Tags / Fermentation
Joyce started drinking when her husband left in 1992. "I have no job, no husband; my children look up to me and I have nothing to offer them. Changaa doesn't taste very nice, but it does help reduce stress. I drink every day - morning, afternoon and evening. I don't have money to buy it, so I follow a man into a bar and he will share his drink with me. Some women sleep with men for a drink worth 50 ksh...."
A brewer holds a picture of Dixin (far left).
"Even if you switch off the light, you continue drinking," says non-drinker Michel referring to blindness caused by Changaa. "it is a bad, bad drink which makes people ill and brings down Kenyan society."
Young boys drink Changaa at 10am on a Saturday morning in Mathare.
A young boy walks through a sewage-ridden river where Changaa is brewed.
"Employment is a hazard," said drunken local brewer Douglous. "I was a welder, but I have no capital to buy a machine so I lift wood for the brewers. It is easy work and I can drink. Changaa is good, but not for the ladies; my wife left me because she said I drank too much...."
"I have no work, no home, so I drink Changaa to warm me up at night. And to relieve my stress during the day," said regular drinker Sammy. He drinks all day, and night, until he passed out in a shack next to where the drink is brewed. He is a "taster" which means the local brewers give him free drink to ensure it is fermented properly. A "taster" will experience the strongest version of Changaa because it is direct from the barrel. "I cant move my legs, they are so swollen, but what else is there to live for but drinking? I have nothing else," he added.
Dixin, one of the Mathare brewers, died from tuberculosis (TB) excessive Changaa drinking last week. The police, called "Leather" because of their plain clothes, contributed to the donations for Dixin’s burial. The police have a good relationship with the brewers as they get extra income for being paid off and the brewers are allowed to keep their livelihood.
"I am a taster," says local brewer Japhet. A taster is someone who just tastes the alcohol to ensure it has distilled correctly. He makes 18 litres per day and works from 4am - 9pm for just 500ksh (5.7 usd). "The drink is good. People like it, and I like it because it pays me good money," he adds
Shahrukh Hussain started drinking Changaa when he was stabbed in the eye. He was assaulted by young boys "high" on the drink when they stole 3,000 ksh (34 usd) from him. The other eye became septic and he lost all vision. "I had no eyes, no job, no shelter - what else was I to do, but drink?" he said.
Shahrukh Hussain started drinking Changaa when he was stabbed in the eye. "I stopped Changaa three months ago because it made me worse: I have a stomach ulcer and swollen feet. Changaa is so dangerous because kids rob and hurt people when they are drunk – they take advantage,” he said.
Changaa, meaning "Kill Me Quick", is a potent drink made and sold in slums throughout Nairobi, Kenya.
The potent drink is a concoction of jet fuel and embalming fluid both proven to be deadly ingredients resulting in the death of 130 people and blinding 20.
Understandably, the ingredients would be considered hard to come by but are purchased at Nairobi’s industrial hub and at 2 fully serviced airports. The jet fuel and embalming fluid speed up the fermentation process in order to shift more stock at a faster rate.
The operation is rumoured to be run by the much feared ‘Mungiki gang’ as well as by Kenyan and Indian businessmen whom never enter the slums but introduce the deadly drink with “runners”.
Slum dwellers opt for the drink as it is the cheaper alternative, a shot is sold for as little as one cent. The cheap high is consumed predominantly by young girls (as seen in the images) as well as men and children. Police turn a blind eye to the practice via bribes and are often seen harassing brewers that have not paid up.
Nairobi locals resent the consumption of “Kill Me Quick” in the slums yet have sympathy for those that need escapism from their day to day lives by this cheap high. They also believe that it offers new trade, employment and livelihoods to those that brew and sell it. Seeing people passed out on the street has now become an accepted daily part of their lives.
Brewer in Mathare