Seventy one young people are currently in training in Kiambu on a local authority scheme. They are getting training in masonry, electrical work, painting and decorating and other useful, saleable skills. SEVENTY ONE of our young peeps. We got the fees for these courses waived, which is amazing and all Mama Biashara had to do was supply working tools and stuff. So about £300 paid for seventy one people to take these courses and, when they pass, get an Official Certificate (v v important in Kenya) and their first contract.
For those of you who do not know, I am having something of an accommodation crisis in NAirobi. Someone tld my (7th Dat Adventist) landlady that I come to Kenya to train people how to be gay. So she has evicted me. Doris has just about given herself a stroke spending the past few weeks trying to find another place … on my budget which was £50 for three weeks. And so when David picks me up at the airport (no import duty this time, as I had two small neat cases – crammed with cod liver oil etc, but small) we drive for about an hour before reaching my new home. It is far out in the geographical, not the John Denver sense. On the road from Dagoretti MArket to Karen. Thankfully not close enough to Dagoretti Market to smell or hear the abbatoir. But a real bugger for transport or walking. The room is big and I have a toilet inside !!! My mattress is on the floor and my bucket (now redundant what with the en suite) under a wee sink. Which actually has running water.
So, except for the geographical location, bloody wonderful.
The place is a sort of a knocking shop … Chaps rent rooms and bring their girlfriends. Or vice versa. The sign on the gate says Home from Home. It is run by a friend of Doris.
My bedclothes are slightly grubby from having been tossed out by a morally outraged Seventh Day Adventist, but I shall worry about that tomorrow …
I am afraid I cannot resist saying that, as I sit in my new accommodation and look around … Bare plaster walls, bare tiled floor, room empty except for my mattress on the floor … I cannot help but think that if someone asked me where I was I should say “ahm in masel'” (for english viewers it translates as “I am in my cell” but also ” I am in by myself”) OK now i have explained it it is not really that funny. But I am cold and damp and it seems hilarious when you are here.
Now this is hugely exciting. I have downloaded a document writing app for my ipad. And now there is nothing I cannot do. For 79p per month.
DAvid is prompt and in quick succession we hit Forex to change some readies, NAkumatt where I buy yet another tiny electric kettle and some bits and bobs and the market in town. As I walk through it is like the reverse of the Red Sea parting. Where there was a passageway, suddenly there is a sea of people all yelling my name and assuring me that they have “something unique”. I am anal enough to explain to those who insist that they have “something unique” that “unique ” means that there is only one. Somehow I never tire of explaining. I cannot abide careless use of important words. If you want to say unique in Swahili you actually have to say that there is only one.
Moving on. I buy and order and tell the Pamoja BOys and MArtin Sombua about the trip to Samburu. They have heard all about the British soldiers raping local girls. It also happens around NAnyuki, apparently, where there is a big army base. They catch them when they are tending to the animals, or going for water apparently. The other talk is all of civil unrest and ethnic cleansing. There are now weekly demos / riots in the city centre “Tear Gas Mondays” they call them. The opposition parties want the wildly corrupt electoral commission reformed. Unsurprisingly, the Government do not agree. Next year’s elections will, I fear, be messy.
We load up and I go and meet Doris back at Junction.
We discuss the accommodation hooha. The shosho was apparently told that I “train men how to be women and train women how to be men”. Doris is angry because looking for a house for me has taken up almost a month of her time. HOwever the TGI Friday groups are doing well, the taka taka groups are going great guns and our four young girls who got the necessary medical attention for their pregnancies are now healthy and part of our school sweater knitting group. The youngest is 14 the others 15 and getting them back to school will be a problem financially. But we are working on it and they are safe and happy.
Doris has the car with her (see Mombasa trip last time) and she suggests she drives me home. As it would be rude to shriek “are you mad ? This is Nairobi ! We will die horribly !” I say ok. We have to go round the back way because Doris still doesn’t do the turning out into traffic thing. I murmer instructions ” … You want to be in the far lane there because we will be turning …” and ” just straight … STRAIGHT … Between the stones … “. I felt a little Bob Newhart. But Doris was great. Steady, slow and absolutely great. Even in the pitch dark. She is, she tells me, now a driving instructor herself. Older ladies who have been traumatised by being taught by their husbands come to Doris for a refresher course with someone lovely. Some of our taxi boys are now giving driving lessons and Doris works with them. The little red car we have been loaned (the one we had in Mombasa) is making a LOAD of money ! We find a bar, we eat goat and I enjoy the hilarious sight of two old men in the toilet next to me desperately trying to wring some wee out and discussing the problem in loud voices. Ah the undiscovered hilarity in prostate problems. And so to my cell and mattress.
I wake late and a bit sore. I am still in a bit of a sulk about living so far away from … Well everything I need to get to, to be fair. I get a matatu to Karen and immediately suffer a racist attack of the worst kind. The fare is 20 bob and I, because of my colour, am charged 30 bob. I normally would not mention this but I have been taught recently on facebook that there are slights and insults and unacceptable behaviour in almost everything and I thought I might indulge in some recreational outrage.
I get off at The Hub. A new shopping centre. According to Doris’s sources the supermarket there (Carrefour) is waaaaaaay cheaper than Nakumatt. And I am fairly certain that a place like this will have plenty free wifi. As it happens, most of the outlets in The Hub are not yet open. Which does little to undermine the sheer, gobsmacking, breathtaking, indecent opulence of the place once you are inside. A sweeping palatial staircase leads to a balustraded second level, a massive stone flagged piazza opens up surrounded by porticoed walkways, a jazz band plays and children are riding around on lifesize toy ponies which move forward as the child posts (as in a posting trot) up and down on the saddle. I walk through another archway to find fountains playing alongside a boating lake. A BOATING LAKE. Turning left I chance upon a chap who offers me gluten free artisanal breads … He is part of their weekly Organic Farmers’ Market. There are biodynamic jellies and vegan spreads, organic wines and thoughtful sorbets. I cannot speak. I am in Vegas.
It just seems so so wrong.
I leave, still barely able to speak and having forgotton to go bargain hunting in Carrefour.
I walk down the dusty road to Karen and amuse the customers at the Java House in the petrol station by watching the Moto GP. Thrilling race. I might have been a little loud. But the upshot was the entire place was delighted that Valentino Rossi won.
I meet Doris.
She has been giving driving lessons to ladies.
We discuss her father’s supurating leg and possible treatment.
And our planned trip up to Samburu.
And then get to grips with the eighty odd people in Eldoret who want funding. They are all commercial sex workers (male and female) and found us through the albino lady we funded up there. Her business is doing incredibly well and some of them, having been made homeless in the continuing unrest here are being housed by her. We have plans for snack selling in an area called Burnt Forest (so called because every time there are inter tribal clashes it get set on fire …) along a several kilometer strip of road where the trucks stop. We have samosa sellers, sausage sellers, mishkaki sellers (little kebabs), tea and coffee sellers, fifteen boys who want to sell miraa and an old lady who wants chewing gum and peanuts (which are traditionally chewed with miraa to make it taste better). I work out the budgets and logistics and end up with a shopping list for tomorrow. I am delighted with my idea of buying one food warmer for the mishkaki which will be put in a wheelbarrow and wheeled up and down much in the style of Molly Malone as opposed to buying three food warmers to be stationed at different sections of the road.
