I am glad to be leaving the UK. Things have been monumentally
stressful and I am hoping that getting back to Kenya and getting
stuck in will remind me why it is all worth it. That is Plan A.
Plan A also included watching Paddington 2 en route. Or not, as the case transpired to be.
Plan A is that David would pick me up at the airport, take me to Ngando and drop me at the house we will be occupying for out Rescue Centre for victims of child rape. I have a room there. Imagine then, my surprise when, at the bottom of the ramp is Joan (Head of Child Rape Sortings Out) and her hanger on Tall Silent Dan. I have never been a fan of Tall Silent Dan. I am still assuming we are on Plan A when Joan gets into David’s car with me and announces that we are going to her Auntie’s house in South B (a big estate not far from the airport). It is too dangerous to be in Ngando at this time of night. She says. I am surprised, puzzled (I know Ngando) and more than a little irritated. At Auntie’s I quiz Joan and explain that I will be coming back at this time most nights. Apparently it will all be ok then. As soon as David leaves the story changes. There have been threats of violence (assault and rape) made against the refuge, the children and Joan. By Kikkuyu people who say they do not want a Luo project in Ngando. The most recent group of ladies who came bearing donations had been assaulted, Joan says.The group of children range in age from 3 to 16. Including one boy. But they are all different tribes. I am horrified. And puzzled. Ngando is not a Kikkuyu place. It is very mixed and all my friends here are Luo. But I agree we must look at a move to another place.
I share my bedroom with a group of ravenous mosquitoes.
I am woken by a call from a slightly concerned David. He has been waiting for 30 minutes and Joan keeps telling him that I cannot be woken and that she has tried and failed. I leap (ish) from bed, examing my fresh batch of mozzie bites and go downstairs.
“I feared you had been taken by the Luos” says David.
We head for Satellite where there is a house available. We leave Joan and Tall Silent Dan there to wait for the landlady’s return from church and David and I go off and do a few things. Then I decide we will go to Ngando. I want to see the house for myself. And the renegade Kikkuyu threatening child rape.
Ngando is as I remember. Busy, buzzy and friendly. We park up outside the house that Joan had shown me in November. I get out and chat to the many children playing in the doorway. None of whom have heard of Joan. I didn’t feel I knew the chatty six year old in the party dress well enough to ask if she had been brutally raped recently. There was a group of young men lounging about outside on the opposite side of the road. According to them they do not know Joan, or anything about a project, much less ladies being beaten up at the house. I call Joan. She is not at all pleased to hear I am in Ngando. Apparently this is not the house but, she says, she cannot give us directions to the real house. I tell her we will pick her up at Satellite and then come back to Ngando and she can take us.
At Satellite Joan is pretty boot faced. She is convinced I have been ‘corrupted’ by David. There is a bit of a stand off and we end up NOT going to Ngando but taking Joan and Tall Silent Dan back to Auntie’s place and then David and I go to the pub, drink beer and do battle with a chicken so tough it should be joining the SAS. I also meet my NBF who only turns out to be the Managing Editor of Standard Media (TV, radio and Newspapers). More on this story later.
When I get back to the house Joan and Tall Silent Dan are nowhere to be seen. But her Auntie is puzzled. She had been told I would be staying for a month. I run through the situation to date and she shakes her head.
And so to bed.
Still no sign of Joan and Tall Silent Dan. Joan’s cousin Kevo and I agree that there is almost certainly no house in Ngando. I go.
David and I go into town to the stationery wholesaler to get exercise books for the various schools we help out. Traffic is crazy, even by Nairobian standards. As I load up the car we are approached by a guy that looks like a beggar. He is uncomfortably interested in what we are doing. And suddenly announces “I am City Council” and produces an ID card in confirmation. I sigh. This is almost always followed by a demand for money. I gibber about the work we are doing … the children … the poor children. He lets us continue. At which point the car dies. “We must push” announces David. So we do. Helped by Mr City Council who bturns out to be a decent bloke and delighted with 100 bob. The car dies again. We push again. At the third push it goes. But only if David keeps the revs up. And traffic is just about at a standstill. But we make it to the bank at Kawangware.
Doris is there looking fabulous. The new manager is smiley but Standard Issue. The exchange rate is not good so we go off to Forex. Via a meeting with Felista. At a new meeting place behind a petrol station in Corner.
I explain The Joan Situation and we agree I need to get a place on this side and forget working with her. Although I do not believe in babies being thrown out with bathwater (much as I dislike them) and Joan might have been lying through her teeth to me but she has her good points. But at the moment I need to move on.
The Place Behind the Garage turns out to be a hotbed of business and politics. Big groups of men in suits huddle round tables discussing. As is the way with suited Kenyans everyone is the Chair of something or the Head of something and the entire ecosystem operates by pulling strings – you pull strings for me and I will pull strings for you. Everyone eventually becomes someone’s puppet, but even puppets have puppets. Like the dog and the fleas. Through Felista and her son, strings are pulled for me and possible flats and houses start to appear from nowhere. And so I sit and discuss the community project here at corner of which Felista’s son is the Chairman. He talks about his ‘girls’. Who turn out to be anything from 18 to 35. “Women” I say. “To me they are girls” he says. I clench my keeping calm parts. They are vulnerable, many single mothers, none of them has formal education, some have no ID. There are twenty six, he says. Or maybe fifty. By the time I have asked a few more questions there are maybe a hundred. Some involved in petty crime, many in prostitution and quite a lot in drugs. And now I get an education in drug addiction on the Kenyan street. The seriously addicted girls form a small group, they put in what little money they have and buy a hit of their drug of choice. One girl gets high and then the others draw off a syringe of her blood and inject it into themselves to get a hit off her hit. My mind is not easily boggled. But boggled it is now.
I have a powerful feeling I can do absolutely bugger all for these girls. Some things you cannot fix with some TLC and a business grant and I think this is probably up there. However we agree that I will meet with the women who are helpable by an enthusiastic amateur like myself.
I think we are looking at a load of education and informing, a goodly chunk of boosting confidence and self esteem and eventually businesses.
Felista has good news. The kids from her school / children’s home are doing incredibly well academically – against all the odds. Several of them have got scholarships or individual sponsors and are off to classy secondary schools. Shiro – alumna of DECIP is now in a fantastic job in the labs at Mbagathi Hospital for Infectious Diseases and Protus (another alumnus) is in charge of IT for the office of the Governor of Nairobi. Should anyone feel like sponsoring one of Felista’s kids, it is looking liker a better and better investment ! I have rarely seen her so emotional. Tears of pride in her eyes. The enormity of the triumph that these results and placings represents cannot be overestimated. And that is not even taking into account what she does for them as broken human beings. Mad as a box of frogs inside a box of hair, but a glorious human being.
I tell her that Souad – tireless volunteer – had read some of the stuff I wrote about DECIP and listened to Felista’s life story. Souad loves children. So she started a little fund, selling slippers (well, to be fair, more or less forcing slippers on people) to raise money for DECIP. I hand over 10,000ksh. There is a picture of this somewhere which I will post. Of course, she knows exactly where it is going. and it will be spent tomorrow.
I am not going to let the project supporting victims of child rape just go, and Doris, Felista and I get our heads together over the possibilities. Of course, Felista has been rescuing abused children since she started. Mainly orphaned and abandoned. But she puts them together again and, in several cases, looks after their children. Because, well, at age eleven, your parenting skills are limited. She has two girls with her now. Age fifteen and each has a baby of about three or four years old. At DECIP the mums are getting an education and support. My reservation is that when kids come to Felista they stay. And there is rarely a chance of bringing the rapist to justice. But we thresh ideas out, Felista tries Southern Comfort and Coke, we buy nice tops from a passing hawker and then David drives me back to South B.
Joan’s Auntie calls me. I am about to explain that I think I need to move out and she says Joan has called her and told her to get rid of me. Happy days. But we discuss the situation. Turns out Joan had also said I would be paying Auntie a month’s rent. Ah well.
I have a Mortein plug in now and so there are no mosquitoes.
PS SPOILER ALERT – it is all fantastic. I am not homeless and the project is reborn as The Phoenix Project, much better than before.
Stand by to get very angry. Remember … with all this stuff, nothing helps quite like having the money to do something about it. So never forget Mama has a BTMyDonate page. Feel free (in fact feel obliged) to share this … if you can get someone else to donate then you don’t have to …
I have slept like the proverbial log. Our first stop is the delightful oasis that is Wildebeest Camp to collect the farming tools I have left there. They are coming with to Loitoktok on Sunday for the new Maasai group I am visiting. En route I find the holy grail of laundry baskets, much requested by Mama B customers, the stripey Turkana basket. And there are so many !! A sweet man with a workshop at the roadside takes my order and my basket overfloweth.
A chat with boss-lady Lynita, a pause on the lovely balcony over the swimming pool and I get the tools and we go to market.
First I do the internet thing in Java and email my two NBFs – Mr Standard Media and Mr Forex Money. Please I need international crossing of fingers for these guys to come through for Mama. We have been through some dark days.
I send a plangent plea to Vikram Dave for school fees for the Ruai children Mama has been supporting. Nowadays their school fees are crippling for us.
I also suggest a meet with Mr Standard Media – although I think he might be just a bit busy at the moment given that the government is still blacking out certain news media companies and, in any sountry purporting to be a democracy (certainly one that has a Constitution specifically defending freedom of expression) this has to be addressed. I expect he will get back to me when he can.
