My trip to DECIP and sojourn in ‘The Naughty Bin” having cut into my ‘buying delightful things for sale in Mama B’s Emporium’ yesterday, I set off for the maasai market at the Yaya Centre. It is pretty classy as markets go. And Mama Jemima the one legged Soapstone Lady has a stall there. As I am about to leave, I meet Alan – Dad to Ollie and Joel, husband to Lynita and Boss Man of Wildebeest. He is dripping blood. “You told me not to fuck with matatu drivers” he says. I did. What has happened, he tells me, is this: Alan in Land Rover Defender is en route to New Premises. Caught in traditional traffic jam. Rear ended by a bus. Alan leaps out of Defender and starts yelling and gesticulating at the bus driver in a manner which impunes both his mental status and his masculinity. Bus driver smacks him in the face. Alan responds by punching the window of the bus. Which smashes. Bus driver and bus conductor advance on Alan. Alan hightails it to Defender. Bus driver and bus conductor pick up large paving stones and smash them through the side windows of Defender, hitting Alan on the arm. Alan floors it and drives up the wrong side of the road to escape.
I did tell him not to fuck with matatu drivers. Al goes to a) police and b) hospital. I go to Yaya, after which I make one last trip down to the skanky end of the little Kibera market and buy the last lot of shoes for Awendo. 48 pairs in all. If they don’t fit I am, by this time, thinking fondly of the Grimms Fairy Tail option taken by the Ugly Sisters and simply cutting the toes off any children whose feet need cramming in.
Feeling that my bowels could now cope with the journey to Awendo I head to town and rebook the ticket. I then go to River Road and get more materials for Annie, the wherewithal for a couple of shoe shine businesses to take to Awendo, bulk lots of Mara Moja, Ibuprofen, Tums and antiseptic creams also for Awendo and ten dozen assorted nail polishes (including the Kenyan Lady’s current colours of choice – green, bright yellow and fluorescent orange – for the Kucha Kool kits.
The evening is spent in Dagoretti Corner with KIbe (discussing the Juja Project and how we can make it self sustaining given that the women there have all the get up and go of a cabbage) and Julius, who has brought the plans for the water pit at the shamba (little farm) the Discordant Couples group has in Kwa Maji. I engage in what I believe is referred to as Expectation Management (which in my case involves laughing loud and long, wiping imaginary tears from my eyes and bellowing ‘you MUST be joking’. Not standard, I know, but it gets the message across). We agree on a revised version of the plan and agree to try to get cheaper bricks (28p per brick seems a LOT ???)
An American couple (ex marine and his wife) are complaining to The Management about having paid an inordinate amount the previous day for what was billed as a ‘guided tour’ along some well trodden Nairobian touristic paths down to the Elephant Orphanage, Karen Blixen Museum etc. I earwig. Apparently their ‘guide’ had been Georgina, a taxi driver whose phone is permanently glued to her ear and whose general demeanour could be best summed up as “whatever…”.
