18th September 2013
I don’t know what they were expecting but Terminal 5 was crawling with armed policemen. As we stood in line at security one poor woman did something to set off the red lights and pingy noises. As the entire hall watched, she was stroked, poked, squeezed and generally felt up and down in a search that probably revealed her family tree. She was them made to remove her shoes and roll up her trouser legs. This, I might add, when she was a mild mannered lady of around sixty. Who must have been horribly embarassed. When absolutely nothing of a combustible or explosive nature was found in or around her pale kneecaps she was simply handed her shoes and waved on.
At the other end the Kenyans have turned an underground carpark into the new arrivals hall, after the huge fire destroyed the terminals proper. After a tour of the surrounding area crammed into a bus, the actual arrivals / luggage bit was impressively swift. My phone is not working so I have to get a cab instead of David. But I bargain myself a 1000ksh discount.
Just approaching Dagoretti Corner and home, we are waved down by a police block. I had left my window open and they must have seen the pale face. They strafe the interior of the car with torches and then point them right in my face.
Me : (in Swahili) good evening, is there a problem ?
Cop 1 : so you know Kiswahili
Cop 1: (sneeringly) a little
Me : enough
Cop 1 then says something to Cop 2 who laughs and goes round to the driver’s window. They get his license. They tell him to get out the car and go round the back. I also leap out and go round the back. When I am there they will not try to extort money from the driver.
Cop 1: you know that you were not wearing your seat belt and that this means you should pay a fine.
Me: OK. Just take me to the police station and charge me and I will pay the fine.
Cop 2: It is not for you to tell us to take you to the police station, it is for us to take you.
Me: Of course. I was just saying that if I must pay a fine them it must be official and must be done at the police station.
Cop 1 : Why do you not pay the fine to us now, then it is finished
Me: Because to pay something here at the side of the road is not a fine, it is just ‘kitu kidogo’ (a bribe).
Cop 1 So you can just give us kitu kidogo
Me : I do not give kitu kidogo
They give up.
And off we went. Usually the first demand doesn’t happen till later on. I do hope this is not an omen.
19th September 2013
The black cat is dead. Killed on Ngong Road. My lovely fluffy sealpoint has been given away and Mummy Cat has produced four more kittens. This cat has the fertility equivalent of diaorrhea. I head to Junction to a) sort out my Kenyan phone – even more important now that I have discovered that my new 3 Mobile phone does not want to roam. No signal. At all. Not even a token attempt to connect to a Kenyan network. Hmmm. Grrr. b) get supplies for the Tiny Slum Palace. c) meet up with the various Mama B suppliers who come on a Thursday d) meet Doris and give her her Big Treat (a Java House Chicken Caesar Salad which she loves) for the trip
Safaricom are surprisingly quick, I zip round Nakumatt and head upstairs and order a small truckload from Mama B’s Peeps and then meet Doris. We embrace
Doris : eh Copi, you have become fat !
Me: I know, it is the steroids
Doris : (eying my bottom) what were you eating in Edinburgh ? Your ass is big ! It is moving like a Kenyan’s.
For some reason I have the Wanted in my head singing Walks Like Rhianna. Ironically.
We catch up and I try to get sensible and Zetta-like on the administration front. We arrange to meet the next day and do all the paperwork.
Doris and I go wild in the aisles of Nakumatt and we go our separate ways.
I meet Catherine (my Maasai and Maai Mahiu sex worker contact). She has produced the baby and it is a girl. It is two months old and has a massive ‘fro already.
The feedback from the Maasai medical day is good. The women I thought had mastitis have all responded to the antibiotics we gave. And as usual, cod liver oil and ibuprofen gel are hailed as miracle workers tantamount to the Hands of Jesus himself. We arrange another medical day with a bit of teaching mastitis avoidance and (if we can persuade the Elders) some HIV testing). The raincatchers are all working well and the women are being very good about taking them in when there is no rain so they last as long as possible. The villages have more or less lived of the harvested water during the last couple of dry spells. Catherine and I also arrange a visit to one of the big IDP camps outside Maai Mahiu. We need to do some medical stuff and she wants me to meet a woman’s group who have been baking bread for sale but now really need to ramp up their production. For this they need a space and proper equipment – like a real oven. There are about twenty women in the group plus a few men and the possibility of expansion is endless (apparently the bread is great and schools are ordering plus little shopkeepers from as far as Longonot and Suswa come for supplies). The IDP’s are on the cusp of getting properly settled and this could be a huge huge help to the entire community (OK, not the ENTIRE community, as there are about 2000 IDPs in the camp). We also talk sanitary pads. Catherine thinks we could run workshops to persuade girls to use the reuseable ones that many developing countries do. My Grand Plan for making pads from sugar cane bagasse are still bubbling but the people we have out in Awendo are just not the folk to run the production line. More of this anon.
Doris arrives. We are on Kenyan time now. Catherine (due at 10) arrived at 11.15. Doris (due at 1pm) arrives just after 2. My next meet is with Felista so …
Doris and I get out the paperwork. Here are the highlights
1. With the set up grants we are achieving around a 90% success rate. Maybe 20% of those grants are used to try more than one business other than the one the grant was given for, but 90% of the people are still in business
2. The nettle business has grown from 10 women to around 50 people, profitably engaged
3. Vicky’s Cleaners has now spawned two new teams. The original Vicky’s lot split themselves into three and now three full strength Vicky’s teams are working across Nairobi and beyond.
4. The pig boys (who received a boost when Zetta and Neil were here to buy a boar) have got their boar and are doing incredibly well. So far, from litters produced by the boar (who I seem to remember is called Dirty Neil) Mama B has started two more individuals in their own pig business, with piglets from Dirty Neil’s litters.
5. The Kucha Kool Kits handed out in the Kawangware workshop for more mature Bar Hostesses has resulted in more than 18 of the 28 women being able to stop bar work altogether. They now do the manicures in people’s homes. I am going to take Doris to my lovely supply lady who gives me the best rates for nail varnish and the rest.
6. The Zimbabwean women who came to me (ones who had come to the Mama B secret school) for a grant to make Vitamba for a man in Sudan have done brilliantly. They have taken on another 20 women from the community and have orders coming out of their ears. PLUS they can keep good books thanks to the school.
7. There is so much teaching and training going on across the Mama B community – knitting and crochet, basic office skills and computer data input, hair waving and braiding – all are being taught and an impressive number of people are being found work by Doris’s personal employment agency. She really really is a wonderful force for good here.
Felista arrives and we discuss the Dreaded But Probable Departure of CWAC. She refuses to believe that Mama Biashara cannot find a way to pay for the teachers at the DECIP school (about £450 per month in total). I feel a stress headache coming on. Luckily at that point the news comes on the telly and everyone in the place is glued to the days goings on in the ICC.
It starts to rain. Heavily. Felista’s son comes in a borrowed car to take her and Doris to the matatu stage and we all go home.
First workshop tomorrow – cannot wait.
A bit of a ghastly hoo ha in Nairobi today. 22 dead so far and 29 injured (the fact that they were all taken to the Aga Khan shows that only rich people got shot …). Word on the street is Al Shabbab, but whoever it is they really know what they are doing and are amazingly disciplined. Muslim shoppers have apparently been allowed out. POlice are reacting in their usual boot-faced thuggish manner. At one point teargassing their own civilians in an attempt to dissuade them from being in the area. Up at this end everyone is just glued to the TV. Some are muttering darkly that this is a reaction to the goings on at the ICC. Kenya is, to be fair, not smitten with the ICC. JUst as well I am broke and slum-bound. It is safer here down, down, down, as Dory Previn sang, “where the iguanas play”
It all starts so gently. I know I have no David today – he told me last night that he could not get a car till Monday. However when he calls at 9 to say he is outside I know something is wrong. There has been an addition to the David Clan. A baby boy. Mother and baby fine except for the fact that David cannot meet the bill at the hospital. He has paid 6,000ksh and still owes 5000ksh which he does not have. What happens in a Kenyan hospital when a patient is ready for discharge and cannot pay the bill is that they are made to leave their bed, leave the ward, leave the building, in fact, and live rough in the hospital grounds until the bill is paid and security allow them to leave. Even with a newborn child in horribly cold weather and daily heavy rain. I lend David the 5000 (about £40)
I feed the cat, show David the kittens and set off to Dagoretti Corner as he heads to get his wife. At the lovely Maresi Pharmacy I am greeted like a long lost family member by the marvellous girls there and we make out an order for 300 deworming syrup, cough syrup and Calpol (with BA I can not bring nearly as much stuff with me as I could with Virgin as costs are pretty much prohibitive and so the famous and much loved Kilkof gets left in London), painkillers, anti fungal agents of all kinds and as many free condoms as the girls can get hold of. I’ll get the rest when I come in to collect on Monday.
The market at the Law Courts is, it seems, full of people who have been pining away since June without my company. To say nothing of custom. I get the stuff I really need to, chat to a few pals and browbeat a nice young taxi man into a massive discount on the ride home.
Dropping the stuff at home, I make for Corner again, pick up my boots (which have been reconstituted from tatters yet again by the local shoe fundi – for 80p) and get a matatu to Kawangware.
