I said that someday I would write about my village; well, these are the chronicles of my village.
I come from a little, hilly village near Murang’a town that is colloquially known as St. Mary’s, or thanda maria as we like to call it. It is where the heart is. It is home. It is a place that we love dearly. Here, we are known for many things, but the one thing we are most known for, is our love of beverages of the highly intoxicating variety.
It is our traditional area of strength; our field of core competency. It is our stronghold.
A fellow villager and a world class drunk who goes by the name Njerù, once described the lot of us, variously as ‘anyui ngùthi‘ and ‘anyui me gatù‘. I cannot find an English phrase that quite captures the essence of Njerú’s assertions, but loosely translated, it means we are drinkers of legendary repute. I can assert with a very significant level of seriousness, that we can go toe to toe with any village in the world that claims it can drink. If competent drunks were an exportable commodity, we would be rich.
Hopefully, in time, I will tell you tales that will break your ribs.
There have been many intoxicating beverages that have been loved and feared over the years in my village; from the home brewed matinga, to packed poisons like kantata, kulta special, kairasy, medusa, the dreaded yuris, keroche, santa king, Amarios and many others. All known collectively as ‘karikari‘. It’s a rather derogatory term meant to deter would be drinkers from touching the stuff. For whatever it’s worth, it deters no one . These are drinks I haven’t seen anywhere else in Kenya.
Then there was some very suspect brownish liquid that some Ninja used to brew at his home in a place known as Katiba. No one knew what went into it, or how it was brewed. He was CIA-level secretive with his tech. He had a very specific house rule; no one was allowed to buy, and consume, more than two standard metal cups at his premises, irrespective of who you were. Someone related to me once broke this cardinal rule because he had come across some Nairobi money and he was throwing so he was allowed, very reluctantly, a third cup. Needless to say, he came to within an inch of those pearly gates. I am sure he caught a fleeting glance of St. Peter.
Incidentally, this scientist was a teetotaler. He never drunk, ever. His budding brewing career was put to a grinding halt though by local law enforcement. They thought it would be hilarious to force him to consume half of a 5 litre jerrycan of his own brew before they could arrest him. They obviously weren’t familiar with the house rules; two standard cups and no more. The Ninja came dangerously close to seeing Jesus. So close that the cops elected not to arrest him. Those who were there swear to this day that he was unconscious for a day and a half. He never brewed again.
Today, let me tell you the story of my friend and classmate who goes by the nom-de-guerre, Cuuma, and his brief and disastrous encounter with the legendary ‘Amarios’ beverage.
And I use the term beverage here very loosely. There was nothing beveragy about Amarios; it was barely palatable and pushed the limits of what could be legally, and factually, described as a consumable beverage.
Amarios was radioactive, and it was loved and consumed dearly. It had a distant fruity flavour, a subtle whiff of pineapple, and a somewhat nice scent that led to it being described as ‘itunda‘ or fruit. Once consumed however, all bets were off. Breath and piss reeked of death. If someone took a crap, that toilet was put out of commission and had to be quarantined for the day.
In fact, it was such a public health issue, that our local barkeep could not legally allow you to take a crap in the John within the drinking premises. It was a hard house rule. It was cast in stone. You had to do your business at an external facility we called ‘ kwa mwenje’; which was adjacent to the alcohol poisoning recuperating area, known as casualty. That is if you could walk that far. Many never made it.
Amarios had the lowly distinction of being avoided by flies. Flies would not touch amarios laced faeces even with a ten foot pole. Even they had standards. The vicinity of heap of Amarios stained stuff was a no-fly zone for flying insects. These are well known facts in Thanda Maria
I should also mention that while pissing on oneself was standard practice after one too many amarios, there was a peculiar tendency of crapping your pants after a certain threshold was breached. And it stank to high heaven.
Amarios came in a standard 500ml bottle and it had a claimed alcohol concentration by volume of 20%. This figure was highly disputed by local stakeholders, local connoisseurs and highly experienced drunks- like Njerù- who suggested that the true figure lay somewhere well north of 30%. Sometimes north of 40%.