Market is interesting and I get some gorgeous bits and bobs.
I am VERY late to meet Doris at ChickenMaster. She is asleep at the table when I arrive, having been up all night taking phonecalls from desperate mothers of abused children who have nowhere to turn. The group we are meeting tomorrow seem quite emboldened now they have made the decision to meet us. As if they can see light at the end of the tunnel and are at least 99% sure it is not an oncoming train. They will be bringing actual business plans. They are ready to go
I have a meeting with Julius – Baba Biashara in Western Kenya. Julius has been doing great stuff. We now have a functioning kibanda with walls and everything at the entrance to his plot. We just need to put in an electrical socket (we got the wire to bring leccy to the plot last time) and we can do everything there.
He has been making the most of the stuff Mama B left him with – cod liver oil, glucosamine sulphate etc etc and has a long list of quasi-medical complaints from his last get together with our groups. Generally of the “I get ulsas (acid indigestion) when I eat a big ugali” variety.
I am really hoping that Vikram Dave (if he gets back to me) will be able to help with shoes for these people. The jiggers that infest the soil, burrow into the feet, lay eggs, explode out and leave septic sores are kept at bay completely by shoes. We have a great jiggers project here with Julius and we can treat them. But with no shoes they just burrow back.
Our businesses are doing well and the area is gagging for more raincatchers. It is now dry here and a full raincatcher will keep a small community for about six weeks through the first part of the dry spell. When there is any rain at all, it is more or less all they need. And while they use raincatcher water there is absolutely no waterborn disease.
I ask Jukius about the problem of child rape in Western (I know I might seem a little obsessed but my Mama B peeps are our eyes and ears on the ground across Kenya). Not a biggie, I hear. It is frowned upon in Luhya culture, or, as Julius says “people will not like you because you have done a bad thing”. However “Rape case is upon the family” he says. Meaning it has to get sorted out amongst the people themselves. Hmmmm. There is one case, he suddenly remembers, of a boy “with blood coming down” which was noticed by the mother. Julius says he will look into it. I think about shrieking “but you must contact the police” but realise this would do no good.
David arrives and we go to put money in mpesa, meet Doris and set off for Kitengela.
I do not like Kitengela. This is more or less Maasai country and every bar and restaurant is full with men eating meat (ok slight exaggeration but not much). Anyone who thinks they have witnessed the objectification of women anywhere in the west really needs to come here. Even I, hyper- insensitive as I am, can feel like I am being looked at like a cross between nothing at all and a breeding cow. I am almost overwhelmed with the urge to do something appalling, or to face off with one of these arrogant, meaty eyed, entitled (in their own way) patriarchs. But tbh, the thought of what my Dad would say stops me. I do not fail to see the irony in that.
We find a space at the back of a bar and our group arrives. So as not to arouse suspicion, one representative from each mini group comes. Four young women and, surprisingly, a man.
I am at a loss as to imagine how the man fits in … his wife getting jiggy with his son ? Surely not.
Absolutely not. Ntoto represents four men who met time and time again at the police station or at their local Chief’s office. They had all come to report the same thing. Theses men are Maasai from Tanzania who have married across the border into Kenya. And the Kenyan Maasai do not like them. And they display their Kenyan dislike by raping the wives and the children of the incomers. Repeatedly. With absolute impunity. Ntoto and his friends went to their local chief, to the police … none of them would do anything. And so he is here with a plan to move back into Tanzania with his wife and five children and his three friends and their wives and ten children and make a new life. They are going to manufacture charcoal. Ecologically dubious, but a good business. He almost cries when I hand over the money. I almost cry when I hand over the money but there is no time because now we have Naserian, representing four women and sixteen children. With this little group, the husbands wait until the girl children are “big” – ie 11 years old – before raping them. They have a good business plan, an escape route and have organised a place to stay in their new town. We have a counsellor in place there who will be there for sessions with both mothers and children as soon as they are safe and established. Next Mary – heading a group of four women with thirteen children and Jane, whose group of four women have sixteen children between them. With these women, the husband does not bother to wait until the girls are “big”. The rape starts, we hear, when the children are as young as five. All the groups are going to the same town, which is great for moral support. And for the reason that they can all go to the same hospital to get checked and our counsellor can do group sessions. One of the ladies in the last group has something of an additional problem. She has five children with a child rapist. But was herself raped by another man in the community. And is now pregnant with his child.
It is brain addling that, as I am here, my Facebook is hotching with horror at the abomination that is having Brolly Dollies on the grid at bike races. It objectifies women. See above.
As we travel back, I try to impress upon Doris the crucial nature of reporting on these groups, following up, details, progress reports. I go so far as to create a TABLE in a reporting document as I sit in Casa Copi. Am loving it here. OK it might look like a cell to you, but it is home to me. If only the toilet would flush …
I have a strange dream featuring Marc Marquez … it must be the Brolly Dolly connection.
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David is on time, the Davidmobile is purring, I pack my stuff inside and we head for Rombo. OK, we are not exactly sure where Rombo is but we head for Loitoktok in the knowledge that there will be signage from there. There is no jam (amazing) and the Davidmobile is belting along.
Just past Machakos Junction we are stopped at a roadblock. The fat policman toting the AK47 pokes at the bonnet, wiggles the wing mirror and gets David out the car for a ‘chat’. He takes david’s license. Now we will have to pay something or he will not get it back. He is obviously not happy with what David is saying as he comes and talks to me. He is taking the car to Loitoktok for impounding, her says, and I will have to get it released on bond. This will be very much money. And David will have to go to court. This will also end in ‘very much money’. He rests his aK47 on the window and looks in at me. The ball is in my court. I could play tough but there are three of them now circling the Davidmobile. “Is there some way to avoid all this trouble?” I ask, as charmingly as I can. “You tell me” says the fat policeman. “Perhaps I could buy you lunch” I murmer through gritted teeth. He nods. Lunch is acceptable. I offer 300 shillings through the window. He turns into a parody Big Black Laughing Policeman, holding his stomach (no mean feat) and rocking backwards and forwards. This makes the gun sway alarmingly. “Now you are making me to laugh” “Then how much ?” I ask. “It is for you to say” says Tubby the Extortionist. What a tease ! “Five hundred is what I have” I say, doing a pantomime pocket search. He comes around my side of the vehicle and grabs it.
“I would have driven past but when there are three and you go past they shoot at your wheels” says David as we go.
IT is blisteringly hot but we make amazing progress. The Davidmobile does us proud. After we
leave Emali Junction we are driving through National Parks – Amboseli and Tsavo. There are regular notices warning of wildlife crossing the road and showing pictures of elephants and lions. We see absolutely bugger all. In fact in the unrelenting landscape of acacia bushes and flat earth the most exciting thing that happens is a larger than usual termite hill. I know I should be overwhelmed with the majesty of it all, and I DO believe that size matters, but a little variation would help my wonder. Give me Scotland any day. After leaving tarmac roads at Illasit we hit a road worthy of a stage in the Dakaar Rally. Dust is chokingly thick and swirls around inside the car coating everything. Slightly alarmingly, my phone welcomes me to Tanzania and I worry we are on the wrong road … but this is border country and borders are porous here. 30 kilometers later we are at Rombo, met by my amazing new contact Zaida and a glass of water and a plate of fresh mango later, I am handing out dewormers and diclofenac gel in her lovely little house like the journey had never happened. Our little medical afternoon goes on until 8.30pm and the ailments are exactly what you would expect : muscle and joint aches and strains, headaches, massive congestions and coughs from cooking over wood indoors with no ventilation, an ocean of snot, quite a lot of constipation and some UTIs. These ladies carry massive bundles of firewood almost every day and they all complain of the same pains in the same places. My diclofenac gel is soon done. I will send more. The marvellous Glucosamine bombs from HTC take a battering, as does their miraculous Cod Liver Oil both for adults and children. And everyone gets dewormed – adults and children. Some of the kids are eight or nine and have never been dewormed.
There is one sweet girl who is epileptic and quite severely mentally challenged. She is breastfeeding a baby. “She was raped” explains her mother. She has, I learn, three children (the eldest is nine years old) and all three are the product of rape. Her mother wants more of ‘the white pills’ the pharmacy gives her for her epilepsy. We try to find out what ‘the white pills’ are but the pharmacy has closed and the (unlicensed) pharmacist is in hiding after a raid by the Ministry of Health.
Now we are heading (in the PITCH dark) out to visit a young wife who has been so badly beaten by her husband that she cannot come to the house. The Davidmobile is packed with me and Maasai ladies and off we go. Cross country. Pitch black and the only sound is the acacia bushes gouging bits out of the Davidmobile’s paintwork. Through troughs of water, over stones … as a feat of driving it is very impressive. “We are here: says a lady. There is absolutely nothing to see but we get out, spark up torches, and, sure enough, we are in a collection of manyattas – maasai houses built from mud and cow dung and wood. There is great excitement from the locals at the glow-in-the-dark granny in their midst. The manyatta is thick with smoke and the girl is bruised, battered and bewildered. Her earlobe has been torn apart and I clean and dress it and leave antiseptic and painkillers. That is about all I can do.
