David is late. BUT he calls to explain. Which is marvellous.
We set off to Uchumi for a massive household shop at 11, pick up Kibe and head to Ruai. The children unexpectedly meet us at the grain store in Ruai village. There seem to be a couple of extras (children) but that sort of thing happens here. We head to the house, drop the shopping and, to much excitement, head back to Ruai for the traditional Sunday nyama choma and soda. We chat. They eat. The kids seem properly happy. Miriam is chatty (always a good sign) Jane is bright and not whispering (good sign) Jospeph is positively chipper and Moses is grinning like the proverbial Cheshire Cat. They spoke to their father the previous day. And it seems he is finally happt that Sammi and Mrs Sami are looking after them
Post lunch, as we now have a large sack of charcoal and a load of veg in the boot, some kids pack the car, Kibe takes a motorbike with Joseph and I take another motorbike with Jane and Miriam. There is much giggling and waving as we overtake the car. I chanel my inner Valentino Rossi and lean into the last corner as we reach the house.
Me and Mrs Sammi are very happy to have the kids back. And happier that their father finally seems to have realised that there is no way he will be able to lok after the kids. I leave it to the family to discuss whether I bring their Dad to Ruai next Sunday, or whether they come to Nairobi. Am rather hoping for the latter as it takes up less of my time.
Thence to meet with ‘Madam’. The school director. It is time to pay schol fees for this year (three terms, four children) The total is just over £500 and it gives them SUCH a great education as well as confidence and happiness. They all love the school. To this is added a tenner a term for each child for swimming lessons and around £100 for school uniform and shoes (all bought second hand and all lasting better than could ever be expected).
Joseph has gone from last in his class when he arrived (thanks to no schooling with his father) to second place, Jane has just won the Most Improved Student Award for her class and Moses is ALWAYS in the top three in his class.
Madam is keen for news of the doings of Mama Biashara. Which is where it starts to get ‘interesting’. She gasps in astonishment as I tell her about Blueberry Hill – our gay and female friendly bar/restaurat/hang out/fun factory. Apparently I should be stoning these people rather than going into business with them. Then her face clears. Her educated, middle class, school owning, child moulding face clears. Of course, she realises, I will be helping ‘these people’ so that I may lead them out of their evil ways and show them the true path of heterosexuality that they might get together as God intended and create hundreds of children they cannot afford to feed, clothe, educate or even house … (I might be interpolating slightly here). Sammi is nodding like a Churchill dog. ‘These people’ should not be allowed in society. ‘These people’ should be shunned. Madam (and noddy Sammi) want nothing to do with ‘these people’. I should add that Madam and noddy Sammi are at one with most of the population here. They are not screaming bigots. They are The Norm. I do try to keep schtum. I really do. But I think I might be able to open doors here … without kicking them down. “I am a lesbian” I say. OK OK I know that is not EXACTLY accurate, but to plunge into the murky waters of bisexuality at a time like this is asking to drown any argument that might do some good. So I settled for lesbian. Her eyebrows disappear. Sammi laughs hysterically. No, she says. Yes, I say. Maybe you don’t want me near these children ? They are at pains to assure me that my continued presence in Sammi’s home and Madam’s school is much to be desired. Amazingly, Madam gets into details … telling me that what lesbians do in bed is not sex. I am, myself amazed at how open she is about talking about the act. To say nothing of how knowledgeable. I feel an urge to say “don’t knock it till you have tried it, dear”, but repress the urge. Madam hugs me as I leave and tells me the only difference in our relationship now is that she will be praying for me. Which is pretty enlightened !!
We head back to Dagoretti Corner and eat with the lovely old shosho, while watching the Kenyan version of Spitting Image. There is one candidate for election called Sonko – a real young man of the people. He is always fully blinged up, wears earrings, talks ‘street’ and has become THE role model for young Kenyan boys. The programme closes with a parody of Gangnam Style (as Gangsta Style) with a house full of Kenyan MP’s doing the horse riding thang and rapping about ‘sexy laaaaadies’. VERY funny.
And so to bed.
First thing, I drag the four ginormous bags of goodies into the hall so David can put them in the car. It is amazing that the same bag can seem so much heavier or lighter depending on how I am feeling.
I wonder if the fact that I am now carrying around a couple of dozen lumps of pink throbbing flesh and scab thanks to the overnight attention of the mozzie population is affecting my ability to lift anything else.
We dump everything in my little slum palace, greet Margaret the Landlady, Michael the son and the chorus of CarWash Boys. It is now 10.45. As three quarters of an hour is not ‘late’ in the Kenyan definition of the word, I call Felista and asks if she wants to be picked up in Kawangware. She does. We head to the bank where I deposit a cheque for six thousand pounds, drawn on the Mama Biashara UK account, into the Mama Biashara Kenyan account. The Co Operative are distincly UNCooperative when it comes to transferring money to a Kenyan account. And this seems a sensible way to do it. Albeit, the girl tells me cheerily, it will take TWENTY ONE working days to clear. The alternatives are me coming over with wads of folding stuff (which we can only get out in lumps of two thou at a time or Moneygram (who have their own exchange rate which is usually crap but DO get the money here in ten minutes (for a fee)). So roll on the end of Feb !
We meet Felista and head for Davis and Shirtliff. Felista is enthusing wildly about Sonko – the young blinged up wannabe MP. She is convinced he will be elected. “This election is for the young” she declaims. Before going on to tell me that when she went to vote in the nominations she was gently but firmly turned away from the ballot box by “the youth”. “Have you been sent?” they asked her (ie was her vote bought and paid for) When she said no she was told by the gang guarding the polling station that she was too old to vote “Now is for change” she was told “this election is for the young”. Welcome to democracy, Kenya Style. Felista seemed quite happy to have been denied her right to vote. She is convinced all the old MPs will be out, ‘the youth’ will be in and Uhuru (still on trial at The Hague for crimes against humanity) will be President and (as a coffee farmer himself) will bring back the coffee trade to Kenya.
As we sit with the charming speccy boy at Davis and Shirtliff it transpires that my hopes that Felista had finally seen the light’ running costs-wise were dashed (an electric water pump is great but means an electricity bill of 20,000ksh which she cannot pay). But, no, the manual pump would not do she has decided. Water must be pumped not just to the ground but up to the tanks. And the home requires 10,000 litres of water a day. As there are 100 people max in the home at any time and around fifty per cent of them are small children I ask if she is opening a swimming pool. She flashes me her Death Stare and says the manual pump will never do, that I am trying to take DECIP backwards. “It is best you buy the electric pump” she says. “No”, I say, get up and leave.
