I Got High With My Parents in Kenya (and They Didn’t Know)
Cozmoz arrived with his usual perky walk, wearing flip flops that belonged to two different pairs and red plastic shades lifted over his head. He always had them, even at night. We arranged to meet in a small bar run by Italians in one of the side streets of Watamu’s centre, because it was the only place that screened the football game.
“Jambo,” he greeted us with sincere affection, as it is typical every time you meet someone in Kenya.
“Jambo” we replied cheerfully, as it is typical every time tourists are overjoyed to show off that they’ve learned basic words in the local language.
I hadn’t been on a trip with my family for a long time and yet, this year, we decided to spend the holidays together and travel to Kenya. On our first day in Watamu’s beach, we met Cozmoz, a young local.
“You may have heard of me already, I’m Cozmoz the beach boy!” he introduced himself. In fact, everybody in Watamu knew him. When walking around the village, everyone was trying to get his attention by waving excitedly or honking from a ramshackle motorcycle.
Since then, we met up with Cozmoz every day for long walks along the beach or a couple of beers in one of the village’s bars. But that night was different. The mischievous smile on his face foreshadowed something.
He sat next to us on the small sofa and started chatting with my dad about the football game we were about to watch. I was trying to figure out their sports talks while sipping a not-so-ice-cold Tusker beer, the cheapest and most popular brand in East Africa.
“I’ve got something for you here,” said Cozmoz out of the blue. He pulled out a bunch of twigs wrapped in tinfoil from his back pocket. “It’s a present.”
He noticed our suspicious looks but kept insisting. “Trust me, take one of these sticks, a piece of gum, and chew it like this,” he explained as he pulled out one of them, cut it up in small pieces and put it in his mouth with chewing gum. “It’s a plant with many beneficial properties.” Chewing loudly, he stretched out the bunch and kept looking at us contentedly.
“What do you think it is?” my mum whispered in her teeth. I pulled out my phone to confirm what I already knew. No 4G, a quick Google check wasn’t an option. “I don’t know, but don’t worry too much, let’s trust him!” I told her.
After exchanging a quick glance of assent, each of us took a little bit of it. Were we expecting a truly magical plant with spiritual properties? I don’t know. What I do know is that the taste was disgustingly bitter, and the dough that had formed in my mouth hard to chew. By that point I was sure we were taking a drug, I just didn’t know which one and was hoping it would be legal(ish).
The effects weren’t felt right away, and they weren’t extreme (we’d only taken a small dose) but they certainly sprinted our evening. I remember the game being very pleasant to watch, conversations making us overly giggly and an adrenaline rush topping us up with fizzy energy. We spent a fun night with Cozmoz filled with big laughs and several toasts.
The next day we all felt very numb and tired. A brief tour on the internet informed me that what we had taken was Marungi, the Kenyan name for Khat, the psychoactive plant that gives similar effects to those of amphetamines.
When I found out, I couldn’t stop laughing. That smart-ass Cozmoz had us fooled! Actually, I discovered that Khat’s production and consumption are legal in Kenya as it is considered a widespread social practice. He just wanted us to have some fun.
I don’t think I ever confessed the discovery to my parents. After all, I think that for them too that little high adventure made our trip.