Today’s workshop is with women who are having to do Bar Hostess work. Which almost inevitably leads to full time commercial sex work. The pay is diabolical, the hours are appalling, they are treated like dirt and constantly pushed for sex. We set up a good wholesale business, supplying rice to local hospitals and schools, a fresh ginger group who will wholesale and retail, a quintet of ladies selling fresh eggs by the tray, and a group of chicken sellers – live chicken. There is one single woman who wants to sell lessos and a great group of young girls who have been working as strippers in a hellhole with an appalling boss. They have a great business idea – selling chicken gizzards both raw and fried. Fantastic profit margin and they really know what they are doing. Best of all this group are all HIV negative and all without children. The best possible start to a good independent life. Five years down the road then they get to choose what they want to do with their lives.
Funding the businesses is about to get more expensive. The Kenyatta government has seen fit to push through a bill imposing VAT on practically everything. It is, as a piece of legislation, a car crash. They almost immediately were forced to put through an amendment exempting basics like flour and milk and so forth. But it was too late. Some prices for basic things have almost doubled. There is VAT on chicken feed so now the prices of chickens and eggs have soared. The poor people don’t know what to do. It is a nightmare. I would like to think that old Jomo will be birling in his grave to see what the latest Kenyatta is doing …
After the girls, we go and meet a young man who is doing amazing work in an area outside Nairobi past Kenol where Doris lives. He rescues young men and women off the streets, he gets them clean of glue or drugs or chang’aa, he trains them in a football team, gets them fit, gets them disciplined and tries to get them some small jobs to keep them fed (them and their children … they each have at least a couple). There are also some much younger children he has also rescued and has got them places at schools.
As we cross the road Doris remarks “Eh, I like it when you wear the small shoes, I can see your legs” I ready myself for a compliment. “I thought you would have small legs but they are BIG. Like an African.” I believe she is referring to my puffy knees and the Copstickian Cankles. Hmmm.
We get to the cafe/meeting place and watch with horror as the TV unfolds the tale of the siege at Westgate. 22 dead. 29 injured. “You see, they are all rich !” says Doris “they are taking them to the Aga Khan”. People are muttering about some sort of retaliation against white people because of the ICC trials. Others think AL Shabbab. Just as we watch a report that the Kenyan police have started to teargas their own civilians, the Football Coach arrives. With half an eye on the TV we discuss possibilities.
To keep going – and to make staying straight and fit a viable option for the 40 young men and women (aged 22 – 28) in the project, he needs a source of income for the project (as well as the tiny bits and bobs the people get individually). They had an offer of a place to use as a base for a business. They also had an offer of regular orders for bananas, potatoes and tomatoes from local hospitals, schools and hotels. The potatoes had little profit and needed a huge layout of cash. But the bananas have good profitability and so – as long as he can get back to me with a decent transport costing, Mama B is going to set the group up in a banana wholesaling business (selling by the branch) that will make the group just under £500 per week. Enbough to give every member something to be going on with and some to save / invest / do whatever. Bit of a bloody result in terms for VFM. We will be keeping a close eye on the project. Oh, and anyone who fancies helping out with strips (preferably red but they will take anything that is going) or boots would be their friend for life.
The Coach goes and Doris and I watch more coverage of bootfaced Kenyan police stopping cameramen shooting for news coverage. We get our separate matatus and go our separate ways.
Now it is raining and as I get off at Corner I am cankle deep in goo. I have no real idea what its constituent parts are. But I have an idea.
Sunday 22 September 2013
death toll is rising and Al Shabbab have claimed responsibility. The
Kenyan government has issued a statement saying they have the
situation “under control”. I am sure that will be of immense
solace to the 30 people still held hostage in the mall. Apparently
Kenyatta’s son, sister, nephew and soon to be neice were all at
Westgate yesterday. Which is pretty tempting to an organisation bent
on revenge for Kenyan troops being sent into Somalia a year ago
To the thwunking sound of stable doors being closed after the horse has not just bolted but been shot and turned into dogmeat and glue many big supermarkets and most big malls across Nairobi are closed or surrounded by severe security.
Life in Kawangware and Congo (where I am headed for the next workshop) goes on much as usual. Congo is, in fact, seething when I arrive. It is not the most salubrious of places and a lone mzungu is a thing of fascination for the locals and extreme hilarity for the children. I repair to a local supermarket to buy some bits and bobs and find myself in a game of hide and seek with a tiny child who follows me around alternating coming up to touch my hand with shrieking with laughter. She insists on calling out to me as she comes looking “shosho !”. “Granny !”
The workshop is a short matatu ride from the main drag. A group of commercial sex workers are our wannabe businesswoman. We start businesses selling green peppers, more rice, more bananas (but with rather a good deal on transport which we might take advantage of for the football team group) and lessos. The women are – generally – teriffic. They really want out of the lives they are in and this is their big chance. Usually they don’t actually believe I will give them the money till I hand it over. They all understand the mathematics of their chosen businesses and what they need to do to grow the business from this start. There is one group who want to sell soft drinks at an almost non existant profit (having been sold the idea by a wholesaler for a big soft drink manufacturer …). They are going to come back next week with a different busines plan. And then there is a deaf girl (also a commercial sex worker). Very beautiful and ridiculously pregnant. She and a friend (also non hearing) want to start a business selling tea and hard boiled eggs at a matatu stage. Good business. They already have some of the necessary kit. We communicate with signs and mime and a bit of writing. She is delighted with the grant. I am going to meet her again and take her an illustrated sign language alphabet. And any other sign language stuff I can find. I hope there is a Swahili sign language – if not English (which she doesn’t speak) will have to do and I can translate a few useful signs for her to use a) with her friend and b) in business. Kenya is not well equipped for anyone with any sort of disability. And not at all equipped if that person happens to be poor.
Over coffee and cabbage and chapati Doris and I get down to more catch ups on previous businesses set ups and stuff. Here are some more highlights
1. Not only have Vicky’s cleaners expanded into three full teams (and still expanding) but they took time out and came to train some young girls in house-keeping – ironing, cleaning and bed-making etc. These young girls have now all got jobs in small local hotels. Which is bloody marvellous.
2. Our lovely team of chicken-shit boys (for those of you who are new to the diaries, last year we financed a group of around 18 young men in a business collecting chicken shit, mixing it with fish flour and various vitamins in powder form, and selling it as dairy cow feed. This is hugely popular in Kenya and will double the milk yield of a dairy cow. Oh yes.) have been doing incredibly well. Recently they too took time out to train a whole new project’s worth of boys in the chicken shit business, supplying them with a starter pack of fish flour and vitamin powder.
3. The last time I was here we were (well Doris was, and she tackled me) approached by four young girls (all around sixteen). They were from rural areas. And poorest of poor families. In order to be able to pay their school fees (in the hope that an education would get them out of where they were), they sold the only thing they had. Sex. In the case of one girl, she was turned away from school because her skirt was too tattered and patched to be acceptable to the teacher. So she had sex with an old man who said he would buy her a skirt. She never got her skirt. But she did get pregnant and get syphillis. As did the other three girls.
They came to Doris begging her to help them have terminations. They had found a doctor and a clinic who would help. Abortion is not illegal in Kenya so it was a nice clinic. And a nice doctor. And so Doris asked me if we could help. In the time it took me to make up my mind, a fifth girl had killed herself rather than face life as a mother at 16 and lose all hope of getting out and getting on. So Mama Biashara paid for the girls first to be treated for chronic syphillis and then to have the terminations they so wanted. They all have now gone on the pill. And know all about the dangers of unprotected sex. One of the girls has gone back to school and the other three came to Nairobi and Doris and some Mama Biashara hairdressers have trained them in basic weaves, braiding and straightening techniques, Mama Biashara has bought them some basic hairdressing bits and bobs and the wonderful Doris has got them placed with hairdressing salons in Mathare. They make a decent wage. And have a whole new start to their lives. They won’t have to have (hopefully) sex that they do not want ever again.
I realise that this doesn’t exactly fall under the heading of ‘giving out a business grant’, but I think we did A Good Thing.
Lots to do tomorrow – a big medical workshop in a particularly ghastly slum. Wellies the order of the day, I think.
Something of a challenging day. While there is a huge amount to recommend it, the main drawback of having David as a driver is that he is just another bloke in a slum and very much at the beck and whim of the bloke who actually owns the deathtraps he drives. And now this bloke is not playing nice. So no Davidmobile. Last night I called Felista’s son (now another semiprofessional driver of deathtraps) but got no response. So this morning I face the day alone. I cancel my trip to Westlands to buy water purification tablets – the Westgate Mall is still a war zone, hostages are still being held, there is much gunfire and now there is a vast plume of smoke coming from the roof. But it is ok because Mr Kenyatta says that the government’s forces have everything under control. I head out on foot and change some money (I had (appallingly) harboured a hope that the ghastliness at Westfield might have had some effect on the exchange rate, but no) and then go to the pharmacy to pick up the order of dewormers, cough syrup and the rest. Surprsingly heavy, dewormers. I drag the massive bag back to the small slum palace and start packing up for the medical clinic we are doing today in a place called Mountain View. Sounds lovely. It isn’t.
I have decided to try and cut down my dosage of steroids – possibly this was not really the day to choose but what the hell.
I pack up my small, broken wheelie case with medicine and fill another two big carrier bags.
The walk to the matatu stage is a nightmare. My wheelie doesn’t really wheel. It just drags. The bags cut into my hands and bang against my fat knees. There is much ill concealed sniggering and staring as I schlep through Dagoretti Corner. At one point I am so pissed off that I stop and take time out of my journey to kick my wheelie. It is at this point that I get a text from Doris saying “mainly children. Deworming syrup”. As the pharmacist had not actually got my order of syrup I had been forced to take mainly tablets. Kenyan kids are rubbish at taking tablets. And smirking “sweetie” as you ram one into the tiny mouth does no good at all.