In the car back there is a LOT of talk about the problems of girls being sold into marriage with old men when they are about eleven. They undergo FGM and get sold off asap. No school for girls. No school for most of the kids, but definitely none for girls. The ladies in the back seat talk of one girl currently who is heavily pregnant but so young she has no breasts. Now the women are rising. Led by the young women who want something better for their girls. One girl is mentioned who was sold off and ran away, sold off again and ran away and took herself to school. She has been beaten repeatedly and ostracised and is now living in Rombo at a place the women (led by Zaida and some of the Maasai Mamas) hope will become a refuge and a school for girls running away from FGM and forced marriage at twelve years old. There is one other girl at the house whom they were unable to save from the cut but who was rescued before being sold to an old man.
The cut, I learn, is treated with goat fat and cow dung when fresh. And the girls are made to drink cows blood to replenish what they lose.
Tomorrow we are going to see this refuge house, and the compound which could be the start of something massive here.
In other news : NO MOSQUITOES !!
I am up and out at 7.30am. Zaida tells me more about the plans for the girl’s refuge. And produces a wonderfully laid out proposal. Education, personal development, refuge, outreach work, and the eventual elimination of FGM and young girls being sold off into marriage. Or child rape for pay, as it really is. It will also provide a refuge for any girls who are raped, because here, neither the local chief (Maasai himself) nor the police will do anything about it. Slight problem is that they have chosen to call it Gates Of Zion. Which worries me. Although there is no overt church involvement. I tell her about The Phoenix Project … Zaida likes the name.
We go and see the compound they have been offered. It is great – a row of mabati houses, space for more, plenty of space to develop and all for 12000 a month. Which is just under ninety quid. They are already using one house as a school for girls.And anyone who wants to learn to read and write and do a bit of arithmetic. They have already mobilised an outreach team and just need the wherewithal to make this place their own before they start rescuing girls. Oh, and we need to dig new pit latrines because these ones are full.
We kick of our collaboration with two months rent a money to make a security fence.And I will be back in April.
So Mama B’s Phoenix Project is rising in Rombo, under the shadow of Kilimanjaro. Apparently God lives there. Nice to have nice neighbours.
Today we will do some business financing. The women are all peripherally involved with the project and will all be supporting it in one way or another. The business plans are mental. They take the form of “I will buy six sacks of sukuma and I will make a profit of 500 bob”. When I ask for details there is utter confusion. So we spend five hours sorting it out. By which time the entire town has been told there is a white woman here giving money away and the little courtyard is crowded. This always happens. It happens with the medicals too. The people who come late tend simply to want free stuff. But we do get some decent businesses started with decent women. They form groups of three and, once their expectations have been fairly brutally ‘managed’, it is a productive little workshop. Look forward to tie-dye in the Biashara Emporium, when the business gets going. I am unexpectedly presented with a chicken by a ladt who was at the medical yesterday. It is rather beautiful and is intended for the table. I call her Daisy, after my mum, and we let her go. She is identified by a little tie round her leg and now she is protected. I am also given some beautiful maasai collars. By the mother of the beaten girl last night and the mother of the epileptic girl. I am a bit overwhelmed at the generosity. These people don’t exactly have stuff to give away.
We make the journey back in record time. David just drives without a break. 300 kilometers, more or less. And, when I do the sums, the Davidmobile costs us about five pence a kilometer. As we eat a well earned dinner and look down at the dusty car from the Jowac balcony David tells me he calls the car Mary. I will never make fun of her again. Her wing mirrors are held on with package tape and he windows work by touching bare wires together but she took us to Tanzania and back without so much as a hiccup
My wonderful OBF (Old Best Friend, as opposed to NBF New Best Friend) Rachel has sent a chunk of money. Half will go, as she asks, to pay Felista’s teachers. This is huge. The schoiol is doing so well academically, which is a small miracle in itself. The teachers are paid about fifty pounds a month, except they rarely are. Rachel’s dosh will make today a v v happy day at DECIP. She is also buying registration cards for 60 girls who will now get free sanitary pads and some other medical benefits. The rest will be used to pay another chunk of the school fees for the children in Ruai. I have appealed for help for them before. Jane, the eldest, is now in secondary school and we just cannot afford it. So Dinah, the Director of Ceders Academy, where the other three children go, actually takes money from herself to make sure Jane stays in school. But it has all got too much and Jane was sent out last week. Well now she can go back !
I tramp around the market and find a very happy Mwangi. I suggested a new design to him, a variation on one he already has but is just not selling in UK. I suggested a makeover. He was a bit skeptical. But he tells me that he made a load extra to my order and they are selling like hotcakes. I ask about commission. How we laugh.
I order the Red Zone Dolls from Mama Imelda. She remembers them from before. “You want the something added?” she says, pointing at my groin. Yes, I tell her, I do want the something, Girls get tiny boobs and boys get a something.They will be ready in a week. Today is not great for self esteem. As I look at one dress the lady says “it can be for fat ladies … even fatter than you” and at another stall the bloke eyes me up and down and announces “this is a size 42. Your size”. I decide I will wear something more fitted tomorrow.
Back at Corner Doris has loads of follow up information on our Phoenix Project groups.We are SO BLOODY ORGANISED. The first group – the Maasai people where the problem was the husbands raping their own children within the marriage and the man whose wife and kids were being raped by neighbours – have already gone. Mainly to one town in Tanzania. We have a counsellor there and she is organising homes and a friendly doctor who will examine all the kids to see if medical treatment is required. The lady who had been raped and impregnated is no longer pregnant and is off to start her now life with her group. The girls from Kangeme are going to two centres :Malindi and Nanyuki. In both places Doris has contacts, Malindi we know well and Nanyuki the incomers are being put up in a hotel till they get started.
Doris has also been a bit of a demon with the forms I made up for personal information on the women. Nuggets of info we now have, such as, the rape tends to begin when the children are five or six. She is getting calls in from all over Kenya on the Mama Biashara line. Some are referrals from our main contacts – Lois in Namanga and Joyce in Kangeme. But some are simply people who have heard and are offering to bring us raped children in return for money. Welcome to Kenya.
This is like squeezing what you think is a plook and finding it is cancer. OK, I know that is not how you diagnose cancer but you get my drift.
Tomorrow we are seeing another group of women from far away (they want to come here because we cannot meet where someone might recognise them). And the rent is paid, I hear, on the compound in Rombo. The Phoenix is rising, people. The Phoenix is rising.
Off to the bowels of River Road to get the rewriteable DVDs and photocopying paper I promised the exceptionally smart young man I met in Rombo. What he really wants to set up is a Playstation for da yoot in Rombo. They have nothing and so generally resort to changaa (illicit booze) bhangi (marijana) and probably not entirely consensual sex with passing females. So does anyone reading this have a Playstation they can donate ? Playstation 2 (which I know is more or less on tablets of stone) will de perfectly. And all the wee doodas that go with it. I feel not entirely positive about introducing computer gaming to the place. But spending all day moving only your thumbs and staring at a screen has to be better than alcoholism and rape … am I right ?
Then to the bank to collect the new Mama B chequebook. I meet the Operations Manager who is a woman. She is now ready to stand with Mama B she says. We shall see.
At Kawangware I get 10kg of Milka’s Miracle Mix – a porridge mix that really beefs up the sickly child. Now I have to go somewhere with wifi to download the pix Zaida has sent from Rombo and get them on my laptop.
I have heard from Zetta – you all remember Zetta, don’t you ? Our onetime tireless Vice Chair ? – who says she is getting interest from Women She Knows to whom she has been forwarding the diaries. They are keen to help The Phoenix Project. So I am deluging everyone with diaries to encourage this. And am about to set up a specific BT MyDonate page for The Phoenix Project. If you do not donate, we will all assume you support child rape. A hardcore strapline for an appeal, but needs must. So I slap a load of pix up FB. I hate putting pictures of myself up there – a) I look like a very old dog b) I am not the point of the exercise and c) I look like a very old dog. But I have been advised that people need to see that I do actually go there and do stuff and not just send starkly troubling diaries from a palazzo overlooking the Grand Canal.
Now we have another meeting with groups from Magadi – another area of big intermarriage with the Maasai. Four groups, this time there are four men involved and their stories are as toe-curling as before. If anything the men who marry in are treated worse than women (and that is saying something). The Maasai men rape their wives and children in front of them. Just to show them who is boss. And the women tell the same, same story. When their children get to about five or six, their husbands start getting the inexplicable incestuous, paedophile horn. The women usually discover it has started when they “see blood coming down” from a child.
But now it is not going to happen any more for these groups. Sixteen families – which include 69 children ! – are moving to join the rest of our relocated people. There are places awaiting them, they have terrific businesses (porridge and sweet potato – seperately) and Stella is waiting with counselling and medical help. Stella is turning out to be a humungous asset. Yet another friend of Doris.
Doris goes home early. She is absolutely knackered. Calls are coming in from all over almost non stop. And she has to triage the misery. I think we might have to get another phoneline and get someone to help with the first line approaches. Which is where all the lovely donations will come in handy.
I plan an early night but get waylaid by Kibe. We rope in David and go off for a beer.
I finish packing up the stuff to go to a)Western with Julius and b) Rombo with a friend of Zaida. The only problematic thing is the soap chemicals for a business in Rombo. Since the ban on plastic bags, stuff is packed either in bottles and tubs or – in the case of the soda crystals – a stout paper bag. But five minutes inside the paper, in the heat, and the crystals just start to sweat and dissolve the bag. It is a bit of a bugger.
The trio from Rombo are late, of course. And Julius is on time. I meet him as I go to the stage to try to find the Rombo people. Eventually everyone gets their stuff and I sweep up and head down to put up a MyDonate page for the Phoenix Project and to go to the market, pausing only at the bank for some readies.
