Wednesday, November 07, 2012

The Culture of Bango (republished)

By Yomna Kamel
Special to Middle East Times

From a gang of unemployed young men spending their night in a dark street corner in Imbaba to a group of sophisticated writers, intellectuals, and actors gathering in one of their well-furnished fancy villas in Maadi, there is one common thing that creates superstitious world for them. It is the key to happiness and imaginative running away from life’s problems. They are ecstatically transported, though they are still stuck down to earth.
It is ‘Bango’, a locally produced marijuana that seems to be the most commonly used drug in Egypt these days. Bango is produced by drying the leaves and flowers of the cannabis. Then, it is smoked in the form of rolled cigarettes called ‘joints’.
Although figures are not available, sociologists, psychologists and policemen agree it tops the list of illicit drugs taken by two classes in Egypt: the low paid laborers and unemployed young men and the ‘elite’ that comprises writers, actors, and musicians.
“It is less common among Middle class families since they tend to be more committed to values and traditions”, says Dr. Madiha El-Safty, Professor of Sociology at the American University in Cairo.
For laborers, Dr. El-Safty explains, they think Bango makes them more active and capable of working long hours.
According to a factory owner,Wagdy Aziz, Bango is notably common among laborers. He says some of his laborers admit they take it. They have no problems with work or productivity; rather, they seem more active and enjoying work. Yet, they never stop asking for money to borrow from their coming salaries. “I think they spend most of their wages on Bango and their families are usually the ones who financially suffer”, Aziz adds.
For the cultural and economic elite, it is taken because they believe its gives inspiration, talent, and artistry. For instance, Dr. El-Safty says, writers who are into Bango think it puts them in the mood of creativity. A well-known novelist used to take all sorts of drugs out of his belief that they helped him write more and be more creative. While he was lucky enough to escape police, others like Said Saleh, the well-known comic actor was caught taking Bango. Saleh is one of tens of cases of artists caught taking drugs. Some were revealed by police and others were not.
For Dr. Aza Kuraim, professor of sociology at the Center of Sociological and Criminal Research, Bango is a ‘social infection’ as it is usually taken in groups of people who are frustrated. It is commonly used among intellectuals, young people, or laborers. All believe that Bango transports them to a funny mood they need to be relieved from their frustrations and problems. Although, laborers and creative people are notably into Bango, Dr. Kuraim thinks Egypt’s young men are the highest group at risk. They are sensitive and socio-economic problems frustrate, and push them to take drugs to imaginatively feel happy and felicitous.
Dr. Kuraim affirms that intellectuals are not away from frustrations and suffering. Creative people have their own frustrations just like any other human being. Although they are well educated and aware of the effects of drugs, they still go for it. In case of Bango, they think it is just a natural herb like Hashish that has no serious effect on health. Moreover, Bango might enhance creativity, but there no scientific research done in this field. “Despite it is commonly used, I still cannot say Bango has become part of Egypt’s culture. I think it appears under certain social and economic pressures”, she says.
While Dr. El-Safty and Kuraim think Bango might have a positive effect on creativity, Dr. Mohamed Said Khalil, professor of psychology at Ain Shams University, says it is a fact. Bango contains a ‘Hallucinatory agent’ that makes one’s ideas flow in an unusual and untraditional way. Therefore, it has a special effect over creativity. Bango makes people who smoke it feel happier. The funniest jokes in Egypt are made by Bango-smokers, explains Dr. Khalil who runs a hospital for rehabilitation of drug addicts.


Dr. Khalil is not against Bango smoking, but against addiction. He says there is a difference between taking Bango to get out of moods of depression and frustration and addicting the drug in a way that you cannot lead a normal life without it. It is a soft drug that can be medically prescribed to relieve depression. However, Bango smokers should take it according to medical advice in order not to be dragged to addiction. The hospital Dr. Khalil runs receives cases of Bango smokers who were involuntarily dragged to addiction because they did not consult a specialist.
Dr. Khalil thinks Bango smoking should not be considered a crime. It is similar to the Qat, which is commonly used in Yemen and never was a crime. Some countries have legalized the use of certain soft drugs. “I believe alcohol is worst than some kinds of soft drugs”, he points out.
As for those who are addicted to the drug. They should receive a therapy and stay under medical and psychological care. They are patients who must not be seen as criminals, Dr. Khalil stresses.