Kenya Diaries June 2012
An interesting lead up to what promises to be an interesting trip. The Mama Biashara Emporium is still closed. And so our primary source of income is drier than the proverbial nun’s chuff. But in the way that has become familiar for those who work with Mama B, other sources of much needed cash have opened up. Even while closed we have sold a couple of expensive items and donations have come in from Daddy Copstick and my lovely cousin in law Gus Whyte, as well as Pippa Dyson and the Make A Difference Trust, who stumped up an amazing £4000 just to have me chatting up celebs on the red carpet at their West End Eurovision Extravaganza.
I spent a couple of hours in a burka and a powerful Glaswegian brogue filming for an art piece that gets weirder as it progresses.
And packed up. Sadly no Upper Class for me this time. But lovely Virgin did give us a free excess bag on the way and so the 10,000 cod liver oil capsules and the 8,000 multivitamins and minerals ( you would not BELIEVE how heavy health is) donated by HTC Health came free of charge.
The choice of films is so dire that I watch The Muppets. And fail comprehensively to identify ANY of the big guest stars except Jack Black and Whoopi Goldberg.
My threatening/piercing gaze combined with my fluent listing of “sanitary towels, herpes ointment, baby milk, condoms, lubricant and cod liver oil … “ got me through Customs like a butch lesbian through an Essex Girls hen party.
David and I head to DAgoretti Corner to meet Felista. The fabulous Wildebeeste Camp has moved to the outskirts of Nairobi and I have decided that, I must move elsewhere. Er … elsewhere cheap.
Felista has found me a place, behind a carwash, in Dagoretti corner. It is lovely. Unfortunately she has agreed 1000ksh per night. Around £7.50. OUtwith the Mama B budget. So I will stay here for six days and move on. Unless I can negotiate a 50% price decrease.
We unload bags of stuff for Felista, discuss a game plan to take care of AMREF – who have managed to get Felista taken to court (more of this anon) – and take two possible donors out to DECIP.
The computer there seems to have died. I poke pointlessly at it and mutter something about the Motherboard.
We leave the prospective donors with Felista and head off to change currency and move me in. I feel the need for a dongle – as my new home has no particularly mod cons and I want to be in touch !
En route to the cheapest dongle-shop we discover ourselves in a jam. There is a mob at the side of the road. Small children are running to see what is happening. The traffic crawls by. A man is sitting in a ditch by the road and is being beaten by two or three others with what looks like three foot lengths of thick piping. He is not even crying out, Every so often, he shrugs. We creep past in the line of traffic. My friend David says “he must be a mwizi – a thief”. They do not, he tells me, feel pain. If you are a thief, he tells me, this is what happens to you.
By the time I have bought a dongle, beer, watermelon, a blanket and loo roll, and we go back past what is left of the mob, the man is dead.
My little home is great. I have electricity. I am safe behind three locked gates (unless you count the shortcut through the carwash. The rain is pouring down. I have a cat !
Tomorrow the work really starts
An ill advised celebratory inroad into my Duty Free Mount Gay Rum has meant I sleep late and hurtle off to meet Doris at 10. Doris is an extraordinary women. She was a commercial sex worker for 16 years, left the business and now does sexual advice on radio and TV here. She also scours outlying areas for women who need help. Hence we are visiting around six groups of woman- variously afflicted with poverty, hopelessness, domestic violence, HIV and all that that brings with it and the usual mountain of problems that come along with long term nothing. The smallest problem gets a chance to grow into something huge when you are living in extreme poverty. Anyone who says that money isn’t the important thing should come here. Money (along with education and knowledge) is just about everything. Doris and I make a rather daunting schedule. As we list the ‘challenges’ for these women, a new one raises its ugly head. A new ‘cause of death for poor women. The pill. They get so worried about dying in childbirth, and having another mouth to feed that they secretly go on the pill. BUT here you buy the pill, over the counter, and the cheapest brands (around 15p for a month’s supply) are the ones that have been discontinued over here because of their side effects – like massively increased blood pressure, oedema, palpitations, Africa is just a dumping ground for drugs that we wouldn’t take. But we call it AID.
When I leave Doris I walk to Nairobi Women’s Hospital (never knowingly undercut when it comes to over the counter drug sales). As several of the groups we are visiting are riddled with the ghastlinesses associated with t he Happy Herpes Family, I buy all the acyclovir they have. I was unable to get any before leaving the UK – as it is prescription only – even a poxy tube of cream ! I am going to treat the women (most of them) with oral acyclovir, plus a cream I have concocted using a neutral base and a dozen tubes of Zovirax Max. I am also taking the some high strength multivitamins, cod liver oil and lysine (helps keep genital herpes at bay, DON’T ask me how I know).
I head back to Dagoretti Corner to meet my KBF (Kenyan Best Friend) John Kibe and a colleague of his who has business plans to pitch. We have a lovely time (more of his business plans tomorrow) and, as he remembers me bringing medicine for his kid when it was ill, he buys me nyama (goat) and mokimo (sort of potato all mashed up with green vegetables and mined with barely cooked maize kernals)
Back to Prestige Plaza (not as posh as it sounds) to meet Felista. As always with her, there is good news and bad news. The good news she has to fight to make happen.The bad news is sometimes beyond belief. After we built DECIP in Mutuini, AMREF (the African Medical Relief Fund – Kenya Branch) bought the plot next door and has over two years, built a huge compound which no one seems to use at all. Initially that was because the construction company were owed millions by AMREF and, basically, locked them out. Now it just seems to be some sort of White African Elephant. But they want o build a house for their Director. And they want Felista’s plot. Also, they hate that we have built a mabati (corrugated iron sheets) building – they think it spoils the look of their place. And also, the community love Felista and her home and school teems with children every day. So one of their officials made a complaint to the City Council about waste water coming from DECIP onto their compound.
