures of the fires after the mad cow epidemic with bits of leg and head sticking out. But with liquid. Delicious liquid. We all have mugs of it and DOris and Vicky have rather more expensive fried goat with chips.
Vicky’s story takes me one step away from shrieking ‘screw the lot of you’ and flouncing out for an early flight home. However, there are sixty people in Kisii County (plus countless children) who need MAma Biashara very badly.
Since the ‘election’ in August, in many areas, things have been bad and getting worse. ALready 63 men that Vicky herself knows about have disappeared. Just disappeared. No bodies, nothing. Just, suddenly, no husband, no father … More recently, around the election rerun, tribalism in the areas not held by the party in power, things have been getting desperate as anyone who looks slightly like a voter floating the wrong way is hunted down.
The sixty that Vicky has come to me about are absolute outcasts. Forty women and twenty men who committed the unforgiveable crime of marrying outside their tribe. Kisii people who marry a Luo face terrible treatment. They had been working across the county border in Homa Bay. There they were beaten, their houses set on fire, their businesses set on fire and the people forced to run in the night or be killed. They ran back across the border into Kisii County. “Home”. But here the women are paraded through any town they go to, being publicly whipped. NO one will give them shelter, much less food or a way to earn a living. So they are currently sleeping in fields, open air, in the rain and the cold. Starving and desperate. Vicky went to visit them. Vicky is also a sort of outcast. An outside who married a Kisii. But they do not attack her (any more) because she has two children who have been brought up Kisii.
NOw, believe it or not, it gets worse. I am planning my trip to take them plastic to make shelters, cooking pots, the wherewithal to start small businesses, clothes, food, medicine etc. But I cannot. Because if the local Kisiis see a mzungu (or, indeed ANYONE) helping the outcasts, or giving them things, then all hell will break loose. Nothing particularly bad would happen to me, probably, but the outcast community would be attacked and all donations taken from them. So we will have to drip feed them our help. Starting with some plastic and old sacking to make shelters … then tools … cooking pots (everything must look old and worn) … food … etc etc. We will take the stuff as far as Kisii where Vicky can get safe storage. Then a couple of the drivers of the farm lorries that go down to the county border will take the things. Vicky knows them. We will pay them a little. Every day, every trip, a little more. So hopefully these people and their children won’t die out there in the fields.
I am so angry I can barely drink my second mug of soup.
But we agree the procedure and I plan to start buying the necessaries tomorrow.
The Rennies get a hammering through the night … must be my churning bile. If I get an ulcer it will be the fault of the buggering Kisii and Luo.
We have several orders for Tom Ateto’s lovely maasai figures and – as my phone has gone – David and I set off to his workshop deep in the huts and lean-tos near KAriokor MArket. We find it just as it starts to pour with rain. Tom is not there but his boys are. I get a number and sprint (ish) back through the mud. We pause beside a bloke selling the inside of a goat, grilled over charcoal. I have heart and DAvid has a sort of intestiney thing. Bloody delicious. Well, delicious, but not bloody, quite crispy and well done, actually. We cross the motorway, clamber over the central reservationey metally bits and squish into the car.
Kariokor in the mud is hideous, so we go to Gikomba to look for second hand cooking pots. We end up with new ones that look beaten up enough to be old. two bathtub sized pots, two karahi, two chapati pans and a load of tools for farming. All this is to be smuggled to the IDPs in Kisii County. It takes us some time to find them at a decent price. ONe lot of hungry brokers surrounds us with crazy prices. I lose patience and explain in irate Kiswahili that these things are going to IDPs who are dying in the cold in Kisii because of tribalism. Burned out of their houses. I have a little rant about the stupidity of tribalism. The biggest bloke tells me he has ‘been touched’ by what I have said but does not lower his price. I ask where exactly I have touched him because it has not made any difference to the price. “No, but next time before I go to burn someone, I will think” he says, reassuringly. We do not buy his stuff.
We meet Felista at COrner. The kids at her school have just sat their exams. The system here is unbelieveable. In the poor schools where there are very few books and teachers simply do what they can, come exam time, the teacher goes to the exam room with the pupils and looks at the exam paper. The teacher then looks at the questions and puts a mark against any that his kids will be unable to answer because they have not been taught that subject. EG history : we didn’t get round to the Napoleonic Wars and only did the end bit of WW2. Then, when the exams are marked, the kids who have gaps in what they have been taught DO go up a year, but they are given the curriculum of the year below until they have completed the curriculum set by the government. So usually (says Felista) you find kids in what would be our Secondary 1 doing Primary 7 curriculum.
Yet again, tribalism rears its ugly head. Felista’s school has seven teachers (more of which anon), six of whom are from Western. Two nights ago THEY were forced to leave their homes because of mobs rampaging through Kabiria burning houses.
They are now staying at DECIP. Where there is no room. So I pay their fares home to Western, just to make sure they are safe. Felista has been unable to pay their wages, but, with your help, we are hoping they can be sent after them. The important thing is to get the teachers to safety.
I learn a new thing in this conversation. which is that in tribal violence it is Luos who burn houses. To get the people out. Kikkuyus do not burn the houses. The houses are property, business. “We do not burn our own things” says Felista.
On Sunday I am going to DECIP to do a thing to put up here on FB to persuade you (I hope) to help her pay the £350 arrears she owes her teachers. There is simply not enough money to go around 120 abandoned and abused children and to pay staff. Stand by for a plangent plea.
I now go to the market at Junction and ask DAvid if he would go to Kawangware, get the plastic sheeting and the soap chemicals for the Kisii people and drop Felista at the cyber.
I should have known better. AT five thirty the market is starting to close up and the rain is torrential. I call DAvid. He is on his way to DECIP with Felista because she “had many things to do”. He will be back in, maybe, one hour.
LUckily Mwangi – maker of fabulous jewellery – looks after my stuff with his things and I go toJava and get wifi.
It is interesting that, because there are no crowds of angry young men burning tyres in the streets, there is no great media interest in the Kenya re-election. But everywhere there are people of the ‘wrong’ tribe in the ‘wrong’ place being killed, beaten, thrown out and having their homes, businesses and personal property burned. All over. But because they are just ridiculously poor, black people, no one really bothers. It is as if none of that is happening. Uhuru smiles fatly from the front of newspapers here, claiming that, having won a goodly percentage of the votes from the laughably low percentage of the population who turned out, it proves he won ‘fair and square’ in August. He seems to have an excellent command of English, but his grasp of the correct usage of ‘fair and square’ is, how can I put this, wrong. But as of today, he is safe. Because today, a bill he put in the works has become law. It effectively renders the Supreme Court helpless to do anything in the face of an obviously corrupt election. It was the Supreme COurt who annulled the August vote for obvious corruption. That will never be able to happen again. Jubilee can buy and corrupt their way to eternal power. Uhuru is above the law. Kenya is more or less a dictatorship now.
David and I make a fruitless trip to Toi Market to buy blankets for the refugees in Kisii, via the Forex Bureau where, it seems, the pound sterling briefly rose, like Violetta in the last act of Traviata, from its financial sickbed only to crumple again. My lovely Somali ladies give me an extra 50p in the pound. We have to be grateful for small mercies. It definitely seems we will be better buying new blankets than haggling with bad tempered stall holders for old ones. I remember an old Indian bloke who sells in the crazy, torrid maze of wholesalers around River Road. We will go there.
It is raining heavily as we reach the crispy bits of KAwangware 56. Or, to be more precise, Congo West. No no longer crispy but black and soggy although, amazingly, still smoking. Here were 20 businesses and 33 houses. But they were set on fire by an angry mob (see above).
Several of the people who had homes and businesses here are wandering around forlornly, picking at the charred rubble.
I ask if they are the ex-tenants and they say yes. They show me the tiny pile of things rescued from the fire. Some of the people are staying with friends, some are sleeping at the police station. I collect the ladies together and we repair to drink tea and talk about what I can do to help. They are very suspicious.White people taking photos they understand. Actually helping is something new for them.
I talk and try to explain what I can do to help. There is the usual great excitement as people envisage opening supermarkets and bowling alleys. I explain again about starting small. They are markedly less enthusiastic. There is one woman called Lillian with whom I mainly chat. She understands about staring small. She will get everyone together for a chat and we will meet again on Monday. I get some bar soap and sanitary products for the Kisii refugee community at the supermarket and we set off to get me some functional wifi.
