As you all know, the lead up to this trip has been … a bit fraught.
However HTC Health come through today with a huge delivery of kids’ cod liver oil. Adults’ clo, glucosamine sulphate and boxes of krill oil chewies. Which even SOUND like they could make you superhuman. So we are much cheered. Boxes of the cod liver oil are earmarked for Ghana, a load of healthy HTC Goodness is piled up on our rising mound of Stuff For Syria (goes out more or less every three weeks) and I pack as much as I can into my bags/pockets/carry on.
I am in LOADS of time at Terminal 4 with my paltry 2 x 15kg of luggage (the buggers at Qatar Airlines actually weight the carry on too) and find myself on a plane bearing no resemblence to that shown on the wee plan they give you to pick your seat. Ho hum. We set off at 10pm, seats quite uncomfortable, DIRE choice of movies (I watched Iron Man 3 …) the food smelt horrid and the seats were not particularly comfy. We get off at Doha and, while the main part of the place is all polished marble and light, the downstairs bit where the flights to Africa seemed to be kept, was like a 60s bus station. I almost ask “is it because I is black?” But no one seems to have much of a sense of humour. The plane for the six hour flight from Doha to Nairobi is like something pensioned off by BA from its London to Glasgow fleet. Two lines of seats. NO SEATBACK ENTERTAINMENT. Did I mention the flight is six hours ? A miniscule screen dangles from the overhead lockers once every twelve rows. Ghastly nylon seat covers and a chubby woman in a sari beside me who belches the entire flight (pausing only to eat breakfast) and then pukes noisily into a carrier bag for her big finale as we land. Simply for the sake of something to do, I essay the breakfast offering. Horrific. Like Knorr Instant Vermicelli. Seats even more uncomfortable.
SATURDAY 19th Feb
So I am sleep deprived and knackered when I land. But painlessly through customs and immigration, which is wonderful.
David is, of course, late.
His car has been taken for non payment of a loan, apparently. The borrowed one is a step up and has working windows, proper headlights and even a radio !
We go to Junction where I sort through some hooha at Safaricom and change some cash. The lovely Somali lady at FOrex even remembers my name. Which I hope is a good thing …
Situation update in Kenya is : there is a serious drought and a State Of Emergency has been announced. However I, although my personal luck is currently waving goodbye as it disappears over the horizon beyond dreadful, have brought the rain with me. Last night and this morning there has been rain. Even in Nanyuki (which is impressive). Everyone is happy.
Doris is resplendant in new braids in grey and black (a gift from a friend).
I run through part of my To Do List and Doris says she thinks we should concentrate on things other than business set ups because business is appalling in Kenya at the mo’. Some big companies are relocating, small companies are closing and tiny Mama B type businesses are in a dire state. All food prices have gone up and water has become very expensive.
Also doctors in all government hospitals have been on strike for 77 days and counting. People are lining up outside non functioning A&E departments to die. Apart from that everything else is crap too.
But the Pork Place is still open and the food is still awesome, so we do the traditional First Day Shop for groceries for Doris and David and go there.
The lovely Aroji (mine host for this trip) has lost the key for the gate so we ooze ourselves in through the small door with my luggage, I shower him with boxes of tea (he loves tea … ) and I go to sleep.
Plan A is to meet Julius (HEad of Things Western for MAma B) at 11am and then go on to the market at Yaya.
I awake at 2.45pm. Even for a Kenyan meeting I am late. Everything is sore. I have a headache and I am instantly stressed because I have made a dog’s breakfast of the day. Julius has been calling. He is still at COrner waiting for me. I tell him to get into the Mali CAfe, eat, drink tea and I will come. I matatu it down to COrner (thank goodnes for Sunday Roads through Kawangware) and we get down to biz. MAlcolm Williamson’s 50 Grannies (funded last time out) are doing well even tho’ it is a well known fact that you cannot sell arrowroot in a drought. They have diversified and are keeping their heads well above … er … dust. Julius has been inundated with requests for the return of me and my magic fingers – please, no ribald murmerings, my fingers are magic in the pain relieving sense. As well. SO many of the women I saw the last time are just suffering from a tired, old, sore body. Or even a tired, young, sore body. A good rub down with a will and a tube of diclofenac gel is like a rebirth. Only without the chanting and joss sticks. So I am planning on doing an entire day of massage and training a dozen women or so in the basics of giving someone a decent back / neck / shoulder rub. The world shortage of camphorated oil (where did it go ???) is a challenge but I am channelling my inner Indian and using mustard oil which is almost as good. If slightly yellowing. The highlight of my week so far is my new favourite word of all time. Coined by the marvellous Julius, it is ‘grumpling’. Close but subtly different from grumbling. And much friendlier.
So we arrange more jiggers treatments (see previous diaries, but it is not pretty), more medical, more shoes and then Julius starts talking about the well …
I would love to dig a well. There are 600 people in the community around where Julius lives.
Pro the well : it would bring water to the community and save the women trekking 5 kilometers to get the stuff and, thanks to all the support we have had, if we locate water which is not to deep underground, it is financially doable for us.
Con the well: the cost could be big. If all goes well and the diggers do not hit rock, it would be quite cheap. But rock means big costs. As well as that, my experience is that as soon as there is a ‘thing’ here, the heavy mob (there is always a heavy mob in poor areas) appropriate it. My worry is that they would grab the well and start charging the locals. And when Julius dies … his land goes to his son and his son’s wife who might not be a decent as Julius.
Thoughts, people ? Especially those of you who donated … without you I would not even be able to consider this.
The alternative is to teach the locals about the Raincatchers I invented for the Maasai. You create a sort of hammock that you hang from trees, with a hole in the middle which is directly over the opening of a 1000 litre water tank. The rain is ‘caught’ and collected and pours into the tank AMAZINGLY quickly. Now that I have brought the rain … maybe a Raincatcher for every four or five houses would be enough. This can be done at about 50 quid per raincatcher …
Am waiting for thoughts from the people in Western. But whaddayathink ??
And now Felista arrives. Her ginormous breasts are in danger of pouring over the edge of the bra (Thank you Sara Mason) she wears and out of her blouse, which is missing a button. Every time she takes a breath it is like watching a tsunami of flesh gathering to swamp everything in front of it.
She shows me her skirt, which is similarly missing bits … like quite a lot of material.
“My clothes have all been eaten by a rat” she announces with hoots of laughter.
As ever, with Felista, there is good news and there is bad news. She also has been to Nanyuki, (as well as Doris), currently ravaged both by drought and by tribal warfare exacerbated by drought. “Eh, they are dying like chickens there!” she cries, shaking her head. “Like chickens.”
Back at DECIP (children’s home she created and runs on a wing, many prayers and a heart the size of a Trump ego), the bus which left in December to take 20 orphans back to their home area in Awendo in December, has returned in February with the twenty as well as forty nine others. No shoes, hardly any clothes. Forty nine. Because the women in Awendo know Felista will not turn away a child in need. And Awendo and area is rich in children in need. So now Felista’s two rooms (bedroom and a sort of sitting room) as well as a store room and the dispensary, are dormitories for the tiny kids while the nursery dorms as were, house the bigger kids.
Awendo also sent four male teachers, whom Felista has just had to tackle and expel for trying to rape girl pupils. Twelve year olds. When she stopped them and went crazy they announced “but we are teachers. These girls are our meat. This is our culture”. They have now gone. The situation is further complicated by the older Luo girls (from Awendo) who are described by a grinning Felista as “crazy for sex”. And so I am going to be teacher for an afternoon at DECIP. Teaching sex education. Oh yes. I know. Dracula in charge of a blood bank and all that, but I will have my sensible hat on.
I am meeting Doris at the bank. Doris is late. Which means we miss our slot with Charles and have to wait till we can get another one. Charles is nice. Very Kikkuyu Man In A Suit, but nice. I leave Doris in an interminable queue and go to the Dagoretti DC’s office. I am determined to get some heft behind our campaign to stop teachers and Head Teachers extorting money from the poorest of the poor at government schools by creating illegal charges and then excluding the children when the parents cannot pay them. This is A Big Thing here. And is the main reason so many of the poorest kids don’t get an education. Some fat drunk in charge of a school wants an extra wedge so he (or she) creates a ‘sitting on the chairs’ charge or a ‘learning on Mondays’ charge. The parent cannot pay up, the kid gets sent home. All these charges are illegal. Including the omnipresent ‘registration fee’. We spread the word everywhere we can when we are in the slum areas, and I have written a leaflet, quoting the relevant bits of the act and screaming in bold letters “no child can be sent away from a government school because of money”. But the message is not getting out there enough. Yesterday a lady told me her kids school levies a ‘cleaning charge’ twice a week. 200 pupils each pay 50 bob. Twice a week. And the cleaner is paid 200 bob tops. Twice a week. The rest goes in the headmasters pocket. Illegal. But kids get sent home if they do not pay it. So I go to the Education Officer’s office and have a chat. He listens. He nods. And then he says “Firstly I must tell you that everything you say is true”. Marvellous. Then he says “and I must congratulate you on being so bold”. Of course I immediately hear the voice of Kenneth WIlliams shrieking “Ooow innee bowld ? Innee bowld mister ‘Orne”. I try not to smirk. “These people are volatile” he says. Thieves and those who spend their lives conning money out of orphaned children often are, I say. He smiles. They tend to smile a lot, these officer types. Not widely, but a lot. The upshot was either the official types are just scared to take on the bastards, or the bastards are paying them off so that the larceny might continue. Whatever, he did say he would support a poster campaign (and have posters all over the Chief’s offices), would encourage me to speak on radio, and would help with lists of parents associations to which we could speak. Probably not me as the whole white thing is not great when push comes to shove.
