Note to self : must learn to cultivate friends with enormous hatchback cars in London. Tired arguing with taxi drivers about the amount of luggage I carry.
Virgin are, as always, a joy at check in. One of my bags weighs 32kg but the lovely lady smiles and sticks a “LUDICROUSLY HEAVY” warning sticker on it. When I reach the gate I find I have been upgraded. I fill up. Marvellous, but painful. Like having the best sex you have ever had with someone the night before you break up.
The fat woman at customs picks through a bag giggling at condoms and ooing at the cod liver oil. She fondles a box of Garlic Capsules longingly but I zip up and she assures me God will bless me for my work anyway. As I have David for the day (note to self, must cultivate Kenyan friends with cars …) we do a food shop and go to DECIP to drop off the computer donated by Steve plus a load of sundries from Mama B. Felista greets me with a glad cry of “Copi, you are here ! My phone is dead !” We head to Nakumatt where I forbid Felista to leave the car (as such would have embroiled me in a “Felista Goes Shopping” situation which can take up to six hours in somewhere like a NAkumatt). I get a phone for about £14. God Bless Nokia ! Felista now announces she has a meeting in Athiru and David takes her there (with a bit of mumbling and muttering) while I go to meet Doris at Prestige. The small Saturday market is in full swing and I learn from one of the woman that my friend Janet (of soapstone carving and the Gus Whyte Memorial Primary School, Kawangware) has been taken to Kisii because she was having complications with a pregnancy I had no idea she was having (last two ended in miscarriage) and she couldn’t afford the medical fees in Nairobi. I get a number and call Janet. She doesn’t sound good. The baby is too big, she says. Coming from Janet – a woman who would have given Ruebens himself pause for thought – that is quite something. The baby is backwards, she says. As it is unborn I assume this refers to position in the womb, not IQ. The doctors say it might die, she says. I say I will try to get to Kisii but I do not have much time. Doris is only an hour and a half late (“Because of jam”) but gives great feedback on the women Mama B medicated and financed last time out. Pretty much all good ! The ladies with the pus-ridden gums are all sorted, man with the infected leg still one of the Great Unwashed but healed up, some businesses really flourishing , some opening second branches, some rice sellers finding out our warnings about low profit margins are true and tweaking their business to increase income. The least successful workshop seems to have been the one where God was called upon to strike me down. Businesses are going on but there is no massive expansion. Still, the women have income.
Doris comes back to my little house and we sort through the medication I have – an eclectic mix, thanks to Zetta making almost nightly raids on her friends’ medicine chests. The first Clinic and workshop is fixed for Monday in Limuru.
How do people sleep on plastic sheeting ? I slide all over my mattress and the sheet just slips off into a ball in the corner. I feel like wetting myself just so I can enjoy the benefits of the thing, rather than the drawbacks. But I don’t.
Off to the little market at Yaya – which has diminished and, to my horror neither Kuria the skirt man nor my lovely tailoring lady is anywhere to be seen.
I have a meeting with Felista at 2pm. When she arrives at 3.30pm we go through DECIP’s financial hoo ha. 65,000ksh later Felista’s list of debts to the community is reduced by a fair old amount and she is in a position to get a massive refund and boost from Kenya Power, which should help with finances
In virtually one and the same sentence I discovered, yesterday, that my KBF (Kenyan Best Friend) John – Felista’s eldest son) has had a couple of epileptic attacks and a new baby. The attacks landed him in hospital, on medication and off alcohol and the baby is called Jeremy. I buy a load of household useful, some lurid coloured marshmallows for the bigger children and head to Kibe’s house.
The tiny room is rammed with Kibe’s. I don’t want to hold the baby. It looks wizened and damp and squidgy. I take dozens of pictures of Felista with her clan and then, as there is a sudden power cut and the darkness is too deep to do anything but sit, we head to the pub to have “a beer to bless the baby”.
I am awoken at 6.15 by Cecilia who wants to talk about her Old Folks Home. The door to my house is metal and when hammered by a persistant septuagenarian it makes a noise like thunder. I ignore her as best I can but finally get up and mutter at her to go away.
David arrives at 8.30, we pack the car with medication and workshop stuff and head to pick up Felista.
Two minutes inside the car, Felista drops a bombshell. With, I feel, a certain amount of satisfaction. Michael, the baby boy of he family I took to Ruai, is now back in Mutuini with his father. Or sometimes with various women around the village. And occasionally turning up at DECIP. This is not good news. This is in fact terrible news. I phone Sammi, the uncle. It transpires that when the eldest boy Joseph was in hospital having tests for the lump on his back, there was no one to look after Michael and so they asked his father to look after him for a week. Then the father went off radar with the boy. I go ballistic. The fact that Sammi goes all Kenyan on me (ie assumes the passivity and generally hopeless demeanour of a rabbit already in the grip of a stoat.) does nothing to help. By the time Doris wedges her muffin top through the door and onto the back seat beside Felista I am a simmering morass of anger and frustration. At which point we discover – in another typically Kenyan scenario – that, while, according to Felista, we are going to visit a dying boy and his sick grandmother in a government settlement in Limuru, and, according to Doris, we are also going to do a clinic and a business workshop with 50 women in Limuru (hence my idea of combining the visits in one trip – to Limuru) we are, in FACT going to two completely different places. But they are both Limuru, they snigger. No, I say, NEITHER, as it happens is Limuru. Both are vaguely NEAR Limuru- one miles to the east and one miles to the west. Why not just say ‘Kenya’ ? I spit. I do a fairly loud five minutes about the need to be specific, time wasting, time being money, money being life etc etc etc. I am passionate, and, to judge by the faces of Felista and Doris, hugely entertaining. They particularly like my use of the expression ‘Titting about in the middle of nowhere’. Later in the day they check frequently as to whether what we are doing is still ‘titting about’ or whether we have moved on.
We are guided to the dying boy and the sick shosho by a woman up a tree on top of a hill shouting things like “I can see you” and “you have gone too far” down Felista’s phone. Were I not so furious, it would have been hilarious. At one point Felista gets out of the car and walks in front, taking instructions from the woman in the tree on the hill. We crawl along behind, like the first cars driving behind a man with a red flag.
When we get there it is to find a woman who looks like a Twiglet in a hat lying on an old mattress in a mud hut and a boy I recognise from DECIP sitting outside. His face looks hamsterlike. He is listless. Probably neither is being helped to health by not having eaten in days. I head off back down the hill to get food, charcoal and anything else useful the settlement shops might have. Bones for soup as it turns out.
