All Things Kenyan

Poison Brew

I have stated that chai was probably the favorite beverage in Kenya.  What I meant was it is the favorite non-alcoholic drink.  Chang’aa seems to be a very popular alcohol beverage.  The same day I drank six large mugs of chai (see Tea Time in Kenya for that story) I also had my first and only taste of chang’aa.  Chang’aa is a local alcoholic drink made in someone’s backyard.  It’s generally brewed from maize (corn), millet, bananas, or other produce.  This is the Kenyan equivalent of American moonshine.

The chang’aa I sampled was served hot.  My student’s father had a small kettle of it over a fire it the backyard.  When he poured a mug of it for me to try, he poured the chang’aa through a strainer to strain out what looked like pieces of ground up maize.  He drank his without even straining it!  Yuck!

The taste of chang’aa was horrible!  I only managed to take a few sips which I did to be polite.  Really, the main purpose of chang’aa is to get drunk quick.

A nickname for chang’aa is “kill me quick”.  There is competition between chang’aa brewers and distillers to make the drink as strong as possible.  Unfortunately, to achieve this goal sometimes harmful ingredients are added.  Methanol is one of them. This can blind someone or even kill them.

In the past week, a deadly batch or batches of chang’aa got into the Nairobi area.  These batches contained the industrial alcohol methanol.  Enough of this chang’aa will kill someone within six to eight hours.  490 people have been admitted to area hospitals, 137 have died, and 20 are known to have been blinded.

Now people in Kenya are protesting and want to know why the government has allowed the brewing to continue.  Why are they not regulating the production of chang’aa?  Why didn’t they try to stop the poison brew once they knew it was out there?  People are accusing the government of reacting slowly.

Why then is chang’aa so popular in Kenya?  The price of a glass of chang’aa is 10 shillings, whereas a beer is 100 shillings.  Chang’aa is cheap.  Brewing chang’aa is also illegal.  However, the police are generally corrupt and will take a bribe and look the other way. In Kenya, you will find that a lot of widows brew chang’aa as a means of supporting themselves.