As Kenya is in crisis situation, when I get on the matatu, crushed in a corner under all my own medication with my knees pressed on a worryingly hot transmission shaft bump, the entertainment is mainly news of more and more poor people lining up to give blood and send money to rich injured people who, were the tables turned (as they so often are), would not spit on them if they were on fire. Which, if you remember, they were, in Lunga Lunga a couple of years ago. Then we get music – the robust baritone of Roger Whittaker, no less, booming about his home being forever Kenya, and the dulcet tones of Eric Wainaina also reminding us in song that he is “Daima” (forever) Kenyan.
We are all flung off the matatu in Kawangware and board another one. At least my knees can return to their normal temperature on this one. Another change at Uthiru and I make it to the Mountain View stop. Doris is waiting and we bag two piki pikis. The look on the faces of the other piki piki boys when Doris settled her awesome bottom on the Yamaha was hilarious. I grabbed my non wheelie wheelie and got on a Triumph. Mountain View Estate proper is a gated, manicured, expensive, collection of large houses. One travels through this and out the other side into Mountain View Slum. The familiar scent of poo and poverty greets you as you slide down the dirt road.
We deworm until we had no more dewormers. I see a seemingly endless queue of women who fall into one of two groups.
1. Not ill at all and complaining of the trinity of Kenyan Complaints – “ulcers”, “presha” and “joints”. Ie heartburn, headaches and aches and pains. The women here seem ridiculously well, generally. Even the kids are ok.
2. complaining of things like type 1 diabetes and wondering if I can supply insulin.
There are some scabby, snotty, chesty, ringworm ridden kids and they get what they need. And some women with very high ‘presha’ indeed. But this is not exactly a life saving expedition this afternoon.
After three hours we head off on the piki pikis and get a matatu. Yet again we are turfed out in mid journey because the matatu is turning back the way it came. The young guy in charge was trying to force us all out of the mat into the oncoming traffic but Kenyan Womanhood stood her ground and, what with Doris, a young mother from the third row and a granny just behind us screaming and yelling abuse at him, the matatu made a safer stop to allow us to get off.
At Dagoretti Corner we met up again with the Timothy the football coach who is saving young men and women from the streets. He has indeed found a good deal on transport. An excellent deal. Not only that he will share it with the girls from yesterday who are also bringing bananas from Meru. Plus his boys will provide free labour for them (getting the bananas from the field). And so the Hope Football Project and its 40 members get their grant and will start business this week. This makes today worthwhile.
As Doris and I eat cabbage and chapatis we hear that Westgate Mall is now on fire.
Felista calls to ask me to come and visit an old lady who has ‘a problem of her private parts’. They have heat coming out them and then are paralysed, she tells me. Well, at least it is not indigestion. I promise to come on Thursday.
It is getting cold so I take my cargo of medications and trudge off home through the dark. I have grown to like walking in the pitch dark. Just as well, really.
Tuesday 24 September 2013
And I had
such high hopes for today. Bringing hope and help to the IDPs
outside Maai Mahiu. Etc.
9.15am I get a text from Felista’s son Kuria that he is ready with the car. I am delighted that he is on time and tell him I will be out in ten minutes
9.35am I am still waiting with a large pile of medication in various containers (including the non wheelie wheelie) outside the carwash.
9.40am Kuria arrives. Explaining that when I told him 10 minutes, he went to a car wash.
I cannot help but notice the appalling paint job on the car. And that it is making an odd noise.
Kuria : It is a goooood car. It is a sport ! (HE POINTS TO THE BUMP ON THE BONNET) That is why it makes a good noise.
We crawl though Dagoretti Corner with the car revving wildly with every stone it was asked to drive over. We get to the chemist.
The dewormers have not arrived. Neither have the condoms. I mutter darkly and tell the gitls that I am going to Kijabe St and will collect them on my way back. “at 12” they say. Not at 12. I have to be in Maai Mahiu by one, I say. Looking back, I could weep at my girlish naivety and optimism.
We head to Kijabe St. I point out a) the smell of burning rubber b) the kangaroo-like motion of the car 3) the screaming revs (think Land Rover roped to a small bungalow trying to pull it back over the edge of the cliff where it has fallen) every time he changes gear 4) the alarming drop in speed to a shuddering crawl any time the gradient is more than 1 in 10. 5) the whining sound of the fan belt slipping.
Kuria : No problem !
We stall on a mild incline on the slip road to Waiyaki Way
Kuria : The good thing with the manual is that you can jump start.
By rolling backwards, we jump start. Kuria smiles.
Getting back up the incline to the main road was like that bit in Ice Cold In Alex where they are pushing the old ambulance up the sand dune.
We reach Kijabe Street eventually and I call Doris and Catherine to say we will almost certainly not be coming to Maai Mahiu.
I slide off into the mudbath that is the market after rain. I do my buying, my ordering, my chatting and I meet a lovely new Maasai lady from Ngong. I also meet up with a lovely old guy I thought I had lost. Oooo the sweet tiny Christmas trees he makes … line up people.
With everything in the car, it refuses to start. So no surprise there. I mention the slipping fan belt. Kuria mentions that in the two hours I have been doing business he has been listening to the radio.
Four random blokes help us jump start. And it dies again. They jump it again and we make it halfway up the muddy hill that leads from the market to the road before it dies, screaming, again. We slide back down the hill. I shall draw a veil over the next ten minutes. But think noise, juddering, slipping, screaming tyres, and that continuing smell of burning rubber. We make it to the road.
Kuria : the car has some small problem with power, I think.
We make it round the roundabout and onto University Avenue where, sadly, the lights are against us and, as we slow, the engine dies again. More random helpers later, we restart and with all the momentum of pulled toffee, we make it across the junction. To my alarm, Kuria heads towards a route which would take us up through State House Road and over roads that run up and down some not inconsequential hills.
We get up to about 30mph in the fast lane.
Kuria :: you see ! Now it is OK. It is an adaptation.
I don’t even breathe. He wiggles the gearstick.
Kuria : it was an automatic and they adapted it to manual.
We get to State House Road. President Kenyatta’s road. As we slow at the end of it I say “please please do not let this car break down here. They will shoot us” Kuria laughs gaily.
Kuria : it will not stop here.
Actually it is about another mile before it stops again. On a junction.
Kuria: (frowning) This car has a problem.
We jump start again, pogo-ing along the road till the engine coughs into what passes for life.
And then it all seems to be going quite well, until I realise the route he is taking. And I see the hill in front of us. And we get about half way up it and come to a screaming, revving, rubber burning halt. It is a steep hill. And a main road. Kuria tries his patented ‘reverse jump start’. Three times. We slide into a gateway and immediately are surrounded by armed guards. Quite friendly armed guards who look pityingly at the car and wrinkle their noses at the smell. The push/turn us around and we go back down the hill to a shallower hill with a right turn back to where the sensible people driving wrecks would go. We get to Ngong Road. Lovely, flat, flat, flat Ngong Road. Traffic is moving slowly but surely
Kuria : you see ! This is what I was trying to avoid !
Me : what ? The car moving ?
Kuria : the jam
Me: this is not a jam. IT is a road of cars moving forward slowly. That is the best this car can do. This is almost the top speed of this car. This car is what we call in the UK a crock of shit !
Kuria : the car has a problem of power.
Kuria : the car is powerless.
We make it to Dagoretti Corner and I suggest that, given there are two hills between us and the Kawangware Posho Mill, that the car will not make it
Kuria : it will !
Me : I don’t believe so !
Kuria : It will
At times like these the average Kenyan simply turns into Mrs Thingy from Father Ted “it will, it will, it will!!”
I then suggest that Kuria might like to bet his day’s pay on that. He agrees. And in the face of such faith, I feel I can do nothing but let him prove his point.
How can I have been so STUPID ?!
We get to the posho mill slowly, and unsurely, mounting every speed bump like it was The Mountain at Cadwell. Heads turn as we pass. Largely because, in order to keep up any forward momentum we are making the kind of noise that gets action groups together to ban the fourth runway at Heathrow. I have stood on Redgate Corner at Donington on the first lap of the Moto GP and heard less engine sound.
And did I mention the smell of burning rubber ?
We get to the posho mill. I pay off quite a large bill run up by Mama B in my absence. Doling out the mixed uji is second only to Cod Liver Oil in the life saving stakes here. So every pennt spent is woth it’s weight in live people. I also buy 30kg to take to Awendo on Friday. Felista arrives, for some reason best known to herself. I accuse her of trying to kill me. She roars with laughter. I promise myself that if she says “it is a good car” I will hurt her badly. But even Felista admits this is “sheet”.
We pile in in the vain hope of getting back to Dagoretti Corner. The car refuses to start. Wwe get a push start. And make it a couple of hundred yards to the junction to the ‘road’ to the main road before dying pathetically again. And blocking the whole of Kawangware Market. On Market Day. Not all hell, but little bits of hell break loose. Kuria attempts yet another jump start and fails. The bloke with the cart waiting in the mud loses latience and attempts to wedge the large handcart between us and the old ladies selling maize. He scrapes a line along the drivers side of the paintwork (like that matters !) and then smashes the nearside tail light with the handle of the cart. I point this out to Kuria who has been on the phone. As he goes to look out of the window, another cart goes past and takes his wing mirror off. The look on his face as he tries to reattatch the mangled, shattered mirror was too much. I nearly herniated trying not to laugh. The car is given another push start and, as it cannot get over the small bump to turn left we go straight ahead and come out on the main road much further up. We come to a halt in a petrol station and I tell him he has to get another car to take me home.
