“What about side-effects like jaba dick?” I blurt out this question, making reference to one of the most common complaints regarding the negative effects of jaba, erectile dysfunction.
When I posed this question to Petiole’s Jarell, being the tag-line creator he is, he responded by saying, “You won’t make love but you’ll fall in love.”
“It just has to be taken in moderation.” Jarell said.
“You won’t get jaba dick on day one of drinking jaba, but if you consume a lot during the day, performance is altered. In the same vein, it’s not all about performance. You might not be making love but you’re creating love: getting to know each other and having a meaningful conversation.”
However, when I posed this same question to Catha’s Zion and Malaika, they explained that the root of miraa-induced erectile dysfunction goes deeper than that.
“So the thing about our society,” Zion explains,
“Is that we’re in a society where a lot of guys are lowkey carrying symptoms, early signs and indicators of having erectile dysfunction already. As a man, my jaba speaks to my nervous system. Anything that stimulates me, that takes place in the nervous system.”
“It brings out what your current state is,” Malaika adds.
“It will bring up to the surface whatever has been sitting there hiding,” Zion continues.
“So because it’s a stimulant and it stimulates my nervous system- if I’m carrying anxiety, if I’m carrying anger or unprocessed thoughts, feelings, emotions or trauma- mixed with unhealthy coping mechanisms, poor eating and poor sleeping patterns, poor hygiene, and poor diet: all of that will come to the surface. This is so common right now. A lot of people, especially men, don’t know how to look after themselves properly beyond ‘si we go drink?’ or ‘si we go hit up that babe?’ ”
Zion expresses frustration at how hard it is for men in general to hold a constructive conversation. Majority of the conversations he witnesses are idle banter or camouflaged behind layers of toxic masculinity, a seeming lack of depth, trust and vulnerability appearing to be missing from male-to-male engagements.
“So this is something that is bubbling in our society,” Zion continues, “there’s an influx of cortisol overstimulation which is a hormone our bodies release when we’re stressed.
I see this, especially in Nairobi. All these things are happening but we don’t even have a language for it yet. We don’t have a healthcare system or wellness platforms that will actually address and provide tools and spaces where men can tackle these things.
That’s our mission. Selling products is the easy part but changing lives, that’s actually what we want to do.”
One thing that stood out for me during these jaba conversations with Petiole’s Jarell and Catha’s Zion and Malaika, was the philosophy that stood as the pillars of their jaba juice brands. For Catha, it’s the philosophy of health and wellness surrounding their brands. For Petiole, it’s redefining the jaba story.
When I asked Jarell what he thought about the word ‘stim’ in reference to what people call a jaba high (perhaps its short for stimulated), he physically recoiled.
“I’m not particular about that word and I don’t like it. It has negative connotations. We always say it as jokes but at the end of the day, it’s hurting the jaba juice industry. People become hesitant to experience the brand because they think ‘I don’t wanna verbal diarrhea’ or ‘I don’t want society to see me like this’. We need to get better words for our things.”
Petiole’s branding is verbose. Full of long stream-of-consciousness trains of thought drawing reference to the conversational nature of jaba.
“That’s the whole point,” Jarell explains.
“We write long-copy because you talk a lot when you’re on jaba. Our copy isn’t linear, just the way one talks when they’re on jaba.
People say jaba stories are bullshit but after experiencing the brand pretty much every weekend for most of last year, I can tell you that those conversations are not bullshit. Your mind is engaged and you’re super-focused on the conversation at hand, as opposed to how one normally zones out when someone else is speaking. You’re just seeing the conversation or the story in the light it’s supposed to be seen.”
Jarell goes on to explain that the largest obstacle getting in the way of bringing jaba juice to a wider market is policy.
While khat is technically legal in Kenya, cathinone is classified as a Schedule 2 Psychotropic substance, according to the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Control Act of 1994, in the same category as MDMA and Psilocybin. Though they can get by on the technicality of legality, jaba juice brands mostly operate on a call-delivery basis for fear of getting into trouble due to the current absence of KEBS (Kenya Bureau of Standards) policy regarding the standardization of jaba juice.
“We’re in conversation with policy makers and we’ve written letters to KEBS because we’re very cognitive of what KEBS does and what it can do for the Jaba economy. We have plans for where we want to be once we get KEBS.
The question of supermarkets is tough because then freshness becomes an issue, and then you have to consider things like preservatives, which we don’t want to do because freshness is our main selling point.”
In case you were wondering, the average shelf life of Jaba juice, if refrigerated, is about 7 days. Possibly 2 -3 weeks if frozen.
But Zion and Malaika believe jaba juice is on the precipice of change regarding standardization.
“It’s more accepted by the church than weed and alcohol,” Malaika comments.
“Ruto is the president who represents being bullish towards the West,” Zion extends.
“That’s his whole thing: ‘now we reclaim our pride and heritage’. That’s why one of the first things he did as soon as he got elected was organize a rally in Meru. He visited the farmers about two days after he was elected.”
“He hadn’t even been sworn in yet and he was already going to talk to miraa farmers,” Malaika reminds him.
“So I’ve just been watching different things happen in the last year, and we’re literally watching history in the making. Even us, we’re in this ocean and it could go anywhere,” says Zion.
Belly stuffed from consuming an obscene amount of chocolate-oatmeal muffins, I let them know that I believe that they, and all the other jaba juice players, are at the forefront of a really big thing.
“So to answer your question on what I think 10 years is, I feel like this thing will be really revolutionary and exciting,” Zion finishes. He invites me to listen to some of his unreleased music for a few hours and as our mini-jam session comes to a close, I pack up my devices and head home. Grateful for the conversation. And the muffins. I grab one more for the ride home.
It’s 12:17am and I’m in the back of an uber. As hard as I try to reflect on the conversations of the day while gazing yonder at the endless horizon, Nairobi’s mushrooming infrastructure obscures any glimpses of nature and horizon that would have served as a scenic accompaniment to my thoughts. My mind wanders to what Zion said about cortisol and the nervous system.
I wonder, are there any real green spaces left in Nairobi that aren’t a by-the-way to development? Do people know just how much an absence of greenery strains the nervous system? Maybe that’s why the atmosphere is always so fight-or-flight?
It becomes an intrinsic part of your nervous system until you don’t notice it. But anyways, I chalk this stream of consciousness up to jaba thoughts.