Until very recently, I thought I had pretty much experienced everything when it came it alcohol and anything that resulted from its consumption. I could not have been more wrong! It’s as if I have been living in a soft cushiony bubble, drinking only mineral water that has passed through the hands of a virgin Mermaid based at the foot of mount Kilimanjaro. Until now, anything that I have consumed and sometimes abused has been a colossal waste of time, money and hours of my life. It has been child’s play compared to this drink, which I am still reaching for words to describe. Let me explain.
I recently visited Dala, with all the intention of experiencing how “Andû a mukira” live. Perhaps I should have taken a chill pill or two as I declared I want to the full Luo experience during my stay because what I got… I am still recovering from. The heat is like a long preview of Hell, Hell during Summer. There is just no escaping it, it doesn’t matter. It’s cooler if you to lie under a shady tree than to be in your house, even with the AC on. But sleep with one eye open, because Monitoring lizards and Omieris’ cousins will make a meal of you. It really is a difficult position to be in, where less is more but you can’t because you suffer from good upbringing.
My trip to Luanda Market was nothing short of exciting. I have never experienced anything like it, I also realized some rules do not apply here. For example, the number of people who openly smoked Weed like it was a pack of Menthols was shocking! Worse yet, they were mostly women, and they were louder than a banshee. I asked why this was necessary and was aptly informed that weed here is like beans in Central. Orientation with the said weed (yes, I see the irony, weed is a weed) starts before birth, because mothers drink it in their porridge, and it is used to treat common ailments such as tooth aches, head aches, tummy aches, any ache really. Also, the glazed over eyes staring at you are not sleep deprivation or deeply seated boredom, they are simply in deep meditation, and please do not bother them with negotiating because you cannot reach their depth of consciousness. Just pay and go away, thank you.
I thought fish was everything here, until I was accosted by a delicacy called Ng’wen. Mmmmh! I think the heat must have been getting the best of me because I went ahead and tasted the stuff. Ng’wen are insects, more like White flying ants that are captured and fried to produce the crunchiest yummiest yuckiest item I have ever put in my mouth. I don’t know if it’s because of the fat they carry, or the fact that they had just come up from the earth and have not been properly washed, but the taste can only be summarized as Umami. Yes, that is it, Umami. You have to taste it to believe it. 1 small cup costed 100 shillings, maybe it’s because I looked like I had just arrived from Othaya, but I felt generous and curious so I caved in. The next stall held sleek silver fish that were still wriggling and blinking. The blonde haired lady, who appeared sober enough to carry a conversation to its end greeted us with far too much enthusiasm and asked how many we will have. Well, the extent of my knowledge with fish begun and ended with their eyes. I had this far known that if the eyes were not sunken, then the fish was good. Well, slap me down with a tail feather! There appeared to be much much more to it, for example; the flexibility of the fish was of grave concern. If you managed to bend the fish and it cooperated, then you are in luck, the said fish is fresh! A stiff fish signified its residency at the stall, the stiffer it was, the longer it had stayed, the quicker you should get away from it it. Also, the amount of blood in the gills, it needed to be just red enough to show that the fish has not been out of water for too long. My “eyes” theory was also not too far off, I usually worked with it because it did not involve touching raw fish…. Sigh!
Fruits and vegetables were so fresh you could get cured of colds just by looking at them. The water melons were wetter and sweeter, I shamelessly ate a full pineapple in one sitting because they were not at all acidic but pleasured my mouth with their sweetness! I tell you, retirement may be in these here parts, if only for all the fresh foods and boisterous life! Nothing beats country living.
So my people and I arrived home tired to the bones and hot under the collar. Unpacking was done and fires lit, it was time to fry the fish and prep for dinner. We sat around three stoned fires on short wooden stools under a very starry sky, it appeared the universe had conspired to turn this into a festive evening. Before I knew it there was music and very stiff liquor as far as I remember. Alego Clear, as it was introduced is a local brew whose alcohol content must be over 70%. It has other less sexy names, so I will stick with Alego Clear and you can insert what you call the brew from your area here. This, I tell you is a drink for champions. It should not be drunk by persons under 80kgs, and certainly not on an empty stomach. Those who have never partaken of anything other than beer should also keep off, and do not think that you can mix this strain with anything else. Alego Clear is to be respected, served in Crystal with two ice cubes and a cigar held on your left hand. Drunk in silence if possible, and on rare occasions.
I say this out of concern for those whose initiation with The Clear ended like mine did. I was handed a glass and told that before we drink, we must share with our ancestors and all who have gone before us. Some water was poured to the ground and a hip hip hooray type of chant was said. I looked at my glass and asked to have some liquor and was told to drink what I had first. My glass was empty, so I tipped it over my mouth, like you would mouth wash to show that they had forgotten to serve me. I was met by a surprise. There appeared to have been a liquid in it, which was bitter and tasted of the earth. Like earthy Gin. It had other layers that I did not have time to process because once it hit the back of my throat, I was left with two options; spit it out like a sissy or swallow and die later. So I swallowed, and bellowed like bull. This was followed by loud cheering, because they thought that I was one of the real sisters from Luo land, drinking Clear like I belonged. But in truth, I was having trouble believing that my head was spinning, why were my eyes out of focus?
The thing is, Alego Clear derived its name from the fact that it is so purely distilled that it looks cleaner than mineral water. You will mistake a full glass of Clear for an empty glass, because the difference is the same. You will not discern of it, unless you’re the one who poured it. If I had not been cleaning fish, perhaps I would have been able to pick up on the smell of it. It is pungent, nothing like Dior or Johnnie, but an alien smell with earthy tones. If the smell does not get you drunk, rest assured the drink will.
So after my swallowing three fingers in one gulp, my evening was cut short (or so I think). I remember nothing. Total black out. I understand that I have some apologies to make, perhaps I will do them in writing because the tales being told are nothing I want to be associated with. I am made to understand that I have made a name for myself, Osogo Winyo may be releasing a single in my honor. Alego Clear… not for the faint hearted.