Wamuyu, a 22-year architectural student from a local university emailed me and asked me what I thought about smoking weed and if weed helps with creativity. Apparently his peers who are “super creative” [his words] are potheads. He then asked me if I smoke weed because [and I quote], “sometimes you write crazy things that are, quite honestly, ‘suspect’- no offence, sir…”
Of course. None was taken.
In fact, I chose to take that as a compliment- but even more importantly I took it as a story. And because the world is smoky with stories about weed, here is my cannabis experience. No judging here.
Like all weed stories start, mine starts circa 2008 when I first met the big-maned Emmanuel Jambo, photographer extraordinaire. He had just relocated from the States. I was writing for the now defunct male title, ADAM magazine, when he joined as one of the magazine’s photographers. Dreadlocked, massive personality, booming laughter and looming in height, Emmanuel left mirth on every surface he touched. Together we did tons of out-of-town assignments. We were both young, brazen and hungry to leave a mark; him with light, me with ink. This was way before he started taking pictures of presidents and nuptials, a time when he used to call himself “Chocolate Thunder.” This was even before he got a PA who now picks your calls and says, “He’s in a shoot. Who shall I say called?”
“Tell him it’s Biko.”
“Does he have your number?”
“I’m not sure anymore. That shithead.”
“Uhm…I will pass on the message.”
“You do that, don’t forget the ‘shithead,’ part.”
Not all dreadlocked people smoke weed but Jambo does and he’s never been shy to admit it. In fact, when I interviewed him seven years later he wasn’t shy to say it in a national paper in this interview.
http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/magazines/Meet-photographer-who-gets-the-glint-in-Uhuru-s-eye/1248928-2814492-fg3sfqz/index.html He said weed helps with his creativity. It quiets things. It’s how he separates his wheat from his chaff.
I have smoked weed – not more than four times in my life. Guess who handed me my very first blunt? Yup, Jambo. You could say he broke my weed-virginity, but you are not going to say such things here. It was inevitable, really, you hang out with a wolf sooner rather than later you will learn to howl. So it was coming. But I wasn’t even lured by the novelty of weed, I was seduced by the starlit skies, drums and a full moon.
I will explain.
In 2009 or thereabout, Sarova Group of Hotels sent a big group of journalists to their property in Shaba: Sarova Shaba Game Lodge in the “Born Free” country. Tremendous place. This was a time the gregarious Peter Waweru [now in banking] was the marketing pointman of Sarova and he would throw many of those familiarization media trips. We lived for those media trips. The government then had not homed in on alcohol and started taxing it sinfully hence there was always a river of free flowing booze during those excavations. And Sarova was always a generous host, going the whole nine yards to make us have a whale of a time.
At Shaba they set up an elaborate sundowner by the ragged shores of Ewaso Nyiro River and thrust cocktails, whiskies and perspiring beers in our hands as we watched the sun set beyond, the brown river gurgling and murmuring at our unfolding hedonism. After darkness descended we were driven back to the lodge for a sumptuous garden dinner – white tablecloths, hot hand-towels and hanging from a starlit sky a full moon so big we could smell its craters. Meanwhile maasai morans, hummed and leaped all around us as we stuffed our kissers with grilled meats and drunk like Vikings, laughing loudly and making merry in the warm night. It was a mystical night and there was never a single doubt in our minds that we would remain young forever.
After dinner the responsible, then moderate and finally the pious amongst us slowly retired to their rooms for a shut-eye while the rest of us remained behind to wring everything from this special night the Good Lord of Abraham had offered. Structure quickly disintegrated. The unspoken pecking order that might have been there at the start of the trip (TV journalists always feel like they are at the top of the food chain) collapsed and by 10pm we were just people, not even journalists, people sitting around a fire holding tipples. I found myself in this circle where weed was being passed around and since I was seated next to Jambo he puffed it and passed it to me and I said, “Nah,” and he said, “Pussy”, laughing and passed it to the lady who was to my left. Those were my troubled days when I used to drink red wine. I was so pretentious I used to pick wine by regions (sic… Chilean, South African, French) not by the labels and price.
