x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Screen insight into the nightmare of drugs in the UAE

Young Emirati woman's documentary on drug abuse in the country will premiere at Gulf Film Festival

Amani Alowais has made a documentary about a drug being taken by young people in the UAE that will be screened at the Gulf Film Festival. DELORES JOHNSON/The National
Amani Alowais has made a documentary about a drug being taken by young people in the UAE that will be screened at the Gulf Film Festival. DELORES JOHNSON/The National

DUBAI // What could impel young Arab men to risk their future by experimenting with drugs?

Emirati filmmaker Amani Alowais, 23, believes she may have some of the answers.

Alowais interviewed former addicts while gathering material for her documentary Souvenirs from Candy Land, premiering at the Gulf Film Festival today.

Among their motivations for drug abuse were boredom and lack of a stable family environment.

"We as young people are adventurous," said Alowais, from Sharjah. "We like to have new experiences. We also easily get bored.

"If there is no stable family environment or if we are culturally not strong and sensible enough, if we don't have someone to guide and help us to find our way through difficult experiences, then things can lead to bad decisions, confusion and ultimately self-destruction through such acts as drug use."

Alowais does not identify former users - Arab men, including Emiratis - in the film.

"Some people talk more comfortably than others," she said.

The film presents a variety of views. While some former users were critical of the rehabilitation centre in Abu Dhabi, a colonel from Sharjah Police's drug section told Alowais it was one of the best in the world.

"Many of them have spent time in local rehabilitation centres, but apparently the victims of drugs didn't find their rehab experience very useful and found it more like imprisonment than rehabilitation.

"My impression was that they do wish to see upgrading of the local rehabs so that people suffering from the same problem could benefit from them in a more effective way."

Johanna Griffin, a drug and alcohol counsellor at Dubai's LifeWorks centre, says the film is important.

"A young person raising awareness is a very positive thing," Ms Griffin said. "It's useful to have a peer doing this because she understands young people and how the culture works."

Alowais said most of the former addicts had abused tramadol and other prescription drugs, but some said that they took cannabis while partying.

Most used drugs more frequently when they travelled abroad.“They try to stay under the radar here and feel more free to use drugs when they travel,” she said. “They are afraid of the penalties more than the problem itself, and that’s scary.

“They should know that the effects of addiction are far worse than the penalties and problems with the law. It’s about their lives and health.”

Ms Griffin agreed about the factors that lead to drug abuse. “It’s definitely true what she said about people being bored,” she said.

“Sometimes people are not encouraged to keep themselves busy. I see people from every culture and being bored is something that people tend to talk about quite a lot. And loneliness, they seem to go together.

“I also wonder about this cycle of being up very late and not getting up until lunchtime. Maybe people need to look at how important it is to create a proper lifestyle – to go to bed at a certain time and get up at a certain time.”

Ms Griffin also believes the family environment is an important factor.

“Some people can get lost in a big family, and when you’re young you need a lot of parental guidance and support,” she said.

On rehabilitation centres, Ms Griffin said: “There could be more facilities here where people do not feel judged or stigmatised.”

Alowais hopes Souvenirs from Candy Land will help to educate people about the dangers of drugs.

The premiere is at the Grand Festival Cinemas at Dubai Festival City today. The film will be screened again on Monday. The Gulf Film Festival continues until Wednesday next week.