We purchased the ketamine from a small gas station pharmacy just down the road without even so much as a prescription. The whole bottle cost less than a round of beers at a roadside Kenyan watering hole.
In Kenya, where unemployment is high and regulations are low, ketamine is popular among both upper and lower class residents of Nairobi. Generally, the drug is bought without a prescription at a pharmacy and sublimated from a liquid into a powder using a spoon and a candle—kind of like heroin, but backwards.
A candle flickers on a balcony in the west side of Nairobi as some friends sit on cushions under a cloudy sky, waiting for the moon to shine some light on the situation. Naree, the unofficial ringleader of the night’s proceedings, grabs the small opaque vial and pours a few milliliters of syrupy liquid into the lip of a metal tablespoon. He drops some wax on the floor, quickly sticking in the unlit end of the candle so it stands upright, firmly stuck to the tiles. He holds the spoon just above the flame so it lightly licks the bottom.
“This is the shady part,” Naree laughs. “This is the part that usually scares people off. People see a spoon and automatically assume it’s like, smack, you know?”
None of this is illegal; we purchased the Ketamine for sale from a small gas station pharmacy just down the road without even so much as a prescription. The whole bottle cost roughly $4.50, significantly less than a round of beers at a roadside Kenyan watering hole.
After a few minutes the liquid starts to sizzle and crystals start to appear under wisps of thin white smoke that smell of bitter chemical sublimation.
“OK, hold it steady, move it around a bit so you don’t burn what’s already cooked,” Naree says, handing the operation over to Nana. I can’t tell whether he’s staring at the spoon or the flame, but his eyes are fixed tight, unblinking. The tiny pool of liquid gradually shrinks and disappears with a hiss that lets us know the procedure is complete.
Naree uses a dull blade from his pocket to scrape the powder onto the glossy cover of an old notebook. He breaks up the scattered pile into a few thin lines and grabs a tightly rolled $1 American bill, just the right fit for a nostril. Holding the book flat, he looks up at me and smiles.
Ketamine is a powerful tranquilizer used commonly in human anesthetics and veterinary care. Better known as K, kitty, special K, vitamin K, mauve, and a host of other strangely cute street names, it’s recreationally used in Europe, Asia, Australia, and North America as a rave drug with other popular party powders like MDMA and speed.
Naree cuts up a few lines of the ketamine he’s just cooked. Generally, the duration of the high depends on how much you take, and how you take it. Luckily, issues of purity are out of mind in Kenya since the drug can be obtained legally.
The Kenyan capital of Nairobi is a bustling stack of looming downtown financial buildings juxtaposed with some of East Africa’s largest urban slums. Youth unemployment is high, therefore many turn to illegal moonshine and creative uses of over-the-counter whatever to party. In recent years, there’s been a spike in the recreational use of ketamine by young Kenyans as a means to chill out and kill boredom. It seems dodgy, but it’s a cleaner option than sniffing glue—another popular pastime among East African youths.