I said no to weed because growing up smoking weed was never a recreational activity. Cool kids wore checked shirts and Air Jordan sneakers, and never smoked weed. Weed, then was for social misfits and miscreants, low-lives and school drop-outs, vagabonds and those who had resigned themselves to a life of despair. Weed was the face of truancy. Growing up my neighbour, Peter, who used to smoke weed, ran cuckoo at some point, walked around without clothes for a bit and later died from disease that might have been related to weed or not. In fact, in hindsight, mental illness was as misunderstood as weed was at that time. Then there was my mother who would hang you upside down on a tree and flog your shirtless back if you so much as said hello to any boy in the estate who was rumoured to be smoking weed.
So growing up weed was the devil. It made you mad.
I always thought if I smoked it I would start seeing my ancestors – Jo-K’Owiny and Joka-Jok – who would ask me why I had turned my back on our culture and I’d plead that I hadn’t forgotten anything. I was afraid weed would then make me see this elder with wrinkled elbows that resembled a tortoise chin and who would scream at me, “Ifuo!” but because he has seven missing teeth it would sound like, “ihuwo”. He would say, “You have forsaken your people! You don’t go back to the village, you have refused to remove your teeth, you name your children after the enemy! And worst of all you cut your foreskin!” Then I’d plead that I’d done no wrong, that a rose called by any other name would still smell as good. He would spit at my feet and say, “Arosi to ngawa?” Then someone with a spear would come and yank down my trousers and my boxers and a whole bunch of chaps from Acholiland would gather around me and peer at my “disfigured” member, some pointing at it with their spears and shaking their heads at the complete and utter disgrace I had become.
I thought weed would make me hallucinate.
Back in Shaba, the sky was aflame, the moon was the size of Uganda and the air was fresh and heavily scented with Night-blooming Jasmine. Fireflies skirted before our eyes. There was music now playing from a small portable dj booth. It was a perfect night to try something new because we felt invincible, there was nothing youth wouldn’t fix. So the next time the blunt reached Jambo I extended my hand and he placed it gingerly between my forefinger and thumb. “Drag it between your teeth,” he said and I did, skeptically and then passed it to the lady, a newscaster no less. I sat still and waited. For what, I don’t know. Jambo laughed, that voluptuous laughter filled with helium. “You are now a man.” he lauded.
I waited to see my ancestors but none came. Nobody came. When it passed again, I took another cautious puff. Nothing happened yet again. I’m told that some people laugh uncontrollably when they smoke weed. I wasn’t finding anything funny. In fact, I was getting seriously drowsy. So sleepy I wanted to lie on my back on the grass and stare at the moon. And maybe sing a lullaby. And I would have done this because this was pre-Ghafla/ Mpasho days and tabloid journalism had not taken a foothold. After three puffs I got so sleepy, I sneaked out of that party and walked to my room. At Shaba there are these wooden bridges that go over a small man-made water body. I stopped on the bridge and tried to stare at my reflection in the green water. The croaking frogs sounded louder in my head.
I remember lying in bed in my underwear, my mouth as dry as a joke on Churchill Live on a bad night. I didn’t count sheep. I slipped into a deep comatose sleep devoid of dreams of the consciousness of turning over on your side.
The second time I smoked weed was maybe six years later in Kigali. I smoked it at a party and yet again got so sleepy I slept all the way in the car to the hotel while the rest took the party to the club. I remember the effect of that weed; everything I looked at resembled a pillow. I just wanted to sleep.
I can’t speak for other people in the creative space but weed doesn’t make me feel creative. It just makes me lethargic and sleepy and there is nothing creative with sleep, with closing one’s eyes. I hardly ever write while intoxicated and if I do it’s an incoherent pile of manure, embarrassing to look at the next day sober.
But what do I know about creativity and weed, I will allow the weed-heads in this forum advice you. Let’s see what the smoke brings out.
Registration for the writing masterclass is now open. The class will on June 7th to 9th. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to lock down a slot.