Ban on booze tough but positive – alcoholics

By Maria Kandjungu at Oshigambo

THE ban on alcohol sales and the closure of alcohol outlets during the Covid-19 lockdown by President Hage Geingob have seen several Namibians taking to social media to express their frustration, with many begging the President to lift the ban for even a day.

Confidente sat down with some people who struggle with alcohol addiction to see how they are coping and to hear their views on the now prolonged ban on liquor sales.

Thirty-two year-old John Shikongo, who has been drinking on daily basis since 2014 said the last two “difficult” months have been frustrating as well as good to him.

“To tell the truth, the first few weeks were hard. On the first day I would go out of the house every day to walk around searching and sniffing around to find out if there is any place still open. Sometimes we got lucky and drank behind closed doors but the police got tipped off and bar owners got arrested and others who were making (tombo) alcohol in secret got scared and stopped.”

He added that despite searching high and low, the alcohol available was not enough to get him and others drunk, so he gradually stopped looking.

“I still hate that alcohol [outlets are] closed, it is frustrating but most of us have come around, we are now good people. I can see changes; I am not a drunkard anymore and I am really happy about that… I am proud of myself.

“Everyone jokes, saying they did not know I was smart. I can now have a proper conversation, I can eat, I can be home the whole day with my family without being disruptive,” he added, noting that the last two months have been the longest he has gone without drinking alcohol since he started.

“I think before (the lockdown) I have been drunk almost every day since 2014. For the past six years, I have not only been drinking but I have been drunk if you know the difference. Normally I would already be at the shebeens getting drunk.

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“If you talk to me around this time I would be biting my tongue while speaking to you. My typical routine was every morning at around 09h00, I would go to Ekondo (an area with about 50 cuca shops selling alcohol, mostly traditional brew), sometimes come back home at around 11h00 or 12h00 and go back at 2 [p.m.] in the afternoon and will only come back home at 10 [o’ clock] in the night but on a good day, when there is braai or someone with money I would be home at 2 [a.m.],” he narrated.

The young man who has never been able to hold down a job, says that he now spends his afternoon looking after his late father’s goats and his mornings working in the field.

“My knees in the past few months were not fine. I would walk to Ekondo and in between I have to stop and take a break. They were in pain but now they are fine.”

“Don’t report me but I sometimes make just a little in my house to drink because it is hard. I sometimes crave it so much I am cranky. I can’t say I won’t drink again but I don’t want to be known as ‘Kalumbu the drunkard’,” said the 45-year-old Alfeus Kalumbu.

Another man by the name of Simboli said he would like the reopening of alcohol outlets to be done slowly to prevent people “acting like starved animals.” He said, “I was always drunk, always. I think some people thought I was not normal in my head. Bathing and eating were not important. I just lived for Ekondo. That was my life. Anyone looking for me knew where to find me at Ekondo with a cup of tombo in hand.

“I haven’t drank in a long time but I know when the bars open I will start again and I will go back to being that person again,” he lamented, while proposing a cut in the operating hours of alcohol outlets.

Senior social worker in the Ministry of Health Alice Umurerwa warned families to brace themselves for the after-effect of the forced sobriety, saying come August some people may fall into worse conditions than before.

“When one stops drinking many changes happens to the body. Physically the body starts to heal itself. You are sleeping more deeply, your skin begins to look better and overall energy increases and for heavy drinkers the liver starts to recover, which increases the ability to filter toxins,” she noted, adding that come August the health of some may will deteriorate if they resume alcohol abuse.

“In August many will start drinking again, especially since the stop was forced and not a personal decision many may binge drink and this will cause different co-morbid conditions… for the heavy drinking may cause such a rush that it will make them sick or cause the body to go into shock. Their overall health may deteriorate. Those who have an addiction will relapse and probably be in a worse state than before.”

She added that while psychologically many are in a good space now, building better relationships with families, the moment they start to drink again they will be shunned, causing mental health problems and raising risk of suicide.

“During the lockdown people did not go out and many families were being mended. Come August, parents and children may spend their time in the shebeens causing family breakdown and increase in violence again. There may be an increase in driving under the influence of alcohol and increased motor vehicle accidents. There may also be an increase of child neglect and abuse since parents may be drinking too much and forget to care for their children because they lack the opportunity of having their problem properly treated,”

She said social workers are available countrywide to assist anyone who needs help to stay sober.