Diary 1 June 2015
I don’t think any trip has had such a marvellous send off. The latest in Mama Biashara’s FUNdraisers is a double bill of Luca Cupani and Romina Puma. I have a 3am start tomorrow but I really want to see these previews. There is a great crowd. This group of Italians who do the Laboratorio di Commedia each week at the Blue Posts and who are bringing it to Edinburgh for a very limited run make comedy something wonderful. With them it is once again something that brings people together, not drives them apart to spend their days smacking each other in the facebook. Individually their own kind of comedy bellezza is clearer to see. Romina Puma is a bit disabled, but she is working on it. The hour is personal, funny and frank. Her exploration of the subject of sex and disability has introduced me to the item whch is now at the top of my Christmas list. Luca Cupani might be something of a comic genius, I think. He rarely finishes a sentence but that doesn’t seem to matter as ideas and thoughts overtake each other on their way from his brain to his mouth. I leave the Emporium laughing, even in the face of a 3am start.
The increasingly prestigious John Fleming has promised to clear the room with anecdotes of his trip to Korea, my sister Amanda and volunteers Souad, Sonja and Megan are in charge of closing up and I go home for four hours kip.
I make the plane, the flight is loooooong but not as long as the queue to pay £30 to the Kenyan government to be allowed past the barrier. Luggage is in a vast pile on the floor surrounded by people scavenging for their cases in a quasi-post-apocalyptic scene. And the luggage trollies are all outside. However such is the crush and the crowd that the blokes at the customes desks show no interest in my bags.
The b’n’b into which I am booked (my little house has been demolished to make way for a massive apartment block as part of the ever quickening march of the lower middle classes into the poorer areas) turns out to be (once we find it) a ‘Spiritual Centre’. There is a massive church-like edifice and an accommodation block with meeting rooms. The Good News Bible salesman played a blinder here – they are everywhere. As are crosses – tiled into the floor, carved into the front desk … My room is tiny and spartan. Like something from The Nun’s Story. There is a large crucufix above my bed. Jesus hangs up there wearing the obligatory jaggy bunnet. loincloth and pained expression. Not an ideal room mate.
I sleep ten hours straight. Breakfast was at 7am till 8am and anyway, on my supercheap, under the counter rate I don’t qualify so I head over to Junction and esconce myself in Dormans Coffee Shop with its free wifi and set up the new/old laptop.
Doris arrives. We hug until people start staring. She wants to know if her new hairstyle makes her look ‘baby butch’ (an expression I used to describe some girls in a bar once, and one which Doris liked). The ‘do is very Grace Jones. It suits her.
I tell her excitedly about the three speculums I was given (thanks to the persuasive powers of Chantal, Mama B’s gorgeous blonde-in-residence) to assist in rooting out the remaining maggots from the ladybits of our Somali refugee lady (see previous postings and stop being so squeamish !). Doris has bad news. The antibiotics and everything else we sent with instructions stopped her fever and the ulcers and sores started to clear up. All the maggots on the outside were gone as well as the noxious smells. However we wanted to check inside as the daughter reported some maggots were still making their way out. And Doris learned that someone had told the group that a mzungu was helping this lady and the group had taken her into the camp and would not let us get to her except through them … and paying, obviously. They decided she is a cash cow. I don’t know what we can do now. At least she is in a much better state than she was, and her daughter knows how to wash her and keep her clean.
Doris is newly returned from Watamu (on the coast)and has good news, great plans and the galloping trots. The plan was to go there and do a training week for housegirls and baby care. During the week word spread and by the end Doris and friends had trained more than 120 women. Not only that but, thanks to Doris’s network, there were employers queuing at the door to take our trained girls into employment. Half are already working and another quarter are about to. The rest, Doris has trained to make pillows, which might not sound great but is a MASSIVE business here – the fibre ones. So 26 women are now profitably working on that. Alarmingly, even Doris was shocked at the poverty and hopelessness there. And if DORIS is shocked it must be appalling. The divide between the coastal white people and the ruling Arab classes who are seriously rich and the locals is almost unimaginable, says Doris. Coastal Arabs driving around in swanky convertibles and the locals naked (literally) in the dirt. The old men still climb trees to get coconuts because it is all they know how to do. But she thinks MAma B could work wonders. We already have in a small way but Doris says if I see the people there then I will change things. So no pressure there. One huge plus is that one of Doris’s old chums from when she was a working girl who picked up her clients in Mombasa’s big clubs is now living in Watamu, married to a mzungu (an ex client) and running a massive hotel and beach resort. This lady is the one who put out the word amongst her white friends that there were well trained house girls available for employment to good households. The white network is ferocious. And we are now plugged in.