I leave, buy Doris lunch, persuade a local tailoring business to give us all their offcuts for yet another experiment with the Sanitary Pads Project and go to Corner to make a vast order from the lovely Ruth The Pharmacist who is, yet again, deeply disappointed that neither my brother Joff not my father has managed to make the trip with me. I console her with pictures of Dad in his Christmas best which only further convinces him that “he is strong ! He should come !”
The order will be ready by tomorrow evening and so I leave and meet David to agree what is happening about The Great Car Disaster. I suggested that I hire his car back from the woman who is holding it as surety, having paid off his bank loan. And take the cost of of what I normally pay David. But his car is dead. So I try a few people I know have several vehicles. Best offer I get is a small car, for use in Nairobi only, which will cost what I normally pay for both David and his car. So David rents from a mate and pays for it out of his daily rate. I have no idea how he will ever pay to get his own car back.
Dinner is with Doris at the Pork Place and sleep is deep.
David is only slightly late so I have time to talk with Felista about some of the problems the Awendo (strictly speaking I think many of them come from Kisumu) are causing. Apart from the rapist teachers, the sex crazed teens who refuse to wear knickers and the hopelessly infested heads (ringworm) and guts (worms), there is a group of boys who used to keep escaping to go swimming with one of the teachers (not a euphemism although … ) One young lad was excluded from the fun because he was not very well. So he got out on his own one night and dived in. And didn’t come out.
When the body was discovered and the parents informed, they were of course a) distraught at the death of their son and b) delighted at the possibility of making some money out of it. They declared the boy had been beaten at DECIP. The announced he had been beaten in the water which is why he drowned. They got 20,000 from somewhere and demanded an autopsy (no payment, no autopsy here). And Felista had just got back from watching it. The ‘accused’ and the ‘accusers’ WATCH the procedure. “He had a saw and he ‘bzzzzzzzzz'” says Felista, doing rather a good impression of taking the top of a head off. “Then,” she mimes lifting the skull away ” and he says “this is the brain” HAve you ever seen a brain ?” she asks me. “And then he says “look, look ! Is there any injury ? No”. And then he … ” Felista mimes pulling the skin away from the skull “and he says “look, look ! These are the eyes. Can you see any injury ? No!” She mimes an entire post mortem with some enthusiasm. The Y shaped incision … cracking of the ribs … looking at the heart and liver, looking at the water in the lungs … Quite a morning.
Now I have to go to Kijabe Street market. It is not looking healthy. But I hurtle around ordering loveliness and buying where I can.I get a Whats App message from Letitia and Souad back at the Emporium. Two of the big maasai figures have sold and Souad has even sold a large solitaire set which has sat in the window since I left. Perhaps I should just stay away …
We pack up and go to see Ruth who has my order ready in two big boxes. Nearly three hundred quid’s worth. Although to be fair that includes some decent antibiotics and a load of Acyclovir. ONe is never more than three feet away from a dose of genital herpes in slum Kenya. Then we go and get the ever popular soap chemicals. The people at the little hut that houses the stuff perk up when they see me. I do not disappoint. SIxty litres worth for Julius to take to Western, a hundred for Felista to keep things clean at DECIP and sixty more for random old ladies for whom the soap making is a great business and can be done from home. Now I need forty litres of something Felista sometimes calls deterger and sometimes disfecter. It is for cleaning the toilets. And it is lethal. By the time the ingredients are safely bagged, everyone’s eyes are streaming. Lord KNOWS what horror it wreaks environmentally. I shall have words with her. ANd finally some hideous black goo that stops the septic tank smelling (yes … good luck with that). Julius comes along and we give him his chemicals and take him to buy shoes for the jigger ridden of Cheptulu. We go to see a lady I remember as being very helpful before. Her prices have gone up and we end up paying about £2.60 for pairs of trainers. Now we drop Julius near home and go to meet Doris.
FElista is out somewhere but I pack what I have for her into some boxes and David and I head for DECIP. There is SO much work being done on the slum roads around this area. Nice tarmac roads for the nice people they hope will come and live in the massive apartment blocks that are being thrown up all over the place. Throwing up massive apartment blocks is the Kenya politicians money laundering method of choice. And they just sweep the poor off the place like they are dust. Their houses demolished, their shops bulldozed. Almost the whole of a little slum village called Mutego has gone. The big stone built church remains. Natch. I totally bottle out of doing the sex talk for the randy Luo teens. I will bring Doris and she can do it. Not sure I could keep a straight face while advising girls not to have sex. Bit like Oliver Reed lecturing on the evils of alcohol. We are well ahead of schedule and David suggests we go to The Hub (massive posh shopping centre) I need to see Management at the huge supermarket, Carrefour (that is yer ctual French) who promised food for Decip and have now executed a volte face (as they say in France) plus I am searching for Mustard Oil to take to Western to use for massage. No management around. Apparently. No Mustard Oil. I try the old supermarkets at Karen, nope. As my phone has now completely given up the ghost (only useable while plugged in, screen smashed and all it is prepared to tell me is that Chrome has stopped working) I buy the cheapest Phones Express in Nakumat have. More of this anon.
Now Doris calls to say we can meet her at Uthiru. BAck in the direction we have come. Hmmm.
We go to a rust brown (literally) village beside the bypass near Kikkuyu, park up, open the boot and start. By the time it is starting to get dark we have dewormed 350. Oh yes. Three hundred and fifty people. We have given out cough syrups and cod liver oil (each child gets a fish oil capsule with its dewormers, thank you HTC), gallons of diclofenac gel and mini mountains of pain killers, glucosamine and antifungal ointment, I wipe pus, poke at scabs, palpate lumps and distended abdomens, and stem a tidal wave of acid stomach … generally all good stuff. The people for whom I do not have the meds are told to come back tomorrow(a lady with tonsils like red and white rugby balls, several urinary tract infections (my sussu is like black coffee, explains one crone, helpfully) some diarrhea and an equal amount of constipation (“pupu hard, like a goat”) )
There is one recurring problem: women with pain around the waist area and numbness in the legs. And I am no chiropracter. I get down on a precarious looking bench to show some stretching excercises and sleeping positions. Hoots of laughter. I think we might go back so I can get the thumbs in. But a lot of the ladies carry massive bundles of firewood on their backs, anchored with a sash around their forehead. So squished vertebrae and squashed discs are not exactly surprising. They are all going to stretch and slap on the diclofenac gel and see if there is any improvement.
Now we are getting to the stage where people bring children with imaginary coughs and invisible rashes just to get a freebie, so we pack up and go.
I am planning an early start but fail miserably. We get a load more meds, as there is another medical planned for this afternoon. Doris wants me to meet the print lads who are helping with the Education project and Julius also wants to get together before he heads for Western.
Doris wants the boys to come to Junction (she wants them to try the Lemon Ginger and Honey which is her beverage of choice, and costs just slightly more than full lunch at Dagoretti COrner)
Julius arrives first and we go over the massage training (most of Cheptulu and surrounding area suffers from whole body soreness and a massage really fixes them till the next load of firewood or water has to be carried).He is also keen that I reconsider the well. If the soil is loam all the way down we cold just about afford it. But if we hit rock then the costs skyrocket. Plus we don’t have a water diviner. Snigger ye not, I saw it work when we dug the well in Juja. I am considering asking if I can borrow the rods. We arrange massage training for Friday as soon as I arrive and then medical Saturday (with massage) and, hopefully Raincatcher making on Sunday. Unless I get the rods … Julius gets a wedge for his fare, a screen we are building to do the massage behind and some set up money for ten ladies who want to sell firewood (great biz here). They get a one time lisence to gather firewood in the government owned forest. Then they can gather and sell as long as their spindly little legs can carry them.
Doris arrives and, some time later, the print lads.
Now. The Education Project. This is bigger than Mama B has ever attempted and it looking good.