I sympathise. They want to see some stuff around Nairobi but have now lost all faith in The Management. I get in touch with lovely Stevie (catch phrase “I am Stevie, Me I am OK”) and hook them up. I tell them where to go to get a phone and a sim and various other things. I head to Westgate (market) and Kijabe Street (market) to pick up some things from various bods. BAck at Wildebeest I find John (the marine) and Barney (the wife) have fallen in love with Stevie. They really want to see more of ‘real’ Kenya and I ask if they fancy comeing along while I spend some time with the NAkuru family I have sort of adopted. They leap aboard the David Deathtrap and we head to Uchumi (essential provisions plus “we gotta get chocolate” (John) and some beer) and then to the posho mill in Kawangware for basics like rice, beans, unga. In Kawangware John and Barney are in seventh heaven. “This is REAL” he keeps saying. It certainly is. He and Barney wander round the posho mill as if it is the Getty Collection. They are very sweet. Off to Kabiria and a visit to the kids. The kids are quite overwhelmingly enthusiastically about my arrival. There is a lot of very un-Kenyan hugging. John and Barney are entranced. We spend about an hour there and then troop over to see the house that has been rented for the family (5 kids and dad). Barney and John gasp. Apart from the fact that the family are about as houseproud as Waynetta Slob, the little house is great – safe, reasonably solid and it eve n has a lightbulb. I give Sammi (the uncle) money for rent, school fee arrears and other bits and bobs and we arrange for a Siku Kubwa (a Big Day) when I get back from Awendo. Kibe, David, John Barney and I end the day in Dagoretti Corner where we drink and dine in a slum pub. Barney and John are ecstatic. Perhaps I should do this commercially …
Bus to Awendo. I contemplate taking Felista’s Beeg Pampas with but decide to risk it. And, apart from the fact that the drivers had obviously been given a back hander to change their one stop from the reasonable place we stopped the last time, to a hellhole that had the ambiance of Saigon in the final days of the exodus and toilets ankle deep in something liquid and dark that I thought I recognised only too well, it all went rather well.
Of course the Women of Awendo District were already gathering before I even arrived. We stopped on the way from the bus to meet with the Chief of the area, a man as filled with zeal to make the lives of his people better as Marie Antoinette. “How do you see us?” he enquires. I tell him. With emphasis on mistreatment of women, lack of government funding for anything at all, no clinic, no help for the children, underage pregnancy and widespread starvation. He nods and looks the other way. Plus ca change …
The rain is torrential as we gloop through the mud to Jayne’s house. I unload the massive bags of donations I have brought – including the Shoe Mountain. And start talking money with the gathered women.
Finally I get to bed. I am in a sort of store room with a bed and an incredibly heavy duty mosquito net. I settle underneath and it shuts round about me. It really is industrial strength. I ponder the possibility that, had the World Trade Centre only had one of these around it, the planet could have been saved a lot of heartache to say nothing of several embarrassing speeches by Tom Hanks.
What seems only a few moments later my sleep is broken by a banshee wailing. And wailing. And smacking noises. And wailing. And tussling. And wailing. I feel like Jayne Eyre the night she hears The First Mrs Rochester in the night. I stick my fingers in my ears and try to fall asleep.
I have four nights of this, I muse. Perhaps I should consider switching to a Dogs’ Home or Save the Whale or something …
Around dawn (5 ish) the animal howling and baying starts again. Sleep is pretty much an impossibility so I am up and pootling around by 6. Turns out the howling comes from a small child called Deborah. She is four years old and can best be described as ‘feral’. When docile she is like a small cat, gazing intently at you, stroking your arm. She claps her hands and makes you clap yours by placing her hands outside yours. She eats like an animal, picking stuff up, Taking a mouthful and dropping it where she stands. She sometimes places a hand on your face and takes a handful of cheek. Just when you are thinking ‘aaahhh’ she digs in her nails and twists.
By seven, the women have gathered outside again. I feel like Tippi Hedren in The Birds. I meet the Tomato Group (9 widows), the Omena Group (7 widows) and a few ‘Group Leaders’. I also meet Jennifer Akeyo, a grandmother. Her daughter was electrocuted and she was left to look after her grandchildren (5) including a 2 month old baby. The baby wouldn’t eat anything (like rice … big surprise) and so the GRANDMOTHER breastfed it. She let the child suckle and, after a few days, she produced milk !!!!!!!!!!! She needs a business she can run from home. Miracle worker is not a business in Awendo, apparently. Everyone in the room is a small disaster area. It is heavy going.