Doris comes back to the cell and picks up three baby dolls for babycare training (we are MUCH in demand) and a load of rubber rings, armbands and beachballs for our burgeoning groups in Mombasa. Amazing to think a lad can make more money renting out Poundland blow up swimming aids than he can renting out himself.
Doris goes and I curl up with my slightly damp blankets and a game of solitaire.
In the next room, a baby starts crying. Oh the horror, the horror. I feel myself tensing up. A man’s voice starts to sing something local sounding. The child continues to whine. And just as I thought it could not get any worse, the man changes tune. And starts to sing Coldplay’s Yellow. The child likes it.
David arrives and I do a little online stuff at Java before we head to Kamkunji with my shopping list.
HIs car is in the SIck Car Hospital after a drunk driver hit him head on. He has a borrowed car. It makes a clunking noise in any gear below 4th. The radio has been sold and there is a sad space in the dashboard. The electric windows do not work,and are unfortunately (as it is quite a chilly morning) stuck in the open position. There are some bare wires sprouting on David’s door and he hopefully brushes them against each other in the hope of being able to get them moving. Nothing.
As it happens it is a good thing my window is stuck open as the door handle on the inside doesn’t work and it is necessary to stick your arm out and use the outside handle in order to leave. Swings and roundabouts.
We take a road that loops a little around the town centre in case they have started demonstrating early. The demonstrations are fairly peaceful. The uniformed thugs ‘policing’ them are not. We get to Kamkunji and David has to stay in the car (what with the open windows and all). I head down into the melee. It is crazy but kind of nice.and everyone is working like a bastard so generally there is very little time for thieving and muggery. I buy a dozen hotpots, a big foodwarmer, a tea urn and some ginormous flasks. I bargain furiously and get a reasonable price.
A thin boy from the place I am buying is loaded up with the hotpots and the foodwarmer which is precariously balanced on top. I carry the rest. I worry that he might snap. But we make it all the way to the top of the hill where David has the car wedged behind a lorry that doesn’t seem keen on moving. The problem is, it transpires, a small red car which has not been so much parked as abandoned and which is making it impossible for anyone to move. I go and ask if the owner of the car is known. He is. He is a policeman. So we cannot rush him. When he does arrive he turns out to be an old bloke with dodgy eyes who instructs a soldier to park the car. I mutter an insult under my breath and he flashes me his death stare. Which is quite impressive. We go, hit Kariokor for woollen kiyondos and sandals and come back up to Junction to meet Felista. The Ngong Road looks like a war zone. And it is really. A war between rich and poor. Once the road had wide chunks at the side where people sold flowers and plants and turf and stuff. Then there were newspaper kiosks and snack stops … A whole little micro economy. Under lovely old trees. The whole lot has been bulldozed. There is some sort of a plan to widen the road so the fat cats don’t have to wait behind a matatu when they are driving to a meeting. The contract will of course be given to the Chinese on a government deal. Further up an entire market has been razed to the rubble. Fruit a`nd veg sellers, charcoal, fish and yards and yards of the best priced mitumba in Nairobi. I have bought hundreds of shoes here … The stall people are lovely. Sometimes they just have half a dozen pairs of shoes to sell but it is business. Now it is gone to make way for the bypass which will then cut a swathe through Kibera. No one is ever compensated or offered an alternative. This is money coming into Nairobi and instead of helping the poor it is simply forcing them out. Lord knows what they will do to the Kibera people when the road goes through. I now hate everyone in a 4×4 on principle. A radical idea but it is working for me for the moment.
I can now sort of use the documents app to the extent of posting on fb. Slight bugger on email.
At Junction I am supposed to meet Felista to discuss the Great Accommodation Disaster. She is a noshow so I head off to Corner to meet Joanne and Dan from the disabled / albino group. They have had problems getting here as Kibera is a bit of a no go area on Mondays – the opposition protests centre on Kibera in Nairobi as well as the other Luo strongholds … Kisumu etc
The old shosho at Mali Cafe is glad to see my wrinkly white face – it means business.
The disabled centre has got off to a slow start but I tell them that this is up to them and do a strict talk about how ‘ni lazima kujijenga’ (it is necessary to build yourself up … Yes the Swahili word for ‘build’ is Jenga). Albinos seem to be a fast growing group now they know help is there. Sandra Smith’s sunscreen has been a bit of a game changer. Everyone wants it. It is like nothing they can get here.
Similar things have happened down on the coast where we are helping the ex sex workers who have destroyed their skin by scrubbing it with household bleach twice daily. I took them E45 and they are hailing it as a miracle. Eat your overpriced heart out Creme de Mer. They are able to walk outside without pain (although they shouldn’t), they can sleep and their skin is coming back.
Back in Nairobi, Joanne has just come from a big meeting of all the HIV groups in her area. A meeting at which they were told by a team of medics and heath department suits that there would no longer be free ARVs. The medics said that MSF were leaving Kenya and that perhaps people who already had their six month supply of ARVs might like to think about sharing. After that they should go to their local hospitals and get the drugs through them. But not free. TB drugs will still be free. Hoorah. In Migori up in SOuth Nyanza, the drugs have already gone. And people have started dying. I need to investigate this bombshell which, if true, is surely a breach of WHO rules … Watch this space.
The screaming child and the COldplay singing Dad are tonight joined by a snoring man on the other side.
David is late so I take a matatu to Karen Shopping Centre, standing my racial and financial ground and paying only 20 bob. I deliver the rest of Sandra SMith’s sunscreen to Dan and Joanne and hit Java for wifi.
It seems Daphna and Jule are doing a sterling job on the MAma Biashara comedy preview season in July in my absence. And Muhammed Ali is dead.
We head to the market and the journey takes an hour and a half. Living this far out of town is a nightmare logistically. The market is frantic. I get incredibly tired incredibly quickly and then I remember I had a glass of water at 10am this morning and I haven’t eaten since Saturday night.
From the market we go to River Road to try and buy small plastic spreay bottles for the patent MAma Biashara Anti Rapist Skoosh for the women in Samburu. Nowhere to be found. We head back to Junction – another hour – stopping off, at David’s insistance, so I can get some mango juice to revive me. It does. Remarkably. Thence to Corner and by this time we are so late that I cannot go to the pharmacy to get stuff for Awendo, or Junction to get a battery for my phone. We have a meeting with Margaret – my ex landlady – to see if there is any hope of a rapprochement. I go bearing gifts of Cod LIver OIl, garlic and iron as she is run down and poorly. She meets us outside the property on the street. She is very nice but explains that because of what The Scriptures say they cannot have me living there because if they help me, it would be as if they themselves are helping gay people. It was Poundland’s coloured and flavoured condoms what did for us.
We leave and even David – who is a Kenyan man and therefore thinks gay men are just ill and gay women don’t exist – is outraged. But you cannot go against The Scriptures. I just hope that Margaret’s slaves obey her, which is commanded in the same book of the Scriptures.
