Monday, 2 November 2009

A drink with Henry

Homemade punch was awaiting our return to Fisherman’s Camp from Hell’s Gate. After cycling all day it was a welcome treat! According to Henry it was Kenya’s Independence Day whilst our guide, John, said it was the President’s Day…either way it was an excuse to cook up a storm and drink copious amounts of booze!

I was on the cook team and was on chapatti dough rolling duty whilst Jas was on chapatti cooking duty. My drink in one hand, a rolling pin in the other, I got cracking producing a heap of chapatti to go with the BBQ meat and veg.

After dinner and an entire cool bin worth of punch, we managed to persuade Henry to take us to his local bar. We headed down to the small village along the roughly Tarmaced road, occasionally tripping over a pothole or two in the dark.

The bar was handily located behind the butchers, which, even at 9pm, was still open. (I say ‘handily’ because the butchers sold cooked goats meat which, in Africa, is the equivalent to a 2am kebab)

The bar was small, dark and filled almost entirely with men bar a couple of prostitutes who hung around by the men’s loos. Henry was the centre of attention as he walked in surrounded by 14 ‘mzungos’ aka ‘dollar signs’. Suddenly the prices at the bar jumped. Admittedly, the drinks here were a quarter of the price than back at camp but we were still paying inflated mzungo prices. Someone quite rightly pointed out that it was more than a little unfair that prices were based on skin colour and wondered what would happen – and how many riots would occur – if you did the same in the UK. I guess, given the fact that the whites colonized and enslaved black Africans over hundreds of years, we now get our comeuppance when we re-visit the countries in which we wreaked havoc. Nevertheless, there is something that feels a little morally amiss about it all

A guy named Marcus, a local gin den and a rather large hippo
Marcus was born in Wales, educated in an English boarding school and has worked for the last three years in South Africa…needless to say, his accent is a mess J He is one of those people that anyone who writes aspires to be…he gets paid to write about his travels. In Capetown he was a sports journalist for Sky but after he quit his job to travel from Capetown to Cardiff by public transport alone (no planes!) Sky Travel asked him to write about his experience. Nat met him at Fisherman’s Camp eight months into his travels. He’d had malaria twice, been arrested and almost deported in Malawi for refusing to pay a bribe and had interviewed a local witch doctor. I got chatting to Marcus and Nat and we ended up spending the morning together.

We had the day off to do as we chose but nearly everyone was hungover so the day consisted of sitting by the pool or in the bar area recouperating. Instead, Nat, Marcus and myself decided to pay a visit to the local village to find some local grub to get stuck into. We asked a local market stall holder where a good place was to get food and we were directed to a tiny little hut with a sign saying ‘Mama’s kitchen’ and a fruit stall out front. Inside were three or four plastic tables and chairs, a small counter with a bowl of eggs to one side and a few pastries on show and a hole in the wall that looked into the kitchen. Choosing the food was simple as there was only one real meal on offer – a mixture of vegetables and chickpea stew with a side of chapatti.

Mama was a bubbly character who was very keen for us to try everything she had on offer. We gratefully tucked into a plate of food (which was noticibly smaller than that of the local sat opposite us…I guess mama was hoping we’d ask for seconds) followed by slices of fresh pineapple from her fruit stall. As we ate, cows wandered aimlessly passed the open door and every now and then a small child would pop their head in to smile and giggle at the mzungos. Our meal cost us 100 Kenyan shillings each – less than a £1 for a two-course meal.

Marcus was keen to find out where he could get hold of some local tipple so he asked the two local men eating on the tables across from us. They laughed knowingly when he asked and one of the men offered to take us to find some. Following our newly found guide, we headed back towards Fisherman’s Camp then carried on a little further up. Along the way we managed to pick up a horde of young kids on their way home from school. Marcus entertained them by saying the word for ‘bum’ in Swahili which they all found hysterically funny.

Just beyond Fisherman’s Camp we entered a small homestead that backed onto one of the flower farms. There were a couple of houses, a few goats milling around, a tiny puppy rolling in the dust and a couple of kids playing together. In front of one of the houses was a small wooden shack with a roof made of clear plastic. Our guide ushered us in whereby the chitter chatter of the locals inside fell briefly silent only to be followed by ‘karibu, karibu’ (i.e. welcome, welcome).

The inside of the small shack was lined with wooden benches. In one corner was a ‘bar’ which was literally a small bar of wood with a large plastic vat of some suspiciously clear and ominously toxic liquid. We were ushered in and sat on a bench next to some rather colourful characters who’d obviously been sat there for a fair few hours already. One guy had only a couple of brown teeth left and one of his eyes hung low so that it was almost closed…a visual personification of one being ‘blind drunk’.

Opposite me was a chatty woman in traditional African dress with a baby strapped to her back and a young girl who looked like her daughter sat next to her. Again, she too looked like she frequented the ‘gin den’ a little too often than was good for her health. After the usual ‘What’s your name?’, ‘Where you from?’ pleasantries, Marcus ordered three glasses of the potent beverage. ‘Changa’ as it is known is created from corn fermented with sugar and then distilled. It forms a clear liquid that tastes like gin mixed with gasoline.

That evening, under the watchful eye of a huge hippo grazing at the end of Fisherman’s Camp gardens, Nat, Marcus and I had a Changa drinking session. Mine consisted of a shot glass full whereas the two guys managed to consume the best part of a litre bottleful followed by a hearty helping of 2kg of goat meat…I left them to it!

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