Wednesday 7th November
Well smack my bottom and send me to the naughty step but I owe BA a huge apology. But Willie has triumphed over Dick in the air. Check in lovely, no one even blinked at my stupidly overweight bags and no one sniggered at my rose printed wellies (better to wear than pack …) Food was absolutely delicious and I got three movies, won £500,000 on Who Wants to Be a Millionnaire, lost a fortune on Blackjack and learned a little basic Mandarin on the lovely little touch-screen hooha they give you. The cabin staff even rounded up all the leftover sachets of baby milk, Pampers and baby food that they had and gave them to me as I left ( spent an hour in the galley doing a Mama B pitch to anyone who would listen).
Some serious haggling got me a taxi for half price and my little slum palace was ready and waiting.
Sorted myself out, set up my in-wardrobe pharmacy and set off for the market to meet with some Mama B suppliers to give them orders. The rain last night was torrential and my rose-trellised willies really come into their own. Thank you Amanda. The shop has been doing really well and Christmas should be a serious money-maker. But as each of our peeps is really a one or two man/woman band, landing them with an order for 30 dresses can induce a) delight and b) a nervous breakdown. So Monica gets a big order for dresses, I arrange to meet Dorcas at her workshop and give her a monstrously huge order for dresses and bags, Tom, Soapstone Auntie and Fatuma Noor all get an order and a downpayment. Banana Fibre Joseph is thrilled with a massive order and invites me to his graduation ceremony on 24th. He is an old bloke, a granddad, but has been studying theology on the side, when he got enough business to afford the fees. I promise to come to the ceremony if he promises not to try to convert me to Christianity. Felista is due at noon and arrives ‘promptly’ at 2.15pm.
After our discussions with Victor the last time, Felista has been beavering away getting costings etc for a small water bottling business, the income from which SHOULD run DECIP (home and school). More of this anon.
Doris arrives and we catch up on the businesses that Mama B set up the last time. There is good news and bad. Most businesses are doing ok and some are doing absolutely brilliantly. The men (the ex cons and the sex workers) are doing particularly well. The goat boys now have a small herd ! And there is a sort of Mama Biashara Arcade in Kawangware. Several of our people – entirely off their own bat – have rented a sort of shed and divided it up into an eaterie and drinkerie with each of their businesses offering a different option. It is doing incredibly well. The rent is shared between all the business people and they are doing the place up bit by bit.
In other news: the first workshop I did with Doris was in an outlying area where we financed 32 women. Their businesses were generally doing very well. Again, some were doing amazingly well. However, we are nearing election time. Which means unrest. The women we financed were Kikkuyu women. Their landlord (even slums have landlords) is a Luo. Last election time there was a great deal of violence directed at Kikkuyu. And so no Luo wants Kikkuyus on his land come the election – just in case. So this landlord served eviction notices on the entire community. The men in the community cut up a bit rough. And so, one night, the landlord came with a bulldozer and flattened the entire area. Houses, possessions, businesses … all flattened in one night. Some places were even set on fire if the tenants clung on. So now our 32 are homeless and possessionless as well as businessless.
The same thing has happened to the groups of women we funded outside Narok in the rural Rift Valley. Because this community was mixed – some Maasai, some Kikkuyu and some mixed blood – they have been evicted and the Kikkuyu and the mixed bloods (sounds like Harry Potter) sent off to different areas. These woman are regrouping, but the groups have been split up according to tribe now and so it is all change.
These are the kind of business challenges that we just cannot even imagine. Here, there is always some sort of new challenge that we cannot even imagine. And the only place to learn is down here at grass roots level.
Tomorrow I will go and meet with the women from the first workshop and next week we will go to the Maasai/Kikkuyu group.
In other good news, the bloke with the pus-filled lungs and the infected piles responded to the medication I gave him and is now healthy and gainfully employed in Westlands, the women with high blood pressure have responded incredibly well to high strength garlic supplements, there are little businesses all over Kawangware, the Limuru group are blooming, the mira boys are expanding at a rate of knots and all in all, we have won more than we lost.
Doris and I head to meet Kibe and have a welcoming drink. Sadly we are trapped in the pub by a massive thunderstorm. Outside very quickly becomes flooded. So we drink and talk and wait for the water to go down. This is a four beer thunderstorm.
Thank goodness for my wellies !! The little workshop with the Dispossessed is in a small settlement now situated in a swamp. I generally think when the liquid one is wading through has a bluey green tinge and a iridescent shimmer … with bits bobbing around … it is best to have impermeable footwear.
The women are huddled around. They basically own what they are standing up in. We fund group businesses this time – for security – charcoal, chickens, lessos – all businesses that had been prospering (especially the chicken ladies) before the Night of the Bulldozer. Now we start again.
The other thing I notice here is that almost all the women are HIV+ and several of them are looking after orphans as well as their own children. The family is strong here. Grandparents and Aunties look after a woman’s children when she dies. It is an impressive thing to do considering no one exactly has extra anything to share.
There is also a group of eight rent boys who have a terrific business plan for a small butchery business. They buy from the local abbatoir and sell fresh meat to small businesses as well as cooking and selling the rest themselves. They get about £150 to start the entire business including a month’s rent on the small place they have found near the terminus (great for selling food). They have worked out their profit and have plans for eventual expansion. Lovely guys. And a good group dynamic.
Doris and I head to corner where we wolf down chapatti and cabbage and potatoes and drink milky coffee.
I have one email to send when I get back. And it is tricky.
A businessman called Neil is due to be coming out next week with the marvellous Zetta to do some funding. This was the deal. Pay your own fare and accommodation and bring a wedge so that we can do a workshop and you can have the whole Mama B experience.
He set up a donation page thingy to get sponsorship for a bike ride he is doing. How marvellous, I thought. How naive I am. Turns out that now he wants the 800 or so quid he has raised to pay his fare and accommodation.
I wrote as diplomatically as I could. This flies in the face of all Mama B stands for. NOTHING is deducted from donations. NOTHING. I cannot take him to a workshop when I know 100% of the money he has raised has been spent on him. Ho hum. More on this story later …
Still raining. El Nino apparently. The rains have been so long that one of our groups of maize sellers has had to split up and turn to various individual businesses. Maize gets VERY expensive when it rains. Luckily they had made enough to do that. So a couple are around Nairobi selling hot coffee and we are meeting with them next week.
Doris has gone off to Limuru where there is a problem with a childminder mistreating kids. She says I don’t need to go as she knows I don’t like kids
She calls me from LImuru and explains that they had to batter down the door of the woman’s house at 11am and found eight children whimpering, famished and covered in their own poo and pee. The mothers of the kids are what might be termed chang’aa whores – ie they will have sex with a guy for booze. A little like our time honoured tradition of crack whores. But cheaper . And more prone to death, blindness and insanity (yer basic side effects of chang’aa, a brew that makes poteen look like a banana smoothie). The women leave their kids with the ‘childminder’ while they go out at night and do what they do. Sadly, the childminder simply dosed them with adult strength Piriton and left them while SHE went out overnight to do what she did. According to Doris the police were great. “They beat the women till they sobered up and then locked them in the cells”.
We are probably going to Limuru tomorrow with some food and meds for the kids. But ;onger term there is very little we can think of to do for a baby with a monster for a mother. I could probably get you a good deal if any of you guys felt like adopting ??? A couple of bottles of rubbing alcohol should seal the deal …
In the afternoon we head back to the settlement outside Kawangware. The group we are working with today come from just outside Nairobi but the matatus are erratic because of the rains and so the group is coming to me. Luxury !! They are all commercial sex workers – male and female. It is lovely to see some of the guys openly holding hands and proudly saying that they have a boyfriend when I do my basic interview. Not that they can do it outside, but this is a start.
