Women in Lamu County have adopted miraa chewing as their new pastime – an activity that for long was linked to the male population in the region.
Once it clocks 5pm, miraa stores boom with business as trade centers turn into beehives. Women come out of their hideouts in numbers to buy jeneza – the local term used to refer to miraa.
When eDaily sat down with one miraa user, a middle-aged woman, we found her lounging on a mat outside her house while chewing miraa and inquiring from her friend – who had just joined her – if she (friend) had already gotten her daily dose of the stimulant.
“Vipi swahiba, jeneza limeingia (Hi girl, have you bought jeneza today?” the lady friend asks our source.
Almost immediately; our source, who sought anonymity, responds: “Umechelewa bana, jeneza tayari hivi mimi nimesharamba. Ila nishakuchukulia shamba nyeusi kiasi yako bana. Hapa nakuambia steam iko juu juu (You have come quite late. I bought my bundle of jeneza quite long ago. I have actually chewed a chunk. However, I bought some for you, though the pack is of low grade. I told you we’d get high today.”
Ramadan slowing down business
Miraa trade, which was once frowned upon, with businessmen shying from engaging in the trade due to faith issues, is today a lucrative venture. Enterprisers are smiling all the way to the bank – especially during the peak season.
Peter Kanyiri, a trader in Lamu who has been in the miraa business for more than eight years, says last month (June) was a difficult one for him businesswise as residents of the county, who are predominantly Muslims, were fasting during Ramadan.
“During the Holy month of Ramadan, business is on its lowest. However, from August through September to October business booms because the supply of miraa from Meru is low, hence a high demand on this end. We sell a quarter kilogram of miraa from KSh400. A majority of my customers are women and the youth; though I have a few elderly people who buy miraa from my shop,” said Mr Kanyiri.
But just why do women rush for this commodity which they term as “the best”?
Several women, who spoke to eDaily in confidence, reveal their reasons. “I am a hairdresser. I have the habit of chewing miraa on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays beginning 1pm. When it clocks 10pm or 11pm I become very energetic to an extent that I feel the urge to attend to customers at that time of the night,” said a source.
“I do accurate calculations after chewing miraa. I can count up to the last cent,” added another who is a shopkeeper.
“I am heavily expectant but I like to chew miraa. It is very sweet. However, the problem comes when you deliver – you give birth to an extremely small baby and they tend to cry too much,” said another woman.
The more time miraa takes on the road during transit or the longer it is stored on shelves without being bought, the more it deteriorates in taste and value.
Miraa traders claim poor infrastructure in Lamu County has affected their business, and they have appealed to both levels of government to intervene.
“We are forced to sell our stock at a throw-away price as a huge bulk of miraa often arrives much late. That affects our returns,” said Mr Kanyiri.
Health experts warn against the habit of miraa chewing as a user risks developing blood pressure related complications.
Dr. Mbwana Kombo, a medic based in Lamu County, says: “It increases heart beat rate to nearly twice the normal pace. This means the heart is stretched beyond its capability so that it performs extra functions triggered by the miraa chemicals. This could result in a miraa chewer developing high blood pressure and altered blood glucose level.”