Better still, it is possible because of a Mama Biashara business. Around four years ago Mama B met with a group of chokora (street boys) who wanted a grant for a printing business. There was something great about them, so they got it and the business started. They got a great place in town, business was booming. And so, every month, these guys would take four boys from the streets and train them in graphic design, print and computer skills. Every one of these boys is employed. Most of them by the big print companies. Now the big companies are getting irritated by the amount of business our guys are getting and are starting to make life difficult for them. SO our guys have moved and work at night and underground (not literally). Added to this, one of them is standing as a candidate for the local county elections, for the little people. It is SO exciting. SO now, back to the project. They are printing, at cost price, 2000 posters and 20,000 flyers which will go across the whole of Kenya. I have written the content of the flyers and poster. As I think I have mentioned before, in 2013, the BAsic Education Act was passed, making all basic education free in government schools. However, what is happening, because greed and corruption is a way of life here, is that the Head Teachers and even class teachers, create Registration Fees, cooking fees, cleaning fees, standing up fees, sitting down fees etc and if the children fail to come up with the readies they are sent home from school. So this leaflet explains (with quotes from the act and the constitution, that this is illegal. It is a crime. As is the levying of Examination Fees (as of last year). People have gone crazy for these leaflets. They have already been translated in 20 tribal languages and are heading to all corners of Kenya. The people in Turkana want big posters to put on their camels and stuff has already gone to Narok, for the Maasai. As I type the nine languages spoken by the Mijikenda on the coast are being typed up. It is really rather exciting. I am talking on a couple of local radio shows in places like Kibera (even tho I is white). And our candidate – whose name is Timothy but is known as NJuguna Wa Keja – is using this as part of his platform.
I am positively wired as I pop upstairs to the market. Doris calls from Nakumatt to ask if i had heard of something called ‘vermisseley’. Which turns out to be vermicelli. We have an order for some snack for some coastal people who eat (look away now if you are squeamish) vermicelly in a sauce made from Royco (like Knorr seasoning), milk and sugar. Still, we will take their money.
Firstly, apologies for the ghastly typo. Vermicelly ??? Vermicelli. THe recipe still sounds ghastly. I have been feeling a bit not great and my big plan not to become a hopeless Tramadol addict involves my not simply necking them by the handful every time I feel slightly dire. So sometimes I just have to feel slightly dire. Not sure what is happening. Just the usual whole body lupussy pain and utter exhaustion. Bit of breathlessness, dreadful headache and dizziness. And cold sweats. And I am writing this on Sunday. When I have more or less taken to bed. Oh yes, and my usual marvellous Kenya Kleanout has hit. I marvel that some people pay to have a tube stuck up their jaxie for a high colonic. I seem to get one every time I come here. I know it sounds perverted (who, me?) but I love it. Apart from the cramping. But it usually stops after a day or two and I am safe in the knowledge that my bowels, large and small, are emptier than my ‘Reasons Not To Stab Tony Blair In The Eye’ list.
I get some lovely things from my peeps. Please come and buy them.
Now we go to Kabiria to set up a bit of a medical moment for Saturday. I buy a load of food for the old couple who live in the compound beside which we set up our mini clinic. I am tired and so I forget to get meat but the old lady is uncontainable in her delight. “You came back, you came back” she keeps saying. The old gentleman has gone back to Uganda for a bit, I am told. He has no eyes, I hope he was well looked after (pardon the pun). We explain about the medical and leave.
My new phone is a disaster. I bought it in Nakumatt at Phones Express so it should be kosher. However, I do not know what lorry it fell off, but that lorry was not bound for Kenya. So I will find time to take it back to the shop. Grrrrrrr, as sister Amanda would say.
I have a meeting with Timo and Kemo about doing a medical in deepest darkest Kibera. Waaaaaaay off even the unbeaten tracks. These guys (BTW, I always giggle at the way one one can achieve ubercool simply by abbreviating one’s name and adding O. I shall be known now as Copo, David will be Devo (standard abbreviation), Doris will be Dorro. My dad will be Robo and my sister Mano.) are ex cons. They are great blokes very focussed on helping others not to go the way they went. Having gone there and seen it is not really worth it. But they still have clout. And whatever, wherever we go, we will be safe with them. V happy with this. We arrange for Sunday afternoon.
I have left the market owing money right left and centre, plus, I have a National Education Campaign to fund, so I head to Forex and am hit with an ever plunging exchange rate. however the lovely somali lady squeezes what she can out of the international money mess for me and I go to Safaricom to put it in my mpesa account and send it. I love mpesa. Of course there are fees and Safaricom who run it are the winners but it is a banking system that really works for the little people. I send money to Fatuma and Dorcas and to Felista who needs dosh in order to have DECIP school listed as a Centre. WHich means that exams can be sat there. Otherwise her kids have to go to another Centre for which they pay. And pay again for transport. And pay the invigilator. Natch. It is really just another government scam to get money out the poor. But I will be taking on the government another day, so for today we pay the £80 deposit. The pharmacy gets another massive order, including the bits and bobs from Wednesday’s medical. I always hated Flagyl till I came to Kenya. My good golly gosh it is a hardworking little drug. Now we go to Kikkuyu to meet Doris and the print boys.
Excitement is rising and more and more communities are requesting the leaflets. I now plunge into politics giving Timo ( not the Kibera Timo but our prospective candidate for Kenol) thirty quid to have Che type tshirts printed for himself and his posse. It is almost unimaginable how much this guy could do if he got elected. Kier Hardie all over again. But much better looking.
We go back to Gikamburi, ostensibly to hand over the meds from Wednesday’s little medical moment. Which we do, but we gather another crowd and end up working our way through another 250 dewormers, a gallon of cough mixture, a ton of antacids and painkillers (the one pretty much causing the need for the other, I try to explain) and enough anti inflammatory to calm the Middle East. The terrible trots are rearing their ugly head here so we do a quick lecture on not getting dysentery, cholera or typhoid. But we might go back for a more thorough teaching session.
We drop Doris in Kikkuyu and David and I have a beer to celebrate a Jolly Good Week.
I awake feeling like I have been run over by a truck. No. No. Not a hangover. I had two Tusker and a packet of peanuts.
I delay David’s arrival and try to get myself together.
The market is a nightmare. Stupidly hot and I need to sit down every twenty yards. People are very nice. I get offered lots of little boxes, sacks and oil drums to sit on. Sadly one particularly rough paint tin rips the arse out of my leggings. Which is, frankly, not what I need.
I am accosted by some street kids, one of whom has a seeping wound on his arm and, by the looks of it, a dislocated shoulder. I clean, anoint and bandage the wound and tell the boy I will be back in a week and to find me. I give him some money to get food for him and his pals, only to see them later being accosted by a couple of baby toting women who take it. I wade in and the boys get the money back momentarily, but not for long, as a bigger boy comes along and grabs it. I am not about to get any further involved so David and I go.
Doris is in a nightmare of stress about paying for her share of her Dad’s stupidly expensive hospital treatment and so David and I go to Kabiria alone and set up shop. THis time I remember charcoal and meat for the old lady. Within minutes we are overwhelmed by the scabby, the spotty, the wormy and the slightly swollen. There seems to be as much vaginal discharge here as there is of the anal version in Gikamburi. It is dark when we finish up. As usual I have a list of meds to buy.
Julius texts from Western where it is now raining so much that Noah would have clocked it and muttered “best get a move on with the old ark, then”. Which means no open air massage, no well digging and watch out for the mudslides.
However … if he would just get his head around the idea … the Raincatchers would be just what they need.
I am feeling quite shit now, to be honest. And am extremely glad to get to bed.
We are supposed to be doing a big medical in kibera this afternoon but I am feeling ghastly. I postpone, hopefully till tomorrow. And cancel David. And stay in bed till noon. When I still feel shit, but slightly less so.
And I have Things To Do.
I must sort things out with Evans the Soapstone, the Great Mustard Oil Search continues and I am sure there are other things but in my befuddled state I cannot remember. I visit the loo and leave. And go back to visit the loo again. And leave again. I walk up to where I can get a matatu all the way to Yaya and find myself walking past the unedifying sight of a tall, drunk Rastaman kicking a think sitting boy in the head. With some force. He stops to hurl abuse and then starts kicking again. The boy does this thing which I have seen here over and over again. He does nothing. He just sits there and lets himself be punched and kicked. I view the watching crowd. I walk closer (although not much) to the Ninja Rastaman and shout at him to stop. He looks up, sees the crazy old lady and then simply continues. But at least I have stirred the others into doing something. A couple of young guys go over to break up the beating. It takes three of them to get the Rastaman off the boy. Who is ushered away. Unfortunately the first thing that happens when both of them are released is that the boy flips NinjaRasta the finger. They both hare off up the middle of the main road. And how we all laugh.