Felista : this is not a good car.
From Felista, this is an amazing statement.
While waiting for another car, Felista and I go off to a pharmacy in the hope of finding someone who can translate the kikkuyu symptoms of the old lady with the ‘problem in her private parts’. The words we have been unable to translate turn out to be “numb”, “burning” and “wave”.
A new car arrives. We transfer the stuff, go to Corner, get a mountain of dewormers from the pharmacy and take me home to fume.
I am mostly angry with myself for having taken another Kibe car on trust.
I eat cabbage and chapati with the old shosho and watch more coverage of the Westgate siege (now over). Then I have a couple of beers with Joe and John Kibe in Joe’s little pub. We watch the President address the nation with ten minutes of platitudes, empty promises and blatant bollocks about how wonderfully everything was brought under control by Kenyan forces. To date Kenyans have donated 40 million shillings to a fund to help the injured. Although given that they are all well insured rich people I am not quite sure where the money will actually go.
Wednesday 25 September 2013
arrives around at the house first thing. When people come to call on
me unannounced it is never, ever a good thing. There is, of course,
still no car on the David front. I fill him in on the whole ghastly
(almost literally) car crash that was yesterday. I learn a couple of
interesting things. 1. Kuria has only ever driven automatics 2.
Kuria does not have a real driving license.
Mother and baby are doing well, David tells me. At least, as well as they can be when they have been evicted from their house and the landlord has locked all their worldly goods inside because there are rent arrears. Of around £50. Wife and baby are currently in the road outside the house. I enquire after the last £50 I lent him – to pay the hospital fees so that mother and baby would not have to live rough in the grounds of Kenny Gilbertsonyatta, kept there until payment was made. President Kenyatta had made a big hooha of announcing that giving birth in government hospitals would be free. Apparently they are still charging at Kenyatta Hospital. This happens a lot. Doctors charging for stuff that should be free. “First do not harm” translates into Swahili as “First get as much money out of your patient as you can”.
I give David another £50.
I go down to Uchumi and book my bus to Awendo for Friday, coming back Tuesday. After three entire days and four nights out there I may well be a complete basket case by Wednesday, but there is much to do out there. I buy loads of turmeric (for its anti-inflammatory properties), black pepper (ditto) and find a couple of ladies selling skirts and dresses and make their day by buying a load of each.
Forex gives me the money Zetta has sent from my brother Geoff.
Mama Biashara is becoming quite the Copstick Family Thing. Sister Amanda is coming up for a large Chocolate Watch for long service (four years now !) in the Mama Biashara Emporium, serving through thick (me) and thin (her). Brother Geoff has been out here and seen the work and is our Animal Husbandry Expert. He has now just been squeezed by Doris for school fees for a terrific young orphan boy he met while he was here. Cousin Angus (while not hurtling up and down mountains) has not only funded a load of stuff himself but is now Head of Fundraising Applications. Other cousin Irene has recently joined in the party with a sizeable donation and even Daddy Copstick is spreading the word, showcasing a wide selection of Mama B products in his lovely home and has just sent over a gift of some beautiful carving chisels and knives as well as an electric cutter for a young soapstone artist. I have to say it feels quite wonderful !
The afternoon is for funding groups of young men who have either been in prison or are being targetted by the police. BY which I don’t mean we are simply handing out dosh to criminals and miscreants. For example, four of the lads in one group were in prison for six months because they had done some work for an employer who then refused to pay them. They created a bit of a scene. The employer called the police. The employer paid the police ‘kitu kidogo’ and the police arrested the boys. With no one to help them or pay the police ‘ kitu kidogo’ more, the boys simply disappeared into the system.
Doris has yet again come up trumps with a hidden location for the workshop. The lads are in groups of five and eight. They seem genuinely decent young men and super-keen to get going with a business that will mean they are not at the mercy of people who pay them less than £2 a day for hard labour and frequently don’t pay anything. One group are planning to make and sell tables and TV units – one of the group having done this before. They already have orders and have got a free place to make and display their goods. Another want to sell fresh peas – again, they have customers lined up. We are discussing onions with the third group when a bit of a hooha starts outside.
Doris doesn’t let me go because, as she explains later, I would have gone BALLISTIC. She is absolutely right. She went out to find the other two groups who were waiting patiently for their turn on their knees in front of an armed policeman. The foul old witch who was the landlady for the compound we were in had looked at the lads, decided they were not the sort of people she wanted (she used the words “thieves” and “whores” quite freely) in her compound. Despite the fact that the tenant of the house we were in was paying her rent and was quite happy to have his house full of thieves and whores. Doris explains what we are doing and utters the magic word “mzungu”. The boys scarper and the policeman goes.
The onions were much much more complicated than I ever imagined onions could be but eventually we get them in a row and sort out the grant. Many schools and hotels will be relieved.
Then we leave. I stop to flash what I intend to be the Copstick Death Stare at the rancid old crone of a landlady. Rather impressively, she simply Death Stares back. I walk towards her. I hear Doris tut anxiously. I come here to help people, I bark (in Swahili, of course). ALL people. She sneers. I point. You, I say (in English as my anger at this foul person is getting in the way of instantaneous translation)), are not a good woman. You have a bad, bad heart.
I ask Doris to find the groups again and we can continue with the last couple in another place. She says the boys think they were set up – coming face to face with yet another armed police drone was not a happy experience. But eventually they agree to come and meet us a Dagoretti Corner.
We stop to have a coffee and bump into Felista who has come into the caff to use the loo. The KDF (Kenyan Defence Forces) of whom the government is so so proud, she tells us, are now “combing” the Westgate Mall for explosive devices and so no civilians are allowed inside. However CCTV footage on youtube of said KDF tells a different story. They can clearly be seen simply looting stores and banks. Raking piles of money and jewellery. Safes and cash registers were, of course all just left in people rush to flee the building. And now the KDF are taking advantage of that. And making sure that civilians do not, of course.
Doris and I go to Corner and wait for the boys. It is late before they come as all of them have been working as labourers and the employer is, true to form, simply keeping them waiting (after a 12 hour day) for their £2
Eventually representatives of both groups arrive and the businesses are terrific. Well thought through, well researched and with a really good profit margin. Chickens from Migori and what in Kenya are called ‘camera’ trousers. Camera trousers are the pick of the vast bundles of second hand clothing that arrive here daily – so called because they are chosen “”in camera” when the bundles are first opened.
Doris and I repair to Joes’s Pub and have a nightcap during which we come up with a marvellous plan to help the women right at the bottom of the heap. They are a worrying lot – so beaten down, so hopeles, so helpless and with so many immediate problems that they are not really up to taking a grant and starting a business. They need to be taken step by step, they need their hands held, and they need psychological – dare I say, emotional – support. Doris has been providing this with a little group she has set up selling bleach made from the tablets I bring each trip (God Bless PoundWorld). She has really been functioning as their salesperson, getting them orders that they fill until they get up and running themselves.
I want to go to Kefagare (the hellhole we went to with a medical clinic on the last trip) with some business funding but Doris has pointed out that most of the women there fall into this hopeless/helpless category. And so this is my plan – which Doris approves.
We will set them up in a group business (initially) selling household cleaning products – initially liquid detergent and disinfectant as well as the bleach which is so popular. The hideous carbuncle of the Kefagare slum sits skanky jowl by beautifully kept, exfoliated and moisturised cheek with a gated community of expensive residences. Who all have servants. Many of whom come from the slum. I am going to go back to my roots as a salesperson. If I can stand in my Dad’s shop and sell Dutch tomatoes as Scottish then I can sell liquid soap to rich Kenyans. I will go door to door and give them the spiel about Mama Biashara, lay on thick layers of how much good they will be doing for Kenya (in this time of crisis when all Kenyans must pull together) and, hopefully, get an order. I will be offering samples. And I will be the only white door to door salesperson in Nairobi. The women then take it from there. This is Plan A. Doris and I like Plan A very much.
26th September 2013
I hurtle around picking up stuff from suppliers in the morning. I say hurtle – there is still no David and no car, so ‘hurtle’ is a bit of an exaggeration. The siege is officially over although numbers of dead/missing/wounded/guilty are still vaguer than a dumb blonde. What we do know from youtube is that the KDF who are in the mall “sweeping the area” are in fact looting the place. So no surprise there.
My father has sent over a beautiful set of carving chisels and an electric saw thingy for me to give to Evans, the soapstone guy who made his last year’s Christmas pressie – a fabulous huge, curving, textured leaf. I hand over the gift. Evans almost bursts into tears. He is so thrilled he cannot speak. He says he is going to write a letter to Daddy Copstick. I should have had a camera. Having said this it doesn’t get me a discount on the plates I buy.
slightly worried that, as we have no David, I am going to be in
something of a pickle when I go with Felista to Kamikunji on a
mammoth bedcovers and hardware shop this afternoon.