We eat, unload the buyings from the market and load up the foodwarmers and flasks and whatnot to get sent to Burnt Forest.
The child is happy tonight. So there is no Coldplay.
I sleep in, which doesn’t help and then get a matatu to Karen. I really need to go to Junction as there is a funding today and I seem to have spent a ridiculous amount stuff for the shop and need to change more. Felista calls to say she has found a marvellous place in Waithake Shopping Centre. She knows what is needed and I say I will come along and see it tomorrow. Felista is a good judge of where I will be safeish. We have a lot of discussions about how hapa rangi yako ni mbaya sana – here your colour is very bad – so ramshackle as the shopping centre is, it migt be ok. i try the Karen branch of Forex and it turns out to be tiny but really rather ok in its exchange rates. I finally get to grips with the documents app and start posting diaries. I also get a message from Souad in the Emporium to say we need more of Mwangi’s fabulous beaded collars as she has had a bit of a bumper sale. Please do pop in and buy … Souad, Letitia, Amanda (hopefully her absolutely disgusting cold has cleared up otherwise give her a wide berth) Veronique and Sara will give you a warm welcome and Sonja will fix you with her beady stare. She is a poppet once she is sure you are not shoplifting or timewasting.
I also get a huge vat of shampoo and conditioner to take to Awendo on Friday. The salon there needs supplies.
Doris arrives at one and we do some financial calculations. She is nervous about driving far but gamely sets off with me murmering about keeping in the inside lane. Interestinly, while the windows in David’s car are stuck open, the window in my door is jammed closed. But I open the rear window and lean back to get some breeze. We head for Ongata Rongai a big town in the heartland of the area where Moi’s landgrabbing habit reached its apotheosis. There is enough bad blood berween the Kikkuyu and the Maasai to transfuse the cast of Twighlight. The women we are going to fund are the pariah’s of the area – mixed tribe. The sons and daughters of a maasai/kikkuyu union. Think Catholic and Protestant marriage in Northern Ireland and you are close. Our women (and men) are working in a stone quarry for a tiny pittence, if they get paid at all. And I am talking about a quid a day . For breaking stones. When troubles erupt – and they are now – these people are the targets’ targets. We have half a dozen groups and we are meeting at the home of another of Doris’ friends from her old life. THis lady – Njeri – married one of her customers from Florida, the big club which is to the sex what Mipcom is to TV. She has a fab house and a huge business in electronics which her husband set up. And when Doris contacted her she has stepped up not just to the plate but to the whole dinner service. She will be overseeing and mentoring the groups we fund today. The business plans are pretty good. Resources a being pooled so, for example, the boiled maize and the boiled arrowroot will share half an oildrum for a cooker as will the smokies and the boiled eggs. Then there are shelled peas and carrots (the swahili for which is, I discover, carroti) and green peppers. All will be sold along the interminable jam which snakes from Rongai for miles and miles along the road to Nairobi every morning and every evening. People sit in it for hours. So our business people have a captive market. By the time we are done and eating a delicious goat stew and cabbage made by our hostess we have 120 new business people. And the grants average out at £5 each. I am extremely happy. As, indeed, are they. Doris and I head back home and stop at The Hub so that I can show her this extraordinary temple to money. We drink a cocktail on the inner square. And gape. I look the place up. 4 billion Kenya shillings. ‘Local investors’. Hmmmmm. 30,000 square feet of retail space. And the boating lake. This has to be dirty money. All money this big is dirty here.
Interestingly, when I have a look at the local paper the headline tells of 4.2 billion being stolen from the National Youth Service. Money given out to three building companies, one of which was not even registered and two which were registered as business names only.
Sometimes I wonder what the actual fuck I am doing here …
I am meeting Felista who says she has found a place for me to stay that is more convenient. With high hopes I meet her at Waithake Centre. We look at three places. One in the central bit and two down the road and up a track. They were a bit like old Gorbals tenements. Ot something from Little Dorritt. Which was not dreadful but they were no nearer to town than I am now and the fact that by the time we got in the car to go back we had already attracted a couple of groups of men with the look of vampires in a convent made me think that perhaps I am safer where I am. I am supposed to be going to Awendo tomorrow and so am podcasting with the Increasingly Prestigious John Fleming at 11. I am knackered for some reason and spend most of the time complaining about one thing or another. Apologies to anyone who listens for my bitter and downbeat ramblings. At the market I am as usual, hounded around the place by people claiming that I promised to buy from them. I am so worried about money. It is just not coming in fast enough for the amount of work we are doing. And so every day I have David and the car is stressful because it is another 25 quid down the drain. I pop online and get an email from the West 12 Centre manager complaining about a hand written early closing notice in the window. He hates handwritten notices. And the centre is undergoing a cull of charity emporiums. I WhatsApp frantically and let Souad and Letitia know they must go and crawl apologetically. I go and get 120 litres worth of soap chemicals with David and ask him to drop them of at Kibera Chief’s office for Joanne’s new 20 strong soap selling group. back once more at Junction, I buy ten litres of white vinegar and some birdseye chillies and do some diary writing. For whatever good that does. Doris is in town searching for the little spritzing bottles we need to take to Samburu and arm the local women against sexual attack – hence the chilli vinegar. This simple but effective deterrent worked wonders during a spree of gang rape in Nairobi. An eyeful of chilli vinegar will soon put paid to ideas of, well, anything really.
I am massively stressed at the thought of the trip to Awendo. I think because I am living in the cell at the back of beyond and everything is taking exponentially longer and the money is running out and I am feeling ridiculously lonely (whine whine whine), the thought of the utter lack of autonomy that there is when I go to Awendo plus the fact that it takes a day to get there and a day to get back and I do not have that time to spare and that I am desperately hanging on in the hope that the editor of festivals magazine will commission something … Anything … That will earn me some dosh but she has not been in touch and I know everything she wants has to be in before the end of June and so I need to be able to get online much more than I can at the mo and certainly much MUCH more than I can in Awendo and on the dodgy bus there and back. I rather lost control of that sentence. For which I apologise but that was how I was feeling. The whole bloody thing is starting to feel like self harming.
Joanne calls to say she is not at Kibera and can David take the soap chemicals to Corner. They will meet me at the Mali Cafe. The words ‘ for a free meal’ hang on the line. my reply is not remotely construable as positive. By the time I get in the car with David I am just about crying. Which is pathetic. And I am not even able to blame hormones or steroids or anything. We go to the pharmacy and lovely Ruth greets me with a lament of disappointment that I have not brought Daddy Copstick and Joff. The volcano of despair that is bubbling inside is fed by this further indication that nothing i ever do will be enough and I will always be disappointing someone. I have to step outside. Added to which my brother’s biggest fan has no anti malarials, very few dewormers and no ibuprofen. My phone ( which now boasts a battery life of 5 minutes as long as you keep shaking it) tells me that festivals mag has actually got in touch about a piece. I run round to Shalom and order a tea so I can use the wifi. And then cancel it immediately as the wifi ‘has a problem’. We go back to Junction where the askari now know the contents of my bags and pockets by heart. I get online. I get the email. I also crack and try to book an earlier flight home. i could almost hear the British Airways website shriek with laughter at the thought that my super cheap flight might be changeable without, basically, buying another one. And I crack a little further and text Jayne in Awendo and tell her I am not coming. That I just cannot face it. I do consider faking an illness or debilitating accident but frankly, by this time, I cannot be arsed.
