The time is 1 am. Junior Elder #2 can’t sleep. I haven’t been able to sleep before 4 am the entire week, but today I have an excuse for my insomnia. My lady neighbour is hosting over some two guys for drinks (I’m hoping it won’t turn into another Frank Wanyama and Alex Olaba case later). She is quite noisy (but we appreciate that she inspired this post), while the only thing you can hear from the guys is the laughter of someone who didn’t contribute to the purchase of the alcohol so they have to laugh even when the buyer sneezes.
I don’t drink. I have never drunk any alcohol. I have never even tasted alcohol. Okay, scratch that. I have tasted alcohol. Once. During my grandpa’s (Jaujimbe) memorial. It was chang’aa. I rarely talk to people, so when duties were being given out, they thought I was probably the best person to hold on to the key to where drinks were kept. That was the only way they could survive and reach their appointed time. You can’t sweet-talk someone who doesn’t speak into giving you a drink, can you? Everything else in that store made sense. The sodas, the wines, the beer. But this clear drink in a 20-litre jerrican didn’t make sense. I was curious as to the contents of the jerricans.
So I did what any curious cat would do. I took a glass, locked myself in that store and poured me some. It looked like water, but it smelled funny. I was too innocent to know what chang’aa is. I had only heard about it in folk tales, read drunk relatives. The moment I took a sip is the moment I knew it was not for me. Did I swallow? Heck no! Did I spit it on the floor? No, I don’t like disrespecting clean floors like that. Besides, that would leave evidence that someone had tampered with drinks meant for oche (inlaws). I spit that drink back into the glass, and emptied the glass back into the jerrican. If you partook in the traditional brew on that day, consider this my formal apology for spitting in your drink. We are still friends, right?
I don’t drink, but I have hanged out with enough drinkers to know that the person who shouts loudest is the most inexperienced drinker. And more often than not, they are not buying. They know who is taking whisky the wrong way, who is a wuss for drinking Tusker Cider, and who is playing with alcohol instead of drinking it. 11 out of 10 times, the noisemakers always blackout the first. When that happens, the hunted becomes the hunter. Those who had been tormented by the sleeper start tormenting them back, asking why they are sleeping while there is still an unopened bottle of alcohol on the table. The noisemaker-turned-sleeper often drunkenly pleads in their sleep to be left alone, which only motivates the other drinkers to disturb them more. “Niwacheni nilale” means the opposite among drinkers.
If you want to know who is paying for the alcohol, look at the one who is always quietly on their phone while taking occasional sips. It is often assumed that they are drunk texting their exes. What they are actually doing is checking their loan limits on M-Shwari, Fuliza, Tala, Branch and other online loan platforms. It is not that they don’t have money, they are just looking for a backup plan in case the friends exceed the amount he had budgeted for. The last thing you want to do is get a bachelor out of the comfort of his bedsitter for two drinks then tell him that the well is running dry so they have to slow down when the night is just starting.
Funny enough, it is the consumers who care most why we teetotallers are not drinking alcohol which is in plenty. They traumatize us with baseless (and often sensitive) questions like did alcohol break up your family and you had to grow up without the love and care of an alcoholic parent? What will your children drink when you are gulping down their drink (Delmonte)? Umemaliza Delmonte tukulete maziwa sasa? What will happen if you just have a taste? Are you afraid that alcohol will turn you into the mess it turned your father into? No bitch, I’m afraid of turning into the mess you are right now.After that curt answer, the one paying the bills often turns to you, tilts their glass to you, smiles while drunkenly saying “unakuwanga mtu wangu sana, usiwache waniibie simu,” asks the waiter to get you another Delmonte (never mind that you already have two unopened packets) before also blacking out.