Doris has been in a queue to collect her sons’ report cards since silly o’clock this morning. Now she calls. According to her the head teacher of her boys’ school has told parents that, starting in January, no more hard copy books will be bought for students. Set texts, notes etc must all be downloaded from the government website. I cannot believe this. It would effectively exclude all slum and rural kids from education. LOvely Jayne in Awendo teaches her abandoned and orphaned kids in a mud hut. There is no electricity, much less internet at downloadable speeds.
I tell Doris not to panic. She sends me a link to the government website. It is bubbling with twatspeak about bollocks couched in jargon. It is (given the state of Kenyan education for the poor) rearranging the fleas on the deckchairs on the Titanic. And certainly looks to be trying to get more and more power (and power is money) in the hands of the government. But, unless it is written very badly (always possible), it states “ICT will be a tool for delivery”, not “ICT will be THE tool for delivery”. Going Monday to the Ministry of Education to try to get the truth. Watch this space.
She calls again asking if I have read about the NHIF cards. THis is a pseudo National INsurance card. Pay to join the scheme, pay a fiver each month and you get doctor’s consultations free. YOu still have to pay for your meds, most tests and whatnot, but you get to go to A&E free of charge. Today’s newspapers reveal (in a small column) that the government have decided that too many people are using the service and they are restricting each cardholder to four visits per year. So you can get sick once every three months. “Uhuru has eaten the money” says David, gloomily.
A “certain lady”, says Doris, wants me to do a leaflet – just like the education leaflet – about the NHIF card restriction. This “certain lady” can get it distributed. She helped with the education leaflet. She says that if the doctors have a ‘paper’ they will stand with the paper. PLus, the dissemination of information at the grass roots level is something that has never really been done in Kenya until our education leaflet. Which worked astoundingly well. Knowledge being power … it is power to the people. Crikey, get me. Going all Jeremy Corbyn on yo’ ass.
I sit in Java googling and writing.
Doris eventually gets her report cards and we meet at the Mali cafe to discuss a)NHIF and the way forward b) the downloadable syllabus c) the latest updates on the Kisii refugees. It seems that someone has told the local people that help is coming for the refugees and the local people have made it known that if help comes, all hell will break loose. Time for plan D. Which I have not thought of yet.
So stressful has the day been that we repair to Jowac for music and beer. ANd, to my delight, World Superbikes. It does not take long for David to get the gist. “But he has a better machine” he cries, pointing at Johnny Rea as he clears off in the distance.
No Supercharged Rennies tonight … maybe beer is the cure …
To be fair to the Kenyan Government, they have done an unbelieveable job in stopping the use of plastic carrier bags. I did not believe it could happen. But it has. They are NOWHERE to be seen. Kenya is now streets ahead of, eg, the UK. ALL the bags you get are reuseable – even washable. No one offers plastic anymore, even in the markets and tiniest shops. It is an ecological revolution and absolutely wonderful. So they can use their powers for good. It is rumoured they have their eyes on plastic bottles next. Which would be beyond brilliant. I now think that, if they decided to get behind it, Kenya could be a seriously plastic free country. I am deeply ashamed of the plastic carriers I have brought with me and will get rid of them as soon as their contents are exhausted.
I get a call from Doris who has had a call from Vicky to say that the farmers who own the land in Kisii where the refugees are huddled, have let it be known that if anyone brings any form of help to the refugee community, all hell will break loose (I loosely translate from the angry Kisii). So we are holding off on our mercy mission. David and I cancel our trip to the Indian Blanket Supremo and the medical supplies wholesaler. I head straight to the market.
Doris also tells me that, overnight, the government has pulled a U-ey on the NHIF restriction. It will now continue unrestricted. I am saying nothing. But am impressed with the swiftness of the reaction. It is the right decision.
She has gone out to limuru to see a group of people she is desperate to help. They are currently working for £1 per day on a big tea farm. They are wholly uneducated, helpless, hopeless people. Too frightened even to try starting a business in case they are thrown out and lose their £1 per day. They want us “to empower them” says Doris. The Mama B method of a brisk talking to, a decent business plan, a good chain of supply and a useful choice of business location, topped off with start up grant and a hearty hug is obviously not going to work here. Doris says she will update me.
I get round the market in about four hours. I am knackered and sore and my tiny ears are ringing to the cries of “Mama BIashara ! You are my Mother ! Promote me !” I can only disappoint so many people in a day without breaking so I get DAvid to bring the car to the roadside and pack up.
Doris is still in Limuru so we head to Corner and eat at Chicken Master: chunks of local chicken boiled until the meat just bounces off your teeth, served with the broth it is cooked in and rice for me, ugali for David.
Back at Wildebeest David and I spread out some sheeting and make a sort of storage area for my bits and bobs, then he goes and I spend a couple of hours charging all things electrical before going to tent. I have, ill-advisedly left my outer flaps open all day, and the heavy rain means that my inner flaps are unpleasantly moist. Dank, even. I bring great gobs of mud into the tent with me but I am too tired to be tentproud. Bb5
I am going to DECIP to make some little videos to put up on FB in the hope of getting some money for Felista. She is a woman with a heart the size of Kenya and has been rescuing kids from abandonment, abuse, rape and destitution for a decade. MAma B sends her about £170 per month. She gets nothing from the government, although the CHildren’s Department are very supportive. She is the reason I am in Kenya and I often feel bad, as I hare off all over the country setting up businesses for the desperate poor, that I do not do more for her. So we are going to put out some pleas for help for her and I will set up a MyDonate page for her. She is someone who infuriates me but whom I am so very proud to know.
I have brought her some shoes, a bag, a skirt and two tops. Felista almost never gets anything for herself. Even the one room in the home that should be hers is always full of the youngest children playing and looking for a cuddle.
We hit a problem almost immediately. There is heavy rain in Karinde so we cannot use the shortcut to Decip. We go through Dagoretti Market and get very lost, simply because the roads are so improved. Where there was mud/dust track with little businesses at the side there is now a proper tarmac road and the businesses have been moved back. Almost the whole way to DECIP is proper tarmac road now. And we just get lost because it all looks so different. There are even street lights.
DECIP too has had improvements. A marvellous lady paid for the dormitories to be refloored so the water doesn’t flood them any more, the passageway from dorm to dorm is now covered over and the water from the roof harvested, many places have new roofing, and a nice rich Chinese man is going to build a big hall for them to use for exams and recreation.
The rest of Felista’s main needs, she will tell you about herself in the little videos I will upload.
Words sort of fail me to describe how deserving this project is of your help.
And just so you can see how Felista takes nothing for herself, I am posting pics of her and her room.
As you will have noticed, at this time it is proving really difficult to help people – because of the numbers of weapon wielding other people in the way. So I am going to concentrate more on DECIP this trip. And see what we can do there.
Having done what I can on my Nokia (the sound from recordings on my Ipad is dreadful) we leave and I go to the market at Yaya. I upload the first video by crouching close enough to the posh Art Caffe to steal their wifi and go to the market. Where almost immediately millions of gallons of water fall from the sky. Within a couple of minutes we are inches deep in water. I am drenched. I give up and go.
We head to Langatta and to Linda, sister of stalwart volunteer Sonja. I am bringing her a gift from Sonja and some goodies to eat. She is currently bedridden and in the process of selling the family home and grounds.
She gives us several reams of paper for Felista – which is wonderful. And a delightful metal thingy of two dancers holding candles. I plan to get My Man Tom to make many of them.
Back at Wildebeeste my four solar chargers which I had positioned on the tent to soak up the rays were drenched. And not offering up any charge to my poor tired phone. Grrrrr.
David is dispatched to take Felista and one of her positive kids to the hospital. When they are done I join them and we go to Kawangware to pick up some food that has been donated to DECIP. We get fruit in Dagoretti Market but I suddenly start to feel decidedly not ok. Just the usual crap, but that tends to mean getting horizontal and trying to sleep it out. That not being possible, I turn to the small packet of gifts from our newest volunteer Chris. There are few things that can go wrong with the human body that have not gone wrong with Chris’s. There is absolutely no upside fir her. But for me, it means that any painkiller is available. And I have with me a selection of the finest. So while David, Felista and MArgaret eat pork and ugali, I curl up till all is made chemically well. Now I have a meeting with Joan.through her we have worked quite extensively withe the albino community, and with groups of women with badly disabled kids. The businesses we started with the mothers are doing really well in Kibera, apparently. I will go and visit. Joan’s main work is wih child victims of sexual violence. When we last met she was in a little house in Kabiria wi5 six small girls who had been raped and one older girl, mentally and physically challenged, and also a victim of rape. I wrote about them on my last trip. During the endless, tit for tat, post and para election violences here, a group of militant kikkuyu took it upon to attack the compound where Joan was sheltering the girls. All of them were beaten … from the two and a half year old rape victim to Joan herself. Everyone ran. But Susan, the big girl, was too frightened and she hid. And was discovered. And was beaten and raped again. Everything was stolen from inside Joan’s house.
