On Mira


The discovery of mira has been universally attributed to the goat. As the story is told in Nairobi these days, it was the goats of herdsman who first chewed the leaves of the plant and “just chilled”. Humans have modified this behavior by typically adding chewing gum to the process. The idea is that the gum helps keep the leaves in a manageable lump while they are chewed in order to release an unknown cocktail of chemicals. The effect is said to simultaneously calm and stimulate the user. The chewing gum may also be an attempt to cover the bitter flavor of the leaf. 

Mira is particularly popular with long-distance drivers and the youth of Nairobi. Mira is also growing in export value, and herein lies much of the lore surrounding the plant these days. The key to profitable mira sales is to get the stuff as quickly as possible from the field to the awaiting plane. Great value is ascribed to the freshness of the leaf. The method developed by exporters and growers of mira is as follows. The raw mira is bundled in banana leaves. The bundles are shipped not in large lorries but in small pickups. These trucks are loaded well beyond capacity and driven at absurd speed to the waiting airfields in Nairobi. A real respect has developed for mira drivers. As one local man has said, “They are the real rally racers of Africa.” Indeed, if one is a fan of rally racing and no race spectation is to be had, one only need sit beside a mira route. The respect for these drivers comes also from the fact that are not known for accidents. If you wonder how any long-distance driver could be so strongly motivated, just consider that one truckload of mira is valued at 4 million Kenyan shillings. Also consider that a stopped mira truck is likely to have its cargo attacked and stolen. So critical is the timely delivery of the cargo that mira trucks are replaced with brand new trucks every few deliveries. Again, if this seems unrealistic, remember that one load of mira is many times the cost of a new truck.


Mira has become very expensive and rare in Nairobi. Each morning, numerous people can be seen sifting through the large piles of banana leaves outside the airports seeking pinches of the leaf. No one seems to have any concern for the possible effects of use of this natural wonder. Unknown to the writer is the length of time Mira has been in practice and if any side effects are known. Perhaps time will be the judge. Until then, expect mira chewers to continue chilling.


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