Mention any drug, Murad Swaleh will tell you how it tastes.
He has tasted them all. By the time he agreed to go to rehab, his drug addiction was spinning out of control
He was dishevelled, sick and homeless.
On the streets of Mombasa in his dirty clothes, with hair looking like it hadn’t been washed or shaved in years, he was called a mad man.
Everybody laughed at him. Some beat and scolded him; it broke his heart.
He was hopeless, with a wound on his leg that hurt and would vomit blood if he missed his daily dose of drugs.
Murad dalliance with drugs started when he was a teenager. He struggled emotionally and psychologically due to family issues and used cigarettes and bhang so he wouldn't feel the hurt.
Soon, prescription pills and cough syrup became his drug of choice and later, he was smoking bhang, chewing miraa, drinking alcohol every day, and he moved on to hard drugs like heroine.
With time he was hooked on to literally anything that made him high and drunk.
Hopping from one place to another, he used heroin, hash, cough syrup, mandrax, rohypnol, mogadon, alcohol, cigarettes and smoked leaves from certain plants.
Those who knew Murad well often despaired over him. To them, he was genuinely beyond help.
They had watched him run away from rehabilitation centres more than four times.
“I have gone to rehab several times. I would stay for days then run away and go back to the same drugs. I have been in prison and remand more than nine times in different places due to hawking, touting and possession of drugs among other things," he said.
Not even pleas from his daughter would keep him away from the drugs.
"Any addict has to use the drug first thing in the morning. So before I would get money to buy that is when I would suffer from the withdrawal symptoms. If I get any cent in the morning the first thing I would go for is alcohol because my hands were shaking. After that then I take heroine and inject. The others would follow," he said.
The father of three recalled a time his daughter asked him, "Baba, mpaka lini utaendelea kutumia sindano?” (Dad, when will you stop injecting yourself with drugs?)
Impacted by their conversation and her palpable pain, he would consider seeking help only to relapse a few weeks later.
“I would at times remember her words but it was not easy to make the decision to stop. There is also a day when I was walking with her and was arrested. I had gone to buy drugs. She really cried. I never forgot the moments but I was still hooked.”
THE COST OF ADDICTION
He later lost touch with his family as the addiction took a toll on him.
“People called me 'chizi’ and ‘chokora’. When you are an addict, it is hard to go home. I used to sleep in boxes, handcarts and tuktuks. At some point I was a tout and also used to sell watches. Each coin I made was used to buy drugs. I was always high," he said.
In 2013, he had had it all.
A heroin injection on his leg gone wrong made him unable to walk as the wound would not heal.
“I knew I was almost dying. I walked around and in mosques begging for help. I sent word to my mother on my state and that I was willing to be helped. I also apologized to her. It was difficult to convince everyone that I was now ready. My mother was very supportive and I was later taken to rehab. But they still expected me to not finish the programme," he said.
He never wavered throughout his whole program.
CLEAN AT LAST
“That was my first time to stay in rehab and complete the programme. I also prayed a lot and asked God to help me finish the programme. My second day in rehab was very hard due to the withdrawal symptoms. I was taken to hospital. I said I would rather die due to the symptoms that die from using drugs," he said.
Murad eventually did finish the rehabilitation program and break his addiction. He was then faced with having to find a new job.
“I was now ready to provide for my family and give them the support they had missed for more than 20 years. I am trained as a driver but no one would trust me. It really frustrated me.”
But he received some great advice from his mother.
“My mother told me to go back to the centre that had helped me. That is when I approached Reach out centre and volunteered. I got a job as cleaner, then office messenger and then gradually to where I am now," he said.
Addiction is so stigmatized he says that re-entering society after recovery is difficult.
Another challenge is empty promises including financial support and jobs given to recovering addicts.
Also, as an addict you may have done terrible things and it is near impossible regaining people’s trust.
“They tell you they will give you a job after you are clean but that does not happen. After rehab they tell you to go seek employment. People in Mombasa already viewed me as an evil and bad person. Who will employ me? Up to date they are people who are no longer taking heroine but being trusted is hard. There are on methadone programs but getting opportunities to get their lives back on track is difficult, “said Murad.
SECOND CHANCE AT FAMILY
These days, Murad and his family is focused on healing.
“My daughters are so happy. I meet and interact with my family and children. I now know my responsibilities. I have also remarried, “he said.
Murad believes that without rehabilitation, he would most likely be dead by now.
He now works as a Case manager at Reach out Centre Trust in Mombasa where he helps addicts in the community.
It's in a part of the country where Murad knows just how big drugs are a problem.
He says that with drugs has come “crime by juveniles”.
“Right now even teenagers are taking the pills and other drugs. They make them commit violent crimes. With cough syrup, the problem is teens use it without the knowledge of the parents. You will see the child holding a bottle of coke and drinking. Parents are not aware that they have added syrup to the soda, “he said.
"It all begins with persuasion to try because it is thought to be harmless, but it is usually the gateway to other drugs and before one knows it, one is hooked," Murad stated.
“If they miss it they are aggressive and cannot engage in any activity until they take the syrup. People do not recognize the effect but it makes them high and drunk. I started with one Rohypnol and progressed to even six and it reached a point I looked for Mogadon,” said Murad.
At the same time the appetite for muguka has exploded as it is cheaper than buying miraa.
The unfortunate thing is he says the society is yet to understand drug addiction and how to win the war on drugs.