Culture Magazine

Comedy Critic Kate Copstick at Home in the Slums of Kenya: a Life Less Ordinary

By Thejohnfleming @thejohnfleming
Kate Copstick (right) at work for Mama Biashara

Kate Copstick (right) at work in Kenya for Mama Biashara

Kate Copstick, doyenne of British comedy critics, runs the Mama Biashara charity, which helps poor people in Kenya (mostly women) set up their own small businesses which may give them a lift to a better life.

I have occasionally quoted from Copstick’s diary about the work of the charity in Kenya but, today, I thought I would quote some extracts showing what life is like for Copstick herself at home in her slum house. She does not live in a hotel or any Westernised expat area. She lives in the slums with the people she tries to help.

These are extracts from her diary:

THURSDAY

I have developed a massive pink throbbing intruder between my buttocks (on the left one looking right). This area has been devoid of the casual visitor for longer than I care to remember and it irritates me (in all senses of the word) that the first should be a bloody mosquito (or whatever it was).

Doris is coming to collect medicines for some of our workshop attendees.

Over milky coffee (I have yet to find a cafe in the whole of the slums that serves coffee as anything but a mug of hot water or milk) and an individual sachet of Nescafé, I have tried paraphrasing Stewart Lee (even in Kiswahili), but the Kenyans seem unimpressed by the “every sip a baby dies” argument.

FRIDAY

Some excitement both outside my tiny slum palace and within. There is a slightly dodgy-looking spider on my little Netbook so I capture it in a glass and Google frantically. It is nowhere near deadly, apparently, but can give you a sting. I have QUITE enough of those so I deposit it outside. Meanwhile, just outside the carwash, there is an attempted carjacking. My landlady’s son, Israel, sees off the carjacker and, only an hour later, some fat, grumpy-looking policemen lumber up to confiscate the gun and stand and look sullen. Not much more than the average day in many parts of London, though. Except for the spider.

SATURDAY

At the risk of offering too much information, I notice that my wee has turned the color of Newcastle Brown ale and smells like boiled cabbage.

While organising books and thoughts in the big room where we work, I get into conversation with Brian, Jayne’s 18 year old son: a singularly impressive man/boy. Football is his passion but, like everything else in the twisted, form-over-content way of Kenya, even the most talented player will not be allowed into a team or to take part in a tournament if he does not have the requisite uniform.

Brian has no boots. So he is not allowed to play. He has a local team of similar youths. They are talented, but uniformless and so cannot progress. He also helps boys off the street or out of ‘bad habits’ – something the discipline of football training is used for across the country. He is, as I say, impressive. And so I take a chance and, on behalf of Gus Whyte (Mama Biashara’s Scottish Donor of the Year) Mama B equips the team with jerseys, shorts, socks, boots and two proper footballs. They can now start rising through the ranks and earning money and kudos. And Brian will start a training programme for disaffected youth… All this for about £120. Brian is already in direct contact with Gus. Should a new Pelé arise from the wastelands of South Nyanza, we will all know who to thank.

SUNDAY

I take my ever-increasing collection of scabs and sores to bed and scratch myself gently into sleep.


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