In my last blog post I wrote about the beer huts in the Farende market and the marriage proposals one might receive when enjoying a calabash of sorghum beer, but before the beer can be enjoyed in a beer hut or at a homestead it must be prepared through a week-long process. My host mother does not sell beer in the Farende market, but, as is typical of Koudé families, there is one day a week when she sells beer out of our house. People come throughout the day every Tuesday and cycle through until the beer has run out in the evening. Since arriving at my home about five weeks ago, my brothers had reminded me every week that at some point it would be my turn to prepare the weekly Tuesday beer.
Last Wednesday, I was summoned into the courtyard of my homestead to begin the beer-making process. My mom had already purchased five bols of sorghum seeds, so we began by soaking the seeds in water and then straining it out through a cloth. We did this a few times and then spread the seeds out on the floor of a dark room in the house where they could germinate. By the morning, I could see little sprouts coming out of the seeds.
Although I could not participate in this next step, my mom took the germinated seeds a short way down the mountain to grind them up at the mill. I’m not quite sure what happened after this, but I arrived at my house after being out to see the beer pot filled with brown liquid made from the sorghum. We filled a small container with a little bit of this liquid that would be added back to the overall pot at the end of the process after the rest of the beer had been cooked. For some reason, I was particularly awful at this step; much to my brothers’ amusement I could not effectively fill the calabash with liquid and transfer it into the other container effectively. I laughed along with them, and eventually one of them took over because I could not figure out how to do it to their satisfaction.
Next, one of my brothers lit a fire under the pot and I stirred the beer with a large fan on the end of a stick as it cooked. This was Sunday, so at this point the process had gone on for five days. Monday involved the part of the process that determined the taste of the beer, which I was nervous about messing up, but because I was out of the house most of the day (or perhaps because my family also understandably suspected that I would ruin the taste), I missed out on the final steps.
Finally, Tuesday morning had arrived and it was time to sell the beer. I was interrupted while eating my breakfast once our first customers came in, but I was happy to leave my coffee behind to start selling, especially because I had jokingly told a lot of friends that they should stop by to try the beer I had prepared. However, I did very little selling, because most of what we made was purchased around 7:30 am by a woman who was hosting the afternoon work group and therefore had to supply beer for upwards of twenty people. (You can read about the work group and the drinking sessions that follow in Edwin’s blogs.) I had to serve a few calabashes after that (although my technique was quite poor and my brother had to supervise me the whole time), but by 9:30 am we were turning people away because we had run out.
I was in charge of holding onto the money we received throughout the day, and the next morning I sat down with one of my brothers to count our earnings. Each calabash costs 50 CFA (between eight and nine cents), but we had sold a lot of the beer in very large quantities, so we also had a few 1000 CFA bills in there. After counting what we had brought in, we counted out the money that would be necessary to make next week’s supply of beer, which was 550 CFA times five bols plus the 250 CFA cost of using the mill to grind the sorghum. Based on our profit from this week’s beer, we decided to spring for a sixth bol. After giving 3550 CFA to my host mom to buy more sorghum at the Ketao market and use at the mill, we kept the rest of our earnings ourselves. Because it was now Wednesday, once my mother returned from Ketao at night we began the process again by soaking the seeds in water.