She is ominously quiet in the car. We head for town to pick up the sewing machine which has been in for 5,000ksh worth of repairs. It is a Singer and they are expensive little buggers, not being from China like almost everything else. We detour via Eastleigh. This is an amazing area, 99% Somali. The main streets are disaster areas (literally). Here the saying “it looks like a bomb has struck it” is tragically accurate. There have been several bombings in the last few months. Everyone mutters darkly about Al Shabbab – but why would they bomb their own when there are so many Kenyan areas they could hit ? Anyway, Felista and I head off to find me a burka, Doris having decreed that in some areas it would be safer if I were invisible. The face covering bit is no problem, The actual garment itself is trickier. After chatting to some ladies in the street it transpires that what I need is a Sudese, and that what one does is buy the cloth and then sit and wait while a young man runs you up a bodybag with arms and a face hole for an eight quid fee. I choose rather a sophistocated steel grey. A fitting isn’t necessary … While our tailor … er … tails, we go off and buy dozens of knickers for the boys and girls of DECIP and a score of Kangas so that the big girls and the volunteers do not have to run naked from the showers to their dormitory. I am thrilled to discover that you CAN get oats in Kenya. And that brown rice here in Eastleigh is much less expensive than on the other side of Nairobi. So my dietary advice for diabetics will now contain locations and prices for buying an assortment of foods low on the glycaemic index. Oats are a bit pricey but I have the name of a wholesaler from a lovely Somali lady in the market. Her friend invites me to sit down to taste some camel milk – which is brought each day (well, overnight) from Isiolo. It tastes like thin smokey yoghurt. Not bad but an aquired taste. I think I could drink a cup, but it wouldn’t be something I would actively look forward to …
We climb some rickety stairs to check out some gorgeous tunics waving in the breeze. And discover a whole new world, I buy ten or so (gorgeous colours and each with a pair of trousers hemmed to match the tunic) and a red dress for Felista. It is a strong look for her. There is a definite majesterial look about her in the frock. The family business who make and sell the clothes in a tiny upstairs booth are Ethiopian refugees. There is a whole community of them living in a village not far away. We exchange numbers and I am due out there next week to see what Mama can do.
Now we head to Singer, via Kariokor Market to pick up some lovely kiyondos from the old (and I mean OLD) ladies who sell them there. They love it when I come because I won’t let the men near the negotiations. I deal directly with the shoshos. Generally I pay £4 for one. And that is a monumental bargain. One old lady appears, tiny and birdlike. I must have seemed scarier than I felt when I asked what her price was because she offered me two for about £2.30 each. I don’t believe that would even cover the cost. So I told he my price was £4 (500ksh) and that that is what everyone else was being paid. She grinned from ear to ear (not very far).
The Singer is locked in a cupboard, it transpires, when we get to the workshop. So we head back to Dagoretti Corner via Easycoach where I book my bus to Awendo for Friday.
Now Felista is worrying (aloud) that her children will starve before the money comes through from CWAC and murmers sadly that there is no food in the store. I know my queue. As I am not buying an electric pump I will pay off some of the arrears at the posho mill and we will buy some food. Felista starts again about the electric pump but I say I will not buy a pump that will simply get her into debt.
We drop my purchases at the house, I grab a handful of painkillers (it has been a LONG day) and we rumble through the dark to the posho mill.
Mama B pays 30,000 shillings worth of arrears and spend another ten on basic necessities.
As arranged, Doris is there and we pay for some uji she has given out to some desperate cases and I establish 10,000ksh credit so that she can continue to do this. We meet mothers with starving kids all the time and, while the business gets going, we give them the incredibly nutritious porridge that Milka mixes here. It is absolutely what my gran (referring to her incredible soups) used to call “a meal in itself”. FYI £1 = 136ksh so far. The exchange rate is dropping and my shrieking “more money, I need more money!” down the phone to poor, snowbound Zetta in Deal (where one life has already been claimed by the snow) has resulted in her taking her life in her hands each day to get £250 out the cash machine, which she will send today (£1000) via Moneygram , meaning that the exchange rate will be even lower. Hopefully in 21 working days we will have a nice stash in our Kenyan account and Zetta will be spared her Captain Oates impressions.
But I digress.
It is now about 7.30pm and Doris and I have Mama Biashara businesses to check up on. David drops us up in Koinange and takes Felista off to Waithake.
We cross the sewer and enter a jolly pub. Purity is there (a woman, not the quality) as are the projector group boys and Purity’s Blueberry Hill partner. “We need to talk” says Doris. That is NEVER a good thing to hear.
To precis, this is what has happened since the last visit
- Blueberry Hill – was a huge success, bursting to the seams each night with happy diners and drinkers. To the extent that other local bar owners started bribing the police to hassle us. And then they went to the Department of Health (with a little bribe) and got them to close us down on a technicality
- The Projector Group. They were promised a projector by their local councillor. On the basis of that Mama B put up the rest of the start up. The councillor failed to get nominated in the first round of elections and announced to the boys that it had been their job to make sure he got the nomination. As they had ‘failed’, he was no longer going to give them the projector
- Snooker Hall group. A similar tale. The landlord who had agreed with them that they could take over the hall took the money for the table and the cues and then announced that the deal was off.
These are what we know in Kenya as “challenges”. And they have been met in the following way.
All the groups still have their start up grants (or in the case of Blueberry Hill which has been running a while, an equivalent amount in money made by the business) which is a miracle and a HUGE tribute to Mama B’s people.
The amazing Purity and partner got together with the Projector Boys and found another property – this one in Koinange. MUCH better property. A bar with a butchery. They moved the Blueberry Hill business here and the Projector Boys put in ntheir start up grant to make the business start. So the bar is buzzing, the butchery is doing well and other food comes from the food ladies from Blueberry Hill who, rather than giving up, make food at home and deliver it to their regular Blueberry Hill customers at work.
The Snooker Boys took their table (one dark night) and it is now esconced behind the bar. The plan being to run the enterprises symbiotically.
We eat delicious goat knuckle stew, I quaff a heady mixture of bone soup and Tusker Malt and we plan the future.
We are getting a quotation for fixing the back room which presently looks more like a run down carport, then the Snooker Hall will be open. We are negotiating about the license (a restaurant license will allow them to open 10am till 11pm but costs 30,000ksh)
I am so unbelievably impressed with these groups. I really think they should be supported. There are other plans – for showing films after the bar closes and selling sodas and popcorn, showing educational and informative DVDs (some of which we can make ourselves) before the bar opens, again with sodas or tea and coffee. All and any suggestions are welcome.
Blueberry Hill WILL re open. Doris went to see the lady in the Heath Dept and, when she actually saw Blueberry Hill and heard what we were doing there, she said if we sort the floor and replace one curtain with a sheet of mabati, we are good to go.
As I bounce back to Corner in a No 2 matatu I am, all things considered, very happy.
22nd January 2013
Firstly APOLOGIES for not having noticed that somehow the smartarse in my new sexy Netbook had decreed that I took “my queue” from Felista. Of course that should be CUE. I shall double check all copy from now on
A double workshop day. I organise medication, supplements and try to organise the paperwork so far. David arrives pretty promptly and, as Doris has moved the goalposts slightly vis a vis time (to be fair she is running around like a blue arsed fly … with a seriously ‘fly’ arse (ooo get me talking all street)) we head to Junction where I grab a little internet time and further deplete my current account, pop to Yaya where I buy bags in which to distribute medication and go to 56 to get some deworming and malaria meds from the wholesale chemist.
