Palm Wine

There are three reasons I would give anything to travel with Kofi Akpabli. The man is a bag of knowledge. Given that he has gone places, his knowledge of every nook and cranny in Ghana always comes in handy on a trip. You will finish a trip knowing a bit about every town you travel through or to.

Additionally, it is fun to travel with Uncle Kofi. He is the master of tooli – a great storyteller. Some of his stories will make you laugh till you cry; there are ones which will have your jaw falling to the ground and the ones that will make you silent because you are thinking very hard about them – the lessons to glean from them and, perhaps, how sad they are.

Uncle Kofi also knows all the food joints in Ghana. Even if he doesn’t, he knows how to find them. Forget about all the technologies that claim to show you where to find food. Uncle Kofi is the best food joint locator on planet Earth. But what is the point of knowing all these joints if you actually do not chill? And, that’s the best part of travelling with this mentor of mine. He is a certified chilling dada.

Our trip to Nuaso in the Eastern Region earlier this year started at the University of Ghana. As soon as the ignition went off, there was talk about Waakye. Of course, we talked about getting fuel in the car and other things but the Waakye was a very important part of the trip and he already knew where to get it. It was close to the DAkpabli Office at the Bambu Centre at Adenta Barrier. It was Nana Awere Damoah who showed him the place. No surprise there, right? Birds of a feather eat from the same food joints. We got the Waakye and went on our way.

Through Madina, Adenta, Amrahia, Oyibi, Dodowa, Agomeda and Somanya, it was one story; one history lesson, one tooli or the other. He was fascinated about how places like Madina and Adenta were fast developing and becoming known as parts of the main Accra city. He recalled how back in the day, these places were referred to as “outside Accra” in both print and broadcast news reportage. He gave a history of the towns, and how which people migrated there. Then, he added some personal stories about how his dad used to send him to these places as a child and how long the trek was.

As we drove past one town, an excited Uncle Kofi asked, “Did you see that? Did you see that?” In my mind, I’m like, “Erm… Yeah, I have seen a lot of things. Which one exactly is that?”. Sensing that I could not tell what exactly he was referring to, he chipped in to help, “The white flag on the bamboo stick. Did you see it?”.

“Oh, yes, I did”.

“Do you know what it means?”

I was silent for a bit. I thought of possible answers – none of which made sense to me so I responded to the question in the negative.

“It means palm wine is available there”.

My first reaction was an exclamation, “Wow!”. This is because that interpretation did not cross my mind – at all.

“If it is not available, they lower the white cloth. You will see it in almost every town palm wine is brewed in. That’s how you know where to get some”, Uncle Kofi finished his lecture.

I did not know palm wine was such an important commodity in some constituencies. I mean, to have a flag flying at half mast and full mast at different times based on availability or otherwise makes it a very big deal, right? Uncle Kofi continued to give palm wine accolades for a few more minutes. If you have read his piece on Akpeteshie and formed an opinion about him, wait till you hear him talk about palm wine. The conversation ended with him saying, “I know we would get some in the town we are going to”.

Unfortunately, for the first two days of our working staycation at the Olikedike Hotel at Nuaso (cool place; you should check it out), we did not find a palm wine flag and we did not find anyone to help us find a place where we could get it too. It did not take away from the fun and experience. We worked, shared stories and ate a lot.

Fast forward to our last morning at the Olikedike Hotel, we woke up inspired to gazette Ga Kenkey and fish with pepper for breakfast. Our go-to man for all our needs at Olikedike was Padi so we called him.

Padi is a fine young man – very industrious and illustrious. On the day we arrived, he washed Uncle Kofi’s car without being asked. He oversaw a swift change of room for me when I had a few problems with where I was initially allocated and any time we wanted some thing from the town, he was more than willing to help and even better, he would offer to go get it for us. One more thing about Padi is his honesty. If he does not know, he does not know. He does not mince words at all. He is a good son of the land of Nuaso and a great employee of Olikedike. I hope his boss reads this and gives him a raise.

