It is very common in Africa to show hospitality by giving a visitor a drink before any serious greetings or discussions take place. The formality of indulging in drink is very ingrained in Africa. The drink differs from one part of Africa to the other.
In East Africa tea is poured for visitors. Often that means that the guest will wait for fifteen minutes to an hour before the tea is brewed. It is not simple tea, it is made with plenty of milk and enormous quantities of sugar. In the rural areas the woman of the house has gone to great lengths to provide the guest with this drink of greeting. She may have walked a half mile or more to fetch water, carried it home (water is extremely heavy), sat bent over a blazing, hot wood or charcoal fire while it cooked. The sweet brew is served most often in enamel cups or glasses. The woman of the house will continue to pour the guest cup after cup of tea. It is considered rude to begin any discussion of substance until the tea is drunk.
In West Africa, water is the drink of welcome. Women sometimes several hike miles to retrieve water from a well or river and carry it home on their heads. The water is then often poured into clay urns that are placed in the coolest area of the house, so that when a guest comes, she can be offered a refreshing drink against West Africa’s heat and humidity. When a guest arrives in a house the wife or a child quickly scurries off and returns with a glass, tin can, or shallow bowl full of water. The one offering the drink will most often sip from the bowl before handing it to the guest. In this part of the world, where voodoo is prevalent, the sipping shows that the drink is safe for consumption.
In the Sahel regions of Africa, where water is the scarcest, palm wine is offered as a drink of greeting. The palm wine is the product of time and labor. Weeks before families have tapped palm trees, allowing sap to secrete into gourds that have been placed at the base of the tree. The liquid is brought home and allowed to ferment. This is the same drink that can be further distilled into a gin, often called sodabi. The family member serves the brew to the guest by by offering it with both hands cupping a halved calabash or a tin can. The guest is usually seated in the shade of a tree to consume the relaxing drink.
Of course, in many modern, African homes cokes, bottled beer, and wine are offered to guests, but the tradition of offering a drink before conversation remains very much a part of African culture.
Many African forums have begun to share the huge variety of African food and recipes on the Internet. African meals are beginning to be influenced some by the availability of foreign products, but the love of home African cooking still prevails.
by Richard Chowning
MyWeku Forum [http://www.myweku.com/forum/]
About the Author – Richard Chowning is a writer with broad Africa experience, having lived on the continent for 25 years and managing African Missions Resource Center and Stories of Africa.
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