Joseph, the boy, is being “looked after” by a group calling themselves the DREAM foundation. The Sisters of Charity of St Vincent get huge amounts of money to identify positive children “at risk” in the community and place them in homes, monitor them, give them food and make sure they are getting the right medication. This translates – in the real world – into they find children who are positive, take them to a home (in this case DECIP) and dump them there. The kids have to come to the DREAM centre for monitoring (a round trip of at least half a day, costs to be borne by Felista), seem to have doctors who trained under Mengele on the staff (or didn’t train at all), hand out a couple of kgs of gruel flour and a bag of sugar each month to each kid as ‘nutritional support’ and then, if the child stops responding to the very basic medication they offer (2 lines of ARVs and little else) they send them away to any relative they can find to die, as dying in a DREAM approved home would look bad on statistics. Joseph has stopped responding to the second line of ARVs, hence he has been sent to die in a mud hut on a hill with an ancient twiglet as his carer.
I rope in the nearest neighbour to make soup, leave what nutritional advice I can for a twiglet and a dead boy walking in a mud hut on a hill, get the fire on, leave some money, food, cod liver oil, multivits and the whole nine inches I can muster.
Doris’s workshop is another monster undertaking. A vast sea of hopeful faces crammed in and around a small house in a muddy patch.
We do the Rules of Mama Biashara as usual. Me in Swahili with some English, Doris in Kikuyu. At least half the women here are HIV+ and all have at least two (some five) children. About half of whom are also positive. There are a load of good business ideas alongside the usual charcoal and rice sellers. We start a peripatetic vendor of tots of brandy, a renter of tarpaulins for farmers to dry their crops on, and finance the repair of a cart for a woman who owns a donkey. A set of second hand wheels and an axle are, it transpires, rather expensive so, in return for a bigger grant, the owner signs up to give Mama B one day a week free of charge to be used to transport stuff for other businesses in the group. Apart from HIV, coughs, bad backs, sore legs, heartburn and headaches this is a fairly healthy group. But the workshop goes on and on and on long after dark. We finally leave at about 8pm, a very antsy David complaining about the time being ‘bad’. Word has, of course, spread and as we leave, there is a group of men at the gate. I hear a sharp intake of breath from Doris. Never a good sound. I pretend not to notice, cram our stuff into the back of the car and get in. About seven women also get in. Three of them sitting in the boot. As Doris’s muffin top is the equivalent of another whole human being I am tempted to call Norris McWhirter but can’t get a signal. As the car will not move in the mud most of us have to get out again and push. Eventually we go, drop the women at the road and head to Nairobi.
As we drive through the darkness I notice David is taking even more of an interest in the outside than usual. Turns out this is because he has no idea where we are and is simply hoping/assuming we are heading to Nairobi. We are – vaguely – but arrive after circumnavigating the entire city and coming in on the other side. “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” says David, in obvious awe, as he finally realises where we are. “We have come far”.
We now have to pass through the city centre and as neither Doris nor I has eaten or drunk anything all day except a cup of water at the workshop, we decide to eat. Thanks to some dithering, some blithering and the usual titting around I finally crack and roar ANYWHERE ! ANWHERE ! HERE !. My sugar levels were low you understand. Unfortunately we end up in Simmers, a city centre bar in what was an alley but now has tents in it. We have ok but very overpriced food and a very welcome cup of coffee. Simmers is a very well known clip joint and it is not long before Doris meets up with a few of her old customers. They are charming guys. And LOVE Doris. We then take off on a condom distribution run around the place, giving the girls half a dozen each if they need them. I notice a big bloke with impressive jewellery and a smart suit take a couple of condoms from Doris and hassle for more. I bristle. And go over to tell him that if he can afford to wear those rings and that suit and drink here then he can afford his own condoms. We face off. Well, to be fair, I face his midriff. “You have embarrassed me” he says sternly. “You are taking condoms from someone who needs them just because they are free” I say. He takes them out of his pocket and looks at them. “I am disappointed” he says “These are very cheap condoms to be giving to people like us” I burst out laughing and he throws the condoms on the floor. “Asante” I say, scoop them up and give them to a skinny girl in a semi perished boob tube. She looks semi perished herself.
It all STARTS so well ! The sun is shining, none of my bits is sore and the milk I bought is still useable so I can have normal white coffee. The plan is to head to Muthure (another outlying village) for a workshop. I have to do a bit of hunting around to find my tailoring lady and Kuria or we will have no dresses to sell in the Mama B Emporium and therefore no funds for November’s workshops.
As I have the usual mountain of medication and stuff to take with me – and as No 23, Arse End of Nowhere makes this village sound positively central compared to where it is – we are taking David (bang goes another £20) and the car. We are heading to Westlands to look for the tailor when David asks if I know about the broker in the group yesterday. I clench. David had heard some of the women talking about someone taking 1000 shillings from every woman who was given a grant. As the biggest grant is 3000 shillings … Anything that I think has been clenched before now positively goes into spasm. I call Doris. There is a stunned silence at the end of the phone. The workshop is cancelled, we rendezvous in Kenol where Doris lives and start calling round the women from yesterday. As soon as we start phoning and asking questions the village telegraph kicks into action and soon we are fielding calls from them. Of course hysteria, internecine rivalries and general gossip mongering create a tsunami of crap – everything from extortion to gang warfare is hinted at. WE find the woman who says she was involved. Oddly, her name is Purity. There were just seven others we hear. I demand they come to Limuru on pain of being summoned by the Chief (er .. local Chief, not Proclaimers “The Chief”). We head to Limuru. I wonder whether I am in the grip of ‘roid rage, as I have pushed my daily dose up to 10mg for the time being. Probably not, I decide.
We meet the seven on a hillside next to the Bata Shoe factory. I am grim-faced. I told them, I say, that if they misused even one shilling of my money I would hunt them down. Well I have heard that someone has been demanding 1000ksh from those who received a grant. And I have hunted.
Through tears and waving hands we hear that Purity ( who is a really smart, together woman) had suggested to ten women that, as nothing like this (ie me coming out of the blue to give a grant for business) had ever happened before, nor was likely to happen again, they should take the opportunity to put a little aside into a savings account and, by the time I come back to check, they would have bought a donkey and cart and have a whole new business on the side as well as their own individual businesses. She took 1000ksh from each woman (seven as it happened) who wanted in on the savings scheme because I had been handing out the grants in 1000ksh notes. She went to the bank, got change and refunded 900ksh to each woman. The account they were opening was an interest paying account and they planned to put (after the initial 100ksh each) about 70ksh into it each, each week. I rescind my demand to have all the money returned to Mama B, but not before explaining why we came after them. And why ALL and ANYTHING other than business that concerns the money from Mama B must be done openly and with the consent of Mama B. I check that all the businesses will be able to start 100ksh down on their grant. And then ask why, if they CAN, did the women ask for a grant that was higher than they needed. Anyway, all is well that ends well and, bearing a woolly capful of a tiny version of fruit that we call loquats or nisperos over here (unbelievably sweet and moreish) we leave.