Luckily the wifi in Java is running well.
After the market I have to go back to Java because Doris wants Vicky to taste the Lemon Ginger and Honey they do. They are just over an hour late. By which time I am famished (Java is too expensive for eating) and really pissed off.
Vicky has come to enlist the help of The Phoenix Project for a group from Meru. The women are in the usual hell of having a husband who rapes their kids but not having the wherewithall to get away and take the children to safety. These groups want to go to Garissa. Which is on the border with Somalia. Your life has to be quite bad for Garissa to seem like the promised land.
“The thing with Meru men”, says Doris, sipping Lemon Ginger and Honey, “is they are mental”
Vicky nods. “You cannot speak to them. They will just remove your head”. This is something I have heard before, when we were helping groups of boys escape virtual slavery on the miraa farms in Meru. There is a kind of shortcut between “Are you looking at me?” and violent death here. Makes the East End of Glasgow look like Little Giggling in the Grasses.
We leave Java and go somewhere we can eat and talk. ChickenMaster. The business plans are a disaster. Totally hopeless. However the good thing is that Vicky is also going to Garissa. She has a new group starting there – boys she is training to do landscaping and drainage clearance. There is a contract at a big hotel waiting for them. Vicky does this all the time. All started off by Mama B. So she will be there with the Meru groups to oversee them and support them in starting the businesses.
There is a group of older ladies who will do a soap business, and two other groups will do smokies and eggs (snack food) and fried cassava (a local favourite). All together there are 5 older ladies, 12 young women and 50 children about half of whom have been the victims of incestuous rape.
The cost of relocating them doubles the grant, but it has to be done. There is, apparently, a great hospital at Garissa and everyone will be checked over.
Vicky goes and Doris and I have a drink. She is playing around (since my last visit and my galloping her through the basics of BDSM – oh, BTW, the young women we were helping has left her husband and is now living very happily in another country) online with a BDSM relationship. But she is not cut out to be a sub. She finds it all ridiculous. But she is curious about it all. Which is great.
I go to the bank for more dosh – the grant and relocation costs for the Meru ladies came to just under 400 quid – for 17 women and 50 kids to get a new life is not that bad – buy a phone for Vicky (hers barely works and she is now one end of the Phoenix Project), put money in mpesa, check the donations page (170 quid, thank you, you know who you are) and then head to Uthiru to collect the 22kg of donated bras which should be there for me. At Kawangware where you change matatus it is like being a chicken nugget in a pool of pirhanas as the makangas from the various vans grab you and try to pull you into their vehicle. Most are not even going to Uthiru ! But I board one with a massive screen showing Nikki Minaj doing something that even John Stagliano might have baulked at directing, while lipsynching. The bras are not there. “There is a delay” says the crone at the desk. “Two weeks?” I ask. She shrugs. I meet Doris and Vicky, hand over the money and we get a matatu back to Corner.
And now the gates of hell open.I try to get Doris to understand paperwork and follow up and form filling. It is a nightmare and we both end up tetchy. Because the money for Mama B has almost always come from the shop, or through donations I personally have got, we have never had to be answerable to anything except the sheer bitter slog of staning in the shop every day. But that money is just not enough. And we have no big money coming in from individual donors (with the exception of my friends Andrew and Paul who donate 5000 and 1000 most years). We have a wonderful loyal donor in Flame Haired Janet and marvellous people who help out incredibly if there is a panic on. But we need more if we are to run with the Phoenix Project. And that means form filling and information stockpiling and question answering and not just doing the Kenyan thing which is to say “probably … this is what happened” and then go ahead as if your personal suppositions about someone you know nothing about are fact.
Pinning Doris down (metaphorically) on the information she has got from the people in the Phoenix Project Groups is like catching frogspawn with chopsticks. To be fair, getting any information of a personal – much less sexual – nature out of a poor Kenyan is a Sysiphian task. But it seems that the rape starts as early as three byears old. The abuse of the first children tends to go unnoticed. Given that these girls in the Namanga were all married off aged 11 or 12 and pregnant a few months later they are so traumatised themselves that they do not know what to think.
In the Maasai villages, when the women (and they all tell exactly the same story) report their husbands to the elders, the elders summon the husband, the husband is told to buy meat for the elders, he spits on the ground and then everything is fine. Except the woman is generally beaten severely by the husband.
The women report bleeding and incontinance in the children. The older children usually tell their mum “people have been doing bad manners to me”. And then, of course, culture dictates that the raped child is kept secret. So no doctors, no hospitals. Just local, herbal medicine.
And this is before the question of FGM rears its ugly head.
Filling in the information about each person on the laptop is taking forever. I say I will go and print out the forms and we can fill in by hand. En route I meet Kibe. We get it downloaded and printed out in a sweet cyber where everything lurks under about an inch of masonry dust – there is work going on outside.
Back at Casa Copi Doris wants to go. “I will do the paperwork my way” she says. “No” I say. “Because your way is not to do it at all”. Harsh, I know, but fair.
I am just to tired and frazzled to do any more – Doris goes and Kibe and I go and eat griddled goats heart in the street.
For the first time this trip I am a bit meh when I wake up. It has been incredible this trip, I have not so much looked at a painkiller. Most of my bottle of antacid is still there. And nothing has swelled up, crusted, oozed or turned a funny colour. I thought I might be cured.
David is on time and we go off, in a happy mood, to collect the Turkana laundry baskets from the man at Lenana Junction. Or not, as it turns out. I should have recognised the omens. A day that begins badly … It is searingly hot. But we go down River Road and I get shukas for the shop and some Kucha Kool kits for girls we have lined up. The beauty product wholesaler smells like an open sewer for some reason. Unless Parfum de Jour is Merde du Monde. The pong is spiked with pungent BO every so often as someone with mingy pits passes you by. I get out as quickly as possible. We go to the market where I disappoint everyone by not buying much, the stuff I have ordered is either not ready or completely wrong, and I realise I am almost out of time for the chess set I need.
Now to Eastleigh. Possibly a bad decision given the blinding heat but we go. The cheapest prices are here. It is just quite a … challenging … place. And thick with dust of all sorts. I shudder to think what I breathed in. But I get dresses and skirts and, stopping at the tiny sugar can juice stall by the side of the road through Mlango Kubwa, I experience a new taste sensation. Sugarcane Juice, Ginger and Beetroot. Absolutely bloody delicious. Really. Now back to Corner for food. Slightly unnervingly today seems to be the slaughtering the chickens day at Chicken Master. There is a LOT of blood around and piles of feathers and … bits in the little room beside the entrance. And the smell of death. And piles of plucked chicken ready for sale. I have rice and cabbage. I retire to Casa Copi with the intention of washing clothes, hair and floor … not necessarily in that order. But first I check on Doris who is deep in the forest outside Limuru with our next batch of terrified mothers with raped children desperate for the chance to flee their rapist husbands. BI get updates from The Mama Biashara Emporium, currently in a state warranting a Jeremy Kyle Show all of its own. Takings today are above average. Despite the fact that sister Amanda is hot from a full week’s work and Irish Chris is hot from a week’s intensive radiotherapy. Do go and shop, peeps. Did I mention the raped children ?
Where was I … oh yes. As I end a conversation with the pillowy breasted – and now Arts Council Funded – Sarah Chew, my phone abruptly dies. Falls off its perch. Becomes an ex phone. Not pining for the fijords. Dead. With my life inside. Cos stuff doesn’t get saved to the buggering simcard any more does it ???? NO !! It is about seven thirty. To say I panic would be … well, OK I do get a bit unsettled. I set off through Corner and find a phone kiosk. “AH it just needs a charging” says the young man. “The betri is veeeeeery low”. Fifteen minutes later he looks at it and says “It is dead”. It is some sort of newfangled solid state thingy and the battery is non removeable. Without the phone I have no internet. Whats App. Messenger. And I haven’t even chosed my Desert Island Discs. I get a piki piki – and immediately regret saying I need to get to Junction fast – and get to the phone shop in Junction just as it is closing.I get a slightly soiled ex display Tecno something for about nine quid. And I am phoneable. But with no numbers. But at least I am contactable. For all the important … contacts I have. I buy a coffee and email / messenger the world with the news of my telephonic disaster. And get back up the road to Corner.
While online I get news that the compound in Rombo now has most of its fence, is about to get a gate and is looking gorgeous in blue and yellow. All paid for my Mama B / Phoenix Project. But nails and bits of wood and whatnot are surprisingly expensive. So as soon as I get my mpesa running again, another hundred quid will be sent. The Maasai Mamas are mobilised to save their girls from FGM and child marriage. And to give them an education. The little school there will soon, hopefully, have desks. I sent up exercise books and pencils … anyone fancy a completely unpaid teaching job ??? What is that crappy meme ? Be the change you want to see ? Well, that.
I go to bed convinced amazing things are happening online and I can’t see them.
IS anything happening ? Does anyone care if I am alive or dead ? Has someone donated 10,000 to our new project ? I WOULD NOT KNOW BECAUSE MY SMARTPHONE DIED. I make a mudpie by washing my hair in the sink where the dodgy drain means that by the time the water has gone there is, actually a small mud pancake left. I stir the dust around on the floor with my new mop. And I pack up everything for Jayne in Awendo (two big boxes of goodies) and Zaida in Rombo – mainly medicines for all the coughs and aches that are coming out of the place after I had gone.