Back to our Kenkey for the morning. Padi knew where to get it – a very good one. He knew where to get some good fish and even recommended we should get octopus too. He told us he was not sure we would like the Kenkey seller’s pepper and offered to get the ingredients and grind it for us at the hotel’s kitchen. Even when he did not get the fried octopus (to accompany our tilapia and kpanla), he recommended that we get fried eggs. Again, he volunteered to fry it. Everyone should get a Padi in their lives!

Before Padi could go on the errand, Uncle Kofi threw in the question of palm wine. This man does not give up. Padi was enthusiastic with his answer. He knew where to get some. And it was not far from the hotel at all. So, Uncle Kofi gave the young man money to get him some and I was happy he would finally get what he had been craving for.

Padi took a while but finally returned. He was yielding a Voltic Water bottle with a transparent fluid in it. He placed it on our table. Uncle Kofi is shocked. “What is that?”, he asked.

“Oh, it is your this one (referring to palm wine). I did not get it so I bought –-”

Uncle Kofi knew exactly what it was and started laughing. When I finally caught that the young man took the initiative to buy Akpeteshie when he could not get palm wine, I was in stitches. Akpeteshie at breakfast? I also felt sorry for Uncle Kofi.

Our trip was almost over yet his craving had not been satisfied. We ate our Kenkey and did the rest of our work for that morning. Do not ask me what happened to the Apio. What’s relevant to this story is that we left Nuaso with the appetite for palm wine stuck in Uncle Kofi’s throat.

For the official farewell we visited the one-storey Sunset Restaurant for the last time. My lunch was fufu, beef and smoked salmon. Kofi went for banku and okro stew with tilapia, salmon and cowhide.  He ordered a small bowl of groundnut soup on the side, for sampling reasons.

Our journey back was much the same as when we were going; chatter, stories, history and a debrief of the trip. We made a quick stop at one of the towns to say hi to one of Uncle Kofi’s uncles. Nice man. A little after that town, my mentor pulled the car to a stop without telling me anything. Uncle Kofi’s eyes were shining. I looked out window and realized why. Palm wine!

A young girl had a set-up. A big gourd sat on a piece of cloth laid in an earthenware bowl. Half a dozen calabashes surrounded the gourd and several others lay on the side. One more calabash sat nicely atop the gourd. Uncle Kofi beckoned the lady. “Is it palm wine?”, he asked and the girl nodded yes. Excited, he asked the girl again, “Can I taste first before I buy?” The girl stepped away and came back with a quarter-filled calabash with the drink.

Uncle Kofi took a sip, the way wine experts do their tasting. The expression on his face was not good. I knew something was wrong. Yes, I know something small about palm wine. It’s not as hard as Apio. So, I don’t expect someone to make the face Uncle Kofi made when he tasted the drink.

“Why is it hot?”, he asked the girl.

“It’s because I’m in the sun”, she responded.

“OK”, Uncle Kofi said. And then downed the rest of the drink in the calabash. “It’s OK. I don’t think I can buy it”, he finished, handing the girl her calabash.

I was shocked. I’m sure the girl was angry. How could he down the taster and say he won’t buy anymore? I had more questions. But I didn’t need to ask. For a connoisseur; a man who understands palm wine flags and had spent three days trying to get some to drink, I knew there was no way he would compromise on quality just to satisfy his thirst.

As we drove away and without me asking, Uncle Kofi gave me his last lecture on palm wine. “There’s a gradual shift in the way palm wine is tapped. Many don’t brew it well these days. They are impatient. Instead of the daily treatment with fire, some tappers use chemicals to force the process and induce the drink.”.

So my man had his suspicions. That explains it. Ladies and gentlemen, take these words from the unadulterated man of gourd and don’t compromise on the quality of your palm wine when next you are so inspired.

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