As it is now too late for a workshop we meet with Julius in Satellite to discuss Mama Biashara’s Grand Master Plan. And drink hot chocolate. The meeting is slightly complicated by the fact that the man outside has fired up his rudimentary barbie to cook mutura (a little like Kenyan Haggis but without the oatmeal) and the surrounding area is thick with charcoal smoke and burning fat fumes. But you get used to it. Julius wants to arrange a medical clinic for Monday for about fifty people. He also wants to do microfinance but I tell him that I don’t trust his group with money (we have previous that ended with my getting the Chief and the police involved) so he can bring ten hand selected businesses to apply. “You promised …” he begins. I cut him off. “I NEVER promise” I remind him. “You say you try” I give him my patented Mama B look that says “My head does not zip up the back” It used to say (and in my defence I can only say it was an expression I heard over and over in my Scottish childhood) “I didn’t come up the Clyde on a banana boat” until I realised the full horror of what that actually meant. What can I say. I am a recovering racist. One day at a time …
We arrange the medical clinic, agree fifteen businesses, agree that Doris can add a dozen or so cases from the area, agree that Julius’s phone is indeed “sick”, agree to buy him a new one (God Bless Nokia), and get on to discussing Mama Biashara’s Grand Master Plan. Sadly my computer graphics skills are not up to a visual aid, but here goes.
Mama B has been offered use of a plot of land in Kwa Maji, an area very handy for bus transport, thriving with businesses and not prone to violence, even in election periods. An area I know well.
We want to build a large structure (an enormous hut, as it were. It will have electricity and water from a large tank (which we will also erect on a tower) which will get filled once or twice a week according to consumption. Inside, the structure will have the following divisions
- Mama Biashara’s office
- Mama Biahara dispensary (a small division of the office for medical supplies and basic consultations)
- Meeting / training / workshop space. A multi purpose space which can also be rented out to other groups when free
- The Pads Project : pulp from juiced sugar cane is brought in in huge sacks to be turned into sanitary pads and Pampers. This space will have a vestibule for clothing and footwear changing and will be kept as sterile as is possible in a slum area.
- Njoogo Project : peanut butter production. We already have a deal from one of Kenya’s big Supermarkets to take unbranded jars of peanut butter from us. They will brand and give their own quality stamp. Vestibule as above.
Each of the areas will have its own entrance.
Around the outside of the structure will run a sort of covered verandah.
On this verandah outside Nos 4 and 5 will be delivery and storage areas. Outside nos 1 and 3 will be space for baby businesses. When Mama B starts a business and feels that the person needs a little support to start with, the business will start outside the Mama B Centre. Using our electricity (where necessary) and water and being monitored by Mama B. As well as building up a clientele. Each baby business will get one month to get on its metaphorical feet and then be replaced with another. This is NOT a training ground, just a little initial monitoring.
Loos will probably be outside. But nice. And clean. With a place for workers to shower in the same block.
It might be that we have to hire an askari ( a guard). If so I have someone in mind.
Here Doris, John Kibe and probably Julius would be part of a Mama B official presence.
The building would, of course, be branded to buggery with the names and logos of anyone who helps get it up. I want to start in November and am meeting to finalise the “I am letting you use my land” agreement on Monday (ish … a Kenyan Monday)
And when I say “Structure” we are not, of course, talking bricks and mortar but probably corrugated iron sheets on a wooden base. Which means we don’t need planning permission.
And so to bed …
We head to the rearranged workshop and clinic at Muthure after spending a small fortune on medicines at my friendly discount chemist in Dagoretti Corner. Again there are an alarming number of positive women and top pastime in the area seems to be producing children. I do my ‘respect for everyone’ speech and they all nod. I do my ‘if you misuse my money I will hunt you down’ tirade and they all nod. I start waving condoms and they all fall about the place laughing. Yet again here (as in almost all the workshops) when I ask the women if they have a husband the answers are as follows
- He comes and he goes
- He is a drunkard
- He has another wife and children
- He has run away
- He is dead
There is the usual litany of pain – in backs, in legs. In heads, in chests, a lot of scabbiness and flakiness (dermatological, not psychological) and the ever present “my child has fever / cough”.
But all in all it goes well. By the end it is pitch black and I am peering at people by the light of my phone torch (God Bless Nokia). Point of interest : those packets of batteries I buy so enthusiastically in Poundland ? There is a reason they are £1 a packet. The batteries make a mayfly look like Methuslah. Everyone is very helpful and we end up with about five women and their phone torches lighting the last few grant and medical people.
By this time I have not one shilling left and so we drop Doris in Kenol (the area where she lives, named after the petrol station around which it grew) and I go to Nakumatt to try to wring some money out an ATM. David is less than understanding about waiting till tomorrow to get paid.
I finish the evening with hot chocolate and a sort of Kenyan Pot Noodle.
This is an important day. My last chance to find the lovely tailoring lady who makes the dresses that turned out to be Mama B’s Big Seller. If she is not at the market today I don’t know where to find her. But she IS !! I go wild in her aisle. OK I rootle through her boxes. By the time I have finished with the small market I am decidedly late for our medical clinic in Muslim (a slum area so called because of the people who live there). I also have my own body weight to carry to my small slum palace behind the carwash (which has now expanded its skillset to doing something called auto diagnostics which seems to involve mainly littering our tiny compound with car parts). I go into battle with the taxi drivers outside and beat one down to around a fiver to take me home, drop off the goodies, pick up the medical kit and take me up to Kawangware. While waiting for Doris at the side of the road I inadvertently eat around a kilo of tiny nisperos/loquats. Which I fully realised was not going to help the projectile liquid state of my insides, but they are too delicious to resist.