You are never far away from a reminder that this is a hard place. As we drive to 56, past Congo I realise that this was where the lady was thrown from a moving matatu yesterday and killed. Everyone was talking about it yesterday, but in today’s newspaper I read that it was just here. Apparently the tout told the lady the fare was 30/-. She boarded. Then (as happens) he announced it was 40/-. She only had 30/- and so he opened the door and threw her out of the moving vehicle into the path of a bus which ran her over and killed her. As the matatu and tout raced off, the typical Nairobi mob gathered, set fire to the bus, ran off with any stealable parts and then started stoning any cars that came down the same bit of road. The woman is still unidentified.
Meanwhile – the bloody wholesale chemist has closed so I bargain my way to a load of Ibuprofen and deworming meds at the place across the road and we set off to pick up Doris.
The workshop is as out of the way and secluded as Doris can make it. For security.
There are around sixty five people gathered, a mixture, it transpires, of Zimbabwean refugee women and male sex workers desperate to escape the streets. The Zimbabwean ladies are ‘of age’ and have been forced to work as casual labourers (not for the faint of heart or any other part of the body) to eke out a living.
As is happens they are gifted sewers, embroiderers and crocheters. There are three separate groups who want to make and sell vitambe – the matching sets of tablecloths, arm covers and what we might call antimacassers without which no Kenyan home is complete. Each group makes a slightly different type. And all of them have orders. It should be said that, much to my horror, most of them seem to have about eight children. Widows and desertees all. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr !
We start to do medical care with the first group of ten ladies and discover goitre, a ghastly fungal eye infection and a miasma of pain and ache and swelling and discharge. We fix them up as best I can, arrange hospital and dental appointments and Doris decrees that we cannot do more medical as we don’t have time. So we move on to business only …
As well as the vitambe ladies we have boys who want to sell pigs, girls who want to sell strawberries, an egg selling cooperative, a big chicken group and an interesting quintet of sex workers who put forward a project, supported by ASK – Agricultural Society of Kenya – to run a herd of dairy goats. They have everything worked out, ASK guarantees to buy the milk and gives two year’s worth of free medical cover (for the goats, not the sex workers) and the income looks impressive. MY only worry is that now Mama B is tangling with officialdom … and I am not good with officialdom. But this is a VERY good deal …
By the time we leave it is about 8pm. We drop Doris at Kenol and head to Dagoretti. I have promised John Kibe that I will look at his baby son who is having difficulty breathing (never good). Mainly at night, I manage to ascertain. So we visit Kibe at home. Two small rooms, no dividing door. In one room there is the three piece suite (with vitamba). In the other there are two beds for four people and the baby PLUS the cooking area and all storage. The air is thick with kerosene fumes. There are no windows in mabati houses and the door is kept firmly closed. The baby is positively bouncing with health. But, unsurprisingly, a bit choked at night. I suggest moving the jiko (stove) and putting it outside (easier said than done when it is likely to be stolen). Also opening the door and airing the place. If the baby cannot breathe in the night, take him to the door and let him fill his lungs. No, I assure Kibe’s wife, he will not get pneumonia.
Arriving home I realise I have again forgotton to Doom my house and resign my flesh to being feasted upon by who knows what. But I hope they die of Prednisolone poisoning and Tramadol overdose …
More tomorrow …
Wednesday Some time in January
The toilets are flooding at DECIP, I am informed by a gloomy Felista at about half seven in the morning. She needs a pump to get rid of the poo. If only dairy cows would eat that too, I muse. It will cost 14,000ksh. Which seems fair. We talk more and I THINK what she is angling for is still the electric pump for the well (she is a terrier when she wants something) but powered by a diesel generator which will cost 14,000. We will talk more later. I can do nothing until I get yet more dosh from the indefatuigable, but horribly snowbound Zetta.
I meet with Julius who, it transpires, is not at all well. He lies on my bed, I give him tea, bananas (all the food I have), ibuprofen, cod liver oil and Kilkof. He has just come from hospital where he god malaria meds and diclofenac for aches and pains. I whip away the diclofenac – the enemy of stomach linings everywhere (and Julius is already on a corrosive mix of ARVs). The trip to Western went as well as could be expected in a flood. But he now has the contacts he needs to turn a very good profit from what is more or less panning for gold. A basin of rocks costs 1000 bob, the crushing 100 bob and the amount of gold from that, on average, will net him about 4 or 5000 in Nairobi. Less travel (1600 return) and minimal living costs in Western …
He also sowed the seeds of two other businesses for people there – selling waterproof jackets to pikipiki boys and selling household stuff like basins and buckets. All will go with Julius when he goes to Western and be sold there for excellent return. Julius will then bring back the dosh to buy more.
Zetta’s moneygram comes through (she must have been at the post office at the crack of nine) and I rush off to collect, taking with me a rucksack and two bags of condoms and basic medication and supplements for the workshop.
I meet Doris on the highway to Nakuru and we bus it to an area called 87. Lots of areas are simply named after the number of the bus that terminates there. She has borrowed a house from one of the ladies Mama B has already financed. The lady gives us a welcome cup of tea and we start …
The first group consists of fifteen guys in their mid twenties who have been working as rent boys on the streets. About half are married with families. They have a well worked out business plan. They are going to collect, bag and sell chicken poo. It is a traditional farming method here in Kenya and in several other countries too. Of course we are not talking ghastly western style factory farmed chickens, but happy clucky broilers with a life before the pot looms. Having googled it, it transpires that chicken poo is full of nitrogen and other good-for-cows stuff. They collect from farmers in the area, fortify with fishmeal and a vitamin mix and sell in bags of 90kg. They have a deal (like the dairy goat boys yesterday) with ASK who will loan them (for a substantial deposit, natch) a weighing machine and a bag sealing machine. ASK will also sell them the fishmeal and vitamin mix and then buy all the poo they can collect at 1500ksh per bag. The boys want five bicycles (for poo collection), a giant sieve (they make it themselves and it is about three metres across) for getting rid of small stones and twigs and non-cow-friendly bits and bobs, and the deposit for ASK. One of them has a grannie with a space where they can work and she is giving them a month rent free. We also agree that, after about six months – once they and their poo are known, they should tell ASK to push off and buy the fishmeal and vitamins elsewhere (I know they can get a better price) and also sell direct to the farmers (when they will get 2400 instead of 1500. However getting to learn the poo trade while earning is great and ASK will be VERY useful in giving them a start. The grant is over 60,000ksh between the fifteen (about £520) but they will be adding other guys to the group (each boy in the group will take one other boy from the street within the first three months OR when they leave ASK, Mama Biashara gets 15,000ksh back from the deposit on the ASK equipment. This could be a HUGELY successful business, I am absolutely sure. I have never been so excited by poo.