The matatu I get gives up as soon as we get into traffic and dumps its passangers. I get another and finally find mustard oil at Chandarana. But stupidly expensive. I see Evans the Soapstone, meander round the rooftop soco and make VERY full use of the facilities the place offers. Doris is not answering so I go back to Junction, fiddle around online (the steam driven interweb here is VERY frustrating)then go home to sleep and poo. Not at the same time, I hasten to add. First I call Kemo to see about tomorrow in Kibera. Wednesday is better, I am told. We have a short chat about our catering to the tired, the poor, the huddled masses etc and the marginalised communities. And I discover there are no gay people in Kibera. No. Because if there were, they would be killed. I guess my Gender Identity and Politics seminar will have to wait.
I feel ridiculously guilty at my timewasting. Given the enthusiasm of the lovely people who contributed to our Emergency Fund I feel the least I could do is be a blur of achievement. And I seem to have spent an inordinate amount of cash …
I cannot contact Kemo about the medical in Kibera this afternoon but Aroji puts me in touch with Timo. With these guys you gain cool just by talking to them on the phone. And now I have one Keno and TWO Timos in my contacts. Word. I am one seeereeyus bitch.
As Doris is otherwise engaged, David and I go to Karen where I do battle with Fones Express and finally get the phone sorted out. I buy some goodies for Linda, the bedbound sister of our marvellous volunteer Sonja. They are in the process of selling their erstwhile family home, so anyone who fancies seven and a half sun soaked acres in Langatta, form an orderly queue. Linda knows lots of posh white people here (and I learn the glorious term Scandiwegians … a group of Scandinavian and Norwegian people) and, up around LAikipia, towards Samburu and Pokot where the drought is horrific and the pastoralists count their wealth and status entirely in cattle, said pastoralists are invading the farms, estates and wildlife conservancies looking for pasture for their bank account. And these bank accounts are HUGE. Thousands of starving, thirsty cattlepounds. And the pastoralists (sounds so nice, doesn’t it ? Now add a large gun, intellectual blinkers, anger, stupidity and utter lack of empathy …) are simply driving the bank accounts on and across the land, killing people who get in their way and burning whole farms to the ground. Encouraged by the local MP. And they are doing terrible things to their own people. Of course most of the dead are their own. I am all for respecting culture. But this is just fucked up.
Pausing only for me to snap some flowery photos for Sonja, we essay a trip to Eastleigh. Panties need to be bought and Eastleigh is the place. Felista needs them, Julius needs them (for the shoshos in Western, not for cross dressing) and I can scout for cheap fabric.
Just as we bounce down the main street (I love the smell of concrete dust in the morning), all hell breaks loose. Suddenly, from everywhere, hordes of men are running, wielding lumps of wood the size of cricket bats (long cricket bats) in what can only be described as an unfriendly manner. I was about to get out of the car, but decide against it. They run past the car and on up the main street. There is violence up ahead. David is watching. He does not seem particularly worried. What is happening is that Eastleigh shop owners have hired a small army of large thugs to beat up anyone who is hawking in the area. Eastleigh used to be thick with hawkers. They were everywhere. And sold some great stuff for some great prices. But the city council cracked down on the stall holders, who now have been made to go a bit official and pay tax. These are stalls in the street. And now that they have to do that, they do not want the hawkers, who are mobile and undocumented and so untaxed, undercutting them and taking their business. This, the City Council cannot be arsed to do anything about. So the stallholders have done it their way. The avalanche of young bad boys is over in a flash, carrying on down the street. And they are not remotely interested in us. They are paid per badly injured hawker. We pootle around a bit to make sure it is all over then david parks up and I go pantie buying. There must be something in the air because about five m,inutes later, two fully ninja’d up ladies start a fight. A physical fight. It takes three guys to separate them.
It certainly makes an hilarious story when dining with Doris at The Pork Place.
My bowels are still in spate. But generally getting much better. Doris has been given a hot tip on a wholesale chemist in town where we can buy dewormers. The suspension for tiny people have been costing about 30 pence each and the tablets for the slightly larger person 25. I have a meeting with Charles at the bank regarding Equity’s refusal to give a loan to someone in need and who has a guarantor standing by. I wait half an hour past my appointment time and then go. David and I negotiate the labyrinthine streets downtown and find the wholesalers. On my way from the car to the warehousey place a bloke in a lorry tells me I look sexy and asks if I would like to have sex with him. My wrinkley old heart soars. My day is made. I tell him I am sorry but I am too busy. But thank him for the offer. The first floor cavern is fairly crowded. I get prices and place an order. You then go to another desk, collect your printed invoice, take that to the cash desk, pay, get it stamped and then take it back to the bloke who took your order in the first place. An hour later I am still waiting. And things are moving in the Niagara of my innards. Fifteen minutes later a bloke calls “mama biashara ” and I leap to the grill. Half my order has arrived. A smirking bloke in an overall advertising family planning seems unconvinced that there is more to my order. I get the bored looking bloke who took my order in the first place to convince him. Smirking bloke shoots me a glance and shrugs. Twenty minutes later I suggest to the room at large that I might cancel my order because all the children will be dead by e time I get the medicine to them. Now three of the slow moving figures behind the bars smirk. And ten minutes after that I tell the fat women with the bad weave who seems to be in charge, if only because she appears to be doing nothing at all, that I have (direct translation) “a big problem of diarrhoea and if I wait much longer I will just shit myself here”. Smirking man smirks and the rest laugh. I do not know if the smirking man is neurodiverse or just bloody rude because he never looks at me when I ask him where the fuck my order has got to. Another fifteen minutes and the dewormers arrive. Then I am locked in a small room with their security man while we check that the order is correct and I sign for it.
Hence to the market where no one has anything ready for me.
We are meeting with Felista in the evening. I have some stuff for her, including some of the Eastleigh panties, some of the FABULOUS range of bras we have had donated, and a load of poundland earphones for her to sell in the cyber cafe. She is keen to take the whole lot of bras for the girls at DECIP, but the underwired loveliness of the multicoloured, sexy, lacy boobie hammocks we have had given to us is entirely unsuited to the pubescent schoolgirl. Especially the crazy Luo girls she is having so much trouble with. I spend the time shredding my torn leggings for the next leg (see what I did there) of the pad experiment. I reckon if we take rags, shred them and boil them to mush, we can reconstitute them into pads.
I awake feeling positively brimming with health. And poo, unfortunately, but no pains, headaches, dizziness, sweats. I feel, in the words of James Brown, GOOD. Off up the hill for a pointless chat with Charles, who uses the word ‘system’ a lot nowadays, which is never good. Then I walk into Kawangware Market and buy a stove, a sufuria, a drainy thing, a stirry thing a board and a roller. Yes, the Great Pad Project takes a step forward. The stove is lit and the shredded legging boiled. For four hours. Which affects it not one whit. I knew I should have used cotton but I didn’t think a weeny bit of lycra in the mix would make them indestructible. I mean they ripped easily enough.
David arrives at one is and we go to Kibera to meet Timo. Who is not answering messages. So I call. It is not sounding hopeful. We wait for about twenty minutes and he turns up. There will be no medical today. Apparently I should have had ‘meetings’. But I did. With Kemo. Ah yes, but not with Timo. But I thought you work together ? Well, yes, but that does not mean that a meeting with one can take the place of a meeting with the other. We should have talked. But we did talk. On the phone. Yes. That is not talking. We need to plan. Plan what ? Rooms. No. Seating. No. Public address system. No. Posters. No. We need to know who you are targetting. Needy people. Then we need to identify them. Er … look around you ?
Timo does not seem impressed. He leaves and David and I head vaguely in the dorection of Kawangware. I call Doris to see if we can come to the place where she is contacting mamas for a medical. Apparently not. She has told the mamas that the medical will be on Saturday and that is what they want. But I will be in Western on Saturday. Silence. I am embarrassed to admit that I get a bit shouty. I am just so frustrated. We go and meet her in Uthiru and head to a slum village called Kahoho. It is built in a dam. Apparently it floods every time the rain comes. The houses have brick lips on the doors to try and stop the water coming in but to no real avail. We deworm about a hundred and fifty children, treat some ringworm, see a young man COVERED in the stuff and do a few bits and bobs. A young boy has what looks like fungal keritosis in both eyes. He should be going to hospital but the doctors are still on strike …
Doris takes pictures because she is in a bad mood with me. Which is fair enough. My Kibera thing fucked up so I needed her to rearrange the afternoon. Fair dos. And I got shouty. David and I hand out the medicine. It is fairly obvious the kids would swallow anything if they got to wash it down with a cup of water. They are parched. Loads of them – and their Mamas – have ash crosses on their foreheads. Wouldn’t it be marvellous if their faith could help them with water and their worms instead of giving them The Power of The Dirty Mark On Your Forehead for a day. We leave and go to Uthiru for coffee. As I am feeling perky and have not exploded recently, I have some greens called managu. I love them. LOVE them. I have two portions.