Muslim is pretty ropey. And the women and children are (irritatingly to me, I know that is uncharitable but my palm, outstretched with proffered medication, itched to smack half the time) very passive and listless. I suppose I should be chuffed that we get several diabetics with foot problems, a blind woman, woman with gargantuan swellings below her knees, three people with heart problems and two with sciatica who all seem to believe I can help them. There is also a girl who is weeping pus from her uterus. We examine, medicate and make a list of a) medication to buy and bring along tomorrow and b) people who need to go to hospital. One huge woman sits down and lists her many symptoms. It sounds like she has a hiatus hernia. As well as side effects from omeprazole. I move in to cop a feel and am faced with the vast amorphous mass of her upper body. I have to ask. Pointing at where her waist should be I poke gently. It feels like a water balloon. “Ni matumbo, ni titti?” I ask “Is this your stomach or your breasts?”. She roars with laughter and scoops up the puppies (which are each more the size of at least a fully grown West Highland Terrier). I root around underneath. She is on omeprazole already as well as a bewildering mix of other drugs none of which she can identify. I try to take them off her but she is having none of it. I say I will get another drug to replace the omeprazole, tell her she MUST not take drugs when she does not know what they are, do the whole thing about small meals and exercise to help her muscles and she nods and heaves herself off. There is bugger all I can do about the hernia. It starts to rain and the alleyway where we are seated dampens. We move indoors to an adjacent house. Again it is dark by the time we finish by the light of the Nokia. We should be in Dagoretti Corner by now and we pack the bags and walk towards the main road (a mile or so) and call piki pikis (motorbikes). I love this method of transport. We get a bike each (with Doris’s bottom there is no chance of sharing anything smaller than a bus) and take half the bags each. We bounce a slide off along the tracks in the darkness. Although I know there is an entire ward in Kenyatta Hospital called the Pikipiki ward, reserved solely for the victims of pikipiki accidents, I find these journeys really relaxing.
We meet KBF Kibe at Corner and eat pork in a little tin hut. It is absolutely delicious, fried up with onions and tomatoes into a sticky, tangy gooey mass. Utterly wonderful.
I have Doomed my tiny slum palace, have a plug in mozzie repellent and all windows are closed yet, each morning when I wake my slug white torso and legs sport more puce lumps. Thanks to my complete inability to behave like a grown up, slap on some antihistamine and ignore then (instead scratching like a dog with fleas) the surface area of said torso and legs is now about 30% scab. Thank goodness I don’t come here in search of fun and frolic. Having said which, there is always someone who is mightily turned on by scab-topped lumps and scratches … might go online later …
Back with those less fortunate, we have to head off early today as we are going to a place called Neirige Eregon. It is in a rural area in the Rift Valley near (that will be a Kenyan ‘near’) to Narok. The people there are Maasai, Kikuyu and (predictably) Maasai/Kikuyu. I have now terrified Doris into being more precise with directions and descriptions and we actually get there with no problems.
Except one. We stop at Maai Mahiu for water and I buy a new favourite of mine called Ngumu. It is a sort of hard lump of vaguely sweet hard fried dough. I realise I am not selling it well. AS we head out into the Rift Valley I chomp enthusiastically. Sadly my enthusiasm is not matched by my back teeth, one of which simply falls apart – well, a bit comes off it. It is all I can do not to have screaming hysterics. This is my worst nightmare. IT is not painful (yet) and I try to control my panic.
I distract myself planning the relief parcel to a group in Lamu. 24 couples, about 50% HIV+ living in a government settlement. We were planning to go there but there is a lot of trouble on the coast – as in people ending up dead trouble – so we are just going to send a load of stuff (medication, blankets, some food) and we will go next time if no one is shooting the place up.
The little farm where we are holding the meeting is packed with women. And, Praise Be (as Thora used to say) they want to work in groups. WANT to work in groups. One group has a contact near Mombasa for good cheap lessos (like kangas) and a deal on transport, another will buy mahindi (maize) from the farms and sell (buying in a group – as I keep bleating to women in Nairobi – means you get a much better price, in this case 2800 per sack instead of 3600 per sack). One big group are starting a chicken business.
We have to leave half way through the workshop to go to Narok and meet Jayne from the Biwati Community (the group Mama B helps in Awendo). I buy lunch. As I discuss leprosy, HIV and explain the magical properties of a good dose of Castor Oil, David (driver chap) exclaims in disgust and Swahili “ah these people don’t know how to serve food. This will make me to vomit”. Basically instead of serving everything separately (as the Kikuyu do), his chicken, rice and supu (gravy) had all come on the one plate. I go straight into Copstickian parent mode, verging on “they are starving in China” and “you will eat it before it eats you” (a childhood favourite which I now see doesn’t really make sense). I tell him that if he really needs his food to be separate then he has a condition called OCD and needs to go to hospital immediately. He looks sulky and shoves things around his plate.
I give Jayne some money for medicines, food and travel, break the news that the Sanitary Pads Project is to be split between Awendo and Nairobi (she is NOT happy – although sometimes it is difficult to tell with Jayne) and that I will pay no more for the small children’s home and am appalled that it is not finished yet. Some of the businesses Mama B started up there have really flourished, doctors have taken my threatening letters and calls to heart and are no longer charging the leprosy lady for treatment and enough of the other small businesses are still going to have made the trips there worthwhile.
We finish and head back to Neirege for the last few groups. 60 women in all are started in business that day. Bloody good stuff. And VERY VERY few medical problems. Few are positive, no sore backs and legs, no snivelling spluttering children … and no one producing pus. We give the few positive women ccod liver oil and multivits but everyone is delightfully healthy.
On the way back we stop to buy sacks of charcoal (500bob here and 1500bob in Nairobi) Doris and David buy one each and are ecstatic. Although it is difficult to tell with David sometimes.
I have been in touch with Sammi in Ruai about the small boy Michael (see diary 1). He has agreed to come to Nairobi, find him, talk to the father and, hopefully, take Michael back to Ruai and the rest of his family. I head to the big city market to buy stuff and arrange with Sammi that he will meet Kibe at Dagoretti Corner before heading to get Michael. I have decided that the last thing this situation needs is a mzungu looking like she is doing a Madonna, swooping down on a slum village and carrying off a small child. I arrange to meet them later. I am constantly on the phone to Doris who is taking some of the women from the week’s workshops to hospital. She has a budget but runs out of airtime and I MPesa her some readies. The pus-producing uterus is being treated, the blind/half-blind/occasionally blind ladies have been seen (no pun intended) and the usual sheaf of pointless prescritions for Amoxil and Ibuprofen written (soon to be discarded by me).
At the market I am approached by Soapstone David who is worried about his wife – blinding headaches that make her sick, not responding to any known painkiller etc etc. I tell him I am doing a clinic in Kwa Maji on Monday and to bring her along. There is only one thing LESS accurate and helpful than a Kenyan telling you their symptoms and that is a Kenyan telling you someone else’s symptoms.
Back at base I am informed that Sammi has NOT met with Kibe but that all is well and we are meeting for pork and status update in Dagoretti Corner.