I am just going to give you a minute before continuing.
Now then, the men from the compound caught the rapist.They took him to the local police station (well, the one that had not been burned down). Where he was released because the police did not want the militants to come and burn down their police station too.
The girls are now with joan’s aunt in South B but that cannot continue. She is looking at places in Ngando and has been offered a four bedroom, stone built, self contained house beside the catholic church. Great security. What I am thinking is that Mama B can help pay the rent here, we will help set it up as soon as we can, and we will support it as a Mama B project for victims of child rape and sexual abuse. And I can take one room to stay in while I am in Kenya.
All of the current group of victims are the children of women who do low rent commercial sex work. The girls are locked in the house while the mothers go out at night. Which is why they are so vulnerable to passing rapists. Mama B would – as part of this project – work with the mums and set them up in a decent small business so they can give their daughters a proper secure home.
I am hugely enthused about this and we are going to see the house tomorrow.
So, anyone fancy taking money out of their offshore tax haven and using it to help these kids ?
Still wildly enthused about the Ngando project. ANd still in stalemate regarding the Kisii refugees. Things have worsened there and the local Big Bad Boys have come in and done the refugees some serious bodily harm. So now they are scattered. We await update from Vicky, but I am losing confidence that we can do much good for this community. I hit the market and get the usual collection of people looking shocked (“today ? Was it not next week ?”), sleekit (“er , it got lost on the way coming…”) or, in the case of Oscar The Soapstone, just having got the order wrong.
HOwever I do get some fab huge cowhorns (my new Christmas campaign “Give Someone You LOve The Horn For Christmas” will be kicking off as soon as I get back) and chat to Mrs Mwangi about her making some gift bags and tote bags for MAma B. They are not that cheap, but I am so impressed with Kenya’s no plastic bags thing that I want to try and reduce the number we use in the shop.
Now DAvid goes to help Felista collect a load of donated food from Kawangware, and get some plastic (oops) sheeting for storing the stuff for London and I get a matatu to Uthiru and meet DOris and a group of eighteen young people who have been trained by our mechanic boys. They have a sliver of a shack out of which they work repairing cars and trucks. What they need from me is a bit of a budget for widgets and brake pads and fan belts so that they do not need to be buying piecemeal from their immediate competition. We sort them out and get the usual committment to spreading the love as soon as they can. ALbeit keeping the babymaking kind of love to themselves. Three of them already have four children. As soon as they are able, they will expand and train more young people. They are absolutely admirable.
Doris and I repair to a local hostelry where we are joined by David. Tusker is drunk, and we dance. We dance quite a lot. I have not danced for a long time. My ability to move despite my advanced age and total lack of bottom is remarked upon by a table of men next to the dancefloor. I dance with one of them. He invites me back to his house and I decline gracefully. Either I look particularly desperate or courtship is turbocharged in Uthiru.
I awake to discover that, in the darkness last night, I tangled my flaps quite badly with resultant seepage around the entrance overnight. As I mop up, I come face to antennae with a ginormous white slug. We are talking maybe six inches long. On my flaps. I manage to rearrange them without dislodging Cyril (slug) and set off to meet Doris and David and head to Kamkunji to buy the necessary stuff to started the mothers of the child rape victims in business.
DAvid is in recalcitrant mode. He is moody because DOris has succesfully taken her ex husband to court and forced him to help with school fees and other things he has failed to do for seven years. This is unacceptable, in David’s eyes. This is not really surprising given that he is A Real Kikkuyu Man. When coming back from Dagoretti market on Monday, we bought a big chunk of pumpkin. DAvid likes pumpkin. We stopped on the road close to where his house is. He wanted to drop it off. I handed it to him and he just looked at me. He called his wofe who schelepped her way through the mud from the house to collect it and take it back while DAvid sat with me. Kikkuyu men do not carry fruit of vegetables. That is a woman’s work. Kikkuyu men MIGHT allow themselves to be seen to carry meat. But nothing else. All else if for the woman to carry. True.
ANyway, he is not happy that a Kikkuyu man is being forced to pay for his children’s anything. He takes a wrong turning and Doris and I have to get out into ankle deep black slime. I would say mud but I do not think it is mere mud. I drag Doris around the labyrinth of Kamkunji where prices have shot up. We get what we can – eight dozen mugs and six tea urns – and call David. He has parked a considerable distance away. And orders us to come there. I say something down the phone which turns heads up and down the hill we are ascending. I get a mkokoteni (porter) and I tell DAvid we will be opposite the police station. There is the usual minor stand off, and delay and then he calls to say we have to go across to the other side of the main road. We do. We wait. He calls to say he is at the police station. We say we have crossed the road. He wants to know why. Eventually he rolls up and refuses to put anything in the boot so I am in the back seat under our purchases. Now we go to EAstleigh, get some dresses and skirts and sit in stationary traffic for 90 minutes. The hawkers are back until the next purge which means that the main street through Eastleigh becomes a sort of de facto pedestrianised zone.
The news from Kisii just gets worse. NOw there has been some raping … we are not sure of whom, by whom, but that has set off more violence and it looks like my plans for Peace and Harmony in Kisii will not be bearing fruit. Added to which we have two giant sufurias, two karahis and some farming tools looking for a home …
I get back to Wildebeest and look at my phone. And there it is. The email from the charitable trust regarding the grant application I put in in the summer. Rejected. I go cold. The administrator has always been a fan of MAma B and he tells me the board are looking a) for more “UK Formal” charities and b) for organisations working in the UK.
For some reason I do not cry. Neither do I sleep.
So sorry, my brain is fried, tired, damp and fried. I forgot : First thing Wednesday morning we had our Big Meeting with the group of mothers whose little girls have been raped and are currently staying with Joan. The mothers are almost as traumatised as the girls. And, despite the fact that child rape is endemic in the slum villages and beyond, the stigma attached to the mother is dreadful. They barely show their faces. PLus they are dealing with the knowledge that their husband / father/ boyfriend / brother has raped their child. What we are trying to do is remake the mother/child bond and enable them to go back out into the world. So this means counselling (sort of) for both, group talks, mutual support, a place to go with problems, medical help where necessary and a way for the women to build a new life. A business. The mother of Susan, the girl who has now been raped twice in quick succession is there. She looks haunted. Most of the other mums do not even speak. But they are positive about the project. And about being the first group. It is a challenging couple of hours but I think we need to go very gently forward. Obviously that is out of my comfort zone. But Joan is great at it and has been doing it for a long time. The ladies decide, variously on tea and coffee businesses, egg selling and we agree that our next meeting will be on Monday, when i will bring all the business kit.
Joan has bad news about the child she was called to see early this morning. Three years old, raped by her father and left in the Ngong Forest in the rain. She is dead.
The mothers nod resignedly. At least they still have their girls.
We are getting more and more anxious calls about the government putting the entire school curriculum online for secondary schools as of January. Effectively educationally disenfranchising all kids in the poorest schools. Felista seems to think this will be the way of it. Doris’s school have told them to stand by to download. However I need to try and find out exactly what the situation is before leaping into incandescent rage. Similarly, we have just had a whatsapp from a distraught mother who has been to a government hospital with her kids and was told that the restriction of the NHIF card (pay to join and pay each month and you get your basic, initial hospital consultation free – although you still pay for all meds – and some treatments at a reduced price) to four visits to a doctor per year is indeed going ahead. There was a thing in the papers last week saying that the government had decided to allow the scheme to go ahead as it is – after huge social media outcry – but this lady was told that that statement was just for the press, to take the heat off, and that the restriction is going ahead. Again, I need to find out. Both these measures will have catastrophic effect on the poor. Cat. A. Strophic. However, as yet, they are unsubstantiated by anything other than hysteria and the fact that they seem like the sort of thing this government would do. WAtch this space. Well, not this one specifically. That would be silly.
Felista’s online pleas have had great effect. All the teachers have been paid and so the school will resume as normal in January.Thank you all who donated. So so much. There is even money left over to do something else. Like the kitchen or shoes … am meeting with Felista tomorrow.