It was notoriously inconsistent .
Production standards were pretty non-existent in Naivasha where it was brewed. Potency depended on their mood there on any particular day. Depending on the day, you could either walk home or you could nearly die from taking the same quantity, but you took the gamble anyways. I’ll one day tell you of one Ninja that took the gamble and lost; he paid with his life.
Only my erstwhile classmate, Mbía, or Rat, was known to take more than three bottles and not die or require urgent and intensive medical attention. Even Mbía, for all his prowess, would have a maximum of three and an ‘íthanwa‘ (an axe, or half a bottle). He would then require to be carried out of the bar, by porters paid for by the management, just in case he soiled himself within the premises thereby causing them to be evacuated prematurely. The destination was usually the open air casualty to spend the entire night outside in the bitter cold.
So my friend Cuuma was once invited to a house opening ceremony in the village having worked there as a labourer. The owner had not cut corners, there was food in plenty, a tent, and plastic seats. Most importantly, the feared and fabled ‘ageni a nairofi‘ or guests from Nairobi were also in attendance.
After the ceremony, pleasantries and feasting, the host unleashed throat irrigators. Throat irrigating fluids of the intoxicating variety are a hallmark of any self respecting house warming ceremony in Thanda Maria. Due to the persistent classism in the village, ‘ageni a Nairofi‘ were sipping the good stuff brewed with love in Ruaraka, while the likes of Cuuma were being poisoned with Naivasha’s finest, Amarios sherry.
There was catch though, it was one crate, and you were only allowed to take one drink at a time. Due to the perennial thirst that we are known for, it was an epic free for all. It was like a battle scene in the legendary siege of Leningrad during WWII. Cuuma quickly grabbed, and downed, one bottle . He immediately took and downed a second one. Before he could grab a third one, there was nothing left. The entire crate was wiped clean in less than 5 minutes.
It so happened that the owner had one extra crate which he promptly unleashed. Cuuma in characteristic fashion quickly grabbed and downed a third. He knew full well he had never, ever, ventured beyond two. And at two, he almost always pissed himself. He then picked a fourth, ya kurelax nayo, since he figured he had had enough. Four amarios in under 20 minutes was well beyond the exploits of the industry standard, the perennially arid throat of mbía.
Cuuma was now squarely in unkown territory and things unfolded thick and fast for him. He was passed out cold in under 10 minutes and foaming profusely from the mouth. Those who knew the gravity of what he had dared so boldly to do, bid him their goodbyes.
He was well within the zone where technically, a priest could be called to offer you the rites of the dying; but for obvious technicalities, a Priest could not be summoned.
After a while, due to what I suspect to have been overfeeding and obviously amarios, he took a long and luxurious crap in his pants. In front of the feared and fabled guests from Nairobi. By his own estimation, there was an incredible amount of it. It stunk up the tent so bad that some of the guests threw up and it was decided that moving him would be disastrous since there were copious amounts of loose and watery fecal matter everywhere.
So they decided to move the tent and seats instead.
You can imagine the embarrassment that visited the host. Cuuma was under anaesthesia and no one wanted to touch him. No amount of money offered by the host would tempt even the daring to touch him.
He woke up late in the night looong after the party was over and the guests had left and he walked home. Fecal matter, a horrible stench and all. And he didn’t shower or do anything hygienic of that sort, getting home was a proper miracle in itself and it left nothing in the tank for anything else, including shedding his clothes. He went straight to bed.
When he told me this story, there was a forlorn look in his eye. Yes, he admitted that he was verily embarrassed, but he said if he were to do it all over again, he would still have four amarios.
You don’t turn down free alcohol, he reasoned. You down it on general principle and then you deal with the consequences as and when they arise. If you die, you die.
Welcome to St. Mary’s, and here we drink. Come with me, I’ll tell you factual stories you’ll have to pinch yourself to believe.
Have a great day and don’t drink like us.