We eat pork and ugali and Sammi explains that the father has agreed for Michael to come back to Ruai and says he accepts the boy is ‘suffering’ in Kaberia, the one fly in the ointment of this happy reunion being that Michael could not be found. So they are to go back tomorrow. Well, Kibe and the boys will go back – Sammi has to do something at the school he says.
I await news from Kibe that the rescue is complete. Meanwhile I buy food for Ruai. I say meanwhile – in reality David has arrived and we go to fill up the car with diesel. And get a thankful of petrol thanks to the fact that the pump is being manned by a bloke who changes tyres for a living. I stomp off to buy food while the tank is siphoned doing my usual mantra – time is money, money is life in the direction of the hapless tyre changer
I then get a call from Kibe saying something about a meeting and ‘complications’. He arrives with the two boys from Ruai (Big brother Joseph and cousin George), his cousin, his cousin’s wife and Michael. Michael is looking happy and very very healthy. And quite unlike anyone ‘suffering’.
I get the cold feeling that usually preceded the discovery that one has been comprehensively shafted.
We go and have a drink and a talk. Michael doesn’t want to go back to Ruai. Michael is very emphatic about this. Michael says he was beaten by Mrs Sammi in Ruai and had the marks to prove it.
I look at Joseph, the big brother. Joseph looks at his shoes. His eyes fill with tears. This is unprecedented. Kibe and I look at each other. As Cousin George is the son of Mr and Mrs Sammi, I get Kibe to take Joseph off ‘to the toilet’ for a chat. Then I have a chat with him. The details are not forthcoming. Asked if they are all being beated, Joseph stares at his shoes. Pressed on exactly what is happening, his eyes refill with tears. But all of the children are desperate to get away from Mr and Mrs Sammi. Joseph finally grab my hand and says he wants to bring his family away from Ruai and get a house beside Kibe’s cousin and look after them there. He doesn’t want to live in Kabiria “Because they would know where the house was, they would find them”. They all love the school and don’t want to leave the school, but do want to leave the Sammi House.
KIbe and I are devastated. It is like being hit with a brick. However devastation don’t peel no taters … or some other such folksie saying. I buy Joseph a phone – a secret phone. My numbers are in it as is Kibe’s. It is Joseph’s emergency help line. We agree that nothing can really be done till end of term. In December, after Christmas, they will move back to Nairobi – hopefully under the care of Kibe’s cousin and his wife. So we need to find a) a house b) a school.
Out at Ruai Sammi and Mrs Sammi are entirely unperturbed at the non return of Michael. Mrs Sammi is feeding the new baby. It is vast. I mean HUGE. Like a little hippo in an acrylic knit top. We do the usual trip to the village in the car with the kids, buy sodas, do a vegetable and charcoal shop and bounce around the countryside with the windows open waving at people.
We leave (me with many meaningful glances and nods at Joseph) and go to Gorogocho, a slum whose name means ‘broken stuff’. Which is what they sell there. Anything technical or mechanical which dies in Kenya is ripped apart and many of those parts end up for sale in Gorogocho.
The women’s group is met in a tiny room/house in the interior. Gorogocho is quite like KIbera in that the low tin or mud huts are crammed together tightly. The women are terrific. They all pitched in to buy beads little by little and have made forty sets of necklace/bracelet/earrings. Absolutely NOTHING that I would ever have ordered but the principle is good. I buy them and we’ll sell them as a sort of Special Appeal. Meanwhile I do the whole Mama B thing and say I’ll be back in November and will do a workshop and set them up in proper small businesses. They are so delighted the old lady wants to pray.
We head back to Nairobi and I get a call from Joseph. Violence already ? But no, he thinks he has left the earplugs for the phone in the car …
We are booked in to do a medical clinic in Kwa Maji with Julius’s group. I get together the meds. As I root around amidst the deworming tabs, the ibugel and the anti-malarials, I get a visit from a girl called Sarah. One problem about living in the heart of it all is that people do get to know where you live. Sarah, it transpires, is another daughter of the main house here. However, when she became HIV+ she was thrown out. She cannot even come in by the front door but has sneaked in through the carwash. She has a training in graphic design but can’t get work. However she does do some rather good beadwork so I tell her I’ll get the beads and give her an order.
Doris is late, but not ridiculously ‘Kenyan’ late and we get to Kwa Maji about 1pm. Some people have been waiting since 9am, Julius informs us cheerily. “But I said 12pm” I say. I should know better. Kenyans barely live by the calendar, let alone the clock. We are meeting in a local community school. VERY nice – mabati (sheet iron) but well laid out and with proper hard floors. We should go and greet the Director, says Julius. Why ? I want to know. Just to greet him, I am told. I say greetings can wait till the sick people have heir medicine. Julius nods. Kenyans are VERY big on ‘greetings’ and ‘meetings’ at which nothing actually happens apart from drinking tea and being polite. And, in my case (if I am being cynical, which I am, increasingly) sizing me up to see if I am good for some cash.
The room is half full of thin listless people and screaming children. Unfortunate thing about children – when they are sick they cry and when they are well they run around and shriek. We get stuck in. And get the usual sore backs/legs/knees/elbows and snotty kids. “What is the problem?” I ask. “My child has a cough” they say. “No it doesn’t” I generally point out as the kid bounces around not coughing. “Ah, yesterday she was coughing”. “Maybe today she is better?” “No, she has a cough” “When?” “Eh ?” “WHEN ? When does the child cough ?” “At night” “Cough!” I command the child, which giggles and looks embarrassed. These coughs are 99% miraculously cured by dusting the house, shaking out the bedclothes and putting a bowl of boiling water with a tiny bit of menthol in it in the room. And moving the charcoal smoke belching stove outside. A young girl comes up and sits down. She has pain she says. In her stomach, she says, pointing to her lower abdomen. I move over to cop a feel and it is like a big marshmallow. As I palpate her guts there are some marvellous noises. She … well, not to put to fine a point on it, she farts Not quite a miracle cure but I do feel a little Gregory House. She has so many stretchmarks her abdomen looks like lace. How many children ? I ask, sitting back down. Seven, she says. She is twenty seven years old and has SEVEN children. To a husband who has now left her. I get out the condoms and wave them at her. She looks puzzled. You know how to use these ? I nod. She does not. She has no idea what I am waving at her. She gets a dose of castor oil, a chat about diet, a demonstration of abdominal massage and a chance to come and get a business grant. Then the room is invaded by a horde of children. Can we do deworming for 36 ? Yes, to quote Bob, we can. In the course of decanting deworming syrup down throats we notice the odd cough and lump. Half an hour later we have three cases of measles. All, as it happens, from the one house. Get them out of the school ! I command. They live with their grandmother and she is summoned. A lovely woman (more of whom later). She is also smart. She gets some money for drinking water, some nutritious porridge and a bag of supplements. Plus is invited to the business meeting to discuss giving her some way of supporting the kids and herself. There are more irritating women with nothing really wrong except a deep desire to get anything free and a child with a worrying, fluttering heartbeat, chronic diarrhoea and no appetite. I send him and his mother off with a teacher to the hospital.