Because AMREF are big and DECIP is small Felista was IMMEDIATELY (like, next day) taken to court (do not pass go, do not carry out any sort of investigation, just put her in the dock and threaten to fine her 500,000 shilling (about £4000) PLUS demand another 50,000 bond money to release her from the court cells. The community mobilized, everyone chipped in, the bond was paid and Felista got going. SHE got the City Council boys out to AMREF and confronted the Director. It transpired that the waste water was (obviously) AMREF’s and they have now been ordered to dig run-off channels (at a cost because the landlord wants a fee for access to his land to run drainpipes) or around THREE MILLION SHILLINGS. Sadly, while out there they have found some things that need to be put right at DECIP. Nothing huge, but it is all money. Bloody fire extinguishers for a start !! And we are going to get retrospective planning permission. Which you don’t need in an area like Mutuini as long as you don’t build a structure with full foundations, made of stone. But it will give absolute legitimacy to the structure.
In other news, DECIP is now getting money from a Canadian organisation which pays the teachers, fire extinguishers have been donated, DECIP now owns both plots of land (FINALLY) and an Italian organisation are coming in a couple of months to install (at the far end of the second plot) a small biogas production plant. Some of the bigger boys at DECIP will be trained to run it and the poo and pee from the home and school (170 x poo and pee) will make gas. And they can say goodbye to their massive firewood bills. The Big Boss of Child Services is coming to visit DECIP this week so I am off to buy 100 pairs of shoes.
Janet (the lovely lady who makes wonderful soapstone stuff) as been running a small kindergarten school in Kawangware – just scrimping together what she can to pay rent and a teacher. She had a management committee but they got fed up paying each month and Janet had to close the school. However, she has a friend who runs a primary school and has around fifteen littlies – nursery kids of three or four. They have done a deal that Janet has a room in her building and so pays no rent. But janet pays the teacher and supplies lunch for both sets of nursery kids. So there is a class of 30. My cousin Gus has just (not that he knew it at the time) paid to run that class (known as The Little Angels) for six months. 30 kids learning and loving it. And getting a hearty lunch which they would not get at home. £230, I thank you !!
Heading back to Dagoretti Corner to meet Doris with a big bag of Acyclovir, cod liver oil, multivitamins, sanitary pads, and condoms I detour to see if I can buy blankets. I only need 100. One of Doris’s needy groups has turned out to be a children’s home near a town called Kikuyu. 240 kids. About to be thrown out because the rent has not been paid. No blankets, no shoes and no food. I do not want to take on a children’s home. I don’t even like kids. And supporting DECIP is QUITE enough for a small charity like us. But you cannot exactly just walk on by … So I am on a blanket (cheap) hunting spree. Luckily the one I bought for myself is really good and only cost me £2. So I am going to clean the shop out of cheap mixed fibre blanketing. And I do.
The meet with Doris confirms dates for the various meetings and then we are joined by Julius from the Kwa Maji Discordant Couples group. I have cough meds, codliver oil and Diocalm for him. We discuss ARVs and side effects. I buy basic food for Julius. We agree a workshop next Saturday and Doris will come to talk sex (make a change from me banging on about it)
As I collapse into bed I am thrilled to hear, from mate Toby, that Cal Crutchlow qualifies third in the CAtalunya MotoGP. Happy days.
A bit of a monster day. David arrives with the car on time (ah the Copstick training …) and we rush off first to the posho mill. Which is closed. Unfortunate as we have to buy a load of food for the family at Ruai to say nothing of 50kg each of rice and beans for the disastrous children’s home we’re going to tomorrow. Luckily we find a cereal seller who will give good discount and load up the car. NAkumatt gives up another 33 of the blankets I got last night. The car is looking pretty packed. I add a load of essentials like laundry soap, milk, sugar etc and we head to Ruai.
We meet the kids on their way back from church and after much shrieking and hugging we squeeze four of them into the front seat of the car and I walk the rest of the way with the Miriam and Jane. By the time we reach the house I know that they are all being eaten alive by mosquitoes day and night and that they have a BIG problem with getting enough food for the family.
When we do arrive it is to discover that Aunty Mrs Sammi has been delivered of a strangely fluffy haired and permanently surprised looking baby boy. Just what the family needed. I tell Sammi he needs to tie a knot in it. There is much laughter – but not too much from Mrs Sammi who has had complications after her C Section and is tender in the laughing parts.
I suggest a trip to the local supermarket to see if they have anything on the impressive list of Things We Need. The kids react to the suggestion as if I have offered three weeks in Disneyland. The children take to the art of supermarket shopping like lemmings to suicide. By the time I get back to the cart with mosquito nets they are all kitted out with stylish mirrored sunnies. As they are only 50p a pair, and the kids look SOOOOO cool, I add them to the pile. Wait till you see the pix !
We learn that both Joseph and Georgie have certificates for being the Most Improved Performer in their class and that Moses is the number one pupil in the Primary class. Miriam is number seven, And Jane’s English is absolutely faultless. Unbelievably impressive. I tell them that my father is going to pay their school fees for next year and there are tears in their eyes. They love this school.
We leave at about five and head to see Janet – who has been a bit poorly. Both her sons are at home. Michael is 17, a strapping lad now. He was 3rd in the country in Maths and refuses a chance to come to Chicken Master and eat kuku as he says that students do not go out at night – they stay in and read. Who knew ???
Byron is 19 and also an impressive hunk of young Kenyan. He has done well at school and is hoping to go to do a Food Sciences training at college. He comes along for kuku.
I head for bed early – largely because I am knackered, partly because we have an early start and another monster day tomorrow.
The only blot on the landscape is that Lorenzo won the Moto GP. Grrrrr.
Oh, and it is cold and raining.
