It all started with a sip of Muratina: How drug, alcohol addiction robbed me 30 years of my life
If at all appearance can tell part of our story, then Wambugu Wakahora’s does. The man walks with measured steps, his gait as straight as an arrow. His head and face are clean shaven, save for a short neat moustache. His shirt and trouser are perfectly pressed, his black shoes polished to perfection. Even more than a decade after leaving the police service, it is obvious that old habits die hard.
We meet Wambugu on a sunny afternoon about 180 kilometres north of the capital in Nyahururu, the town with the highest elevation in Kenya. Despite his military -like demeanour, his laugh is soft, his tone welcoming, which does well to hide the ghosts of his past. The father of five is a recovering alcoholic whose 33-year battle with alcohol led to the lowest and darkest phases of his life, but eventually to his current career in counselling psychology.
“I am a third born in a family of five children. I was raised in Nairobi. My childhood was nothing out of the ordinary, or at least it was until I was in class four. During the holidays, our parents would take us upcountry in Nyahururu to see our grandparents. It is here that I had my first drink of alcohol.
My grandfather used to brew traditional beer, muratina, which he would share with his peers. During one of our visits over the December holidays, I decided to take some, and since the brew has a sweet flavour, it was palatable even to a child. My father, who served in the military at the time, would also take my grandfather, his father, alcohol, which I would also steal and drink. And so what started as one innocent drink soon became a habit. Every time we closed school and travelled upcountry, I would make sure I stole some alcohol to satisfy my childish urges.
One of our neighbours also used to brew busaa, another type of traditional alcohol. During my later primary school years, I and other boys from the village would steal and drink the beer. When we could not manage to do that, I would use money given to me by my parents for offering in church to buy alcohol through a casual labourer employed at my grandfather’s farm who also used to drink alcohol.
When I sat for my Certificate of Primary Education, I performed terribly, and my dad ordered me to repeat a year. But even at the end of that year, I hardly improved. My parents found me a school in the now Laikipia County, where I got into the next phase of my delinquent ways. Unlike earlier when I could only manage to drink when I travelled upcountry, I was now in a place where I could drink whenever I wanted as long as I had money, despite being in a boarding school. I would sneak out and buy alcohol and cigarettes, as well as bhang, which I was introduced to while in form two.
To sustain my developing addiction, I would steal farm produce at home and sell it so that I could have enough money to get me through the term once schools reopened. As I was a talented footballer, the school administration did not want to permanently kick me out whenever I would get caught breaking school rules. When I sat for my A-levels exams, I failed, and once again, repeated a year, to little improvement, before proceeding to my O-levels.
Looking back, I realise how lucky I was that I survived my high school years. As I was appointed the games captain while in school and was friends with other student leaders, we had special access to facilities within the school. When we did not have money to buy alcohol outside the school, we would sneak into the chemistry laboratory and steal ethanol.
Without focus or career aspirations and with poor grades after six years of high school, I moved back home upcountry. My father had a farm produce retail business which I took over, he hoped that I would make something of my life, however, I just ended up draining the store, and two months in, the business collapsed. Without money or any activity to keep me occupied, I started to become a nuisance to my family since I would steal from them.