Doris tells me about the hate male she was recieving online. She posted on WhatsApp about our little deworming / ringworm etc clinics and was horribly trolled by a group of DOCTORS warning that ‘small time’ efforts like ours do nothing to help. Ah, tell that to a village of ladies who, yesterday, were hunched and moaning and today, thanks to some diclofenac gel, some ibuprofen and a few stretching suggestions, are positively gymnastic. They have sent their thanks. Ditto scabby, rashy, pussy people. And the horde of ladies with ‘ulsas’ cured overnight with a handful of antacids and some advice about not eating a Kilimanjaro sized portion of ugali before bed are ecstatic. Curing cancer never really was on my to do list. But then it seems, dear doctors, it is not on your list either … 88 days on strike and counting. I am still exercised by Timo and Kemo’s lack of understanding of the low level at which Mama B operates. They are, after all, of the street themselves. “No one, Copi”, says Doris earnestly “no one could understand how low you go.” I am taking that as a compliment.
Quite a road trip planned. I need to get my ticket for Western first. Then to Ruai, to meet the amazing Dinah, at whose wonderful school Joseph, Jane, Miriam, Moses and Michael, whom I met in 2010, have been given opportunities they never imagined. Precis : Mum died. Dad abandoned. Kids lived feral. Felista rescued. Kids very ill. I lived in hospital with the girls, sleeping under their bed. Lived at DECIP. Miriam raped (aged 8). Left DECIP. Lived with uncle who suddenly appeared. I started helping. Went to Ruai and started at Dinah’s school, Mama Biashara paying fees. Uncles wife has new baby, doesn’t want these kids around. They start boarding. Mama Biashara pays but Dinah gives MASSIVELY discounted rates. Joseph has left to go to secondary, did one year but is now out of school because of costs Jayne is now in secondary but on a term by term basis as there is no money and the other three are still with Dinah, who looks after them like a loving Auntie. It is she who has squeezed money from the money for Miriam, Moses and Michael to pay for Jayne to attend a local day school and stay with her at night.
We go, deliver some bits and bobs and hear Dinah’s plan that if oseph and Jayne can get through secondary and a year or so of teacher training then she will give them both jobs at her school. Which is really rather incredible. Then they can look after the others.
Thence to Ruiru. To Spinners and Spinners mills where I am hoping to bag a bag of cotton offcuts to continue The Great Sanitary Pad Experiment. Cotton/lycra legging failed miserably but, by all accounts, cotton alone will work. Luckily there is some sort of management bloke outside having a smoke and a chat on the phone, so when the smirking askaris treat us like dirt he intervenes. With the bad news that Spinners and Spinners is a 100% acrylic enterprise. Hmmm.
But he suggests a couple of places we can try. Which is good.
Now back to Nairobi and our afternoon medical. Or not. Doris calls to say that the whole area we were visiting has been called to attend a meeting with Kabogo (local governor heading towards re-election. For which read that everyone has been given 300 bob to attend the meeting and make it look like Kabogo has a huge amount of support. They will get another 300 for their actual vote come election day. As all we have are dewormers and scab cream, we are gazumped. So David and I pass by Garden City Shopping Mall. One of the biggest in East Africa. High end shops, huge restaurants, leisure facilities, you name it, it has it. And the high end shoppers of Nairobi would like to thank you, the British People, because the mall was built with about 12 million quid’s worth (might be more, I shall check) of the UK’s Aid money. I take a couple of photos inside but then am followed by security guards, so I split.
We meet with Doris who has a load of our Education Project posters and flyers in Luhya for me to take to Western.
We also make a list of other information leaflet type things that are needed. When we go places, I always give information on any problems … like the fact that cooking over charcoal inside the house is going to cause respiratory problems for your children and yourself. And especially your tiny, snotty baby. And our How Not To Get Cholera leaflets stopped the spread of the disease in its tracks in both NAkuru and Mombasa area. People frequently ask what they could do here to help if scabs are not eir thing. The answer is simple (as long as you are not a moron), tell people stuff. Information. Knowledge. Knowledge you didn’t realise not everyone has : like smokey stove cooking inside a one room house with five kids in it will create problems and a massive amount of snot.
We have requests for more cholera leaflets, plus our Why Lightening Your Skin With Household Bleach Is A Bad Thing info, my special What Is This Pus ? A Commercial Sex Worker’s Guide To STDs and, sadly, for the Mijikenda (indigenous peeps along the coast) an explanation (with helpful suggestions) of rickets, scurvy and the sickness they call ‘kwashiokor’, which is malnutrition and the whole big belly horror. The drought is hitting them very hard and they are a poor people anyway. INfo will go, in their languages, plus HTC’s marvellous calcium gummies for kids and anything else we can think of but the problem is massive and we (as the striking doctors point out) are very small. Still no reason not to try.
Good news for Exure Condoms (thank you Poundland and Poundworld), although I am unsure as to how they might spin this into an ad campaign) is that the sex workers of the coast (both male and female, but especially men) think your condoms are absolutely the greatest. They need more. More. MORE. They feel good (apparently), they do not perish in the heat (you can even carry them on the beach when looking for business) and they can survive the most strenuous anal action without breaking. No one EVER said that about Durex now, did they ? Dear Exure Manufacturers, for the cost of a lorryload of your wares, I can get all of that for you on camera … it is deffo a USP …
MOre good news from the coast is that the original group of ladies I helped with their devastated skin problems (20 years of scrubbing with household bleach twice a day … light skin is what the customer wants and the customer is always right) are doing great business with henna decorations and other stuff. The group now numbers 60 and growing. And it seems that with love, shade and a LOT of cream (Johnson and Johnson’s baby cream, Nivea and Ingram’s have all played their part), the skin can recover. At least enough for normal life. It will never regain its youthful bloom …
And so off to pack for an early rise
David is at the gate on the dot of seven. MArvellous.
We take several ‘panya routes’ and are well on time. We are held up in one queue at the roundabout into Haile Selassie Ave. As we eventually clear it we see a small, doughnut shaped police lady is the one directing the non flow of traffic. David eyes her balefully. “That is why I hate all fat ladies” he says “I HATE them. They think very slowly.” I let it pass.
I sleep almost all the way to Cheptulu. Where it is raining.
Julius is there and we load a pikipiki up with my boxes and send it off while we have tea (fabulous, worth an eight hour trip for, boiled up syrupy lemon tea with chapati and kunde (yet another type of delicious greens)) and discuss the weekend. Rain has stopped the massage workshop this evening. It will now be done tomorrow afternoon after a medical day. Starting with deworming and, where necessary, dejiggering. We pikipiki back to my sleeping place with Ernest. It starts to rain. The brilliant Stephen Sondheim has obviously never been to Cheptulu. The Rain on the Roof most certainly does not go Pit Pitty Pat. It goes boom crash boom until you cannot hear yourself think. Julius seems less than impressed with out Education Campaign posters and flyers. Even in Luhya. But he goes home with a bunch. And I sleep
My pikipiki boy is called Elvis. We load up the boxes nd bags and me and start off. Two stops for repositioning the tower of boxes later, we are at Julius shamba.I almost miss it because he has cut down most of his eucalyptus trees to make a shelter. Apparently that is ok because they grow very fast. We deworm with a will. A large drunk man has come to get help with his feet. His toes look like black cauliflower. I see it very well because he refuses to sit with them in the basin of disinfectant and keeps waving them in my face. Some of the shoshos take him to task and he leaves. Everyone seems to be covered with some sort of pustule or vesicle. One young boy has whole areas of his body crusted with clusters of tiny plooky nastiness. The place is a dermatologist’s playground. Some things are much less frightening than they look – the old scabby leg here can look quite monstrous. There is a fair old amount of malaria, a lot of vomiting, a large knot of constipation and the usual heartburn, headaches and generally sore bodies. The sore bodies are instructed to come back tomorrow when there will be a team of highly trained massage people to ease their bits. I lose count of the times I miraculously heal a headache and dizziness with a big mug of water. There are a few REALLY sick kids who are being very brave. It starts to rain again and we scurry to Julius’ new shelter. Unfortunately the roof is not finished and there are no walls. But it is better than the alternative.
