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Thika Town Today interviewing 'Teacher Wanjiku' during her counseling session
Teacher Wanjiku when she was first brought for counseling
The 23rd of July 2013, Kiandutu Slum hit the world news for all the wrong reasons. Seven people lost their lives after taking poisonous liquor. 55 year old Salome Wambui Mwangi (or Teacher Wanjiku as she is popularly refered to), a mother of five, recalls that day with nostalgia. She has God to thank for being alive today and tell her story. The events of that fateful day ring in her mind as though it was yesterday.

Thika Town Today bounced onto her as she came for counseling therapy at The International Professional Counselors Centre (IPCC) with Madam Susan Gitau. When she heard that we were members of the press, she requested Madam Susan to let us interview her so that the world could know her story and the tribulations that alcoholics went through.

She told us that she woke up that morning with a bad hangover and decided to rush to one of the chang'aa dens to 'kutoa lock' which she did. On her way home, she met her alcoholic buddies with bottles of spirits that were being sold on a cheap. Some bodaboda guys who hail from Kiandutu Slum had found a poisonous brew dumped by the roadside and took it to the slums where they sold it to unsuspecting people at a throw-away price.

Teacher Wanjiku with Brian her son  and Madam Susan her counselor
“They were selling it for Sh50 per 250ml bottle. If you bought three you would get one for free,” she explained.

After much persuasion, she parted with sh. 20, the only money she had, and was given a bottle of a certain brand of spirits to drink. She says that, when she was about to take her liquor, she suddenly developed some fever and started trembling terribly. She was shaking so much that she decided not to take it. She consoled herself that she was already drunk from the chang'aa she had taken earlier. So, she donated her bottle to her friends and went home to sleep.

At home, she had the most uncomfortable sleep of her entire alcoholic life. She could feel the bed spinning round and round. Eventually, she feel asleep only to be woken up in the evening by her last born son, Brian Kimani, who broke the bad news to her.

Her son informed her that all her friends had perished after drinking the poisonous brew. The shock culminating from the bad news hit her so hard that she found herself meditating about her life. It is at this time that she started realising that she had been wasting away in alcohol. She counted herself quite lucky to be alive. When she looked back on the events that led her not take the lethal liqour that day, she told herself that God must have had a reason to save her life. It is at this moment that she decided to quit alcohol for good.

The journey to quit alcohol has been so tough on her. She would go for some days only to end up falling into temptations and drink again. She would feel so sick when she hadn't taken the liqour only for the 'sickness' to vanish every time she took the brew. This situation hurt her so much that she cried almost on a daily basis. The soul was willing to quit alcohol but her body was weak.

“I didn’t have the strength or foresight to solve my problems without alcohol. I went from casual drinker to alcoholic. I turned to alcohol to help me through the tougher times. I kept telling myself that I was taking some to recovery from a bad year; but the more I just sat and drank by myself, the less I wanted to do anything else. I started drinking round-the-clock to cope with my anxiety and depression. It happened just like that. Giving up alcohol can be like losing a best friend: The bottle is a constant companion, offering solace when you’re down,” she told us.

At one time, she decided that it was now over. She decided that her only escape route was to get arrested and in that way, she would lose access to the alcohol. So, everyday, she would drink herself silly, go to the Kiandutu Police Post and start insulting the officers, daring them to arrest and lock her in. She would do the same to the area sub-chief Mr. John Gitau Karanja. In all occasions, they would ignore her and she would resign to her house a frustrated woman.

After observing her for quite a while, Chief Gitau felt that Salome had a problem and was crying for help. One day, he called her to a meeting to discuss her plight. After talking to her and realising what she was going through, he introduced her to a certain Pastor Chege who would arrange for her rehabilitation. This took time and before that materialised, Chief Gitau felt it wise that she be taken for counseling as they waited for her to get a rehab. Gitau introduced her to Madam Susan Gitau, a professional counselor who took over her case.

Salome claims that her first meeting with Madam Susan transformed her life. Madam Susan called her at 4:30am and invited her for a counseling session the following morning. Her session with Madam Susan made her feel accepted and loved. It raised her self esteem. After a few meetings, Madam Susan arranged for her to be admitted into a rehab centre. There was one problem though that worried Salome so much. She was concerned about the fate of her last born son. She didn't know who would take care of him during her stay at the rehab centre. After much deliberations, they opted for an out of the rehab option and decided that, for the sake of the kid, Salome was better of recovering at home.

So far, Salome has made great strides into her recovery programme. She is now looking forward to a brighter future for herself and her son. She is now planning to transform part of her rented house in Kiandutu into a hotel. Through her efforts, well wishers and teachers from Kianjau Primary School where Brian is a STD 5 pupil, she has managed to acquire some utensils and a bit of furniture to start her new venture. The area sub-chief has promised her some cooking oil and unga to start off. She is now appealing for more help to help her start the business since there is a lot that she needs to manage it.

She is now mentoring other alcoholics and assisting them to get out of this menace. She says that no one ever wants to be an alcoholic. Circumstances lead one to alcoholism. As for her case, she ended up an alcoholic after her husband divorced for another woman. The problems that followed left her so dejected and depressed. With time she found herself slowly drowning into alcohol. She abandoned her role as a mother and camped in chang'aa dens.

Addiction to alcohol, she told us, interferes with other aspects of a person's life. Individuals struggling with alcohol abuse are often dependent on the brew and continue drinking despite negative personal, social, financial, professional, or legal consequences. Recovery is usually a more gradual process. In the early stages of change, denial is a huge obstacle. Even after admitting you have a drinking problem, you may make excuses and drag your feet.

Anyway, that is in the past now. Her son, Brian Kimani, who had accompanied her to the counseling session, was all smiles at the current state of his mom. He said that he was happy that his mom had stopped drinking. He said that her mom is now clean and was nowadays cooking at home. He called on well wishers to help his mother to recover fully and take care of him. His dream is to one day become a lecturer and manage to get his mom out of poverty.

Salome told us that alcohol and drug abuse was a serious problem in Kiandutu Slums. The youth there are susceptible to peer pressure more so due to idleness brought about by lack of jobs. She is calling on efforts to actively engage these young people in income-generating activities, including sports, to ensure that those who benefit from rehabilitation do not relapse and are embraced by their families and society once they change their ways.

Anyone willing to assist this family can contact us through our e-mail address news@thikatowntoday.co.ke or liaise with Madam Susan Gitau or Kiandutu Sub-Chief, John Gitau Karanja.

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