Then the teachers line up – as they are volunteers and do not get paid, I see them. Finally the headmaster sits down in front of me. I assume this is where I thank him very much for the use of his school and proffer something financial. But no. “I have a very bad problem with candidiasis” he announces. Turns out he has had it for 6 months ! And it is running riot. We get him sorted out and, as he hasn’t mentioned her, I ask about his wife. “Ah yes, she is also suffering” he says, looking puzzled, as if it were an uncanny coincidence. I give him some pills for the wife and say I will send on pessaries and more meds. I then give him a packet of condoms. He looks puzzled again. I explain. Had he been in a bath he would have jumped out shouting Eureka.
I agree with Julius that I will come back with medication and do a SMALL business funding workshop on Wednesday morning. We hit a tiny eaterie at the matatu stage and wolf chapati and stewed vegetables, beans and matumbo (intestines) and drink tea. Deebloodylicious. And something of a bargain at three people for £2.50 I buy a pint of milk on my way home as I am now sharing the tiny slum palace behind the carwash with my lovely feline friend from last time and her three kittens. Unbelievably sweet.
As it is market day I head off to Kijabe Street to collect stuff for the Mama Biashara Emporium. Spending money at the rate I have been this trip means we really need to be coining it in, shop-wise. I am sitting with a bloke from Mathare who makes candlesticks out of gourds, calculating profit margins when Doris calls. Can I meet with a men’s group today ? Men ? Recently released prisoners. How many ? Thirty ? Men ? Yes. I hesitate. Twenty. OK.
While Doris sorts out a location, I whizz round KIjabe St, head to Karioko (where a lot of stuff is made) and generally haggle my way to a carload of saleables.
En route to the workshop David and I drop in to Njenga’s place for soup and boiled cow head. This place is absolutely wonderful and the cowhead soup (with the addition of a slurry of maasai herbs ) cures all known ills. I slurp two large mugs and we eat slabs of tongue (who knew the crunchy bits were so good??) and katchumbari (tomatoe salad.
Thus fortified I head to Kawangware and the Crims’n’Crooks workshop
The men are huddled in a space behind a row of tin houses. We are keeping the meeting fairly secret because we do not want to be inundated with dozens of locals. The house where we are meeting has been provided by a lady who was set up in business by Mama B about six months ago. This house is proof her business is doing well. She appears in the doorway and offers me a cup of uji. This is her business – making uji (a sort of thin porridge which is fermented and sold by the cup in the morning and the evening to people at matatu stages). It is absolutely delicious. Sort of tangy and fruity and a little bit yeasty. Absolutely lovely. I insist on paying the woman. “Daima biashara !” (it is always business) I tell her.
The men are, all in all, pretty impressive. Young (mainly) and all desperately trying to catch the attention of the waitress in the last chance saloon. They are all recently released from prison (mostly, I discover, never having been convicted of anything, but simply arrested and left to rot on remand) and are not exactly Kenya’s answer to the Krays. True there are a couple of guys who were in for robbery with violence and one for mugging, but mainly they were there for handling stolen goods (phones), one for smoking dope and several for pickpocketing. A couple of them had gone, not to prison, but to prison hospital, having been beaten to within an inch of their lives by the mob which appeared from nowhere in the wake of their theft. Kenyan street justice is fearsome. Brutal. Terminal, in many cases. One way of keeping the court waiting lists down …
The guys have formed three groups and present well thought through businesses. With research and, most importantly, at least one or two people in each group who really know what they are doing. We set up a chicken selling business (buy them in Eldoret at 400/-, send to Nairobi where they have orders and can sell them at 700/- each. Transport is about 500/- a pop.) a maize selling business (again with orders lined up and a VERY good deal from the Rift Valley for the corn) and a mira business. Mira is known here as khat and is a plant, beloved of the Somalis (and others), the leaves of which, when chewed, provide a mild stimulant. Coke Light, I suppose. But all perfectly legal and INCREDIBLY profitable IF you know the people and know the business. Our guys stand to make a LOT of money (relatively).
Not that many of the guys are HIV+. The ones who are get a bag of supplements (cod liver oil and multivits) and we head off. Outside the house there is the usual flurry of excitement when the kids see the white woman. They squeak the usual “How are YOU?” greeting (this is basically the only English they seem to be taught and any reply other than “I am fine” totally flummoxes them) and we dispense Vitamin C tablets. All very cute. But we have to be back in Dagortetti Corner and so tear ourselves away and head to Corner and Mama Oleich’s bubbling fiery vats of fish frying oil.
Doris chooses a tilapia and it is hurled into a vat of boiling oil. Victor is due any minute. I am keen for Victor and Doris to meet. I think they will get on famously. Sadly, after a couple of hours, it transpires that Victor’s car has blown up (mechanical problem not al Shabbab) and he won’t be joining us. We rearrange for the following night when Doris and I had already planned to go to Florida (a nightclub on Moi Avenue which offers poledancing and prostitutes. Doris used to work there and we are going to give out condoms and lube to the girls. Victor, unsurprisingly, likes the sound of this and we arrange to meet at a bar and talk before going on to the club.
We are heading out to an area called Eastleigh. It is almost 100% Somali. It even has a Somali MP sitting in the Kenyan parliament. I meet Felista at Corner and we arrange to meet Doris in town. Felista is on time ! I feel quite faint. Doris, however, keeps the Kenyan timekeeping tickicking over slowly by starting when she is 15 minutes late to text saying she is, variously, ‘coming’, ‘close’, ‘close’, ‘out of the matatu’, ‘walking’ and ‘here’. ‘Here’ of course being a Kenyan ‘here’ which translates as ‘somewhere’ between ‘there’ and ‘here’. She eventually arrives forty five minutes late. She goes to greet me and I do a hugely gay hissy fitty ‘talk to the hand’. I am v pissed off. Public transport with the bums of BOTH Felista and Doris to accommodate is a parlous adventure. But we get there.
The Eastliegh prozzies are a group Felista met at a National AIDS Control Council thing. Felista is spreading her wings and is now taking on Sex Education and HIV prevention. One cannot help but feel that this is tantamount to a cure being just around the corner.
