Friday, November 17, 2006


There's a fascinating article in the New Yorker about the history of cholera, and of the discovery of its casusation in London. I've seen the replica pump without a handle (and drunk in the John Snow pub opposite) and think the story a great example of the power of thought. Cholera is one of the most terrifying of diseases: it kills fast and horribly and leaves the victim conscious and suffering throughout. Since I know my mother never reads this blog, I can safely reveal my own (tangential) brush with the disease.

I was in Mozambique in the December of 1997, in the port of Beira, at one point beautiful, tree-lined tropical Imperial Portugual, but now decayed and dirt poor (but recovering at least). I was gapping, and thus smelly, pretentious and keen to explore. I'd travelled in a group of about six, hitching a lift across from Mutare in Zimbabwe, the last part in the open back of a lorry carrying onions (I think). I was the only one with any smattering of Portuguese, and even this consisted of speaking GCSE Spanish in a Sean Connery accent (I don't think Tim would approve). We were staying in a campsite on the beach and had been for a day or so when it was reported that cholera had broken out in the town.

It has a certain ring to it, that does, especially when you're 18 and immortal. After a quick straw poll we decided that the only sensible thing to do was to stay there, but to avoid drinking water, eating salad and having ice in our drinks. Why drink water anyway when litre bottles of Manica beer were so cheap. For those unfamiliar with the brand, it's a nice light beer, not too fizzy and not too strong. Or it's a very heavy beer, about 6-7% and liable to make you fall over. Depends on which batch you're drinking. How do you tell? You can't, at least not until you try and stand up. To their credit the state brewery is aware of this problem and remedies by not bothering to put an alcohol by vol. label on the bottles, presumably because they know it would be guesswork.

Manica beer as an alcoholic roulette wheel is to be recommended - it adds a touch of uncetainty to a pursuit that can otherwise be a bit predictable. As a straight swap for the stuff of life, however, it leaves a lot to be desired. We did leave Beira a couple of days later, as it happens, just as the cholera epidemic was starting to die down. A tropical storm came in and snapped our carbon-fibre tent poles. I'm going back to Mozambique in the summer (on honeymoon as it happens), and I'm really looking forward to it. Might stay off the beers though, wouldn't want a 10% special to spoil things...

UPDATE: Apparently Manica beer has since been bought by SAB Miller, cleaned up and transformed into 'a standard lager - golden and light'. Mixed feelings. On the one hand a unique beer has been homogenised, on the other I'll never again find a plaster floating in my pint. What was that about cholera again?


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