And then I am reminded by Doris that we are meeting Kibe for pork and beer. As it would be bad to disappoint yet more people today I go along. And it is actually lovely. Lovely until one in the morning dancing lovely. We finish at Fine Breeze drinking soup.
Mired in an unhealthy mix of gloom, guilt, frustration and anger.
But I do get news from the magazine woman. And I am interviewing Omid Djalili . Plus sundry other comics. I contact PR people, send of rafts of witty, engaging questions and meet Doris for some planning and fish from a roadside lady with a vat of chocolate coloured oil and piles of fried fish.
As we wobble on top of lumps of wood on top of the mounds of soil beside the massive roadworks eating fish and drinking tea she tells me that our visit to the quarry where the women were breaking stones is off. For a good reason. Apparently the morning after Mama Biashara funded the 120 women in Rongai, all hell broke loose in the quarry when suddenly most of the workforce was missing. The foremen went ballistic. This makes me very happy and Doris is ecstatic. She explains that in order to work for a back breaking day in the stone quarry and earn about a pound, the women have to offer sex to the foremen at night to secure their employment for the next day. And these men have their ‘favourites’ who will be excused stone breaking for the occasional quickie for one of the foremen or his friend. It was these ‘favourites’ who helped mastermind the whole thing – the meetings, the budgeting and mainly, allowing the six women who came to the meeting with me to get away without being noticed. They left at three in the morning to come to the meeting. And Njeri – Doris’s friend from her previous life – collected them, fed them, clothed them and let them sleep in her house till I came. “they will never never have to go back to that quarry” says Doris. But the area is hot with angry quarry owners and foremen and utterly unsafe. So we will move on to the next quarry and liberate as many women as we can. The thought of this makes me more cheerful than I have been for a few days.
Doris and I are going into the bowels (almost literally, considering the drainage system) of Kibera. I have always avoided Kibera because there are so very many NGOs based there and all the biggies poke around. Even Comic Relief. But none of them does much, apparently. And the people in the interior are in a desperate state. I pack the head shaver, some tea tree oil, a load of cod liver oil, some kids multivitamins and head off. We are attempting deworming, headshaving and ringworm and other crustiness treatment.
I have ordered a load of dewormers from lovely Ruth at the Pharmacy and get a matatu to Karen and change to go to Dagoretti Corner. The matatus are not on a schedule. And they go when they are full, so I sit for half an hour reading the papers which are full of criminal MPs and crooked government schemes. At Corner I collect the dewormers, some anti fungal and antiseptic ointments ( there are always ghastly sores and growths and gunkiness) and go to Junction to get latex gloves and other bits and bobs.
Doris collects me and we park up at a petrol station where they will look after the car and set off into the brown mess that is Kibera.
The houses generally are so close together that two people cannot pass between them. But Doris has found a clearing and borrowed two stools. This is not the area we were supposed to be in but as she was passing through Doris was stopped by a couple of mothers who begged her to bring the deworming here. Their children have never been dewormed. The women are running their homes on about forty pence a day. Which even here is a tiny amount. And barely enough to cover food. So we set up here beside the pile of rubbish. Such is the level of intertribal problem here that even these tiny kids want to ascertain what community we are from and which tribe we have come for.
All in all we deworm about 200 children. Of all tribes. There is electricity in some of the houses here, but none of them has an actual socket. Power is used mainly by dangling things on live wires till they light up or make the desired noise. We pack up and find a shop further down the place that has a socket. I hopefully plug in my Wahl 100. I push the plug in as far as it will go but succeed only in feeling the occasional throb as something connects. We have tea tree oil which I mix with water and we look for the worst cases with the shortest hair and skoosh away enthusiastically. Some of them have hair that is just too long to make getting at the scabby bits doable. One little girl with her hair in cornrows is presented to me. Her head is covered in pustules. Not ringworm I tell mum. But the hair will have to be cut to treat the pus filled plooks. Over this mum’s dead body, apparently. The hair is ‘her beauty’. A headful of pus is no one’s beauty I say. It is infection. The woman laughs gaily and wanders off with plook head girl crying in her arms. There are a couple of other horror stories but without shaving we can’t get near the gloop and the scabs and the scaly bits. We agree with the mothers that we will come back. We also promise to come back after 6pm and do a deworming for the moslem kids after the Ramadan curfew.
To Jowac where the eternal rhumba music is wonderful. Sadly they keep turning it down to show burning busses and rioting in Kisumu, rioting in Kibera and arguing politicians. And then football. We head off up the long road to St Hannah’s – I live opposite.
We have a beer and a nice chat with what seems to be the local miraa wholesaling community. Thence to bed.
Editor of Festivals Mag has been in touch and the scent of earnings is in my nostrils. She sends a list of comedy Q&As that she wants with a copy deadline of two weeks ago. I deperately try to think of witty questions to ask comedians, toss off ten of them (lists of questions, not comedians) and feel obliged to leave the cafe at least for a bit as my 1.50 coffee is long long finished and I don’t feel moved to lash out on another.
Julius calls, keen for a meet and I get a matatu down to Dagoretti Corner to meet him and pop in to order another mountain of dewormers. He is not bad. Our old ladies are doing fine with brickmaking, chicken selling, rice and cooking oil businesses and seasonal avocado wholesaling. The challenges are, Julius says 1. the rain. Which can destroy a pile of mud bricks in ten minutes. Mama B did build a cover but it too was destroyed by the rain. So not they want to build a mabati house for the bricks. I hum and haw. Challenge 2 is jiggers. Foul little pinpoint sized pests that live in the soil, burrow into soft skin (between the toes or under toenails is their fave spot), scoop out a little nest in your flesh, lay their eggs and when the eggs hatch the skin sort of erupts open leaving a nasty open wound. People are, at best, in terrible pain while the egg laying is going on and at worst, lose a limb to gangrene. I discover the silver bullet is a pesticide called Permethrin which is not horrifically toxic but does kill these little bastards (they don’t do anything good, btw, so the planet doesn’t suffer) and I promise to get some. For the already jigger ridden you have to soak the feet in something like an iodine solution for ten minutes, then get something sharp (at our last de-jiggering we used bent safety pins) and scoop the gloop out of the flesh … White gloopy eggs and a small black dot which is mummy jigger) then clean with more iodine and seal with vaseline. And then – but here is the rub – wear shoes. I tell Julius I will get everything to rid them of jiggers. And calcium and diclofenac gel for the old ladies. And HTC magic cod liver oil for everyone. And malaria meds. But mainly shoes.
Julius goes home and I get a very pimped out matatu back to Karen.
In the hope that the staff might have changed shifts and there would be no one to recognise me as Chancer with Coffee, I go back to Java.
