The first time my parents caught me drinking it was a big enough scandal to require an intervention.
I remember that day they sat me down for a heart-to-heart after finding two “makali” bottles in my bedroom, like it was yesterday. Now my parents are a bit old school so you can imagine their utter shock after discovering their 20-young year-old daughter drinks hard liquor.
My dad was very concerned at my ability to drink ‘like a man’ and even worse, the cheap bitter stuff. My mother was convinced that no man would ever live with a woman that drinks like me. How the times have changed.
When I think about how women’s drinking has changed over the years, I think about my mom. And her drinking versus mine. Growing up, I rarely saw her drink, except for the occasional glass of wine on special occasions. Me on the other hand, I used to see wine as juice or a drink for the older women.
Today, women are having an easier time living their lives. A lot of the things that were frowned upon, such as drinking alcohol are now socially acceptable globally. Today, as a Kenyan woman I can walk in to a bar or shop and buy liquor and no one will bat an eyelid. Some more freedom for women.
The alcoholic industry has noticed this change, pushing advertisements with more feminine presence, swapping Michael Power for the silk of Guinness smooth and the splash of coloured and flavoured drinks. The pink gins, flavoured vodkas and whiskeys, sweetly flavored liqueurs and my personal favorite, cocktails!
The thing with cocktails though, sweetest thing, it tastes like juice but the high ‘ni ya changaa‘, and it delays a bit, so you can easily find yourself having downed four glasses and suddenly you’re out of control.
I have heard that no one quits alcohol because of a hangover, they make resolutions they do not intend to keep instead. But for me the hangover, however, has been the main motivation for looking for an exit.
In an effort to find a drink that is not trying to kill me the next morning, I tried switching brands to no success. It seemed as though the hangovers were just getting worse the older I got; was my body was rejecting the alcohol. I could no longer handle an all-night out at the club, the music was too loud and the hangovers unbearable, it was no longer worth it. No amount of water with my alcohol could help. And so I made the obvious choice to reduce my alcohol consumption, having reconciled myself with the fact that my drinking phase was over.
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I asked a few women if they drink and how they think drinking has changed over the years and whether we are drinking as alarmingly as public discourse would have us believe.
Well, apparently not, my mom, 64. She says she drunk too, only difference was she did it at home never in bars, and drunk light stuff, not makali, again in great moderation. Her own mother, my Mao apparently even used to brew the stuff, but the matriarch never drank.
“My mother used to make changaa, but never drank it,” my mother relates to me. “The first time I drank alcohol, your uncle, my older brother gave me with nyama choma to cure my meat allergy. I slept till 10am the next day, and my allergy was cured. Then after that your father bought me my next drink when we went out, King Fisher. He used to get me a bottle once in a while and that plus wine is the only thing I have drunk since. In our days, you could rarely find women in the bars, and the ones that were there were viewed as prostitutes. Sometimes there were married couples who would drink heavily together, but then the women were said to be unable to take care of their home, nothing was said of the men. Who will watch the kids and make food for the family if the wife/mother is blind drunk. It’s not like today you even see children drinking and going to clubs.”
Rose, 30, said she only drunk after she met her husband, but it never took hold of her “my husband introduced me to my first drink, wine, for our first date. I’m not a fan though, I don’t like the taste, the bitterness at the end. I think women drink more nowadays, mostly socially, when they go out with their friends and also our men are no longer strict. They are more open minded and don’t mind if you drink.”
Shelly, 24, says she had no qualms about drinking, but like me has gone slow because she can no longer stomach the hangovers.
“Women are drinking more than kitambo. Kitambo women drinking was a very big taboo, nikama umejikosea heshima. Nowadays, it’s just you do you, as long as you know your limit. I used to drink but I stopped. I drank because it felt good and it was fun. I can’t do alcohol every weekend now, I’ll die, my body doesn’t take it very well. Generally inanipeleka vibaya sana, mwili inakataa. One of my friends told me she drinks so she doesn’t feel all these emotions. Na akikunywa kila kitu inanyamaza, and they get some peace even if it’s just for one night. I think it’s true for most women also.”