We have also just started forty more young people there in a highly profitable shisha business. They work in groups of twenty (ten boys and ten girls) and such is the profitability (once Mama B has bought the pipes and a starter load of tobacco) that each of these groups of twenty will fund another group of twenty within three months. All the posh bars around (and run by mates of our friends) want shisha and so there are plenty places for MAma B groups to go.
Mama B has bought Doris a small netbook – 10″, £95 from the CEX secondhand place in W12 (same place I got mine) and I set it up for her. She feels the trots have subsided enough to try a sandwich and she eats while I download whatever is free and helpful. We do a big shopping for her (my usual welcome treat) including poking around and looking for the things the posh ladies want from the catering girls (more of which anon) and head back to Jesus. I have just two cases full of goodies this time. Too scared of the vagaries of connecting flights for more. We look through the stuff I have brought. Doris has made of MAma B’s catering groups something wonderful. By plugging into groups on WhatsApp and using her own network of ex working girls with clout Mama B now caters for some serious corporate clients. And they want somthing more refined. So we are planning a training day on cocktail nibbles, new ingredients and food presentation. Each function (and we now have a couple a week excluding weddings) takes another 20 something girls from the streets and trains them in basic presentation. They work under half a dozen or so experienced Mama B ladies who do the cooking and the training. The events (usually a TGI Friday buffet with drinks for staff) pay really very well and everyone new ends the day with a good wedge which they then use to set up a small business with MAma B’s help. Frequently clients for businesses are found at these functions. We are planning to do not just cocktail nibbles, but cocktails themselves (Kerrching) at the upcoming training workshop.
We go to a bar/restaurant nearby and eat njeri (Ethiopian flatbread) and chicken wings. And plan. I tell Doris about my idea for a mobile women’s cinema and she loves it. More of that anon. BUt if Doris thinks it will work then that is good enough for me.
David arrives promptly and we go to Kijabe Street where my attampts at keeping a low profile fail comprehensively. I buy lots of lovely stuff to refill Mama’s rails in the Emporium. And catch up on some gossip – mainly about the various plans various groups have for Obama’s eight hour visit to the country. Kenya seems to be terrified that Obama will, merely by talking about gay rights, somehow infect the country with a hideous epidemic of gayness and the mountains will fall and the rivers will rise and all will be death and devastation. And they are not that chuffed that he is bringing his entire environment with him from the US. A huge fleet of massive armoured cars, a small army of security men, and, according to Kenyan info, ALL the food and drink he will consume while here.
As we drive to the next market I hear a DJ onlocal radio ask if he will also bring oxygen tanks with him or if he will risk breathing Kenya’s air.
The latest local hoo ha is all about the government crackdown on illicit liquor. It is a tradition and every tribe has their own. But latterly, sellers have been fortifying them with methanol and all manner of ghastliness including petrol. And the attrition rate is scary. So now the government is cracking down. From on high. Which means mob violence, massive bribes to police and city council to keep stock safe and a lot of decent people caught up in the shitstorm. Government agencies (and others ) are getting rid of the illicit brew by various methods : setting fire to it (massive uncontrollable fires in slum areas), decanting it into rivers (thus everyone who gets their water from said rivers – human and animals are being poisoned) or stealing it for sale elsewhere. Plus – as there is no great track record in the consideration of consequences here – a tidal wave of deaths is occuring as people across Kenya suffer fatal withdrawal symptoms. HOwever … see Saturday’s diary for plans …
I buy David and myself a huge mango each – they are peeled and cut and sprinkled with an addictive mix of chilli and salt. We head to Prestige where I wander round the small market there.