We continue the medical with many coughs and much congestion. And then a mildly manic bloke appears, smelling pungently of home brew, but happily so. He grabs me and shouts “you healed me !! You healed me”. He raised a raggedy trouser leg to reveal a skinny calf with a tiny scar on it. “You healed me!” He repeats. Pointing at the scar. And I remember. He was drunk then too. In November. He had a fairly ghastly wound on his leg he said was caused by a njembe. I cleaned it up and made my own larger sized steristrips and closed it as far as I could then lathered it with antiseptic and antibiotic powder and cream, bandaged it and gave him cod liver oil. The scar is TINY. I am a bloody genius !! He shows everyone the scar. He is extremely happt. Mildly annoying, but happy. We gather an audience of kids and continue till everyone is seen too. Then I go inside Julius’ house, where it is pitch dark – it is a traditional mud house so no leccy and he doesn’t seem to have a lamp. We get the new foam mattress on the floor and, starting with my four students in chairs, I teach the very basics of neck and shoulder massage, loosening arms, hand massage and then we get down on the bed and work from neck to foot. Very general stuff. But I demonstrate with some force, how so much of the problem experienced by all the women comes from the same place. And when I hit their gluteus maximus … well … The entire thing is watched over by an amused hen who is sitting in a basin in the corner hatching chicks. There are bloody loads of them. At least a dozen. It makes a nice soundtrack to the massaging.
It is getting dark and everyone needs to go home. More rain will come and you really want to be inside when that happens
I have the wierdest dream involving the lovely Mummy Bridewell – the epitomy of gentle kindness and expert cakebaking – running amok with a shotgun. It must have been the kunde.
Er … I think I might have, as we say in Scotland “caught the sun”. Never good on a Scot.
My phone has gone for charging at the one house in the location with leccy. I head to the town pharmacy with pikipiki Elvis who tells me his son is being overtaken by a fungus. I tell him to bring him to Julius’ place. Can’t wait. I have seen these shows on Channel 5. Perhaps thee is a documentary in the offing. The pharmacy has no castor oil. Or anything else to ease a passage. The constipated will have to hold on. No problem for them under the circumstances. But I do get paediatric cough syrup and reinforcements for the antihistamine and antiseptic creams. There are already loads of people waiting when we get back to Julius place and so I get out the boxes and start again. I have already given out 50 tubes of diclofenac gel and we are more than halfway through the dewormers. Alice (star massage pupil) has already started. On her mum. Mama Alice came yesterday complaining of practially everything for which there is a word in either Kiswahili or English. We narrowed it down to aches and pains. Unsurprising, given that, I discovered, she had a spinal op (sounds like one of these vertebral fusion things) and a hysterectomy. After eight children (and I quote in direct translation) “my uterus wanted to come down”. Massive prolapse. Op. But, she says, cheerily, God has never stopped working for her and her health. Well now Alice and I are working too.
A small boy called Musa is brought along. He is thin,limp and obviously has congenital problems I can’t fix. Most worryingly, he is filthy and dressed in rags while his two siblings who come with him and his Grannie, are shiny and well and clean and nicely dressed. I ask the shosho why the mother is not looking after Musa and there is much embarassed silence. I clean him up a bit and give him vitamins and a drink and lots of cuddles. I tell the shosho I want to see him again. I ask Julius to keep an eye on him. I send kiddie CLO and some vitamins with him. When they have gone Julius says he knows the family and the mother ‘does not care for Musa because he is not a good child’.
I break off from medical stuff to teach the Westerners how to make a raincatcher. Of course it is only the women who turn up to learn. Julius has bought the wrong chicken wire so we first have to sew two strips of the stuff together to make a two metre wide base. Then we cut the platic sheeting to size and place it on top. The wire is curled round the edge and, again, sort of sewn into place. It is baking hot. I worry about the plastic melting. But it doesn’t. We make ropes out of plaited string and take the whole thing off down to Julius’ banana patch and hang it up over the 1000 litre water tank.
And then I go back to coughs and sore backs. I am getting slightly droopy as there seems to be no end in sight. A local lady has made mutuya for me and it is in the house to be taken to my resting place for me to eat tonight. But I need something now. It is five o’clock and I have been out here since ten. I feel a break might be in order. I get the mutuya (beans baked in the sun and then cooked till they are a kind of porridge). And discover it to have a salt content comparable to that of the Dead Sea.
So I have some water. It is my nightmare situation – I am parched and the only liquids around are sold by the only company on the planet that make Monsanto look like reasonable people, the dreaded Coca Cola Corporation. SO I drink Dasani, It even tastes bad. But I have had too many raging UTIs in earlier years here where I bestrode the moral high ground and simply went thirsty and a bit dizzy. Even more reason to get the raincatchers up and working. I go inside to talk to four women Julius has mentioned as being particularly ‘down’. They have about 23 children between them. Julius has very kindly said I can give them his underwear consignment (some bought from Eastleigh and some donated by the beautiful and generously bosomed Friends of MAma B.) to start up a business. I will send more for Julius when I get back.
Julius has a trad mud house. So no leccy and it is pretty much pitch black except where the sun comes through the open door. Which is where I sit. The ladies are against the opposite wall. In the pitch dark. And, I am sorry, but all I can think of is “smile, so I can see where you are”. And I laugh, for several layers of reasons. It is rude just to sit there laughing so I explain to them why I was laughing, and about the old club comic line, and about the hooha with Gazza. One by one they come over to sit beside me and the others sit and smile and then not smile. The women are hooting with laughter. They find it hilarious. I feel much better about myself. Maybe that is bad, but I am taking my cue from the ladies. I show them the bras … some soft, some sports, some underwired but simple and some like nothing that has ever been seen in Western Kenya. They LOVE them. I do not know who you are, Mz 36G, but your fabulous underwear is making some sad ladies in Western Kenya very very happy. They fondle and wonder and when I tell them some of these bras can cost 5000 shillings they gaze at them much in the manner of a pilgrim at the Turin Shroud. They will sell them from a space in the market on the two market days and go around hawking the rest of the week. I cannot explain how much joy and hope three bags of bras and a large bag of knickers (various) can bring to needy women.
A few more old ladies with heartburn and constipation and I am done. I am going to add a couple of Info Leaflets for Western. Like, How Not To Poo Like A Goat, Settle Down, It’s Only Heartburn, You are Not Sick, You are Dehydrated, Every Fever is Not Malaria (I was horrified, halfway through day 1 to see Julius sneaking a hand into the MAlaria Meds box. “I don’t feel well”. How not well ? Headache. So you take malaria medication ??? Shrug. He gets a bottle of water, two ibuprofen and a glare. He is fine.) and Why Not Eating All Day and then Ingesting Your Own Body Weight in FLour and Water PAste is Not Good. Of course, most of these things are much easier said than done. Drinking plenty ? Hmmm … Not just eating an ugali mountain when you get in at night ? WHere’s the money coming from for a varied diet ?
Anyway I get on a pikipiki (Elvis and his fungal son have not shown) and go back to finish up with Julius and sleep.
The bus is a bit late but I sleep almost the whole way back. I get off at Uthiru and get into THE most tightly packed matatu EVER. I have had threesomes where the other people were less intimate with me. I meet with Doris at The Pork Place. I ask her to put some cream on my neck and shoulders. She shrieks. “What is it ?” What’s what ? Here ! It looks like you have been boiled. Ah. Sunburn. It is HORRIBLE ! That is what happens when wazungu go in the sun. She pokes at my pink. But smears on the gunk and tells me the good news.
We have had FANTASTIC feedback from the medical days we did at Gikamburi. Best of all, women have been telling Doris of the revelation of cooking with the stove outside. No smoke, no fumes, no congestion, no coughs, no snot, no sick children, no limp babies. They are telling Doris that even the men are commenting on how well they feel. FINALLY we have got through to people. And now, the word is spreading. Doris has already been approached by women from two nearby villages, lured by tales of my ability to cure. Gikamburi ladies have been enthusiastic in their delight in life minus heartburn, constipation, aching backs, swollen ankles and all the nastiness that smokey houses brings. Tonsil lady still needs them removed but they have calmed down for now and all the rashed and lumps and bumps are responding really well to whatever goo I gave.
I feel quite Gregory House.
We pick up 80 litres worth of detergent perfume for Julius (turns out that when he said the perfume had “gone off” he did not mean gone bad, he meant evaporated), we hot the pharmacy for antifungal eyedrops for the boy in Kahuho and antibiotics for Damaris in Western, plus a gallon of castor oil for the goat people.
Then I change what money I have left only to find the exchange rate has plummeted. WTF people !!!! Every penny counts to some of us !!
Thence to Kijabe Street where I am picking up a consignment of dresses from Monica. Her car has been clamped by one of the little shits around the parking area. I know why. It is a big flashy 4×4 and they obviously smell money.
I collect from everyone I can and desperately try to avoid spending any money. I have changed my last thousand but almost all of that will go on the cargo costs on Friday. I also hand out a load of our education leaflets in Swahili, Luo and Kikkuyu. MArket people are little people, generally, and need this information. Christine has completely forgotton all my shopping bags. I am almost relieved as this means I get £50 back from her. Every little helps. I cannot imagine how this trip would have been without the amazing help from everyone who donated to the emergency theft fund. Really, REALLY, thank you all.