The ladies are very exuberant and kissy kissy when we meet. They lead us through the mean streets of Eastleigh. Which are, to be fair, properly mean. However, you can get anything here. ANYTHING. And at unbelievably low prices. The Somali’s general disregard for any kind of authority (except the gun or the bomb) means no import or export or any duty gets paid on anything. I’d love to see a Kenyan policeman demand his ‘kitu kidogo’ here.
We are meeting in a sort of cafe/bar/restaurant. Which is not as posh as that sounds. There are about twenty girls in the room. Would they like tea, I ask. The first hint of how the meeting would go comes with the reply. “Now is the time when we eat lunch”. We are, thanks to Doris, VERY late. And as a full plate of food costs around 120 shillings (about 90 pence) and a Coke (the only thing on offer anywhere thanks to the Devil’s Brew having destroyed its rivals across Africa by hook or, more frequently, by crook) would cost almost the same, I acquiesce.
After lunch (stunningly good food !) we do the rules of Mama Biashara. This being a fairly Moslem area the bit about me not being a Christian goes down rather well. We get stuck into the first applicant. She has a page of A4 with her business plan and set up costs. She wants around a thousand quid to start a cereals business. I laugh. I look through the rest of the applications. Everyone wants over a thousand. I laugh harder. I deliver a reality check in the most succinct way possible. Most of the women have no experience or working knowledge of the businesses they say they want to set up. They have done no research. I do a short speech about stupidity, money and chances being blown. I then tell Felista and Doris that we are going. Doris is gobsmacked and Felista desperate. The women are angry. I am angry right back. We leave.
Both Felista and Doris, once they get over their shock, want to go shopping for underwear. The market stalls of Eastleigh are amazing. It is like moving out of Kenya. The sights and smells are of Somalia. Cheap trip for me ! We buy several dozen pairs of knickers for DECIP (at £1.50 per dozen !!) and get on a bus. The journey is slightly delayed by a massive street fight but we get back to town in time to meet Victor. I ask Felista (knowing what the answer will be ) if she wants to join us for tea and Florida. We meet Victor in a coffee shop. And discuss the Mama Biashara Master Plan (as outlined in previous diary). Victor likes the plan and starts to get down to specifics of permits and inspections and building regs.
I head to the loo and (as we are about to go upstairs to a posh club), I brush my hair. This might not sound like much, but it is the first time for a while. With an actual brush. There is no mirror in the loo and it is only when I reappear and see the look on the faces of people in the room that I have a feel and realise that the effect of a week’s Nairobi dust is much the same as some sort of powerful mousse and I have given myself a massive ‘fro. I make Marsha Hunt look like Yul Brynner. But I do get some admiring glances.
Upstairs we sit and watch and hand out condoms, talk to the girls and dance a little. Even Felista has a drink. Her newfound interest in sex education leads her to chat to the working girls and more or less invite all of them out to DECIP for a workshop. TO say nothing of joining in the Great Condom Giveaway with huge enthusiasm. After two Smirnoff Ice she is ready for the dance floor herself. Her upper torso, given one or two sways, takes on a rhythm all of it’s own. Doris and Victor cosy up on the dancefloor. I knew they would get on. We leave when the condoms run out and head for a matatu. The ride home is hilarious. Felista and I are in the night-time No 4 with around half a dozen young guys who, it transpires, are on their way home after a hard day’s thieving and pickpocketing in the City Centre. “They are criminals!!” hisses Felista. They are all in a good mood and don’t seem to be interested in thieving from the mzungu so the ride is quite jolly. The driver seems very keen to get a wriggle on, eliciting a cry of “eh, polepole … we don’t want to die!” from the passengers. A well dressed young man gets on at Uhuru Park. He is very happy. He knows the ‘boys in the back’. ”Eh mzungu, you are in a matatu” he declares. Kenyans have a great love of stating the obvious. “I am” I nod. He looks back at ‘the boys’. “They are thieves” he says dismissively. “I know” I say. “But I” he strikes his chest, “I am a hustler !” He waves a fifty bob note (around 30p) at the conductor. “Keep the change” he says.
Felista and I get out at Corner and cut across to get to my house. We (well, Felista, mainly) have decided that, rather than pay a fortune for someone to take her to Waithake, she will stay with me and leave for her meeting in the morning. Halfway through Dagoretti Corner she pauses. “I need to go” she announces, dodges behind a car, lifts her skits and disgorges a Niagara of hot steaming liquid into the dust. It just seems to fall out like water out of an upturned bucket. I wonder if, perhaps, the plastic covering on my bed might finally come into its own tonight …
It doesn’t. But Felista doesn’t half snore !
After a night sliding around the plastic to the accompaniment of Felista’s wildebeest-like snoring I head out to collect my orders from the market at Junction. I am still running the content of the conversation with Victor through my head. And starting to feel a little stressed at he amount of work to be done in building the Mama B Centre. I am half way round my peeps at the market when Doris calls. Can I do a workshop with some young street sexworkers ? A mix of male and female ? They are very desperate says Doris.
I am a little distracted as I have to get my purchases back to the house and then head to Kwa Maji to distribute the medication to the people from the medical workshop, plus do a small business funding moment with around a dozen women from that group.
So I say yes. Twenty. No more. I consider going into my speech about there being only one lot of money and when it is gone it is gone. But it hasn’t worked yet.
Being under pressure of time – and, to be honest, bloody knackered already – I lash out on £4.00 for a cab to take the stuff home. I do my “it’s for the women” speech, in an attempt to get a reduction on the fare. And get a 50p discount. However I also get the “my wife she is running a group for the empowering of the women” speech and end up giving the driver my phone number. I tell him about the medical clinics ( in the (vain) hope of getting a free ride to Kwa Maji) and he tells me about a problem in his home town in Kamba country where a ‘doctor’ has recently been arrested for taking money (from parents who come to him with sick kids) for injecting children with Coca Cola. He told the parents it was a vitamin tonic. No one knows how many children died.