Yet again, the guys really have their business plans nailed. Mama BIashara starts another mira business (we call it khat here) so I will never be short of a leafy, chewable pick-me-up in Nairobi. They are buying it direct from the farms, and the profit margin is huge. Talking of huge, one of the women’s groups comes in headed by a woman who makes Doris look emaciated. Each of her thighs was the size of a well-nourished four year old. “Unataka fanya biashara gani ?” I enquire of them (what kind of business do you want to do?) They want to sell cake. And it looks like they have an expert heading the group. But cake is great business here ! You buy a slab for 120/- from the bakery (wholesale), cut it into 12 slices and sell each slice for 35/-. And they reckon they can each sell 60 slabs a day.
There are a couple of groups who are rejected – no product knowledge, ridiculous, unworksble ideas and one lot of woman who have allowed for 5000/- to hire a car to bring 24 dresses from Mombasa.
Finally, there is one young guy – not exactly well turned out – the car hirers had offered to let him do their chores for them , a suggestion which I shot down in flames. He is 19. An orphan. He was taken in by his uncle and then thrown out and put in prison for 9 months when his aunt accused him of raping her small son. After 9 months, the case was dropped for total lack of evidence. The boy is homeless. But he knows how to cook. And so now he has a small business making and selling mandazi (like doughnuts) and is being partnered up (in a business was, not a fun way) with one of our other guys who has a stove big enough to share.
Our people don’t tend to show much emotion in front of me. Apparently I can be scarey … who knew ? But Doris said he was in tears outside. We also gave him a fiver to get a clean shirt and some soap and water. Next time I am here I will be eating mandazi …
Doris and I gloop through the mud to the main road and get a matatu. A meal and a gallon of milky coffee (about £4 for two) later and I trudge off through the dark to my little house. One day SOME of the drivers coming down the Ngong Road will find out how to dip their headlights and my walk home will be much easier.
Good news: the carwash is closed so the boys are not at it with the hose and the shammy at 6.30am Bad news : Nairobi has more churches than any other city and they are all full of people clapping and dancing and singing God’s praises from silly o’clock. Doris is meant to be arranging a medical clinic so I organise the pharmacy and then head off down town to see Lucia, the lady who supplies us with the lovely spotty bags we sell. She is not there. I call. She is in church clapping and singing and dancing God’s praises. So I head back towards Dagoretti and check up on some of our people who take stalls in the market at the Yaya Centre.
Doris calls to ask if we can meet at Dagoretti Corner as her attempts to organise a clinic have resulted in mass hysteria and a tsunami of demand for treatment for everything from the standard Kenyan ’pain’ to a problematic pregnancy. I agree. We have had workshops before where we start with a manageable forty or so and, having worked for a couple of hours, look up to find two hundred have gathered. Doris has a few cases she wants to bring and then she wants to do some funding by phone for a group of women who want to sell dried nettle powder (HUGE here for ‘purifying the blood’) but who are trapped by the floods around Narok and couldn’t make the business workshops.
We sit in the lovely garden at Shalom House – not as jewish as it sounds – and, having dealt with three cases of ‘presha’ (high blood pressure) with Lecithin (thank you again HTC Watford) garlic and (channelling my inner Gillian McKeith) dietary advice, we turn to the with the ladies in the middle of soggy nowhere. With them on speakerphone (well, them huddled round an ancient Nokia on a hill and Doris’s phone on max volume) we discuss the business. 1 tightly packed sack of stinging nettles needs to dry in a shed for ten days, being turned and moved. Once the dried leaves are pulverised there will be around 10kgs of ‘tea’. The ‘tea’ is then sold in sacks of 90kgs at anything between100/- and 150/- per kg’ The group of woman is ten strong and they already have a load of orders. What they need is the budget to build the drying shed and a few hundred shillings to give to the farmers (generally 100 per farmer per day does it) to let them roam his land picking nettles. Adding on some dosh for transport it is a pretty good business – and Kenya LOVES nettles.
The ladies agree to come and meet me at Suswa next week when we take Zetta to meet the Maasai.
Doris wants to come back to my tiny slum palace and use the laptop so we go.
My dongle is playing up and, to cut a long and painful story short, by nine PM I am mildly hysterical and my laptop is on its way to Uthiru to be tended to by Doris’s friend the IT Boy.
Only the solace of a couple of tots from my Duty Free bottle of Captain Morgan and my two lovely mummy and baby cats lying on my crotch and head respectively allows me to go to sleep
The talk of flooding in Narok, together with the Great Computer Catastrophe, and a call from someone in Kisii confirming that South Nyanza is under torrential rain stiffens my resolve and I call Jayne in Awendo and tell her I am postponing my trip. I agree to send a big box of necessaries in my stead and go off to Kawangware to buy soap chemicals for a couple of new soapmaking businesses, deworming tablets, industrial strength ibuprofen gel for all the women who work on the farms, labouring like nothing you ever hear about on The Archers. I add the magic cod liver oil (thank you HTC in Watford), calcium for the bent and brittle old ladies, baby milk powder, pencils for the little school and a load of condoms.
In the afternoon I meet Doris and we head off to meet another group of ex-cons. Doris is wonderful at finding little hidden away corners where someone who is part of the Mama B family will let us use her house. There are about 35 young men, all but a few between 20 and 25. They have all spent time in prison, almost all for poverty instigated offences. Having said which, one bloke converted to Islam and was almost immediately arrested on suspicion of terrorism. They have formed groups and all have their business plans worked out. One lot have the tender to sell Oasis brand milk in Kawangware, another, under the guidance of an older, ex butcher (not in a criminal way) are opening a pork butchery and have ALL the contacts. Six guys have been given the opportunity to take over a carwash. The plans are good, very many of the boys are good salesman and excellent negotiators. The lads who have formed the jabba selling group (a perkier version of mira – a leafy stimulant, much enjoyed by the Kenyans) even give me a free sample. The main guy in the group is already chewing. “It keeps you very alert” he says. “You don’t look very alert” I point out. “Ah but I have just started to take it. By this evening I will be like a cat !” He leaps to his feet and claws the air. I am convinced. Everyone gets a start up budget, dire warnings about my wrath if they misuse the money and a handful of condoms. The positive boys also get a bag of cod liver oil capsules. Money very, very well spent, I think.
Doris goes to collect my computer (now having been seen by its third doctor) and I go to Corner to meet Kibe and order an evening meal of fried pork.
The pork is delicious, my computer rebooted but is still not talking to Airtel and we are all knackered. I fear my dongle is corrupted ! I wander down to Nakumatt Junction and get a bit of free wifi before getting a taxi back to my little slum palace. The computer doctors are in awe of my computer and its i7 processer. Apparently it would cost around £1500 here. So I decide not to risk walking through the dark. You see ! I CAN make sensible decisions. The taxi driver remembers me. “Ah not so hard to remember a mzungu in Dagoretti !” I say. “Ah there are many of you now!” he says “Toooo many wazungu in Dagoretti Corner. There must be … three”
My cats get a tin of sardines, I have a hot chocolate and we curl up on the bed, one on my crotch, one on my head.
I am still in Computer Trauma. My laptop will not speak to my dongle and I am forced to shell out another £25 and go Safaricom. But finally I am online.
As I have a little time I do a washing and amuse the carwash guys (with whom I share space) with my collection of dripping Family Guy socks (thank you Poundland). They especially like the ones featuring a coy Stewie posing semi-naked and saying “I should be more reluctant to take my clothes off”.
I fill up the box for Awendo with necessaries and stagger off, wave down a matatu and head to town. I am charged 70 bob for the ride, inciting one of my impressive “is it because I is white?” rants. It is not, apparently. There is further hilarity at Easycoach as I wrap the box in tape and cover it in Mama Biashara stickers. I am more than impressed myself as it turns out the thing weighs 17kg
Thus lightened I go off up to River Road to a tiny box on the fifth floor of a building where the lovely Dorcas and her 3 girls make lots of the dresses we sell. I take pictures, buy sodas and go off to the market down by the river to meet up with some of Mama B’s other suppliers.
The rest of the day can be summed up as – buying medication, power cut, crazy feral cat in the house, bed.
I wash my hair ! I lose about 2kg in wight and discover I am grey. But soft and lovely.