But once we have sorted out the groups we head to the Community School. (for orphans who cannot pay fees) with a half ton of shoes. After a couple of rousing choruses of “Welcome, Welcome Our Visitor” we go outside and sit in the dust to distribute the shoes. Names are called and shoes bestowed like a sort of rubbery prize. Then, just as I was looking forward to leaving, the children decided they wanted me to sing The Song. Last time I was here I was told I must sing something and so indulged them with a throaty rendition of The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock (with actions). Apparently it went down a storm. I reprised my Greatest Hit (which culminates in me collapsing to the ground – much like The Foolish Man’s house) to great applause. However the children are MOSTLY amused by the sight of me using the school toilet – which is a hole in the ground with no particular shielding for the purposes of modesty.
Finally we go. To a mud hut with no door where we find a naked five year old boy who is nursing a one month old baby in a dirty shawl and trying to stop it crying. Playing in the dirt beside them is a one year old baby. There is no food or water in the house. The mother is, the five year old tells us, out working in the fields so that they can have something to eat tonight. The mother is, I hear, sixteen years old. She was given away as a wife and then, when her husband left her pregnant with child number three she came back home. Both parents are dead and the family was being looked after by the grandmother. Who is now sick and in hospital. The mother is brought back from the fields. We arrange to bring food and other necessities, we tell her about not leaving the baby, we organise a small business she can run in the village where she can have the kids with her and tell her we’ll be back tomorrow.
Next we pop in to see a family of five kids who are being looked after by their seventeen year old brother after their mother died of cancer in March. The brother is doing a great job and all the kids are in school. He does motor cycle repairs but can only afford to buy parts when a job comes in, and he has to borrow tools – so his work is very sporadic. Mama B sets him up with a load of spare parts and some tools. He is an extremely happy boy.
Next up we visit another old lady who has been left, literally, holding the baby – or in this case, the ten year old child and her seven year old brother. The mother died. No one knows why, apparently. She got sick and then she died. We start talking business. The old lady says she cannot leave the house. I ask why. She lifts her skirt to reveal two stumps where her feet should be. She turns the stumps to reveal the sight of raw flesh – some puffy and whiteish, some crusted and black some bloody and red – extending from under the heel to about a third of the way up the calf. As I move in for a picture, something moves and wriggles inside the raw flesh. On further inspection I see the lady has only stumps for fingers too. She thinks she ‘might have had’ leprosy. But isn’t sure. She did go to the nearest clinic, but all they did was wrap the stumps up and, when the bandages came off she said “there were many dudus (insects) appearing” We arrange for her to go to hospital the next day. And also organise a business selling paraffin from home. Plus a shoe shine business for her husband (after I show him what to do – he has never worn shoes, much less shined them) in Awendo.
We head out across country to see an old lady who has been left looking after a family of eight children (including one two month old baby) after their mother bled to death in childbirth. En route we stop at a tumbledown mud shack. Inside there is a naked boy and a sad looking girl. Who turns out to be the mother of the naked boy. The husband died, the boy is ‘not normal’ and she is destitute. We leave her with an omena (dried fish) selling business and the caveat that the boy must be washed and have clothes. We try to tidy up the house a bit to help her. And I make a note to send some clothes and bits and bobs. An hour and a half’s walk later we reach the old lady with the eight kids. Turns out her son – the father of the eight – is still around. He is a complete cripple whose twisted legs hang loosely from the hip. Why, I ask, rounding on the shosho, did you allow your son to go crazy with his dick when his legs don’t work ? The shosho laughs. The Crip laughs. I don’t. Apparently Crip Boy wanted children so they would look after him in his old age. Got Wife 1. Had 3 kids. Wife 1 gets better offer and leaves Crip Boy with 3 kids. So he marries Wife 2 to look after the three kids and she has 5 more then dies in childbirth. We arrange a soap making and selling business for the shosho PLUS give her custody of a MAndazi Making Business and a Tea Brewing Business which she can rent out at 10 bob a day to other women in her area (16 of whom have turned up to look for help and business funding). We conduct a short, impromptu business workshop in the course of which it transpires that at least half a dozen of these women have been running ‘businesses’ at a LOSS for several months. I go through a budget with them, explain how to calculate NET profit (a new and disappointing concept to all of them) and suggest that most of them change their businesses immediately as they are doomed to failure selling rice, unga etc. We arrange a further workshop for later in the week.
