Beaven Dhliwayo Features Writer
Simon was a bored teenager growing up in the bleak sprawl of Harare, with few opportunities and little to do for fun.
When a friend offered him an illicit brew, “musombodhiya”, in 2014 he didn’t say no.
“I wanted to feel happy,” he said, recounting his first experience drinking the illicit brew.
“I felt so happy and so high — I had never felt like that before.”
Today, Simon has quit the illicit brew.
Doctors warned him that he would die if he continued abusing the brew which eats up the human alimentary system.
He is not sure if he will drink again, but said the implications of abusing musombodhiya were dire.
“It’s hard to quit, once you start drinking it,” he said.
Musombodhiya, is the street brew that is ravaging Zimbabwe’s impoverished townships.
Cheap and highly addictive, it is said to include ethanol and other additives like rat poison and anti-retrovirals, which are used to manage HIV.
Other concoctions used to brew musombodhiya are harmful substances such as cleaning detergents, bicarbonate of soda, thinners, methylated spirit and sugar to make its impact stronger and last longer.
Musombodhiya is a popular, highly addictive, dangerous and destructive illicit brew that is unique to Zimbabwe.
Simon, who used to be one of the people abusing musombodhiya in Warren Park said: “I remember my first sip on that Saturday outside Nyangani Bar with a friend.”
He vividly recalls how good it felt, “Better than any beer, the feeling of being in control of the world.”
He got “hooked” on the sip.
The satisfaction was a blast and already he wanted more in his body.
Having a few dollars with his friend, they bought more and went on a drinking spree the whole night.
Simon said besides the challenges he faced, he was also an experimental person and that is exactly what got him addicted.
His life after that one sip changed forever because all he ever cared about was feeding the addiction and nothing else.
The brew is easily available and is sold right in front of Warren Park shops near Choppies Supermarket.
This can be typical of high-density suburbs in Harare and elsewhere.
“Musombodhiya comes in two types: pure ethanol which is colourless and the one brewed at the backyards using detergents and other harmful mixtures,” said Simon.
The latter is the most dangerous.
“We then mix the illicit brews with cold water and usually one must drink a 250ml bottle only, to get the actual feeling,” said Simon.
Little did he know that he was going to be a slave to musombodhiya, he wanted nothing but the feeling of being intoxicated by the illicit brew.
He lost interest in everything else, neglected his family and chores.
Despite the death of several people, including Simon’s friends in Warren Park 1 since 2014 due to abuse of the illicit brew, many youths still take musombodhiya because of its affordability and addiction.
Many youngsters have resorted to stealing from home, carparks and shops to satisfy their addiction.
They steal any item that could be sold fast for cash.
“The addiction is severe that is the reason many are still drinking musombodhiya despite that others who abused it have succumbed,” narrated Simon.
“The addiction is noticeable due to physical changes that addicts undergo: weight loss, sudden dark pigmentation of skin, swollen face, hands and legs, not eating and taking less care of themselves.”
Because of his addiction, Simon’s family was devastated and at the same time continued to support him to stop taking musombodhiya.
“I always told myself that I will quit musombodiya because it was ruining the relationship I had with my family,” said Simon.
After visiting the local clinic, Simon said the nurse who brought him results of his blood tests was clear: “Stop drinking musombodhiya or you die!”
That is when the painful road to healing started.
“Withdrawal symptoms are worse than any other pain you can think of; trust me I know. This is the reason why many people are failing to quit even if they know that the illicit brew is killing some of their peers. I will never go back,” said Simon with tears in his eyes.
He said when he stopped drinking musombodhiya, he could not sleep for several days. He was always sweating, had stomach cramps, was throwing up, and felt paralysed.
Simon is optimistic and wants to use his ordeal to tell others who are failing to quit musombodhiya that there is hope and methods to combat this wicked addiction.
He was admitted into hospital for two weeks which ended his misery and he got proper treatment under supervision which helped him a lot.
Another youth, who identified himself as Matenga and is still drinking musombodhiya, said he was admitted in hospital for weeks after the skin around his neck started peeling off.
“After I was discharged from hospital I couldn’t help myself but to come and join my friends here (Warren Park 1 shops) for a drink.”
The addiction won’t go away, he said, adding that he also wants to drink safely brewed beer.
“You wake up wanting to drink, and you go to bed wanting to drink. It is a way of coping and something to do when we get bored.
“Now we are so addicted to it. Together with my ‘homies’ we don’t mind begging, cleaning taxis or even doing small jobs just for cash to replenish our supplies of musombodhiya. As long as we have enough money to buy some, we are happy.”
Matenga said after he was discharged from hospital he would only feel calm after drinking musombodhiya but experienced serious mood swings when sober.
Days flew by and whenever they had enough money with his friends they bought musombodhiya to stay high the entire day.
“I lost my job, but I don’t care because I have more time to drink,” interjected Thomas in a drunken voice.
He was euphoric sitting beside us and finally contributing to the long conversation that was taking place.
He looked drunk and without saying any more words, continued sipping his illicit brew with his eyes closed.
Matenga added the addiction is even worse for women and some are forced into prostitution to survive where they are exposed to sexually transmitted infection and even HIV.
However, for Simon his life is back to normal now, he is not a zombie anymore.
He says he is keen to support others who are still taking musombodhiya.
Simon is more than willing to engage young people who are going through the same misery and wants to do even more.
Who has the duty to address this social problem that is claiming lives of youths every day?