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Drinking the World Every Afternoon

Magical Drinking in Congo


Magical Drinking in Congo

by Edward Rackley

Presumably ‘drinkards’ are drunkards, except if we’re talking palm wine. Drinkards converge at any formal gathering to welcome outsiders, to celebrate life’s surprise bounty—a successful harvest or the birth of twins—or to mourn the passing of a powerful local chief.

Like alcohol anywhere, palm wine is a formidable social lubricant but its undercurrent of magical thinking sets it apart. Amos Tutuola, Nigeria’s answer to H.P. Lovecraft, first chronicled the ritualistic, surreal excesses of palm wine in his 1952 novel. I first tasted palm wine ‘in the bush of ghosts’, and rightly so—the phrase figures in the title of Tutuola’s follow-on experimental work.

Settling into a mud hut in a sandy southern corner of DR Congo years ago (then République du Zaire), a fresh calabash of palm wine appeared at my door each morning. A week passed before learning that Nzolene, my elderly mute neighbor, was responsible. Tata Edouard—her husband and my namesake—had been the village’s erstwhile tapster. Days before my arrival he’d fallen and died while collecting full calabashes from high in a tree for a gathering of drinkards. Now his widow’s offerings of palm wine and kola nuts were duty, as per local belief I was his reincarnation.

Despite years in Congo I never learned to tap or climb palm trees. I didn’t need to; my friends were agile tappers, hunters and shamans. A curious trifecta of talents, perhaps, but in these parts palm wine was the ritualistic glue linking each métier. Pouring wine on animal scat appealed to the deceased for an antelope or monkey sighting during a forest hunt; kola nuts and wine helped divine a remedy for a sick child.

War erupted and continues in places, and now nothing in the country is the same. On a recent visit to a provincial town, Kikwit, I sat down with my only surviving friend from the village, Rémy. All our common acquaintances are dead, the shamans and famous hunters we knew—even his parents who had modestly furnished my little mud hut twenty years ago.

On his table was a five-liter container of malafu ya ngasi and a plate of fresh kola nuts, rarities in such an urban setting. We were drinkards again. This time the ghosts were in our head, our reminiscence of people gone, of peaceful humble times obliterated by Congo’s long and pointless war. It was our own moment of magical thinking.

Literally Drinking Under the Table in Guatemala


Literally Drinking Under the Table in Guatemala

by Karen Gardner

Beer in Tilapita

I shaped masa into perfect spheres, squishing the dough between pieces of plastic in a tortilla press. The thin tortillas would be cooked fast and hot. Small fish we bought off a boat were frying in oil as tomatoes and cucumbers were sliced and drizzled with a lime. Three toddlers wove around our legs, finally starting to tire after the long day we’d had.

My friend Natascha and I had traveled by bus to Tilapita, a tiny group of houses in the sand on the Pacific coast of Guatemala, across a river by boat from the small town of Tilapa. The first night we were playing in the waves and met four young women between the ages of 15 and 25. The six of us glommed onto each other immediately, following their 17-year-old gregarious de-facto leader to church and then a bar, sitting outside and spying on her crush, then meeting the next morning to see the town. We borrowed a boat and rowed through the swamp, docking by the river and jumping in the calm water close to its banks to swim. Snacking on chips and soda, we walked to the ocean, exploring the shore and playing soccer in the local school’s field in the late afternoon. The six of us had an intimacy that was both exciting and spotty. We had talked for hours—about relationships and dreams and school and work—but had known each other for just a day.

Natascha and I had to head back inland the next morning, so this dinner was goodbye. I brought cold, cheap beer: the perfect supplement to fried fish. My friend immediately hid the beer under the table. Her husband, stepping out of the house, said we’d better not be drinking that.

He left, I apologized quietly, and we all returned to cooking. Their kitchen was outside, with a thatched roof, sandy floor, and a salty breeze coming in from the water. As we cooked, people walked by, family members and friends of our hosts, joking and talking, admiring the feast we had prepared. When I finally finished the tortillas, we sat around the table, picking bones out of the fish and placing its white meat in the hot tortillas, sprinkling salsa and lime on top. We each cradled a beer between our knees, hidden beneath the tablecloth and sweating through the bottles in the hot night. We snuck sips as darkness fell, neighbors becoming more sparse, the aforementioned crush of our teenage friend coming by to flirt. He left and we argued about whether he was good enough for her. We toasted under the table, to fast friendship and to women, awkwardly trying to clink bottles without being able to see them. Laughing, we were a little drunk and a little sad.