David and I take both to their respective bus companies and – via a shop at Naivas – go to DECIP. We pick Felista up at Corner where she has been waiting for a prospective donor. The tarmac road now goes all the way to DECIP. It is amazing. Transformative. Especially when the rains come. The DECIP compound still looks like somewhere on the Gaza Strip after an Israeli strike. I have spared you the pictures. A Big Man in Huwai phone company paid to demolish the original building that was there and to dig six massive holes to take pillars for a new building which will be two stories high. However he has not been back since. So now there is a demolition site and six massive holes (covered with timber strips) in the compound. Waaaay beyond anything Mama B could fix.
Some of you might remember contributing to the ‘save Felista’s kitchen from being underwater’ fund. Well the kitchen is now done. Two ferocious fires under the big sufurias and all the smoke goes up the chimney ! Githeri in 30 minutes. Which is amazing, if you know githeri. Of course the place looks like a bit of a tip but a good tip, a productive tip.
I meet Felista’s latest incomers from Awendo – four positive children who had been problematic but now, at DECIP are taking their meds and being happy.
And then I meet Nais. Nais is fifteen and Maasai from the Rift Valley. Her father killed her mother and then burnt down the house with the body inside. Nais and her brother were taken by her maternal grandmother to her village to live. However, being fifteen, Nais knew what was coming and she ran away. And travelled, on foot, sometimes thumbing lifts, over a period of a month and a half, from Suswa near Narok, to Nairobi. Desert country. She was found by the police who brought her to Felista. Now she is not living in fear any more, she is a charming young woman. After we get her story I ask if I can as “a hard question” (Nais speaks Swahili but not yet English). I ask if she has been cut. She says no, but that was why she ran. It was the season of cutting.
And now I see something I would never have thought possible – I see Felista shocked and totally discombobulated.
Listen up people. I ask Nais if the cutting is done the same way as in, for example Rombo. She says the old ladies use a pair of big scissors. Think tailoring shears. The same pair for all the girls that get done that day. “What do they take away?” I ask. “Yote” she says. Everything. Felista’s mouth gapes. “And then they put goat fat and cow dung?” I ask. She nods. Although in the Rift Valley they sometimes use Kimbo (cheap cooking fat), possibly because a mere girl’s butchered undercarriage is not worth wasting good goat fat on. They also put sugar on the wound, for some misbegotton reason. And then periodically wash it with cow urine.
Felista is aghast. And incandescent with rage. “I am hearing this for the first time and I cannot believe !” she says. “Why are these people not in prison ? They will arrest people who were with Raila in the park … doing nothing … but they will not arrest people who do this to young girls?”
She is also furious at the many many many NGO who get quite a lot of money for supposedly educating about and opposing FGM. “They do not tell you the truth” she says “they are just being polite because they do not want the wazungu to see how backward are these people. They should say the truth !!” And then, more surprises. “They just say ‘the cut’” says Felista. “But there are many cuts. I was cut … everyone born 1959, 60, 61 … we were all cut. But not like this!” The Kikkuyu tribe traditionally cut girls. And women up to the age of 49. Although it has more or less stopped now. Felista explains that by the time she was cut there was only one old lady who was doing it. When Felista was taken to her she told her that they would have ‘a secret’. She would cut Felista but not the full cut because she did not want to do that any more. So she (NASTINESS WARNING) bifurcated Felistas clitoris. “And then you put a leaf on” says Felista, explaining the post operative procedure. She makes a V sign with her fingers and waggles them. “It is also very good for the man”.
I am silent. “But that was not like this !!!” says Felista, gesturing towards Nais. “We must mobilise. But we must meet with the shoshos.” she grabs my arm. “You cannot win a game with a fight. You win a game with a game.” According to Nais there are a load of old ladies who earn about twelve pounds per butchering. And given there are no gloves, no disinfectant, no cleaning of the scissors, and that goat fat and cow dung are protty readily available, that is pretty much pure profit.
Felista is well fired up about joining our anti FGM arm of the Phoenix Project.
She reckons we can do a deal with the old ladies. Persuade them to stop (for cash, obvs) and create some sort of ‘pretend’ FGM involving sanitary pads and fake blood. No one looks to check it has been done, says Nais. And no one comes into the manyatta with the girl when it is being done. So only the girl and the shosho know what is really happening. That is how it stopped in other tribes. When the old ladies do not do it any more, the practice just stops. For once, the power is in the hands of the old ladies.
When I come back in April, Nais will take us out to her grandma’s village and we can see what happens. And Felista is all for creating a home for runaway Maasai girls in DECIP. I have never seen her this worked up. I think it is a lot about never having been told the whole truth that is outraging her. “You should be telling people” she says, poking me in the chest “You are on the ground”. I am indeed. “I think they are working from offices” she says, doing a fair mime of someone at a computer. And it is true that the many many many many anti-FGM NGOs (it is a killer pitch if you want funding nowadays) tend to pussyfoot around a bit. They do a lot of talking and never quite get round to calling a spade a bloody spade. There is a lot got away with under the blanket of what is, broadly, political correctness. And the government do very very little in terms of stopping it. It is understandable (not forgiveable but understandable) because he who takes on the entire Maasai nation would face an absolute nightmare of a reaction. With the Maasai you do not fuck. Really. “They are worse than the Meru men” says Felista.
Alarmingly, although FGM is illegal in Kenya (like THAT has made a difference), a bloke called Kamau is working (with quite a lot of support – even from women) to have the law overturned and FGM legalised again.
I am told to take pictures of everyone, so I do. I shall post them here and tell you who they are.
I am more than a little pissed off to learn that my 22kg of donated bras is not yet ready for collection. Something about being lost in Paris. Tomorrow, says Morris the Export Man. I set off for Nokia HQ which is up Ngong Road. Turns out this is Nokia NETWORKS which somehow manages to have nothing to do with phones. I harrumph about Joined Up Thinking and leave for Junction where a coffee and some wifi soothe my troubled whatsits. I call Nokia Customer Care and find out they are in Westlands. I realise I will be having another day on the Tiny Tecno and go back to Corner to meet Doris. I am TBH rather dreading this. Our last attempt at getting some actual paperwork done ended, if you remember, somewhat tumfily (scottish word, a tumf is a bad mood). Since then her texts have been entirely in Kiswahili (never a good sign) and quite formal.
But she is fine and I get in her good books by offering (expensive) Minty Pineade from Zucchini the expensive place. The news from the weekend is troublesome. Since we accidentally opened this Kenya sized can of worms and found a pit of snakes, the ghastliness has just kept on coming. All of it hidden away, all of it culturally approved (by men, mostly) and none of it ever, ever addressed. While I was with Nais discovering how they put the Rift into the Great Rift Valley (I apologise for that – who even knew that FGM humour was a thing. It will not happen again. ) Doris was around Limuru meeting a group of girls (14 in all but only five made it out to the meeting) who are living in a sort of forest area far outside the town. These girls (aged about 15 – 18) are in the same state that the Kangeme girls were. Sent by their parents to relatives ‘in town’. The relatives say the girls will get an education or vocational training but when they arrive they are house slaves for the women and sex slaves for the men. The girls are much the same in demeanour as the Kangeme girls. Utterly cowed. But they had got to hear about the Kangeme girls and got a borrowed phone and called Doris. She has absolutely no idea how they got the number. They have no skills, no ideas about business. And they are pretty much broken. We discuss what options we have. When these girls leave their community it has to be like the Kangeme girls and the women from the quarry we rescued – they all just have to disappear. Or any who are left will be beaten. We explore creating temporary safe houses – mine here in Corner, for a start. Doris says leave it with her so I do. We go to Chicken Master and continue to administrate over lunch. I get all the info on the Magadi and Namanga groups and then Doris tells me something wonderful / terrible but will be wonderful. The leader of the first group, Ntoto Sayoon, has been in touch from his new home. The charcoal business is up and running and everyone is so happy. But he has a best friend. And another friend. Who are still in the old village. They are in the same position that Ntoto was. The maasai men show their dislike of incoming men by raping their wives and children in front of them. Ntoto’s BF did not come for funding because he did not believe it was for real. He did not believe anyone woul;d help them, much less get them out and into a new life. So now Ntoto wants to bring his friends into his charcoal group, he says they will share their houses with them till they get somewhere and they will share the business. Gulp. Talk about the widow’s mite ? Anyway. The bad news is that, as a result of the repeated rapes, both his BF’s wife and young daughter are pregnant. And his wife is now unwell after trying to abort by hitting herself in the stomach with a hammer. I hope I am not offending or upsetting anyone reading (which, tbh really translates as I hope I am not putting you off sending money!) but as you are reading this, neither woman is still pregnant. Both are well and off to start their new life.
In other news, we have also been contacted (no idea how this number is getting around …) by a group of Maasai girls from up north. Up North in Kenya is not the joyous beer, whippets, flat caps and real tea experience that it is in England. It is quite killy. And women are quite a long way below goats in the respect stakes. Put it this way, any of my opinions on anything would make me the Sophie Hagan of the North.
This group of around twelve girls – average age 12 – have all been cut. All are in agony. After the entire clitoral area is removed like taking the top off a boiled egg with a teaspoon, the girls are sewn shut with parcel twine. All these girls have massive infections. The girl who spoke to us mentioned pain, pus, and maggots (who are currently probably saving their lives). She says the smell in the classroom is appalling and all the boys laugh at them. If they try to remove the stitches to clean the giant wound they are beaten. Not quite sure what else to say here … we are working on it. Watch this space.
