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Miraa chewing culture and the stereotype as a cheap twig for truck drivers

The trend has turned on the miraa chewing culture and the stereotype as a cheap twig for truck drivers no longer holds. It’s now a lifestyle even the wealthy have found pleasure in. Write Manuel Mtoyai and Stephen Mbuthi

Over the years, there have been debates on whether miraa users would ever have a gig of their own. It came into fruition last weekend at Crayfish Camp in Naivasha.

Here, everything was set, including a riveting array of deejays, among them DJ Moh (for reggae) DJ Brazen (EDM) and DJ Bash for hiphop.

The music was good and the venue even had vendors selling cigarettes and liquor. Everything seemed settled, save for one thing; there was no miraa on sale!

A miraa festival with no miraa! Upon noticing the omission, the organisers, in a knee jerk like reaction, had a muguka seller from Naivasha town ferried in haste.

The frenzy was such that the 10 packets (about 700 pieces) of chewing gum he had stocked as surplus at his kiosk, was sold out in less than an hour. Party people were serious about their miraa and nothing could come in between, neither the cold, windy night, nor the lack of miraa, as a friendly neighbour was ready at hand.

The lucky fellows who came early had booked tents and rooms for their girlfriends, they would not brave the biting cold as their men chewed ferociously outside.

A miraa festival without miraa was a joke. However, most attendees had carried their own to chew. The crowd was mostly middle-upper class and they came in droves with their posh rides.

“There is a common stereotype about miraa users that they are poor and not learned. It’s not true. As an entertainer I have the experience of judging a crowd and its expectations.

So, being the first Miraa Festival, I was happy with the turnout. Actually, it was beyond my expectation. Satisfying their needs is crucial and the rewards are good,” said DJ Bash.

All in all, everybody seemed to be having a good time. Range Rovers were parked shoulder-to-shoulder with VX Land Cruisers and a military truck had found service in a neighbouring flower farm. On it, a bunch of military fatigue-clad guys proudly chewed the night away.

There were the Evo and Subaru gangs, and even a few bikers. One guy had a van modified so that it could sit only two, because numerous speakers took up the rest of the space.

At some point, the organisers had to tell him to turn down the volume as it was competing with the main event’s speakers. There was alcohol, but most people didn’t drink and if they did, not much.

They had driven to Naivasha to chew the weekend away, and chewing they did. They stopped chewing to rest, refresh and eat. Then they were at it again.

“The festival was nice, it should happen every year and hopefully next year will be better. Although the attendance was wanting, we enjoyed ourselves and I’ll definitely be back, hopefully, next year,” Jo Njuguna, a reveller, told PD Wikendi.

Different kinds of people in different makes of cars. Reggae fans alongside EDM heads and Hip Hop fans. Friday was a bit slow, but picked up on Saturday and on Sunday.

Revellers at the inaugural Miraa Festival spiced it up with some shisha.
Revellers at the inaugural Miraa Festival spiced it up with some shisha.

Even as the last of the cars left, they were people still chewing, music still blaring and legs still dancing.

“It was nice driving all the way to Naivasha with the guys to chana (chew) for the day and night. The only problem I saw was shortage of miraa,” said Caleb Omondi, a reveller.

But what we learnt from the festival was that the trends of getting high are changing.

Previously regarded as belonging to the low class, the miraa and muguka twigs chewing culture is gaining acceptance, nay, prominence!

THUGGISH

In past decades, miraa (scientifically known as Catha Edulis or simply as khat) chewing was sceptically viewed as a thuggish culture, and its users viewed as nothing more but a bunch of drug users who had lost direction in life.

However, the perception on this culture seems to have changed with time and gained class acceptance. The once looked-down-upon lifestyle has eventually become an admired pleasure for the rich in society.

In recent times, the twigs publicity has even been given an extra shot by some prominent politicians who, every now and then, frequent the miraa-growing regions, to solicit for support.

While at it, they will hold a bunch or gitundu of miraa and even chew a few twigs, much to the sheer pleasure and cheers from their supporters, who seem to put aside their chagrin for unfulfilled political promises.

Amongst the growing number of urban dwellers in Kenya, miraa chewing is a growing culture that is being embraced by the millennials (who in reality make the larger percentage of the country’s population).

According to statistics availed by the National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drugs Abuse (NACADA), one year after the turn of this millennium, 26 percent of Kenyan youth between the ages of 18 and 24, use miraa.

The stimulating plant, which contains a psychoactive substance called cathinone, is mostly grown on the slopes of Nyambene Hills in Meru county and parts of Embu county and Ethiopia.

Its farming and usage is an illegal affair in some East African countries such as Tanzania. In this country (which boarders Kenya to the south), it is even a punishable offence to be found in possession of mairungi (Swahili for miraa), worse than being caught with marijuana (bhang).

THE CULTURE

Miraa must be chewed fresh. That’s why it’s always wrapped in banana leaves to preserve its succulence. There are several grades or varieties of khat, namely Giza, Alele, Kangeta and Asili, and each has its own price tag. But basically, for miraa users, there are two broad categories; miraa (the twigs) and muguka (leaves).

Miraa (with street names such as gomba, veve, miti and irungi) is more expensive than it’s leafy counterpart. It can only be bought either as a bunch known as surba, or in kilos.

Prices depend on the weather and the type of grade preferred by the consumer. A fact check by PD Wikendi in Eastleigh, Nairobi, established that a kilogramme of Giza (the highest quality khat) is costing Sh2,500 at the moment.

Being a stimulant, one needs to create an ambience to enjoy the succulent product. There has to be music, preferably reggae, hiphop or electronic dance music (EDM).

Accompaniments such as shisha, cigarettes, marijuana, chewing gum, groundnuts (normally known amongst the users as ‘tools’) and booze are the most preferred.

Most of the times, miraa enthusiasts will car-pool and gather at parking spaces, shopping malls or public recreation parks where, from dusk to dawn, they get down to chew with music blaring from the cars through partly-lowered windows. While at it, the boys will flex their machines’ ability to blare.

Their shinny toys on display, with each talking passionately about the latest modifications employed on the rides. For the inevitably accompanying women, they will either chill with the boys, or join them in the chewing. No lovey dovey or such, just chewing and lazing.

Muguka is considered even more ratchet. It gets you high quicker and it’s easier to chew, being soft and easily degradable. Miraa chewers, because of the tangy taste in the mouth, often result to gargling with hard liquor the following day, to ease the soreness. This makes eating very uncomfortable, especially if the food is hot or spicy, lasting for maybe two to three days.

THE WEALTHY EFFECT

For an average miraa user, a monthly budget of Sh10,000 is just enough to cater for the daily supply and ‘tools’. The classier you are, the more expensive it is.

For muguka users, the high is cheap and readily available. After landing from Embu, muguka is distributed in polythene paper bags to kiosk operators. It is then repackaged into smaller plastic bags and sold at Sh50 or more each, depending on the size of the user’s requirement.

For the rich and wealthy Nairobians, we’ve established that there are specific places around the city where they go for their favourite, but expensive chew.

One such place is a designated corner near Pumwani Maternity Hospital. It is not a place where every Bamba, Bambi and Bambino from the hood can frequent.

It’s no place for your ordinary Jack and Jill to hang out. It is almost a reserve of the rich who, armed with wads of thousands of shillings, jostle for parking space as they get a fix of ‘quality’ miraa.

A miraa trader identified as Njuki, told us about one of his steady customers, whose monthly chew adds to at least Sh25,000. “He is a rich man… Comes here on a daily basis to collect his ‘special’ package,” Njuki tells us.

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