Meanwhile The Power of the Mzungu Knowledge has – thanks to Doris – triumphed for good. Her group of tragic teaworkers in Limuru are getting their money at last. Recap. Group of around fifty working on big tea farm. They are so devastatedly helpless that we are finding it difficult to get them into businesses. They earn about a pound a day. And they have not been paid for six months. So they cannot risk leaving the farm as their hovels are, of course, owned by the tea farmer.
I armed Doris with the following knowledge : this is a human rights violation. There is a mzungu (me) who will tell the UN, and who will go to the Tea Board to complain that their tea is being picked in conditions that would render it unsaleable to the UK and elsewhere in the civilised world and who will alert human rights organisations in Kenya and in the UK. She will mention this and say she is worried as I am very angry and then, if necessary, that I will come and chat in a firm and informed way. So today we learned that the workers are all being paid and their treatment is improving. Not much, but a bit. Meanwhile about twenty of the older ladies have taken up our business offer and are doing rather well selling roasted maize. Excellent stuff.
Abuses like this are just bullying. And the bullying grows more powerful as no one speaks. Bullies and their actions grow like mushrooms in shit in the dark. And here, their victims die, in hunger and poverty and in fear and no one ever knows. It is the real life version of Louis CK and Harvey Weinstein.
I go to the market, now full of things I cannot buy as the dosh is running out so fast and cargo costs loom large. Thence to Joan in Kabiria ,where I deliver her tea urn, tea, coffee etc so she can begin to sell.
She says we should move our first counselling/ group support meeting on Monday to another area as the mothers of the raped children are too afraid to be seen coming to a meeting here. Especially after the Mungiki attack. It is appalling that these women are not only traumatised by finding out their husband / brother / whatever has raped their two year old daughter, but then is ostracised and criticised by the other women in their community. Bugger me if people aren’t really quite foul sometimes.
Now I have a dinner invitation. Oh yes. Me. Invited to a posh mzungu restaurant in Karen. I am quite ridiculously excited. We go back to Wildebeest where I shower (brrrrrrrrr) and attempt to clean the caked ghastliness off my boots.
The invite is from a marvellous woman called Bea via her employee, young, old friend of mine Andy. Bea and her husband run a sort of Shangri La for the hopeful poor near Kitale in Western Kenya. They have schools, vocational college, training for a load of stuff, medical centre and are now building a hotel where staff can be trained for the catering industry in a state of the art kitchen. They have been in Kenya more than 25 years, having met on a plane. The place has huge donors but the couple plough vast amounts of the profit from their humungous flower growing business into their good deeds. ANdy is now kind of project managing the whole thing. He is an almost unacceptably able young man who has already built his own school for the deaf and worked miracles on the other side of Kitale.
At dinner we are joined by a gobsmackingly beautiful Dutch girl with a lovely name that I dare not attempt to spell. She is an Events Manager who is helping out with focussing the catering training course.
It is a truly delightful evening. I feel like I have been on holiday. Kenyan Mozzarella is unbelieveably good, fyi.
I feel the need for paperwork. I really want to try to get Doris to understand the importance (hark at me !) of records and schedules and even forward planning.
Am still devastated by the knockback by the trust fund and I really want to make things better in the ‘formal’ way that so delights the corporate donor. Having said which, if things do not pick up at the shop then there will be no paperwork to do. I am trying not to think about the shop, it is become a source of constant angst.
Doris is ridiculously late. I try to go through our list of businesses started over the years and how far they have grown. It is massive. And now covers Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Congo and both Sudans. But there are many many more businesses which have expanded off into the distance that we have lost touch with. NOne of this expansion takes any more money from MAma B btw. It is all from the one financial pebble thrown in the pool of need. I might put that on a t shirt. Anyway, we create a ‘to find out’ section in Doris’s planner.
We discuss the situation in Kisii again. Now some of the older ladies have been taken in by individual farmers in the area and it is possible we might be able to help them individually with tools and whatnot. But, yet again, we must wait and see. Similarly with a group in Nakuru, they have asked for help but it might just be too dangerous to go or, worse, make things worse for them. My instinct is probably to go all Rambo on their asses, kick the bad guys into submission and leave the good guys with a happy life. But what with the lupus and the artificial hip … anyway, I look ridiculous in a bandana. Apart from which, my instincts are not that helpful here.
I show Doris the make up I have brought. December is the wedding month – great for our hair and make up girls and even better for our cake making ladies who are awesomely good at the outrageously ornate multi-tiered cakes the Kenyan bride sees as a must-have on her big day.
However now, Doris tells me, the money offered for weddings is not great and the girls do not do so well. Same with the Kucha Kool (manicurists) that used to be a sure fire way to a wedge. Now, under the creative wing of our own lovely Vicky huge groups of our ladies have become (and we are talking hundreds of them …) GLAM. Prepare to be impressed.
SIDE BAR : It happens a lot here with businesses, especially the tiny ones. Some might be seasonal, some might be hit by a drought or a blight. And so MAma B businesses must be ready to change and adapt to stay alive. Or to move. The Rabbit Urine trade, it might surprise you to know, is not huge in Kenya. But massive in Uganda. And so our bunny piss boys went to Uganda where they are still expanding the business and bringing in boys from their old neighbourhoods here.
And we are back in the room … so, GLAM. This harnesses the twin monsters of social media and snobbery/social climbing. WhatsApp rules middle class and wannabe middle class society here. WhatsApp says cooking in a double boiler is the way to go, then everyone wants a double boiler. WhatsApp says smear your face with boiled spinach, spinach sales go through the roof. So our ladies monitor the online buzz and target the ‘wannabees’ end of the scale, offering to source whatever the must have item is, at a reasonable price. At the moment it is a sort of hinged broiling pan. Lots of the must haves are to do with losing weight or healthy eating for the middle classes. I am genuinely thinking of re-introducing the chicken brick here. It basically does what the broiler thingy does, we could make them here and it is a good, cheap way to cook. I have fond memories of my own chicken brick. I am sure we all do. Doris and I had a good look around Kamkunji while I was buying the tea urns. LOADS of wantable stuff there at prices that would allow our ladies a hefty profit margin.
But the Glam ladies also do makeovers – and then tell their clients exactly what make-up they need to achieve the new look. And then sell it to them.
Sadly, Doris did not explain the new GLAM thing to me when she said she wanted me to bring make-up. So I brought enough for the weddings. NOT enough to sell on. Grrrrr. However, what there is will make a hefty profit. God bless Poundland and Beauty Base.
We get pikipikis and go to the shacks at the end of the road to eat. And have a beer.
And there is MotoGP Free Practice to watch on the ipad when I get back.
I get a call from Felista to say that the place is being flooded because of the heavy rains. While no longer coming up through the floor, the water is now simply streaming in off the pathway outside. And she is muttering something about the people building the new road having to demolish the girls’ toilets. I cannot begin to understand what she is saying so I tell her I will come after the market.
I also manage to send her the money you wonderful people raised for her teachers salaries. She sends me the mpesa transaction confirmations for all of them just so we know the money has gone where it should. She is absolutely thrilled.
The market has perked up a little. I am not the only mzungu and people actually look like they are buying. Which does not stop the cries of “Mama Biashara … you are my maaaathaaaa … promote me please” as I pass.
The entire area around DECIP is just a huge sea with occasional bits of stone sticking up. The drainage channels at the side of the road are roaring with thick brown water. The group of young men with their pikipikis start smirking the minute I get out the car. They have plave two big wobbly bits of concrete in the torrent. To which they gesture. Ok, more like they dare me to cross it. I do. And get a small round of applause. Getting down the rest of the road to Felista’s means wibbling along the kerb stones, like a very bad beam gymnast. My dismount is accidental and squishy. But I get the the end.
At DECIP there is no sign of Felista so I prowl around looking for the marks she says have been made showing where the demolition should beging. CAn see nothing.
I wibble and jump back to the car.
