Liquid comfort

Benedicte Desrus

Benedicte Desrus

Busaa, a local Kenyan beer, is sold at hundreds of tiny bars throughout slums in the capital. At 80 cents, each large margarine tub of the murky brew - only recently legalised by the Kenyan government - is all the rage amid those looking for cheap comfort.

Rapid urbanisation in East Africa’s cultural and business capital has spurred a surge in makeshift watering holes for the demand of the most traditional of brews. 

Fermented in PVC vats - formerly homes to gallons of hydrochloric acid - the production of busaa - is something of an art. Sacks of maize meal raked over hot coals, combined with local yeast, cold water and patience: the process for this particular variety, proudly mastered by the Luya tribe, so they say. 

2.47pm, Sunday afternoon, Madiaba Busaa Club, Kawangware: 

Amid the sea of gyrating bodies, dark and slick with sweat, shoulders heaving to the river of bass flowing from a dusty speaker in the corner, on the uneven dirt floor, amongst the stamping feet and thrusting fists, there is a girl who calls herself Purity. 

Petite, with cropped, loose, frizzy curls and sweat dripping down her forehead, the knowing swing of her hips belies her 17-year-youth. Her buttocks, straining against faded denim, tracing an enthusiastic figure of eight in the small pocket of space between two men, both completely entranced. 

Shayla, a sex worker in her mid-thirties, is defiantly sizing up the competition. Tyson, a regular-turned-weekend-bouncer is reminiscing about the pre-election days in late February, when rounds of the local fermented moonshine were paid for by smiling local politicians, looking for handshakes and votes. And in the middle of the melee, old-time cigarette seller Mareba grins, gap-toothed, smoothing down an addition to his sticker-covered stand of goods: “God can bless you from nobody to somebody”.

Roving French photographer Benedicte Desrus and I got to know the Madiaba regulars, in order to tell the story of a city, through the microcosm of Sunday happy hour. 

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