During my earlier coffee I had put out an appeal for school fees for Ken, the kid we rescued from a meatrack. He had got a scholarship in his second year at school but, with an election next year, everything becomes politicised and his scholarship has not been paid. His brother has contributed as much as he can (we gave him a business when he and Ken came to us) but there is still a chunk to pay. Now I read that the marvellous Tim Coleman is going to pay the balance. This is wonderful. And I head back to my cell (which increasingly looks like a small, untidy warehouse) with a warm glow.
David and I set off on a quest for mitumba (second hand clothes) to send to Awendo and shoes for the jigger-ridden west. Since the earth-movers and diggers of The Government have destroyed the entire market that ran from Kibera to Ngong Road, to make way for another huge roadway, I decide to go to Soco Mchinga (which means Stupid Market – because of the prices) and I buy armloads of tops and skirts that look like they might have buyers in Awendo. Then we go on a shoe hunt. This is much more difficult as the prices are high (maybe £5 for a pair of branded trainers) and I need to buy in bulk. I try sending David in, then humour, then allegations of racism (my ‘the price is to high – is it because I is white?’ approach), and finally heartstring plucking. Sadly most of the sellers are unpluckable. We end up with about twenty pairs and I go off to catch up on my Conversations With Comedians at a wifi cafe. Felista calls and I grab my chance for a talk with her. She is being bought lunch by a friend in a bloody marvellous place in Corner. A massive plate of food: plantain and sweet potato, mokimo and cabbage, carrots and two kinds of beans, vegetable broth and a massive superb chapati all for just under a quid. The man is very nice and we have a heated debate on politics. He is an entymologist, educated at the University of Wales. He wants to talk further but must go and finally I get to the bottom of the Great Accommodation Disaster with Felista.
When I left last time, MArgaret (landlady) asked Felista to come and move my box of stuff. Felista wanted to check what was in it in case it was something i had left by mistake. So she opened it
And revealed a load of condoms in brightly coloured packages
MARGARET : what are these ?
MGT. I have never seen condoms like this. It looks like perfume.
MGT. Why do these condoms look like perfume
FELISTA. They have colour and they have flavour … you know … like mango
MGT. Why do they have colour and flavour ?
FELISTA. They are for the gays
MGT STEPS BACK IN HORROR
FELISTA. Every kind has their own condoms, there are condoms for women and condoms
for men and these are condoms for the gays.
MGT. But why do they need colour and flavour
FELISTA. MIMES BLOWJOB
At this point Margaret, according to Felista, who can hardly speak for giggling, started ‘vomiting so that her tongue nearly fell out of her mouth’. Felista continued, in what she felt was my defence …
FELISTA. Copi loves the gays. That is why when she comes here she loves the cats but
she does not like the small dog. It is a gay dog. It is a dog for the gays.
Margaret’s younger son is what can only be described as a screaming queen and has a tiny yappy handbag dog that goes with him everywhere. It is to this dog that she refers.
Margaret increases her retching to the point that the shosho (Margaret’s mother) asks what is wrong. At this point her other son, fearing that the mention of anything gay under her roof would kill the old lady, tells her that Margaret is being sick because I left the room in such a filthy state.
Felista’s impression of Margaret’s retching is hilarious. To say nothing of enthusiastic. By this time we are both falling about laughing.
It seems having the ‘poison’ of gayness in her own family has been a sensitising factor. As Doris later says “as if you are a property owner whose husband runs off with a prostitute and then someone comes to rent your property to run a brothel”.
I have some good news for Felista. Eve Murdock, a neighbour of my father’s has sent over some money which was to be used for Ken’s fees but, as they have been taken care of, she has kindly said the dosh can go to help pay some of the teachers at DEIP. So 120 abandoned and orphaned children can continue their education. Felista is thrilled.
Now I meet Doris, and one of the Head Third Wives from the Zimbabwean community. She was one of the first to come to Mama B to get funding for kitamba making (decorative furniture covers). The business has boomed like a booming thing in boom season. There are hundreds of women in various groups across the county. All now with healthy, well dressed children going to school regularly and sitting and passing exams. With nice houses and full tummies. Now we have a new group of Third and Fourth Wives in a different area who want to start up. They will be trained by women from the existing groups and it takes about 180 quid to start up a group of 40. Having conquered the Sudanese markets, the women are now, says Head Third Wife, targetting Tanzania.
Doris goes off, wanting an early night, and I track down David who, it transpires, has given Felista a lift to her next meeting which is with some yoga people. She gets her kids to do yoga and helps spread the message of saving the world one excruciating position at a time and they provide 50,000 shillings (about 350 quid) worth of food each month for the children’s home.
I collect more meds from the pharmacy but still cannot find potassium permanganate crystals which are the best thing for pre-dejiggering soaking.
We head back to Cell Block B and have a great chat and a beer with the owner of the knocking shop. Turns out the man in the next room with the crying / laughing baby and the Coldplay repertoire is in fact a refugee from Uganda. He was something important in the opposition and had to run for his life and took his kids with him. He does not know where his two wives are, only that they are in hiding, and his older son ran seperately and found him here, having been attacked and tortured at university. So I am more understanding as the baby noises continue long into the night
There are a couple of things I have forgotton to mention and one new horror to regale you with. It turns out that Joan’s account of there being no more free ARVs for HIV+ people in Kenya is true. MSF is withdrawing from most places – Homa Bay has gone and Kibera is on the way out. Their clinics are being taken over by the Kenyan Health Authorities which means paying for everything. And being treated by doctors who are – in general – doctors in name only. Felista was also called to a meeting by the NACC (NAtional AIDS Control Council) along with all concerned parties in the Dagoretti area to be told that the ARVs are almost run out completely and there are no more testing kits. It is one way, I suppose, of keeping your HIV infection stats looking chipper … just don’t test people.
In other news, a news crew (Kenyan) got into a small room in Kenyatta Hospital (biggest in EAstern Africa … beacon of light and hope blah blah blah) where 36 people were crammed in various stages of injury. These are the people who had been injured in an accident and brought to Kenyatta Emergency Department. When it transpired after a couple of days that they could not pay their bill, they are dumped off the ward into this small room. Just a room … absolutely nothing that could be construed as an amenity and relatives have to bring them food and clothing. No beds just the stone floor. Some still bandaged up. A couple still bloodied. One bloke has been there for a year.
And now the piece of resistance. A tiny piece of coverage in The Standard. One column. Page three. No big headline. A judge at the High Court in Mombasa has ruled that it is no breach of anyone’s human or other rights to be given an HIV test against their will, to be given a Hepatitis test against their will and to have something described by the good judge as ‘an anal probe’ inserted in their ass to check whether they had had anal sex. The judge went on to say that the mouth and the anus are NOT sexual parts of the body and if SCIENCE proves them to be so then this will have to be considered legally as NEW INFORMATION in interpreting law. Until then anyone accused of anal or oral sex can be taken to a police cell and ‘probes’ inserted to gather evidence of sexual activity. By the police. I don’t have the paper with me but I will stick a verbatim account on FB.
I am considering getting a protest together outside the Kenyan High Commission in London. But meanwhile, kids, if you are feeling sexually adventurous in ANY way, do not go near Kenya.