I do not really have the funds to go to Yaya market and so meet with Julius – our man in Western – for an update and some planning. The raincatchers have done incredibly well in Western. He wants three more but I will not know if I can do that till the cargo is paid for. But, as everywhere the raincatchers have been put, incidence of all intestinal ghastliness has been decimated. Because the water from the raincatcher is fresh – straight from the sky into the tank. And the catcher is cleaned and put away whenever the rains stop. About seventy quid for one complete – in case you feel the need to buy a lovely Christmas pressie for someone. I am thinking of doing vouchers … thoughts ? Our firewood ladies have doubled in number and all the businesses have survived the election and the rains. Which is pretty good going. Julius has the raging trots so I get him some meds and ors and give him some cod oil. Now I go off to Kabiria to see the kids Mama B has been looking after since 2010 when they came to DECIP, very ill, totally malnourished and, in the girls’ case, nearly dead. I spent ten days living in hospital with the girls and they both recovered really well. Much water has been passed since then, very little of it pleasant. At the age of six Miriam was raped by one of the big boys in the home. Then their father appeared – having completely abandoned them to live wild when their mother died – thinking he could get some money. He took them to live in a hellhole. Their uncle and I got them back and they stayed with him and his wife. Mama B has paid school fees and most other stuff. Every so often their father would take them away and when they were found again thei would be filthy and starving … they have been going to a great school called Ceders Progressive where the headmistress has been absolutely awesome. Now the two eldest are in secondary and trying to get scholarships. During these long holidays Jane has gone to her Aunt’s but for some reason the three youngest have been sent to their drunken dad. I want to check.
It is a one room house and impressively clean, but only, I hear later, because the stepmother makes Miriam do all the cleaning. So far so Cinderella. We go and eat chicken and drink Fanta (I know but there is no option and the kids want soda) and discover the three are not well treated, their ‘father’ tends to come home late at night with no food and then take the kids out with him trying to scrape up something to eat. Miriam is just used as a house girl. Everyone hates it there. We also discover that Miriam wants her hair braided for Christmas and the boys want bikes. Jane says she is sure her the aunt will take the three if I contribute to living expenses and so we arrange to pick them up and take them to Joska on Wednesday if the auntie agrees.
Now we go to DECIP – the kids’ first time there in more than five years. Felista has said she can help get Jane into a decent school with a sponsor. Every year around CHristmas, rich peeps and companies come around looking for smart kids to sponsor for secondary education. JAne’s marks are easily good enough and so Felista will put her forward. The flooded road situation has not improved but we all make it, Michael, in particular, showing balance skills that mark him as a possible Cirque du Soleil star of the future. I give Felista the money to fix the kitchen – thank you to all those who donated, yet again.
En route back to the ‘father’s’ place I buy some basic supplies, as there is no food in the house. And I get Miriam the hairpieces for her braids.
“He is not a good man” observes David.
In other news Mark Marquez is the 2017 Moto GP Champion with an awesome and typically and uniquely Marquez style save that no one else in the field could have managed. 24 and six times world champion. It occurs to me that in these days of stupid stress, disappointment, frustration and feeling like maybe I should just give up the whole thing, Marquez and Dave Johns, in different ways, make me feel that maybe there is a god of some sort.
David is supposed to be taking bags of cement and waterproofing to Felista for the kitchen work but something has happened to the car (wheel related, I think. The less I know about the car’s little foibles the better for my peace of mind) and he is late. I am heading to the meeting with Joan’s group, the location of which has been changed twice in the last hour because the women do not feel safe. I explain to Joan about the delay and we agree to go back to the Mali Cafe. I apologise and say I will be a bit late.
I unload cups and tea urns and the rest and we start talking getting out there and doing business. I go a bit evangelical about our being the beginning of an army of strong women who will protect one another and their children, stand up to the men and bring daughters up to be even stronger women. And then an extraordinary thing happens. An overwhelming thing. Mama Susan (mum of the 17 year old girl who has intellectual impairment and who has been raped twice), who was the most fearful and traumatised of the group, takes my hand and smiles at me and starts to sing. “Don’t you worry, ‘bout a thing … ‘cos every little thing’s gonna be alright …” and then all the mums join in. And we all sit there in the Mali Cafe singing Bob Marley and grinning. It just might be the most extraordinary moment of my life.
These women are awe inspiring. It is a privilege to be able to help them. And thank you to everyone who has donated to MAma B or shopped at MAma B or volunteered at Mama B because without you this would not be happening. Extraordinarily, these women want me to take a picture of the group. We usually spend our time hiding, but today they want the photo. To show that we are strong. So I am posting it with this diary. Oh, and we were also hoping that maybe some of the company’s whose products are being modelled might like to shove some money our way …
Composure regained, and a LOT of hugging later, I go off to see the Education Officer for Dagoretti area. Everyone is panicking – it is something of a Kenyan national sport – about the downloadable curriculum. But, little bit like Lord of the Flies, no one is really prepared to go and find out what the truth is. So I am Piggy. And it turns out that, as I had said to Doris, exactly as it says in the government paper, pupils will be able to download the entire curriculum as of next year in Forms one and two. But it is optional. So ‘phew’ to that. I start to spread the word as we head to the offices of the NHIF – the government organisation that issues the insurance cards that get you a free consultation with a doctor (although meds are still paid for as are actual treatments). Progress in the queue makes tectonic plates look manic. But I get there. And discover that visits will NOT be restricted to four a year but people will be required to nominate a facility at which to use their cards. Which is very fair. ManyKenyans, given the option, would visit a doctor like an eighteen year old checks the closest available mirror.
All terribly good. Now I meet with Lucie – friend of the pillowy chested Sarah Chew. She runs a big NGO, it transpires. Excellent woman. And free wifi at KImathi St Java.
All hell, it appears, is still breaking loose in the MAma BIashara Emporium. And my lovely Uncle Bob has died. My Mum’s wonderful, talented, sweet, funny, clever, angel-voiced brother. I didn’t see him the last time I was up in Scotland because I was knackered and ran out of time to go with Dad. And what is worse, I cannot get back in time for his funeral. Saying goodbye properly is much more important than saying hello. You get second chances at hellos.
KIjabe St Market is a mudbath. It looks like my soul feels. OK, maybe without the people desperately trying to sell tourists tacky stuff from China. Everyone is huddled under plastic sheeting in the mud and the rain. Christine has my order but cannot find it in the plasticky, sodden heap of her goods, Catherine has my order but it is mainly bananafibre and the little santas driving the cars (SWEET) got so wet they fell apart and some of the Nativities are getting mouldy because they have not been able to dry out, Oscar has my order but is trapped on a matatu, Dorcas has my order but cannot now get into the back of her little kiosk because the mud is too deep and the whole thing is in danger of sliding into the river so her boys are tying it to a tree and my books fall in the ‘mud’.
Doris calls. Vixen is on her way in from Kitengela and I have promised to meet her. I am really quite relieved to have a reason to leave.
IN GOOD news, I get an email from the Big Boss Lady at BA Community. After all our, to be fair, downright begging, over several weeks, she has said she has been away but is now back and will see what she can do to help us with cargo. That is good enough for me.
We meet Doris and Vixen at the reopened Pork Place. I am totally unhungry (is that a word?).
Vixen is fresh from Lamu where she has headed up our little project which has seen a groups of young women trained in fork-lift truck and excavator driving. The story is told elsewhere in the Copstickian Archives. But turns out they are BRILLIANT at it. So much so that the construction company (creating the vast new state of the art port in Lamu that will enable Kenyatta to bypass Mombasa as the main ingress into East Africa. The Kenyattas more or less own Lamu so … anyway, my father has told me to steer clear of politics and so I shall. Back to the ladies. The construction company are also building other parts of this new supply line and our ladies have been asked to come up to train NEW ladies at this end of things. Leaving two back in Lamu training MORE ladies there. And they are paid REALLY well. Meanwhile, Vixen has found this bloke called Oliver, who is like a Mobile Phone Whisperer. He can fix any of them. He is working for some bastard in a place called Kitengela who pays him £1 per day. So Vixen has got an agreement from the owner of the company in Lamu that, if she can get herself trained up as a phone tech, he will set her up with a workshop in lamu and she can fix all the phones for his company workers (plus any other business). What Vixen wants is for MAma B to set up a group of ten young women, with Oliver as a trainer. He will train, they will learn, then they will work then they will have a business. And then OLiver will take on ten more women to train. Meanwhile Vixen, as soon as she is fully trained, will go back to Lamu and train ten women there. Are you following me ??
The cost of setting up the initial phone repair workshop is not massive. We are buying the most expensive thing in instalments (interest free). All in all it will be just under £200. And just look at what that £200 is going to do !
I need to meet OLiver to make sure his pricing is kosher and that he understands the business end of stuff but from what I have on paper here, he is seriously on the ball.
I go to buy antacids (I have a lot on my mind).
Now, whether or not you know it, I have an impeccable pelvic floor, untrammelled by any unnecessary nonsense such as childbirth. While not quite cracking walnuts, I could hold my own (as it were) in a Kegel Olympics. Which makes it all the more surprising that, when I awake, I don leggings, stand up outside the tent, and,not to put too fine a point on it, that which was inside, simply falls out.
