Not only were there copious amounts of purchased alcohol, there was also quite a bit of home made alcohol too. This traditional brew is called Umqombothi. Don't feel bad because you might not know how to say that word because I still have trouble with it. In my area it is only made for special occasions but it still seems to be quite popular. The few times I have seen it now, it has been made very quickly (3-4 days) and relies heavily on corn meal and sorghum. Interestingly, it has been around South Africa before the European settlers arrived which really warms the cockles of my heart. It seems most all humanity has been able to make and enjoy beer for a very long time.
This is probably a health code violation for a microbrewery operation
When the drinking started, my host mother came around and asked me if I wanted anything. Since I didn't really want to drink at 6 o'clock in the morning, I asked her if she could save me some of the traditional beer so I could sample it. She brought back a 2 liter bottle. It was safe to say my cup runneth over with Umqombothi. From what I have seen, most people choose not to drink the traditional beer out of a cup but rather opt for a bowl. When I felt enough time had passed in the day (7 o'clock) I choose to be a dirty westerner and drink it out of a cup (sometimes I eat Chinese food with a fork too). Initial reactions: very thick, yeasty, somewhat sour. It did not seem overly alcoholic yet an incredible volume can be made incredibly fast so it still has dangerous potential. I think it would take someone who is used to the European style beer a while to adjust. Ultimately, I would say it is quite palatable but I still prefer lagers and ales without so much corn.
Not rotten Fanta.
This is the part where I facilely present a large and complicated societal issue. I alluded to it earlier and I bring up the dangerous potential of beer now because many South Africans have a completely unhealthy relationship with alcohol. The vast majority seems to be men but a few women are also included. Reckless abandon would be a good way to describe how drunk some people get. I have seen people staggering around mumbling to themselves drunk at 9 AM on a Tuesday. There is no concept of moderation; if they are drinking, they are drinking so that they can get blind drunk. I do not think I am being overly judgmental here either. I have had way too much alcohol before. I've had it to the point of embarrassing myself. This however, is a very rare occurrence and one that I try to avoid most of the time. Perhaps people would say that a college campus is just as troubling or worse. I admit that drinking is not a problem unique to South Africa but the difference to me is that I see the same people getting consistently getting wasted in close proximity to those trying to get by in an already difficult existence. Even worse is most peoples' reaction to seeing this, which is to do nothing at all. It is evident that they are unhappy with it but they act as they there is nothing that can be done. It is just another thing to add to the list of things to take in stride because that's the way things are.
There are some people that have no self-control or don't know any other way to drink but to go beyond any reasonable amount. Then there are some people who are alcoholics who are addicted and do not experience alcohol the same way most other people do. At the same time, without any recognition of this fact or dealing with the problem in any logical way, drinking is ruined for all the responsible adults who know when to stop. In fact drinking is taken so seriously that during Peace Corps training, the alcohol lectures were over-the-top severe and given in absolutes. The recommended course of action was not to drink at all but if we did we should do it secretly and hide all the evidence. I understand why they would recommend this because many people here equate any form of drinking with a total lack of responsibility. The idea was not received well at the time by me and my fellow trainees because it seemed utterly ludicrous to hide something we can legally and responsibly do as adults. While I still feel this is the way it should be, I basically follow the guidelines now. It is really one of those situations where you must pick your battles. Sure I could help to change the attitudes on drinking in my area but that is not something I want to devote my time defending.
This guy was just fine, in fact he was cleaning up. Just wanted to show all those empties.
Back to the party. In the afternoon, things started to fade and close down. This meant there was an exodus of intoxicated people somewhat successfully heading home. There was one boy, among many other drunken people, who may have just reached the drinking age that clearly went beyond his limit. He was absolutely covered in dirt and sand, beer and vomit and he could barely stand up. There were also about 15 kids around watching all these adults acting like complete fools. I don't know if that is the sort of thing that makes a kid never want to drink or the sort of thing that makes them want to drink immediately but it didn't seem right. To me, the celebration ended with a whimper rather than a bang,