I get a pikipiki and we roar off (me, the piki piki man and two large bags of medication and supplements) towards 56. One of the less picturesque areas of Nairobi. As we leave tarmac and head off up the mud road we find outselves behind a takataka truck (rubbish truck). Now lorries and busses in Kenya are not subject to any form of supervision regarding what might be called ‘emmissions’. So almost all of them emit a stream of black smoke from their exhaust and then, every so often, give a sort of a cough and belch out a cloud of soot. It is almost like something out of a cartoon … until you are behind one. As we were, my piki piki man and I. The clouds of dist kicked up from the dirt road mixed with the soot and the smoke and I thought … “my hair !!!”
Today is a medical clinic and our ‘clinic’ is a small breezeblock square that looks like an outside toilet. And is about the size of a double portaloo. And indeed may BE an outside toilet, judging by the smell. A massive queue is forming. And the highlights of the day are …
Susan who has sole care of four grandchildren and has legs which are each the size of Janette Krankie. She has pain everywhere, palpitations, and has to be lifted in and out of our portoloo.
Hannah who is 82 and has care of 12 grandchildren. She makes the average population of a TS Lowry painting look obese, bad joints, pain and a persistant cough
Josephine who presents with what I suspect is shingles. My suspicions raised, I send her for an HIV test which comes back positive. She is a house girl in the area and hopelessly alone
John who has a heart that sounds like someone is playing the maracas
Beatrice who gets ‘pain’ then ‘falls down’ and ‘her legs die’
Mary who says ‘there is something growing in my eye’ and who is absolutely right – a brown fungus is growing over both corneas
Mary’s baby who is 1 year and 3 months and weighs 6kg – he has rickets and vomits up anything except breast milk
Felix who is 9 years old and has a rectal prolapsed
Patrick who was attacked by thieves and lost an eye and part of his jaw. The wounds are now infected and extruding pus
Then there are coughing mucusy babies, the usual time wasting imaginary ‘fever’ and a load of deworming to do and cod liver oil and various vitamins to give out. Biarbonate of Soda is a wonder drug here. You have no idea how many ‘ulcers’ it cures.
By the end of the workshop we are working in the dark and we have had to close the door. We have a list of people to take to various hospitals and clinics tomorrow and people to follow up on next week.
Doris and I board a couple of piki pikis (Doris’s gorgeous but generous ass makes it impossible to share) and head to Corner where we organise our lists, I work out what meds I can buy, and we dring milky coffee until we can do no more and we go off – Doris to a matatu and me to the obstacle course up the Ngong Road.
The day is organised like a military operation. OK it turns out to be more like the Charge of the Light Brigade.
More of this anon …
OK, so today I did a Lenny Henry. I teared up. Which is appalling. Tearing up is a totally pointless, self indulgent exercise. Every second a well fed, secure, healthy person spends dabbing tears from their eyes is a second they COULD and SHOULD have been spending doing something to fix the situation they are so upset about. Luckily I have few tears, so to business …
I buy all the meds that we need for the people from yesterday’s clinic and meet David. I have given in finally and have got David and the car for the day. There is just so much to do that we cannot rely on the vagaries of the matatu. We go to make an appointment at an optician for one of the women from yesterday then head to pick up the people who are going to Amurt medical centre and pack them in the car. While I am waiting for them to arrive (the easiest meeting point in any area is the mzungu (white person) standing in the middle of the slum) the shosho Hannah (82) comes up to me and asks me to come to her home. She is the lady who is looking after 12 children – five here with her in Nairobi and seven back in the village where she comes from. She had a business selling arrowroot but the kids got sick and the business went bust. They were evicted from their house and now she takes me to where they are living.
On a building site, under a block of apartments, there is a passageway that leads to a room that is being used as a store room. For charcoal, for paint, for paint thinner, for tools … the floor is covered in a mix of cement dust, charcoal and who knows what else. Paint tins and the rest are stacked up. This is where the shosho lives with five children. They sleep on the floor. They have no blankets, no food, no light, no nothing. And the shosho THANKS me for giving her £25 yesterday to restart her arrowroot business. The business will start tomorrow she says. The money has gone to pay for the half sack of arrowroot she will sell. So today ? She shrugs. The nights at the moment are cold. I will bring blankets and a floor covering this afternoon I tell her. I give her £5 for food. She wraps her arms around me and she cries. And I cry. Because it is wrong that she is crying. This is an amazing woman. A woman who could make ten of me. Probably ten of any woman who is reading this.
Entirely against the precepts of Mama Biashara I promise her that I will find her a house. What the fuck I AM Mama Biashara and I have just made an exception to the rules. We should be bloody PROUD to be able to help a woman like this. And we can. And we will.
I go off to hurl abuse at Alice, who has kept everyone waiting and whose problems are less than some of the women’s who will now have to stay here until the first hospital trip is done.
Hospital trip one confirms several things
Alice is a twat
Her daughter is perfectly healthy
Many Kenyan clinics are shit
Many Kenyan doctors cannot take in information and have the memory of an amnesiac goldfish
I have trouble playing the ‘kindly lady’ card
We return everyone whence they came and embark on Hospital Trip 2. Hospital trip 2 confirms many things
David is a twat and too much of a Kenyan man EVER to admit it
Mary has a major problem with the fungal growth in her eye
Kenyan doctors LOVE to send people for pointless tests (££££££)
I need to go to all the hospital appointments because the doctors treat Doris like shit
En route to hospital trip 2 we pick up a woman with a child who Doris tells me has ‘big problems’. The child, it transpires, has CP. The full horror of this is simply not comprehensible to anyone in the first world. There is nothing here for slum children with a problem like this. I have seen kids with CP kept in cupboards and back rooms. The only good thing is that the hospital says CP and not ‘possession’.
I leave Doris at Hospital 2 and head to pick up Mama B stuff. I also go to get blankets and floor coverings for the shosho.
BY the time I head back to 56 it is dark. Endless communications with Doris at Hospital 2 have sorted most things out. The drive back to 56 is fraught. But we get there. And then I have to find the shosho. Being a lone mzungu – known as Mama Biashara – in somewhere like 56 is an extraordinary experience. More good than bad.
The shosho is found and we take the blankets and floor coverings to the ghastly room. Now the shosho is sobbing. This is SO not right. The five children (who are here in Nairobi) are here now and are excited by the blankets. I tell the shosho we will be back tomorrow and we WILL find a house for them.
Did I mention THIS IS NOT RIGHT ?
Very excited, Zetta and Neil arrive today. All sorted with Neil – the thousand quid he raised in a cycle race thing (there were monstrous hills involved, I understand) is all coming to work for Mama B
I meet with Felista in the morning for a Meeting With Zetta and the Business Man Strategy Planning Meeting. They won’t know what has hit them ! But I do think that the best possible way to start time in Kenya is with Felista.
Doris and I are heading back to 56 with the meds I have bought for the people there. As usual, it is the ones who are not really sick who turn up. Including a couple who are not sick at all but have presumably come along in the hope I might have changed my mind and got them some medicine anyway. The lady with the strange brown creeping growth across her corneas has a collection of antibiotic and antifungal eyedrops and the man with the pus extruding eye socket has some turbo charged antibiotics. But it is the ladies with ‘pain’ who are at the front of the queue.
Something wonderful happens here. Really REALLY wonderful. AS I get out the car (we need David to pick up Zetta and Neil at the airport and I am not shelling out £25 for just that, so we have the luxury of the car all day.) I am grabbed from behind. It is the little 82 year old shosho with the 12 grandkids. She is beaming, positively bouncing. She pulls me over to the side of the road and there, resplendent in the sunshine, is her new business. A whole sack of sweet potatoes set out in neat piles of three on the ground. I take pictures. I buy a small stack of sweet potatoes. And I reassure her that we are still looking for a house. We need something nearby with a rent that she can afford after Mama B gets her the first month or two. Across the road is the other shosho with the legs like twin Jimmy Krankies. She appears to have perked up with the cod liver oil, Vitamin e, garlic and lecithin. She is out doing business for the first time in a while. But still has no shoes. I go off and do battle with a bloke for a pair of boat like sandals with Velcro straps that I hope will go over her massively swollen feet. They do !! They are a little Birkenstock-like but I don’t tell the shosho she now looks like a lesbian.
