The Space Shop
This feature is in no way meant to glorify the use of weed. I strongly condemn it. (The use of weed, not the feature). Also, I am fully aware that sharing this story may not be a wise move. I risk being branded brazen, but what’s the point of my writing if I can’t be genuine, responsibly so? I am fully armoured and ready for any stones that might come my way.
Last week, the mister and I travelled to Amsterdam for six days to celebrate his fortieth birthday. Being a curious cat, I had some questions whose answers I could only get from experience. For starters, we know how adverse the effects of weed can be. I mean, back in the day, I am sure you had a cousin, an uncle or a neighbour who went bonkers because of weed.
Until the age of nine, I grew up in a cosmopolitan estate in Lanet, Nakuru county before moving to the farm life in Njoro. My dad worked at an animal research centre (Beef Research Centre) that housed its employees in this fancy estate. At Beef Research Centre, we were a close community that took trouble to know all the members, including regular visitors. I am ashamed to admit that I only know two out of my eight neighbours despite living in my current court for one and a half years.
Back at Beef (as we called our estate), there was this mad man by the name of Mathu who hailed from a neighbouring slum called Seven. He was a regular visitor, him in his mucky brown suit. Mathu mostly walked around with his fly open. It was a ghastly sight. When we (the kids) saw him, we would run as fast as our feeble legs could carry us (pun very much intended! Why did teachers make us use this lame idiom?). He was a jovial guy though and never hurt a fly, even with his open fly. It was rumoured that he lost his mind from smoking weed.
One of my dad’s brothers has been deranged ever since I can remember. His lunacy was all attributed to the weed he smoked when he was in high school. Ones (short for Onesmus) lives in a dark sooty house where he piles wood in the fireplace at night and relishes in its warmth as he enjoys a cup of tea. In the morning, he makes rounds in the neighbourhood like a postman would, except that he would not be delivering letters but asking for 20 bob from each household. He is always in a greyish suit, broken nonetheless.
My mom’s late brother had a stint during high school where he was constantly truanting, all because of weed. He didn’t lose his mind, but he stressed the shit out of our cucu. Thus, for all the above reasons, I have always had an underlying fear of the adverse effects of weed. It was therefore only natural for my curiosity to be roused when I learnt that weed was legal in Amsterdam, a city we would be spending six solid days in. I mean, is their weed any different from that which makes people in other parts of the world go mental? Is it that the government was desperate to collect taxes and did not care about the wellbeing of its citizens? Or was it a desperate attempt to create jobs? I needed answers.
Don’t get me wrong, there were many reasons why Amsterdam reeled us in, including the fact that it sits below sea level, has a myriad of canals interspersing the narrow houses, and that almost everyone in Amsterdam rides a bicycle to work, even the Prime Minister! We were desperately looking forward to all that, but if I am being honest, I was more curious about their “coffee shops”, a polite term for the weed shops. I could not wait to set foot in one of them and observe the revellers as they puffed without worrying about sirens and hopefully gain the confidence to try some. Boy was I in for a long night!
At 9.00am, we walked out of the train station into a blustery wind that sent flurries of rain towards us. One side of the station bordered the seafront and it smelled as if a fisherman’s boat had just docked. The air was nippy but somehow the reality of the cold weather did not sink in immediately as we were more fixated on the fact that in The Netherlands, things moved fast. In the last half an hour, we had landed at Schipol airport, gone through customs clearance, picked our luggage and taken a twenty-minute train ride to Central Station.
The walk to our hotel was a long arduous one, mostly because we were starving and unsure of our destination. A scrawny guy with a balding head at the tourist office in Schipol Airport had informed us that our hotel was conveniently located, and that we would only need to walk for ten minutes from Central Station. However, we kept second guessing ourselves, which saw us walk in circles for about fifteen minutes, trying to find our hotel and at the same time, hunting down a store that sold sim cards. For a minute, I missed Nairobi’s Tom Mboya and Moi Avenue streets where phone shops are lined up along the corridors and snaking into the alleys like safari ants. I always wonder what competitive edge one has over the other.
