Age of Zinc is proud to present the ninth installment in a new memoir from the slums of Nairobi, Kenya.
For a Changaa manufacturer you will require an industry or physical space. Now for a single unit dweller like my mother this was tricky. Therefore it required innovation.
The brewing process started with fermenting molasses mixed with yeast and water and closed in a drum (a cylindrical container normally used to store chemicals or liquids measuring around 100 liters). The fermentation process takes not less than 7 days and produces a very distinct smell of alcohol.
This can easily attract attention. To get around the risk of being smelled out or the drum being seen a smart brewer like my mother had to bury the drum under my bed. This actually meant me getting the feel of a ready matured brew before anyone else. Anyway, after fermentation the result is a thick dark liquid. This is put into another drum ready for distillation. The distillation process could be done into two ways. One required a pipe that would bring out vapor that is cooled using water or a distillation process where the vapor cools off into an aluminum pot inside the drum.
The result is a clear and very strong alcohol. To test its alcoholic nature most of the customers would light it using a match box and its blue flame represented a clear alcohol substance. All the brewing activities took place very early in the morning between 3 am to 5 am not to attract attention from the neighbors nor the police patrolling the area.
I was trained how to brew and keep watch so as not have ourselves arrested. I remember I was caught several times while brewing but given my young age I could not be arrested. Cleverly, my mother recruited some of us in the family to be brewers. My younger sister would later pick up from this business soon after my mother’s retirement.
The most valuable lesson that I drew from my mother during her brewing days is that one can brew, sell and never drink the alcohol. She did this amazingly as a ‘Mukurino’ (this is a Christian-come-traditional spiritual religion that believes in prophesies). The religion is recognized for extremism, which at times forces its followers not to mix or eat from those they consider ‘unclean’ spiritually.
This brought out the contrast of who my mother was, as a believer and also as a hustler who required earthly money to keep us in school, fed and clothed. She confesses that she stopped her involvement with the alcohol business the day I completed my secondary education. Her resolve was that we, her children, would never fail to study due to lack of school fees – unless we failed to see the importance of studying.
To her, educating a child was worth committing crime. I am not convinced that brewing and selling alcohol constitutes a crime when more than half the city’s population cannot afford legally brewed alcohol.