We meet at Corner. She waves from a matatu and I leap in. She is in good form. The teachers are very happy with their regular pay (thanks to Gus’s way with a grant application and the Rozelle Trust) and the school is going great guns. She is particularly happy because the teachers are believers in practical skills – cooking and ironing, cleaning and tidying. Every day, for example, one class clears all the rubbish from the compound. “Eh!” grins Felista (a Felista grin is a thing to see … a huge smiley mouth in a happy round face, she looks a little like a Bourneville Pacman) “it is gooooood. If I get the children to do this in the home it is Child Labour. When the teachers get them to do it in the school, it is learning a skill!” Down in Kamikunji we slither through the muddy slimey streets. It is a bit like a scene from Slumdog Millionnaire. Here is where huge numbers of Kenya’s Indian population have their wholesale businesses. Streets are packed with handcarts and trolleys, every dark doorway is the entrance to a cavern packed with household hardware. First we head to Amrit Enterprises where we bargain our way to 60 maasai shukas at a very reasonable price. These are for the beds in the home. Felista is getting a lot of ‘visitors’ – people from various organisations who come to see if the kids are cute enough to sponsor. And they like to see the place looking nice. I eye the mountain of Tanzanian wool/polyester mix and voice doubts that we will be going home in a matatu. Then we go a few doors down to buy cooking pots (like small aluminium swimming pools), mugs and plates and spoons and basins and buckets and a set of six drinking glasses for Felista to have for ‘good’. Oh and a couple of dustbins. And a baby bath for her daughter who is big with bastard child. I make Felista pay for the baby bath. I don’t want to encourage random childbearing. The pile of stuff is enormous. Even Felista agrees. She calls a friend. An hour or so later there he is still some way away. We get a porter and strap everything onto a rickety cart with strips of inner tube and set off through the crowds and the exhaust fumes and the rotting… everything.
We make it up past the hawkers’ market and past the row of AgroVet wholesalers (you never KNOW what noxious chemicals come out of those … Kenya is not really sold on the whole organic thing when it comes to agriculture). We make it to the Railway Station which is really just a ghastly seething mass of rickety matatus and howling humanity. Here we wait for the friend. In a miasma of black exhaust fumes. For an hour. I am not happy.
When we eventually get to Dagoretti Corner I get out.
I have packing to do. Tomorrow I go to Awendo.
27th August 2013
I have had to get a real taxi to take me and my Big Blue Box of medication and my 35kgs of health giving uji to the bus. He is a nice man tho’, who gives me a very good deal. Of course when they said the bus leaves at 8.30am they meant 9.45, but at least it leaves. And, thanks to the strategic positioning of ancient but vast, slowmoving trucks across the length of our route, we get there some 7 hours later. In the usual torrential downpour that heralds my arrival in Awendo.
En route, Doris phones to say that eight of our boys and four of our women have the chance of a month’s work at Westgate – clearing up the debris for the men and catering for the workers for the women. Good rates are being offered and the women especially could make a mint. Mama Biashara just has to kit them out with wellies and overalls and get the ingredients for the women to cook. All the tools that will be needed, Mama Biashara already has.
I head to a cashpoint to get money to send to Doris without putting a dent in the money I have brought with me for Awendo. I then Mpesa her the dosh. Bloody marvellous system. I go to a kiosk and put the cash into my Mpesa account (kiosks EVERYWHERE). I then have it in my phone and can do what I want. Five minutes later, Doris has the money.
Jayne has a list of some of the more arcane health problems that await me here. Apparently my fame as a curer of all ills has spread. And the legend of the Bearer of the Oil of the Cod is alive in the hills of South Nyanza. There are the usual cluster of early-comers who hope to get in in front of the crowd. As there is no light in the room I try to look at a couple of dubious swellings using the torch on my phone before giving up and telling them to come back on Sunday. One bloke wants me to come and see his father who is ancient and riddled with arthritis. I try to explain that arthritis cannot be cured. He says that he thinks that if I could just come to see his father he would get better. Hmmmmm. Flattery gets him everywhere and he gets a bag of cod liver oil, some diclofenac gel and some ibuprofen bombs. Daddy will sleep tonight.
I go off to my usual little room and make a space for my stuff on the floor. The rain on the roof is (take note Stephen Sondheim) not going pit, pitty pat but making a deafening racket. Somehow it doesn’t matter.
As I stumble through the mud and soaking grass to the toilet I am watched by the crowd of hopeful business people. This is the only known time in Kenya when anyone turns up early for anything. When Mama B is open for business. The long drop toilet requires an accuracy of aim that eludes me this morning, somewhat embarassingly. I am glad I am in black as I walk past the line of women. Damp patches don’t show on black.
The ladies of Awendo are not natural business people. They are fans of the ‘ballpark figure’ method of profit calculation. Behind door number one we have Edna, mother of 4 who buys a sack of pineapples containing either 80 or 90 pineapples of either four or five different sizes and pays either 150 or 300 bob transport. Edna seems quite happy with this business plan. I feel the need for an early morning Tramadol. Then we have Julianna – a wonderful little girl who came to the medical workshop last time covered in appalling urticaria and radiating heat like a scabby bar heater. I managed to persuade the doctors to stop her ARVs and she was fine. Then they started her on them again (because “that is the system here”) and she is once again doing a fair example of a small, smiley, hot alligator. Her skin is like a whole body scab. I cover her in cream, give her some mango juice and multivits and agree to go and see her doctor on Monday for a talk. Grannie meanwhile, wants a business to boost the lamp oil business we started with her the last time. She wants to sell bar soap. According to her own calculations, she wants to sell it at a loss …
Next is a lovely guy, a widower, HIV + who has two small kids to look after. He has planned a business selling porridge and githeri (a bean and maize mix snack) and seems to have done the sums properly. Unlike the omena group who plop themselves on Jaynes couch and mutter about selling by the trough and buying in Awendo. A little like saying you will be setting up a snack bar in Harlesden and buying all your food supplies in M&S. Not that Awendo is posh, Just expensive and devoid of anyone who knows the meaning of the word wholesale. The women here have a habit of, having been told no, just sitting and staring. I tell them they do not have a business plan and Mama B does not have money to lose. They sit and look. I give them a five minute stare and then tell them I am very old and if we wait any longer I could die. They go. And we see an old widow (positive) with four kids (two positive) who is going to sell fried fish, a rice group, a banana group, a maize group and groups selling jaggery, eggs, milk, peanuts and diesel (which is sold by the 500ml bottle and smaller).
Halfway through I have to go to Awendo to get more money. A Dude on a piki piki rocks up and it is al very Easy Rider till he runs out of fuel halfway there. We get off. He lays the bike on its side and shekes it, gets it up, blows into the petrol tank and we make it another mile or so before stopping again. Luckily there is, within walking distance, a boy with a whisky quarter bottle full of fuel. And we are off. As we approach Awendo it starts to rain. Tennisball sized lumps of water fall from on high. What were giant potholes in the road now look like mud filled paddling pools. We slalom though them. I get the money and we sploosh off back up the mud track. I have seen the back ends of motorbikes in a wet motocross race at Knockhill sliding from side to side – now I know how it feels. Luckily I can see nothing because my glasses are covered in rain and steaming up on the inside. We pause to pick up another youth – obviously a friend of the Dude. He settles himself behind me, crotch jammed into the top of the cleft between the Copstickian buttocks. We slide off up the track. Like a cold, damp human Oreo on wheels. By the time we get back up the road the rain stops. I take off my boots and it looks like I am wearing a pair of pristine black socks over claggy brown trousers. I assume the mud will dry and flake off. I have to. I have no more clothes.
To continue – Lolita the samosa maker gives us her calculations, by which she should be incredibly rich. Or a liar. She goes of to consider which. Then there is the sitty-starey-giggly potato group with an on paper desire to sell at a loss. As they leave they make the clucking noise that in Kenya means displeasure. It is a little like the noise you make with your tonge and back teeth to encourage a horse to walk on. I like it. I cluck back, raise my eyebrows and spread my hands with the thumbs pointing downwards and outwards and the pinkies pointing up. This is Kenyan for WTF?! It is about 7pm and the mitumba (second hand clothing) gives us all a laugh with their Fairy Tale in a Second Hand Clothing Shop. I know that most people here, when meeting me for the first time assume I know nothing about anything other than sipping cocktails in the sun, shouting at my servants and buying expensive things. But I have been here often enough for these women to know otherwise. So I laugh. A lot. And then I speak firmly and frankly to them explaining my reaction to a) liars and b) people who treat me as if I am stupid. They quickly reasses their calculations but I tell them it is too late. Now I know they are cheats and I do not to business with cheats ( not entirely accurate but I was on a roll).
By 8 the last wannabe is in the chair. His name is Elvis and he wants to run a hotel (for which read very basic cafe). He is the son of Pamela – one of the women who helps out with workshops and home visits. She is a sweet woman – ex prozzie and HIV+ = who does loads of support work with positive people. I am her Acyclovir dealer. Elvis came last time to ask for funding and made such a hopeless pitch he got nothing. Since then he has been working a ten hour day for a woman, making chapati and mandazi, for 50 pence a day. We spend quite a while managing his expectations. We instill the basics of portion control. And arithmetic. He has a load of orders with which to get started and Jayne offers to oversee the business end of things. I insist he takes on another young man to do deliveries etc and to learn the business and now girls across Awendo will be able to sing “There’s A Guy Works Down The Chapati Shop Thinks He’s Elvis” and he will, indeed be Elvis.
Medical clinic tomorrow.