Doris calls to say she has unstoppable, watery diarrhea. We run through a checklist trying to gauge if it is cholera, decide it probably isn’t and I promise to pick up ORS and Immodium. I go to Nakumatt and the chemist while David goes to pick up Doris who doesn’t want to go in a matatu in case of watery disaster. My face has exploded into unsightly pink puffiness after its outing in the Nairobi sun yesterday. Not great. But not disastrous. It is a lupus thing. But one I have not yet suffered. Ah wel. … I resolve to buy an umbrella. The car arrives with a wincing Doris in the front seat. We head to Ngong via the bank where I get a wedge out for starters. Doris drink s ORS, takes Immodium and calms down (inwardly and outwardly).
We are going to meet up with the wonderful Fatuma, who has not only built up a marvellous business from the ashes of the Great Limuru Atrocity (see previous diaries) butonly gone and got herself headhunted to run a sort of Guest House in Ngong. Her cooking is becoming something of a Nairobi legend. So now she and a small team run this guest house catering for a white clientele, and she still runs the hotel in the carpark with her team PLUS she is one of MAma B’s primary trainers. And a bloody amazing, wonderful woman. We have lunch with Fatuma at the guest house (delicious) and talk. Turns out her salary is less than impressive, but she enjoys the surroundings and the security.
We go back to Nairobi and visit a huge space which is going to become a restaurant. Another of Doris’s contacts had started it and set it up beautifully. Unfortunately, as a woman, she commanded no particular respect from her staff who stole everything from the place – furniture, fittings and fixtures, kitchen equipment … the lot. Welcome to Kenya. But now she is starting again, and her staff will be Mama Biashara people. It will be fabulous. Stand by for progress reports and pix of the Grand Opening.
Hectic day ahead. I drag all my bags out and into the carpark in readiness for moving to Shalom and I bid goodbye to Jesus. The room at Shalom is huge and sunny and has batik on the walls instead of Jesus. I think I would still rather have my little shipping container. I dump my stuff (under the alarmed gaze of the girl on the desk) and we head to Kawangware to buy 180 litres of soap chemicals. Exciting news from the little shed where I buy them is that I can now get pink and yellow colouring AND lavender fragrance ! I pack everything I am sending to Awendo (sanitary pads, medicines, waterproof ponchos and umbrellas, bleach tablets, hair and nail supplies for their ever expanding salon and training centre, pens, pencils and torches) into a huge sack (along with 80 litres of the soap chemicals) and we go to Adams and Easycoach to check it in. ) Thence to Kamkunji, an area of Nairobi that makes anything in Slumdog Millionaire look like it was shot in rural Sussex. But there is everything here at amazing wholesale prices, as long as you are prepared to delve into the burrows and alleyways that crisscross the place, while dodging the massive trucks, overloaded motorbikes and towering piles of household necessaries being pulled on a wobbly cart by a wizened little man in a dustcoat. But I get a great pressure cooker, a food warmer, two coffee urns, some serving tongs, a flask for me and three big torches for Felista. The pressure cooker is reassuringly chunky and costs about £20.
The catering group (for that is where it is going) is a great Mama B success story. CAtering began with the weddings eighteen months ago. Doris began to get enquiries about catering and, over time, our customers have gone quite upmarket and corporate. We do corporate events, cocktail hours, weekend retreats … it is really impressive. But the unique thing is that, staring from the very first group of catering ladies, every time we get a new contract, we take another 20 or so girls off the street and train them. All Mama B does is help out with the new kit that is needed as the clients and events get more sophistocated. Hundreds of women have come through the MAma B catering group. And gone on, with the money they make, to set up their own businesses, alone or in groups.
David is deeply unhelpful when I ask his help getting the stuff back up the hill to the car. “Come to the bottom of the hill”I instruct him. “I do not know which bottom” comes the reply. The surrounding Kenyans shriek with laughter as I fail to get David to get his arse in gear and finish the call by shrieking “oh fuck off!!” down the phone. “He is very lazy” I tell them. “He is a kikuyu man” The women nod sympathetically. I schlep up and down with the big boxes while the Mkokoteni (porters) watch and snigger.
From there we go to Junction to the market. I am famished and get a big plate of matoke and sukuma from the ladies who make the food for the stall holders at the market. Delicious. I try again to maintain a low profile but fail. It is SO hard telling these people I am not buying anything from them today. Just clothes and jewellery.