Side note-If you travel to Amsterdam, it is wise to buy a local sim. We got Lycamobile which afforded us 7GB of data at a small price of fifteen euros (the equivalent of 1,700 Kenya Shillings), which I did not exhaust in six days. Armed with our new sim card and google maps, we finally found Radisson Blu hotel. It was tucked in a narrow quiet street that branched off a contrastingly busy one next to a gorgeous canal. The check in process was quick and we were allocated a room on fourth floor. It lacked the luxury of space, much like most four-star hotel rooms in Amsterdam as we later realised.
The mister, who was still on his Kenyan sim card quickly latched on the hotel wi-fi and caught up with his emails and chats while perched on the seat.
“Dude, I don’t know about you, but I am starving.” I whined. “If you don’t get off that phone I will clear everything in the mini bar at your expense.”
“I’ll only be five minutes. There’s this deal…” I zoned off as he tried explaining. There’s always a deal trying to be closed, but for Pete’s sake we were in Amsterdam and I was famished. After assessing the view from the room (which sadly was the dull back side of other buildings) and pulling down the comforter and sheets to ensure no surprises from the previous guests, it was time to hit the streets. We found a street leading up to Dam Square that was packed with eateries, mostly steak houses. Lunch offers were plastered on the windows, and this one of pork ribs, steak and chicken for fifteen euros grabbed our attention.
“Can I have a double steak and chicken instead of pork?” The mister inquired from the stunning Mexican waitress. She had cerulean blue eyes and long brown hair the length of an indigenous cow’s whisk.
“I’m sorry, sir. You can have double anything but steak as it’s pricier than the rest.”
He settled for double chicken and one steak.
“Just don’t imagine that you’ll taste my pork when you hear me making the slurping sounds.” I warned him. He always claims to not like pork but never hesitates to eat it off my plate or the kids’ plates.
The pork and steak were tastefully marinated and excellently grilled, with the pork falling off the bone with ease. The chicken did not strike a chord. We drowned our meal with a Heineken which was amazingly refreshing, perhaps because we were in the land of Heineken. At that point, our first agenda was sealed. We had to go for the Heineken Experience.
As we walked towards the Tours and Tickets office in Dam Square, we spotted a store with the inscription Cannabis Museum at the door. A bicycle donned with plastic weed from the handle bar to the crank arm and chain rings was displayed outside. We walked in. The shelves were stacked with weed cookies, weed chocolate, weed tea, weed weed weed everywhere. I felt high from just staring at all the weed products in the store. I was tempted to buy a cookie, but my voice of reason was against it.
“Let’s wrap up with the tickets store and the Heineken Tour first. You might just eat that cookie and pass out for the next six days.” The mister was quick to inform me.
The shop attendant overheard him and interjected. “Everything we sell here is just weed flavoured stuff and doesn’t contain actual weed. The real stuff is sold in coffee shops down the street.” I lost interest.
At the Tours & Tickets office, we mapped our itinerary for the next three days. There were day trips by bus to other parts of Netherlands including Rotterdam and The Hague, as well as day trips to Belgium. There were also lots of activities within Amsterdam, mostly museums that preserved and showcased their history and art, as well as canal cruises and guided walking tours.
We settled for a day trip to the countryside for the following day (on Friday) where we would visit a cheese factory, the iconic wind mills, The Delft where they made stunning pottery and finally The Hague. On Saturday we would shop as we explored the city and for Sunday, we booked a day bus trip to Bruges, Belgium which turned out to be the highlight of our trip. Now that we had that covered, it was time to head out to the Heineken Experience. Side note-much as tickets are sold in the various museums, it’s always advisable to buy them in advance as it helps you avoid the unnecessarily long and winding queues at the popular spots.
We hopped into a tram at the Dam Square stop and three stops later, we were at the Heineken Experience. The sun was finally out and the crisp air had been replaced with warm rays that soaked into my skin like butter on hot bread. This part of Amsterdam was particularly beautiful with stunning ancient architecture, cobbled pavements and green parasols laid out in this open space that served as an eatery.