Sunday 29 September 2013
day ! I gulp down coffee and drugs and announce The Doctor is In (of
course no one here reads Peanuts cartoons so my wit goes
Second up is Alseba, the old lady I saw on my very first visit here. She has leprosy. No fingers, only half her feet and great raw wounds from ankle to mid calf. I sent her to hospital the last time (how stupid was I ???) where she was sent away as she could not pay for the drugs. Which are FREE. I had a full and frank conversation with the doctor at said hospital and he then said they didn’t have the drugs. Alseba went to another hospital where they did do some work on the raw open portions of her legs but then discharged her, demanding 1500 shillings and giving still no medication. She is here having tried to look after her legs herself. From mid calf is open flesh, pus, scab and crusty stuff. It is covered with tufts of cotton wool with which she has tried to keep the open flesh clean. But it has dried on and is now stuck hard, entwined with the scab. We cover the couch with plastic sheeting, I glove up and spend the next twenty minutes or so swooshing sterile saline about the place and soaking the cotton wool clumps out of the scabs. Probably lucky that the legs are numb. I do rather a good job, tho I say so myself. I dry the legs, apply antibacterial powder and bandage them up with torn up cotton (an old pillowcase) and gauze bandaging. She is such a lovely old lady. She gets cod liver oil and multivits. I arrange for one of Jayne’s helpers to clean the legs and change the bandages every second day. I will buy her socks and shoes, send crutches and try again to find a doctor who will give her the drugs she needs. It really is quite a day. Between the usual “joints”, “Ulsas” (acid indigestion) and headaches there is a woman who is throwing up blood, an old man who has been crippled since an RTA three years ago, a woman with fibroids, a woman whose hands turn black in the morning (the palms, of course the backs are always black), 3 kids with measles, a woman who claims she sneezes herself into miscarriage, a case of pleurisy, some cellulitis, a load of sickly babies, gallons of mucus, quite a lot of pus, yards of scabbing and the usual collection of rashes. I show our helpers how to massage and the pains and life threatening problems of at least ten patients are cured by camphorated oil and powerful thumb action. The hills of Awendo verily vibrate with the scent of muscle rub and menthol. There is a broad spectrum of problem here. Some are imaginary and some are run of the mill. A girl comes with small child (I year) who will not eat. “No appetite” she says. I take the small child, offer a multivitamin jelly which is scoffed, and then a bit of chapati, which is virtually inhaled. In fact the child eats the entire chapati in record time. “You are a shit cook” I diagnose, looking at the mother. Jayne will look after this case. Then there is a woman who says her heart races when she gets a fright. A woman who gets pains when she gets her period. And a woman is diabetic and hypertensive who gets a sore stomach when she eats githeri. ME: then don’t eat githeri. SHE: (aghast) but I like githeri !
And then there are the awful cases. A beautiful young woman with monstrous genital herpes and a veritable river of pus. She is in so much pain. God bless Acyclovir. And the rest. Saddest is, I think, a lovely, gentle woman who has had a urogenital fistula since 1983. To put it bluntly, since a botched C section (I repeat, in 1983) she has had wee pouring out of her vagina. She wants me to see. We go into Jayne’s bedroom (it has a window so there is light.) The lady pulls down her undergarments and, kneeling in front of her, I am hit by something that has gone far beyond being a smell. It is like a physical, corrosive smack in the face. It catches in my throat and my eyes just explode with water. She uses anything she can find to fashion pads to soak up the flow. And she has to work in the sugar cane fields every day so she cannot change very often. It is a disaster area down there. Covered in sores. I have brought incontinence pads for her and we discuss cleaning and drying and I give her antibacterial powder (to the sound of the stable door trying to shut when the horse has gone and the hinges have broken) and sanitary pads too. I say I will find a doctor who can help. 1983. I hug her and say I will stay in touch about the doctor. She smiles. HOW can she smile ?
Jayne’s sister in law is another woman with an horrific tale to tell. Since 2003 she has had gonorrhea. Infected by her husband. He husband works away a lot. When he comes back, he infects her. He goes away, she goes to hospital and gets treated. Then he comes back and it all starts again. He is coming back next week She is terrified. She is ill. She wants me to look. I look. She IS ill. She has, of course, a UTI and almost certainly a load of other STDs. She will come for tests when we find The Good Doctor. I give her ciprofloxacin and, of course Cod Liver Oil. Of course the real problem is the husband. I suggest a radical orchidectomy without benefit of anaesthetic. She likes the idea. I tell her about bromide. She begs me to get some. I say I don’t think I can. She is sad. She says he refuses to go to hospital and refuses to believe that he is ill. BUT, she says, he will take dawa from me because I helped his stomach problem. So we agree I will get the meds for gonorrhea and give them to him. It is the best we can do. And don’t even THINK condom. It just won’t happen.
We must find a decent clinic. I tell Jayne. We make a list of referrals. She is taking me house to house to see the bedridden tomorrow. And to a couple of rural clinics to meet with the doctors there to see what they can offer.
Quite a day. Shame the neo-feminists and soi-disant Sisterhood who have the wherewithal to do something about these women who are genuinely suffering are too busy bonding over outrage about pretty pens and wicked words to want to make an actual difference where it is needed.
And so to bed.
There are still people waiting outside for attention. Some have come for the medication they were told yesterday that I would get for them. I am entirely unsure as to where they thought I might have got it between last night at 8.30 when the last patient left and 8 this morning as they gaze hopefully at me as I slip and slide through the mud to the loo. My aim is getting no better as I seem to have developed a spraying rather than a streaming delivery of urine.
The sound of children bellowing “Good Morning Teacher” from the tiny school (that Mama Biashara built) at the bottom of the garden reminds me it is Monday. A half dozen tiny students are waiting me when I return from washing hands and face. They are ill, says the teacher. Not in obvious way they are not. They have a fever, insists the teacher. I clap a hand to perfectly normal foreheads and refute her claim in what I hope is a firm but reassuring manner. Only one – a girl from yesterday – is ill. She has been told to come to the clinic with us. She is positive and has had TB. Her chest sounds very dubious and her heart sounds like someone playing castanets.
Jayne and I set off on a piki piki to visit two clinics and a load of patients. Clinic one is where little Julianna goes. She is waiting with her grandmother. The queue of patients jostles for place to see the mzungu. The doctor seems very nice. I explain I have come to plead Julianna’s cause. He nods. He must have seen how much better she was when she was off the ARVs ?? He nods. But apparently the clinic’s ‘partners’ (donors and health organisations) have a ‘system’ which says that she must be given the ARVs. But they are making her ill, I point out, gesturing towards the poor scabby, drooping child. He nods. So you are happy to give a child drugs which you know are making her suffer, I ask. He shrugs. What can he do, he says. Stop giving her the drugs, I suggest. He shrugs again. He agrees to have a meeting with ‘the partners’ and plead Julianna’s case. He says he will let us know what happens.
We piki piki off to clinic number two. Actually quite close to Jayne’s house. Well, Kenyan close. Here the doctor is young, helpful and interested in helping. We have brought Lillian (woman with a massive cyst on her face) and the young positive girl with castanets for a heart. He is, it turns out, an opthalmologist. But is doing everything here, including minor surgeries. I talk about the lady with the urogenital fistula, our man with the hernia and Lillian’s massive cyst. He nods and makes notes. It all seems quite promising. Then we talk about the little girl. She is, I have just discovered on scanning her file, on ARVs – including AZT. Her CD4 count is 1111. Probably higher than mine. But apparently the Kenyan medical “system” decrees that a) all children born to a positive mother are given Neverapine from birth and b) they get the full ARV array no matter what their CD4 count. And no matter what the negative effects. I am gobsmacked. The young doctor laughs merrily. What happened to ‘first do no harm’ I want to know. He laughs merrily. His assistant also laughs merrily.
He wonders if I can bring him an opthalmoscope. His entire battery of instruments seems to be a stethoscope and a pen torch. I say I’ll see what I can do. He agrees to look at all the patients I want to refer and, if necessary refer them on to somewhere where the doctors are not entirely criminals or idiots. He is even going to see poor old Alseba and, give her, at last, her drugs.
Everything at this clinic is free. Which is wonderful. But people don’t come, apparently because they don’t want other people to know that they are ill in any way. I momentarily consider taking Mama Biashara to help somewhere that people aren’t such TWATS.
Jayne and I head off to Awendo on the pikipiki. Jayne gets to sit on the seat, I consider moodily as we bounce and swerve over rocks and around potholes, while I am on the luggage rack. My quasi-Kenyan ass has diminished quite a bit since I reduced the steroid dose by half. Which is marvellous until it hits a pikipiki luggage rack. And hits. And hits. We go and hit the wholesalers in an effort to get proper prices for some of the stuff relevant to the business grants. I should have known better. This is Awendo – a town as yet untouched by the concept of the wholesale price. Just as we are about to leave ‘wholesaler no 1’, a thunderstorm hits. Those footballs of water descend, lightning really blinds and thunder absolutely deafens. I have never heard anything like it. Twenty minutes later it has passed over and we head down to the chemist where I get as much as I can in terms of what was needed for the people from the Medical day. Nothing, sadly, that might put a serious dent in Husband of the Year’s gonorrhea unforch. That will have to come from Nairobi. We slither back up the miles to Jayne’s house, spraying mud as we go.
Just as I think about settling my bruised bum on a chair and having a coffee, Jayne announces we are going house to house. So we do.
House number one reveals a young man huddled under a blanket shivering and sweating. He has had diaorrhea for ( as far as I can make out) more than a year. And the fevers. And pains. He is also HIV positive. He is what is technically known as Not A Happy Bunny. I hold his hand and tell him everything will be ok. He goes back to shiver by the tiny fire. House number two holds a fourteen year old boy. Some months ago he cut his leg working in the field. Four days later he had a pain in his hip. Couple of days after that he couldn’t use his right leg. Not long after that his other leg became too weak to walk on. He was taken to hospital. There he was diagnosed and given 20mg of prednisolone per day and Tramadol. He lost the use of his arms and had to have a catheter fitted. The hospital ran out of ideas and sent him home after three weeks without giving anyone any idea of what might be wrong. Now, one month later he can barely lift his arms, cannot use his legs and still has the catheter. Thre is a big angry red and hot swelling over his right hip. He is in agony. I am beginning to long for a woman with an achey back and indigestion when she eats githeri.