Downstairs I meet with Doris along with a lady who has come from Watamu to talk to me about a grant for a group of twenty women who have the chance to do a sort of catering contract similar to what the groups do here in Nairobi. It would be very profitable. So of course she gets the grant. Especially as the twenty women have already earmarked twenty more to train and set up in the same business within a month as it expands. She goes and Doris and I discuss the following morning’s workshops and fundings in Limuru. I also want to revisit the idea of our training centre in Kitale – assuming the marvellous Andrew Dean has not let the place to anyone else. Zetta has – despite ill health and her own business seriously taking off – found time to start applying for grants for Mama B. With the help of a genial young man called Rawreth. So we are putting forward several projects for funding. Felista’s school, of course, the building of a school in Awendo (where Jayne currently uses her own home plus a mud built two room building to house her primary school), the Red Zone Dolls (see previous diaries) plus the women’s cinema and the Kitale Training Centre. We are agreed that MAma B is so badly needed outside Nairobi that we should look at centring projects in places like Watamu and Kitale as well as Awendo and the stuff we do in Kiambu. We pop upstairs to a posh bar for a drink, some live music (Adele is murdered and Kenny Rogers mangled) and thence home to bed. I have very strange dream s featuring lots of people I know who have all developed dreadful all-over boils. Hmmmm.
I have a ton of shopping to do for our day of catering workshops and we go to Nakumatt (possibly expensive but convenient) via the bank where I take more money out. The little button for your thumb print (taken last time I was here and The New Great Thing in Kenyan Banking Security) lies disconnected behind the glass. I get a massive selection of fruits, veg and herbs in the greengrocer and then raid Nakumatt for cheese, olive oil, toothpicks, booze and mixers. No Grenadine. I try concentrated Ribena as an alternative.
We pick up Doris in Kenol and bounce over the famous Nakuru Highway Potholes to Limuru.
Fatuma’s house (which is where we are meeting) is great. She has an inside toilet and several rooms and it is really comfy. It makes me incredibly happy. She has come a long way with Mama B. We start with a little funding session. There is a rice group who have some orders but who also, sensibly in this area, are selling door to door, an egg group who are slightly clueless and a group of eight very switched on young women who want to sell buibui (hijab). There is a lot of profit to be made dressing people for Allah. Especially the men, it seems, whose clothes are more expensive here. There is a sextet of girls who want to sell Farmers Choice products – prepacked butchery stuff and massively popular for some reason. They have orders from shops and schools and have persuaded a pikipiki boy to bring their stock from the factory at a (hopefully metaphorically) knockdown rate. They get the grant, minus the money they requested to buy themselves smart bags to carry their deliveries. And then there is Vixen. She is stunning. I am transfixed by her breasts. I have never seen breasts like these in Kenya (I can see quite a lot of them). Small and absolutely perfectly formed. But I digress. She is a manicurist, beautician and general style guru who works in and with the gay community. She herself is a big fan of Navratilova. She wants to start a wandering hair nail and make-up group who are all gay. The first lot are girls, then she wants to train boys. She has functions and customers lined up. The first is a gay guy’s birthday party – they all want their nails and make-up done. Vixen has asked for a small fortune for real hair pieces and also wants sex toys to sell. I say I cannot give her the money for the hair but I will give her the load of Poundland vibrators and vibrating cock-rings I have scooped up – you never know when they might come in useful – and she will be able to sell them for enough money to buy the hairpieces.