Josephine has turned up to get her antibiotics (thoat and glands) and her acyclovir (shingles). But I want her to come and meet my friend Janet Ogindo. Josephine only got her HIV diagnosis at our clinic on Wednesday and I want her to talk to someone who can reassure her and advise her. Plus her CD4 count is 234 and I don’t want to take her to a bog standard HIV clinic as they will just bang her full of ARVs right away.
We take her over to Ngando and spend a totally wonderful hour or so with Janet and Joanne. Janet has borderline liver failure now, after ten years on ARVs. Her CD4 count is good, her viral load is undetectable. All that is killing her now is the sheer toxicity of the drugs. So, like increasing numbers of people over here, she is considering a Drug Holiday. Joanne already has changed her regimen and takes one month off every three. And feels much better. We all know other people who have either stopped completely, take one month on, one month off or take the drugs only when they hav a flare up. All of them seem to be doing very well. There are support groups for people who want to do this (as doctors cannot – and generally will not openly condone it) and a couple of very persuasive studies done. The system doesn’t seem to work as well in the USA. It does seem to depend on what strain of the virus you have. But I give Janet a huge bag of vitamins and supplements, arrange a supply of beetroot juice and tell her we know where she can get really good nettle tea. I shall keep you apprised of her progress. She is a really dear friend and I don’t want to lose her to drug toxicity.
We have an hilarious time there, drug chat apart. The conversation is ribald to say the least – the relative merits of circumcised and uncircumcised men, Kikkuyu men in bed vs Luo men in bed, the optimal sexual position and the joys of lesbian sex. Finally Josephine laughs and smiles. She gets some advice from Janet and Joanne, we arrange a really supportive clinic for her .
We drop a revitalised Josephine back at 56 and go to meet a group of guys from an organisation called Carwash. It is a sort of underground support group for gay people in Kenya.
The guys have great (and very workable) plans – one lot have the opportunity to take over a little pool hall (I say ‘hall’, I mean ‘room’) which would make it Kenya’s first gay-friendly hangout . Another has been made an offer I don’t think we can refuse to become ice cream vendors for a new company – with each being given a free cooler. A third actually brings something to the table ! They have been given 10,000ksh and a generator by their local councillor (who is gay). They want to run a little projection business and already have work lined up with the local ‘Youth Empowerment Centre’ which will net them 3000ksh per day. The last want to rip and sell DVDs Which I know is a pretty good business.. I just don’t have any money left and so we arrange to meet the boys again on Monday and ask them to make a few ‘tweaks’ to their business plans.
After a quick plate of cabbage and a chappati David and I head to the airport to pick up Zetta and Neil. We deposit them at Wildebeest and I head back to feed the cats and sleep.
Felista is stupidly late to be picked up to go and meet Zetta and Neil. I call her at ten to eleven and she gives me her “am about to come out” speech. I go crazy.. David and I get to the pick up point and I call her again. “Am in a boda boda” she says. As it is mind-bogglingly obvious she is not, I go crazy again. I give her ten minutes. She eventually arrives but is bobbing about on the side of the road waiting and taking more interest in the bus which has crashed into the ditch than she is in crossing.. I leap from my seat. Bound across the road and say “if you are goin g to behave like a stupid small child, I will treat you like one” I take her hand and, much to the hilarity of the passengers from the crashed bus, I drag her across the road through the traffic.
Needless to say she makes a huge impression on Zetta and Neil. Zetta in particular, travels the road from “Hello Felista, how do you do” to “I want to drop everything else and sort out all your problems because I can see you are an incredible force for good in the world but you are making me slightly crazy and I wish just ONCE you would give me something specific” in around 30 minutes. But this can only be good for Felista as Zetta too is an incredible force for good in the world. It is quite amazing she is here at all and her pile of medication each day makes my pathetic clutch of steroids and immunosuppressants look like Baby Disprin.
Leaving Neil and Zet with Felista and the shrieking of the sex crazed frogs in the lake at Wildebeest, David and I head off to town and collect as much of the ordered stock as we can from the peeps at the big market. Such are Zetta’s organisational skills that as we arrive back at Wildebeest to pick everyone up and head to Kawangware to meet Doris, the four (including Felista!) are already heading up the path to meet us.
We set off for what, for me is the real Kenya. The only one I really know. Up the kiosk lined road, over potholes and around matatus. Neil has the little video camera out immediately.
We meet Doris and Hannah, our 82 year old, sweet potato selling guardian of 12. I ask her if she will show Neil and Zetta her ‘home’. I think Hannah really epitomises why Mama Biashara is here. And letting them see that at the start can only be A Good Thing. They disappear up the passageway with Doris and Hannah. They reappear quiet and slightly pale. I think they get it. We buy another pair of boat-shoes for Susan the shosho with the Jimmy Krankie legs and I extend the straps over the instep and toes with a cunning network of electrical tape. I have an admiring audience as I kneel in the dirt cobbling away. It is only with great strength that I resist the temptation to spring to my feet as I fit the last shoe with a cry of “and I’m here all week folks !”
Now we go to see some of the boys from the Ex-cons workshop Doris and I did on my last trip about six or seven weeks ago.
Their place is outside the city . The forst group we meet are the Mahindi Boys (maize). Unfortunately, just as the got the Mama B finance for the maize business, the floods came and maize became the last business anyone wanted to be in. But instead of taking the money and giving up, the guys went into pigs. And have been doing well. They have two Gloucester Old Spots in a tidy pen. The pigs are so clean I am amazed. The boys are also ploughing profits into buying a Gloucester Boy so they can start breeding and hiring him out (1000ksh a pop from a Gloucester Boy, they tell us). They have all their financial ducks in a row and explain that one challenge is that because they only have two pigs, when they sell, they have to take care of the transport. If they had seven, the buyers would come and collect them themselves. So impressed is Neil that he decides that his first investment will be to give the guys the money for five more small pigs (which they will feed up and sell) thus boosting their income so that they will very soon be able to take possession of the Gloucester Boy and they will REALLY be in business. The GB will be named Dirty Neil, in memory of their benefactor (an old nickname which Neil refuses to explain). I suggest then that any male offspring will be called Dirty Little Neil. Everyone seems happy. I am delirious. This is a huge success and a total turnaround for the boys who all seem very sorted.
We go off up the road to see the Goat Boys. Mama B gave them enough to buy three goats, six weeks ago. The day after I gave them the dosh their buyer bloke went to Narok on a motorbike (about 200 km) and brought back three goats. Again they have their business history all organised and they now – astonishingly – have bought their way up to 10 goats with orders for five every day. They have a couple of bikes which ferry the purchases from Narok and their financial calculations are exemplary. But. Just when it was all going so well, their goats got sick. Admirably, they called a vet. Foot and mouth. They have been treated and the non sick ones vaccinated. But they cannot do anything for two months, says the vet. This is too bad a thing to happen to guys who have been working so hard and so well. So, after discussion with Zet and Neil I take Mama Biashara into uncharted territory. We will lend them the money for five goats, so that they can fullfill their orders in this most lucrative of seasons for meat purveyors. The new goats must be kept apart from the sick ones, they will be vaccinated and Mama B will be repaid when the ten they already have are finally sold. This is, for me, a bigger leap of faith than the original grant, but I have total belief that they will come good.
We drive off through the gloom back to Kawangware to visit the Mama Biashara Arcade. It is buzzing. Three mamas are producing food, Purity is wafting around, a vision in turquoise, dispensing tots of something that tastes like vodka is being served to you from a toothpaste tube, next door everyone is drinking spicy coffee, chewing mira and chilling and music blasts out from the DVD boys kiosk behind. I am thrilled and so happy. Neil and Zet look a little apprehensive. They don’t eat (Zetta having been given dire warnings about the toxic possibilities of street food by her doctor) although Neil mans up and takes a tot from Purity. Doris and I demolish vast plates of rice, stew, beans and kachumbari, we go next door and chew mira and then nip of through the warren of muddy paths behind to see the DVD boys at work.
