The image on the home page is of a beach near Telaga Papan, in Terengganu. Its a place I love to spend hours reminiscing, reflecting about my life and those around me. Sometimes I catch glimpses of fishermen bring in their catch of the day. But wait for the sunset. Its fantastic mix of colors.
Storiesfromtheeast.com this time brings forth a story about my trip to Tunisia with my eldest daughter. We flew from London after abandoning our initial plan to travel to Morocco.
Check out my article “Tunis in 2014” under Tunisia. It is about a trip we took to Tunisia, way back in May 2014. The Mediterranean weather and Sidi Bou Said will lure me back to Tunis and Tunisia someday in the future. The simplicity of life…
“…….As we left Zaytuna Mosque, we scoured the area for a restaurant to have a much-needed drink and perhaps, lunch. We found a number of cafes and restaurants that are for men only, forbidding women patronage. These men-only cafes are popular among Tunisian men. This kind of cafes form an integral part of Tunisian traditional lifestyle, almost like a community centre where men gather to discuss politics, sports and everyday subjects. Women complain that stares and verbal harassment kept them out of these male-dominated cafes. In a society where the national unemployment rate was about 15%, these cafes form an outlet for ‘letting off steam’. They serve a similar function as the “coffee-shop” back in Malaysia except in Malaysia, women (even in hijab) can sit down and have a teh-tarik without stares or harassment.
Since our thirst became unbearable from the endless walks around the souks, we decided to take our chances and walked into one men-only café to buy two bottles of coke. We greeted the bartender with an Assalamualaikum and ordered two bottles of cokes to take away, fully conscious of the penetrating stares from the entire ‘flock’ of men, some seated and others standing , looking on in complete disbelief at our trespass. We were lucky to be spared the embarrassment of being ignored. The bartender obliged us our drinks. We paid him and left the premise. As we left the men-only cafe, we wondered if being foreign women, made all the difference in their tolerance.”……..
Tell me what you think…..have you readers had the same experience in Tunis?
It was a real hot, dry afternoon with no sign of relief from the rain clouds. I could feel beads of sweat trickling down my neck and elsewhere even as we sat underneath the shade of some coconut trees with the wind softly blowing from the sea (Fig 1). Even cold, sweet pineapple juice in tall glasses could not douse our hot discussion about drug use and remand prison time with two pill kuda users.
Pil Kuda is locally referred to as methamphetamine. In Kelantan, its retail price is RM10 but in Terengganu, it is RM15 – RM20. The pills are smuggled from Thailand into Kelantan and are what some people term as a poor man’s drug. Ketamine is called pill kuda because its use was for calming horses. Then we have syabu or pure methamphetamine, heroin, ganja (whose real medicinal value is as a pain killer), cocaine (like cocaine tooth drops to relief tooth ache) and ecstasy party pills (methylenedioxymethamphetamine). I did not realize how bad the drug problem in Terengganu was until that morning in Permaisuri.
Seated in the front row of the lower court that morning, I had an opportunity to listen to many remand cases while waiting for the specific case of interest to be mentioned. It seemed that out of 24 remand cases mentioned that morning, 23 were drug related and all involved Malays. This is an alarming trend. One remand case I heard was a well-dressed 65 year old man with dark glasses called Cikgu (teacher in Malay). He looked more like a headmaster of some remote school than a drug user or a drug peddler. The 65 year old drug user made an appeal for the magistrate to reduce the charge of RM6000. He made all attempts using poetic language in his appeal to impress the magistrate. The magistrate, a sweet young lady with hijab and beautiful painted lips, granted him a reduction of RM2,500. But he was far from satisfied. As he was being led out by a policeman, I heard him swore under his breath, with a look of disgust on his face. The “headmaster-look” completely disappeared and in its place, the face of an unrepentant drug peddler.
A young drug user on remand failed to attend the lower court hearing that morning , forcing his old man to present himself at the court since he was the one who posted bail. In Malaysia, you can pay bail to go home instead of going to jail while waiting for hearing. The lady magistrate did not hide her disgust and threatened to take away the old man’s bail money if the son failed to attend the next hearing. Then there was a young man about 20 years old who presented himself. He was dressed in short-sleeved tee shirt revealing old scars on his arms indicative of intravenous drug use. Almost all prisoners made gestures of defiance as they were being lead away. Many were young men maybe in early twenties and a few seasoned-looking hard-core drug users or drug pushers. One was a fresh-looking man in his early forties whose charges were duly dropped. And later when we met him outside, he related to us how he tried to help my friend’s worker during a raid by ADDK. But having watched too much American cop movies, his story made us a little skeptical. Could he be an informant?
Mezoh, a Patani who was working on my friend’s house, is a recreational drug user, resorting to pil kuda once or twice a week when he felt a physical burnout after his daily work on site. He is only 45 years old and very lean-build. Although from Patani, he spoke little Thai. On the day he was arrested in an ADDK (Agensi Anti-Dadah Kebangsaan or National Anti-Drugs Agency) raid on a house in Permaisuri, 2 months before, he was with some friends, smoking. The raid happened suddenly and quickly. ADDK officers appeared out of nowhere as if an informant had a hand in it. Mezoh suddenly found himself in jail waiting to be charged (Fig 2). If the court decides to put you on remand, it means you will go to prison until your hearing at a magistrate’s court. Mezoh was kept in jail for two months due to investigation by the police who had to be extra-careful with cases involving foreigners.
Mezoh related how much he suffered mentally and physically while on the two-months remand in Merang. 65 prisoners were confined to a space of about 30 feet by 30 feet. Space was so tight that if he left his spot to ease himself, he would find his space “gone” by the time he got back, duly occupied by another prisoner. The same space was also used for sleeping and there were no beds. Food was scarce. Prisoners were allowed five spoons of rice twice a day. Tea drinks were without any sugar and sometimes prisoners fight over tea. He looked like he did not lose much weight but then none of the prisoners did any physical work. They were not even allowed to attend weekly Friday prayers. Mezoh thought such conditions were unheard of in a Thai prison, on remand or not.
Lae, a 60 year old seasoned drug user, was constantly in and out of jail for drug use making him almost resilient. How he “got over” the drug habit was actually a result of an attachment to a tablir group during his parole years. It seemed to have straightened him out a bit, although it is anybody’s guess when he would cave in next. He had been taking drugs on and off since he was 20. Now he seemed to show some promising signs of discipline and resolve. He now keeps a dairy to jot down his duas and daily expenses from the little money his children gave him. This was seen as positive step towards recovery.
Figure 3: A peaceful, beautiful place in Mangkuk, Terengganu.
It made me wonder why these youngsters and even a few elderly men like Mezoh and Lae (residents of Mangkuk, Fig 3), resort to drug use? According to a 2018 AADK survey of drug addicts, (https://www.adk.gov.my) by state, showed Kelantan to have the highest number of drug addicts at 4,153 followed by Kedah at 2,693. Out of 25,267 drug cases surveyed, 82% are Malays, 6.3% are Indians, and 96% of this number are males. Among the drug users, the top most prone to drug abuse are the unemployed (3,650), the general workers (5621) and the part time workers (8,086). Socio-economic factors such as poverty and lack of employment opportunity are cited as some of the causes for high drug use among fishermen, according to Malaysian Crime Prevention Foundation (MCPF)(August 2017,nst.com.my).
Malaysia may have the strictest drug laws in the world, but the rising trend in drug abuse may require a rethink of its drug control strategies.