The next group comprises five street sex workers who had been rescued by Doris from the cells at the police station in Kikuyu. They had been arrested for not having a health certificate while working the streets. Doris got them out, assuring the policeman in charge that she could get them off the streets and into another business through Mama Biashara. She took them for breakfast in a cafe and the girls paid by washing dishes. While they were scrubbing away, one of them, a bright girl called Abigail, overheard the cafe owner having kittens down the phone to her Smokies (sausages) supplier who was letting her down badly. Abigail was in there like Flynn and now the five are here asking for a budget to start a Smokies supply business – they have four cafes lined up (all under the same ownership as the Kikuyu one), the lady owner is keen to help and the profit is 150ksh per pack. Each order is for 20 packets and the orders are daily. The girls get their grant which is also outside the 3000/- per person limit. But I am coming to realise that costs have gone up and that it is better to fund a business properly and ensure it gets a good start than to cripple it from the word go with insufficient funding. SO the girls get 5000/- each (about £40). They have already identified five more girls who will each get a Smokies supply business or direct selling business within(they assure me) one month. I am invited back to meet the next generation of this busines when I come in March. There are boys selling chickens (they have already got a load of orders lined up) and a very impressive group of girls who have got themselves a great mix of orders for rice – some wholesale and some smaller. We leave broke, but very happy with what Mama B has done. On the matatu back I chat to a bloke who explains the ins and outs of maize farming and (more importantly) selling when you are dealing with the National Cereals Board.
My cat, her two new kittens and I drink milk (her) and Tusker(me) and have a relaxed night before the hurly burly of tomorrow’s market and medical day. Zzzzzzzzzzz
I schlep several large bags of clothes, shoes and medication to the Easycoach station. Despite leaving two hours for what is a fifteen minute journey without much traffic, it is only because the bus itself is delayed that I get on board. TWO HOURS in solid traffic jams largely caused by fat policewomen with creative ideas on traffic management. I get on board and, basically, fall asleep and wake seven hours later in Awendo. I rush to the bank and get in just before it closes. So now I have money. Thank you Zetta.
In the evening I see a few sick people, a few not sick people and discuss schedule, problems, troubleshooting etc with Jayne. Business tomorrow then medical on Sunday is the plan.
Then I speak with George, a small quiet man who is the one Jayne thinks could run/manage the pads and pampers project (a project making very very low cost sanitary pads and pampers using the bagasse from inside sugar cane as the base for the padding (traditionally this is what the Luo women used in the old days). The project would also produce jaggery and fuel briquettes, meaning that the sugar can is completely used up, with no waste. Lack of affordable sanitary protection means tens of thousands of girls drop out of school every month. It is a huge problem here. And slum babies get wrapped in used carrier bags for nappies – or nothing at all). The project really needs an ‘on the ball’ manager with an eye for what used to be called “time and motions”, people management skills, an ability to kick ass and do bookwork and an aptitude for sales when necessary. Someone who knows how to run a business. George is a softly spoken man with a penchant for jargon, a sociology degree and a great love of planning. Before I stop him, he litters our conversation with words like “capacity building, projections, orientation, stakeholders, beneficiaries and “the management”” I am almost crushed under the weight of my erect hackles. George has as much understanding of running a self sustaining (albeit not for profit) business as I have of the intricate infrastructure and politics of London Fashion Week.
At the risk of offering too much information, I notice that my wee has turned the colour of Newcastle Brown. And smells like boiled cabbage.
While organising books and thoughts in the big room where we work, I get into conversation with Brian, Jayne’s 18 year old son. A singularly impressive man/boy. Football is his passion, but, like everything else in the twisted, form over content way of Kenya, even the most talented player will not be allowed into a team or to take part in a tournament if he does not have the requisite uniform.
Brian has no boots. So he is not allowed to play. He has a local team of similar youths. They are talented, but uniformless and so cannot progress. He also helps boys off the street or out of ‘bad habits’ – something the discipline of football training is used for across the country. He is, as I say, impressive. And so I take a chance and, on behalf of Gus Whyte (Mama B’s Scottish Donor of the Year) Mama B equips the team with jerseys, shorts, socks boots and two proper footballs. They can now start rising through the ranks and earning money and kudos. And Brian will start a training programme for disaffected youth … All this for about £120. Brian is already in direct contact with Gus. Should a new Pele arise from the wastelands of South Nyanza, we will all know who to thank.
The business workshop is open before I have had a cup of tea. I do the Rules of Mama Biashara and Jayne translates from Swahili into Luo. The first group want to sell omena (small dried fish – outrageously popular amongst the Luo). Sadly they suffer from a disease which I believe is a les fatal but more irritating variant on Mad Cow Disease. I have named it Stupid Cow Disease. They have no idea how many basins of omena are in a sack, nor how many tins in a basin. Therefore they do not know the cost price therefore they cannot calculate the sales price. I pretty much know the information but it is absolutely necessary that THEY know. I explain this to them. They don’t understand. We explain again. They look stunned as I point to the door.
There are milk sellers and avocado businesses, a hairdressing saloon, outdoor chippies, rice and maize and kerosene sellers. Then there are the cooking fat girls who also suffer from SCD. There are no luo words for ‘retail’ and ‘wholesale’, and even the concept seems strange to them. Yes they had been to the wholesaler. And the price is 1800 per ndo (10kg). Yes they had ALL been to the wholesaler. However, some tooth pulling later it transpires that they had NOT all been to the wholesaler TOGETHER. I hrrumph and tell them I will find a price. They witter out.
There are banana and firewood and sugar businesses meticulously planned to run at a thundering loss, a lady who makes beautiful knitted baby bootees (using pieces of fence wire as needles) and a potter who makes gloriously coloured lidded pots in fabulous frothy dangly holders.
The omena women come back in and sit looking hopefully at me. They have discussed it, they say, and they now know the information. No you don’t, I tell them.You have just gone outside and talked and now you are going to tell me anything that will make me give you money. So now you are not just stupid, but liars. They smirk. I tell them they need to go and get the correct information and that I need proof they have done the research. They don’t go. GO! I tell them. They don’t go. Then I will go, I say. And do. I grab bag and jacket and stomp out. I do need to go to Awendo to get some medicines, but the nearest pikipiki stage is about half a mile away. I trudge off into the sunshine and dust.
Jayne eventually follows and we head to Awendo for some of the meds that the previous night’s patients need.
The journey back was slightly fraught owing to the marshmallowy consistency of the piki piki’s rear tyre. There was so much rear action going on that if he had flung in a couple of heel leads we’d have scored a perfect set of tens on Strictly Come Dancing.
When we get back I get a huge treat – a big basin of water in the little shed beside the loo to wash in. It is hot. It is fabulous. It is mud by the time I finish.
There are a whole new lot of business groups waiting when I drip back into the house plus some dodgy looking rashes and a woman who is peeing blood. I eventually get to bed at about ten.
