Travel Stories


It is Sunday and I am feeling ridiculously sorry for myself.

It is Sunday and I am feeling ridiculously sorry for myself. Don't panic, you have not missed Friday and Saturday it is just I have decided to give this diary a little introductory bit.

I have washed my hair (I can highly recommend Toss Liquid Laundry Detergent, gives a lovely soft feel) and cleaned the toilet. Someone in the block of flats which overlooks our little compound is listening to first a Take That compilation and then Terry Jack's Seasons in the Sun. At least it is robust competition for the singing coming from the churches which we have on three sides. Having said which, stand anywhere in Nairobi and you have churches on three sides of you. It makes Rome look positively Godless. I have just walked up the road to Shalom for milky coffee and free wifi. The cloud of dust which enveloped me as the cars passed on their way to Cornerstone Church has mean that the Toss will have to come out again later. I am about to log on and watch the Moto GP. Vale is in trouble, qualified on the second row and is having dreadful trouble with his Bridgestones – no feel and serious degradation. If it hots up out there he could be toast. Which will not help my mood. The last thing I need to see right now is a laughing Lorenzo.
Anyway … the diary

Friday 25th September
My friend Rebecca is dead. She died last night. We have been WhatsApping each other morning and night but she stopped replying on Wednesday. I don't really know what to do. She was so sick and in such pain and people are saying things like “she is at peace now” but I know Rebecca would rather not be at peace and be back here with Bertie and Strictly on a Saturday night and a good roast chicken and a cheeky MummyJuice. Rebecca saved my life. When I was in what they are wont to call “a bad place” and doing all manner of silly things of a hugely self-destructive nature, she saved me. She would just not let go until I sorted myself out. And now she is dead.

I am at Shalom for a meeting with Catherine, who is Our Lady In Thika and of The Maasai. I am posting a diary when I read a posting from a mutual friend on FB. I have just WhatsApped her an hour ago (Her code name Sweet Pea, Me code name Tiger).
Catherine has only gone and got herself A Real Job but is not enjoying it. She is finding it irritating and a bit pointless. It is with an NGO working in HIV/AIDS and the long hours have meant she has not been able to do the research into the sex worker industry in Thika that we were going to do. And has not kept in touch with the Kuku Shoshos we funded a few months ago. Turns out the Kuku Shoshos have somewhat ground to a halt. They sold several hundred chicken and divided the profit because “their sons were hungry and needed to eat”. They have 200 chicken left for which they do not have a customer and who are eating voraciously. Today is not the day to be giving me bad news. However it is not Catherine's fault as we went over the whole financial structure of a project like this when we did the fundings. They have been trying to sell the adult kuku at 2000 bob – a ridiculously inflated price. We agree that Catherine will go back and tell them of my anger and my threat to come and remove all the chickens and give them to someone else. Catherine knows of a farmer's market where she thinks she can sell the kuku at 1000 each (a fairly good price) which would net the group 200,000 which is WELL enough to start again. I ask Catherine if I should come to Thika and do my Angry Act. She says she will let me know.
Doris joins us and we discuss the quintessential differences between funding in urban and in rural areas. Most people in rural areas, no matter how poor, are living on their own tiny plot of land and therefore not paying reant. They do not have the omnipresent threat of eviction and homelessness that the urban folk do. It is a great spur to action. And, points out Doris, if you have even a small plot you can have vegetables. You will not starve. Well, not completely.
We talk until it gets dark and Catherine goes back to Kawangware. Doris and I go to Jowac where I resort to drinking Smirnoff Black Ice which is FOUL beyond belief but 7% proof as opposed to whatever Tusker is. We wander back to the compound and so ends the day

I am not sure what I am doing but I suppose I had better do something. So I go to River Road (having made David promise not to get us arrested) and I get a load of Kucha Kool kits – some amazing colours of nail polish and all the pokey tweaky filey bits that go with. Buffery rectangualt things come, as usual, from Poundland. A quid for four. Oh yes. I nearly buy some lovely scarves but the bloke in the shop insists that if I want a reciept I will have to pay VAT. So I don't. Thence to Kariokor and a load of the old ladies' wonderful woolen kiyondos. This is one of the places that always makes me think of Montgomery Clift in Suddenly Last Summer when he goes down to the beach and all the street boys attack and eat him. I fight off the crowds of (mainly men claiming their shosho sent them) salespeople.
We go to Naivas on the Ngong Road for lunch (gizzards for David and liver for me) and I buy a load of nice white plastic boxes for the Kucha Kool Kits – three are going to the Sanitary Babes who will – once they have established their bona fides – be offering manicures to the ladies of their loos. I look for a mozzie net (which I keep failing to buy) but settle for a plug in mozzie repellant called DOOM instead. Mozzies are not the horror for me that they were as one of the great things about being fully 'roided up is that the bites no longer swell up like ghastly pink humps but just behave like normal bites. So I barely notice them until I run a hand over my skin and notice it is as if I have has some of those implants where you get ball bearings put under your skin. We take everything back home and then David drops me at Junction so I can put some money in Mpesa to send to a new group starting Thabai (stinging nettles). I also go into Nakumatt and buy a pillow. £4 and a great great luxury.
The newspapers say the teachers' strike is over but there is much grumbling. The story on the front page shares space with one about a female Cabinet Minister who is being asked to explain a 700 million shilling deficit in her budget. The money has just disappeared. From a government which keeps saying the country does not have enough cash to give the teachers a raise.
I miss my conversation with Rebecca and play 23 games of Solitaire instead. God bless smartphones.