We walk back to base under constant threat of torrential rain. I am feeling less than benevolent now. More depressed and angry. And a bit helpless – not a feeling I enjoy, other than in a purely recreational setting. At base, the teachers have arrived to see what’s in it for them. I have brought some small solar panels with rechargeable LED lights (10 h urs from one charge). The highlight of the package is that they also carry attachments for charging mobile phones – a steady business out here where there is no electricity. The teachers look mildly disappointed and mumble about needing rent / food / clothes etc etc etc etc. I say I can do no more, feeling like something of a failure. They leave and about a group of about a dozen HIV+ women arrive. Variously we sort out businesses selling mitumba (second hand clothes), paraffin and beans. One woman has, she says, a ‘bad leg’. Which, she says, is becoming worse. She has a crumpled card from a clinic two towns away – they had said to come back when she could pay. I look at the card. “Kaposi’s Sarcoma ?” it says in the ‘Comments’ box. We add her to the hospital list.
By now the small baby is screaming. It is burning with fever. And coughing like a pit pony. Malaria, agrees the room. We add the baby to the hospital list. Now the feral child is screaming and running around tearing, scratching, nipping and biting things. The positive group leave. Lucky them. The feral creature runs off and the noise stops. I wonder hopefully if there are any lions in the area … the ‘carrying off a small child never to be seen again’ sort of lion. MORE people arrive with tales of sickness, privation, starvation and hopelessness. I do what I can with the ones who have business plans. I then hit the wall. ‘Naenda lalla’ I say, abruptly. (I am going to sleep). There is consternation, but by this time I don’t –can’t – care. I go to my storeroom where, as I get under the industrial mozzie net, I discover the feral child asleep.
Frankly, I feel tired even writing this … so one day down and three to go …
NB there ARE pictures to go with this !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
As usual short bouts of sleep (yes, it IS possible to sleep with your fingers in your ears) are punctuated with crying from the malaria ridden pit pony baby and howling, shrieking and scrabbling from the feral child. The house is well built but the walls only go up so far – more like partitions – and the noises echo around the roof space. Also it rained. Torrentially. Which is pretty much deafening. Although not loud enough to drown out the feral child. We head off to see the brick making project (which is coming on nicely and now needs a housing for the made bricks for when it rains) and then the fish pond (heading to its second ‘harvest’ when, hopefully, the fish will be bigger). From there we head to the ‘Youths’ – around twenty young people who have not been entirely beaten into psychological submission by the hopelessness of their surroundings. They want, they say, to do ‘tailoring’ and there are three trained seamstresses amongst them. They want a sewing machine and materials and then they can get orders to make school uniforms and clothes. We do the maths. Anything else ? An iron they say. But you have no electricity I say. They look puzzled. An IRON. One boy rushes off to his mothers house and comes back with one of those irons you see in museums that is filled with hot charcoal to provide the heat to smooth he clothes. Ah, I say. An IRON. We also agree a couple of Kucha Kool girls and one Kucha Kool BOY. Although I do say that this doesn’t seem like the place where people go out of their way to make sure their French Manicure is in perfect nick. We go off to see yet another widow who looks after orphaned children. She remarks that she has a problem with a rash that itches. I look sympathetic. She whips off her top to reveal rather an impressive rack. However, over and around the rack extended some kind of huge welt-like growth. It genuinely looked like something from a sci-fi novel. I have photos. It itches she repeated. And makes her sweat. We are all struck dumb. I ask if I can touch it and she says yes. Close up it looks even more like an alien life form. She gets put on today’s list of people heading for a hospital visit. We go back to base (as usual, the place is wallet deep in needy peeps who have walked for half a day to get here). Rebecca (head of the HIV+ group) has developed ghastly herpes all over her chest and the ‘local’ clinic has no acyclovir, a couple of other positive women have come to report the clinic has no Septrin either. I have been promised that an old lady who knows all about making sanitary pads from sugar cane is on her way. But ‘from very far’. Meantime, more people have arrived – including a woman who I KNOW has a little shop, two of the teachers and a load of women from the Omena Group. Everyone wants ‘a boost’. One girl wants to start a carpet selling business (start up capital 40,000ksh). I lose it. I am here for people who have nothing, I storm. Not for people who have something and want more (I have a voice in my head telling me that 50 bob a day from selling dried fish isn’t really ‘something’ in real terms … but I ignore it) I am not a bank, I am not their mother or their husband. I storm out. And head off up the road to Awendo. I have a massive shopping list of stuff for the various businesses we have started. It is half an hour by motorbike to Awendo but I stomp off not really caring. After about a mile in the blistering sun I start to heat up and calm down. At the piki piki stage I sit down and begin to regret my hissy fit. Just then Jayne comes up on a piki piki. Awendo ? I say. Awendo it is.