NOw we go back to Eastleigh, having given away Julius’ stock, I need to replace it. We cross our fingers that hell will not have been unleashed today. Everything is pretty quiet. ALthough there is a truck of fully armed, flack jacketed and helmeted soldiers at the top of the street. They are doing a bit of stop and search. We get in OK and Julius gets his knickers, but on the way out we are stopped. A ridiculously macho soldier in full combat gear indicates we should come over to the kerb. Where have you come from ? Er, in life or today ? Today. He is not amused. From buying bras and panties in Eastleigh to send to Western. You have a business there ?? No I am a charity. NO business. Ah. So if you are a charity what do you have to give me ? A pause. I wonder if he is joshing. Probably not. The ‘josh’ content in this kind of conversation does not tend to be high. I can give you some advice … be nice to people, do not be unnecessarily violent and perhaps you could take some of your colleagues to Samburu and sort out the war that is happening there. He leaps back as if stung. I cannot go to Samburu ! The people there are crazy. My colleagues cannot go. Ah well. There we have it. We shake hands and drive on. David is in hysterics. Eh you have confused him so much !!
Bloody hours in snarly traffic breathing the black exhaust shit that puffs out of every PSV and HGV on the roads. I probably have the lungs of a forty a day man by the time we get to Uchumi to send stuff off to Julius (am worried about Damaris and her infected leg) thence to The Pork Place.
Doris reports that The Village In The Dam wants us back, and our reputation is riding high. She has. A placement for fourteen cooks who can earn 800 a day (good money) with a company who keep coming back to us for talent, even though our ladies have a tendancy to steal the spoons. And so this time they must come with their own spoons. Fair dos. SO each lady needs an apron (450) a spoon (250) and a medical certificate (1000). These last are becoming more difficult to come by as the election nears and politicians and mungiki want to be able to offer perks to their own people. Mungiki are getting very antsy about the areas they control.
We also have an opportunity for 56 more people for the railway company, via Doris’s old boss. This also offers terrific money and decent conditions for a couple of months at a time. We are grabbing all the opportunities we can for work here, before everyone realises the whole project is a complete dogs breakfast and is abandoned leaving Kenya in an unreturnable amount of debt to China.
Doris reminds me of the urgency of what she calls our Civic Education leaflets. I promise to get writing.
We unload at the house and I ooze into what space is left in the bedroom.
I have a date with Jayne at Dagoretti Corner at 10am. At 11 I recieve a text saying she is ‘at the gate’. There is no gate. Stupidly long, irritating and quintessentially Kenyan story later, we end up at Java because I need the wifi. There is good news – after my threats of reporting them to the WHO, the docs at the local hospital are behaving themselves and the general health of the community is quite good. Our one salon is now four, the tomato and sukuma wiki (sort of kale) ladies are doing amazing business and the young guy we originally worked with setting up a chapati business, and then expanded to a little hotel (cafe) has now taken on four other lads into the biz. Ditto the computer lad for whom we bought a printer – he is training local lads by the fistful. We get stuck into the business plans – twenty six in all, with forty one people involved. One interesting thing is that, having seen how well the women do when they have their own little business, quite a lot of men have decided that doing something of a businessy nature is A Good Thing, even if only not to feel emasculated by their wives. And, although the men tend to pitch much higher than the women, they do do good business. The plans are really well laid out now. After seven years of ploughing through “I buy a sack from the farm and sell and I get 200 bob and my fare is 100 bob each way” type plans, we have finally got people to think logically about the business set up. And understand the difference between gross and net profit. One particular business (selling block cooking fat) even has a handy diagram showing how the lady plans on dividing the boxes of fat and how she can maximise her profit by selling smaller blocks at 10 bob each around the villages. She’s hired !
Felista arrives with Protus in tow. She needs my ipad to send an email. She has been approached by a Bloke Called Bob, a Sith Ifrican who is celebrating his 60th birthday next year and wants to build a brand new DECIP to celebrate it. “It will be his mark” says Felista. The costs are massive. Even the cost of drawing up the plans would have paid her leccy for a year. She knows I am sceptical. She is bored of me telling her about copnsolidation and might it not be a thought to make sure you have the financial wherewithal to run the place you have got before thinking about guest houses and underground carparks. “But this is my dream” she says. And no one has chased her dream harder than Felista.
ALso I still owe her DECIP’s money for March. I will know after Friday morning if I have anything left to give. HAving no access to the bank account out here is a killer. The ladies from the shop spent a morning looking under tables and collecting stray coppers before sending me everything the shop has made since I left. Nearly three weeks. £750. Bloody disastrous. Come on. You must know SOMEONE with an upcoming birthday who would like something in what the Kenyans call “shouting colours”.
I go off to collect said £750 (exchange rate still horribly low plus MG charge £29.99 for the transfer …) and get boxes from Nakumatt to do some packing. I hate packing. I find it massively stressful, because anything that gets broken is my fault. Plus I am watching the KGs and the cubic metres mounting up and imagining the expense.
There is a great bloke at Nakumatt taxis called Dan The Man and he takes me back home and tells me I am not at all like a mzungu, I am like an African. I think I am being complimented.
I start the packing. I find one small chess piece already broken.
At six I go and meet Jayne again and we finish the business plans. Some great ones. Especially the guys who want to make supu (excellent biz as an entire cow’s head costs only 500 bob and provides both supu and meat) and mutura (sausage made from offal … as very many are. I think of it as very dark andouillette). ABout £500 will start 41 people in good, sustainable business.
Doris arrives, having had a terrible day. She tried to take the meds to our ringworm&oral thrush lady (one would think, given the state of her, she would be desperate for the bloody meds) but no show, she tried to track down the firewood ladies who all want to see me about their pains and ghastly acid stomach, the village of prozzies has decided (after a visit from their local politician) that I must have some bad intentions and am probably coming to experiment on them, so they have cancelled their medical day and … well, you get the picture.
Jayne is impressed by the Education Project leaflets. But she thinnks we should also do something about secondary school education. Which is not free for anyone. Even the government schools demand fees. But then on top of the fees, the grasping headmasters and school boards demand other fees (illegal fees) – for cooking, for toilet cleaning, for use of the ancient school bus, for example. I also get a graphic insight into another gift the white colonialists left Kenya. The concept of Flashman type prefects and fagging. But this is in government schools. Two boys in a highly thought of government secondary were found recently with their backs broken after what sounds like a hazing. When you go into the first form secondary, it is the expected thing that you will be ‘tortured’. By the prefects. Who pretty much have the power of life or death.
Doris OK’s my cooking, eating and drinking leaflets, so I can go onto Skin Bleaching, STDs and Kwashiokor (which is severe malnutrition, as seen on many an Oxfam ad). There is a lot of this down in the coastal region at the moment. I start explaining to Doris that the people cannot do any of the things that are necessary … mainly give nutrition and hydration, intraveneously if necessary. But what we need from the leaflets is not that. WHat we need from the leaflets is a reassurance that this is not witchcraft. Very many of the children who are so malnourished that they get the big tummy are taken to witchdoctors who have several remedies : feed the child ash, make small incisions in the child and rub ash in them … etc etc etc. Doris just wants the leaflets to say that it is not a curse. They also suffer from rickets a lot there, apparently. I am sending down a load of HTC’s kids calcium gummies. Drop in the ocean, but, as Felista says, it is always better to do something than to do nothing.
I have The Big Meeting with Felista and The Mzungu at five, so everything is structured around that. I have to change my last UK currency in anticipation of spending it all tomorrow at the cargo handler’s. We try to buy more Ibuprofen but there seems to be a Dagoretti Corner wide shortage. I do get bits and bobs to send with Jayne to Awendo – like the malaria meds I forgot the other day.
Thence to get a coffee and internet. I sit and write some of the new leaflets – skin bleaching and kwashiokor and rickets. Doris should have called by eleven to confirm the location of the medical. I hassle her when it gets to twelve. She is still unsure. SO I go up to the market and collect my last four dresses from Dorcas plus a couple of fabulous beaded collars from Mwangi. Souad in the midst of a customer famine the likes of which we have never known, has managed to sell two of the collars and one of the ladies wants another. I also hand out quite a few of our Education leaflets. Mwangi is going to paper his village. By half one it seems pretty certain that the medical is not going to happen. When pressed, Doris says that the women who, yesterday, wanted us to come, have now been told by someone, and are convinced that I am coming with bad intentions, to experiment on them. To be fair, it is always a hurdle to be jumped, the total disbelief of many of the people we work with, that anyone would come and help them for free. And give them medicine for free.