Drinking Through America’s Global Decline at the World Cup for IR Nerds


Drinking Through America’s Global Decline at the World Cup for IR Nerds

by Anonymous


Beer in New York City

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA)—the World Cup for IR nerds and New York City’s annual gridlocked, diplomatic, securitized circus of oft-cursed proportions—kicked off its high-level week on Monday. Hundreds of heads of state made their way to midtown Manhattan to deliver important foreign policy speeches and address the most pressing international issues of the moment.

As helicopters of various types buzzed overhead and roadblocks and checkpoints went up to protect the assembled world leaders, diplomats, journalists, celebrity ambassadors, and protesters that joined the fray, everybody braced themselves for Donald Trump’s maiden UNGA visit.

I’ve worked on public diplomacy issues at the UN for more than a decade now, but never experienced an UNGA like this. I’m sitting in a nearby bar having some beers, and trying to decompress from what I’ve seen over the past few days.

The week started off well, encouraging even, as a subdued Trump—after immediately mentioning one of his real estate deals—managed to read some words off a page without insulting anyone or causing any diplomatic incidents during a brief Monday high-level session on UN reform.

Alongside UN Secretary-General António Guterres there were smiles and compliments. For a brief moment, there was a sense that Trump’s presence, his proposed USD $19 billion budget cuts to the UN and wholesale attacks on the UN’s raison d’être of peace through multilateral diplomacy might not be as bad as originally feared, or cause the wholesale embarrassment of the United States on the biggest global stage.

This sense was wrong.

When Trump took the podium on Tuesday morning, he unleashed a contradictory and belligerent speech that will be talked about for all of the wrong reasons at the UN for years to come. He threatened to “totally destroy North Korea,” a clear war crime. He advanced regime change in Iran and Venezuela after rambling repetitiously about state sovereignty. Unlike nearly every other world leader, he said nothing about climate change.

It was “American carnage” but for a global audience. It was “Axis of Evil” on performance-enhancing drugs. It was an absolute disgrace.

Meanwhile, across First Avenue, in a space that has become affectionately known this time of year as Protest Park, anti-Zionist Rabbis from Brooklyn protested the state of Israel; Togolese expatriates railed against monarchy; Egyptians hoisted posters depicting General Sisi as an American marionette; Falun Dafa members calmly executed tai chi postures in defiance of China; a group of activists denounced “colonialism from Puerto Rico to Palestine”; and dozens of green-clad Dominicans—who brought a bachata-blasting boombox—demanded accountability from government corruption.

On Wednesday afternoon, Trump bundled through a meeting with African leaders where he gave a shout out to Nambia, a country that doesn’t actually exist (and lacks the strong leadership of neighboring Zamunda).

And, in a tone-deaf throwback to the golden days of colonialism, bragged about his “many friends” going to Africa “to get rich.”

By Wednesday night, drinking was definitely in order. So I found myself contemplating the sharp decline of American soft power, and this country’s place in an increasingly volatile world, alongside a colleague from the UN Department of Political Affairs. We commiserated on the insanity of UN Week and Trump’s dark, disastrous visit over some much-needed beers in a firefighter dive bar a few blocks from the UN.

As the flashing red lights of the heavily armed security details of various departing leaders illuminated Second Avenue, my colleague told me that her department was equally disturbed by Trump’s speech, but at the same time, not entirely surprised.

“No one expected too much from him; but they were still shocked by what he said about North Korea.”

At this point, not many people at the UN, or in the world, see the United States as a constructive, or even credible, player on the global stage.
An America First policy that shuns multilateralism and actively advocates discord, division, and conflict has seemingly erased any goodwill Obama’s State Department may have built at the UN after eight calamitous Bush years. The US is now totally isolated on climate change, on Iran, and is doing its best to usurp North Korea as the main threat to peace and security in northeast Asia.

I took another sip of ale, came to the demoralizing realization that there will be three, or possibly seven, more Trump-at-the-UN visits, and immediately ordered another round.

Everyone Should Have a “Palm Wine Guy”


Everyone Should Have a “Palm Wine Guy”

by Mel Bailey

Palm Wine in Senegal

As we walked along the only paved road that ran parallel to the river in search of “the palm wine guy,” the haze from the sweltering spring day in southern Senegal blurred the faces of the women working in the wheat fields either side of us.

