Men under siege: Kenyan women take over beer and nyoma choma
The running joke in Nairobi is that unlike in the past when women used to cook like their mothers, nowadays they drink and sleep around like their fathers.
The joke goes on that many have become duplicates of the very men their mothers warned them against marrying! For these women, the bar is their altar, meat their sacrament and booze their wine.
For the longest time, the bar was the place that men met to bond and discuss ‘business’ and the only females present were the barmaids or ladies of the night moonlighting for an extra coin.
Women had a low opinion of bars, associating them with prostitution and sin. And they hated beer, which they termed bitter. On the rare occasion when they reluctantly drank alcohol, after being urged on by their dates, they preferred sweetened stuff. Whiskies, brandies and Vodkas were regarded as chang’aa.
Meanwhile, nyama choma was also a male bonding food— away from spouses and girlfriends, who considered the bloodied chunks nothing more than a source of intestinal worms, greed and wastage of money.
Equal opportunity beer bellies
The meat was naturally escorted down by beer. The resulting potbellies not only rankled women but were also the subject of many a female magazine lampooning men’s bedroom failures.
But how times change! Now, women with potbellies courtesy of the very beer and nyama choma they once hated are fairly common.
From rural village markets to the cities, the Kenyan woman has invaded the male sanctuary that was the bar and can out-drink men any day, anytime.
From once calling the shots at the bar counter, men now meekly elbow it out with women for space and staggering rights.
If you frequent the highly decadent smoky beer joints to the ‘yuppified’ entertainment spots during weekends, you won’t have failed to see women ordering juicy steaks and giving stern instructions about their preferred chunks of meat.
“Usikate hiyo ya mafuta! Wee wacha ujinga — sitaki mifupa! Na utengeneze kachumbari poa, pili pili kiasi.
— sitaki mifupa! Na utengeneze kachumbari poa, pili pili kiasi.(Don’t cut out that fatty. Wait, don’t be silly, no bones! And prepare proper vegetable salad, with some chilli)…” is a common statement in pub butcheries.
As a rule, these alpha women are wild, ‘independent’ and loud, and they do not cow from getting into a verbal bout with men who try to demean them.
If you are curious and follow them to their seats, you will notice that the table is always ‘forested’ with traditionally masculine drinks like tear-inducing Vodkas and Guinness lager, the original alpha male’s poison of choice. Nowadays, it has increasingly become commonplace for a bunch of women to drive themselves to a club, sample the available buffet, buy their beer and sit down for girl talk.
In fact, it hardly raises eyebrows when a woman offers to open your beer using a beer bottle, or their teeth, which until recently was a macho thing.
“Mabibi nao mtatafuta (you young men will have trouble getting wives), an aged security guard mocked this writer in an inspired father-son banter about the state-of-affairs in the city. But how did we get here?
Paul Omondi, an anthropologist, blames it all on college education. He believes that drinking is pretty much like a sub-culture that young women pick during college as young adults.
“Drinking is a habit most women acquire in college and never let go, especially when they are financially empowered. In any case, there aren’t enough serious men to ‘tame’ them, so girls just have fun,” Omondi quips.
Geraldine Akinyi, who confesses to not only loving her tipple but also having no qualms about buying a man she fancies a drink, angrily wonders why men “have a problem with women spending their cash”.
But according to David Odongo, a journalist, men are only opposed to women drinking because tipsy women are an armful.
“They become a mess in public and easily get violent. While they have managed to imitate all our bad drinking habits, at least they should learn how to handle too much tipple. Nothing is more irritating than women who fight, throw up in bars and become randy and loose. Such behaviour is strictly reserved for men,” he says, tongue in cheek.
A security guard we spoke to agrees, saying: “Solving catfights is part of the job-description for bouncers these days. My friend, drunk women are capable of mounting serious battles against fellow women or their male companions!”
Mr Owinga, a 71-year-old retired teacher in Siaya, blames it on advertising and women’s increasing financial muscle.
“In my father’s time, women only brewed alcohol and were only allowed to drink with their husband’s permission. In my day, beer advertisers only targeted men, perhaps because women depended on men financially. But the truth is that many women in towns have more money than men. Some are single and, therefore, the ‘men’ in their houses. What is to stop them from doing what ‘fellow’ men do?” poses Mzee Owinga.
To add insult to injury, it is not just the bar, the booze and nyama choma that are no longer the preserve of men. Football, too, is gone!
Initially, like beer, soccer was a male bonding experience— an escape from the domineering wife or girlfriend, for a therapeutic session with the boys and much-needed breathing space.
Today, when men see a woman wearing a Manchester United T-shirt, celebrating a Romelo Lukaku goal with a Tusker in hand, they say nothing because that is the politically correct thing to do. But deep inside, some feel their space has been violated.
In the bar, a bespectacled, bearded man with an unsightly potbelly can jump on top of the table without feeling embarrassed and can be forgiven, especially if he is an Arsenal fan. But the whoops of delight increasingly come from women these days.
“The age of explaining off-sides and dead balls to women is long gone. These days, women are very much at home picking a football team’s first eleven, who should be substituted and which new player should be bought. Apart from the salon, their weekend plan is very similar to that of an average man— beer, nyama, football and sex,” says Odongo.
It is a far cry from our mothers’ days when woman stayed at home, knitting, sewing, cooking, cleaning, gossiping and plaiting their hair while waiting patiently for mzee— whom they treated like a king — to come home from work.
Today, few are the men whose ‘royal’ seat is reserved and whose coat is taken at the door as they walk in.
In the bedroom, the wardrobe is invaded and his two coats and one jacket pushed behind to create 80 per cent worth of space for her majesty.
The shoe rack only has his two pairs of shoes, while her 23 pairs resemble a shoe market.
In the bathroom, his torn boxers and the shaving thingamajigs are the only things that suggest he exists.
Back in the sitting room, the TV might as well have been made for women. In short, the man can never feel at home in his own house, the reason he needs to escape to the bar, to seek sanity and minimise contact with the wife, which, a wise old man will tell you, generates familiarity and breeds contempt.
But now, women have followed him to the bar, to the soccer stadium, to the rugby matches, to car and horse races. The places where men escaped to are the very ones every woman demands to be, every Friday and weekend. Where will men hide?