Friday continues badly. I get a huge box of stuff off to Jayne in Awendo and a big bag of shoes and meds to Julius. ANd then we go to Kefagare. Loyal readers of the Diaries will remember we did a big medical there and then did a food run. It is a slum built partly on top of a sewer. The poverty is abject. It is the worst place I have been, I think.
Doris has set up a deworming and ringworm moment for us. We have been told to arrive at 3.30 and the women will have the kids there to be treated. We have even got a local barber who will help with the head shaving.
And so we start.
A young man in a white hat pops up to ask what we are doing. Dawa ya mashillingi na minyoo we say cheerily. He says we must stop until we are fully checked out. I tell him we will stop when the chilren are well. He goes. And returns accompanied by a large fat man with a shiny face. A man who looks like he eats meat every night. He wants to know what corporation we are from. Where our office is. He starts droning on patronisingly about procedures. I give him a full frontal volley about ‘procedures’ organised by big fat men for their own profit are what is killing Kenya’s children.He laughs. He wants to see what we are giving the children. We show him the dewormers. He seems disappointed that they are kosher. What about the injections he says. No injections we say. But the procedures … I tell him I know what the ‘procedures’ are and that I am not giving anyone kitu kidogo. Now we have a gathering of old men who are frowning at us. The women are desperate to get the kids treated. They tell the ‘Village Elders’ that we have been before … we brought medicine, we brought food. The old men want us to come and grovel. And pay. And treat only the people they say. The big shiny face man is particularly irritating. Perhaps we can just leave the dawa with the Elders, he suggests. I laugh in his face. I am white, I say, not stupid. It all becomes quite unpleasant. Not frightening. Just unpleasant. We have SUCH a verbal set to. I put all the remaining dewormers into a bag. The children are crowding round and the mothers are crying. “I have the dawa” I say (in Swahili) “but this man says no.”. He is, I am informed by one mother, the Pastor. I round on him in triumph (shortlived) “Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not for of such is the Kingdon of Heaven” I bellow into his shiny irritating face. “Where does it say anything about procedures?”. He laughs again. It seems to be his default reaction. One of the Elders now wants cough medicine for what is, to be fair, a right old rattler of a cough. But I have not gone through procedures !! Apparently that is OK when he wants it. These people have absolutely no legal standing. But we go. And a couple of hundred little kids are still scabby with ringworm and pregnant with parasites. I am so angry. As is Doris. As is David.
Doris eats some pork at Uthiru and David and I go down to meet Felista at Corner. Doris is going to arrange a deworming for the remaining Kefagare kids but we will do it at the Kangeme Chief’s office. We know him and he is pretty OK.
This is the HUGE problem here – and doubtless across Africa – the people who really need the help are hidden behind a barrier of people who are making power and money and god knows what else out of being self-appointed gatekeepers. Just for once I wished I had a great big 4×4 and a shiny badge.
I am still angry with the world, despite the fact that I won a Tusker Tshirt last night when medicinal beer was taken to try to calm my frazzled angry bits.
Doris is off to the Chief at Kangeme to see if there is anything we can do about ‘The Elders’, given they have no legal status. I have a bit more writing to do. Having this on my plate – grateful as I am for the work (and I AM) – has cost me a fortune in coffees in posh cafes. The ipad is a lovely thing, and I am extremely grateful to Daddy Copstick for having gifted it to me. But it assumes many things. Even my clapped out old netbook allows for the fact that you might go SOMEWHERE with no wifi, or have to use a little camera instead of a large metal plank to take photos and maybe a tiny slot for a memory card for transfer of data from – heaven forfend – out side AppleWorld – might be helpful. And chasing David O’Doherty for his scintillating thoughts on my witty and provocative questions is costing a LOT of latte.
Anyway, I do my stuff online and leave with David for DECIP. I am taking some of our Mama B RingwormAway spray and a headshaver to Felista. And there is a new girl she wants me to see. Also the dormitory floors are oozing water. And the gate is falling apart.
The new girl – Shiko – was rescued from her Uncle. Sent to live with him after her parents died she was beaten and locked in a back room. She is mentally impaired but because of the appalling traumas she has been through – including being trapped in that locked room when fire broke out and being very very badly burned – it is impossible to tell how badly. Her scars are horrible and she has almost lost a hand. She exhibits quite a lot of obsessive behaviour – as a lot of the badly abused kids at Felistas do when they arrive – and eats paper. But she responds to stroking and when we put some music on she dances with me. Muthoni, who came to Felista utterly broken after ten years sexual abuse at the hands of her uncle (from the age of five and before you ask, no the uncle has not been imprisoned, he said that because he ‘married’ her when she was thirteen (and had already been abusing her for eight years) it was all ok. And the police agreed.) is now a bouncing, healthy happy teenager. She is very cuddly – sort of like a large seven year old – but sees men without screaming and, recently, has told Felista she wants a husband. So there is great hope for Shiko here at DECIP. And Muthoni is looking after her.
We leave Decip having handed out vitamins, Cod Liver Oil (thank you HTC, this is genuinely a tiny miracle in every capsule here) and the rest, promise to look for a hairdryer that will not explode, check out the subterranean ocean that is infiltrating the girls’ dorm and go to Corner. I meet Doris who has had a frustrating day. The matatu that was bringing a letter from Ken to Mr Timothy thanking him for school fees crashed but not before Doris had waited two hours at the stage to collect the letter and her meeting with the CHief’s office at Kangeme just revealed yet another layer of fat greedy, grasping amoral Kenyan little-officialdom keen to get their piggy little snouts (with apologies to pigs who are waaaaay nicer than these people) into anything I might be bringing lest it get to somewhere it might actually be needed. So the sick, uber-needy children of Kefagare will remain sick and needy.
I have researched and written a document which we will translate into as many tribal languages as we can for handing out to parents in slums everywhere.
The government stated in the new Constitution and the BAsic Education Law of 2013 that primary school education should be free. But the public schools are, generally, a total disaster area, 200 to a class, frequently no teachers, and run by that same layer of Kenyan turpitude that just wants to make money out of the most needy, various things happen. The headmasters charge what they call ‘admission fees’, they charge for desks, for ‘security’, for ‘tuition’ and individual teachers too extort what they can from the most impoverished of parents. Frequently teachers sign in in the morning and then leave to run businesses elsewhere, David once found two teachers, addicted to chang’aa who went to school, demanded money from the pupils in their classes and then left to drink in Waithake at a chang’aa den. Children are sent away from school for non payment of the admission and extra fees. David brought my attention to doing something about this. Heartwarmingly, he told me that being with Mama Biashara ‘I have come to know that I have rights and that I should stand for these rights’ and he has been doing exactly that on behalf of several children he found out and about having been excluded for non payment of admission fees. These extra fees are expressly forbidden by the 2013 act. And so this leaflet will be translated into every language we can and put in bars and kiosks, homes and meeting places.
Please read and understand this.
Your child cannot EVER be sent home from a public school
for non-payment of any additional fees or charges
THAT IS AGAINST THE LAW
Under the Constitution of Kenya, and the Basic Education Act of 2013
your child has the right to free basic education.