Medical day today. They have been waiting since 8. I do my usual speech about all the things that do not qualify as “ill”. And say that those who DO should be seen first. There is an old lady perched gingerly on a seat. She has “wounds”. That is never good. They are, she tells me “down there”. I take her through to my little bed and put down a precautionary towel. She presents her undercarriage, the rear portion of which looks a little like the head of a cauliflower. To cut a long story short, I am pretty sure she has the clap. I take her back through to the front room (ditching the towel) and gently suggest this might be the case. Ah yes she nods. She was treated for gonorrhea two months ago. She had had it for ten years. What, I ask, did they give her ? Four tablets of Amoxill, apparently. I suppress my urge to scream. Explain to her about compresses to ease the itching and pain, and add a sackful of virulent antibiotics to my shopping list. There is a woman with a huge pus-filled hole in her foot, dozens of coughs and wheezes, a man with alarmingly high blood pressure, a couple of fainting women, chickenpox, cellulitis, diaorrhea and vomiting, worms, amoebas and a woman with a massively swollen face. There is a lovely little girl (three and a half) who is covered from head to toe in violent urticaria and is so hot that it is genuinely alarming to touch her. I apply bicarb cool compresses, administer Calpol and she falls asleep for about three hours. During which time I learn that, without doing a CD4 count, some pillock of a doctor in a dodgy clinic in the hills has put the kid on full-on ARVs. The urticaria is certainly a reaction. There is a screaming, twisted woman who is convinced she is dying of something in her stomach, who I cure miraculously with diclofenac gel and a pair of powerful thumbs (her gluteus maximus was in spasm). OK not cured but she walked out ok, having crawled in screaming. And I lined up more gel and more massage each day for her. Then there is a fair old amount of herpes and a woman with a “growth” in her arse that turns out to be piles. As it is getting late, I triage the last thirty or so patients and notice that all but four of them do what I rfer to as The Kenyan Malady Dance. Basically it is a version of the children’s favourite “Heads Shoulders Knees and Toes”. When you ask them what is wrong they say “I am sick” When you ask them where, they go into a version of that dance, including back and chest. I swallow the urge to shriek “you think YOU are ill ? I’ve got bloody Lupus ! I am entitled to a bloody disabled sticker ! Do you KNOW how many Tramadol I have had today ?” Instead I tend to an embarrassed boy who has a UTI (and is 14) and an old bloke with a mouth like something out of a horror story.
The little girl with urticaria, the blood peeing woman and a couple of others really need their meds urgently so I rush off up to the pikipiki station and flag down a passing bike. The ride is hiarious. I don’t know whether he is dancing in time to the music that he has on a little radio on the dashboard, or whether he has racing aspirations, but the last time I saw that much upper body movement on a motorbike, Cal Crutchlow was involved in a dogfight for a World Supersport podium. But we get there. And on the way back I being to enjoy his Crutchlowesque hunch and punch action. And we get back in record time. Everyone gets their meds and I get a chapati and beans.
By this time I am shattered. So when Zaidie (hanger on and obviously on the make) wants to explain her soya bean project I am less than enthused. BUT the project is amazing. Really good. However, given that the people involved already have a sugar plantation, I furiously make notes and plan to nick the idea for someone more needy.
I take my ever increasing collection of scabs and sores to bed and scratch myself gently into sleep.
Cal (my pikipiki racer man) is bang on time and I get to Awendo, thence to Rongo with time to spare. Yet again, I get on the Easycoach and fall asleep, waking up as we enter the Easycoach terminus in Nairobi, very sweaty, but pretty happy.
Tuesday 28 January 2013
Back in Nairobi I deperately need to get some buying done. The never ending generosity of Land Securities is about to extend to giving Mama Biashara a new space. A huge space. Still on the ground floor just opposite the one we have. Mama Biashara will not just have a shop, but an office and some space to show off the work we are doing here – I am planning a sofa and table with info and a DVD player showing some of the videos I have, plus a few thousand of the photos I have taken. So I need to make sure the shop is looking pretty sexy and am hoping that the lovely Laura at British Airways is as helpful about my excess on the way back as she was on the way out.
My first stop is my fantastic pharmacy. They give me wholesale prices on all the medication I buy and they are really well informed, on the ball and NOT the usual “amoxill, piriton and ibuprofen cures all” brigade. I get all the meds for Awendo (including a MASSIVE bag of assorted antibiotics for the old lady with the raging clap), a job lot of acyclovir (there is always another person with herpes), and various bits and bobs. The only thing they don’t have are the Anusol suppositories for Rebecca’s “growths”. I also get a couple of boxes of free condoms.
I head to Kijabe Street market, meet up with some regular suppliers, meet a couple of new ones (stand by for some gorgeous brass and aluminium jewellery and some of Kamau’s finest decorated gourds). Then we head to River Road to pick up nail polish for the Kucha Kool kits (manicure sets) we are taking to Nakuru tomorrow. My lovely chemist lady ferrets around the recesses of her storage to get me 15 bottles of 10 different colours. The manicure kits are a great business for the right girls. 100 shillings per manicure and an average of 15 manicures a day is an amazing income for a girl who wants to get off the streets and into an independent life.
Doris is waiting with some groups of Zimbabwean women (the ones who are having to do casual labouring to eke a living) who want a grant so we head back to Corner to meet Doris and the Zimbabweans.
The women are very sussed. These are terrific women – smart, strong and sooooooo long suffering you would not believe it. Husbands divide into three categories 1) dead 2)”anaenda anakuja” (he comes and goes) 3) useless/drunkard. The average number of children is around six.
The women are anything from first to third generation Zimbabwean refugee. Their community is VERY male dominated (albeit the men are useless or drunk), and their religion forbids the use of medicines. Someone gets sick, they pray. Frankly, I am beginning to thing that the Amoxill/Piriton/Ibuprofen brigade are quite smart after all.
The first group are planning to sell fresh ginger. They know the market, they know their suppliers and they are going (at my insistence) to do half wholesale and half retail to maximise profit. There are 9 women in the group, with 40 children between them and their total grant is just under £300.
It is around £30 each. And I think this business will fly.
The second group is another of our dairy goat farming groups who will do business through the Agricultural Society of Kenya. It is a good enough deal (albeit we are supping with the deviland I will be couselling long spoons) and ASK are already asking to meet with Mama B to discuss working together . The dairy group (8 women 29 children) have the advantage of having a Free Shed – donated by one of the group – and get their funding.
There are a couple of young men at the other side of the Mali Cafe (our meeting place of choice) and Doris cousels me to be careful. There is a fair old amount of counting and fumbling under the table but the money is handed over and, after waiting till the young men have long gone, the ladies leave.
I do medications with Doris, label everything and hand over the packages. Then David takes her to hand them out and I go back to the Carwash Cabanna.
Opening email I discover, from Jojo, that Karen, our newest volunteer, who was in charge of Thursday/Friday/Saturday has had some sort of breakdown and was last seen in an ambulance being taken away from her home. You see people ? Mama Biashara is not for the faint of heart !!!
My cats are fattening up on UHT milk and tinned sardines. And so are their fleas (I suspect) on ME. Anything that is not a scab is a lump, anything not a lump a bruise. I am considering suing the manufacturers of Doom, the spray with which the air in my lair is heavy and which promises death to anything that crawls or flies.
Off to scratch.
I have developed a massive pink throbbing intruder between my buttocks (on the left one looking right). This area has been devoid of the casual visitor for longer than I care to remember and it irritates me (in all senses of the word) that the first should be a bloody mosquito (or whatever it was).
I get to Junction and deliver to Evans the Soapstone the letter of thanks from my father for the stunningly gorgeous carving he got for Christmas. I collect the rest of my orders and persuade a taxi driver to take me up to the house for 300/-
Felista wants to meet and I feel that my ire is damp enough to get through a meeting without committing some sort of race crime.
Doris is also coming to collect medicines for some of our workshop attendees.
So, over milky coffee (I have yet to find a cafe in the whole of the slums that serves coffee as anything but a mug of hot water or milk, and an individual sachet of Nescafe. I have tried paraphrasing Stewart Lee (even in Kiswahili), but the Kenyans seem unimpressed by the “every sip a baby dies” argument.