We have attracted the attention of a group of young Mungiki who approach to enquire, meaningfully, as to whether we feel our ‘security’ is ok. They do the ‘security’ around here they say. I ask if only wazungu need ‘security’. I say I think that we are secure enough unless they are suggesting that they might harm the businesses. NO they say. Good, I say. We shake hands, I buy them sodas – all twenty of them – and they go off. Not great, to be honest. But we will see how the Arcade fares and whether it gets any Mungiki flak.
Doris and I are dropped off and Neil And Zet taken back to Wildebeest – apparently to record their thoughts on Day 1. Can’t wait to read/see/hear …
After a slight shock as my RBS Debit card is rejected by several cash machines, we head to Ruai to see the family of children Mama B has ‘rescued’ and who are now living with their uncle – one house, three rooms, eight children, two adults and a baby. But it is the best we can do and Mama B pays half the rent and money for food. Daddy Copstick paid for the kids first year at ceders Progressive Academy where their uncle teaches. In case anyone is interested, fees are due again in January and £500 pays for five children to go to this excellent school for one entire year.
As usual we buy maize and beans and rice by the 20kg to take with us. Once that is delivered all the kids pile into the car (thank goodness for a big boot) for our Big Trip (supermarket and lunch). I follow behind with Sammi the uncle on his motorbike. Zetta and Neil cope remarkably well taking a posse of kids round a small supermarket. We buy all the household necessities and Zet takes them off to buy sodas.
Lunch is nyama choma (barbequed goat) as usual. The kids fall upon the meat like something out of Lord of the Flies. Talking of which, Zetta and Neil sit at another table and worry ceaselessly about the ubiquitous flies generally and about them getting into their beer in particular. Neil asks (amazingly) if he can try a small piece of goat. I get him a choice nugget which he chews and spits out (which goes unnoticed by no one). He does a five minute pean of praise to the taste and texture of British spring lamb and is sad that no one serves it here.
He has however, bought some apples – very, very expensive here and a huge treat for the kids.
We take them back to the house and set off for Gorogocho to do a small workshop. I have asked Caroline (who is organising) to keep it to 15 women as I don’t want the guests to pass out. The workshop goes pretty well, some great little business ideas including a woman who will be buying and selling old newspapers. As it turns out the 15 were just over Neil’s tolerance limit (for a first time) and he pops out to chat to some men. Never a good idea. They are VERY interested that we might be giving money away. No business ideas as such. Although they get Neil to part with some folding stuff by pulling the ‘security’ thing. So extortion seems to be their game. I am going back next week and if they try that with me they will be very disappointed.
As Neil and Zetta are not inclined to eat anything local, we head up the long road to Wildebeest. Once you get there it is Shangri La, but anyone who has read the novel knows that Shangri La wasn’t exactly easy to get to either. Kibe, David and I agree that we will go and get something to eat after we drop them. However my old friend Alan is there and we get talking and beer is brought and, hilariously, Kibe, David and I end up simply hoovering Neil and Zetta’s leftovers, including rather an excellent chopped salad.
A typically Kenyan carcrash of a day. Mine starts with an infuriating conversation with a Royal Bank of Scotland Robot. I fail the Security Test Question and all I get is ‘computer says no’.
As I meet with Zetta and Neil to take them to the lovely Forex lady to change money I probably need some of my own Lecithin and garlic for high blood pressure.
I head off to send an email to my accountant to get the answers to my Security Questions and I THINK I have sent Neil and Zetta of f to DECIP to have a morning with Felista. I remind David that after DECIP, they are going to town and Zetta and Neil must go to a mzungu place for lunch. We decide on Java House. Around forty minutes later I get a call to say that David has in fact taken them direct to town and is now looking for a Java House. I shriek down the phone and they head back to DECIP. This is a journey which could take anything up to two hours with traffic.
I go and buy medication, deworming and agree to start the funding workshop without them. Doris is worried about going back to the place where we met this group before. They are a group of gay guys from an organisation called Carwash. The gay community here is only just emerging buy it is NOT a safe thing to be gay here. You can be perfectly legally fired for being gay (or even gay-ish), the experience of a gay guy at an STD clinic, or asking for an HIV test is not one you would wish on your worst enemy and generally speaking, anyone who thinks they are suffering any kind of prejudice at all in the UK needs to pop over here and get a reality check. We meet at the little cafe where Doris and I usually end our evenings. It is a little cramped but the lovely old shosho who runs the place seems happy at the increased custom. The gay friendly pool hall now has a lesbian contingent. The lovely Abby runs a group for young lesbian street workers and she has joined as part of the group. So the young lezzers will meet at the pool hall. Even better, as the budget for the pool hall is more than the usual grant, I arrange with the boys that, when I return in January, they will have to repay Mama Biashara 7,500 kenya shillings. They agree, BUT, I tell them, they will not pay it to me, they will sit with me at a funding meeting and give it on to another group looking to be funded. Another group from the gay community. They like this. And immediately suggest that if the hall does well they will give more than 7,500ksh to the new group. Now THAT is the way it should work.
The goat boys (see previous diary) come and get their loan. They have already arranged for the new five goats to be vaccinated against foot and mouth. The pig group come and get their booster (the money really comes from Neil but, frankly, he could be anywhere at this point, so I pay) so Dirty Neil (see previous diary) should be bringing them in their money by the time I come back.
The Sweet Cream Group (ice cream, of course) lot get their budget as do the DVD pirates and the Projector Group. The Projector group are on the same deal as the pool hall – ie they will bring the money they have to repay (theirs is also quite a big grant) to a funding meeting and fund a whole new group staring a business. All is going well when Neil and Zetta stagger in. I can see they are less than interested in joining the workshop so point them at Java House with David and Felista.
At the end of the workshop I am having a chat with Doris when I find out that they have gone off to eat and bunged Felista and David 500/- and left them to eat here. Now although I know David is happier with a plate of ugali than something at Java House, the principle of leaving Mama B people to eat alone while you go off somewhere posh, after you have spent the morning working together is entirely at odds with how I work. I sort of know that nothing bad was intended but I have to say I was really shocked.
Felista gets me in a huddle to explain that she didn’t want to spoil the wonderful time she had had with Neil and Zetta by telling them she really really needed some readies for food. I give her 10,000/-. Mama B is her firefighter. Always will be I think.
I go off with Doris in search of the sybarites. En route we meet Kibe and so the three of us end up drinking white wine in a hugely expensive bar with them. Neil is still pining for ‘a really nice big fresh tuna steak with salad’. Deam on.
We finish the night (once the wine has taken hold of Zet and Neil (Kenyan Courage) in a normal bar in Dagoretti Corner, watching the traffic go by on Ngong Road.
We are heading out to the Great Rift Valley a) to meet with a group of women living out near Duka Moja who want to start a business picking, drying and selling nettles. Fantastic profits await (they already have orders stacked up) IF they can get a shed built in which to turn and dry the nettles. b) to let Zetta and Neil see the countryside a bit and have a relaxing day.
Doris, as it turns out, didn’t manage to get back home last night and has slept in Kawangware so we pick her up there (she has been looking for the house for Hannah). Neil and Zetta have brought packed lunches, to obviate the necessity to eat local. En route
We stop at the top of the escarpment and they get their first view. It is astounding. We stop further down and finally, at the beautiful little church at the bottom which was built by Italian prisoners of war. A tiny oasis of peace and tranquillity set against a killer road on a cliffside.
I had been rather hoping we could visit the Maasai village Mama B helped with some trade and a big water tank but I cannot get hold of Catherine, my contact in Maai Maahiu, so we drive on across the valley to DUka Moja where we meet one of the women and are guided out into the bush where we park and walk a short way to the house where we are to meet three of the group. They are smart Kikkuyu ladies who deal very well with Neil channelling his inner Hilary Devane. The most important thing is that he hands over a wad of the folding stuff he raised on his bike ride so they can start their business ( we have pictures) which is fantastic. He is our guinea pig for a whole Mama B Dragon’s Den idea and it is great to see him hand over the money. I have a very good feeling about this business. It already employs ten women and looks to be expanding fast. We were supposed to be doing a medical clinic out here but the Maasai elders have refused their permission. Something to do with the massacre at Baragoi last week but I am not sure how the two are related. Anyway, Elders say no. However one of the women has a sister who she says is sick and she wants me to come and look at her. At the back of a dark room in a tiny hut in Duka Moja I meet a Down’s Syndrome girl. Sweet but sad. She does the occasional menial job around the house but doesn’t go out because people think she is cursed. She is having terrible period pains and doesn’t understand it. I give advice and high strength ibuprophen to the sister with dire warnings about overdosing, which is as much as I can do.