Locals in Ziguinchor’s city center told my friend, Ousmane, and I that we had to try palm wine while in Casamance, and that the best came from a guy in Boutoute, a village a little over two miles away. So we walked. We turned off the paved road and walked down the dirt path past the crocodile swamp toward the forest of palm, mango, and lemon trees. The forest was thick, dark, and moist underfoot as we trudged forward under the shadow of palms and the buzzing of horse-flies and bees.

The few villagers we met along the way directed us to the front door of a one-story, mud-brick dwelling—the home of Jean-Paul Badji, the man behind the palm wine. We told him what we were after, and with a sweet smile spread across his aging face, he pulled out a two-gallon jerry can and two aluminum cups and offered us a drink.

The wine was warm and sweet on my tongue, with a bit of tang. I watched the white, frothy liquid—which the local Jola people call Boulouk—slowly disappear from my cup.

Newly tapped palm wine has no real alcohol content, but after about an hour of fermenting, it turns into wine with 4 percent ABV. It left us feeling a slight buzz. The longer the wine ferments, the stronger it becomes—reaching its maximum proof of 40 percent ABV before it turns to vinegar.

Excited by our discovery and also wanting a decent stock for the evening, we asked for some for the road. Jean-Paul told us we had just finished the last of his morning stock, but that we could accompany him on his afternoon route to collect the last batch of the day.

Boulouk seeps out of the hole created by cutting away the three-pound clusters of crimson fruit kernels that grow near the top of the African oil palm. The trees can grow up to 100 feet tall, which makes obtaining the palm wine no easy task. Nonetheless, locals say their ancestors have been climbing palm trees and drinking their wine for thousands of years.

That night under the stars, we gathered with Jean-Paul’s family of 13 and his neighbors at the path’s crossroads outside the forest, and drank palm wine while we shared stories by the fire. By night, the wine was stronger, spurring laughter from all of us. It was a great way to toast to the night after a long day. Because the ingredients are just tree sap, we didn’t have to worry about a hangover in the morning.

All Stories Must Come to An End, But You Can Take the Wine With You


All Stories Must Come to An End, But You Can Take the Wine With You

by Zamira Kristina Skalkottas

Robola in Kefalonia

Every island has a story to tell. In the Greek archipelago, every rock in the water, no matter how big or small, speaks with its own voice. Kefalonia is like that—a rock with a very strong sense of identity.

I had come to see an old friend, and I was amazed. We’d barely struck up a friendship in California when he seemed to drop off the face of the earth, hit by dual crises of health and money. Months passed, and he began to resurface. Now a repatriated Greek, he seems to walk around in a spotlight, a celebrity on his land, his beautiful dog, John Lennon, in tow. As he took me on a tour of his village, the “Beverly Hills” of Kefalonia, which is also his family name, “Yia sous” (hellos) rang out everywhere.

Here, a wealthy ship-owner and former lover of Maria Callas (who later lost out to Onassis) rebuilt all the homes after the devastating 1953 earthquake. They are big stucco affairs, all blooming roses and wide terraces. This new California-ish posh quality is not at all what I expected from a Greek island village.

The next evening we gathered with friends and family for a huge spread of hand-cut fries, burgers, bacon, onion marmalade, and blue cheese. The wine was a local white, made from the Robola grape, and rang little bells on my palate. I was amazed again—by the caliber of the chefs, the food, the

I wanted to learn more and headed to the Robola Cooperative, up a serpentine mountain road next to a monastery in Omala Valley. Here, 85 percent of the island’s wine is produced. I tried three wines, leaving the best for last, the San Gerasimo, which is fermented in stainless steel. This was just as bright and perky as the others, but lingered, trailing scarves of honeysuckle and pineapple.

That night, we met on my friend’s veranda. There were blanched almonds, fresh kefalotiri cheese, and olives. An open bottle of the Robola. We drank from teacups, gin glasses, and mugs, and ate from a communal pot of tortellini. I was sitting in a rocker, leaning back, looking for a meteor shower that never happened. It didn’t matter. The sky was still a siren song, deep with thousands of light pinpricks.

We opened a second bottle. The wine kept playing its chimes, enlivening the conversation. My friend regaled us with stories of working in a pizza parlor back in the day, turning heads with his old-time Vespa, and yearly trips to Italy. Everyone, all of these Kefalonian Californians, had stories of Italy. There is a longstanding connection between the island and Italy, a former “protector” of Kefalonia.

My friend’s cousin walked me back to my hotel, the only one in the village. It was so quiet, even the cicadas seem to have fallen asleep. Up on Mount Ainos, the grapes were turning sun into sugar, some on 100-year-old un-grafted vines.