Awendo is, it turns out, a place where you can buy anything you want as long as it is dried fish, maize or potatoes. So I try to buy maize. My opener : how much is maize for one kilo Them: 1 gorogoro 80 bob Me : how heavy is one gorogoro Them: it’s just a gorogoro. Me: how many gorogoro in a sack ? Them : 45 Me: then one gorogoro is two kilos. Them: Puzzled stare. But at least I now knew. So 1 gorogoro 80 bob. But, I say, I want a whole sack ! Then that is forty five times 80 says the unsmiling man, reaching for his mobile phone (calculator). Wholesale ! I cry. The whole sack (I am speaking in Swahili which is not really impressing them as much as it bloody well should because they speak Luo). Turns out there is no such concept as ‘wholesale’ in the Luo culture. Or, as it turns out, bargaining. Or even business, as maize seller after maize seller loses the chance to sell 90 kgs of maize to the mzungu. I finally snap as one man tells me I should get myself a husband to do business for me. ‘Labda’ (maybe) I sneer, but then Luo men are good only for sex, and no good for business. The entire row of sellers fall about the place laughing. One man offers to show me how good Luo men are at sex. No thank you I say – I have heard that you do it very much but not very well. More shrieking with laughter. I eventually, for all my trouble, and risqué badinage, get a tiny reduction in the price of maize and a bit more off rice and beans. But effectively the way things are done there means that EVERYONE pays retail, so no small businesses can ever clear a profit. I buy pans and flasks and jerrycans and paraffin and measuring cups and bags and everything everyone needs for the businesses – except the soap making stuff and the sewing machine and materials. And chapatti pans, which you cannot buy in Awendo because, as one woman tells me “everybody has one”. It takes two hours to find a baby’s bottle. And the amusement factor of having people gasp, point and mutter ‘mzungu!’ in the kind of excited tones normally reserved for the first sighting of a pride of lions when on safari, is fast palling. But eventually we have bought everything that we can and bounce back to the house in a ramshackle Toyota. I have twenty litres of paraffin on my lap and worry that my thighs might chafe, overheat and set off a fire and so sit with legs apart. But we arrive safely.
There are STILL people there looking hopeful. I march past. The sanitary pad expert is not, I learn, amongst them. However, it turns out, Pauline, a volunteer with the project, was part of the woman’s workshop and knows all about making the pads. So with her and a few women who grow cut and sell cane, we manage to work out the costings and logistics of the pad making project. And it is looking GOOOOOOOOOD !!!!! It loks like, right from the beginning, we could offer the pads at 15 to 20 shillings for ten. Which is, everyone agreed, a totally affordable price. And would allow the production base to run and pay the workforce 200/250 bob a day, with which the women here would be thrilled. Details in a separate email. But very very very good news.