Up with the lark (or the car wash boys next to me, to be precise. Larks are laggards compared to the car wash boys) to meet Felista. She is heading to town to get a certificate of what is in effect Retrospective Planning Permission for DECIP. And a stamp for the certificate. And another certificate for the fire extinguishers that were deemed necessary for the home. And a stamp for that certificate. And membership of the Informal Sector Schools Association (which makes it possible for her to get access to Government funds – around 250,000ksh a year). And 50 pairs of shoes.
She is only half an hour late. Which on Felista Time is actually 45 minutes early. I head to Kawangware with David, buy laundry soap and a few dozen excercise books for the school and meet Doris. Doris is not a small woman. Her arse probably shows up on satellite pictures of Kenya. So she gets the front seat. I squeeze myself on a sliver of back seat beside 50kg of rice and slightly under 20 blankets.
The children’s home is miles from anywhere up endless lanes of red sticky mud. The sweet pastor who runs it shows me around. Contrary to information (fact in Kenya is almost ALWAYS contrary to information which is why you HAVE to go and see everything for yourself. It is not lying. It is just a national inability to be precise), there are not 240 children in the home. There are 79. Most of whom are not really orphans, they have simply been abandoned by their parents. Which, I think, must be worse. Far worse. I am shown the big room where they all sleep. All 79. The first thing I notice is that there are only three beds. The rest of the kids are currently sleeping on the floor. And, as advertised, there are no blankets. As we unload the car, the Pastor is crying. I am unsure what to say.
The school is actually really impressive. Although obviously entirely without funding. My heart sinks as the car comes through the wobbly mabati gate and the kids spot the mzungu. Just for a short while each visit to anywhere with kids here it is like being Elvis. They scream and shriek and fight to touch you. I feel embarrassingly over-valued. But we have brought 100kg of food and some excercise books. I am taken round each class and welcomed with much clapping and more or less the same song of welcome. I realise this must be what it is like being the Queen. Except I haven’t brought my own toilet (more’s the pity, sometimes …). The walls are covered in hand written charts and helpful lists, the kids are attentive, the teachers assiduous. This is a good school. With good pupils and good teachers. In a sea of mud, with starving kids, one pencil between three, eking out excercise books like they were gold leaf. I don’t know what to do. This place really deserves help. REALLY. The teachers are unpaid, the rent is unpaid. I decide Mama B will troubleshoot – pay some rent arrears, bring more books and food and work with the Pastor to see if we can find SOME help from SOMEWHERE. And to bloody well forget about chatting to God about it because so far the beardy one has done, if you will pardon the expression, fuck all.
We are going back on Thursday – watch this space.
Now to the main purpose of our visit – the women are already there for the business workshop. All crammed into a room at the home. They are a daunting view. I start with the rules of Mama B : before you take a grant you must know your HIV status and the status of your children and be living accordingly. All positive women get a course of Cod Liver Oil and Multivitamins (small miracles in gel capsules over here). They must agree that the money is spent on NOTHING but setting up the business and they will be checked upon. They gasp and titter nervously as I tell them that I do not believe in God and I do not believe that God will help them. Has he helped them so far ? They giggle. I tell them Mama Biashara says that they must help themselves and each other – no prejudice on basis of race, tribe, religion or sexuality (more giggling). And if they become strong I say, they must help others to become strong. (Kenyan English is quite odd sounding to the ear of the native speaker …)
I give out around £1500 in business grants – we form a collective of 16 rice seller and 12 charcoal sellers, which gives the groups great buying power. We already have a charcoal wholesaler in another group which means the Mama B groups are starting to join into a network, which makes me feel strangely satisfied. We have four tea sellers who will buy in a group direct from the fields and a few bead makers who are given an ID pass to allow them to sell their crafts at the Mama Biashara Stall in the MAasai Market on a Thursday. The health problems are various – bad backs, coughs, etc. One woman has asthma and has simply been told to go and buy a ‘tube’. Like telling one of us to go and buy a small island in the Pacific. Another was shot and is now paraplegic. Three have high blood pressure associated with taking the cheap contraceptive pill (which is the kind of high dose stuff we do not get given any longer) and one has black chemical burns all over her hands and arms and no feeling in either. She has been working in a local laundry where they base their detergent on caustic soda. They fired her when she couldn’t work fast enough. On Thursday I am going to the laundry with threats and an alternative detergent. One doesn’t really work without the other.
We are with the women for five hours of advising, reprimanding, giving and examining. I am out of money, condoms, painkillers, cod liver oil, cough mixture, multivitamins and energy by the time we finish.
The workshops for tomorrow have had to be postponed because I have no money left and the buggering Jubilee has closed the banks for two days.
Roll on Wednesday !
To be honest I am knackered. And I sleep late. But then head off to Nairobi Women’s Hospital for more medical supplies. An inhaler and assorted cough mixtures (Kilkof has run out – I can never bring enough), Sudocreme for the lady with the lesions and loads more acyclovir. I get an industrial quantity of ibuprofen in both gel and pill form. ON the way I find some amazing wall charts – science and maths, human anatomy and electricity for older kids, colours and shapes and animals for the younger. I buy a load of them (at around £1.80 each they are a huge bargain. Huge being the operative word, and they don’t bend. So I weave off down the Kilimani Road like a ship in full sale.
With my loads of medication, I decide to get a taxi back to my house. Although it is easily walking distance. Walking there took me about 25minutes. The taxi back takes about an hour and a quarter. That is what the Nairobi traffic jam is like.
I decide to head out to Wildebeest to collect my clothes and see little Olli. None of the few clothes I have brought any longer passes the scratch’n’sniff test. Too much information, I know. Unfortunately it is getting dark. I walk up the road and get a matatu to Lenana Slum Corner. As luck would have it, my regular, friendly piki piki man (Nick the Pik) is just unloading a passenger. He refuses to go over the bypass, making a cutting gesture across his throat and nodding meaningfully at the darkness. Fair dos. We go by road. Quite an exhilarating experience in the pitch dark.