Most odd. Tragically, my tiny tent is some way from the toilet block. And movement serves to exacerbate the situation. It is not pretty. I assume it is an intestinal glitch. I ablute , re-legging and have some yoghurt and black tea.
The toilet block becomes my friend.
I am supposed to be meeting David and the kids at The Hub to do a big shopping before we take them to their Aunt’s place. I call and ask him to pick me up here.
I slide gingerly into the passenger seat. Not moving is good. Potholes and speedbumps are bad.
We make Ruai (Loo break) and then I risk all (and social embarassment) by tottering around the supermarket there for The Big Shop (loo break). We journey on to Joska and the Aunt. UNfortunately, because of the rains, we cannot park near the house without sinking the car in mud. So we walk (loo break), I talk to the Aunty (loo break), I help Jane write a pleading letter to a sponsor for school fees (loo break) and then we go. After a loo break.
I now have a blinding headache and am stupidly dizzy with a sort of buzzing tinnitus. Being horizontal in the tiny tent is glorious. I cannot stress how therapeutic it is to be in a tiny tent. I have a bucket with me. I suspect I can neither last the night nor make it to the toilets in the dark.
Nothing more from BA on help with cargo. Shop still doing an impression of American Horror Story: The Emporium. Uncle Bob still dead.
The sheer horror of my close personal relationship with that bucket during the night is so awful it is hilariously funny. But it is a salutory lesson to be trapped in a tiny tent with the contents of your own insides. Anyone who has ever called me toxic … you were right.
I try to do the rehydration thing but that makes me puke and the movement of puking … etc etc
Anyway. Alan (mine Landlord here at the lovely Wildebeest EcoCamp) is extremely solicitous and a bike is sent for some Immodium. I have never, ever taken this stuff, having been brought up on a ‘better out than in’ mentality. But today seems to call for something chemical. Thankfully it stays down (and up, if you get my drift). Felista thinks cholera. Julius thinks malaria. Doris wonders if there is Denge Fever in Nairobi. I lie down and try not to stir things up. As it were. And things improve in the trotting zone. Just the head and dizziness and tinnitus. I am thinking labyrinthitis. Which is a bummer. But certainly not Dengue Fever.
American Horror Story: The Emporium looks to be going into a second series. But might need a new cast. Still nothing from BA. I lie on one of Alan’s vast daybed things and one of the cats sits on my stomach. With no ghastly repercussions.
I have a soft boiled egg to celebrate a night undisturbed by nocturnal emmissions from either end. And I get an email from Our Lady Of BA. It is a no. BA cargo planes are all full, apparently. I am so desperate I risk her telling me to just bugger off for ever and send one last email asking if she could maybe give some help with excess baggage and she emails back and says yes. TEN BAGS. TEN. Back to the nightmare trip for me, and the four or five luggage trolleys to handle and the logistical horror of getting them from carousel to transport but FREE. Thank you BA. Thank you. Now I just need to get everything parcelled into 23kg lots. I seriously need to perk up. Drink a cup of concrete and HTFU, as the Australians say.
Doris calls with news from Kisii. Yes, we are STILL trying to find a way to help the women hiding out in Kisii County (long story … but it is all here infra). Good News : between Vicky and themselves, they have found some farmers and villagers who are not tribalist to the point of violent criminal insanity, and who will give them jobs. That is about thirty of them with at least a life-raft to cling to.
Bad News : there is a something between a gang and a sect with absolutely the worst aspects of each which operates in Kisii. They are called the Chinkororo. They rule the place. They arrived in one of the decent, helpful villages a couple of days ago, called everyone together, pointed at a random woman in the crowd, declared her to be a witch, doused her in petrol and set her on fire. While everyone watched. Pour decourager les autres, one assumes. If, say, a screaming, terrified child tried to run away or even look away, one of the gang would hold its head and force it to watch. Until the woman died screaming and squirming. Vicky was sent this on a smartphone video. Doris saw it and is still traumatised. Doris is not traumatised easily. There are a lot of silences in our phonecall.
Then I get a call from Joan, wondering where I am. “Still sick ?” She worries. “It can be malaria.”
She has some good news. Earlier in the week she had called me about a girl – just newly eleven years old, raped when she was 10 and now pregnant. She wanted to know if we could find a doctor to give the girl what is generally referred to here as a ‘wash and blow-dry’. The wonderful … er … hairdresser … who had helped some very young girls for us before has moved to Turkana but it seems Joan found one herself, the girl is now great, and currently home with her mother.
We are getting increasingly worried about OLiver, the marvellous Mobile Phone Whisperer who was going to spearhead our training of young women in mobile phone repair. I had asked that he come to Nairobi to meet with me so we could discuss things properly. Despite all warnings from Vixen and Doris, he went to stay with some friends in Huruma – a scary place at the best of times, but with all the political nastiness still happening, properly dangerous. We heard, via Vixen, that, in a night of the kind of ethnic cleansing that happens in places like that at times like this, OLiver had been beaten up while trying to leave the slum. Oliver is Luo. That is all that it takes to get you beaten up. Or worse. He went into hiding and has not been heard from since. It is a nightmare. Huruma is not the kind of place you go wandering around looking for a lost mate.
Doris wants to come over and pick up some headed letter stuff that I set up so we could give people letters of recommendation. Vixen has found jobs for about twenty women in a resort in Malindi and it looks like this could be the start of an ongoing relationship with the owner, who knows the backgrounds of our ladies and is happy to give them a chance, a good training (hotel and kitchen staff) and a really good salary. He wants a letter of recommendation. Kenyans LOVE letters, certificates … anything on paper. PLus Doris wants to talk.
I have to go and have a lie down now …
Fave Moment While Driving
1. One Friday evening, David, in hugely jolly form and now, after an afternoon and evening’s chewing his mira, looking like Steve Rawlings half way through his incredible ping pong balls in the mouth routine, drives right past the turn-off to Dagoretti Market and home. I point this out. “Eh, I could not see it because the lorry was blocking, blocking” says Dave. “No, you did not see it because of the jabba chewing, chewing” I reply. And David rocks with laughter. Repeats my words. Several times. And continues laughing all the way up the road. I feel like I am Peter Kay and I have just mentioned garlic bread to the 02
2. Listening to David singing along to The First time Ever I Saw Your Face with Roberta Flack
3. Driving up the Ngong Road the car starts what can only be described as ‘twerking’. The rear shimmies and wiggles. I wonder aloud what is causing this. “Ah it is just the rear wheel” reassures David. “It is bent. It goes …” and he holds his hand perpendicular to the floor and makes a snakelike forward movement. “I just need to hit it with a hammer”
4. Watching the posh security guards at The Hub grovel underneath the car to undo the bit of string that now holds the boot shut, so they can inspect the contents. And grovel again to tie it closed.
5. High pitched whining sound as we head down the by-pass to EAstleigh. I ask what it is as it is very loud and excruciatingly painful to a woman with a headache like mine. DAvid slows, then accelerates. And repeats. “Ah it is only when the car is going” he says, with an air of relief.
I have some stuff to pick up from the market – Christine has found my order, Collette has finished crocheting the necklaces, the old aluminium boys should have my necklaces and Dorcas has promised that my dresses will be ready.
David is positively helpful and on hand to collect stuff as I get it. Sadly, the dresses are almost all wrong. “Tuesday ?” Says Dorcas …
There is still no sign of OLiver, but what is emerging is a huge community of mums and wives who are searching for young men who have simply disappeared across areas like Huruma and Mathare.
Every other day a body will turn up in some place far away, the other side of Nairobi and a flurry of hope/dread will stir. So far, no Oliver.
Luos are being kicked out of Kenol (on the outskirts of Nairobi), says Doris. They just get a visitor in the night who tells them to go or suffer the consequences. Kabiria (where Joan lives) is on a knife edge. Kawangware has sporadic outbursts of what can only be called ‘ethnic cleansing’. THings are not happy. But there is an odd failure to report any of this in the papers.
I think if people were really looking, they would find that just as many people are being killed now as were killed in the 2008 riots. It is just being managed more carefully this time. Kept sporadic, geographically spaced out. Just young men disappearing from slum areas … who just happen to be Luo. The sixty odd in Kisii who disappeared while Vicky has been up there have not reappeared. People are now looking for a mass grave.
We meet Doris and send Vixen the money to get the new cooking ladies to MAlindi and their new home/job. We will hear about SGR and whether we can get more people into work with them on Monday.