Doris goes off for a well earned rest and I go to meet the marvellous Andy Dean and his wife Katie. They live up in Kitale and work for a fantastic foundation which runs a school, vocational training, you name it, it does it. Mostly funded by the ginormous flower farm it sits on. Now, although an eco-friendly flower farm is like a vegan-friendly abbatoir, this is about as close as it gets. And the workers are treated really well.
They want to meet at Yaya and I get a CityHoppa driven bt a maniac who is such a demon on the brakes I half consider putting him in touch with Marc Marquez. Not often you see G-force in action on a city bus.
Andy treats me to an expensive beer and unexpectedly donates (he and his wife are not rich) a hundred quid to the Phoenix Project in Rombo (which money will pretty much allow the fencing and gate to be finished). I am really quite overwhelmed. Security and privacy are paramount for the girls who will come to the place in Rombo. And now they have it !
We end up eating chicken in Corner so I can walk home. Bloody wonderful evening. And much needed.
In fairly quick succession I go to the bank (more money out), mpesa (to send money for the two ladies from Namanga to have their operations (see above)) and to send Andy and Katie’s money to Rombo, Uthiru to get (finally !!!) my 22kg of bras and then to Westland to find Nokia. They are actually charming. Despite the insistance of one young man that it must be a software issue, I held my ground on the dodgy battery front and sure enough, that it transpired, was the issue. Meanwhile I talk to The Main Man (South African) and fill him in on Mama B and FGM. He looks quite horrified. But fails to offer a donation. However I get a lesson in software updates and my new battery free of charge so it could have been worse. I have been asked to find a Jewish Cemetary by the fragrant Sarah Chew. She makes the oddest requests, but I feel I can make a fist of this one. David has no idea what I am talking about. “What is Jewish?” he asks. Minefield. We settle for “big nose, a lot of money”. David nods. “Like Delamere” he says, referencing one of East Africa’s biggest and richest families. “Not really” I say. Lord Delamere famously opposed any Jewish people coming to Kenya as they are “entirely parasitic”. So too lazy to be out and out thieves like the white settlers then …
The cemetery is a tragic sight. Not a headstone left intact, totally overgrown, full of litter and homeless people enjoying an al fresco bottle of glue. This is not anything to do with anti-Semitism. This is just Kenya.If no one is actually defending something or paying money for it it just gets trashed. I take pictures and we leave to spend an hour and a quarter travelling 200 yards and get beaten up (Just poor Mary, not David or myself) by a real bastard of a matatu driver. Mary has a nasty scar down one side now. I am not quick enough to figure out the Swahili for “your mother sucks cocks in hell” (sorry Dad if you are reading this. This is a clever film reference, not just random swearing) and had to settle for “Mchinga” (stupid) and a wanking gesture (as he drives off, not daft enough to do it while he is beside us). I feel I have let myself down badly on the sweary insult front.
Market is quiet and we get back to Corner relatively quickly. I put the phone on to charge its new battery and David and I go to look for a mosquito net. My arms look like scabby mince, my face resembles a pink bag of marbles and I cannot take another night of mosquito torture. In the back streets of Corner we meet a great group of prozzies and pimps. “I love your hair” says one girl. “Can I touch it?” So I go over and she runs her fingers through my hair, as does her friend. “So natural” she says. She offers me a feel of her braids “Mine is from China”.
“You look nice” says one of the pimpy lads “Are you available for service ?” This is the closest I have come to being chatted up in years. I smirk girlishly. “Some other day” I tell him. #stillgotit
We get a net and meet Doris. She has been back out to Limuru and played an absolute blinder. Five of the girls managed to get away from their ‘families’ and make it to town. Doris has persuaded some of the well off customers of our Glam project (you say what you want and for how much money and we find it for you … sort of personal shopping service) to take the girls in and give them a job as, more or less, au pairs. Very good money, nice accommodation and – best of all – these women are offering to sponsor the girls to be trained in either hairdressing, rug making or sewing. PLUS they are not even afraid that the ‘families’ will come after them. “If they come we will expose what they have been doing” say the ladies. Amazing !!! Doris is going back tomorrow to try and collect the rest. Mama B will be providing fares to get them wherever they are going. This is where the years and years of setting up small businesses all over really comes into its own. When the call goes out, Mama B Peeps will help. That is The Way of Mama B.
Now back to Casa Copi and we open the Big Box of Bras. I want to sort them out so we can make sure they go to the right women (ie the old ladies of Western are not that keen on underwiring). As we sort I realise Mama B knows some seriously well stacked ladies. There are some gorgeous undies.
Doris is working out where best from them to go and we will start distributing. Watch out for more pix.
I manage to set up my mozzie net using a mop and a slight rearrangement of furniture. Bliss. Bliss. Bliss is a night undisturbed by mosquitoes
Valentine’s Day. I am slightly worried that all the bouquets of roses and boxes of chocolates will be piling up outside the flat in London. Well whoever you all are who have sent them on this most romantic of days, thank you. As it is I rise, sponge down – losing a few scabs in the process – and make a cup of coffee with the usual added jeopardy of having to wait until the milk hits the coffee to see if it curdles horribly or just leaves a slightly oily scum on the top. Oily scum it is. Hoorah !
I get stuck into some packing. British Airways have given us five free bags at 23kg each. And that is in addition to my own 2 x 23kg. They are being so nice. Given the dire Christmas we had in the shop (where WERE you ?????) I actually do not need to buy that much.
I get a call to say that the Meru groups are all moving today to Garissa under the watchful eye of Vicky. For those who did not read the Meru diary these are twenty women who are escaping their rapist husbands. Sorry, rapist, paedophile husbands who have been sexually abusing their own children. So the twenty women and about ninety children are simply disappearing from one appalling life today and starting another. The women will form a little community and everyone is part of one of the group businesses. There is a hospital waiting to look at physical damage and a counsellor to address the psychological trauma. Vicky is working on school for the kids.
Doris calls from Limuru where the bravest five of the girls who have been being kept as sort of house/sex slave are leaving for their new lives. Some have children born of the abuse they have suffered. Some have never been to school at all. Most of them were brought to Nairobi aged about eight or nine. The sexual abuse started at the latest, six months later. And has continued unabated ever since. They have rarely been allowed out of the house to mix with other people. So this rescue has been tricky. But now they are going. They all have someone waiting for them – a Mama Biashara person – a place to stay, well paid, nice work, and three days training each week in skills like hairdressing and sewing. These young women have been so abused for so long that we could not have given them their own businesses. They have no confidence, no skills and almost need looking after like children until they can heal a bit and find themselves again. Which they will. Doris has excelled herself here. The rest of the girls in this group are too terrified to come along. And they have difficulty (which often happens) in believing that someone actually wants to help them. But we are staying in touch.
15 Feb 2018
We have had great difficulty in keeping in contact with the maasai girls in Shompole. I do some research and find it is not “there, above Meru” but over, again, towards the Tanzanian border between Lake Magadi and Lake Nacron. And not, in the grand, Kenya scheme of things, that far.
I resolve to go on Saturday and come back Sunday or Monday. Turns out Shompole is quite the tourist trap. It is hotching with safari operaters, camps, ‘wilderness experiences’, ‘cultural exchanges’ and the rest. I see pictures of jolly Maasai ladies engaging with eager tourists. Am assuming that the old ‘cultural exchanges’ do not include female tourists being held screaming while they are cored like a pineapple and then sewn up with parcel twine.
But I digress. More money is extracted from the bank and a small budget for two more of the Limuru forest girls to start training in rugmaking is sent to Doris.
The market is missing Evans (with my incense holders) and Dorcas (with my dresses) but I collect what I can and go. There are some FAB.U.LOUS dresses coming over ladies, gents and everything inbetween. FAB.U.LOUS.
I get a call from Felista who is sounding not at all well. I was supposed to meet her to give her some money for some lengths of pipe for the sewage system at the home. “The pipe which is here is very small and the poopoos are now very big and they are blocking, blocking and returning into the cho” she explained earlier. I find her slumped on a bench in a pharmacy. She has a pain in her chest which sounds like heatburn. But she seems very weak (unusual). The pharmacist has given her Omeprazole. “It works like a charm” he says. “IT is a PPI” I hoot “these are serious drugs and you cannot hand them out like sweeties”. “But it works” he smiles. “In one hour she will be fine”. “What do you give for a headache?” I mutter “morphine ?”. He chuckles. In an hour Felista is not fine. And the pain has shifted to her back. I ask the PPI King if he has a blood pressure meter. He has. Felista’s BP is high. 177/104. But no shortness of breath, no clamminess, no racing or thready pulse. I chat to the PPI King about likely antibiotics for the girls in Shompole. He does not seem that bothered by my description of the problem. “That is the Maasai. That is what they do.” he nods. I get Augmentin in high doses, iodine, hydrogen peroxide (for when it is time for the maggots to go) and take Felista next door to drink tea. She is not perking up that much so I put her in a taxi. Sadly the cost of a wee ECG here is ridiculous. But I might see if we have any pullable strings.