Neil and Zetta bravely go off to take a pack of kids to bolster the Coca Cola Evil Empire (their brew is just about the only available liquid around here … they make sure of that). Zetta slips and falls and has a dirt filled blister on her hand. Even I realise that it could turn nasty as she has little or no immune system and there is a fair old pocket of dirt there. She is amazingly calm and scrubs at it with hand sanitiser. We head back to Nairobi and stop at Maai MAhiu for something to eat. Neil and Zetta decide to tuck into their packed lunches. It transpires that, having asked for one lot of ham and one lot of cheese sandwiches they have got two lots of ham and cheese. Neil – who does eat meat but not cheese because it is fermented animal fat – comes to the conclusion that it is utterly impossible to separate a slice of ham from a slice of cheese in any acceptable way and the sandwiches are discarded and they fill up on McVities Digestive and crisps. We stop at Maai Maahiu and Doris, David and I eat. Back in Nairobi Doris leaves us at Kawangware and I take Zetta to my little chemist to have her hand looked at. She is amazingly stoic as the girl digs the dirt out from under the skin and sloshes methylated spirits around like an alcoholic at a bring a bottle party. Zet persuades Neil to try a Lebanese restaurant at Nakumatt Junction and it turns out to be a huge hit. At Zetta’s suggestion we are forming a list of Places To Eat (which is an excellent idea as I don’t know anywhere remotely posh except Habesha and Java House) and this goes to the top of the list.
Tomorrow is a Big Day as Neil will actually be doing a workshop himself. The whole shebang. First time anyone but me has done it. He has brough £1000 out – having raised it on a cycle ride – and already done some financing. But tomorrow he becomes The Dragon. Fingers crossed.
Neil’s last day. And a biggie. We have a workshop in a village out past Kenol with a mix of women who have been working at stone breaking to earn enough for food, and sex workers. Neil has a wad with him and is going to do the funding himself. Direct. Hands on. He pretty much asked a lot of the right questions in Gorogocho when he saw his first workshop and is well fired up. We start at about one (the Kenyan 12) and I sit on one side of an impressively spacioius room doing medical stuff while Neil was on the other with Zetta handling both video camera and bank. It was a pretty special moment actually. I had suggested the idea to Zetta yonks ago since when she has been doing an impressive job of rounding up the rich and the caring and selling them the idea of coming to Kenya to do some hands on funding. Several of them seem to meet me and then lose interest in the idea. So I may have to take more of a back seat on this. But Neil is here and looking like he is enjoying himself. I watch what is, more or less, a dream come true. A successful businessman from the UK funding tiny businesses here in Kenya, hands on. I get a bit goosepimply. Neil is really mathematical and detailed about the plans the women bring. The women are vaguely terrified and uncomprehending but say yes a lot and somehow, Neil gets fifteen of them off the brink of the abyss and into business. He persuades four to form a group (good going) and goes with his instincts on one couple of girls who need more than the usual grant to set up a fruit and veg business supplying small restaurants and hotels. It will be, he says, called Sophie’s Fruit and Veg (his daughter actually donated the exact amount of money it took to set the business up. Although he had planned to stay only till three, he actually stayed till four and all his money was spent. Every last shilling. Mama B’s very first Baba Biashara is born. Great stuff.
Neil and Zetta go off to Wildebeest/Shangri La for a bit of R&R before Neil goes off to the airport. They have asked Doris, David and I to dinner. There are around thirty women still to be funded so I get stuck in. There are a lot of good plans and great product knowledge. We get our first group of mushroom growers, our first bunch of rabbit breeders and a trio of ladies who are going into the Wedding Suit business. They already have orders from up country and as long as they don’t get blown up going to buy them in Eastleigh (which is a bit tense at the moment) they will turn a handsome profit. There is an impressively low HIV incidence here, and no one is really badly sick. Which is amazing given the women have been spending their days breaking stones in a quarry. Lots of bad backs and legs, sore eyes and acid stomach.
We are a bit behind schedule as we hurtle off through the gloom to Wildebeest and I am mightily amused, having been giving Neil a hard time about his tuna steak fantasies and picky eating habits, to hear David muttering moodily about what kind of food there might be and whether he would be able to eat it. Plus ca change … as they say
As it happens he wolfs down a delicious curry and rice and veg and salad. The food is really rather good at Wildebeest. Doris is shown around the luxury tents and we have a short but jolly time before we pack the car and take Neil off to the airport with one bag of his own and another full of Mama B’s Christmas Goodies. He has rehearsed his speech for customs and we leave him at the check in, hoping for an upgrade …
Neil didn’t get his upgrade, we hear. But he is safely back in Blighty, Mama B’s Christmas Delights and all. Zetta and I have a mixed day planned. We start off (as there has been no reply from Janet at the tiny kindergarten – The Angus Whyte Memorial Kindergarten) by going to Kariokor, where gnarled old ladies sit and make the kiyondos that sell so well in the shop. We take a wander through the place – Zetta doing remarkably nimbly in the tiny obstacle littered spaces between workshops for someone with the eyesight of a mole. We buy the bgs and head back to Nakumatt Junction where I have a load of stuff to pick up and bills to pay. Funds are running quite low – although in a good way as we have done so many business start ups and even done some lending and boosting (remember Dirty Neil ??) and I am slightly worried. Amanda has already rushed over an emergency moneygram which was marvellous and now Mama B’s financial bacon is saved by my schoolfriend Rachel (once Braidwood, now Koeberl) who has been quite unbelievably supportive, even coming over from Austria to do stints in the shop ! Her Western Union Wad arrives as Zetta and I have a coffee in Java House. Hurrah ! I have brought the laptop along and Zetta checks in online and also sends an impassioned email to Margaret, the BA Customer Services Manager she buttonholed on the flight over. She just MIGHT be able to swing free excess for me on the way back. Which would be a HUGE HUGE boon. Boons don’t really come much huger, to be honest.
Up in the Maasai Market we load up two trollies and Zetta gets to meet several of Mama B’s most regular suppliers. We buy a few extra bits and bobs and it is amazingly nice to have someone else there helping to make the choices. Amazingly nice. Thanks to Rachel everyone gets paid and I still have my stash for the remaining workshops, the people in Awendo and to pay Doris and David. She keeps saying that handing over the money is the easy part but, Rach, it really, really isn’t.
Zetta and I eat in the posh Lebanese she took Neil to and it has to be said, the food is great. A big crunchy Lebanese salad was absolutely lovely. Now, Felista was scheduled to join us at 3pm. I rather thought that she would leap upon the chance to meet with Zetta again. It is really only Zetta who is keeping CWAC from closure – she single-handedly brought the charity back from the dead and now has it on life support – and only CWAC which makes an official funding contribution each month to Felista and DECIP. So Zetta is standing between DECIP and the abyss. Pretty much alone. OK with Mama B firefighting. But by 5 there is neither sight nor sound of Felista and we head off to Kwa Maji to meet Julius and see the Mama B Shamba. Again, it is A Good Thing to get another perspective on all these people Mama B has been working with for years. Zetta likes Julius very much. His wife died recently and he is worried about the debt he incurred for hospital fees. We talk business and he has a genuinely interesting proposition, which could end up spawning four businesses in one and make him a decent amount of money. I shall simply say, detergent, jackets, avocados, peanuts and gold. Interesting, huh ??
We walk around our little shamba and its produce and then head off to Wildebeest.