Everyone is waiting at Julius’s small kiosk in Kwa Maji. I hand out medicine to those who have come for that and give Julius the stuff for those who are not present. Apparently the thrush ridden headmaster and his wife are suffering much less since I gave them the dawa. The measles stricken kids are bearing up, the rashes are clearing up and the fever has gone and the child with the heartbeat like a set of maracas on speed has been taken to the hospital and told he has a problem with his heart. Well who knew ? I meet with the women who want to start businesses. First up is the old lady who is looking after the kids with measles. You have six children to care for ? I say. That is too much ! She doesn’t have six, it transpires. She has twelve children. Her daughter had six and then cleared off to start a new, child free life in Limuru. Then the old lady has three sons, each of whom has two children each and no job. SO the children stay with Grandma. And sometimes the sons come home too … when they need food and shelter. She is a lovely, lovely lady. She used to have a business cooking and selling sweet potatoes she says. It was a good business. We work out how much it would take to set it up again. But it will not feed twelve children, I say. So I suggest that, in the daytime, before she starts cooking the potatoes, she could make liquid soap. A great business. With a massive mark up. You buy the chemicals (OK, it’s not exactly ‘natural’, but neither is it toxic) for 500/- and make 20 litres of detergent. A litre sells for 100/-. So from 500/- and 20/- for water, you make 2000/-. And it is light work. I am so impressed with the shosho that I promise her enough for 60 litres of detergent. And give her £20 for immediate food and stuff for the measley kids. The rest of the group are mixed. A couple are sent away to think again. A couple already have businesses and are just chancing their arm.
At around one I head back to Dagoretti Corner. I arrange to meet Julius later in the day with the chemicals for the shosho and some other stuff.
En route up to Kawangware to meet Doris and the sexworkers (not a bad name for a band … hmmm … I am thinking fundraising Christmas single …) I get a call from Felista. The children are starving. She is starving. The staff and teachers are starving. Martin (a bloke who works with the British Army in Nairobi and who has been supplying DECIP with some food each month) has not come with the food. Martin is not answering his phone. In my capacity as barmaid in the Last Chance Saloon I agree to meet Felista later and give her 10,000/- (about £80) but NO MORE. The Mama BIashara account is now empty I say (not untruly, as the second Moneygram of the visit has just arrived, meaning £6000 has come from the UK to Kenya this trip). I am now getting increasingly stressed. Tired. Hot. Thirsty. I ponder the likelihood of our being able to get the money together for the Mama B Centre … and the fact that if we have a centre there all the time, that we will be getting demands all the time. Workshops every day ? Officials and policemen and God knows who else wanting ‘kitu kidogo’ … Plus my few communications from the Old Country (via Zetta, a woman whose faltering health makes it a miracle that she can hold a phone let alone send a text on one) have alerted me to the fact that, in my absence, the shop’s income is dwindling.
By the time the matatu reaches Kawangware and I alight, boxes of cod liver oil and multivits rattling and condoms and lube in every pocket, I am in a fair old Bad Mood. And I have come to a sort of Executive Decision. I text Victor and ask if we can meet that evening in Dagoretti Corner to talk. I am looking the end of my tether in the face (as it were).
However, five minutes with the twenty (or so) twenty-somethings in the little room where we are having our workshop and all negative feeling disappears. These people are amazing. A mix of male and female sex workers whose lives are currently lapping the 11th circle of hell – the one where you are struggling to stay alive, being alternately raped, battered and abused by ‘the authorities’. The gay guys especially live a terrifying, fraught life. And the gay girls are constantly abused and raped by the guys on the street. And yet they are smart. They are articulate (many of them). They have bonded into three group[s and have genuinely excellent business plans. They have researched. They have product knowledge. And have got themselves orders lined up. These are inspirational people. There are a couple of couples, and so much mutual support for one another in the other people I just know these businesses have a better chance of success than almost any Mama B has started. We hand out lube, condoms, and enough money to start the three team businesses. By the time I leave I feel once again that I am so lucky (the whole Mama B team is so lucky) to have the chance to help people like this.
Doris and I head to Corner and, by way of finding somewhere where I will get away with a minimum of refreshment buying, I call Felista and Julius and arrange to meet at Shalom (not as Jewish as it sounds. In fact, not jewish at all) to hand over soap chemicals, money etc. I am planning to go on from there (with Doris) to meet Victor.
Shalom has a green garden, and peace and tranquillity. Doris and I have coffee. Julius arrives and gets the soap chemicals for the shosho and a few other things. Felista arrives. With someone from DECIP in tow. I buy more coffee. And mandazi. Felista is enthusiastically discussing the meetings she is having with NACC (the National Aids Control Council ) about ‘training’ discordant couples in safe sex. Doris and Julius are keen to get involved. I see one of those Government schemes where they SAY they want to help the community BUT charge a fee to ‘train’ someone (like Felista) to ‘train’ the community. All they REALLY want is the money.
BY the time we are on our third round of coffee and mandazi I am getting irritated. And then the bombshell drops. Distracted by a call from Victor to tell me he is waiting at Corner, I tune back into the conversation to discover the following : a couple of days ago Felista took (with my permission) a pack of condoms and a tube of lube (thank you Poundland) from me. Today she used them at the NACC ‘workshop’. (I say used, I mean, showed them around). Everyone was impressed. NACC was impressed. They said these should be used for the entire programme. Felista agreed. They asked who was going to supply Felista with 50,000 of these condoms and a crate load of the lube. And Felista said Mama Biashara.
I feel like I have been hit by a brick. I obviousle look like I have been hit by a brick. Felista laughs. Doris says “I have never seen Mama Biashara without words” and laughs. Julius laughs. I, on the other hand, am torn between crying and exploding.
The others continue to laugh.
I pay up and announce I am going to meet Victor. I storm off. I am definitely veering towards the exploding. I stomp off through the darkness. And get to the pub in Corner. Victor has a sweet girl in tow. We sit. We start to talk. I cannot hold it in any longer and go from nought to Explode in around 15 seconds. It is fairly explosive. And specific. And, by the time Felista and The Gigglers get to us, Victor has been informed in no uncertain terms that Mama B cannot, will not, be involved in ANYTHING formal, any applications, any permissions, any anything that will bring us into contact with The Authorities. We will not have A Centre. We will not be Suppliers. We will not be ANYTHING that will lay us open to being ripped off by cops, local authorities or anyone else official. I am deeply ashamed to say that there are tears. I really had just hit my own personal wall. I am angry. Really really angry. With everyone from the people who are not spending money in the shop, to those who are not happy to abandon their children to open the shop, to those here who do not understand that there is an end to the amount that Mama B can do. I am just pointlessly, unjustifiably angry with everyone. I explain (ok, howl) to Victor why the Mama B Centre cannot happen. Suddenly Doris, Felista, the unidentified person from DECIP and god knows who else arrive. We spend time, drink and (yet again) money. John KIbe arrives (at my request) and keeps me sane. By the time the evening is ended we all know that Mama B will NOT be having a Big Centre, that I am having a Loud Major Meltdown … I don’t know what else because I leave. Still angry.
This is not good.