There is stuff to collect and send to Jayne in Awendo, stuff to send to Julius in Western and I am planning a trip to Felista’s cyber to get my Phoenix Project forms printed and copied. Oh yes, if it will help get me money, I am now all about the paperwork. We go up the backside of Toi market and get a suitcase for a girl in Awendo who is going off to school in Homa Bay. This is NOT the kind of thing, I have told Jayne, that Mama Biashara money is for. But I calculate that as I am now going to Shompole I will not be going to Awendo and so the money for the suitcase if my bus fare for that trip.I talk to Felista who is still not sounding great. I resolve to go and see her with some healthy snacks and garlic capsules. The printing job at the cyber is not a great success. “I think it is the toner is low” says the boy, looking at the ghostly grey print on the pages.
David and I eat peas and rice in the little place downstairs and go to the car. Which has apparently died. Completely. Not a flicker. The usual rearranging of cardboard bits on the battery and banging the contacts with a spanner do not work. A mechanic is called. And hour and a half later Mary comes back to life. “It is a fuse” pronounces David. Mary dies again. We do a lot of pushing her around the dusty compound while David attempts to start her up. We apply jump leads. Another half hour and she is going again.
However my confidence that she will last the journey to Shompole and back is somewhat shaken.
It is now too late to visit Felista who is on her way to ‘a meeting with some boys’.
We go out to see Linda, sister to Mama B’s doughty volunteer Sonja and then sooth our nerves with a beer.
More sexually abused girls from the forest community outside Limuru have come forward. Seven of them, four with babies. In a slight twist to the usual story, one of them was brought to Nairobi aged 12, by her older sister. It is her sister’s husband who has been raping her ever since and it is his baby she has. Doris is again working her magic within the Mama Biashara com munity and has found the seven girls places with our Glam customers. Accommodation, food and very well paid house work plus, in all cases, the all-important training. In one case the lady has four shops and is looking to train our refugee girls for all of them. The feedback about the girls who left last week for their new homes is very positive. The host ladies are delighted and the girls are thrilled. We may have discovered a whole new way of dealing with sexually abused teens. FYI all of the groups will be getting counselling, that is part of the package we set up.
occurred to me that some of you might see the whole child
rape/sexual abuse/FGM thing as being Mama ‘spreading herself too
thin’ (one of my favourite positions). Let me explain how and why
this is working.
At the moment about 75% of Mama’s income comes from the shop. Currently the shop is breaking me. And I have no real idea for how much longer it is viable. The problems are both personal and personel. I have to find a way to make Mama more attractive to funding bodies / fundraisers / donors. This means being (I have been advised) much more specific. Very few people are wonderful enough (you know who you are and should be experiencing a very warm glow right about now) to give me money to give away to people to change their lives through setting up a small business. Apparently that is too ‘vague’. The criteria (people basically living in a hole in the road selling sex to feed their children) are too non specific. Serendipitously, the whole child rape project reared its ugly head. And the day we put our feelers out on the ground to see what was lurking there it turned into the Hydra. The women whose husbands were raping their children but who could not leave … the sex slave girls … and even Maasai women who were prepared to run from their clan to save their daughters from FGM are now Mama’s consituency. They are all being saved the Mama Biashara way – by being made strong and independent by having their own, sustainable business. It is just now we have a bigger job adding on counselling, medical care and relocation expenses. Girls will get training (like the sex slave girls) and Maasai girls will get the education they have been refused (there is a small school at the centre in Rombo). But it is still all the Mama Biashara Way.
And now I am hoping that we are more eligible for grants. I have admitted defeat on the ‘just do the right thing’ front. I now know I have to continue doing the right thing but be prepared to parcel it up the way the trusts / donors/fundraisers want to see it.
Yes we will still do deworming and ringworm days, yes we will still do all the civil rights information leaflets and health information. But that is easy peasy.
We still have our groups in Awendo (hotbed of all things non consensual and unnatural where sex is concerned btw), Western and the Coast. As well as the new communities growing in Dodoma (in Tanzania, we are literally an international charity !), Nanyuki, Garissa and the rest.
Anyone have any thoughts on this ??
And does anyone know anyone who knows anyone who might want to volunteer in the Emporium ?
This is really just a day champing at the bit to get going to Shompole. We asre completely unable to get a reply from the phone that the girls borrowed to tell us of their plight (these are the 12-14 year olds who have undergone FGM (with a grand finale of being sewn closed with twine) and are now badly infected and in agony. As we have no way of getting in touch with bthem now the only option is to go to Shompole Village and try to find them. We also know they are at school so we will start with the primary school.
While I wait I send stuff to Julius in Western (decent disinfectant and stuff for a ‘lets get rid of jiggers’ day he is organising. I also send off some magic uji (porridge that really seems to perk kids up and help them get strong) and other bits and bobs to Jayne in Awendo. I get ciggies for Amanda the Sister and Chris The Mad Irishwoman (Sexy Souad wants bMarlboro and they only sell them at the airport so that is a Wednesday purchase). I have a look round Yaya market for Evans, who owes me some stuff (not there) and Oscar who owes me a replacement chessboard (there but mumbling about the bus being at Maai Mahiu.
I buy big sacks at Corner for The Packing.
Things start badly when I discover that Zaida’s shuttle from Rombo will not be arriving at 11am but probably closer to one. Bit of a setback given we are off into the completely unknown and we do no know how long it will take to get there. And the unknown is always trickier if you arrive in the dark. But we pick Zaida up on Mombasa Road eventually and set off. After Kiserian the countryside gets really hilly and positively spectacular. When we get to the tops of hills there are more hills in the distance – it is really lovely. As we get to within about 50k of Magadi it gets hot. Really hot. Like God is attempting to blowdry the world. And the road dwindles to a thin tarmac ribbon … well, a ribbon with lots of holes in it. Much of it is just pothole linked, like the plastic things that hold a sixpack, with ribbons of tarmac. Mary ploughs on.
I get updates on the project at Rombo from Zaida. All the businesses except one have started and are doing well. The crippled lady has built her kibanda so she does not have to walk so far to sell her stuff, the coughs and rashes and whatnot are clearing up and the only problem is the continuing line of people coming (literally) out of the bushes to seek help. April is long time away from them.
The compound is ours (for ninety quid a month and an impressive fence has been erected. I had not thought a nine foot corrugated iron fence would be the first priority but Zaida says that for the two girls who are already sheltering there privacy and security are paramount. So up goes the fence. For a large chunk of which we have to thank Andy Dean and his fragrant wife Katie. They donated a wedge and it finished the fence. The girls are now safe and happy.
The mobilisation of women against FGM has started strongly in Rombo. Almost none of the mothers want their daughters mutilated, but as the female is somewhere below the goat in the respect stakes in Maasai culture, they all tend to watch helplessly as their daughters are sliced and diced and sold off to old men in ‘marriage’. But this is starting to change. Girls are starting to run, aided by their mothers. Unfortunately, although it is all totally illegal under current Kenyan law, in Rombo, given that the local area Chief’s mother is the principal cutter, reporting it gets you nowhere except a beating from your husband.
But now there is The Phoenix Project …
The road sort of peters out and then starts again and suddenly Lake Magadi is in front of us. The panoramic vista of hills surrounding the pink tinged lake is slightly marred by a giant factory belching smoke. It is like something out of a nihilistic futuristic movie.This is TaTa Chemicals plant, extracting the famous (yes it is) Magadi Soda from the lake. I say lake … you can see where a magnificent lake has been, but now it looks more like some kind of sore with a huge crusted ring around it. It doesn’t smell that pretty either. But I learn that that is mainly the toxic fumes belching from the factory. We had thought there was a Magadi Town, but the road ends at a security barrier. You are inspected and questioned as to where you are going. You have to sign in … Then you pootle across a thin road between soda flats and drive past what looks like prison blocks. These are the houses for the workers here. Creepy doesn’t begin to touch the sides. I find myself muttering “I am not a number I am a free woman” under my breath. There is, however, a petrol station. We fill up and the little clutches of Maasai Wazee stare. The young pikipiki guys ask David where we are going.
Now here is the thing. Just for future reference. If an actual Maasai actually tells you that “barabara ni mbaya sana” (“the road is very bad”) PAY ATTENTION.
We do not, however, and drive off.
“Very bad” turns out to translate as “there is no actual road”. We drive across a white stoney landscape that looks like another planet.
Then we start to go downhill. The ground turns black. We carry on. It is now very very flat. And quite rocky.
“Er … I think we are inside the lake” I say. Trying to sound more interested than worried. Which is what I am.
We carry on. We are indeed inside the dried up parts of the lake. Now we are driving round the inside edge. And suddenly, the lake is not so dried up. We are looking at water. Quite a lot of it between us and where we think we are going. We get out. We look. We even take pictures. I wonder what the chances are of the lake being tidal. Suddenly we see, ahead of us, what looks like a pikipiki riding on water. I dismiss the idea that this is a 21st Century Religious Experience and decide that this means the water is not that deep.
“We can do it !” says David. With definite overtones of the young Mickey Rooney’s “why … we can do the show right here !” Two more pikipikis ride past us and plough into the lake. We watch.