Every island has a story to tell, and all stories must come to an end. But the Robola came home with me on the plane.

It Took a Catastrophe to Remind the Mainland U.S. That We Are Also Americans, FFS


It Took a Catastrophe to Remind the Mainland U.S. That We Are Also Americans, FFS

by Peter Bailey

Shots of rum in St. Thomas

The night before Hurricane Irma arrived here on St. Thomas, I exchanged texts with a friend in Anguilla, asking her if I should be worried. I was expecting just a bit of wind and rain, nothing life-altering.

My phone’s signal faded before she could share the full scope of the madness I was about to encounter.

In a few hours I found myself dodging flying debris alongside my brother as we carried my wheelchair-bound, 80-year-old father to safety in an experience I’ll describe as nothing short of hell. The wind sucked a lady out of her window, hurling her to her death, while shattered glass slit the throat of a man who bled to death in front of his wife. An electrician was electrocuted while working on a downed power line. With our hospital decimated, patients have been airlifted to Puerto Rico and beyond.

In Irma’s aftermath, one American transplant, sitting comfortably on her boat over on St. John, lamented in People magazine about “the overwhelming smell of death in the air” instead of offering aid to those who now need so much of it.

It’s not the first time people here have felt alienated from our mainland counterparts. I’m heartbroken it took this devastation for the world, and, most importantly, our neighbors to the north, to take notice: to finally realize we in the U.S. Virgin Islands are Americans, too.

Living on the U.S. mainland, I explained time and time again that I’m a U.S. citizen. My first year at the University of Delaware, a state trooper called for back up when he saw my U.S. Virgin Islands license after a routine traffic stop, asking where St. Thomas was and accusing Caribbean immigrants of bringing drugs to his beloved country.

I emphatically repeated: “I’m a U.S. citizen.”

Well, not quite.

When I voted for President Barack Obama in 2008, I had been waiting for years to vote for an American president. Although we are U.S. citizens, Virgin Islanders have to become a resident of the state we live in to be able to vote for president. Since I reside in Miami, my vote counted as a Floridian and not as a Virgin Islander.

On the other hand, our status as a territory has led to an uneasy and awkward relationship with our Caribbean neighbors, who see us as having no true identity, but also grudgingly envy our U.S. citizenship, however second-class.

We’re basically a glorified colony of the United States, a country that celebrates its crusade against tyranny far and wide.

Purchased from Denmark in 1917 to protect the U.S. mainland from European incursions, our second-class status and the ignorance that reinforces it isn’t exclusive to that unruly cop who pulled me over many years ago. It also permeates mainstream media.

Like the media coverage preceding Hurricane Marilyn in 1995, most media outlets all but ignored the islands before Irma wreaked historic havoc upon us. My family and I sat their dumbfounded switching between network news channels in the lead-up to the storm. It was as if we didn’t exist.

In the fleeting moments when the U.S. Virgin Islands were mentioned, reporters painted a scene taken from an episode of Gilligan’s Island:

“American tourists on the U.S. territory are being cautioned to hunker down.”

Hmmmm. No mention of the estimated 100,000 Virgin Islanders who reside between St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John, and Water Island. “Locals,” as we’re called, with a tinge of condescension.

Now seeing those same tourists and U.S. mainland transplants depending on us “locals” for their survival during this catastrophe is a sight to see. Our paradise now resembles the backdrop of an apocalyptic film: crumbled houses, never-ending food lines, and a procession of military trucks blaring admonishments at residents to get back home. With trees uprooted and stripped of their leaves, our once lush, green forest looks skeletal.

With no electricity, running water, or internet access, life after the storm is taxing indeed. I’ve even stared at a few of the stray chickens perusing the island and wondered just what they might taste like roasting over the coal pot I’m using to heat up my canned meals. Those roosters, crowing all hours of the day, are a nuisance anyhow. Before my daydream turns deadly, the animal lover in me snaps back to reality. Another meal of beans over rice it is, followed by a shot of Cruzan raspberry flavored rum right before bed.

As a community facing a catastrophe that threatened to completely wipe us out, I’m inspired by our resolve as we band together to restore what Irma stole.

There’s been some benefit in being disconnected from our American counterparts to the north. The sense of entitlement and bigotry that rips at the fabric of the mainland isn’t found here. We see human first and color a distant last. Now that we Virgin Islanders have been forced into the national psyche, the rest of America stands to gain from the lessons our tiny island has to offer.

Photo by: Sam Howzit

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