Felista, it transpires, had not called the girl in Nakuru (see previous diary) to change the workshop. She has not spoken to the girl for a week. So she says. And I am inclined to believe her. Felista drives me crazy in many ways, but she is not a liar.
We discuss the Big News of the day. Felista has got a huge order for disinfectant and liquid soap. Regular readers will be well aquainted with the many advantages of liquid soap manufacture as a moneyspinning cottage industry. Felista has got an order from a man who supplies schools. All she has to do is fill the order … enter Mama Biashara Stage Left. This business could really help offset some of the costs of running DECIP.
Talking of the costs of running DECIP, there is a great need of 8000/- to hire the Poo Truck. It has been many many months since the septic tank under the loos at DECIP has been pumped out. “It is necessary” says Felista. It almost certainly is. So I stump up for The Poo Truck which comes and sucks it all up and takes it away. All the disinfectant that Felista can manufacture wouldn’t be able to hide the smell if that tank overflowed.
Doris arrives. We roundly dis the girl in Nakuru and NGOs in particular, we discuss the forthcoming election and the rampant tribalism that will almost certainly mar it again.
We discuss going back to Nakuru to revisit the Dumpsite Dwellers. I am absolutely firm that I want to go to the dump itself. Once I have been there and met the people THEN I am happy to go off to a
more secure place to do anything money related. But I need to go to the ground first. We plan that trip for Monday and agree that tomorrow we will do more medical work with the Zimbabwean refugee ladies (if their tribal elder allows us) and if we are not allowed we will go to Mathare.
Some excitement both outside my tiny slum palace and within. There is a slightly dodgy looking spider on my little Netbook so I capture it in a glass and google frantically. It is nowhere hnear deadly, apparently but can give you a sting. I have QUITE enough of those so I depositi it outside. Meanwhile, just outside the carwash there is an attempted carjacking. My landlady’s son, Israel, sees off the carjacker and, only an hour later, some fat, grumpy looking policemen lumber up to confiscate the gun and stand and look sullen. Not much more than the average day in many parts of London, tho’. Except for the spider.
The usual crowd of around 200 Kenyans has gathered to ooh and ahh and shake their heads and look at the big blue 4×4. They are still there when David arrives and we set off.
Turns out the entire Zimbabwean community have gone off to another funeral. Friday seems to be a big day for death. So we go off to Mathare. But not before David and I go to Westlands to buy a stack of water purification tablets for DECIP. As their electric pump is broken, they are drawing water by hand which means the well is open which means (or can mean) contaminants. Mama B has refused to buy an electric pump as Felista simply cannot pay the electricity bill. She has spurned my offer of a good manual pump. I THINK she thinks I will crack. I won’t. I also have to buy a load more medication and some latex gloves. What with the places my hands are going this trip, I am using them up like loo role in a norovirus epidemic. I also have to make my almost daily trip to the cash machine. Although money can and does go far here, there are things like antibiotics which, if you want the decent ones, do cost. And nothing is for nothing here in Kenya – sending someone to a hospital costs 500/- before anyone even says hello. The Xrays for the nice old man with the slipped disc (our Mosque workshop) were 900/- and the Zimbabwean lady with goitre cost is about £28 just to have confirmed what I told her and to be informed that an operation would cost a small fortune. So costs do mount. Doris has found up a company that will help with donating medicines. I am making up a list of the ones we use most. It is a fantastic opportunity.
We go to Kawangware to meet Felista (ok, in the HOPE of meeting Felista) to buy the necessary chemicals to make the disinfectant etc. She is three hours late so we collect Doris, David gets something done to the shocks on the car (which barely survived the journey back from Nakuru), I buy the ingredients for 200 litres of disinfectant, 100 litres of liquid soap and deposit a batch of tablets for making bleach (W12 Shopping and Leisure, Poundworld, 36 litres for £1) with Felista who has just arrived.
We go to Mathare where a crowd of locals are waiting to get medicated. Mathare is, to be fair, a singularly crap place. It makes Kibera look like a holiday resort. Two local lads have organised the workshop (at the request of Doris). I do my little speech about “if your baby has a cough and congestion at night … if you have “ulcers” (point at solar plexus and grimace) … if you have sore back/legs/head/arms/knees etc etc etc … you are NOT SICK. So go to the end of the queue. Needless to say they ignore me. But I triage as best I can. And start off with a young lady with pungent thrush and a girl with a terrible laceration from palm to halfway up her forearm which seems to have been pulled together with wire and left. Her tendons are buggered and there seems to be nerve damage. She gets a hospital visit. Then there are the usual sores and untreated infestations, a woman with bleeding piles and a load of snotty sticky children. Then there is a lovely lady with more problems than them all put together. She is an albino. She is stick thin, her eyelids don’t seem to meet, her eyes look like they are bleeding and her skin feels like elephant hide. I give her everything I have medically, think about an eye appointment, pack her with supplements and give her money for food. We will be coming back to Mathare and I want to see if we can get her going in a business.
We leave the workshop at about six and go off into the very bowels (you know you are in the bowels because of the smell) of the slum to visit a lady who is, we are told, too sick to come to the workshop. She is lying on a couch. She has been there for some time. She has lymphodoema which she is making incalculably worse by lying very still on her affected leg. It has gone dead, she says. “Big surprise!!” I say. We give her lecithin, garlic, Vit E and cod liver oil. I tell her she is making herself sick. I do some massage on the leg, do a pretty impressive mime version of the lymphatic system, get her moved, TRY to impress on her that she must move, should exercise etc. I tell her neighbour and her grandchild (one of six the old lady is nominally looking after). I get her to flex the leg as much as she can. She is irritatingly whiney and I can feel my inner FLorence Nightingale retreat. But we explain about leaving the door open when you cook (the room was thick with fumes from the jiko as we sat), leave vitamins (from HTC and strawberry flavoured for kids) for the children and promise to come back before I go. We make our way back to the car. It is PITCH black and I use up precious battery power on my phone using the torch. I do NOT want to step from the Primrose Path (such as it is) here and find myself knee deep in … well …I don’t know exactly what it is that makes that distinctive smell, but nothing good.
We finish the day in a bar halfway back to Corner. IT has just opened today and everyone is very jolly. We talk loud politics and have a lovely time. Yes, I drink beer.
Buying, buying, buying. There is no water in the house so I have a coffee and a bit of a wash up at Java House. Head to town and start collecting stuff.
The indefatigable Zetta has sent another Moneygram but, as I approach Equity’s Mama Ngine Street Branch (it does foreign currency and so, Moneygram) the door is closed. Ooo nothing quite so frustrating as having the reference number burning a hole in my phone and nowhere to use it. I try a couple of other places but one says their system is down and the other is in the grip of a power cut.
My tiny slum palace is now chokka with new stock for the shop. I have a powerful vision of our new premises, hung with batik and loveliness, resplendent with all manner of buyables.
I meet Doris for a catch up at Corner and have an early night.