A huge thank you to the excellent Toby Stokes

A huge thank you to the excellent Toby Stokes, a whizz with a Z1, as creative in the kitchen as he is with his facial hair And unbelievably generous when he finds good fortune. Thanks to The Tobester there are 80 - yes 80 - young men will be rescued from the streets of the slums of Nairobi and set up in the very profitable MAma Biashara business of sugar cane juicing. Thanks to him they will be able to feed their families and build a good life for themselves. Four groups of 20 young men (most of them in their twenties) will each recieve a brand new cane juicing machine (as een here) paid for by T. Stokes & shipped direct from Our Girls In China - who get them at a reduced rate because they work for the manufacturer. Thank you Mr Stokes, sir. There is a chilled JAgermeister and a pint of cooking lager waiting for you ... I am so happy I felt the need to post another picture of Doris who is thrilled to tucks to be able to help another EIGHTY young men.


So far this Christmas Season

So far this Christmas Season we have had one ring and one pendant stolen and many many many soapstone pieces chipped, cracked or minus a vital part. Is it wrong to be MAma Biashara and want the people who do this to BURN IN HELL ? IS it ?
Anyway, last diary from last trip. Off again in January - so you had better come and buy or the peeps over there will not be getting much business from us ...

Diary 8

Wednesday (continued)
By the time the girls' hair is braided and extended and oiled and twisted it is dark outside. We take them for kuku (chicken) and then home. The tiny one bedroomed tin shack (when I first came to Kenya I was constantly amused by people describing their homes as “shit houses” until I realised that what they were saying is “sheet houses” - ie made from sheets of corrugated metal) is freezing when we get there. No sign of Dad, of course. We leave them after Doris burrows around in the piles on the floor for some warmer clothing for them.

I collect a Western Union contribution from my school friend Rachel. She is a great supporter of Mama B – along with her daughters. And is about to be co-opted onto the Board of Trustees. Making us a seriously multinational bunch .. England, Scotland, New Zealand and Austria. And Kenya of course. I get the last of the ordered loveliness for the Mama Biashara Emporium and, when Doris arrives, give her a tour of the market and the Mama Biashara peeps who sell there. Then we set off for Ruaka, where Doris has found premises she thinks would be suitable for the Mama Biashara School of Everything. To avoid 'jam' we take the scenic route. The place is quite tiny. Very secure but basically a bedsit. I shake my head. There is another place but we cannot see it. It has two rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom inside. And is not much more expensive. The short road back to Nairobi is pitch black. I don't fancy the journey in a matatu.
Back at the Tiny Slum Palace I drag my stuff in and continue packing and repacking. I also send off a smiley email to BA customer services just confirming that I will be on the 11.40pm flight on 30th November with my free excess baggage. I add the flight number and copious thanks and take my scabs and my itchy bits and scaley bits and bleeding bits to bed.

I do some more packing and repacking and then fire up the laptop. Nothing from Customer Services except an 'out of office' reply from Elizabeth. I worry slightly and decide to check my booking just to see that the excess had been acknowledged by The System. Oh the horror, as they say, the horror.
Firstly I notice that I have been allowed only 4 free excess bags. I have ten. BA excess charges are punitive. My heart sinks. Next, I am puzzled by the fact that the website seems keen for me to check in. Now online check in only opens 24 hours before the flight. And mine is at 11.40pm tomorrow. IT was booked by a nice lady in BA who got me £100 discount. I look at the online check in page. To discover that my flight actually leaves at 00.40am tomorrow. IE tonight. I am devastated. I cannot leave tonight, I have too much to do tomorrow. We have no electricity and my laptop battery is dead so I head to Junction to the cyber cafe. First I pay £500 for the four bags that are outside my 2 allowed and four waived bags. £500. Then I call BA. Changing the flight incurs a 100 pound charge PLUS a £25 admin charge PLUS any difference in flight costs. By delaying my return till Monday I get away with only paying £125. When I was earning this would all have been bad. Now it is devastating.
To add insult to injury, on the way back I have a mother, a grannie and a baby beside me. And occasionally on me. The baby has lungs that would have impressed Pavarotti and minimal interest in keeping milk in its mouth once it was forced there by grannie.

But I get the ten boxes back and into the shop where they are ready to be bought ...