The needy, the poor, tired,hungry etc etc leave and we are left. The feral child comes up after one howling attack and starts stroking me. I hug her, experimentally. And she wraps her arms round me, puts her head on my shoulder and climbs up on my knee. We sit like this for about an hour. And then she falls asleep, still hugging me tightly. Another hour and her mother comes, unwinds her and puts her to bed. I myself peel off to my cupboard about 9. About 10 all hell breaks loose in the living room. The feral child is going crazy. I get up and go in. She is shrieking, biting, scratching and fighting like a MMA champion. She stares at me. I stare back. I hold out my hand. She taps it with hers. I sit beside her. And then, like a flash of lightning, she howls again and sinks her teeth into my leg !! It takes her mum and Jayne to pull her off. When she does stop it happens like turning off a tap. She is sweating and starving hungry and gulps down about half a pint of water in one go. She is once again totally docile and baby-like. I go back to bed as the bruised, mouth shaped lump on my leg throbs.
In my mind I hear a cry … “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!”
The feral child and the malaria riddled pit pony baby are now working in shifts. When one stops screaming and/or howling, the other starts. I am considering a bit of howling myself.
By 7.30am Rebecca has arrived with the paperwork from the previous day’s hospital visit. The lady with the Kaposi’s Sarcoma has been told to come back in a week to see an oncologist and the old lady with the rotting stumps has been given a “? Leprosy” diagnosis and told a doctor will come from Nairobi and she should call to find out when he has arrived. Apparently all the nurses ran away when they started washing her stumps and ‘many dudus’ appeared. But she has been cleaned, debrided, given some antibiotics and bandaged up. Everyone has been tested for HIV and got the all clear. The whole trip has cost about £35 for travel, registration, meds, treatment and ‘snacks’. We line up the next lot of patients to go on Monday : the old lady with the alien life forms growing all over her breasts and the mottled child drowning in phlegm, for starters. We agree there is no point in sending the feral child. But I make a note to contact Harry – an old friend of mine who is a consultant psychiatrist. Not a paeds expert, but at least able to give better than a diagnosis of demonic possession. Over chai and fresh mandazi (Jayne’s own – BLOODY good considering they are basically deep fried balls of flour and water paste) I hear horror story after horror story of medical care in Kenya. At Kenyatta (where they diagnosed feral child as a victim of witchcraft) Jayne herself was asked if she would mind swapping her newborn son for another women’s daughter as the other women’s husband would not allow her back into the house unless she had a boy child. Her best friend from Nairobi had given birth to twins in Kenyatta and had come round from the anaesthetic to be told by a nurse that one of the children had died. Luckily her husband was visiting, had already seen the two babies and also seen a woman scuttling out of the place clutching a baby. He ran after her, found her at the bus stop and found the baby still had the hospital tag on its wrist identifying it as the second twin.
We set off to deliver food, soap, clothes and advice to the family with the month old baby, the naked five year old and the sixteen year old mother. Now the one year old is sitting naked in the dirt. What is most noticeable is the massive, livid white, three inch wide, scabby scar running from neck to groin. Ah yes, he had pulled a cup of boiling tea over himself. I put him on Monday’s list along with the one month old, who now seems to be gurgling and choking on his own phlegm and to have turned an unpleasant mottled colour. Again the mother is nowhere to be seen and the five year old is looking after both. We feed the baby some UHT milk because it is howling and there is nothing else. It gulps it down and I hope there are no ghastly repercussions from ingesting cow’s milk. Jayne assures me it will be OK.
We leave and go the meet The Catering Group. They hire themselves out to cater at weddings and funerals (VERY good business in funerals around here … why am I not surprised ?) BUT as they have to hire all the equipment they use (plates etc) they are operating at best, on a breaking even basis. However, they are organised, they have bookings, they are keen to get on and the project has legs. I agree to buy plates, cups and a warming plate to begin with and send them from Nairobi. They go off to kill two cows and three goats for an upcoming funeral and we go back to Awendo – so crap I am surprised they named it once – to try to get what we couldn’t the previous day. The one wonderful thing about living out here in the arse end of nobody cares is that you get to travel on motorbikes and that is a glorious thing – bouncing across the dirt tracks with the sun shining and a balmy breeze blowing. It is a delightful, sunlit, calming respite from the rest of it all.
