Damaging vs. Slightly-Damaging (Day 1 Part 2)

We arrived early evening in Kinshasa, and as soon as we landed we showered, changed, tried on our brand new mascaras that survived passport control (read airport landing), and went out for dinner.  Every Friday there’s a barbecue at a club nearby, where for $25 you can eat all the kebabs and sausages you want.  (We were warned that food could get quite expensive here.)  It was a nice cool evening and we were told it was a great place to meet some expats, so off we went!  

As soon as I sat down someone asked me if I wanted “damaging, or slightly-damaging beer.”  

“Is that Kinshasa lingo?” I wondered, ordering one of each.  

My first night in Africa, and I was eating kebabs and chicken wings, drinking beers and hanging out with expats.  Like many others around the world, I was out sharing laughs and some jabs with people over drinks on a Friday night.  The only difference was I was in Kinshasa this time, and the people I met were not the Manhattanites I usually came across.

I met people working for different embassies, as well as people working for both security and in development.  I find myself again and again remembering those snide remarks, the honest confessions, the passion, the “advice for first-timers in Kinshasa” I heard that first night, feeling the many layers of truths and meanings mount over these remarks, so casually tossed around that night as we all knocked back varying levels of “damaging” beer.  

I assumed the beer lingo was referring to alcohol content, but it turns out it’s referring to formaldehyde.  From what I can gather, all the glass beer bottles in Kinshasa are recycled, cleaned, and re-bottled at various beer factories.  As certain brands of beer are cleaned better than others, they lead to different amounts of formaldehyde being left behind, which can lead to how strong your headache may be the next morning.  While Heinekens belong to the “slightly-damaging” category, the local Tembo beer belongs to the “damaging” category.  

I’m happy to report that after trying various bottles of Tembo, Primus, and Heineken beers, I personally never felt any more or less “damaged” in Kinshasa than I felt after a night of drinking in New York!  

- Nana