One day a local of the neighborhood mentioned that he volunteered in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. I asked this friend, Santos, if I could go with him one day and see what goes on. I’m always on the lookout for opportunities to go places only locals go. A few days ago we finally found the time to go.
On the walk to the rehab place San(tos) asked me what I wanted to get out of this experience. I explained I just wanted to see what kind of volunteer work he did and what a Nepali rehab might be like. So we walked up to the iron gate (the like of which most buildings here have) and were received warmly. I got friendly handshakes and bro-hugs. But after the introductions we were waiting in the reception room and San and his friend started asking me questions like “So, what you going say them? Do you want to talk some guys or do you want class?”
“I just want to see what goes on here, what rehab is like in your country,” they gave me puzzled looks.
“Just say something to share your courage, strength and hope.” These buzz words were clumped together in one sound as clearly many times reiterated in diatribe.
“Okay,” I said, not sure at all now what to expect.
So after a tea and some more waiting San and I went upstairs. Not to degrade the good work of the rehab institute but this place looked like it could be the set of The Count of Monte Cristo.This building, like many in Nepal, is made of poured concrete. The walls were unpainted and the floors had that bunker vibe. Where no care has ever been given to aesthetics but simply utility. Many rooms had no doors and the concrete stairs took the form of Legos that didn’t quite fit together.
We come to the end of the hallway upstairs and I am brought into a room with a circle of twelve guys from 20 years old to 40 I would guess. A hearty and startling “Namaste!” had been prepared for the moment of my arrival. Their hands clapped together and all eyes were on me. They were seated in a semicircle on the floor and there was a single chair set before them. It wasn’t hard to guess who was to sit there. Yours Truly.
So I sat. And all watched with great anticipation. I was to learn during this impromptu workshop (which I apparently was heading) that these guys were all hard drug users: Heroin, Brown Sugar, Prescription medication, pain killers, the works. And that their families had shipped them to this rehab to get clean. Now they were looking at me to discern what great wisdom this wide-eyed American had brought.
I will say now that there is a dubious celebrity afforded white foreigners. From the way the embassy guards treat you, to security guards at banks and stores to this particular situation. At the National Martial Arts Festival here in Kathmandu myself and fellow German volunteer Gesa were given front row seats to the matches where most had to watch from the stands. I had officials come up and shake my hand and thank me for my good work and for attending the festival. Some of them probably thought we were professional photographers hired for the children’s home. Though lots of people often laugh flatly in the faces of foreigners here, but I ramble. I can’t imagine a rehab in the US allowing a random foreigner to hijack a rehab session. But that’s just one of the many things that is a lot of fun about Nepal. The lack of protocol.
So I introduced myself and they were very curious to know where I was from and what kinds of drugs we had. Then they really wanted to know about my experiences.
“What was your chemical of choice?”
I had told San that I had my brushes with drug culture and addiction through friends and social exposure in the past few years. Of which I will say nothing here. But San had apparently gotten the impression that I was a recovered addict. That I had some wisdom to lend for passing the time during withdrawals. It was then that I learned most of these guys injected. Two or three of them spoke English very well (the younger ones of course) and were very interested in conversing with me. The older ones probably had no idea what I was saying. Though it was later translated by San and the program director.
I was dumbstruck. Sure I had some concept of addiction and chemical reliance but what was I to say to these guys? I knew I could revel in the hilarity of the situation later (like now as I’m writing this). But I had to put on a serious face and try to give them some advice. The place was not hilarious. That I had been placed in such a position was hilarious.
I had been told by the program director “They were very excited to hear someone from another country is here to talk.” So I told them what best I could think of. About mental discipline. About having goals other than drugs which should eventually supersede the desire to do drugs. For quitting in itself in an odd goal, I told them. “You have to have something which makes it worth it to you.” I explained that I wanted to be a writer and that that goal kept me from self-destructive decisions. That that was more important to me. Regardless of my complete lack of Heroin experience I think that was pretty solid advice. Especially to pull out of my ass at the last second.
After this lecture on the evils of addiction the programs directors all shared a cigarette in the reception room. I sat there wondering how I get myself into these things and how I can get myself into more situations.