The day starts incredibly well as I discover that Forex at Junction actually opens on a Sunday and so Zetta’s agonised stumbling around London to get me the money were not in vain. Moneygram – although in almost every way superior to the usual banking system in terms of getting money to Africa quickly, efficiently and without the sender having to undergo six months of investigation and an unlubricated cavity search – operates its own exchange rate and to say both sender and receiver are financially stiffed, would be understating to a fault. But I extricate what I can and set off. I meet with Janet The Soapstone who, after a couple of miscarriages and an emergency C-Section, had produced a child and has come back to work, selling at the little Prestige Sundayt Market. She is also the one who runs the Gus Whyte Memorial Kindergarten and it is Rent Day. It is a free school and having it allows some of the mums to work during the day. As well as starting the kids off with a teeny tiny bit of education. I arrange to come to the school the next day. I also buy her a phone. A basic Nokia for about £10. She has had to sell almost everything to pay for the c-section (which she had to go to the other end of Kenya to have as the costs in Nairobi are just too high). A phone puts her properly back in business.
There is, of course, the almost daily trip to the chemist for medicines required by recent workshops. A sudden shortage of anusol pessaries in Dagoretti Corner is a bit of a problem, but not a huge one. Just, one might say, a bit of a pain in the arse.
I also meet with the father of the Ruai children and give him twenty quid to go to Ruai and spend the day with them. He is penniless and works kibarua (casual labouring). The last time I was in Kenya, having agreed to let the kids stay in Ruai with Uncle Sammi the Headmaster (where Mama B pays school fees and contributes to rent and food) he then had a hissy fit and insisted that they all come to Kabiria with him in the dirt and the lack of food and the no education. I promptly withdrew my offer of driving lessons and test to allow him to get (formally) his driving licence. Since then, having seen the kids scrabbling in the dirt around him, he let them go back to Ruai and Sammi. We re-enter preliminary talks about getting him that driving licence that could allow him to earn enough money to take the kids back and actually look after them. £80 to rebuild a family doesn’t seem bad. And, after those several false starts, he does seem to be keen to do what is best for them. So when I go back, we will see …
I get back to the house and start to pack. I need to know how many excess bags to tell the Lovely Laura at BA I have. Bit by bit I try to divide the heavy and the light up evenly. There is a LOT of stuff.
It transpires that we cannot go to the dumpsite at Nakuru tomorrow, for another business workshop, because there are political meetings scheduled there and there is quite likely to be trouble. Plan B is we go back to Mathare and do a business workshop there.
The medication has been in the car since Friday and I do a fair old bit or sorting out when David arrives. Then, via Junction for Bicarbonate of Soda, we head to Wanyee Road to buy jerrycans for Felista’s new Detergent (or ‘defector’, as she calls it) and Soap business. We get enough for 200 litres of both and then, as she isn’t there, get a receipt and tell the bloke in charge that Felista will be along ‘soon’. We collect Doris and head to Mathare for a business workshop. We have to go to another location in the slum and the boys who are Doris’s contacts here have borrowed a house. It is a little difficult to find and the locals are a tad less than friendly as we blunder into the wrong dead end a couple of times. The air is more fly than oxygen (we seem to have stumbles on the fish gutting quarter) and the little mini sewers that criss cross the pathways shimmer with that distinctive pong. I think I am beginning to recognise the constituent parts. It does smell quite like Kenyan poo. Spend enough time in a country, eating locally, and your poo starts to change smell. Bear with me. My poo now smells Kenyan. And the base notes (as it were) are the same as the little sewers. I think it might be a mix of rotted sukuma wiki and manage (greens), with an element of fermented pineapple (which in turn rots everything) and then … well, no sure. But I digress.
The groups here are younger, many of the women single and most of them with gloriously few children. I consider making sterilisation or at least contraception a prerequisite for a Mama B grant but realise that this might smack of eugenics. Which never looks good to the Charity Commission.
We start another dairy goat project (the girls have really done their homework), a couple of rice businesses (who have stacked up a good roster of orders from local hotels and schools by the time they meet with us), a fresh ginger wholesale and retail co-operative and a very smart group of five women who want to start a florist’s business. They have the training, they have the orders, they know exactly where and how to get the flowers (which involves a refundable deposit) and the profit margin is huge. This is really well thought out and impressively innovative. Kelly, the main force behind the business is a force to be reckoned with. The business has huge potential and will (as agreed) train a girl a month once it is established in floristry and bring her into an ever expanding organisation.
After the groups we have a couple of individuals. One is a beautiful girl called Mercy. Doris met her on the street the previous night. Mercy was at the end of her tether. Working as a commercial sex worker is a hard hard life. So now she has her own Smokies (hot sausage … no, the irony is not lost on me) business. The cooker will belong to Mama Biashara, meaning that, in time, if we get another girl in the same area who wants a snacks business – tea and coffee or mandazi ot chips – we can add her to the business (under the same payment to the City Council) and she can share the cooker. Many of her hot sausages, Doris points out, will be sold to the men who used to push their own hot sausages her way. They like Mercy and are, apparently, very supportive of her business plan. I have been offered a freebie when I come back. Hot sausage.
Back at Corner I eat mutura while David and Doris have fish. Just two more days to go. And so much to DO !
Disaster !! The day begins with an email from the Lovely Laura at BA explaining that BA’s kind offer of free excess baggage only applied en route to Kenya and NOT on the way back. That which months in Kenya’s most unsavoury slums eating and drinking with utter lack of consideration for nasties in the hooha has failed to do, BA accomplished in one tiny email. I feel my bowels turn to water. OK only metaphorically. I dash off a heartfelt plea to Lovely Laura and leave for Kijabe Street to pick up the rest of the loveliness which I was planning to take back to London. I am now wondering how much I might have to leave. En route there we stop at a medical equipment wholesalers and I fondle some compression stockings for our many (it seems) lymphodoema patients. They are VERY expensive. I mentally put them on my To Beg For List and we head down to the market. I ditch the visit up to Westlands (couldn’t carry any more) and we head back to Corner to meet Doris (bit of a Scotch escort but her suggestion). David goes for something to eat while I denude the local chemists of their deworming syrup. I buy some chicken and chapatti for Doris and we head back (again) to Mathare.
Yesterday we had gone ‘offroad’ for a while, going deep into the slum, house to house. We had seen a few bedbound people and spent an hour in a passageway deworming a load of children. We had promised to go back with more deworming and some meds for some kids we had seen there. I have never been anywhere where almost every child had a huge great pus extruding scab topped lump on some limb or other. One boy in particular seemed to have a tibia shaped like a shallow V perpendicular to the way it should be. The top of the V was covered in pus and scab and general ghastliness. He had (we are informed) broken his leg a year ago. The bone had obviously set like this (or is doing its best to). I clean everything up and cover it with antiseptic, antibiotic and bandage. I tell the boy we will return the next day and we arrange where to meet. We also tell the two teachers (who stand wielding lengths of inch thick rubber tubing cut from a tyre) we will come back with deworming for the herd of kids who come swarming out of a hole in the wall. I ask the teacher if the rubber is for the children. They laugh. I take one strip and use it on my leg. It doesn’t half sting. I tell the teachers they should be ashamed of themselves. They laugh. I ask if I should use it on one of them. One proffers her plump rump. Which I smack. They still laugh. We go.
And now we are back.
