Holiday parties bring joy but can turn into the worst nightmare

By: ELVIS ONDIEKI and JOSEPHINE MOSONGO

Someone in Nairobi is currently busy collecting ingredients to bake bhang-laced cakes and cookies, mostly targeting teenagers or college students as the August holidays set in.

He knows youngsters will be holding lots of parties and his hopes are already sky-high.

He believes this will be just another season for staggering margins for an underground business he has been running since 2012.

Speaking to Lifestyle on Thursday, the dreadlocked man, who was comfortable being identified as Junior Mystik, was not even remorseful for whatever harm he may be bringing upon the young people, some of them minors.

To buttress his view, he even has a biblical verse from the book of Genesis that encourages the use of “plant-yielding seeds” and trees that are meant to be used by man.

There is everything to suggest that Junior Mystik is ready to use that verse to urge your loved one to taste a cake, a cookie, mabuyu (baobab seeds), simsim or anything from his “factory” which is laced with marijuana — a plant he says is of medicinal value — and packaged as ordinary products that can be sold on the streets without raising suspicion.

That he is more comfortable with illicit baking than seeking employment through his training as an IT specialist and graphic designer speaks volumes about where he believes the more satisfying “kilo-bytes” are.

“They prefer the cookies to smoking bhang because of the smell. No-one would really look at you twice for eating an ordinary-looking cookie. Cookies give you a lasting high. If you are a negative person, it will give you paranoia; but you’ll relax if you are usually a positive person,” Junior Mystik said.

BUSINESS PEAKS IN AUGUST

The underground trader, who also sells bhang for those who want to smoke, explained that business usually peaked during the school holidays like this August, with house parties providing the biggest market.

“It’s our peak season; same as the festive season,” he said, adding that a single cookie could go for between Sh60 and Sh150.

“We hardly sell our products for birthdays and graduations because most of the time families are involved, so you can’t risk. But house parties are the most popular,” he said.

House parties, especially those held by youngsters living in affluent urban neighbourhoods, are gaining a reputation for all the wrong reasons.

While such laced products and use of recreational drugs are nothing new in Kenya, experts are concerned that the number of teenagers getting into the habit they consider “harmless” is worrying.

Eating bhang-laced cookies has different effects on different people. One teenager said he laughed uncontrollably while watching a movie after he accidentally ate them at a party while another fell into deep sleep for more than 12 hours after unwittingly consuming them — only to wake up when everyone had left the party and the house cleaned.

Martin, a resident of Nairobi’s Komarock, said he felt dizzy, felt like the room was spinning, and developed a huge appetite after somebody gave him the cookies without telling him they were laced with drugs. He took water and milk to reverse the effects but had to be admitted to hospital when his condition worsened.

“Those things are strong. My heart was beating very fast. I started sweating and it was at night; this was followed by vomiting and I felt as if the house had been turned upside down. Since I did not know that it was as a result of the cookies I had eaten, it took me about an hour to go to hospital. I was put on a drip and admitted. The effects lasted for days and I do not wish anyone to experience what I did. At some point you think you are going to die,” he said

A disc jockey who has attended a number of those parties had one word for what he has witnessed: crazy.

Mr Samuel Chomba, whose stage name is DJ Incredible, said he has been invited to play music in house parties held in, among other places, Nairobi’s Runda, Karen and Muthaiga estates, and at the Coast. He charges at least Sh50,000.

“Most of these parties are for rich kids. At the parties, the youngsters really loosen up. You see someone switching from relaxed to hyper in a matter of minutes,” he said, hinting that there may be widespread use of drugs. “But at the end of the day, it’s just teens being teens.”

DJ Incredible is, however, concerned about allegations he has heard of drugs like Ecstasy increasing becoming common and bhang being considered “normal”.

“Such drugs can make one go crazy. In some cases, the youth consume them without their knowledge,” he said.

He explains that parents organise house parties for their children mostly in the afternoons, though there are others which young people organise without the knowledge of their parents.

Though he says he usually has no control over the behaviour of his audience, the DJ advises that minors should keep off destructive behaviour.

“I believe they can have fun without drugs. Music is powerful enough,” he said.

Ms Fatuma Musau, 41, has counselled a number of girls who have been raped after attending house parties.

She told Lifestyle that in most cases, a girl recounts having munched a cookie then later waking up in a stranger’s bed.

A mother of two boys, Ms Musau is worried that most of these house parties are now nothing but sex orgies.

“I have handled cases where a girl is brought with a story that she attended a party. Upon deeper probing, the plot often goes to cookies before she passed out,” Ms Musau said.

The counsellor explained that the list of date rape drugs should now include bhang cookies.

