From the moment we step into adolescence, we develop this innate urge to rebel. An urge so overwhelming that it forces us into activities that define teenagehood. We experiment; with sex, with money, with drugs. Immediately the first string of hair sprouts from beneath our armpits, so does the feeling of being a grown up. Teenagehood is a defining time for any person, regardless of gender. In most cases, if that person is not just clearing primary school, then s/he is just fresh into High School. That is where it all begins, and then goes all the way into campus.
Among the things kids love experimenting with is drugs. It starts small, when an uncle comes visiting and lights a cigarette in your presence. The way the lit end smothers in red, and how he emits smoke from his nose and mouth intrigues you, so the next time when he isn’t looking, you grab one of his cancer sticks. The first time you choke on the smoke, but the moment nicotine gets into your blood, you will find yourself wanting more; it grows into a habit, then a social thing, and before you know it, tobacco becomes a need.
That is how Karani found himself downing a whole packet in a day. In recent research, the watchdog body for drug and substance abuse NACADA estimated that out of the 60% young people that make up the midriff of our population, about 6.2% use tobacco. Of course in High School, there are controls that attempt at warding off drugs, but that has never stopped anybody who is need of a high.
Leave alone tobacco, let talk about the devil’s piss. According to NACADA, 11.5% of the youth between the ages of 15-24 consume alcohol. That statistic did not take me by surprise at all. In fact, I think by now, it should be more. Initially, when boarding schools allowed pupils to come with goodies such as juice and foodstuff, the kids got cheeky. Usually, one would mix alcohol (presumably vodka) with the juice and then sneak in the cocktail. Nobody would ever know, until the day teachers realized that students felt drowsy most of the time and unveiled their trick and that lead to the banning of foodstuff and drinks. But there is no stopping a student with a drive for an occasional tipsy reverie. Just early this year there was a story in the dailies about how high school girls were lacing their tampons with alcohol.
That is just the beginning. When they step into campus, they meet a different kettle of fish. Take Salim for example, a former student at University of Nairobi. This is one bloke that has tried almost every drug you might think of. Cocaine, crack, alcohol, khat, tobacco…you name it. The evidence of his drug abuse is evident from the moment you meet him. His red lips and bloodshot eyes give away the level of alcohol in his blood, and the jab marks on his arm a testament of heroin and cocaine use.
But before you judge Salim, please take a walk with me through his life. He grew up in the coastal town of Kilifi. He is among the several young people at the coast that NACADA speak about in the same breathe as drug abuse and peer pressure. He is from a decent background- but the company he kept led his astray. He began with a snort of cocaine when he was 16, and he has never stopped since. He, just like lovers of skinny jeans, got into the habit in order to fit in. He had nobody to remind him that he was born to stand out- because his dad was constantly away, especially after the demise of his mother, a couple years into his High School. He graduated from the almost harmless miraa to tobacco, alcohol, cocaine and finally to heroin; but never from campus.
However, it is a fallacy to imagine that it is only in coast where hard drugs are prevalent. A tour around Nairobi reveals a similar phenomenon, especially in the slum areas. The most common is alcohol and tobacco, because they are legal and cheaply available. A closer peek opens another revelation; that hard drugs also find their way into these areas. In such places, people resort to drugs out of frustration and idleness resulting from poverty. This world has given them nothing at all to lose and everything to prove- the same government that cuts off facilities meant to keep them off the streets comes around to ask why they use drugs. Such is the Kenyan paradox of our times.
The thing about hard drugs is that they are quickly addictive, yet they do not come cheap. Their dealers drive hard bargains. Take heroin for instance. A kilo is valued at Ksh 2.4 Million. At the outset, it is used as medicine of last resort to relive extreme pain, such as that resulting from a heart attack or a severe injury. The name “heroin” is only used when being discussed in its illegal form. When it is used in a medical environment, it is referred to as diamorphine.
Because of the height of its cost, there is this hare-brained procedure called flashing. It is basically involves withdrawing blood from one person to another, with the object of transferring the high to the recipient. The same can also be done for cocaine, and other injected drugs. That is how, ladies and gentlemen, HIV/AIDS rears its ugly head. When someone scales such heights of dependency and desperation, it is obvious that they have been imprisoned in the barless jail called addiction.
Addiction turns one into a slave, it cuffs them. The dependant becomes its bitch on a very short leash. You do not have the luxury to leave, because for one, you will not even want to. This is the one consequence of drug use that dwarfs the 25 year jail term or Ksh. 1 million fine if caught.
Dr. Prisca Amungo shared an insight into what this prison does to its inmates: Addiction ruins one’s life. Whatever your poison of choice is, it takes over the place where meals used to be. You know you are addicted when you wake up in the middle of the night, sweating and trembling like a Westgate car park. When you lose the power of coherent speech, and your family’s budget becomes crippled because you cannot stay without a bottle on your hand. When work becomes a chore and deadlines become one of those things you used to meet. You skip work/ school to light a pipe. You will huff and puff and squeeze until your face turns green just to pass a dump in the bathroom. Hell, you will have a nude wife on your bed, but you still wont be able to get it up. She will understand for a while, but just for a while. For when her passionate fires erupt, someone else will do the job for you. Sadly, she will have no apologies for it.
Steve barely managed campus life. He had to be practically forced to go to the mess during mealtimes. His folks couldn’t trust him with money, so they pay the school cateress in lumpsum every month. Steve became a deathly sight- a lugubrious splodge of despair, but at least he was lucky enough to have people who actually cared for him. For ladies who aren’t so lucky, in order to earn money for a snortful of crack, they are forced into a career in which you assume a filthy name and then spread your legs either for show or for other people’s amusement.
There are more horrifying stories of drug and substance abuse in Kenya. More so in the rural areas where cheap brew continues to claim lives on daily basis. Street children with brown bottles sticking out of their mouths continually flood our towns. The pesky ones are usually asking for money, probably to go get another bottle, but if you listen closely, you might hear a little boy or girl asking to be saved. These are kids who have grown up without meals, kisses or hugs. So they kiss the brown bottles, believing that perhaps in the brief high that they get from it, hope might kiss them back.
In the meantime, we have a Parliament teeming with suspected and accused drug lords. The police are doing a swell job fighting drug abuse by arresting the small fish, and conveniently looking the other way when it comes to the sharks. Nobody wants to net a shark in the fear of being bitten while at it. Once in a while the fuzz will buzz in front of our screens with hefty shipments of cocaine nabbed at the port of Mombasa, but you quickly realize that it was just the good old platitudinous Kenya police box office. A threadbare performance now refined through constant practice.
As the hackneyed charades ensue, rehabilitation facilities keep swarming with lives on the verge of being written off. Broken poignant lives that constantly wish they could be relived. Take a tour around a rehab facility one of these days. Believe me, when you are through, you will honestly need a drink. But you don’t have to take my word for it, ask this guy.