Work on Felista’s kitchen has – of course – suddenly expanded. We must have, apparently, housings for the cooking pots so that the fire beneath is contained and the heat maximised. Fair dos. And you chaps have paid for it … pix will be with you, hopefully, before I leave.
Pretty much exhausted. Still not quite in full charity ninja form yet. Talking to Doris again I remember that I never DID tell you what she wanted to talk about on Friday.
We have been approached about all manner of domestic and sexual abuse. But nothing like this case. And it is all the fault of UK Kink. Precis : middle class Kenyan (male), presumably a massive bully, physically and emotionally. Goes to Oxford. Discovers BDSM. Totally perverts it to cover and give a modicum of imagination and sophistocation to his own bullying tendancies. Marries a sweet Kenyan virgin. And lives a 24/7 full on BDSM existance. She is abused physically and mentally. We are talking to the extent that, before he leaves in the morning he ‘marks’ her by pissing on her and she is not allowed to wash it off. Oh yes. Because she was so innocent when he married her, and is so controlled by him, she thinks this happens in all marriages. Only now, because he left his browser open and she saw some of the pages he likes has she begun to realise what is happening. That this is not normal. On behalf of BDSM fans everywhere, I am outraged at what this man is doing. I give Doris a gallop through the basics of BDSM, garnished with personal anecdotes and heavy on consent. TAkes a lot to gobsmack Doris but gobsmacked she is. Utterly. We are going to meet up with this woman, and see how she wants to proceed. I am thinking a day in a dungeon with the CopMistress and no safe word. And I am not even a top !
Great news from Brian of Mama Maji fame. Mama’s Special Condiment has been VERY popular with the ladies of Homa Bay. A refuge for abused girls was suffering regular break ins by state police who would stop off on their way from the pub for a quick rape of some already abused and vulnerable girls. A full face of MAma’s Condiment is a surefire way to distract a man from any planned action in the jap’s eye area to the searing agony in his other eyes. Production is underway, so that all the women can be safe. Well, safer.
The Supreme Court is making its ruling on the petitions served by the opposition to get the second election annulled. I ask around and the general consensus of opinion is that Eastleigh will be safe even if something does kick off. We are going with julius to get a load of underwear for him to sell. MAma B does not have nearly enough money to pay the people who do all our groundwork in areas far flung like Western. So I give Julius a business. Something low maintainance and high profit. I have known him since 2009. He is a very good bloke. He has found a new place to buy. EAstleigh is a place of vast, low basements stacked with cheap clothing and underwear. They stretch for miles. Literally. It is extraordinary. Little ladies scurry about under burqua offering boiled maize … tea … eggs. And everywhere the air is thick with Somali conversation. It is the one where people sound like they are choking on a grape. Julius picks his way though packs of knickers and I people-watch.
En route back we pick up maasai figures from Tom Ateto. Almost everywhere is closed because people are worried that all hell will break loose when the court rules. Given the new law in place, the court can really only rule one way. And it does. Kenyatta wins.
We eat at Corner. Absolutely excellent chicken broth and rice.
As I have failed to get the little spray bottles for MAma’s Special Condiment in Eastleigh, I am relieved to hear that Doris’s contact has come up trumps. I want to be able to leave some with Joan.
I get a call from Andy, now project managing an empire in Western Kenya. His wildely philanthropical bosses are building a hotel so people can come and train there in catering and hospitality work. They are fitting it out and Andy saw some crockery in Carrefour that turns out to be better value than any wholesaler can give. He needs 400 pieces. So I go to Carrefour. I have to place an order as the things are selling fast. More importantly, I discover a dried chilli mix that is (almost literally) dynamite. The girl just takes the lid off the container and we are all sneezing. I stupidly sniff and spend the rest of the day feeling like I have a red hot poker up my nose. I buy a large tub of the stuff. Mama’s Special Condiment has just gone up a gear. But delicious on fried chicken !
Still no news from OLiver. Doris is now linked into several groups on WhatsApp trying to help mothers and wives find their missing boys. All young men. Bodies are turning up in far flung hospital morgues. Beaten men are being dumped by roadsides far from their homes. THis is ethnic (well, tribal) cleansing by stealth. But no mention in the press …
And if this is how it is in NAirobi then out in the villages …
Talking of which, we got word from SGR that they can take 32 women for cooking and cleaning duties. This is fantastic. Now we need to find a way to get the displaced women out of Kisii county. FArm lorries seem to be the best way. VIcky is still up there but treading very carefully. She now has some help from villagers and farmers who have no problem in helping the refugees. The plan is to pay one of the big farm lorries to ferry them out in smaller groups.
I am supposed to be having a catch up and trouble shoot with Joan and the mothers’ group but, I am delighted to hear, they are all doing such good business that they want to postpone till tomorrow.
I buy soap chemicals (the last lot have eaten through their (now) paper bags and are currently doing something scary to the cardboard box and so have to be replaced and wrapped in clingfilm)
Then I go to Kijabe Street market to pick up the last (hopefully) of my stuff. Or, as it happens, not. Dorcas’ workshop has been experiencing electricity cuts and the dresses are STILL not ready. As I chat, I hear that half a dozen houses were torched in Kibera last night. I recount our tale of Oliver. No one looks hopeful. I tell about the bodies dumped. There is a lot of nodding “That is what they do” says Mwangi. Everyone has a tale of young men being ‘disappeared’ in the night.
On the upside, I do get four big, sturdy cartons for packing. That mountain remains to be climbed.
David is late. Which is irritating because he knows I am meeting Joan’s mothers’ group.
Just at the top of Ngong Road, we are stopped by a hungry looking traffic cop. The drill goes that they look for something they can do David on, if not they accuse him of running an illegal taxi. I get out the car, give them a blast of dodgy Swahili explaining that DAvid is my friend, I have known him for ten years, let us go to his house and I can introduce you to his wife and children etc etc etc. They back off and we go. Given the state of this car, I am amazed old Chips here doesn’t find more. He doesn’t really find anything. The tyres are fine, insurance is up to date, lights are dim but functional. He just wants his money. David gives him 500 bob and we go.
The mothers’ group is up and running. Businesses are going well although they are reporting a lot of competition. We spice up their offerings with cardamom, cloves and black pepper (Preferred mix of the nocturnal, itinerant, coffee drinking Kenyan and decide we will add peanuts and chapati. We start to think about a name for the rescue house when it opens in January. The women are – in stark contrast to how they were at our first meeting – nothing if not too the point. “Stop Rape” is the most popular suggestion. “Stop Men Raping” is another I suggest it might be slightly in yer face. And point out, jokingly, that these “Kill All Men” titles are not always helpful. They actually quite like “Kill All Men” especially when I mention t-shirts. Once we get going, these ladies will be bloody wonderful at the pointy end of a campaign.
We go to Carrefour and pick up the crockery for Andy and his boss. 400 pieces look like more than I thought. David is taking them to a pickup point tomorrow.
I go to meet JUlius and hand over all his stuff with dire warnings about the soap chemicals. I give him £30 to connect his house to the electricity that has now been brought fairly close to his village. NOw we can use his place for head shaving and treating ringworm.
I tell him he will have to wait for more raincatchers. We do not have the money. I tell him I will be asking for people to buy a friend a raincatcher for a christmas present. He looks puzzled.
Doris appears. Nothing from Oliver but she is in a bad way, having just spent the morning miles away in a place called Tigoni, with a group of mothers also looking for their disappeared sons. The network of mums (now numbering about 46 in NAirobi alone and centred on Mama B as a point of communication) does internal alerts whenever a body turns up, wherever it is. And mums go. If they find their man alive or dead his name is taken off the list of the missing. None of these alerts is ever, ever made by the hospital. The young men are dumped on them in the night. If they do have ID the hospitals (so the group have been told) have been instructed to destroy the ID. So only mothers and sisters and wives and friends can identify them, as long as they are prepared to search. THis morning there was just a badly beaten body to identify. And Doris was there to take care of the distraught mother. This young lad was a student at a technical college on his way home. Taken with two friends. They are yet to be found.
JAyne calls (from Awendo). She has been going to KIsumu to visit a boy in hospital. The matatu she is in has been hijacked on the way and now she has nothing but her phone which she hid when the hijackers took everything from everyone. I send her the money to get home.
I start packing. British Airways Community Dept have utterly and absolutely come up trumps and have waived ten bags for me to take onboard when I fly. THis is huge. Wonderful. Very exciting. I have bought a set of scales to make sure that nothing is over 23kg.