We get Zetta to the airport quite early and have to park in the official carpark. Once Zetta is through the x-ray machine at the door I go off and find David in a Gordian Knot of a traffic jam of cars coming from three different directions all trying to get past one pay station. A bloke from the end of one queue and I leap out of our cars and play traffic police, alternating lines of cars to keep them moving. I try (in the time honoured manner of Kenyan Traffic Police) to elicit bribes from various drivers and the whole thing turns out to be quite jolly. There is more laughter than I have heard in any Kenyan traffic jam. Zet texts to say she is in the departure lounge. So all is well.
I start packing. Lugging mountains of stuff to and from Kenya is one of the few things about Mama B that I really dislike and find stressful. As the cases and boxes pile up and I try cramming gourds and banana fibre angels into every available corner my heart sinks. Plus I was daft enough to buy Possibly The Most Beautiful Thing In The World – but it is huge and made of soapstone and creating a problem all of its very own. Today’s medical clinic and funding workshop are proving difficult to set up because of tension in the outlying areas and Jayne from Awendo is wanting to know when I am arriving.
The workshops don’t happen at all, eventually and I spend a couple of hours with Doris working out what is in fact possible with the remaining finances. We agree I will leave her a budget to go to Awendo and do a small funding workshop, I need to pay the bill at the Narok posho mill (emergency food supplies when our Maasai ladies were evicted), set up a line of credit in the Kawangware Posho Mill (emergency porridge rations as and when necessary), give something to Sammi for the upkeep of the children in Ruai, work out what funding might be possible for the cluster of businesses centered around Julius, pay my own rent …
We agree on two more workshops and as much medical stuff as we can pack in.
I meet up with Kibe to discuss the continuing problems of the kids in Ruai and what to do. We drink beer and, on the walk home, create a new snack – spicy potato slices stuffed into a mandazi. In two words dee licious.
I am sorting out the meds for the trip to Kenol where around twenty women will be waiting. They have been ekeing out a living working in a quarry, breaking stones. We are going to do medical stuff and a funding workshop.
As I load up the Ibugel and cod liver oil I get a text from Sammi in Ruai. The children’s father has announced that he is coming to Ruai to take them away. He wants me to come to Ruai and talk to him. The father is not generally chatty.
I call Doris and let her know I will be late but we will do the workshop with the remaining stone quarry workers when I get back from Ruai.
Two matatus, a pikipiki and an hour and a half later I am in the little house in Ruai.
Now pay attention, people. It gets complicated. And can I just say BLOODY CHILDREN !!!!! Far too complicated for me. Anyway …
Last time on Mama BIashara …
We heard that Michael (baby) was in Kabiria (Nairobi) with Gideon and Mary (John Kibe’s cousin and wife) because he refused to go back to Sammi’s (Ruai) because he said he was being beated by Mrs Sammi. Then Joseph (oldest boy) said the kids were being badly treated (non specifically) by Mr and Mrs Sammi. He announced he wanted everyone to come and live in Kabiria. I promised to see what I could do, gave him a secret phone for emergencies and left him at Ruai.
The following week Jayne (eldest daughter) said that they were NOT being treated badly, that Michael had in fact been beaten by their father and that their father had told Joseph to tell me bad things about Ruai. She said she would NEVER go with her father because her father had killed their mother by refusing to take her to hospital when she was ill.
This time …
I went out to Ruai with Zetta and Neil last week. Lovely day. Except that Jayne NOW says that they are being mistreated and ‘suffering’ and Joseph now says everything is great and all is going well.
So today I arrive and try to talk to the kids. Now Jayne Miriam and Moses say they want to go with their father and Joseph wants to stay. I point out that their father has a)no job b) only a hut with dirt for a floor to live in c) no way of paying for food or clothes, or school, or anything at all.
The father is picked up by Sammi (he hasn’t even enough money for a 50 bob ride from the main road). We start what is meant to be a dialogue. The father is adamant that he will not have his children living with Sammi, they must come with him.
How ? I ask. He doesn’t have enough fare for himself. He just says “I will”. I point out the shortcomings of his filthy, tiny, soil floored house vis a vis the demands of childcare. He shrugs. I point out he has no work, no money, no food, no clothes … that he is hardly ever at home … that the last time the kids stayed with him they were filthy and starving. He keeps saying “I want my children. They are my children”. I point out that this is not about him. Then I tell him he is not behaving like a father but like a very big child. It at least gets a laugh. Then I say I will go and leave them to talk. As I sling a leg over Sammi’s Yamaha the father starts yelling in impenetrable Kikkuyu at Sammi. Sammi rides up to him and answers. More yelling from the father. More (slightly louder) from Sammi. Then SAmmi says to me “I am finished” and tells the father (in Kikkuyu) that he should take thge children, all of them, if that is what he wants, that SAmmi and his wife can stand the hassle
and the accusations no longer and that, by the time Sammi returns, the father should be gone with his children. At this point the kids look devastated and they ALL start to cry. Jospeph clings onto me and sobs, Jayne runs away howling, Miriam and Moses just stand there.
The matatu back takes forever. And the mat from city centre back to Dagoretti Corner takes whatever is longer than forever. I am too late to do the workshop with Doris. You see ? BLOODY CHILDREN !!! Four of them have effectively ruined the chances of around twenty women and all of their families. Children are just little balls of need and complication and problem and responsibility. And ALL the wrong people keep having them. I am about two thought processes away from considering compulsory sterilisation for the unemployed as a genuine option.
On the plus side. I meet Kibe and Doris for supper at the Mama Biashara Arcade. IT is, as it was last week, buzzing. Albeit in a total blackout. We eat and drink warm Tusker and chew a little mira and talk and laugh. Talk and laugh a LOT. I tell everyone about the Ruai problems. Women especially come and go. It transpires that this place has already become known as a fun, safe place for women to come and relax after work. There is no such thing in Nairobi. Maybe even in Kenya. Women want to kick back with a beer or a wine after a long day’s work. But if they go to a normal bar then there is a massive stigma attatched to a woman drinking in a man’s bar. If they are married someone will tell their husband and they will be beaten. If single, they are treated as fair game. Mama B’s already has a clientele of woman (many Mama B businesspeople) and it is growing.
The DVD shop at the back of the arcade is going. I say shop – I mean wobbly structute that opens onto the mira business part of the arcade. As we sit and talk, Purity (tot lady and excellent businesswoman) suggests that I give a budget to expand her business from itinerant tot seller (tot as in shots of alcohol, not small children) to lady barkeeper. Then they would have the whole arcade area and could open it up to be big enough for twenty or so woman to kick back and chill after work. A whole new kind of business. I tell her to come to me with a budget and a partner who is not already in business.
Thanks to the shop doing so well (Amanda, Jojo and Tanya seem to be doing amazing business while I am here drinking in the slums), to an amazingly huge donation from my friend Andrew O’Connor (£5000 !!!) and to my old schoolchum Rachel Braidwood whose finger seems almost constantly on the ‘send funds’ button, we can look to expanding businesses that are worth it to include more people and gain better security.
The frustrations of Ruai have faded by the time I head home.
Another day of trying to squeeze Adele into a frock designed for Victoria Beckham. David sets off for Ruai to collect the kids to bring them to Kabiria to spend the day with their brother and (poss) father. I set off to sort out my internet problems. David calls to say he has reached Ruai and there is no one at home. I call Uncle Sammi and discover they have all gone to church. Now when Kenyans get praising, they REALLY get praising. And frankly, I don’t have that kind of time. So I tell Sammi either they make their excuses to the beardy one and get in the car or they don’t get to see their earthly brother and father. The beardy one gets fairly short shrift.
