The African nation of Tanzania, tucked between Kenya and Mozambique on the equatorial shores of the Indian Ocean, is a nation of stunning contrasts. As in much of modern Africa, history and tradition have collided with the 21st century, resulting in a horrifying epidemic of AIDS/HIV that has orphaned millions of children, many who wind up in the streets addicted to drugs. With drug treatment facilities almost non-existent, there is little hope that any of the hundreds of thousands of addicted youths will receive the drug rehab they so desperately need.
The contrasts of modern Tanzania are startling. In the north and west of Tanzania are Lake Victoria, Africa's largest lake, and Lake Tanganyika, Africa's deepest lake, each with remarkable histories. The celebrated Dr. Jane Goodall studied chimpanzee behavior for 45 years at Gombe National Park. The country is home to 2-million-year-old fossils in the famed 'Cradle of Mankind' and the 3.6 million-year-old Laetoli footprints, the oldest known human footprints. But the United Nations says Tanzania is also home to a staggering 1.1 million AIDS orphans under the age of 18, struggling for survival against hunger, loneliness, sexual violence, economic strife, pervasive fear, and the constant threat of drug addiction. Several hundred thousand of them suffer debilitating addictions to drugs with no possibility of drug rehab.
In the mountainous north-eastern region of Tanzania rises the legendary snow-capped peaks of Mt. Kilimanjero, Africa's tallest mountain, visited annually by thousands of happy, camera-toting tourists. Most arrive at Kilimanjaro International Airport, which serves the north-eastern city of Arusha, the gateway for tourists and business interests. But anyone who dares look beyond Arusha's tourist attractions may see some of the thousands upon thousands of teenage drug addicts trying to survive through crime and prostitution in the hard-scrabble streets without hope for a drug rehab program or a future beyond tomorrow.
Tanzania's National Anti-Drugs Commission revealed last week that one-quarter of all the youths in the Arusha region are addicted substance abusers. The commonest drugs are marijuana, heroin, cocaine, khat and Mandrax pills (methaqualone). Mandrax is crushed, mixed with marijuana, and smoked in the neck of a broken bottle. It is particularly deadly + Mandrax users would be candidates for drug rehab if it were available. Khat, a stimulant plant native to East Africa, has for centuries been chewed or consumed as tea to achieve euphoria, but possession of khat is a crime in Tanzania because it can lead to addiction, and like marijuana is a gateway drug to more addictive narcotics that lead only to drug rehab or death. Khat has been seen in the U.S., but is rarely a factor in drug rehab settings here.
Off the eastern coast lies the island of Zanzibar, which merged with Tanganyika in 1964 to form the United Republic of Tanzania. The name Tanzania is a combination of Tanganyika and Zanzibar. For decades, Zanzibar has been an exotic beach paradise for well-heeled tourists. Today, the reality of life is very different. Once the route for the ivory and slave trades, Zanzibar's historic Stone Town and the mainland port city of Dar es Salaam are now international drug routes, brought about by the international war on drugs which has forced the crime syndicates to find new distribution conduits. Drugs are cheap and readily available, but the availability of drug rehab has not kept pace. A stroll along Stone Town's picturesque waterfront presents young men huddled in canoes injecting heroin and cocaine, sharing needles that spread disease. Although modern drug rehab can't cure HIV/AIDS, a modern drug rehab program would help slow the spread of the disease by lowering the numbers of needle-sharing addicts.
It's not only the locals that support the drug trade. Tourists from Europe and elsewhere have begun arriving in Zanzibar for inexpensive "drug holidays," a dangerous trend indeed. Drug quality has deteriorated, and tourists can wind up in hospitals or worse. A 26-year-old British tourist recently died after taking drugs he had bought on the island + too late for drug rehab.
In the mid-19th Century, Dr. David Livingstone arrived in Stone Town, the old section of modern Zanzibar City, to begin his famous quest for the source of the Nile. Later, Henry Morton Stanley's expedition to find Livingstone also started at Zanzibar. Livingstone encountered the slave trade there, and spoke out against it for years in his letters, books and journals. Imagine his horror today to discover the new enslavement in Tanzania, an inferno of disease and drug abuse crying out for medicine, education and drug rehab. For all its remarkable history and geography, today's Tanzania needs an infusion of a modern drug rehab program to help save its future.