Those of you who are fortunate enough to have visited Tanzania will no doubt be familiar with the local spirit, Konyagi. To give the rest of you some idea of what it’s like, the ingredients are ‘Fine spirit, konyagi flavor and de-ionised water’. Ok, so we’re none the wiser, but don’t let that put you off.
The first selling point of this stuff is that it’s amazingly cheap. Just a few dollars will get you a large bottle. It goes very nicely with Coke or Fanta and, best of all, it rarely leaves you with a pounding head the next morning.
I tried Konyagi for the first time the night I arrived in the town of Moshi. I’d done a full day’s work in London, flown over from the UK via Addis Ababa and spent the afternoon familiarising myself with the local area. By this point, I’d planned to be tucked up under my mosquito net, but, instead, I got caught up in the moment. Eager to meet new people, I ended up in a place called Glacier Bar – basically a field with a few plastic chairs. And so my love affair with Konyagi began.
Now, I don’t want to promote heavy drinking, but unfortunately it does seem to be one of the few things we Brits really excel at. And there’s nothing like a Konyagi and Coke to lower your inhibitions and get you up on the dance floor. It’s well worth it just for the experience of a dance off with a Maasai in full traditional dress!
So, during my month in Tanzania, I fell into the habit of having a Konyagi-based drink or two on most nights out, and all but one time I felt absolutely fine the next day. This one particular morning, I woke up after a night out in the aptly named Kool Bar and it had hit me hard. It was a Friday, but there was no way I could have made it into the school where I was volunteering. Feeling incredibly guilty, I asked some other volunteers to pass on the message that I was feeling unwell, and hoped they suspected Moshi belly, rather than a self-inflicted hangover.
Dragging myself into the lounge to find my bag from the night before, I found there were two new arrivals. I must have been quite a sight – we still laugh about that first meeting! Some breakfast and a big glass of water was enough to get over that groggy feeling and things were looking up. I thought I’d got away with it and I took my book back into the lounge to chill out for the rest of the day.
This was when things started to get weird. I don’t know about you, but I often find myself feeling a little bit disorientated when I haven’t been in a foreign country for very long. You need time to acclimatise to the customs and the sense of humour of your new companions. But this was different. I felt totally spaced out and confused. One friend came back to the hostel to tell me that, while she’d been volunteering that morning, a crazed naked child had come running out of the corn field screaming at all of the kids in the centre where she worked. It sounded like something from the Blair Witch Project. Then, as the rest of us chatted about that really odd experience, she went outside to offer the gardener a piece of chocolate and came back in crying because he’d misunderstood her and taken it all! I know good chocolate is hard to come by in Tanzania, but her reaction still seemed a bit extreme. To top it off, a few minutes later, another friend put down her book and burst into tears. Admittedly, it was ‘My sister’s keeper’, but with everyone crying around me, I had to pinch myself to make sure this wasn’t all some kind of weird nightmare.
I don’t know how much of this spaced out feeling I can blame on the Konyagi, but that will go down as the most surreal hangover I’ve ever had. Thankfully though, the joy of Konyagi lived on, none of us was put off drinking it again, and the Konyagi craze continues to sweep through the East African backpacking scene.
A few weeks later, I managed to purchase some earrings at a Maasai market in the nearby town of Arusha that were made from the lids of Konyagi bottles and, thanks to their bright orange colour, they’ve since come in handy during the Queen’s Day celebrations in the Netherlands.
While I stayed in Moshi, the hostel I was in had many themed nights, including a Konyagi night, with mugs of Konyagi-based punch and drinking games by the bonfire, and even a fancy dress party where my friend Mel actually dressed as a Konyagi bottle!
But the piece de resistance: I met a girl who’d actually got the Konyagi symbol tattooed permanently on her ankle. I think she might have been drunk on Konyagi at the time… How’s that for a positive feedback loop of product promotion?!
So, if you go to Tanzania, make sure you try some of this magical spirit. After all, we all know we should make an effort to buy local produce and do our bit to support the local economy. You might also want to try Serengeti beer and Savannah cider, but it’s Konyagi you’ll miss the most. Despite my best efforts to find a retailer, there don’t seem to be any options to buy it in the UK. So make the most of it while you’re there!