John Richard, a recovering drug addict. [Photo: Maarufu Mohammed, Standard]
Tina Mwaburi looks every inch an urban teenager.
At her age, she is supposed to be making long-term plans for her future, and studying hard to make it in life.
But none of these are on her plate right now.
As she speaks, her soft, almost inaudible tone masks deep scars in her youthful life.
With big, brown eyes, she stares inquisitively at every stranger who looks her way.
Everybody, it seems, takes note of her tribulations.
Barely in her 20s, Mwaburi is a mother of a five-month old baby girl, born out of wedlock. She dropped out of a boarding school in Kitui soon after joining Form Four, last year, because of the pregnancy.
Her lover disappeared as soon as he learnt of the new development.
With poor parents who can hardly afford to feed her and her new baby, the future looks bleak for this young mother.
But these are the least of her problems.
Mwaburi is the new face of Mombasa’s drug addicts.
Every day for the past two years, Mwaburi has maintained a constant “high” as a result of substance abuse, mainly cocaine.
Without drugs, she feels crippled, unable to fulfill even the most basic chores.
“I can’t function properly without my daily dose.
Even breastfeeding the baby is a problem if I don’t get a shot of cocaine,” she says.
We met Mwaburi sitting on a bench outside a drug treatment centre in Kisauni, Mombasa County.
Like many drug users who visit this and similar centres strewn across the county, Mwaburi is here to get a dose of Methadone, a drug that reduces withdrawal symptoms in persons hooked to hard drugs.
Methadone gives her some semblance of normalcy.
Mwaburi was introduced to drugs by a very close friend who was already hooked to drugs.
She did not know the addictive nature of the substances and regrets that moment two years ago.
“I wish I could go back and complete my schooling,” she tells us.
“But the drugs have taken a toll on me. Then there is the baby,” she said almost breaking down in tears.
A hundred metres away from the rehabilitation centre is Magondoroni, the epicentre of the drug menace in Kisauni.
Seated on a concrete slab outside a bullet-riddled old structure are haggard looking men.
They are close to two dozens men here – some in their late teens, some in their 40s and even others above 60.
Their beaten faces tell the vagaries of prolonged drug abuse. Every visitor is treated with utmost suspicion. You take a walk here at your own risk.
“Sisi hatuna shinda na mtu, ni vile madawa yametufanya kuwa bure (We have no problem with anyone, it’s just the ravages of drug abuse),” says 23-year-old Mwalimu Juma.
Juma started using drugs when he was barely in his teens.
Like Mwaburi, he wishes he could kick the habit but the powerful force of addiction has held him back.
Methadone, that wonder drug that is meant to suppress the addictive power of the hard drugs is in short supply here.
It is one of the highly-regulated drugs.
Juma, one of those with some power of comprehension here introduces us to a man known in these circles as “Professor”.
His real name is Kibwana Ali, a 48-year-old acrobat who entertained thousands in his hey days at the Bomas of Kenya.
He globe trotted in his role as an entertainer and has stories to tell from his visits to famed tourist sites in Cape Town, South Africa.
At some point, ‘professor’ featured in some local adverts for an alcoholic drink.
Drugs have all but taken the shine out of Ali.
In the now familiar script, Ali too was introduced to drugs by a friend he trusted.
“I got to experiment with drugs through my girlfriend. I wish I had known that these would be the results,” he says, his hands trembling incessantly.
To lighten the moment, Ali performs some stunts such as balancing an empty bottle on a rod sticking out of his mouth.
“You see, I can still do it. I just need another chance in life,” he says.
He is talking about another chance to entertain Kenyans through his acrobatic skills.
But before that can happen, he has to overcome or at least suppress the urge to abuse narcotics.
Kenya’s coast has seen the highest cases of drug abuse in the country.
In Mombasa alone, close to 100,000 people are hooked on drugs.
Heroin, cocaine, and marijuana are the most common.
Then there is a cocktail made up of the three key drugs and additional substances making for a deadly content.
Others go by weird names such as kuber, shashaman, mau, tambuu, kukumanga, mkorogo, mshomoro, and kamusi.
Jet fuel, glue and the now common shisha are also listed by the National Authority Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada) as emerging drugs.
In the past, the State has used such regulation to tame the menace to no avail.
Police swoops only net the end users, leaving the dealers, who locals say are well known off the hoot.
At the recovering addicts’ ‘base’ in Magondoroni, Kisauni, we came across a house riddled with bullet holes, an indication of the frequent and vicious fights between the authorities and the drug users.
“When the police come here, they treat us like wild animals. We are already on life’s edge but we are beaten mercilessly,” says Hamisi Athumani, one of the recovering addicts.
The use of drugs brings with it more cases of HIV and Aids and more recently, an upsurge in tuberculosis.
Those arrested and charged end up in prison where, depending on whether they are infected with any of the two diseases, end up infecting others.