The new Wildebeest is AMAZING. They now have a huge ornamental lake in the middle of the valley along which the deluxe tents sit like posh beige storks. I mention that we will be requiring several of said tents in November. The website is happy to take credit cards …
I get a lift home from Victor, a great man and amazing entrepreneur. He has offered Mama B a chunk of land in Kwa Maji and we discuss the ‘vision’ for its use as we hurtle along the dark roads in his gigantic 4×4.
Cecilia drops round unexpectedly – she is a tiny wizened example of Kenyan Female Fortitude. She always has a plan on the go. This time she wants to talk to me about a plot she owns near Thika. She wants to build an Old Folks Home there. Damned fine idea. We arrange to talk again on Monday when she will also introduce me to a young marathon runner who is looking for support in his training. I immediately have visions of the Mama Biashara Charity entrant besting the professional runners at the London MArathon next year … hmmm
Thanks to the endless efforts of the lovely Zetta, Mama B has £2500 heading to Kenya via MOneygram. It would have been here earlier but … I believe you had some sort of celebration ?? Disappointingly, it transpires that, while Moneygram are faster than a fast thing going fast and charge no commission, they do set their own exchange rate. 127ksh to the pound. As opposed to 131ksh to the pound which I get if I bring cash. However the cash is much needed.
I meet up with Doris in Kawangware and we head for the next workshop. This time out in a place called Wangiki. About an hour from Nairobi. Doris is looking uncharacteristically nervous and asks the women who meet us a the stage if we should get piki pikis to the meeting place. The women say no no, we are meeting ‘hapa tu’ (just here). They point at a building just down the hill. Turns out it wasn’t really that one they were pointing at. It was one about half a mile further on. Kenyan distances are very much like Kenyan time – having the elasticity of a bungee rope over the Grand Canyon.
As we walk down the muddy lanes I am increasingly fascinated by Doris’s bottom. It is an extraordinary thing which moves entirely independently of her skeleton. With each step forward it sways from side to side with a very attractive fluidity. But I digress.
The room is packed with women and the occasional spluttering child. We kick off with the ground rules of Mama B – the money is only for business, know your status, respect for all … it is this last that causes consternation. I explain that Mama B has respect for all races, colours, religions and sexuality. I do not believe in God but I am fine if you do. You simply cannot refuse to help someone on the grounds that their beliefs / colour/ sexuality etc is not yours. There is much chatter. I start the workshop.
There is the usual litany of disaster, illness, abandonment etc but a lot of these women have good business heads. And good ideas. We are getting along well up to about number twelve when the increasing din outside reaches a crescendo. I get up and look out. There is a … let us call it a group … outside the house. Animated to say the least. They are not happy that I do not believe in God. They say my money is corrupt and they have been off to the church opposite to pray to God to strike me down. Doris wades in and emphasises that no one needs to take my money, I am here only to help and just because I do not believe in God, I do not care if the do. She asks if I want to stop the workshop and leave. I say no. We continue. With some terrific women. Good business plans. At around number 28 there is another commotion at the gate. This time the women have brought the heads of the local Mungiki. They are (to be fair) the most feared gang / sect in Kenya. They are (or were originally) very strict Christians. And many Kenyans wish they were running the country now – they are real er … disciplinarians. We go out and Doris explains again what we are about. I shake hands and nod along with what she says. The Mungiki ask if we are forcing the money on the women. I laugh. We explain. The Mungiki say that is absolutely fine with them and shoo the women away. The remaining women relax visibly.
The rest of the afternoon passes in financing, medication, back rubs, demonstrations of stretching excercises, nutritional advice and the usual whole nine yards.
I get an escort of about fifteen women back to the matatu stage. Doris suggests we leave asap. Turns out that Wangiki is not really the safest of areas. Doris says she was shocked by what happened today. She has been working with this group for three months and had not imagined they would pull a stunt like that.
I end the day munching delicious mutura (a sort of barbecued sausage made from goat intestine) washed down with a can of Tusker. With jelly babies for pudding.
Back to Kiambu tomorrow to the school and the women.
I head off to Nakumatt Junction at about 9.00am to talk to the organisers of the Maasi Market there about taking a stall for Mama Biashara at which all the little beaders and weavers etc can sell their wares. Business there is really good. Unfortunately it transpires that I cannot get a stall till August. I put down my name and contact details and go off to meet the lovely Monica – a fabulous tailoress, whose fashions we will have ON SALE IN THE MAMA BIASHARA EMPORIUM when it reopens.
David arrives and we hare off to buy cheap ibuprofen – along with multivits and cod liver oil (thank you again HSC) a hugely helpful thing to have at all times. Getting ibuprofen wholesale is harder than it was the last time. As most people have not had time to recover from the last time Mama B bought everything they have. As it is I think the nearest box of Acyclovir is in North Sudan.
It is getting late so we head to Kawangware to visit the small school Angus Whyte (Gus, to his cousins) has funded for the next six months. I hand over the necessaries, take a few pictures and receive the usual list of things we need.
As we head out to buy chemicals for the soap making businesses I agreed at the last workshop, we pass the Giant Pharmacy (about the size of a bedsit, including the bars outside and the small sewer around. They are WONDERFUL. I get 1000 200mg Ibuprofen for about three quid. Cough mixture, saline for irrigating wounds and sores … etc etc blah blah.
The chemicals for making soap are not the greenest, but they are safe, don’t attack the skin or give off ghastly fumes. They also cost £4.00 for enough to make 20 litres of detergent. A VERY good business. I buy 140 litres worth.