Learning about the company’s heritage was an eye-opening moment, especially the realisation that it started as a single brewery in Amsterdam 150 years ago and is now an international brand turning over north of 20 billion euros a year. What stayed with me is the fact that, like any other successful brand, they continuously reinvented everything, even what one may perceive as the most mundane thing like the size of the beer bottle and the logo. We were later ushered into an iridescent lounge that reminded me of Mercury ABC and it was party time, Heineken beer on the house. House music filtered through invincible speakers. We made friends from Germany and traded war stories.
At 6.00pm, we headed back to the hotel. The plan was to rest for a while and check out the nightlife later on. However, considering we had been on a red-eye the previous night and had been up and about all day, it was highly likely that the fatigue would get the best of us.
“If we are going to sleep tonight, then we might as well try out this stuff and sleep it off.” I suggested.
By some luck, we spotted a coffee shop right opposite our hotel. I remember making a joke about the convenience of that store, and how we could easily dash into the room if we started feeling weird. We walked in to a half-packed space shop, with some of the revellers puffing away and others having what I imagined was coffee and weed cookies or cupcakes. A slender light skin guy with long dreadlocks stood behind the counter.
“Could we have the lightest of your joint and a cupcake?” I inquired.
We sat down at the table next to the entrance just to ensure we could exit with ease. We enjoyed a few drags of the joint. Our heads felt light. A burly guy who was seated in the middle of the room suddenly stood up, pointed at a painting of Vladimir Putin that hung on the wall above a staircase saying “That’s my father! How I have missed him!” We did not want to end up like that guy, so we carried our cup cake and headed to the room.
We were happy and found everything hilarious. We laughed at anything and everything. At some point, the mister was incoherent. Probably I was too, but still, I drivelled incessantly. At the room, the mister nodded off after a short while and I remember feeling so accomplished for being the last man standing. I felt hungry and thanked God for the cupcake which I gobbled down, brushed my teeth, showered, got into bed, set my alarm to go jogging at 6am and put off the light. I was quite proud of myself, having tackled weed like a pro. Until the unimaginable happened.
Suddenly, in the middle of the night, I woke up and found myself sweating profusely, breathing heavily and my head was heavy. All my inequities flashed before me and I imagined that darkness was hell. I jumped out of bed desperately wanting to see the light. The lights refused to come on as we electricity card was not in its slot, which got me convinced that I was dead already. I needed to see light in any form. I screamed at the mister to find the switch and in the meantime, I blindly ran to the window not realising that it was the middle of the night. The mister could not find the electricity card, so he opened the door and the light from the corridor streamed in. He then found the card and put on all the lights in the room, including the bathroom.
I paced up and down, remembering all the mad people I knew. I regretted laughing at Mathu and taking his madness lightly, much as I was only eight years old then. I figured that this was Karma at its best.
“This is how people go mad. I am mad, right?” I queried the mister. “Tell Charles and Xia I am sorry for letting them down.” I said of my boss and my younger daughter, which in retrospect, amazes me that those are the people I am afraid most of disappointing. He laughed and retrieved his phone to record me. I knocked it off his hand.
“You are not mad sweetheart, you are experiencing a weed high. Did you eat the cupcake all by yourself after I slept?”
“It was tastier than anything I have ever eaten.” I said whilst still pacing up and down. It is no wonder they say that gluttony is a sin, one that I was paying for.
“I am so going to die, right?” I walked into the bathroom and stared at my reflection on the mirror which felt like a complete stranger was staring back at me.
It took gallons of water and sugar and green tea to calm me down. After about an hour, my anxiety eased and I settled in bed.
When I woke up in the morning, I found the mister staring at me with a rueful smile.
“If we had to unceremoniously end this trip today, that’s perfectly alright. Watching you last night was definitely more fun than I will have for the remainder of the trip.” He chuckled.
“It really wasn’t funny. I would hate for anyone to be in that space, or in space for that matter.” I whispered.
“I was worried initially that I was going to lose you and have to raise the kids alone, but then I googled weed highs and read that no one has ever died from one. It was show time thereafter!” He let out a wicked laugh and proceeded to add “And by the way, no need to jog this morning. That pacing must have exceeded 10 kilometres.
I bashed his face with a pillow and walked to the bathroom hoping that this time my reflection would be of a person I was conversant with.