November 2013(1)


Diary 1 November 2013
Wednesday 13th
As I arrive in Nairobi and look around in my tiny pouch (this is a hand luggage, not an anatomical reference) for my Kenyan phone I discover that I have, in fact, carried an incendiary device, ie a disposable lighter, right through T5 security. Perhaps the guys there should have concentrated on me instead of on the Somali woman in front of me who was put through the big I-Reveal-Your-Undies machine before having her hand baggage taken apart and searched …
On arrival the Big News is that David the Driver has a car. Almost his own ! OK the doors don’t seem to fit and when you sit on any of the seats your arse just goes straight down to the floor but it goes. Talk of new accommodation in the servants quarters of a house nearby has not quite come to fruition and so I greet the cats, hug Margaret and fall asleep in my small slum palace.

Thursday 14th
I head to change money and put the lot into Mpesa – Kenyan phone banking. After the hooha of the last visit I have decided to go cashless as far as possible. And hope that the network makes it known that the mad old mzungu lady no longer carries cash.
It turns out that the upper limit on Mpesa is around £800. So I deposit that and go to the market.
I refuse to describe the loveliness that I have bought to sell in the Mama Biashara Emporium for Christmas. You need to come and see it. And buy it. If you are very good then perhaps Simon will put some pictures up here on the Mama Biashara page … 
Next up is a catch up with Doris. We meet at Java House to satisfy everyone’s worries about my security. Security adds £1.50 to the cost of a cup of milky coffee.
Doris is sporting a VERY sexy new hairdo. A short crop. Really lovely. Turns out it was the result of a trichological disaster involving a weave and hair dye. Looks good, anyway.
Updates are as follows …
The group of ex cons who are running the bakery had a disaster with yeast (for once the baking kind and not the STD kind) when they got an order for bread as well as cakes but our marvellous catering company lady has trained them in the mysteries of the rising dough and all is well.
The new beading group (16 women, financed with a grant of about £60 for beads and wire) got off to a flying start. From that £60 they made about £360 through the orders for beaded tissue boxes, collecting boxes, beaded curtains and stuff for a local church. Each woman got enough to start her own small business and the group as a whole will continue to look for orders and fill them as they come along (paying for the beads themselves this time). Another result for Doris !
The chicken groups who got into difficulty with fowl lurgy are all up and running again – thanks to help and donated chickens from other Mama Biashara chicken groups.
All the banana groups are doing ridiculously well’
As I forgot to bring PoundWorld’s bleach tablets last time the bleach and detergent ladies had to use the local chemical mix to make their bleach. Which turned out to have the cleansing properties of hydrochloric acid. They lost business like a kids party organiser offering Jimmy Savile doubles. I have dozens of packets of Poundland’s finest in my bag, so all should be the colour of the rose now. Assuming the rose is white …
Felista arrives and my day is complete. Good news : the school has made it into the group of ‘informal sector’ (ie slum) schools that are given a government code. This code SHOULD mean that, come March / April, the government SHOULD start paying the school for each pupil. This COULD be the saving of DECIP, both school and home. CWAC funding is stopping in December for various reasons and her other sponsor – a Canadian called Paul who has been helping a dozen or so homes – has just disappeared as of this month. The situation is pretty bleak. But Felista is hurtling around trying to drum up support from all over.
Felista also reports that the old lady she wanted me to see the last time I was over, who had been bedbound, unable to walk, with an alarming mixture of abdomino-genital symptoms and intermittently ‘hot legs’ was given, as told, Cod Liver Oil and multivitamins&minerals (both courtesy of Watford’s own HTC. She is now doing a fair impression of a spring chicken and the people of Mutuini and Waithake talk endlessly of the ‘miracle cure’ that is the fish oil.