By the time we leave here it is pitch black PITCH black. No lights no stars no nothing. I have never walked in such darkness. It is rather a lovely experience, given that I vaguely remember the path and it is pretty solid. Still, every step is a little adventure. Jayne decides that as the other houses are ‘far’ (and that is a Kenyan speaking – they are probably in Tanzania) we will just go home.
We spend an hour or so sorting and labelling the medication that was bought with the appropriate names and dosages. The brother of the first house call comes to collect his dawa and gets Uji, cod oil, ibuprofen, and an antibiotic combo together with an amoebicide and instructions to call in the morning and let me know what change there is. The boy can only get uji and cod oil plus some ibuprofen for the pain together with massage oil for his mum to use on his rapidly wasting limbs until I can find out what is wrong with him. Poor kid.
Early rise tomorrow for the bus back to Nairobi
Even before the piki piki comes to take me to the matatu stage, I am doing one more house call. Jayne’s father in law. He seems to be about a hundred an fifty years old and made entirely from Twiglets. We are hoping cod oil, turmeric tea and diclofenac gel will help. The piki piki ride is as lovely as usual (when not raining). We slalom along. At the matatu stage I am a couple of dubious types get shirty because I am not going with Transline instead of Easycoach. “Because when I die it will not be on the Escarpment because the coach is a piece of shit and the driver isn’t paying attention”. They seem convinced. The matatu ride to Rongo is ridiculous. As always. The ‘conductor’ spends ten minutes at each stop running around trying to force people into the already full vehicle and then, to make up time, insists the driver floor it to the next stage.
Easycoach, although frequently late, and taking at least six hours from Nairobi to Awendo, does have (albeit ancient) seats that recline almost all the way back. For £7.50 a trip it is virtually what you get in First Class on BA. I sleep, woken only by Jayne telling me that the shivering, feverish positive man with the six month runs from last night is now up and outside and taking porridge for breakfast. And firming up a treat in the poo department. Excellent !
We are late back into Nairobi and the mat I get from the bus station back to Dagoretti Corner is a nightmare. I hassle the driver into getting back to SOME semblance of their official route so I can get home. I do a bit of a shop, feed the poor cat (whose dish seems currently to contain what looks like already chewed sugarcane !) and sleeeeeeeeeeep
2 October 2013
I buy as much camphorated oil as the chemist has, along with gonorrhea medication and a load of other stuff for Awendo. The camphorated oil worked a treat on aches and pains and has also done well on a couple of chest coughs. I consider bringing flannel the next time. Seems my mum and gran were absolutely right all along.
Doris has been a blur of activity since I left. She operates a sort of unnofficial Job Finder Agency for guys out of prison, commercial sex workers, women on what I call ‘the edge of the abyss’ and Doris terms ‘the down of the down’, and the rest of the people Mama Biashara works with. While I was away she got a load of guys work clearing up the mess in Westgate and a team of women a job cooking for the workmen. I sent off the start up grant by mpesa from Awendo. The women have come out really well in profit and will go on to run their own little businesses and the men all have a few more weeks (well paid) work.The system also works as a sort of filter for people wanting grants. Doris, for example, will take a group of guys and – if they say they are desperate for a business to feed their families and start a new life, she gets them work with a construction company – casual labour – for a few weeks. The ones who don’t go are immediately off the list. Then she gets reports from the owner of the construction company on the guys who do work. If they are doing well and working hard then they come and pitch their business at me for a grant. The system is working and the ex-cons (I say con, if the police don’t like your face here you will be inside before you can say “human rights”) and commercial sex workers are some of the most successful business people we have. Doris is also helping a group of guys (ex cons) and women who want to start a bakery. The guys were taught baking in prison. There are fifteen in the group and they have 27 children between them. The owner of the building where they have been doing casual labour has offered them a free space in which to do it. As long as they act as unpaid caretakers for the building. Doris has also got them in touch with a woman who runs a big catering company (an ex commercial sex worker) who will take their cakes and brand them herself. They have really done their sums, know exactly what and how much of what they need. They have already taken samples around and have orders, they are paying for their own medial certificates out of their labouring money and they are offering to train other people on Mama B’s list, starting with a group of young commercial sex workers whose own idea for a business was dismal. They are starting their training immediately – as long as the group gets its grant. Which it absolutely does. This is a fantastic opportunity for lots of people to get a new start. We have opted to run the funding workshop at the little Mali Cafe with the smiley shosho who doesn’t mind if we bring slightly dodgy looking people in for tea and long long intense negotiations. She is lovely to everyone and gets to sell more mandazi and chai. The riginal plan had been for me to go to Uthiru but the police are, Doris calls to tell me, having a bit of a ‘sweep’ in the area. To show they are doing something, they simply go to a slum area, arrest people randomly (REALLY randomly) and beat them up. On the pretext of being Al Shabbab. Given that the perpatrators of the Westgate seige were rich enough and smart enough to rent and run a shop IN WESTGATE for six months, blending in and making friends, the likelihood of their having run off back to somewhere like Uthiru in the wake of the carnage is, to put it mildly, minimal. So we relocate to Dagoretti Corner. The next group are commercial sex workers who want to sell tea (leaves as opposed to liquid) and then there is a hugely well informed group who want to sell scrap metal (legitimately), which is what the group leader did before it all went Pete Tong. Did you know scrap brass only gets about 30p per kilo here ? Next up is a small group (5) who are going to sell quail. Yes, quail. To posh hotels in Nairobi. They have an initial order for 60 per week. Around this time Doris starts to get rather a lot of phone calls. I dart her “tsk tsk” looks. Quail man goes and is followed in by quail egg man, a solo operator who has a huge order per week from a doctor who claims they cure everything from cancer to AIDS and infertility, plus some from a posh restaurant. Doris is now on the phone none stop. Quail egg man finishes. Doris informs me that she has been getting calls from the people who have been funded to warn her that there is a group of five guys lurking outside in various spots who are ‘ Definitely Up To No Good’ and who are presumably waiting for us to come out so they can do the nasty and (they hope) make off with a wedge. Quail egg man goes. I ask who is next. Doris is calling a taxi to take us somewhere safer. I get a text from my father and am replying when Doris shakes her head and asks me what I am doing. “Texting my Dad to tell him I’m fine” I say. Doris does something with her lips (and there is a lot of lip) that suggests now is not the time. We get into a taxi which has drawn up right outside the door and take off. Quail Man is in the front seat. He has got the cab and brought it to the door for us. I take Doris to Java House to calm down, have a ludicrously overpriced coffee ( escaping one lot of robbers to end up paying another) and plan future workshops given that our options are becoming limited. Hmmmmmmmmmm
I go to Junction to pick up what I remember to be ‘a few bits and bobs’. A couple of hours later I am staggering round the carpark pushing a trolley over which I cannot see, so high is it piled with stuff for the Mama Biashara Emporium. Bernard the Soapstone has got in a bit of a fankle with his order and called in some help. Resulting in 15 carves angels which have all the celestial splendour of pepperpots. I refuse to take them. Bernard is a lovely man – widower and devoted single father, he only comes to Nairobi for two days a week to sell stuff and make money to feed and educate his kids. Mama B’s last order saved them from getting flung out of school for non payment of fees. Kenyan schools are big on sending kids home – for wrong colour of shoes, no uniform, no fees and even (I discovered via Doris) no PENCILS. And these are kids whose primary worry is no food and no home. The system is about as appallingly screwed up as a system gets. Well done the Brits for instilling into a people the importance of a smart uniform in education.
As I am in Junction, I go to look for a book on sign language to give to the deaf prozzie (now ex-prozzie) we gave a grant to last week. Hopefully she is not in business and I said to her (well wrote and mimed) that I would show her sign language. I go to the educational bookshop where I stumble across a classic in the long list of “you couldn’t make it up”. There is one book that they have in stock in another branch. It is called Sign Language for Dummies. I kid you not.
Thence to town. Having run out of places to hold workshops safely we have opted for town – and a greasy spoon where Doris got the trots from a dodgy kebab last time out. But their tea and coffee is fine, and they don’t get stroppy about herds of downtrodden people coming in to huddle round our table. Although it has been mentioned to me that a white female, meeting with disenfranchised looking Kenyan youth could be construed as The White Widow (Dada Mzungu – White Sister as she is called here) on a recruitment drive. The first group in want to get into rabbits – as it were. First buying and selling and then breeding. We drink tea and crunch numbers. The rabbits are expensive and are being bought from a farmer who will deliver them dead and skinned. I suggest that if the group themselves go out to Kikkuyu and do some of the dirty work, the price would come down. Doris gets on the phone to the farmer and ten minutes later we have a deal. The whole group (20 male and female) will work a Saturday for the farmer for free. In return a) the price of the rabbits falls to a very doable amount allowing a good profit b) the farmer will allow them to keep the pelts and will even sell them for them (you need a license to sell fur here which he has and they don’t). He will also train them in rabbit breeding and farming. Absobloodymarvellous.