Admission Fees and Charges (such as for desks, administration etc) are
EXPRESSLY FORBIDDEN BY LAW
Under Section 32 of the Basic Education Act 2013
the collection of ANY admission fees or suchlike is forbidden
Extra Fees and charges
Under Section 29 of the Basic Education Act 2013
“NO CHILD SHALL BE REFUSED TO ATTEND SCHOOL
BECAUSE OF FAILURE TO PAY SUCH CHARGES”.
This law applies even if the extra charges have been approved
by the Ministry of Education
Where the extra charges HAVE been approved
by the Ministry of Education
the parents MUST be given a formal Ministry of Education receipt
upon payment. This is the law
NO PUBLIC SCHOOL CAN TURN YOUR CHILD AWAY BECAUSE OF PESA
Cool, huh ? WE go back to Cell Block C and – joy of joys – my landlady has lit a fire in the big empty hall at the back. It is a lovely end to the day. But I am still angry …
I have a long lie and listen to the sounds of the party being set up in the big room where we sat last night. I go to Java (SURELY I must be due shares by now) and do some diarising. I also record a poem by the legendary Scots poet Ebeneezer Macilwham for my Uncle Bob who is in hospital recovering from a stroke and send the recording off. We were planning a wee show about the man – it was Uncle Bob who introduced me to his work – but that might have to be put on hold. Julius is on his way as I cannot be arsed to go down to Corner to meet him. Of course when a Kenyan says “I am on the way coming” the immediate thought is yes, but so is Christmas. It was not quite that long. I explain to him the de-jiggering process, about the small bottles of chemicals that make 40 litres, the skooshing of the houses and bedclothes, the soaking of the feet, the scooping of the gunk and the spreading of the vaseline. He asks if he can have gumboots because when he is in the field the jiggers jump. The sight of Julius doing an impression of a jumping jigger brightens my morning considerably. He also mentions that, as well as juggers, the homes in Western are troubled with bed bugs in the beds, cockroaches in the walls and several species of tick and bitey thing (more impressions here but it was like a very bad episode of Give Us A Clue and I didn’t get any of them. I say the jigger spray will also kill many of them and that the bleach tablets I have are a superb cockroach deterrent (so I have been told). We discuss the Western projects, which are doing much better than Julius had previously led me to believe. Although not expanding in the manner of an urban business, the old ladies are branching out and adding women to the groups bit by bit. The process is hindered regularly by traditions such as when a women is widowed – as three of our ladies have been – they are not allowed to go outside for anything up to three months. Not great for business.
I ask Julius about schools up in Western. There they don’t demand money so much as food. Even in the times of drought each child is (illegally and in contravention of the 2013 law) required to bring food to the school. I make a mental note to tweak the leaflet.
We pop across to the supermarket and I get Julius some basins (which I had forgotten) rubber gloves and a set of tweezers. He also wants toenail clippers. His impression of a jigger ridden toe with long uncut nail is not nearly as endearing as his jumping jigger. We go back to Cell Block C and he gets as many bleach tablets as I can spare. And I set to packing everything for taking to the airport tomorrow. I HATE this with a vengeance. It always ends with me panicking about not being able to pay the cargo costs.
By the time I go to bed the party in the big room in full swing. They know how to party. It started at lunchtime! Sadly the refugee baby is not appreciating their fun and starts screaming. Bloody hell the power to weight ratio of that tiny Ugandan is impressive.
I console myself with Solitaire. And a lovely text from Sister Amandy.
This is the day I hate. Even though my father says hate corrodes the soul. I hate this day. The day of taking everything to the cargo centre. I have packed. And tried to make everything as small and as light as possible. David is bang on time and we load up the car with the first lot of sacks. He leaves and I get a matatu to Karen where I buy more rope and tape and try to round up the last of my interviewees online. David picks me up on his way from the cargo place and, oddly, considering I have not eaten since Saturday, I start retching violently. And continue so to do with short breaks to mumble packing instructions for the two lovely Turkana laundry baskets (they have to be covered or they will be filthy) until we feel it is safe to leave for cargo trip number two. I fall asleep in the car. We have 220kg of cargo. But 229 cubic space. So the bill comes to around £830. This time we go Air France. So at least I have another place to go begging for assistance. I shall bombard their London office with persuasive emails when I get back.
David says I should eat something and is prepared for appalling consequences. We go to a brilliant place in a sort of hanger where the airport staff eat. It operates 24 hours. I have some of the broth from the meat and a chapati. And actually feel a bit perkier. I am supposed to be meeting with the bloke who is ‘under school registration’ and who is offering to help Jayne in Awendo with her school registration so she can avoid the criminal bastards who run her County Education office and who are trying to extort vast amounts of money in order to see the paperwork through. However it is now 4pm and going into town now would mean not getting out again (what with the eternal ‘jam’, until seven or even eight. So I rearrange for tomorrow morning at 10.
Back at Karen Crossroads I tell David to drop me, I will get a matatu. I get back online. David O’Doherty is still playing hard to get. But Ed at The Mag loves Stewart Lee’s interview. And will take more of it. Luckily Mr Lee has a book out – a collection of his newspaper columns – and so we get a bit more from him. Now this might sound fanciful, but out here in the shit and the bastards and the unfairness and the overwhelming sense of being so squashed at the bottom of the pile with so many fat, corrupt bodies, human, corporate and governmental pressing down on you that you will never get out, reading his answers to my questions was like a little massage to my frazzled brain. Intelligent, reasoned, articulate and genuine. Even tho he did call one of my questions ‘reactionary in tone’.
My cell is even more cold and damp. I notice that paint on the door, which had be applied the day before I arrived, has still not dried. THAT is how damp it is.
David is well on time (in answer to your question, Dad, the car is a 1996 Toyota Corolla) and we are only slightly caught in the jam. I text Mr ‘Under Registration’ to let him know we might be a little late. We find the place and I enter the box-like room. He is not yet there. And so I wait. 25 minutes later he arrives, offering the explanation “I just went somewhere”. Precision is a stranger in Kenya.
And then … as a slightly less bloody, or burny Heart of Darkness opens up in front of me … “Oh the horror, the horror” … this man is not at all “under Registration”. No. He is a sort of consultant. A form of life I consider evilly parasitic at best even in the first world. He had ‘offered to assist’ Jayne register her tiny school out in the bush outside Awendo. Pupilled by orphans and housed in mud huts and Jayne’s front room. And the first thing he had ‘advised’ was that she form a company. I try to remain calm. He smirks a lot which doesn’t help. But his smirk slightly fades as I quote the Basic Education Act of 2013 and the further statutory instruments on schooling in the informal sector. I ask about the COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY company he wants to set up (for a fee) and who will be doing the quarterly accounts (him, for 400 quid a quarter which Jayne does not see in a year) and what exactly the point of the company is. He is the worst kind of parasite. The smiley one. Who persuades you that it will be helpful to have a bloodsucking leech on your jugular. I leave. He is still smirking. Not sure why, I have been non shouty, and non sweary, but not exactly pleasant.
I leap into the car, spraying mud as I do, and get David to go to the nearest Java for wifi. Just after I order the cheapest coffee we discover that ‘there is a problem of wifi’ I get my coffee to go. I call JAyne and try to explain. But say I will email. She is shocked to discover he is nothing to do with ‘registration’. “He is a broker”, I tell her, referencing a form of life despised even by Kenyans.