Kibe I meet them at Dagoretti Corner, I load them up with sodas and mandazi and they go off to Kabiria. I don’t go because a) in fraught situations in places like Kabiria a mzungu is rarely an improving influence and b) I think I might smack the father
An hour later Kibe and David return and we set off for Gorogocho for another business funding workshop. I give David a couple of hundred bob and tell him to get something to eat. He looks at me as though I had suggested tucking into a plate of his own poo. “It is not safe to eat the food in Gorogocho” he informs me. Neil has had more of an influence than he knows, I realise. I half expect David to start pining for a tuna steak. I shrug, tut and KIbe and I leave him and set off down the labyrinth of sewers and paths after Caro, our Gorogocho co-ordinator. The workshop is really well organised. Some great little business plans and ALL written down. At the end of the workshop three men are applying for grants. One of them being the old guy who conned Neil out of 400 bob last week by suggesting (with subtle use of a large bat) that Neil might want to think about paying for some security. I lay into him. I am genuinely pissed off. He eventually apologises. I tell him he is only being considered for a grant because of Caro. I give him the minimum and then deduct the 400 shillings. The other two guys actually have great little plans. One will be making mutura (the sort of Kenyan haggis/sausage) and I book myself fifty bob’s worth on my next trip.
Mr and Mrs Sammi are supposed to be joining us as Mrs Sammi has a business proposal and. As they have been looking after the kids, she is due a boost. They don’t turn up. We leave.
Back at Kabiria the girls still ant to wait for thei father – who has not yet turned up. Kibe’s cousin Gideon and his wife gallantly allow them to stay in their one roomed house. We leave with Joseph (who looks SO relieved) and Innocent.. David takes them back to Ruai and drops me and KIbe off at Corner where we scavenge the little bars for someone who has something left to eat in their kitchen.
To say I have a ridiculous amount to do today would be like saying Jimmy Saville was a bit odd. It starts with a call from Gideon asking me to come and talk to the girls in Kabiria. The father, it transpires, had arrived at about 10pm the previous night.
I go. We talk. I explain that they cannot live with Gideon. That the choice is Ruai or their father’s place. We ask what is bad at Ruai. Turns out that they a) think they don’t get enough to eat and b) have to wash their own clothes sometimes. Then Miriam chirpily recalls the time Jane tried to hang herself. Jane bursts into tears. She says she was accused of being a thief. I (with Jane’s permission) call Dinah the headmistress of the school to see if she has picked up on anything being wrong at home with the kids. Dinah knows all about the suicide attempt. Jane was being got at at school for being behind in class. Being ‘stupid’. A ‘friend’ had suggested that they both kill themselves as being the only way out. Jane went ahead and the ‘friend’ didn’t. Apparently it had only been ‘a joke’. And nothing to do with home life, says Dinah.
We talk on. My Mary Poppins along with my Sawahili, is tested to the limit. We reach the point where Miriam wants to go to Ruai and come back when she has finished her education, Moses wants to go back to Ruai but come to Kabiria in school holidays and Jane doesn’t want to go back at all. Apparently the father last night had been adamant that the children would never go back to Ruai. Dinah the headmistress says we should call Child Services. David says we should call the police. I am thinking that it is bound to be alcohol o’clock somewhere in the world and maybe I could go there …
I suggest, before I rush off to the police and child services en route to the pub, that we give the father one last chance to … well, to be a dad.
Gideon calls him. Via a neighbour. And – amazingly enough – within an hour he is there. Clean. Tidy. We talk. A lot. At the start he simply repeats and repeats that the children will never go back to Ruai to Sammi’s house. I am getting tetchy when he says something else. He says “I know he will make them to forget me”. Now, as a woman with the single greatest father in the entire history of fathers (and, I cannot help but believe, the future of fathers), this gets me. And we talk again. I know he hates Sammi I say. And Mrs Sammi he points out. He never says why. I point out again that at the moment he cannot give the kids what they need – Jayne wants to be a doctor. Miriam a pilot and Joseph an engineer. They can never reach that from the dirt of the floor of his house in Kabiria. But no one can ever make them stop remembering him. I ask the kids. They assure him. We talk on and on. He is not stupid. He understands the situation. And then I say he has to decide if he hates Sammi more than he loves his children. That is the decision. And – amazingly – he talks to each of the children in turn and then says “it is alright. They should go to Ruai”. I am, to be honest, a bit overwhelmed. And immediately begin to worry if I have bamboozled him with my sharp Paisley Grammar Educated wit and sophistry. But he means it. Can he go once a week to Ruai to see them ? I ask. He shakes his head. He works ‘kibarua’ – which is casual labouring, and must just queue each day for work. My mind is now working overtime. What other skills does he have ? I expect the answer ‘none’. But it tran pires that before everything went all wrong he was a driver. Excellent !! Except that he doesn’t exactly have a proper license and paperwork. Less excellent ! However, a driver earns a decent wage. And the bloke has just proved in the most impressive way that he does have the kids best interest at heart. And so Mama BIashara is paying £80 for him to go to a month’s training, get a test and get all the official paperwork so that he can get work as a driver. Mama B has also added £16 (eight days wages) so that he can have one day off a week for the next eight weeks to go and see the kids in Ruai. By that time I will be back. If he is really earning good money, we can discuss splitting the cost of a house and the kids can come and spend all of their holidays with him.
I also give him some money and pay Gideon enough to have the kids stay another three days instead of going back to Ruai today. They seem really happy. Which is marvellous.
We head off with Doris to see the remaining stone quarry workers. Generally speaking they have decent business ideas, although the rabbit breeding group have got a bit ahead of themselves and have orders stacked up for Christmas that are quite beyond even the procreational and reproductory powers of rabbits. Their rationale is that, until Mr and Mrs Rabbit catch up, they buy adult rabbits at 400/- each and sell them at what turns out to be 300/- each. They are sent away to think again. We also do a load of medical stuff and discover a cluster of women who a) have not been tested for HIV and b) have worrying symptoms of what look to be opportunistic infections. One woman has what I suspect to be systemic candida, for example. I give her general and specific fungicidal pills and pessaries. Doris takes her for a test along with some others and, sadly, yes she is positive. She is amazingly co operative and will be introducing Doris to her male friend, who is undoubtedly the source of her woes. I have sent him the candida treatment and we will see if Doris can persuade him to take an HIV test.
One of the groups includes a slightly strange girl who keeps coming and going. She has ‘problems’ one of the women says, tapping her head with a forefinger. But they have included her in their group so she can have some income. Which is lovely. I talk to the girl and discover she is incredibly articulate and intelligent. And suffers from Grand Mal seizures together with serious mental health issues. She is on Tegretol for the epilepsy plus Phenobarbitol and Amitryptaline. The drug bill being the main reason she needs an income. She is a walking miracle. I give her a drug budget for a month to get her going on the business. We will have to see her again. And – if I can get someone decent to see her – try to get her some less hammerhead drugs to go alongside the Tegretol.
There is a bit of a commotion at the gate of the house where we are working. It turns out that, despite Doris’s best endeavours, someone has alerted the entire community to the fact that there is a mzungu here doing medical stuff and giving money. Never good. They are intimidating the women who leave with grants and meds. Doris tells me just to shut up and walk. She does know best in these situations, so we do. We shut up and walk. Nothing terrible happens. Just some shouting. We get in the car and go. IT is incredibly frustrating, as the only people who get hurt (or who really are likely to get hurt) are the poor Kenyan women who need Mama B’s help.
We sit in our little cafe in Dagoretti Corner and make To Do lists, and To Check Lists and To Pay Lists. Which is rather satisfying. I have a minor blip when I discover I have accidentally given away my house rent. There is always tomorrow. And a cash machine. My life is so easy, I reflect, in comparison to the women I work with. Not fair really …
As I gaze at the mountain of baggage in my small slum palace behind the carwash I am hoping against hope that the lovely lady at BA who is trying to get us free excess baggage will succeed. I head down to Junction to get my rent money from the ATM and then go to Shalom to meet a) Julius and b) Langat. Langat is a young guy who runs marathons – and does very well. His brother is a professional runner and Langat was picked up by a ‘trainer’, brought to Nairobi, relieved of the money his village had raised for him to start training and left to live on the street. He is a charming boy. He had been working as a night watchman but the contract finished. I tell him about cousin Gus, who also runs marathons. Langat is very excited and makes an offer to take Gus running in the Ngong Hills should he ever come to Nairobi. I fix him up with cod liver oil, some other supplements and a budget for a small kiosk business he will run from the small kiosk he is actually living in at the moment.