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EDITIONS
AfricaLive Tuesday, 27 August, 2002, 10:11 GMT 11:11 UK
Free-flowing in Freetown
Drinkers in Freetown
People drink - or don't - for many different reasons

The social hub of Tokeh village is a little patch of ground outside the palm-tappers hut.

Clasping plastic mugs of palm-wine, the men of Tokeh are 'putting the world to rights'. This is the epicentre of village life. They aren't drunk but the palm-wine gives them a reason to be here - to socialise with friends before heading home for supper.

But barely a stone's throw away is a very different scene, a world away from this apparently normal 'palm-wine' gathering.

Slouched in a smoky hut are four young men - the half-empty bottle of local rum, 'sasman', has made them incoherently drunk.

I'm offered a swig - it's smells like paint-stripper and is far from pleasurable to drink. But that's irrelevant - these boys aren't here to enjoy the taste, they just want to get as drunk as possible.

One of them is already unconscious. But why? - Is this drunkenness is a symptom of an unemployed, discontented youth?

Contrasts

Leaving this drinking den I pass some Muslims on their way to prayer - they shake their heads at me in disapproval.

After only half an hour I've witnessed a very simple cross-section of Sierra Leonian attitudes to drink.

Some drink for pleasure, others to find oblivion.

Drinker in Sierra Leone
Religion and alcohol have a complex relationship
Over half the population of Sierra Leone are Muslim, and abhor alcohol altogether.

Yet despite these contrasting habits, Tokeh village appears to be a harmonious place.

I'm assured that this is the way of things in Sierra Leone. It's a very tolerant country.

Secret drinker

Back in Freetown a Muslim man, with a beer in his hand, explains to me that every individual can do as he wishes.

'But surely as a Muslim, you shouldn't be drinking?', I ask him.

'Well that's why I do it in secret!!' he laughs.

But 'Bon House' bar is far from secret. It's one the busiest bars in central Freetown. I'm there at three in the afternoon with a group of civil servants 'on a lunch break'.

One explains, in all seriousness, that the benefits of drinking should never be underestimated.

'It fosters creative talent' he says.

'Surely not' I exclaim. 'Alcohol kills your brain cells!'.

My interjection is shrugged off. 'Young man', the Official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs explains, ' I have been coming here for years and I always work much better with two or three pints in me.'


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See also:

22 Aug 02 | AfricaLive
08 Jul 02 | AfricaLive
04 Jul 02 | AfricaLive
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