Awendo gives up a couple of karahis, some measuring jugs and most of the rest of what we need. Plus several hands of the foetal bananas that are soooooooooooooo sweet and delicious here. Tiny and soft and sweet with velvety skin – eating them is like a sort of gourmet paedophilia. We bounce back to find even MORE people waiting. The place has become like a sort of financial Lourdes with me in the role of Bernadette (joke for lovers of stage musical there). I scuttle indoors to find that the malaria riddled baby is much better and there is a woman with a young boy sitting looking hopeful. The boy is gazing around the room. She sends him over to me and he wanders across the floor bumping into everything around him. There is a problem with his eyes, she offers, helpfully. He has been given glasses, she says, handing over a pair of specs. I look through them. Glasses in that they are glass lenses in a frame. But NOT in the sense that they have ANY corrective function. I discover – with the help of a pen and my grubby finger, thta he has no peripheral vision to speak of and that his point of focus appears to be similar to my own – ie not far from the end of his nose.. BY this time I have no money left. At all. Except for 500/- for transport tomorrow. But we do need to add the Blind Peg here to the hospital list for Monday. SO I plod off down the road and flag down a piki piki and bounce off across the countryside to the ATM in Awendo. It takes about half an hour to extract some money from the obviously dodgy machine. I head towards my piki piki only to find it already has a vast bag of maize and a teenage boy on board. The mzee driving looks pleadingly and asks if it is OK if we take the ‘mtoto’ home. This large adolescent isn’t MY idea of a ‘mtoto’ (child) but I ooze myself between the groin of the son and the buttocks of the father, creating a sort of human Oreo and off we go. The bouncing across the countryside is not NEARLY as pleasant when one is ENTIRELY balanced on one’s mons pubis. The inch and a half of saddle space I occupy swiftly aquire all the comfort of a stone. I am very aware of the teenage groin behind me. Talk about between a rock and a hard place ?????!
I get back and rearticulate my hips. There are about fifteen women on the grass. We organise Blind Peg and his mum for Monday and I end up outside on the grass as the feral child has turned into Mr Hyde again and is running amok in the living space. The women are all HIV positive and have been told I can tell them about sex. I don’t have any condoms with me, but give an impromptu sex workshop anyway. It turns out to be great fun. The women really like my ‘girls on top’ tips and we establish an understanding of female sexual empowerment with the use of a metaphorical tomato seller with male customers who love to eat tomatoes. I start to demonstrate the ‘tit wank’, using a small, under-ripe banana and the two women next to me whip up my t-shirt. I pause, momentarily, and then continue. Several of the women whip up their own tops and follow suit. A marvellous time is had by all. Would I could have had a camera in the homes of these women that night.SUNDAY
The feral child is giving me me a rousing send off, I note, as dawn breaks and the howling starts. I do love being under a mosquito net. Although I know it is only there to keep the nasties out, it always brings out the ‘fairy Princess’ in me. I go over the long list of ‘Things I Have To Do and Buy’ with Jayne and then leap aboard the piki piki to head for town. I get one bus to Rongo and then find that EasyCoach has lost my booking. “Passpoti?” asks the youth behind the grill, looking at my booking number. Eventually all is well and the journey is actually very pleasant, but fraught. Tommy Hill is riding for the British Championship today and my only link is Toby, at the end of the phone. I know Tom hasn’t qualified that well, and is still behind John Hopkins. I rack up about thirty quid in texts as we hurtle across Kenya. My nerves are such that, when we stop at the ‘Last Days of Saigon’ cafe for a 10 minute break I buy a corn cob to gnaw. Kenyan cobs differ from American in that they are pale, mealy and prepared thus … or ‘thusly’ as Amanda would say : steamed until not really cooked and then placed over a fire until the outside of the kernals takes on the texture of lightly charred formica. I chomp on and, by the time I reach Nairobi, Tommy is TWO POINTS adrift of Hopkins going into the last race. I leap from coach to matatu and get back to base in time to find out that my only option is live timings on screen and Fred Clarke commentating on BSB Radio. I shriek my way through the race and burst into tears at the end. Amazingly, as Tommy wins, my recurrent diarroea is cured. I always knew that boy was special. Thank you Toby, thank you Fred. Thank you the Electric Gods who spiked Hopkins’ Suzuki in Race 1. I go to tent happy.
