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January 21, 2019

From coughing blood to going insane: Former addicts speak out

MEWA officer speaks to drug users at a den in North Coast, Mombasa
MEWA officer speaks to drug users at a den in North Coast, Mombasa

Outreach workers Jaymo* and Slim* (not their real names) toil every day to help drug addicts in Mombasa. Their hard work and dedication towards the cause has gained them respect from most drug addicts in North Coast.

The respect largely stems from how the two reformed their own lives. They were so far deep into drugs, no one ever thought they would make it out alive. But these two men defied the odds, dallied with insanity and even tussled with death to live a drug-free life.

JAYMO’S STORY

Jaymo is almost 40, but you can hardly tell from his youthful features, which include curly, shoulder-length hair reflective of his Middle Eastern origin, habitually tucked under a knit cap. Although his physical appearance bears no trace of being a former addict, Jaymo abused drugs for 15 years. Now clocking seven years of sobriety, his drug days are still freshly etched in his mind.

Hailing from a family of drug addicts, Jaymo believes his magnetism towards drugs is ingrained in his DNA. Jaymo’s parents were habitual miraa chewers, while his two older brothers died from addiction.

Growing up in the crowded streets of Old Town Mombasa with both parents absent, Jaymo was raised by his grandmother. He started going rogue early on in his life. He quit school and got mixed up with the wrong crowd. Although he was in bad company, Jaymo’s induction to drugs didn’t start until he moved in with his mother in Bamburi. In this area, he started by smoking dried-up wild sage leaves (Lantana camara) and slowly moved his way up to bhang.

He took rohypnol, ecstasy, sleeping pills, hashish, alcohol and miraa. His mission was always the same: to get a doped-up experience better than the last. He finally got into smoking heroin and later started injecting it.

But as the Swahili say, it’s not going up the hill that is the issue, it’s the coming down. Jaymo’s rehabilitation story is a sobering one. While he lived a fearless life of selling and abusing drugs, his near-fatal brush with tuberculosis made him call it quits.

“I started coughing blood and had severe internal pains. I knew I was dying,” he said. Knowing that one more fix could finish him off, Jaymo reached out to his sister for help. She took him to a rehab centre in Malindi, where he was immediately placed under TB medication.

“If I believed I had gotten to rock bottom before, it was nothing compared to what I went through during my first month of rehab. My body went through the worst possible withdrawals. The pain from Arosto (withdrawals) and TB was excruciating. I couldn’t sleep. I withered physically. No one thought I was going to make it,” he says.

Jaymo recalls how he would cry loudly from the pain. His fellow rehab clients were his only source of consolation. Them and God. Jaymo prayed hard through his pain. He confessed to God that if he ever made it out, his life would never be the same. And that’s a promise he kept.

The road to recovery is not an easy path. Jaymo asserts that most people who go to rehab end up relapsing. Fighting his genetic predisposition, Jaymo’s free will was his salvation. And what better way to show his appreciation for getting a second chance at life than to help others?

Jaymo faces the ugly truth of his past every day as he goes to the field to reach out to addicts. He sees himself in every one of them. His recovery story is nothing short of a miracle. But as addiction is a disease of the mind, the fear of relapse does not fail to manifest itself in his daily life.

SLIM’S STORY

At first glance, one might stereotype that Slim is still an addict. His long unkempt dreadlocks, his skinny appearance and ungroomed beard are a typecast of the Rastafarian culture. Slim still bears many scars on his body that summarise different stages of his life. Slim started smoking weed when he was in class six. By the time he was done with his KCPE, he had already started using and peddling bugizi (rohypnol).

Slim was introduced to heroin when a pinch of it was added to the weed, and they would smoke it by passing it around. Slim says only a few puffs of it would be enough for him. He added those puffs to his regular dose of weed, rohypnol and mnazi (palm wine). “At this point in my life, I was ever high,” he says.

Slim was arrested for the first time in 2008. He was charged with possession and suspicion of criminal activity and was sentenced to five months in prison. “In prison I found it hard to sleep. All I could think about was getting out. I did not suffer a lot in terms of relapse because I wasn’t highly hooked on cocaine yet, and we got alternative pills and weed in prison,” he says.

When he left prison, Slim started injecting himself with heroin. He fell out with his family and started living with other addicts in a den in an abandoned farm. His continued use and peddling almost got him in every sort of trouble imaginable. He was in and out of prison. He was subjected to mob justice on more than one occasion. And he was even gnawed by police dogs once.

Slim’s drug peddling days ended when he was set up by his usual buyer during a covert police operation. He ended up in remand, where he almost went insane. “My time in remand was spent mostly thinking about the guy who had set me up. I kept imagining ways to get back at him,” he says.

“Then I started thinking about all the things I had done in my lifetime. All the thinking took me to a place of madness. I went crazy. Literally. They put me in the psych ward for a couple of months. When I started getting better, I was moved to the ‘white-collar cell’. There were all the big shots who were arrested. We got the best drugs in there.”

Salvation came in the form of an uncle he had wronged many times before. His uncle gave him one more chance at life.

Slim left prison and went straight to the Muslim Education and Welfare Association (Mewa) detox centre for seven days, where he went cold turkey and took no medications whatsoever. He later moved to Mewa rehabilitation centre, where he spent two years not only working on his sobriety but also helping those who wanted to embark on the road to recovery as well.

Jaymo’s and Slim’s life stories might seem as if they were ripped out of the pages of a horror story. But these two men have experienced life at its worst, they have seen the underbelly of the beast. A life of addiction might be easy to get into, but the tough choice of reforming is no easy feat.

The two relive their horrific pasts every single day when they enter the drug dens. But they soldier on in their honorable mission to help as many addicts as they can.

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