I cannot adequately describe how much I hate this part of the trip. The stress is monumental. I loathe every second until I know everything will fit and there will be no excess payments.
I pack five cartons and two sacks. The big massai figures make another 23kg. Then I realise I do not know whether my original two bags are included in the ten or on top of the ten.
It is now one o’clock. I call David. He is still out at the airport. Apparently the contact numbers he has been given do not go through. ANd rather than do something useful he has been sitting for an hour being angry. I will not bore you with the ins and outs of it all but several phone calls later he gets to leave the stuff and come back to pick me up. He is still angry.
I pick up stuff from the market, we send off a box of medicines and soap chemicals and other requested stuff to JAyne in Awendo.
Doris says her friend in the horrendously abusive relationship has been much enlightened by my info on BDSM. NOw she knows whats what she is keen to take my advice to get out. Especially as the latest news is that he has bought a state of the art knife sharpener and has applied for a gun license. EAsier said than done in a society where a) the man can do no wrong, only the woman can fail in a marriage. And b) her family is toxic with Christianity and will probably explode at the mention of anything sexual. Especially extreme bondage and the kind of demeaning shit this monster is into. But she is going to talk to her parents and try to rouse the family group behind her. She is (word I hate) the victim here.
Still no sign of OLiver. His auntie/guardian (Oliver is an orphan) is now in on the search.
But the women in Kisii are almost ready to be shipped out to a new life with good income and as much security as any poor person in Kenya can hope to enjoy. I will be sent the phone number of the lorry driver who is organising the exodus and I mpesa him the money. About a tenner per woman. Which, given that the lorry driver is pretty much risking his life to get them out, is a bit of a bargain.
Felista calls to say she is stranded on Ngong Road with 40 bricks for the kitchen and needs a lift. We pick her up and make for DECIP. Work continues on the kitchen which looked really quite good when the floor was finished, but now looks like a bombsite again as they have built these oven like housings for the cooking pots. I will have pictures for all you wonderful donors before I leave … I hope. Although she is muttering about a chimmney.
I also hand over the balance of the online appeal which is going to be used to pay part of the electricity bill. “And now the beds” says Felista. “So that the boys do not have to sleep down”. I explain – again – that this is an either / or situation. It always is with Mama B. She chose the electricity as the priority and so the money cannot be spent on beds for the boys. These – along with packing – are my least favourite times. I was never very good at saying no. Age has not helped.
Absolute disaster. The nightmare scenario. I have boxed up my ten BA Gift Boxes and much to my horror, there are about eight left over. There is nothing for it. I call Benson at the cargo depot and David and I load the car and take the excess over. $684. Not helped by the dollar/shilling exchange rate. Buy OH how I thank BA at this point.
I have had everything we have made in the shop in the last four weeks (about £1000) sent over. Explicit instructions went to London as to how to send a Moneygram so the money comes to my phone via mpesa. The woman in the Post Office has done it dozens of times for me. Somehow THIS time she chooses – despite perfectly explicit instructions on Souad’s phone – to send it to a Moneygram outlet. This a) gets a much worse exchange rate, THE worst b) means I have to go chasing around for a MOneygram outlet and c) at least DOUBLES the commission Moneygram charge us. Lose bloody lose. Grrrrrrrr.
I thrust a wedge into Benson’s paw and we leave.
However, things start to perk up.
I get a text from Doris telling me that the tea picking people whose appalling bosses we threatened with everyone from the UN to WHO and PG Tips have been paid in full. BAckdated the three months they had been due. Much celebrating in the hovels outside Limuru. This is terribly good.
Also, the poor abused woman with the psycho husband has moved out and is with her parents, where he will not dare reach her.
I bring her up to speed on the child rape rescue centre project and ask if she can think of a name. I want something hard hitting. Punchy. Says it as it is. Swahili is not the greatest language for saying it as it is in a punchy way. “I know what you want, Copi” says Doris. “But you must not”. “Not what ?” I ask, girlishly. “Call it something like Tombe Tombe Baba Mbaya” she says. I am convulsed with a mixture of hysterical laughter and out and out admiration for Doris’ brilliance”. It scans … it trips off the tongue … it says it like it is … it translates roughly as ‘fuck fuck bad daddy”. Oh how I wish … I am hearing the Christmas single … seeing the crowds chanting our name … if only. She then suggests I name it after Daddy Copstick. Don’t think I had not thought of that but Big Bob’s Home for the Repeatedly Defiled is not a name I see gaining popularity.
I get brought up to speed with the whole ‘disappeared’ saga. We have found another young man. Doris has spoken to him (in case he knows OLiver) and he says he was taken in a group of three by men who appeared out of nowhere ( again, in Huruma) and identified themselves as police. The boys were bundled into a van. There were many more boys in the van. The boy offered up his ID but the men tore it up in front of him. The captives had sacks over their heads. They were taken to somewhere unknown and beaten to within an inch of their lives. Or farther. The boy does not remember how long they were there. But then they were divided up and dumped in various outlying locations – some alive and some dead. The boy woke up in a hospital about three hours from Nairobi where he pretended he could not speak because everyone there was speaking kikkuyu and he did not want to give himself away as a Luo and face a repeat of what he had just been through. He watched and waited and said he was treated very well. Finally a cleaner came in the night and let him use her phone. He alerted his parents.
He is now unable to walk properly but alive and safe. And then something amazing happens. Doris gets a call. Oliver’s mother has been contacted by someone saying they think they know where he is. They are waiting for another phonecall. He is in some sort of a retreat for pastors and priests outside Sultan Hamoud – which is about a third of the way to Mombasa. Two and a half hours without traffic. And he is alive. Injured but alive. The mother is already on her way there. This is fantastic news. We are so thrilled we go across the road and have a beer. Just one. We are in Karen and shit be expensive in this hood.
I awake to a dozen messages on my phone. The mum had reached the place where OLiver was but the men there were terrified to let him go with her. Doris persuaded her uncle to drive her to the place, getting there about four in the morning. The men running the retreat knew only that OLiver had been dumped on their doorstep in the middle of the night and that twice since then, a group of men has arrived, demanded entrance and asked if there is a boy here who arrived at night. The men say they are going to tell the enquirers, if they come back, that Oliver just escaped. He has a badly bashed about head, severe wounds on his back where he was beaten and an injury to his leg. He says the men treated him really well, but just kept him secluded and never told him where he was. The men, says Doris, seemed more frightened than OLiver. Anyway, OLiver and his family are off back to his home area now. Doris says he just cried and cried all the way back to Nairobi. HIs mother is planning a ‘cleansing’ ceremony when they get home. For whatever good that will do.
In more good news, the first 20 women have left Kisii en route to their new life. This is all wrapping up rather well.
I go to River Road to get Kucha Kool kits (manicure with a dozen polishes and all the buffing and poking hooha) for Linda (MAma Susan from the mothers’ group) and a girl who has come to Doris who wants a business and has Downs Syndrome. Some of our ladies have taken her under their wing.
IN the car on the way DAvid declares that all the young men and all their relatives are all lying about the disappearings and that it has nothing to do with the Mungiki or the Kikkuyu at all. He wants to see OLiver and examine his ‘wounds’ he says. And I say to him that this is not going to happen because in matters like this I am not sure if I trust him. He and Felista are alike in this. It is like CAtholics and Protestants during the troubles (and beyond). There is no reason, there is no thought process, there is no arguement. It is a toxic belief system (on both sides), and you cannot argue with belief.
I am still hunting for cardboard boxes to wrap my maasai … with no success, so I go and meet Joan at Chicken Master to look at a budget for the refuge / crisis centre / Big Bob’s whatnot.
The rent is going to be about £80 a month which includes water and watchman but not leccy.
Joan has two bunk beds donated, the promise of a load of bedding, a group of women at the Womens’ League of East Africa who want to fundraise for her, three TVs, a big sufuria and quite a lot more.
I will be putting a full budget up online as soon as i have my head around it. But it is surprisingly reasonable for what we are going to do : full advocacy for the children, counselling for children and mothers, support groups for children and mothers, business set ups where necessary for mothers and ongoing support for those that need and/or want it. PLus an outreach programmes using MAma Biashara’s Red Zone dolls in schools everywhere. ANd a room for me there for when I am in Kenya. What could possibly go wrong ?
We discuss names. Gotta have a name. I mention something Doris suggested the other night. And Joan loves it. So, for the time being, we have the working title :
Mamas Fighting Rape
So if anyone can do better, I would love to hear. Acronyms are good. And I still like Tombe Tombe Baba Mbaya.