We go back to Kiambu to do a medical workshop as well as follow up on some of the business proposals from Monday. The hairdresser gets her blowdrier, the kibanda lady her assortment of sweets, gum, biscuits and cigarettes ( all sold singly from a tray by the road in the slum areas). There are a load of new people with coughing babies. Most start by saying the baby is ‘joto’ (feverish). I have a miraculous cure for this, which is to remove at least one of the 14 layers of clothing the poor little buggers are constantly wrapped in. Kenyans attribute almost all illnesses to the ‘change of weather’ or the dreaded ‘cold’. They wear fleeces in 80 degree heat and swaddle their babies in ways that would protect them were they to be abandoned on an ice floe.
I do chests and throats, noses and many many bad backs and swollen legs. I do back rubs and demonstrate massage, ibuprofen flies around in tablet and gel form in a little pain relieving tornado. The asthma lady gets her inhaler, the gum bleeders the salt and the gel, everyone gets multivitamins and cod liver oil. They alone will work small miracles. A lady comes in and hovers. She was not at the Monday workshop but has, she says, ‘cut her leg’. Just above her ankle is a handkerchief bound round the calf. I remove it, grabbing antiseptic wipes, saline and hand sanitiser. Under the handkerchief ios a small gauze bandage, under which is a lot of dried blood. I swoosh enthusiastically with saline and tug gently. Under all this is a two and a half in gash which would appear, from the ghostly white glow at the bottom, to go all the way to the bone. I have a picture if anyone is interested. This is way beyond Nurse Copstick and Doctor Cod Liver Oil. I clean the wound, cover with antiseptic coated gauze and another bandage and send her off to the closest hospital in Kikuyu for stitching (although the wound has gone way past steristrips or basic stitching. I also pay for an anti tetanus. I give an 86 year old lady her first back rub. She looks like a little dried shrimp, and feels much the same to the touch. Her religion forbids her to take medicine orally but she gets some anti-inflammatory cream and we persuade her to some cod liver oil. She will notlet me apply the cream but I teach her son (who has an APPALLING case of scoliosis) basic massage. All good.
Flushed with good feelings we head to Dagoretti Corner to eat chicken and for me to treat Doris’s persistant chestiness (fnar fnar) with her first Hot Toddy. It all goes marvellously well and we (chesty Doris, David, Kibe and myself) spend an hilarious few hours eating, drinking beer and discussing sex and why Kikuyu men are so bad at it.
Tomorrow we descend into hell. Well Captaggert in Kangeme – another ghastly outlying slum area. And I am fresh out of Ibuprofen. Again.
When I was growing up there was a man in our neighbourhood called Cuthbert. Cuthbert would now be described as ‘special’. Our neighbourhood put about a rumour that he had had his brains blown out in the war. But he pootled about and the kids laughed and pointed and the adults looked and shook their heads. I am now the Cuthbert of Dagoretti Corner – as I stagger around with loads of medication in a box, or out in the morning to buy my hot tea …. the locals kind of know me now. As a kind of a Cuthbert figure. A lady even gave me free hot water for coffee this morning.
Although when out and about at the workshops and in the villages I have a growing longing for someone to look at me like I am normal – and not like they a) think I should not be here b) desperately need or want something from me or c) a mixture of both. I feel deeply ashamed at my longing to see a white person. But I digress.
Today here are NO WORKSHOPS. Partly because there is very little money left.
I go down to see Soapstone Janet (there are rather a lot of Janets and so I differentiate them after the Welsh idea … she is Janet the Soapstone) who also runs Gus Whyte Academy (ok it is called Little Angels, but credit where credit is due). I leave another box of necessaries for the school. Mainly loo roll, excercise books and pencils and head to town to the big Maasai Market where I am meeting a couple of the guys who make stuff for Mama B.
Thence to River Road – a sort of heaving, throbbing, wholesaling everything area where the air is 32.5% dust, 25% exhaust fumes and 2% BO – to get the nail polishes for my Kucha Kool girls. We have a workshop coming up for 25 ex prozzies who want off the street and into another way of keeping body, what is left of their soul, and children together. Kucha Koll (Cool Nails) is an amazing moneyspinner. Mobile manicurists. It has been a great success for all the girls who have gone with it so far. I am the LAST person to be deciding between nail polish colours. But I do my best. And buy 25 dozen. Heavier than you might think, I realise as I heave them off down Moi Avenue to the bus.
I add the polishes to the growing mountain of medication and craftwork that takes up most of my little house. And head off to meet the Pastor from the disastrous children’s home in Kiambu. I am introducing him to Felista. A cunning plan. But no one will be able to help and push him on like Felista.
The Pastor is beaming and spot on time. He is sweet, but has something of the Uriah Heep about him which irritates me. Maybe I have been working with Felista too long but I am more used to the full frontal attack approach.
Felista is, of course, just over an hour late. And arrives with three ladies in tow. Who need my help. Two from an HIV+ women’s group and one who is volunteering and making uniforms at the school, but who needs an income.
I leave Felista with the Pastor and tea. The HIV+ ladies and I arrange a workshop for their group and they say they want to come to the Kucha Kool workshop on Monday. They are both smart and presentable (HA!! Who am I to judge THAT??) so they are added to the list. They have a list of bedridden members (please, no sniggering … or is it just me that always finds the word ‘member’ slightly funny?) and I rush back to my wee house to fetch Cod Liver Oil and MultiVits. We package them up 20/20 and the women go off to distribute. I repeat – CLO IS the Magic Bullet over here. Cecilia (the seamstress) and I agree to meet so I can buy some of her work to give her an income.
I should be going to Kwa Maji to do a workshop with Julius’s group but by now it is getting dark and I opt to top up the medical chest and go hunting for boxes for the Kucha Kool Kits. I have bought a small flask and, on the way back, stop at Dorman’s Coffee House and get it filled with REAL latte. In two words deee licious.