Dairy 2 November 2013

I need to fess up, I think. About why the only thing I really did yesterday was shop and talk. A couple of weeks ago I was put up for an audition by my lovely agent Debi Allen. Slightly hampered by the fact I was suffering from projectile diaorrhea and frequent vomiting, it seemed to go rather well. I did mention I was leaving for Kenya on 13th. Rehearsals were due to start on 16th so I had hoped I could leave early and come back in time. If I got the part. Which they didn’t say. Except to assure me that it was ‘definitely not a no’. And right up to today it is still ‘definitely not a no’. I need the money so that Mama B can continue as a 100% charity and not put so much as a toe on the slippery slope to six figure salaries for charity bosses. My stress levels are bouncing off the ceiling of my small slum palace, which is not good for the lupus.
Anyway enough about me. Doris has some women lined up for a business workshop. Again, for security’s sake we have decided to keep moving around and we are meeting this afternoon in town beside one of the big mosques in a greasy spoon with quite the most truculent waitress in catering. Add that to the chef’s speciality which comes with free food poisoning (Doris had a nasty experience with a kebab here) and the only thing going for the place is that they ask no questions and supply endless tea as our people come and go.
Doris arrives fresh from taking one of her girls to a Big Interview with a Very Posh hairdressing salon. Mama B is training girls little by little in basic hairdressing skills – weaves, braiding etc and in manicure and eyebrow threading. All this is done through Doris and continues when I am not there. Using one of our csw girls and another of Mama B’s ladies as models, our interviewee has done a brilliant job and has the customers in the salon lining up to book her. The system here is that when a girl works in a salon she brings her own customers and the salon take a percentage. Generally 50% If someone wants a weave and the salon supplies the hairpieces that rises to 90% but if the girl supplies her own hairpieces then she charges for them with no percentage taken. Mama B generally sets new girls up with a few hairpieces and some products and kit so they can start making decent money immediately. Doris has an amazing network of salonists and other helpful people and through them has placed dozens of girls since we started this. 
We would love to have a Mama B salon but it is expensive to rent a place in a decent area and it is in the ecent areas where you get decent trade.
Our first girl is one of the models and looks gorgeous. She is a girl from commercial sex work who was given grant a few months ago in a group of six women who wanted to import ginger from Tanzania to sell. It was all going incredibly well. The group doubled in size. Women were getting their own private customers as well as the group customers. Then, disaster, Kenyan style. The lorry driver who was bringing back the ginger, along with stuff for other businesses decided to smuggle some charcoal into town. This is illegal. Partly to stop people cutting down the Mau Forest to make the stuff and partly, I suspect, to keep prices in Nairobi high. The driver was arrested and the cargo (including all the ginger and everything else) was ‘impounded’. IE stolen by the authorities. End of business. And so Lucy has come to ask for money to start again. Not ginger (although they will go back to ginger when they find a decent lorry driver and the heat is off) but kente fabric from Uganda. The profit margin is massive. And Lucy is a very organised business woman. The group has called itself Women of Power. Which we like. Mama B lends the girls the money ( a second grant is not something we can really do) and they will pay it back from January over five months.
At this point I get a text telling me I have not got the job.
Next u is another group of eight csws. The group leader was today’s other model. She is stunning ! Absolutely stunning. But I don’t let that cloud my judgement. They want to make wedding cakes and have got themselves orders for five in December. The girls have been trained by Doris’s friend with the catering company who has done SO much for us already. She is giving the girls space in which to bake the cakes. It is all good except that the oven they need costs just under £300. But the business is a good one. Wedding cakes sell for about £200 each (five tiers) and so we give the girls a grant plus a loan of £150 which will be paid back in two lots of £75 in Jan/Feb. Everyone is happy. Except the truculent waitress, of course.
Group three is, again, made up of commercial sex workers. Older ladies this time, desperate to get off the streets, seriously beaten down by life, the men who use and abuse them and the sheer grind of looking after not just children but grandchildren too. Naomi is a lovely woman. Doris has warned me that she is terrified of coming to ask the mzungu for money. Doris says a lot of the women don’t believe this kind of thing can happen for them. Naomi is genuinely charismatic. Some of her mathematics are bollocks and her portion control is non existent but her group has a first order of 60 bowls of fruit salad per day for teachers at the university. We do the sums again. With seasonal adjustments (oh yes !) and I point out that the weekly profit is very small. Like a couple of quid per woman. Naomi assures me that that is enough to start with. It is something, she says. It will mean the women know they can put something on the table for their children. And grandchildren. (Naomi herself has three children and four grandchildren … hence the need to take to the streets). We agree the fruit salad, agree to try to get more orders and then I suggest we add on a bleach business – it is easy, not hard physically and very very profitable. We suggest she takes a sample to the university. I add on £15 and ask Naomi to make sure everyone eats well tonight. A wonderful woman on whom I will be keeping tabs to see she is doing ok. 
Finally (after a short exchange with the truculent waitress who insisted we pay our bill as she is leaving) we have a group of 15 girls who want to breed quail for eggs. They have done some training, have even done a small pilot project and are impressively well researched. Quail eggs here are not the chichi canape they are in the UK. Oh no. Here, according to traditional ‘doctors’ they cure cancer, diabetes, AIDS and arthritis. Kadzo (our expert) pitches a good business. They have a free place to breed them and buyers lined up. They get their grant. OK how many knew it takes 62 days for a quail to grow to maturity ? 
Doris and I leave and get our separate busses.

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