“This is a substance that anyone who wants to take advantage of a girl will want to use,” said Ms Musau, who revealed she was hooked to drugs at the age of 12 years before she later kicked the habit and became a counsellor.

“They usually say, ‘I chewed a blackout then woke up in the morning with a stranger next to me’,’ Ms Musau noted.

Her fear of the danger of baked bhang products is not misplaced. In April 2014, Levy Thamba Pongi, 19, a Congolese student, died in Colorado after he accidentally ate a marijuana laced cookie at a party. After ingesting the drug — which is legalised in that state — he started exhibiting hostile behaviour, prompting the intervention of his friends.

Nairobi resident Mr Desmond Otieno accidentally ate one in 2011 and he has since learnt how to recognise them.

“Often, they look like the work of someone who was baking in a hurry. Normal cookies are crunchy but this type is a bit stuffed inside,” said Mr Otieno, an accountant.

Having attended “over 60 house parties between 2012 and early 2015”, Mr Otieno, too, conceded that marijuana products were common at house parties.

“If you eat them unknowingly, your behaviour changes gradually. It can take up to three hours before its effects start being felt. The effects are worse if you eat the cookies when you are hungry,” he said.

According to Ms Musau, more and more children are getting exposed to drugs because parents do not probe enough what is going to happen during a party.

She said parents should do some background checks before releasing their children to go to celebrate with their peers.

“We are so busy as parents and we don’t bother asking where they are going to party, in whose house it will be held, who the parents of the host are and such concerns,” she said.

Be curious

She added: “If my daughter tells me she is going to a house party at a certain home, what I should do as a parent is ask about the whereabouts of her (the host’s) parents and find out which meals will be served. I would be interested in knowing what is on the menu.”

BE WATCHFUL

Ms Musau advised that a parent should be watchful because even if the child said there were no weed cookies, there might be worse drugs like Ecstasy.

There have been various international news reports of children dying after experimenting with drugs such as Ecstasy during parties, and experts warn that the current trends in Kenya are pointing to that direction if not checked.

To check against such eventualities, Ms Musau said, parents should make prior agreements with their children concerning the time they should return home.

“It should be made clear when the child should return. This is important because it is part of discipline. We don’t want to be so tight so they don’t have guts to come asking for permission; but freedom must come with responsibility,” she said.

As minors troop home for the August holidays, teachers hope that learners in boarding schools will not use the freedom they have to explore drugs.

Mr Frank Osusu, a teacher at Kijabe Boys in Kiambu County, said they gave students holiday assignments to keep them occupied.

“As teachers, there’s not much we can really do when they break for holidays and go into their parents’ care. But we try to give them assignments on each subject to keep them occupied.

It is, however, still hard to determine how much time they spend doing the assignment or what portion of their holiday they set aside for studies. It’s difficult to trace what they do at home,” he said.

Some of the signs of a child being hooked to drugs include physical deterioration, unhealthy eating habits like skipping meals, losing interest in activities that a person once liked, stealing and poor hygiene.

If you suspect that your child is using a certain drug, Ms Musau advised a cautious approach.

“Don’t do what my mother did — taking me to a police station. You should sit down with them and explain why you are not comfortable with their traits and let them know you have witnessed a change of habit.

If they are not ready to open up, contact a professional,” she said.

Her advice to youths planning to hold parties: “There are different ways of having fun. You can go to a party and have fun without inducing happiness.”

Parents should indeed be worried about who their children interact with as government figures show a steady rise in people convicted of handling dangerous drugs from 2012 onwards.

Those convicted were 4,181 in 2012; 4,316 the following year and 4,850 in 2014, according to the 2015 Economic Survey. A 2012 report by the National Authority for the Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse said that bhang was the most easily available illicit drug in the country, followed by cocaine.

One of the casualties of the increased drug circulation is Steve, a young man who was hooked to smoking bhang while in high school. He was once a student at a secondary school in Murang’a County before his addiction got him expelled.

The last time his one-time colleague Kelvin Kimani saw him, he was a beggar in Nairobi.

Mr Kimani said: “I couldn’t recognise him at first. I had boarded a matatu heading to Thika and before it took off a shabby, shaggy person came at the entrance begging for cash or food, only to look closer and realise that he was familiar.

The dirty man with torn clothes and bare-feet was my former classmate. I looked at him to see if he could recognise me out of disbelief but he didn’t. He just went away murmuring to himself like most mentally disturbed people do.

He said Steve was bright and always on top in exams but the scenario changed when he started taking drugs. At Form Three, his performance dropped and even his mild character changed.

Mr Kimani, 25, said that Steve came from a rich family and many were puzzled by the direction he took.

“He never lacked anything. He could afford to buy full loaf of bread everyday whereas other students like us could just afford only a quarter,” he said.