So we’ve been dumped. And I have DAvid for the day and am appalled at the unneccessary expence. So we go out to a place on the Mombasa highway called Mlolongo to find African Cotton Industries, who, I am told by the man at Spinners and Spinners, are most likely to be able to help with waste cotton bits and bobs for our sanitary pad project. Everyone is really friendly. And I get to meet the boss. BUt, as he explains, their own basic material is waste cotton (they turn out to be really on the environmental ball), they have no waste for us.
Back to Corner and Felista calls to change the meet from Java to Shalom. ANd she is almost on time !! Then a fat shiny bloke arrives. Along with Men In Hats, I never trust a Fat Shiny Man. He obviously wrote the book on Patronising With A Smile. He gets out his laptop and The Mzungu appears on Skype from Canada.She uses phrases like “we want you to know we are on your side” and starts far too many sentences with “I’m sensing …”
Mzungu and Shiny Man are from an organisation called Lift The Children. They support seventy five children’s homes in Kenya. And elsewhere I think. They are big. They give DECIP about £250 a month. Which is great. However, for this, they seem to want control of the home. They have sent her a formal Warning Letter about withdrawal of funds, specifying that the home is dirty and in need of repair (pretty much true), that the beds are old (true), that the children are frequently messy and in torn clothes (true) and that she does not have their recommended ratio of one member of fully trained staff per ten children (absolutely true). They want all this remedied. I point out, as calmly as I can, that Felista herself would jump at the chance to remedy all of this, but it is entirely a matter of having insufficient funding. Fat Shiny Man disagrees. “It is not about money” he smirks. Really. I also point out that if Shiny Man ever looked at the children themselves, talked to them, he would see that they are so happy. They are secure, loved, reasonably well fed and they have self confidence. They are looked after mediclly and they love being at DECIP because they have freedom. The authorities bring children to Felista that they cannot place elsewhere. Severely damaged and abused children. Because they have seen that – and I quote – “Felista heals them with love”. And she does. I know kids there who have arrived totally withdrawn and incontinent, crazy and angry, or just tiny, malnourished, wobbly things. ANd now they are having fun, they are happy, they are confident. I suggest that there is more to a well looked after child than a shiny face and a smart uniform. He witters on about ‘making a bad impression’. The Mzungu makes some fair points. There are too many kids at DECIP. And this is a problem. But the authorities, the police and the community keep dumping kids on her and she has a heart the size of Lake Turkana. Felista is amazingly calm. VERY grown up. And, says The Mzungu, they have weekly ‘meetings’ and ‘seminars’ to ‘share’ with directors of other children’s homes. ANd with Fat Shiny Man. Felista has never been to one. And this is A Problem for them. They like meetings. ANd they like ‘sharing’. Felista has to PROMISE to go or she gets another black mark. She is already (The Mzungu tells us) at a C- or a D.
We leave and go to the pork place where I have a Tusker and Felista Doris JAyne and David eat MASSIVE mounds of chicken and pork with greens.
Felista is getting antsy about the 20,000 she (I) owe to the education people for giving DECIP a certificate to allow them to have exams there. She knows I don’t have it now and will be sending it from London. I tell her again I will arrive on Monday at about 2pm and then I must go straight to the hospital. “They will not admit you ?” she gasps, horrified. I am touched at her concern. “Not until you have sent the money ?” she continues. “I will speak to them, They cannot admit you until you have sent the money”. We cram into the car and I get dropped at the top of the hill.
I finish packing and pray to a GOd in whom I do not believe for as light a bill as possible tomorrow
We pack the car and head to the airport. I hate this morning. Just handing over an amount of money that would change the lives of fifty people to a grubby little man in a grubby little office so the stuff can get sent on a probably corrupt airline to the UK. This time it cost £800. Plus about £90 to clear it at the other end. It never fails to depress and upset me. ANyone with any contacts with any airline that flies to Nairobi … how good are you at emotional blackmail ??
NOw we go to Kikkuyu to meet Doris and Vixen and do a medical. David and I are early so we park up and I practically inhale a large mango and about a stone of watermelon.
Vixen meets us and directs us to where Doris is sitting at the side of a dirt track. We park up. Doris says some women have come and said there is a boy the village who is now a total orphan. They want us to give him the deworming medicine and if he is not dead in an hour they will come with their children. Bit by bit people arrive. They always check with each other about how safe it is … and what my reasons could be for coming here. I go and see an old lady who is bedridden. As usual, they let me flounder around asking questions and, after I have said that I think the problem might be with her heart (apart from the massive lymphodoema in both legs) they nod and say that that is what the hospital said when they did the picture.
We deworm and descab. The garlic and flagyl take a hammering. There are a load of UTIs, a ton of tonsillitisy throats and a lovely lady with oral thrush. Luckily I have the meds. A small river of castor oil is dispensed for those who have problems with their ‘tumbo’ and, after rigorous questioning, reveal they have not been to the loo in four days. We give all the usual advice about not cooking indoors, not just eating a mountain of ugali before bed and drinking enough water. There is a lovely old lady who has a body full of aches and pains (she gets an extra tube of diclofenac gel just cos i like her), a load of giggling girls who just want something for free and more snot than you could soak a box of kleenex in. Some kids scream and run from the mzungu. Others are fascinated and want to touch my skin. Three hours goes by very quickly.
We go to eat and Vixen talks to me about the group of women in Lamu that she is looking after. There is a massive amount of building going on there as a new port if being built. Lots of our ladies have work there. Pay is very good and the company boss in a nice man who likes to help us with no strings. There are ten women, currently, who are not really able for terribly physical work, but the boss has offered to train them as fork lift truck operators. This normally costs 15,000 as the certificate attained will keep you in very well paid work anywhere. We have bargained him down to 3000 upfront and then five weeks of 500 bob. Mama B will pay the 3000 and the ladies the rest (as they will be earning 1200 a day. SO I am looking for fork lift truck driver sponsors (£25 a pop). These ladies are all from the street. One is HIV+, two were taken as second wives by Italians living on the coast and then discarded, and two are recovering from drug use. This is an amazing chance for them. So if you have a spare £25, any of these ladies would be very grateful. As I spend a couple of minutes on the loo before bed, I am thrilled to not that I seem, finally, to have achieved what Mary Berry would call ‘a dropping consistency’.
No money, and no baggage allowance, so no market. But lots to do. We go back to the pharmacy to get a last lot of meds.and send off a load of cod liver oil and other bits and bobs to Julius. And a ludicrous 800 bob to get a fundi to put a tap in the tank. I get the feeling Julius is less thrilled by the raincatcher than he would have been by a well.
Also, my lovely host Aroji thinks he might have malaria. And has asked if I will get him the meds. Whenever anyone in Kenya has a temperature, headache or simply feels a bit off, malaria tends to be their go to self diagnosis. And they do LOVE a bit of medication. The disappointment and disbelief on the face of people who tell me they get pain in their ‘tumbo’ when they eat githeri, only to be told, “don’t eat githeri” is quite something.
Talking of medication, we go off to Kabiria to see how the little girl with the big tumbo is doing. I took something of a calculated risk and gave her a spoon of castor before I left yesterday. So I want to check she is … relieved. And indeed she is. The family are wreathed in smiles, as is she. She went to the toilet “very well”. And now she is ok. She and her brother get a pair of shoes I have bought for them. And granny gets the rent money for another month.
By the time I get back to the car it is surrounded with people wanting help. The usual amount of heartburn, various very odd rashes including a young man whose entire scalp has become a baldy scab and a young girl who has a rash which seems to suck the colour out of her skin. It looks fungal. But I really do not have a clue. Any dermatologists reading ?
Now we go to Kikkuyu to finish off the medical we were doing there before. Doris is at her kids’ school’s AGM. It was supposed to finish at about eleven thirty. It is now three and she texts to say it is ongoing. But that she has news.
Vixen meets us. We carry on where we left off the last time. The old lady with the heart condition sends her daughter to see me. She too has ‘ gone to the toilet very well’.her ‘tumbo’ pains have gone and she is up and walking this morning. Marvellous ! We also get feedback from a mum with a coughy, snotty baby, miraculously cured by her not cooking inside. we are interrupted by an adjacent pair of shagging donkeys. My goodness they are loud. It does not look particularly consensual either. The lady donkey’s owner races up and interrupts the coitus with a large stick.
I buy carrots and sukuma wiki at a roadside stall and feed them both by way of consolation. There are shrieks of horror from the assembled villagers. One would have thought I was sticking my head in the mouth of a blood crazed lion. Kenyans have a strange and not particularly positive attitude towards animals of every sort. A sort of ‘beat them or eat them’ approach.
Doris is still at her school meeting so we finish up, take Vixen to the matatu stage and go to Corner. I go to put some money in mpesa and buy ciggies for Amanda and Souad at Junction and then get a pikipiki to our old haunt Jowac (great music, upstairs bar overlooking the bustle of Corner and reasonable food) to meet David.