Wednesday, August 26, 2009


“Warya! Warya! Saidia mate/” Brother, brother, lend me your saliva.

That is yet another punchline from a miraa chewer's oeuvre. The best part of chewing miraa/ khat, I have realised, is not the drug's high but the camaraderie in the process of getting there.

I have hang out in numerous drug dens. The quest for the ideal poison for me to write to has taken me through myriad journeys into intoxification. I have journeyed, variously, as a participant, an observer, a participant observer or even, with alcohol and nicotine, as inveterate consumer. Many substances I have become acquainted with; many delusional trips I have taken with them, but none surpasses miraa.

My recent adventures into the, largely indeterminate world of the miraa high demands an entire series of its own on this blog, but before I can take you there I have to tell you the 'lend me your saliva story'.

For those who might not know, part of the miraa chewing experience, takhzin, involves the telling and retelling of moments of highness that soon take on an aura of urban legend about them as chewers trade them from one chewing base to the next. So this version of the story is as it was told to me at my regular base and there is no guarantee that it is an accurate rendition or even that I will retell it in this same way the next time I chew.

The story goes something like this: A Somali guy has been hired to drive a lorry from Kisumu to Mombasa. As is the custom with a significant number of long-distance drivers on Kenyan roads, the fellow, who we shall call Hassan, is an incorrigible miraa chewer. So he grabs his three Kilos and tucks them on the seat between his legs. He fills one of those plastic Coke bottles with water from a nearby sink and tucks it in a compartment in the door on the driver's side of the cab. He throws a few bags of roasted groundnuts and some of cloves onto the dashboard and he is now good to go. He begins to chew on a few sticks as the engine idles, then drives of.

The thing with chewing miraa is that it dehydrates you: your mouth gets progressively drier and your lips begin to crack. That explains why most miraa chewers need to keep sipping on something. Ironically, because most people use sugary soft drinks, coffee or alcohol, their dehydration increases and their lips crack some more. To deal with that, most people apply petroleum jelly on their lips.

Some people, on the other hand, use cooking oil or whatever oily substance that is easily at hand. For Hassan, all he had was brake fluid.

So Hassan was driving. Hassan was chewing. Hassan was getting high. High. Higher. Highest. Every time he felt as though his lips were too dry, he dipped his finger into a can of brake fluid and smeared some of it on his lips.

Having got exceedingly high, Hassan begun to imagine that he had a puncture. So he pushed the lorry easily until he got to Nakuru where he pulled into a service station.

Hassan stepped out of the lorry and checked out all his tyres. They all looked fine. But he was convinced he had a meddling tear on the right rear wheel. The best way to prove it, as he knew, was to apply a bit of saliva on the tear and wait. If bubbles begun to show, then he would be certain that he had a puncture.

So he lunged a finger into his mouth. Hassan attempted to raise a mighty gob of spit from his mouth. Nothing happened.

Hassan hacked. Nothing happened.
Irritated, Hassan begun to yell at one of the station's attendants, “Warya! Warya! Saidia na mate...”

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