“I grew up on a staple of Hollywood moviews with actors like Clint eastwood, Robert Redford and John Wayne, who had one thing in common – they were macho, hard-drinking and smoking characters. They always ended up as heroes and rode into the sunset with the girl.
To emulate them as a 13-year-old Form One student at Lenana High School, Nairobi, I tried my first cigarette and alcoholic drink.
It was during the April holiday when I stole a bottle of whisky from my father’s cabinet. It tasted horrible.
Because we could not access liquor in school, my friends and I begun buying cigarettes from the subordinate staff. my first shot at smoking made me feel sick after a few puffs but I still continued taking part in group smoking escapades during which we would puff in turns.
Those who had mastered smoking would jeer at me for being a “weakling”. Determined to prove them wrong, I became an expert within a month.
By the end of the second term, it was no longer 7quot;cool” to only smoke without drinking. I began to drink again during the vacation, even though I could not down more than two beers without vomiting and getting headaches. But I wanted to forestall the taunts from my class mates.
When school re-opened, I would sneak through the fence to the shopping centre and drink beer.
By the time I was in Form Two, my tolerance level for alcohol had increased. before long, I was participating in “bottoms-up” competitions where people sought to know whoc could gulp down the highest number of beer bottles in the shortest time.
During school outings, we would be pre-occupied with finding out who held the party with the most liquor so that we could attend.
Within a year, I begun developing an urge for a drink every time. Soon I was not only taking beer but experimenting with chang’aa because my pocket money could not sustain a constant flow of beer.
One day I stole Sh50 from my mothers handbag but she did not notice. After a few days, I took some money from my father’s wallet which again, went undetected.
Back in school, I had enough money to by beer. But this was exhausted fast. We begun brewing our own liquor using pineapple peelings from the school kitchen. Then, we begun sneaking out to party all night.
Teachers would punish me for breaking one rule or other. On one occasion, of us escaped from school, went to the home of one of our friends and took his parents car without permission. This landed us in a police station and marked the beginning of my encounters with the police.
Miraculously I passed my ‘O’ levels and joined Aga Khan High School for ‘A’ levels. Here, I became the ring leader of a group of seven. Everywhere we went, we caused trouble. We even started stealing spirits and cigarettes from supermarkets.
Since the rest of my siblings were boarders, my parents noticed that whenever I was at home, they would lose money and other valuables. They started locking up everything.
Despite my wayward character, I had not given up the dream of becoming a writer like my mother, Grace Ogot.
Between 1980 and 1981, while in high school, I published three books, My Dear Prefects, Ghost Of Uhuru and Mission To Uganda which were recommended readers in school.
The ensuing attention massaged my ego. Needless to say, I failed my Form Six exams.
My writing earned me a trip to India to attend a writers workshop. When I returned, some family friends suggested to my desparate parents to send me to an Indian University because there, one needed a permit to access liquor. There was a total ban in some places.
I found myself on a flight to Bombay, India. On arrival, I was booked overnight at a hotel to wait for an internal flight to Udaipur in Rajasthan. I drank all night after purchasing spirits from a duty-free shop, beleiving that this would be my only moment for a long time.
When I arrived in Udaipur, my cousin informed me that not only was liquor freely available but also very cheap. I went into a partying orgy that lasted three months while other students went about registering for classes and looking for accomodation.
Life was cheap in India. I would move from one friends flat to another. When I was broke, I performed impromptu comedy shows in local pubs for a toekn. Three years passed and I was yet to join campus. My parents meanwhile, kept sending me money in the belief that I was studying.
I started feeling useless when my younger siblings completed university. I attempted suicide by cutting my wrists and stabbing my chest. Friends rushed me to hospital and informed my mother who took the next flight to India.
She wanted me to return with her to Kenya but I convinced her that I had learned my lesson and was determined to finish my studies. She bought me an air-air ticket and made me promise to fly home any time I was overwhelmed. before long I was back to my old self.
I blew all the money mother had left me on booze and sold out the ticket. Broke, I roamed the streets of Bombay, putting up stand-up-comedy shows which earned me the nameNyamabites. As usual I used the little money I got on drink. At night I would sneak into the Kenya High Commission through the window and sleep at the reception.
This continued until 1986 when the High Commision bought me a ticket and put me on a flight to Nairobi with no passport.
Back home and embarrassed, I would lock myself in the house most of the time.
By the time I left for India I already had two children with my wife, Eileen. For this reason my father got me a public service job. I was soon calling up my old drinking buddies.
I did not keep the job, and others which came later, for long because I was always drunk. The longest time I stayed on a job was two-and-a-half years when I worked with the Kenya Timesas a reporter. Perharps it was because it provided opportunities to attend coctail parties.
When finally I ran out of options, I started curtain raising with comedy acts for local artistes like the late Joe Mwenda.
But I soon gained a reputation for failing to keep appointments and lost the opportunities. I returned to performing stand-up comedy shows.
I would disappear from home for days on end. That was until patrons at bars that I frequented told the attendants to chase me away after I developed rashes on my skin one day.
It was at this desparate moment that I remembered my mother once telling me I should call her on the day I realised I had a big problem. I telephoned her and we met in a restaurant in town.
This led to my admission to a rehabilitation center for 28 days. But within four months I was drinking again.
In 200, I ended up at Asumbi rehabilitation Centre, where underwent rehabilitation for four months. except for one relapse, I have been sober ever since.
I cannot undo the past. My problem persisted for as long as I did not know where and who to turn for help. I have begun a website goinghomedotcom, to assist alcoholics and their families.
Last year, I launched a video, Nobody Kicks A Dead Dog, which gives a guide on where alcoholics and their families can seek help.”