And then we start our workshop. I get out piles of fruit and veg, I demonstrate the mandoline I brought, making thin sklices of beetroot, sweet potato and ordinary potato for a crisp ‘Medley’ (pointless descriptions are VERY important in catering), I make julienne slices and ‘vegetable noodles’, then we stuff cored cucumber with cream cheese and fresh herbs, ball avocados and make nibbles with cherry tomatoes, we make carrot and mooli roses and generally have a marvellous time with ideas. Then comes the cocktail hour (or two). I make a spritzer (their clients are, increasingly, fashion concious ladies) and create the Hibiscus Spritzer and the Passion Spritzer, I demonstrate making Sangria (huge hit and money spinner) and then we move to a Pina Colada (another huge hit) before I really hit my stride and create our signature cocktail, the Mama Colada. We have several, just to make sure it is as good as we think it is. Doris was much impressed by the Cosmopolitan I had bought her the other night. I explain to the women that it became famous in a TV show about … and then my Swahili only runs to “four very rich whores in New York”. As I have forgotton the Cranberry Juice I improvise and lo ! the Nairobi Cosmopolitan is born. BLoody delicious. I also teach them about making flavoured vodkas and garnishing their drinks. We are all now VERY happy. In many senses of the word. One of MAma B’s ladies who is their taking notes (hilarious to see the degeneration of the handwriting) has been caught up in President Kenyatta’s sudden crackdown on booze. While not the homemade hooch that is at the pointy end of liver damage in Kenya, her stock is what is called ‘Electric
Brew’ – of the ‘VP, Buckie and White Lightning’ sort. Her home was raided and destroyed although she has all the correct licenses and permits and her wares are not illegal. She says she can start again but had promised to help a group of streetboys start a carwash which she now, obviously, cannot do. She doesn’t want to let them down. We sort out a MAma B grant. I am so sad to leave the women, we are having a ball. David comes in and tests a couple of cocktails as well as coming out as a gin drinker !
Doris is dropped in Kenol and David and I pop into Joe’s new bar in Dagoretti Corner (VERY impressive) before I am taken home to sleep the sleep of the ever so slightly inebriated.
I have to hit the bank again before buying a load more medicine at the friendly chemist in Corner and going to the market in town. I havre bought a massive brolly to try and alleviate the nasty effects the sun is having on me these days. I unfurl it and push. And the entire thing just turns inside out and falls apart much to the amusement of the parking boys. I collect what I need to, buy some fabulous sandals (in bulk, not for me)meet David my soapstone chappie who keeps introducing me to people as his mother and leave as quickly as I can. Which is not that quickly. I am meeting Doris and Purity back at Shalom and so I suggest that we offload everything I have bought and I bring down all the stuff that needs to go to stay at Doris’s place – the food warmer and coffee urns and pressure cooker along with load of vitamin supplements, plastic raincoats for our hawkers and outdoor business people in the rainy season. Then David sets off and Doris Purity and I settle down for a meet. Since our visit to Nakuru during the cholera outbreak, and the excellent results of our education talks and leaflets on How Not To Get CHolera But If You Do How Not To Die, the people in the various slum villages we visited have been showing a great enthusiasm for business. (elsewhere in Kenya – on the Coast, for example, the Mama B cholera leaflets were translated into all the tribal languages and around 6000 were distributed. Just having the basic information on how to avoid getting sick had an immediate effect in stopping the spread of the disease).
Purity has come bearing ‘business plans’ for two groups. They are the Kenyan lowest of the low – mashiftas, homeless, wandering people.The groups – with Purity’s help – have each got a good contract for cleaning up garbage. Fairly ghastly task but one they can do and one that actually pays quite well. They have also been promised more better contracts if they do this one well. And so Mama B hands over the wherewithal to buy gumboots and gloves, three wheelbarrows and spades and forks. There are forty something people altogether and Purity will be supervising.
Doris also has a group who need funding. She had got a contract for cleaning a whole estate – good money, possibilities of offshoot extras like a little light landscaping. The guys she had
earmarked for the contract were a group of ex street-boys from a hellhole called Kimende. She called to tell them the good news about their new business and they told her that, in order to accept the money, they wanted me to come and meet their pastor, attend a week of services in their church, JOIN the church, renounce my devil inspired atheism and pray with them. They don’t get the money.
Doris then shocks me (and impresses me at one and the same time) by saying that she had read up on humanism and atheism and non-belief systems just to check that I wasn’t actually being influenced by the devil and was, somehow, a Satan worshipper. She is now happy that I am not. But she helped me realise what a huge thing it is for me in Kenya to be not just a non Christian but not to believe in God.
Anyway, thanks to the endless supply of the helpless and the hopeless here, we have another group who will be thrilled to get this contract and they start work in a couple of days.
As the three of us are together , we discuss two more Mama Biashara projects for which we are going to apply for a grant. First is the revitalised Mama Biashara Training Centre in Kitale …