The boy with the leg does not appear. But, as we head off down the maze of dirty dusty passageways, dozens of others do. Tiny children with massive bellies. I suggest to Doris that we start the deworming here. We plonk ourselves down and start pouring lurid green deworming syrup down throats. Along the way I scrape of some pus, apply ointments, wipe fungussy heads with iodine and hand out anti-fungal pills. It is all really rather jolly .
We then head to a local shopping centre (ok, row of shops) to meet with som of the people from the Medical Workshop and hand out medication. The boy with the rotting foot is now in socks and shoes but the foot is still wet and rotting. The lovely albino lady comes along. She is looking perkier already and we give her vast tubs of Valon and other emollient type gunk to help her skin. I give her more eyedrops, a sack of Vitamin E and a set up grant for a knitting business. She also gets all the bottles and boxes from the deworming syrup as her current means of surviuval is collecting rubbish, sorting it and selling plastic / glass etc.
Then there is the young woman with the ridiculously high blood pressure. She says she feels better but is still having nosebleeds and now headaches. I have asked her back as I wondered if the high reading the last time was a glitch. I redo the BP. It was not a glitch. I hare off along the row to find a the chemist and get some basic BP meds. I also tell her to get herself to a hospital ASAP. Doris is going to keep an eye on her and make sure she does. In the UK, obviously, you would be down to the nearest emergency room, but here it costs a couple of quid just to get through the door (money that this woman just doesn’t have) and then when the doctor prescribes medication, you have to pay for that yourself (again, something this woman cannot do).
We have brought some pessaries for the girl with rampant thrush but she has not turned up. Perhaps the meds i gave her at the workshop have knocked it on the head – not that that was the affected part.
Now we head to Strawberry Hill, sister to Blueberry Hill. The joint is jumping when we arrive. The wonderful Purity is hurtling from table to table with drinks. Strawberry Hill combines a Mama B bar (gay friendly), a butchery (serving barbequed meats), a peripatetic coffee server and a snooker room. We have just negotiated a two and a half year lease (with no rent reviews) from our landlord and now I am here to talk about three things. 1. The repairs needed to Blueberry Hill down in Kawangware now that the local bar owners have stopped ganging up on us. Around £100 is needed. 2. Money to convert what is a very ramshackle sort of carport into a snooker room. Around £200 is needed for materials. The labour will be free. 3. Money to get a Restaurant License that can be shared by both Blueberry and Strawberry Hills. This will allow bothg places to open and serve food and alcohol from 10am until 11pm instead of just 5pm till 11pm. Around £250 is needed.
These are big amounts of money for Mama BIashara. And they are being requested by people who have already had grants. However, the massive potential of all three projects, together with the involvement of Purity – a woman I genuinely believe could rule the world eventually – the importance of setting up some gay-friendly bars in slum areas and the fact that Mama B needs to keep an open mind on ways to help and support mean that I agree that Mama B will lend the money in all three cases. Interest free and with a 60 day grace period. Everyone is happy. And I really feel we have done the right thing.
We eat (Blueberry Hill’s food is in such demand that they are doing a sort of outside catering service while the Hill is closed) the most delicious food. So good that even DAVID is moved to compliment the chef and buy her a drink, we drink coffee and beer, I buy the landlord a drink (or several …) we leave a few dozen packs of condoms for Purity to give away and we head off into the night, extremely happy.
Going Home Day. I get an email from Lovely Laura at BA saying she will give me two free bags on the way back this time. I am V happy and pay for the other three excess bags myself.
David and I hit the chemist for the last time, go to Kawangware and meet with Janet to pay the rent on the Gus Whyte Memorial Kindergarten for the next five months (and leave some pencils, deworming and exercise books) and come back to meet with Langat (our in-house marathon runner) who needs new running shoes and a warm jacket as well as a top up of HTC’s finest Cod Liver Oil and Multivitamins. Felista is due at 10 and, amazingly, at about ten past I get a call from her reassuring me she is on her way. Doris is also running late.
When Felista arrives it is with a mixture of tales of woe and of hope. She is hugely gung ho about the ‘defector’ business and is in the process of lining up a load of other customers. She has decided to put her desires for a water bottling plant on the back burner (metaphorically speaking) for the moment.
She has, as usual, a list of “balances” (debts) with her. Led by the salaries for teachers and staff at DECIP. The ins and outs of running a children’s home and school out here are labyrinthine to put it mildly. The most overused word is ‘if’. And the “if” … “then” relationship is markedly less direct than it should be.
As well as this, Felista is being hounded by someone who we suspect is part of the AMREF lot next door. One of Felista’s HIV+ children contracted TB when away from DECIP. She was hospitalised but only for a couple of days when she was flung out back to DECIP. Felista has isolated her in a small room used as a little clinic. However someone told the Health Authorities that she had the infected girl sleeping in a dormitory with all the other younger girls. Now the Health lot are all over DECIP. And demanding that all the mattresses in the dorm are changed as it is a well known fact that 99% of all TB cases result from sleeping on a mattress that has been in a room where someone on another mattress had TB. It is this kind of thing that brings everything at DECIP crashing down. There is no budget for something like this. But if the mattresses don’t get changed they can close DECIP and put Felista in jail.
Back on the plus side, the water purification tablets I gave to Felista when she was going on about the water being tainted now that the electrical pump is broken have turned out to be a massive success as a business. Felista is selling them. In fact, as we sit in Shalom drinking coffee, a man at the next table overhears our conversation and Felista not only sells him a packet of 180 tablets, but gets the contract for ridding his property of rats (rat exterminator being another of her newfound skills – the same peeps that do soap and ‘defector’ also do rat stuff (don’t think it kills them, it just keeps them away)). However this is not just great for Felista, but for lots of prospective Mama B Aqua Tab sellers. They can sell for 10ksh per tablet (20 litres) and as the buying price is 1.2ksh, the profit is really rather good. Especially for old ladies or some of our crips (we have a girl with no arms), it is a great business that requires nothing much in the way of physical fitness.
David is gripped by the profit ppotential and, as he has been moaning endlessly about how little he is paid (about £25 for him and a car for a day, no restrictions on mileage), I give him five packs of Aqua Tabs to sell. Instead of a raise. He is happy. Well, as happy as David gets.
I also give Felista 40,000ksh which SHOULD be enough to pay the mattresses and something to the staff. Or vice versa. One day she will not need me. One day we will find a way for DECIP to be self sufficient. One day Felista will have a little house of her own, and new shoes and a decent phone and will be able to get her hair done and she and I will go on a holiday. She is an infuriating and exhausting but incredible, inspirational and wonderful woman.
Talking of which, Doris arrives. She is “still diarrhoeaing” she informs us. Felista goes and David helps me load the car. Load being the operative word. Doris and I do some housekeeping over a drink and we wait for Kibe who is coming for a farewell Tusker
Checking in is a nightmare but the airport staff are just wonderful. One of the Swissport guys remembers me from Virgin and ok’s my grossly overweight baggage. These guys really are a HUGE help to Mama B.
In London I require THREE trollies to get me to the red channel where a Sikh chap all but cavity searches me.
Alister Bailey’s lovely lovely driver man is there to take me to the shop.
More in March …