Why men who drink have better friendships


Life in the bar is different and yet similar to the estate.

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If this is why the white man ‘discovered’ Africa, then kudos to him. He gets it. I get it too. I am at The Mara, that place favoured by expats and flavoured by the locals. Not for the wild animals, no. I have grown up around lions and zebras and they arouse as much curiosity in me as a pair of socks. We, three men and some women, have been here for a week. Okay, four guys. I say three because the other man does not drink, and it’s hard to keep him memorable. He walks in and out of the wings of my mind like some half-remembered ex.

That got me thinking about how alcohol, and not the President, is our symbol of national unity. There are many things villages lack, but what they do not need is another wines and spirits shop. I know because when I trekked to Nguswani Town, having struck a friendship with this Maasai boy whose teeth are whiter than cocaine, I realised we all spoke one language – that one of the bottle. This is why the Mau Mau hid in the forest, how Mekatilili became wa Menza.

You may lack a proper community health clinic, but a wines and spirits shop is ubiquitous, unquestioned, and unquestionable. Alcohol is our social lubricant. See, men who drink meet on a more regular basis than men who don’t drink. Because let’s face it, vodkas loosen tongues and whiskeys release pent-up words sprouting deep in our lungs. In many of the watering holes in Nairobi, young men take up tables donning Arsenal and Man U and Liverpool shirts, blowing cash like it’s going out of fashion, and skimpily dressed women with nothing on but audacity and war paint on their faces completing the look: this is Generation Kenya.

Older men, those who know better—or should know better—walk in with even younger girls, with the confidence only a certain kind of man with a certain kind of money can have. The men who have the government by the balls, who go by the amorphous term of ‘broker’, who do this and that. Both the young and old of these men know one thing, that alcohol is to throats what money is to skirts. One opens the other. It was ever thus.

Life in the bar is different and yet similar to the estate. For one it’s the same faces. They seem to be yearning for something. They seek a national monument to calcify under. And since a government official said the government is not an agony aunt, the hopes would swig and evaporate with every sip, finding that the bottom of the bottle is always dry. It is not so much the alcohol that is the problem, but that the alcohol is mistaken for the totem of faith, the blood through which men meet to sacrifice their ambitions, drinking away the years.

It is at the bar, after moja mbili, but mostly moja mbili tatu nne, that tongues get wagging. Machismo is on full display. Insecurities mocked. Skeletons unburied. “Manze, Mama Boys is stressing me, I am leaving her soon,” one says.

“Leave her. Me I kulad another side chic. Mad I tell you!” says another.

“Brotherman, our company is closing. Founders ate the seed money. Might go back to ushago, shack up with my parents for a while.”

“Ama si we start a chama, just us boys, you know retirement haiko mbali sana.”

“I know someone in gava who can get us a tender if we chotea him some mullah.”

These are conversations that are hard to have anywhere other than at a bar counter. It is at the bar that men are vulnerable with each other, all of them drinking to that point where you teeter between depression and existential wisdom. We know that drunk men cultivate similar relationships with the truth as tobacco and oil companies; they obfuscate, exaggerate, fabricate. Nevertheless, the bar is the emotional regulator for most men, a windvane that points them in the direction of their strife, where all judgement is suspended and any hard feelings washed under, “Kwani hujui jokes?”

Men who don’t drink—not to be confused with church men—lack that. Already it’s hard opening up as a man, turning inward more often than not. In my experience, very few men get to build community intentionally after their 30s. The friends we have in our 20s are the same friends we drag through the years, sometimes even after they have outgrown us, or we have outgrown the friendship. Throw in the sedentary lifestyle technology has imposed on us, and the only social occasion that remains is moja mbili at Mama Jimmy’s Pewa Bar and Restaurant [Accommodation Available].

Outdoor baths

Even here in the Mara, after dinner in the wild and outdoor baths and that kind of schmuck that gets NGO dollars flying, we conglomerate around a 12-year-old whiskey bottle, hugging its sexy waist and licking our lips as the nectar floods our mouths. This stuff feels good and cathartic. Sometimes we feel guilty that we left out one of us, but is he really one of us? We turn our noses and sneer. Does he think he is better than us?

Alcohol, then, is not just an escape, but a refuge—somewhere to hide, but also be hidden. Someone’s daughter knows that getting me to do anything else on Fridays requires months of diplomatic groundwork. But a big part is also about the deep bonds of male friendship. We’ve seen each other lose, we’ve celebrated some of us becoming fathers, and others securing scholarships abroad. It is at the bar that we have decided to turn the office of the girlfriend into the office of the wife. We’ve also witnessed our share of relationship breakups, work setbacks, and life’s morose moments. If you ask any of us, it is less about the alcohol and more about the significance of the drink, the dreams and doubts in every sip, and the taste of friendship. That’s why sometimes, to spite them, I can raise a glass and say to my friend, “I love you, bro.” And if he asks for flowers and chocolate and a baby, I’ll say yes, but only if he is wearing that black bra and underwear that I like. Jokes jokes. It’s red.