Kucha Kool

Mama B's latest venture, piloted in Nairobi and now hitting the streets in Kisumu. Kucha is the Swahili word for fingernail and so ... Cool Nails.

We are working with commercial sex workers who want to get off the street and out of the bars. Utilising skills they already have ... like nail care ... Mama B sets each girl up with a kit comprising a dozen nail varnishes, a French Manicure Kit, buffers, orange sticks, emery boards, cuticle gel, varnish remover and hand cream and enough money to cover her first week's travel. The girls then take their kit out and around the markets, shops and bars offering impromptu manicures at your place of work.

Our pilot business made our Kucha Kool Girl an average of 1500 ksh each day - three times what she made as a sex worker. And the cost of these new lives for our girls ? Around £12.00.


We are finally legal !

After a long ... long ... long wait, Mama Biashara has finally got full Charitable Status. We are a registered charity, SC042262. This means ... well, a load of stuff. We are now eligible for Gift Aid - meaning that for every £1 donated, we get an extra 25p. Which means we can do 25% more work, help 25% more people, start 25% more businesses. I suppose now would be the time to introduce our Board of Trustees ... pix will come later Geoff Copstick is my brother, a bit of a financial whizz, but more importantly a great bloke.

He is currently building his own house in New Zealand, complete with solar power. He is also a farmer and has all manner of practical skills that will be of help to the work in Kenya. Zeta Thomelin is CEO of Children With AIDS Charity and a fairly extraordinary human being. She is also VERY good at all the formal, legal stuff that will keep Mama B in line with the rules and regs, is a formidable fundraiser and has better connections than high speed broadband. We are lucky to have her Simon Walker is a former TV Producer of note, turned luxury landlord. Simon and his wife run Your Nice Apartment - a company offering just what they say they do, in Nice and, soon, in London too. Simon spent some time in Kenya with MAma B in January this year - pix will soon be available here on the site and can be seen now by logging onto Bev James is former Services manager with CWAC and is currently spreading the Mama B word in Birmingham.

So now it is onwards and upwards. To say nothing of outwards. Check out our new projects on the Projects pages - and keep checking ! There will be no stopping us now.


Gallagher Securities

A knight in shining, electrified armour! As they are wont to say, there is good news and there is bad news on the DECIEP front. As you know, Felista Kibe has been feeding and caring for orphans and abandoned and vulnerable children in the slums of Nairobi for more than 10 years. For the past 3, CWAC (Children With AIDS Charity) has been sending a monthly contribution to her work to cover food and rent. In August that contribution was halved. And now – at one month’s notice, the contribution has been stopped altogether. This, as you can imagine, is a crushing blow to Felista and the children.

As of this month, DECIEP, and the 60 children, have been thrown out of the property they were occupying. However, at just the right time, Gallagher Securities, a company based in New Zealand, but operating across the globe, has come in to help. Gallagher Securities not only make and sell, but invented electric fencing. They are generally acknowledged to be the best in the world at it. In helping the children of DECIEP at this time they have shown that they really do know the importance of ‘security’. Gallagher have helped in three ways: they have generously donated almost £3000 which was used in the building of a new home for the children. The sixty happy, relieved young orphans moved in last week.

Gallagher have not only made the building of the home possible, but are also doing what they do best of all – making it secure! They have offered to supply and install a state of the art fencing system around the home, keeping the children safe. As well as this, part of Gallagher’s funding was used to purchase and refurbish a pick up truck. This has been used to the full during the construction, and now that the home is built, will be used to transport and sell cabbages wholesale, helping to meet the future running costs of the home. This is a wonderful thing to have done for these children, just because Gallagher wanted to help. They have succeeded in making these children truly secure and Mama Biashara thanks them.

So… if you are feeling insecure…


Gallagher Securities saves DECIEP !!

As they are wont to say, there is good news and there is bad noews on the DECIEP front. As you know, Felista Kibe has been feeding and caring for orphans and abandoned and vulnerable children in the slums of Nairobi for more than 10 years. For the past 3, CWAC (Children With AIDS Charity) has been sending a monthly contribution to her work to cover food and rent. In August that contribution was halved. And now – at one month’s notice, the contribution has been stopped altogether. This, as you can imagine, is a crushing blow to Felista and the children. However, at just the right time, Gallagher Securities, a company based in New Zealand, but operating across the globe, has come in with funding to buy, refurbish and equip a pick up truck for DECIEP. This will be used to sell water and, if Felista’s calculations are right, could make DECIEP almost entirely self sufficient ONCE they are out of their rental property and housed on the new land the project has bought on an interest free loan. Gallagher’s incredible generosity will allow for the truck to start work immediately.

An unimaginable benefit to DECIEP. Now what we need is £6000 to build a temporary home for the children on the new land before they are evicted from the rental property. Gallagher’s help will extend to the purchase of all the timbers needed for the construction. What we need is the rest. Could you help ? Would you help ?

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