I am knackered. I sleep. A lot. And try to get sense from the CRETINS that pass as doctors here in rural areas. “KELOID SCARS” I screech down the phone, having spent an hour or so online researching. If Manuel from Fawlty Towers was a Kenyan, he’d be a doctor. Swahili for ‘che ?’ is ‘nini ?’ and they say it a LOT.
I head off to collect stuff from the Maasai Market and buy what is on my list to send back down to hell, sorry, up to Awendo . Nothing goes well. Nairobi seems more or less gridlocked in every direction with traffic police strolling along blocked streets chatting into their little walkie talkies and doing bugger all of any good. I get so frustrated I get out and walk. I get a chafing dish (ooer, I hear you cry) for the Catering Group, but balk at the cost of melamine plates. While David is presumably mired in traffic I walk over to the market and start picking up the stuff which is waiting here. Unfortunately Auntie (lizard pattern soapstone) has gone “safari” and is not answering her phone, Mwangi – normally so reliable – has made a bit of a dogs’ breakfast of the collars I ordered, and Mary has no disco bags made. I mutter ominously about ‘Kenyans’ and head off back into the fug and the gridlock to get some plates and cups for Awendo businesses. We spend an hour crawling along 100 yards of street. We are overtaken by cripples and banana sellers. Eventually I get the plates. The women remembers me from the hissy fit I threw the last time. “You remember me ?” she says. I remember, I tell her, her “discount” I tell her that the 120 children love the one tiny plastic, Chinese manufactured tea strainer which she gave me as discount the last time. She laughs. I don’t. Felista arrives round in the evening. She has brought me a jumper !! IT is most welcome as Nairobi has been wet and cold for several days. She has costings for raising the roof of the children’s home to improve ventilation. The costs are higher than the roof will be when raised. I say Mama B cannot / will not pay this. All they need is some added ventilation, not a rebuild. She also has an overdue electricity bill. However AMREF – whose contractor used DECIP’s water during he construction process, owes DECIP 440,000ksh. Which would not only pay for the roof raising but keep Kenya Power happy too. However AMREF seem to be in no hurry to pay. I tell Felista I will see if I have money to pay SOME of the electricity bill – just enough to keep KP from turning her power off. Having said which, there are so many extensive and frequent power cuts in Nairobi that it is difficult to tell whether you have been switched off, or are just in an extended power cut.
Rahab (woman I’ve been working with for a couple of years – ex commercial sex worker who now works with the girls and introduced me to the groups in Mathare – we started Kucha Kool together and have BIG PLANS for working with women in the sex industry) and I are supposed to be going out to Lunga Lunga a) to restart as many of the small businesses that were destroyed in the fire as possible b) to see what we can do for the commercial sex workers out there (going rate 13.5 pence for sex) Chief Jane calls to say another of the injured has died and the folk are going to the funeral.
I head off and buy some Septrin (BASIC necessity for HIV clinics) which the nearest clinic to Awendo doesn’t have and Acyclovir (ditto). I add painkillers, deworming tabs, malaria meds and a gallon of cough mixture (God Bless Poundland).
I then head off to Adams to pay something towards Felista’s electricity bill. RAhab, worryingly, is not answering my texts about our rendezvous to go out to Lunga Lunga in the morning.