I go to Kijabe Street market, now a large pool of mud with rafts of plastic sheeting floating on it bearing the craftspeople and their goods. I collect what I have ordered and then have a brainwave. Zangi runs a group which takes boys from the street, gets them clean and fit and teaches them wire and brasswork and helps them sell their jewellery. Abraham makes great earrings and lives in Huruma – a bit of a hellhole. I learned from the Kefagare incident that, in these places, much as I would like to, I cannot work through the women. I have to, at least, pay lipservice to the men (and not in an icky way!). So both Zangi (in MAthare) and Abraham (in Huruma) are setting up days for deworming and deringworming. They will provide security and will deal with the male ‘community leaders’. They understand that I will pay no one anything. But I am happy for anyone who wants to to come and assure themselves that the medicine we are giving out is kosher. Believe it or not there are people who come around, charge, and give out shit … there was even one case of a man giving children injections of coca cola and saying it was vitamin shots.
We are all three very happy with our arrangement.
Now I go to Junction for wifi and send a massive document to Jayne.
Just as the end of my stay is in sight, I notice as I pass Forex that the pound has bounced back.
Now Joan and Dan (of disabled and albino group) call. They are at Corner. Again the words ‘for a free meal’ hang in the air. But I have not seen them for a couple of weeks and Joan has been in hospital so I walk up to Corner. I am supposed to be meeting Felista there anyway.
Joan is positive. And has been complaining about being unwell since her ARVs were changed. Her doctor has basically told her to suck it up, drink more water and get on with it. She is, of course, soon to have no free ARVs at all, along with the rest of Kenya. Most government hospitals charge 5000 Kenya shillings (about £38) for a month of ARVs. There are a very few places where you can get them for 1000 but those hospitals have long ago closed their doors to new patients. They have also stopped free testing for HIV. If you want you or your child to be tested then you have to find somewhere you can buy a testing kit. Costing about a month’s wages for most people.
Joan left Mbagathe Hospital the previous day, having been there for a few days sleeping three to a bed with her fellow patients. Oh yes. Three. To. A. Bed. And you have to take everything with you when you go to the toilet at the end of the block or it will not be there when you get back. Joan lost her food, a couple of containers, a thermos and two cups. Because the people who have been discharged and have not paid their bills are forced to live rough in the hospital grounds. They forage for whatever they can get wherever they can …
Anyway, even a cursory look online and riffle through my drugs book shows that the one main pill she is on should never be taken with the other two. She is also losing her sight. I pay for a test for CMV in the hope it will be negative but …
I also get an update on the case of the raped and impregnated by teacher 12 year old disabled girl
we are helping to support. The teacher in question has been up and about threatening and offering to bribe the girl’s family to drop the case.
We arrange a deworming and deringworming clinic for the disabled group at Kibera and then Felista arrives. And shortly later we learn that KLM security are at DECIP. KLM are still supporting DECIP with clothes and shoes and toys (“dorries” says Felista “what good are dorries ? Are dorries food ?”). When they were collecting the bags of clothes and blankets, it seems that a handbag containing a small blanket and a wooden carving of a cat has got mixed up with Felista’s stuff. The mix up was the fault of a KLM employee. Felista looked through the bags. The blue handbag was nowhere. But it belonged to a white American and now KLM. Security is at DECIP to search. We leap aboard the Davidmobile and set off for DECIP. Amazingly the back road past Lenana SLum is now fully streetlit. Fab.
At Decip one small man, one enormous man and a boy are hovering. The enormous man is ‘security’. They go through all the bags. And Felista’s bedroom, and the store and the office and the bedroom shared by two of the girls who helped collect the bags of stuff. The look round the whole place. The security man is so overwhelmed that he says he will come back in the week with his wife to bring food and meet the children properly. The men are still getting hysterical texts about the blue bag and the blanket and the carving of the cat as they go.
Felista asks David to let the big car follow us to Dagoretti MArket where there is a petrol station. David says yes but hares off without waiting. “I do not like people knowing where I go” he says grimly “especially at night.”
I am really quite excited. We are going out into Kajiado to visit one of the mines that women work at. I am at Java doing my online thing trying to download a registration form for JAyne in Awendo. I get a text from Benson at the cargo place (with whom I had arranged that the cargo would arrive on Friday morning, clear customs and be picked up by loveable Les in the afternoon and come to the shop. Text reads “cargo left last night, mum”. I stifle a scream, leap up, grab a matatu back to Cell BLock C and send off photos of the WayBill and Invoice and everything else necessary to loveable Les who is on standby for Friday. I join Doris and David and we set off. It is bloody miles. Past Kitengela, past Isinya, everywhere knee deep in mud. We pick up our guide in Isinya and set off into the bush. I feel quite David Attenborough. HAlf the road is like a brown skidpan and the other half just rubble. We alternate fishtailing and bouncing around. It is probably therapeutic. But David would make a GREAT rally driver. The savannah country is all flat and covered in acacia bushes and umbrella acacia trees. For as far as the eye can see. And much further than mine can. Suddenly Doris shrieks. “Twiga !”. And we look, and indeed, snacking on a big tree with its mate, is a giraffe. They must be deaf, poor beasts, because Doris’s shriek would clear all hearing wildlife from the surrounding area. We photograph frantically. Interestingly the Kenyans are as excited as I am. If not more. We bobble and slide on. And suddenly, out of nowhere there are hills everywhere. Like gigantic molehills. Or the bings you used to see when the mines were working in Scotland. And we are here. This is open cast gypsum mining country.
We get out and approach the first mine. Everything is deathly quiet. And then we see why. The quarry has been completely flooded by the rains. It is beautiful. Serene and lovely and surrounded by its own hills. We climb one of the bings and look around. It is quite surreal. Giant cones of soil poking up across the otherwise flat and scrubby landscape marking other quarries. As we make to leave and plough (at points, literally) on David discovers, on the side of one of the bings, a little cluster of cannibis plants. Little babies. I pick a leaf and sniff. Crikey, sweet stuff. We leave them there growing, but I can see our guide making a mental note to come back in a couple of months. The next mine is active. And huge. And like the set of Star Wars. Here the ground and the bings are white and piles of gypsum rock are everywhere. The owner is very happy to chat about the work the women do. ALthough there is no work going on today. He, of course, wants ‘kitu kidogo’ as we leave. I suggest, with a girlish giggle, that he is much much wealthier than I. We leave. A little further on there is more shrieking when we see a big herd of zebra
About another hour’s drive into the bush the road we are on runs out. But the bings are just visible on the horizon and David thinks he can see a lorry. So we set off on foot.
We walk for bloody miles. At one point David thinks he sees something brown and furry behind a bush.
I don’t. So we plough on.
Around lakified ex quarries, over hills and across streams. And we find the working quarry. Fragrant with the scent of ganja and singing with the sound of pick on stone. The young men seem really quite friendly. They let us talk to the women. I even take some photos. The women crowd round wanting to know if they can come and work for me. But it is late and the huge lorry comes splashing through the mud to scoop the workers up and take them back to the road
To Be Contined