KIbe phoned yesterday to say that the children in Juja had all had their weekly feed-up / multi vitamin and head check on Saturday so there is no need for me to go out to Juja today. For this relief, as the bard wrote, much thanks. I have a small confession – around the second day I was here I had a dizzy turn getting into a matatu with a vast amount of baggage and, well, not to put too fina a point on it, fell out of said matatu engendering some bashing to my ribs and a huge amount of tittering from the people around. My ribs are bloody sore. I think I have done something to the cartilage – there is a crunching, clicking feeling when I poke the affected region. Anyway I can breathe and times like this are why God gave us co-codamol. But bouncing for an hour to Juja would not have helped.
I head to the market at Yaya and pick up some BEAUTIFUL dresses from Monica and a load of colourful bits and bobs for the shop WHEN IT REOPENS.
Then I pack up a workshop kit and head to Kwa Maji to meet Julius and his group. I am positively glowering as I deliver my warnings about ‘double dealing’ to the assembled women. I know this group has been receiving money from a lovely guy called Shah. If anyone here has had money from Shah they must go I say. They stay. As the first one sits I ask again if she has had money from Shah. No, she says. Name ? I ask. Phanice Nyambura she says. I lift my phone. Now I will check with Shah, I say. She leaves. As do almost all of the women. Leaving me with about five businesses who want finance (3 get it and two are rejected for stupidity and chancing their arm) and a load of coughing, mucous ridden babies, some dodgy rashes and a stick like woman with a fever who gets sent for a malaria test.
As I am passing though Nakumatt Junction (a big, posh shopping centre) to buy malaria meds for the stick woman, I hear the sound of jazz. JAZZ. Saxophone and keyboards. OK it was ‘Autumn Leaves’ played at a speed that indicated the end of he world was nigh and the last rescue ship was leaving the planet in two minutes, but I followed it to a posh bar – all dark wood and leather seats. I cracked. I couldn’t help myself. I got into a leather seat and sat listening to jazz sipping a very fine Italian red and eating little puff pastries filled with Parma Ham and Brie (ghastly beyond words, but somehow comforting). It is another world.
Then another treat ! I meet with Kibe and he takes me for supper at a little shack that cooks pork. Good God in Porcine Heaven it is delicious. We follow up by heading to the pub next door and having a beer. On TV is the Euro whatsit frenzy . Spain and Italy. Like I care …
Felista is panicking because the City Council have been round and insisted on some work being done to the home (a long and sad tale of internecine fighting, corruption and needless expenditure) and she will be put in prison if it is not done PBQ. Zetta – half blind, constantly doubled up in pain, riddled with all manner of medical ghastliness and still a constant blur of activity fundraising and CEO-ing for CWAC – is also Mama B’s Go To Person in the UK at a time like this. She heaves herself from her cot in intensive care and sends a Moneygram.
I have a 9am meeting with Cecilia (aged crone who networks like Gordon Gecko) and a young Kalenjin boy who is a marathon runner. His brother has already been given a scholarship and is in Argentina, in the army, getting athletics training. Crispas (for it is he) is working as a night guard and running during the day. He is looking for a little support (I believe most runners wear one … cf Linford Christie).
He is a great kid. I have immediate visions of a Mama Biashara branded runner out-doing the Elite Athletes next year. Chrispas’ best time (in a Nairobi marathon 42km) is 2hrs 28 mins. Is that good ?
Anyway, there are plans afoot (running joke) to get him over here for next May. Meanwhile I have bought him a phone so we can stay in touch and loaded him up with Cod Liver Oil and Multivits.
I then head back to River Road to collect the rest of the polishes and remover and whatever for the Kucha Kool workshop this afternoon.
The workshop itself goes well – some of the girls are already very adept at doing pointless things with toenails and coloured varnishes. Then we do a medical workshop and more horrors are uncovered alongside the usual coughs and mucus and worms and scabs. A girl who had a miscarriage a month ago and is still bleeding … an old lady with obvious pneumonia … a dull skinned waif of a girl with a starving baby screaming for milk she couldn’t produce … all taken care of. Two are at the hospital as I type. Around £25 will save the life of the girl with the miscarriage. Less for the old lady.
There was one girl who has been having pounding headaches and complained of pains in her eyes. She had been to hospital. There were murmers of witchcraft. I put my glasses on her and she perked up considerably. She is merely myopic. Heading to he Optician for an 80 pence check up tomorrow.
Doris has a friend who works in KTN – Kenyan Radio and Television. He joins us after the Kucha Kool workshop for the medical stuff and after we are done we head off into Dagoretti Corner to eat.
I buy a fat mutura (a little like haggis but less elegant and sophisticated and made from goat) from the stall outside the bar. It is soooooooooooo good.
The media man is a typical middle class Kenyan – absolutely NO idea of what is happening inhe slums and no real inclination to find out. Amazed by the lack of … well … anything. Amazed by the poverty. Amazed by the ill health. But didn’t exactly put his hand in his pocket. Or offer ANY real help.
He thinks I should be getting some publicity … don’t bother watching this space.
Holds all the promise of the Day From Hell. Any day that depends for a timeous start on Felista is dangling by a thread before it begins. I get tough. David picks up the two sick sewing machines on time. Felista is blithering about being Felista. So I tell him to leave without her. Five minutes later there is an outraged call. There is no Swahili equivalent to the marvellous French ‘tant pis’. Unfortunately. But by the time Cecilia (tailoress to DECIP and new Mama B supplier) and her friend have arrived to join us, Felista has got a piki piki and is on Ngong Road. Proving she can move her ass when she needs to.
We drop the ladies outside the Singer workshop and I give Felista 10,000ksh (about £80) for the repairs, a load of household items, clean knickers for 79 children and a pair of shoes for herself.
David and I head off to meet a clutch of Mama B suppliers at the Kijabe Street Market.