Next up we have some street girls more or less fresh from the cells. The police (again, in hot pursuit of looking like they are doing something) are simply rounding up the street girls in town on the pretext of ‘suspicion of harbouring Al Shabab’. So the choice the girls have is 1. go out and get arrested or 2. stay in and starve with their kids. These girls have an amazing chance. A ‘client’ of one of them is keen to help get her and her friends off the street. He is in the fashoin trade and has a floor in a big building in town. He is offering a group of girls the chance to do the catering for the whole building (4 floors). IT is a gobsmackingly good chance. The kind that massive backhanders would normally be exchanged for. If they can get kitted out and get the food organised they will start by making breakfast and if that goes well they will get the go ahead to do lunch as well. 300 covers. The lovely lady who helped with the bakery comes up trumps again and gives us 150 smart plates. She also comes and does some training on presentation skills with the girls. Mama Biashara pays for the rest of the hardware (the building has its own cooker and kitchen) and the ingredients for 300 breakfasts. First service is tomorrow morning. Ten women and 23 children who will not be getting hassled by the police again. And the idea is that as the group do lunches and snacks, they take on and train more girls from the streets. Almost every group of ex cons and prozzies we have funded has been scrupulous about reaching out to others in the same situation. They become almost self-running little Mini Mama Bs. Vicky’s Cleaners, I forgot to say, have just got another big contract and are starting another team. And so about five guys and six women from Mama B’s ‘ready and willing for work’ pool are taken out of the pool and into the business of cleaning. Meaning they have a good livelihood and five more guys and six more women can come off the streets and into the training pool / waiting room. Thanks to Doris and our successful groups we have a marvellous system going here.
The last three girls want to sell eggs and have got themselves a good roster of orders. The greasy spoon is closing. We only just manage to squeeze Doris out through the iron shutters. We decide to celebrate by having a drink, which we do on a balcony overlooking the not entirely scenic Moi Avenue.
Heading home I go for a City Hopper and Doris heads to get a matatu. As I am getting on there is the sound of gunfire. Kenyans have a low panic threshold and there is instantly a lot of headless chicken acting and squealing. From the sound of the gunfire it is the police. They are the ones who just fire and keep firing in a sort of ‘my gun is bigger than your gun’ sort of a way. They also do not care at all – AT ALL – who they hit. The ‘oops, I’ve killed/maimed/hurt a civilian’ effect is quite terrifying. I am now in the bus and the gunfire heads off down towards River Road (not nearly as scenic as it sounds). I check with Doris. She is now in a herd of Kenyans running randomly in a direction that they hope is away from the guns. By the time I am halfway home she is also on a bus and unscathed.
5th October 2013
Having had several hideous experiences at check in with BA systems failing to see payments I have already made and the dragon on the desk insisting on a further payment etc etc I decide to start packing early. I may slightly have overdone it on the buying front. I am reduced to sitting helplessly on the bed hoping someone will call and offer to pay my excess baggage bill.
I try to reduce the overall weight by packing stuff in plastic laundry bags. I buy clingfilm in the hope I can shrink wrap my own bags instead of paying a fortune at the airport but it doesn’t work.
I am meeting a load of different people at Shalom (almost next door, good security and nice lawn with guinea fowl wandering around) – Jayne from Awendo, Sylvestar (one of the boys I met at the very first feeding day with Felista eight years ago, and Langat, marathon runner and now PE coach to Felista’s kids at DECIP. Plus Doris, of course.
It all works pout quite well, although Jayne is three hours late. Sylvestar, who attended a documentary film making workshop I ran under the auspices of Critical Mass theatre company (and the impressive grant-getting, contact-making, production-running Sarah Chew) and is now ‘ a professional cameraman’. The second of the boys who attended the workshop that I know of. The collective he is with do weddings, funerals (big in Kenya) etc etc etc. He and Langat exchange numbers with a view to getting Langat’s next marathon run on video. Well at least some of it, unless Sylvestar gets a motorbike.
I give Doris a bag of the most beautiful baby clothes you can imagine. Pristine and perfect. Not that baby clothes are my thing. Donated by Zetta, our tireless Vice Chair. Lord knows where they came from because babies are not her thing either. But Doris is very excited about selling them. She practices a little sales patter. She is good. From the moment she smiles and says “Hello, my name is Doris …” you just know you are going to buy SOMETHING from her.
We part on Ngong Road.
We are planning a big medical at the mosque in Kawangware. We did one last time and did a load of work. The clerics in charge were very happy and are in principle happy to have us back. I need to burka up again which is no problem. And they are just a little worried about security given that our old friends the Kenya Police have been at it again on the coast near Mombasa. They have (for some reason best known to someone) shot a Moslem cleric. All hell has broken loose, four people are dead and a church has been set on fire. So we are waiting to see how the atmosphere is before we go. Meanwhile I head to the City Centre to pick up the last of Mama B’s purchases. Some dolls and some bags … as far as I remember. Another little Kilimanjaro of loveliness but bulkiness mounts up. I feel my heart sink at the prospect of packing this and getting it to the airport – to say nothing of paying BA punitive excess charges. Oh Richard … Richard … PLEASE bring Virgin Atlantic back to Nairobi. Mama Biashara needs you.
I get it all back to the tiny slum palace (which is seeming tinier with every bulk delivery of goods I make) and talk to Doris. The clerics are still worried about security. And the women who had been going to bring their children along for deworming and vitamins and whatever else they might need have been reporting receiving threatening texts warning them that if they take their children to the mzungu daktari for treatment “there will be consequences”. So the waiting room would be pretty much empty anyway. The Iman is very apologetic. We will try again next time I am back.
I am pretty tired and fall asleep to be woken by a phonecall from Doris wondering where we are meeting. We have some funding to do and some plans to make. Plus I want updates on the catering girls. Doris is not keen on meeting at our usual little Mali Cafe because of the hoo ha with the stake out the last time. SO she asks if we can meet at Junction. I sense a Java House Bill loming but Doris has a point. And so I leave the house. It is dark and the place is mobbed. The Nairobi Show is on and it is closing time. On Ngong Road that makes it like the 02 and Wembly combined just emptying themselves onto the street. I get a text from Doris warning me that “the boys coming from the Showground are thieves”. That is a LOT of thieves. I try to stay close to other honest looking types and opt to walk on the road rather up in the dark. Still there is so much jostling and pushing and boys coming up saying “hi Mama !” in a way that you know means “My name is Gerald, I will be your mugger for today”. I clutch my stout satchel (thank you sister Amanda) and plough on, wearing my “don’t fuck with me” face. Traffic is jammed at a standstill except for the daredevil piki pikis whizzing around. And even they are, at this point 50% motorbike taxi and 50% robbers on wheels. It is, as Felista puts it later “a hell !”
SOME TEXT HAS BEEN DELETED HERE TO AVOID ALARMING MY DAD. DETAILS ON REQUEST.
Never has a Java House coffee been so welcome.
Turns out Doris was robbed on the way home last by one of the muggers on wheels. So now Zetta’s beautiful baby clothes are in some thieving scum’s house or abandoned in a ditch because they don’t contain money or an iphone.
All went very well with the girls doing the catering. The marvellous woman who has given the girls plates and the cake boys their big order has come in to town to do some training with the girls on presentation and they will know in one week if they will get to do lunches as well as breakfasts and mid afternoon snacks.
Another big group of Mama B hopefuls is asking for a grant to set up a butchery business. I know ANOTHER butchery business. But butchery is a good business if you can get the set up right. These people have been through Doris’s Boot Camp (ie shown willingness to work, aptitude for hard work, honesty, dependibility and ability to work as a team). Now they have a business plan and a big order to kick things off. The order will be regular and twice a week. Their plan asks for quite a large amount of cash and includes money for a freezer. I point out that as their first few week’s orders are just through sales, they don’t need a freezer at the start and within two weeks their profit will easily be able to buy one. They agree. And get the dosh to start business tomorrow. 19 families (all are married) and 42 children should have something approaching a decent life.
We get a taxi to drop me and take Doris to the matatu stage. It is £2.40. And is better than getting mugged.
As the Mosque is a no go and, having no vehicle, going anywhere remotely dodgy is to much of a risk, we opt to go to Mathare and do some deworming and basic medication. I pack the little pink wheelie and another carrier and head to meet Doris in town.
I clamber aboard a bus and crush onto a seat. It is then I realise that the irritating man standing in the way of everything is a preacher. And boy, does he preach. All the way from Dagoretti Corner to town. As we approach the stage, he points out that if we wish, we can ‘bless him’ for his preaching. I don’t wish. He asks if I do not want to hear the word of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I say I am not a Christian. He throws back his head and roars with laughter. PreacherMan: so who is Jesus ? Me : a man in a story PreacherMan doubles up laughing. The rest of the bus start to join in. The man in front of me stands up to get a better look. Over the next ten minutes as the bus crawls through traffic we establish – to much hilarity and hooting with laughter – that I am Darwinian rather than Creationist. PreacherMan: Ah science can go so far. But God is everywhere ! We end with a prayer and I am instructed to say amen. Which I do. It gets a round of applause. One of my best gigs ever, going on audience reaction, to be fair.
Now, it may or may not be a sign from God, but as I leave the bus and plough through the seething masses around the Kenya National Archives, the wheels finally fall off my pink … well … draggie.
Mathare is filthy as ever, although the children are impressively clean. It is Sunday, of course. We deworm and deworm until the box of 100 syrups and the bag of 50 tablets is done. We hand out cold liver oil to the truly weak and ill looking and to a mum who comes up with a boy with CP.
Then we head back to Ngong Road, eat pilau at Prestige (Doris is still keen to avoid Dagoretti Corner) and go home.