Friday, October 02, 2009

Takhzin Diaries: You Never Chew Alone

One cardinal rule, broken again and again even by old hands who should know better, is to never chew miraa alone. Miraa is generally considered a mild stimulant but, as with all drugs, threshold levels vary from one individual to the next and so does the intensity of the physiological and psychological effects. Also important with miraa is that because it is consumed in its natural state, with absolutely no laboratory processing, determining the potency of the product is still much of a fluke even for the self-professed connoiseur.

The active ingredients in miraa, Cathine and Cathinone, are ingested through chewing of fresh twigs and leaves of the Catha Edulis plant. These twigs and leaves are harvested all year round and, naturally, the crop from the dry season is bound to vary in potency and ease of consumption from that of the rainy as well as that of the cold season. The geographical location, age of the plant, the nature and extent of the plant husbandry, the lack of or the existence of inter-crops (and the nature of these crops) among other things are all conditions likely to mildly-to-significantly alter the potency of the product.

The unpredictable nature of miraa though has been demonstrated to me though by the observation of variance between what its chemistry says and what I have seen in real life. The most active ingredient in miraa, Cathinone is believed to decompose within forty eight hours after harvesting. This is to say, and all effort is made to ensure that, the product has to be delivered to the consumer long before the end of this period. Chemistry aside, everyone swears by fresh miraa and your supplier goes to great lengths to convince you that his stock was plucked and delivered on that same day. Yet, I have sat, chewing with a bunch of four other people who got mighty high even though they were chewing miraa that was at the very least, two days older than mine. Also, I have to admit that one of the very few times that I have had a head-rushing kind of miraa high, a feeling I can only occasionally induce with the smoking of the cheap, unfiltered Rooster cigarettes, was when I was chewing stock that had lain on my floor for at least five days. This days-old miraa, referred to as kilalo in allusion to its state of having ‘slept over’, seems quite as potent, albeit a little rough on the palate, as the fresh pick.

And reverting to the idea of solo chewing… I for one spend long hours chewing alone. Usually, I am seated in the same position reading or, as in the case now, writing. I cannot for a fact say that it enhances my productivity but the down time occasioned by post-chewing lethargy is significant. Then of course there is the anorectic effect which when coupled with the sore mouth makes eating a decent meal- assuming such can be found- quite a chore.

Maybe, because my mind is constantly focused on the reading and writing, at times even when chewing in a group or the fact that miraa affects me in a different way- I do not become hyperactive- I have not experienced certain things that many others have reported to me. It is common, for instance, for many people to get home while still chewing and clean their houses inside out. A story is also told at my regular chewing base of this guy who was chewing all alone in his house at night when he started to feel all sweaty and dehydrated. He got up and went to the corner of his bed-sit where a pack of jerry cans stood, Nairobi style. He picked one, took a massive swig from it and poured the rest on himself. It is the burning sensation in his mouth and the distinctive odour of paraffin that quickly enveloped him that brought him to his wits and sent him gagging into the shared toilet outside.

Of course the veracity of most of the stories you hear in the course of chewing, especially those from second hand sources and those that you hear different versions of in different chewing bases is impossible to ascertain. But attempts to poke holes in them are not only silly but bad form because story-telling is the Big G that binds the takhzin. If you have to take them any other way but as truth, then it must be as plausible.

The next story though, told to me last night is straight out of the mouth of a horse of my acquaintance. A few years back, my boy Ngure, used to chew out on Kirichwa Road in Kilimani. One night, at about two a.m. he decided to drive to his house, and as he had a bunch of sticks left, chew on his balcony for about another hour, screw his wife and then sleep. As he was driving, he started to hear this persistent humming sound and became convinced that he had a puncture. So with the one-track-mindedness that miraa induces he stopped the car, right there in the middle of the road at that ungodly hour. He stepped out of his car and inspected every single tyre, twice. Nothing. Vexed, he stepped back into the car and only then realised that what he had thought was a humming sound was actually his car’s stereo. Laughing loudly at himself, he set about lighting himself a cigarette and then as he was pushing his gear into drive, realised that he was parked on a bridge.

He was in Kikuyu, headed out of Nairobi in the opposite direction of his Langata house.

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