Meanwhile, Doris has organised another workshop. I can only do medical, I tell her. And maybe three businesses. But the money is finished. It is impossible to dispel the illusion that all wazungu go around with one of those magic purses that someone got in a fairytale that fill up magically as soon as they are emptied. I could have “Na jumla moja pekkeyake. Kwa kila kitu” (I have only ONE lot of money for everything) tattooed on my forehead (a tight squeeze, admittedly) and no one would really believe it. We have spent what is, for Mama B, a small fortune this visit. Over £4000 on business finance, building works, emergency help and medical aid. And I already have a list planned for my next visit.
Loaded with loveliness for the shop (whimper helplessly as there has been no communication from Gavin at W12) we head to Kawangware where I buy 50kg of a wonderful mixed porridge flour. It has EVERYTHING in it and is a real health booster. It ill be there for Doris to dip into when she encounters twiglet children or breastfeeding mothers with boobs like a used teabag and screaming babies. And she will.
We also buy a load more of the somewhere-between-toxic-and-ecologically-acceptable detergent chemicals for a girl in Kangeme who wants to start a soap making business. And head for the workshop.
I have been on something of a steep learning curve as far as the medical workshops go. Were I a skier it would be not just a Black Slope but sompletely off piste. Several things I have learned : 1. Check both ends of a child (of any age, to be honest) before sitting it on your knee. My lovely DKNY-via-TXMAX top that Dad bought me in Edinburgh is still steeping after a particularly corrosive episode involving a six year old with pus covered tonsils and twin babies with gippy bowels. 2. Doris uses the word baby to mean anything from an actual baby, to a sixteen year old. Much paediatric cough syrup has had to be exchanged at my little wholesaler on this account 3. Every woman in Kenya has a)bad back b)sore legs c) headaches 4.The Kenyan Health Service is pitiless.
Today at the medical workshop we have a kid with asthma, a woman with a large, painful extremely dodgy looking lump in her breast which has been there for a year because she cannot even afford the registration card fo the hospital. Let alone the tests. And treatment … no way. But we arrange to meet an oncologist and get her some scans and blood tests. It might not be cancer … Then there is a girl who is convinced she has leukaemia. She says she was told two years ago. Since when she has had two children but no treatment. The only notes she has are from Obstetrics and Gynaecology. She seems to be anaemic rather than leukaemic. She gets Cod Liver Oil, Multi Vits, Ranferron, a couple of kilos of the nutritious uji to take and is sent off. (I hear on Thursday night that she is feeling much better, she has good energy and sends thanks for the medicine. I have a quiet Gregory House Moment).
There are old ladies with pus ridden gums, a fair number of very pooey kids and a woman called Pamela who is lifted into position. She is pretty badly crippled. She explains she was bitten by a dog two years ago. It must have been the Hound of the bloody Baskervilles. She is in pain everywhere she says. She starts to cry. She cannot pee, she says. Her husband, we are told, is on the way. We tell her to wait. She is now just burbling. She is hoisted up, her legs hanging like paperclips from her twisted pelvis. She has, I note, an obvious unilateral tremor in her right arm.
We soldier on while Pamela mumbles in the corner. When the husband comes he is fairly obviously not quite on planet ‘us’. I try to get some kind of history for the woman and succeed only in finding out that Pamela has had seven children, five of whom have died. She suffers attacks of temporary blindness and has hallucinations. Doris leans in to me. She and her friend are agreed. This is witchcraft. I move over and have a good close look at Pam and hubby. And a sniff. ‘Unataka changa’aa?” I enquire. Their rheumy gazes drop to the dirt. Changa’aa is hom made hooch fortified liberally with ethanol. Makes you mad, sends you blind, destroys liver and kidneys faster than you can say ‘shaken not stirred’. Pamela was never exactly a picture of health – the closer I look the more it looks like spina bifida – but she isn’t helping things. We give her the usual supplements but anything else would be a waste.
We have some marvellous time wasters – a woman who once had a cough and thinks she might have one again. And a woman who sits for an hour in the queue snorting snuff enthusiastically and then complains of a blocked up nose and having to breathe through her mouth.
Then there is the man who goes into great detail about the black mucus he coughs up. Black. Sometimes it makes him sick. Every night and morning. Sometimes more, he wheezes. Do you smoke ? I ask. Oh yes. Very much so. He smokes, he tells me, a LOT. Then don’t, I say. Ding ! The doctor is OUT,
There are a couple of sex workers who are looking for a way out of the business – one especially has her late sister’s two kids to look after and has a contact set up in Mombasa to buy lessos (colourful material) there and sell in Nairobi.
We are so tired that we just share a plate of chips in a cafe, drink hot chocolate and plan the next day’s itinerary (complicated – I suspect the Annexation of the Sudetenland was an impulse move compared to this). I have a list of medication to buy first thing. So no change there.
And I realise that the faint but distinctive smell of homeless urine is coming from me.
The number of things ‘steeping’ in buckets around my little house is growing. And I realise, as I hear the whine of the mozzie sensing mzungu blood, that I forgot to Doom the house before I left. Bummer
There is good news/bad news when I awake and rise at around seven (oh yes!). The mozzies have made something of an All You Can Eat buffet if me during the night. I may have lost as much as an armful ! However, by the power of Plaquenil and the rest, the bites no longer swell up into huge puce pillows , but just remain little lumps of a normal skin colour. Ah, medical science.
I head off to buy a new load of medication. According to our master plan, I will do this, then meet with Julius to hand over some stuff for a business we have started in Kwa Maji (ok it is a sleeve of cigarettes. I know. Black mucus man. But they sell one by one. It is a good business). Meanwhile David will be picking up Doris and the first lot of hospital visits from Kangeme. I have organised budget for each one and Doris has orders to get me on the phone to the examining doctors if anything seems dubious.