We get in and set off into the water. Were my hair not so totally clagged with dust this would have been hair raising. As it is it stays firmly clamped in place. Even when, about halfway across, Mary stops. David revvs. Wheels spin and muddy water flies. But we do not move. Zaida and I get out the car into the muddy lake and start to push. We get a little further and VERY muddy. Mary stops again. Her offside front wheel seems to be in some sort of trench. I have no idea why we are not all hysterical. But we are just not. Then another pikipiki arrives. They dismount and do some headshaking. The first pikipikis are now coming back to help. Maasai are very strong. They grip Mary by the bumper and lift her out of the hole she is in. David revs, wheels spin. Then, spraying all of us with mud, suddenly she is away. I am hoping that the mud of this dying, exploited alkaline lake might have some sort of health giving properties. One of the pikipiki guys – Josphat by name – gets in and, for the rest of the crossing, he is our guide. Sometimes he gets out and walks ahead to gauge the depth of water and solidity of ground. We reach the other side. We are filled with delight. Until we realise that ‘the other side’ is really just a high bit in the middle of the lake and over the other side is more lake. Inside the car is now about three inches deep in water and I start to bale. But Mary is still going. And the water is not unpleasant. We negotiate Lake Magadi Part Two, which is equally as much of a Russian Roulette of a drive and finally hit dry land. Very dry land. The countryside here is a bit like that of a Mad Max movie. Only not so lush and welcoming.
We should not attempt to go to Shompole ton ight, says Josphat. And it is already getting dark. We stop in his home village, get a place to stay – spartan to a fault but clean. And go for a walk round the village so Josphat can show the locals how he has caught a mzungu.
We talk to his wife and her pals in their compound and ask about local girls. We very soon get to talking properly and the ladies are full of handy hints for not getting septicaemia post FGM. Top tip is washing your butchered bits with Omo. I explain that these girls cannot wash themselves out because they have been sewn shut. Now, Maasai life is tough and Maasai do not shock easily.But these women – all of them having been, themselves, cut – gasp in horror. NO one, they tell us, in this area would do anything like that. They look positively queasy. Only in a slum would someone do something like that, they insist. Interesting.
The mums want me to take a picture of the kids enjoying porrigge but the kids shriek with laughter and run away to hide.
We continue our walk around the village and end up at a hut on the outskirts. “You want to take a Tusker?” asks Josphat. We do. And now comes an experience I will never forget. We sit outside because the heat in the hut is stifling and it is pitch dark (no leccy). It is still pitch dark outside but there are a gazzillion stars above us. Maybe even two gazzilion. It looks nothing like a British sky. You can see galaxies. But galaxy shmalaxy … that is not the experience. The beer is opened, we clink and we drink. And it is hot. Not warm. Not tepid. HOT. Like cup of tea hot. It is like the sort of discomnbobulating oral experience that Heston Blumenthal might have thought up. But cheaper.
We drink, we eat, we chat with the increasing number of people who come to see the mzungu and we sleep to the sound of hyenas having fun.
It has, I confess, been quite somwe time since I have been woken from slumber of a morning by an enormous cock.. But today I relive the experience. At about five am. Mary has developed a flat tyre overnight. David changes the wheel for the spare. Which is in not the greatest condition. But we set off for Shompole just before nine. We are all aware that, without Jospert we would never have negotiated the lake yesterday. Now we are again entirely in his hands. There is no road across the sand from Oloita to Shompole. Yes there are tracks, where vehicles have gone before but nothing exactly like a track. And so David drives guided by Jospert pointing this way and that, through acacia bushes, across arid dusy ground and sand. Lots and lots of sand. We re-enact yesterday’s drama in the lake with the spinning wheels and flying mud, only now it is sand. All in all, I prefer the mud. Mary is amazing. This is like a stage in the Dakkaar rally. But Mary is a 1996 Toyota sedan and, to be honest, about 40% filler. We see gazelle. Lots of gazelle. David sees dinner. We see zebra (the meat is edible but very salty, according to Jospert) and we see, suddenly, all around us, giraffe. They are galloping around. They stop and look at us and then gallop some more. The Big Daddy is at the tail end of the herd (herd ??) and watches us intently. He is ginormous. And fixes us with a stare as he walks past. Awesome. Even David is impressed. Because of the terrain and the veering around and the digging us out of the dust, the trip to Shompole takes a couple of hours. But we get there. Before the village, we find Shompole Primary School. Now the frantic girls who had called the Mama Biashara phone had said they were at school so we decide to start our search there. Treading carefully being the order of the day. Zaida goes in to talk to the headmaster. He is a bit suspicious. But we start pulling dewormers and cod liver oil capsules out of Mary. I have brought everything we have left as I thought we might need a cover story / sweetener. Zaida is very persuasive with the headmaster (the main worry is always that we might be some form of ‘authority’) and I am soon setting up a mini medical looking at deworming, ringworm and dozens and dozens and dozens of “wounds”. I have not brought enough bandages or any kind of dressing to wrap up the cuts and gouges, slices and sores that rock up. But the new reuseable carrier bags that Kenya uses tear up and work really nicely once sterilised. I clean and cover and David deworms and deals with ringworm. Meanwhile Zaida is rooting out the older girls and getting their confidence. This takes a bit of time and the big boys in the school are getting pushy. At twelve they are already behaving like King of the Hill. Even with no hill. I have to stop them pushing in, beating the younger kids and intimidating the girls. They start sitting down with stupid imaginary complaints. I am sensing time on the naughty step is going to be wasted on them.
I see Zaida and she says our girls are not here but that she has been inundated with pleas for help by the girls. All have already been cut and all have already been sold off. One is due to be sent off to the old man who has bought her in two days time. She is convinced we have been sent by god to save her. All the other girls will be sent off to their ‘husbands’ within the next month. They are all desperate. Mary (who is due for shipping in two days) has already run away and is living with a friend. But she is so determined to continue coming to school that she risks everything to attend each day. They say there are other younger girls who have just been cut and who are in so much pain. We offer meds to take to them but the girls are just too frightened of being found out and beaten. We give them Zaida’s number. We say we will be there to help them but that we cannot take them with us. We had not expected this. Mary (the girl, not the car) says she will go to the woman who is looking after her and get her permission to leave. We make nice with the headmaster and some teachers and arrange to come back in April. With more dewormers and whatnot. This is very good. I try to take some photos but my ipad is having a hissy fit. “The ipad is too hot. Cool it down “ it says, alongside a picture of a thermometer in red. I look at the temperature. It is 38%.
We go into Shompole and have a genuine Ice Cold In Alex moment with some Fanta (drink of the Natzis and made by The Evil Empire and so SO wrong) which is all that there is in the freezer in the trailer with the only cold stuff in Shompole. We are
By the time we have made it back to the lakes (taking a shortcut, thanks to Jospert), Mary has been on the phone with the woman who is looking after her. So have three of the other girls. By the time we have reached Magadi again, others have contacted us and, marvellously, the mothers of the girls are now calling, begging us to save their girls. This changes everything. The mothers are desperate for their girls to escape the lives they themselves have endured. They want them to have a chance. They will give us birth certificates they say. Please take our daughters, they say.
By the time we are back in Nairobi the phone is out of battery.
We plug in and eat at Jowac while Mary gets a much needed clean-up.
We have the feeling something enormous has just started. The Phoenix is not just rising … she has taken off.
There is a lot to pack into today. While I am collecting stuff from Evans the Soapstone, finishing the main packing and meeting with Doris, David picks up the Red Zone Dolls from Mama Imelda, the Maasai from Tom and some stuff from Mwangi. Doris has great news from our relocated families. All the businesses have started and are going well. Stella in Dodoma has sorted a hospital and will start counselling next week. And some of the kids have even stated at new schools.
The extra good news is that the men in the communities from which we rescued the families are so rattled – and convinced that it is the police who have taken the women and children away – that the raping has stopped. It will start again. But it is good to have rattled the raping bastards’ cages.
Vicky’s groups from Meru have all moved out and are relocated in Garissa. The businesses are starting up.
We do some last minute paperwork and I get pages and pages of the names of all the people Mama B has got into really well paid contracts with SGR (the new Kenya railway). We have been doing this for over a year now and some of our original people are quite senior now: training the newcomers, doing skilled work and enjoying a security and income they have never known.
The girls from Limuru Forest are all settled in their new places and their host Mama B ladies are very happy with them. Their training will start next week but in the meantime they are secure, unabused, happy and earning good money.
Now Doris has a new group of girls who were given the Mama B number by the first group. They come from even further into the forest. They are in the same position as the first groups. Most of them brought to the community at the age of eight or nine from rural areas. The rapes started about three to six months later. More of them have children from their rapes. But given the number of men who have raped them, they have no idea of the ‘father’. More of them have never been allowed to go to school. And several of them have been married off to their rapists when someone started asking questions. Average age at marriage, 15. Doris has Mama B ladies lined up to give them accommodation, well paid work (usually as a sort of au pair: child minding and cooking) and a guarantee of training. What they need is bus fare and, in some cases, a set up grant for their training (mainly the ones who are going to do rug making). There are sixteen of them. And they are all on their way to their new lives.
Felista and Zaida arrive and we go to Jowac for the traditional ‘last supper’. Zaida has been fielding calls from the girls in Shompole and their mothers.
Felista is keen on the Phoenix Project. So we talk about the plans for building another couple of rooms in the compound. Which, let’s face it, we will need for the girls coming from Shompole. Felista is a mine of information about mabati costs and offers us a load of mattresses if we can get them to Shompole. I leave copy sets of keys to Casa Copi with Felista and Doris with instructions that it can be used as a safe house in an emergency, or as a place for girls to break their journey before carrying on to Rombo. It is good for it to useful even when I am not there.
We part. The cars are packed. The check in is slow (the plane is absolutely rammed full) but pleasant and my time in Kenya is over.