The plan goes reasonably well. The girl who had the miscarriage was given a clean bill of health without a D&C, three of the old ladies had bad teeth pulled and I went off to get antibiotics and salt for mouthwash, the thin girl tested negative for both TB and HIV (which as her parents had both died of AIDS was a real bonus), the chesty old lady turned out to be even chestier than thought and is being treated for pneumonia, the malaria and typhoid girl (who we sent to hospital last week) is now clear of both and two more fevered, pooing, puking babies who were picked up along the way are on rehydration drips while I get paediatric amoebicides and the rest. Only the man with the hideous infected wound on his leg necessitates my presence booming round Kenyatta Hospital on Doris’s speakerphone. She calls me first to say that the doctor does not want to treat the man because the man if filthy and a bit smelly. I am incensed. Quite loudly so. The doctor sets to treatment. Next Doris calls to say the wound has been debrided and the man given two injections but he needs to come back every day for the next six days to have the wound redressed and another injection of antibiotics. The doctor, she says, wants to put a ‘tube in his hand’. A cannula. IN the hand of a homeless man who sleeps in the dirt in one of the grottiest slums in the region. ‘What is the first line of the Hippocratic Oath ?’ I boom gown Doris’s Nokia. Silence. First, do no harm ! Does he PLAN on giving this man septicaemia I ask. Anyway. Man is now doing pretty well for a bloke with borderline gangrene.
I am at this point multi-tasking as I have taken reciept of my order of a dozen wooden shields plus 4 large shields. Minus David I drag them as far as Dagoretti Junction where I give in and get a piki piki. Once the huge box is aboard I am left balanced on the last half inch of luggage rack at the back. How the locals laughed ! But we get back to the House Behind the Car Wash okBy this time it is after two. Now in the Grand Master Plan, at this point all the hospital visits are done and I meet with David to head to Ruai. But the girl who thinks she has leukaem ia and the woman with the lumpy breast and the headaches still have to be seen.
I postpone Ruai and leave Doris and David to pick up those last two.
I go to town and send off Relief Parcel to Awendo (second last stop on the Road To Hell) – cod liver oil, multivits, Ibuprofen, deworming, amoebicides, anti malarials and a load of other stuff. It takes forever to get back as we are now ‘in jam’. Species evolve while matatus are trapped in the Nairobi traffic jam. It makes London look pedestrianised.
Doris is famished when she and David arrive at Corner. Food does not tend to come quickly here – unless it is of the dodgy chips and boiled beans variety. I take Doris to the pork butchery KIbe took me to. Absolutely delicious ! And usually ready in under half an hour. Doris is dubious. Doris, says Doris, “fears pork”. Not any more she doesn’t ! We organise hospital receipts, go through the sick list, check what more meds I have to buy and eat and eat and drink Konyage (a local legal spirit) and mango juice.
All in all a VERY good day.
AND I have Doomed the house so no mozzies tonight
I get packing. Just the three enormous bags this time as the stuff I brought the last time is still filling my flat. I head round the corner to pick up the gorgeous clothes I have bought from GTG (Go To Girls) a project run by a lovely Italian designer training street girls in dressmaking and design. Beautiful stuff. Wait till you see it ! I can’t wait till you BUY it !! I get to chat with the lovely designer in Italian, which is fun. But also funny because I keep breaking into Swahili. We are both v v v excited about bringing her stuff to London. If it sells well we will make a tiny shop within a shop for the fashions. We’ll be just like Debenhams.
I meet up again with Cecilia (who introduced me to the young marathon runner). Apparently the runner has … er … done a runner. She cannot find him anywhere. I have bought him a phone (£15, don’t panic) and had high hopes. Maybe he will come back. The words of Stephen Sondheim ring in my ears … “if you have no expectations, you will never have a disappointment …”
There are more medications to buy, the house to clean, suppliers to meet and (hopefully) my rent to renegotiate for the next trip.
At the chemist I meet some reps for a local drug company. I immediately try to blag some samples, but it turns out that all they have is a new laxative. I dream, I tell them, of working with people who need laxatives.
At the maasai market one of the bag makers from the Kiambu village has turned up with her wares. The message that the stall will not be up and running until August has not been passed on to her. I explain and take her round introducing her to people who might buy from her wholesale, getting her to check prices and generally get the vibe of the place. Then – to encourage her enthusiasm ( she turned up early, smartly dressed and with a bag load of stuff that will sell really well to Kenyans) – I give her 1000ksh. I don’t take any of her work because I don’t think it would sell here.
Doris arrives in the afternoon and we sort out and package up all the medication for the various peeps, labelling and writing instructions for her. She really really wants the purple top my Dad bought me in Edinburgh at TK Max. It has now been soaked, dried and is urine and mucus free (although mildly discoloured in patches). She has been so absolutely amazing that I give it to her. She is jobless, with triplets. And has come away from the sex industry to try to help hundreds of women and children across Kenya. I really want to continue working with Doris. She is an extraordinary woman. And she has never asked me for anything. Except the purple top. I also give her 5,000 (about £43) for all the work she has done over the two weeks. Not nearly enough.
In a fit of something or other I decide we will celebrate the last night by going to the jazz bar I went to last Sunday. Doris like wine, she says.
As we slide onto the leather upholstery I ask her what kind of wine. “I have had white wine and red wine” she says. “And I like red”. We drink Chianti, nibble chicken wings (deboned and marinaded) and listen to jazz. Doris fits in here. We have an absolutely delightful couple of hours.
I walk home through the dark. It does actually feel quite like home.
One thing I will not miss, I consider as I slide into bed, is the thick plastic cover which is on my mattress. I have been sweating and sliding my way through the night time. Obviously Mzungu bladder and bowels are not to be trusted on Kenyan upholstery. However now I know how it feels to be old and incontinent – slippy.
It has been an amazing two weeks. One of the best and most useful Mama B trips ever. A huge step forward – albeit into uncharted territory.
The recently late and very great Ray Bradbury said “You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down”. That’s what I have been doing. And it is definitely the way forward.