Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Social Club Phenomenon, Part 1: Haitai Clubs

Visited a social club this afternoon, a place where men get together to play checkers and scrabble, talk about politics and sports, and drink something called haitai. (Pron. “high-tie”.) Maybe one of our Liberian readers can school us on haitai, but the guy I talked to says it’s an herbal infusion, served hot, that “gives you the energy to talk and play scrabble with your friends.” [Wonder if the name comes from “high tea”. Hmmm.] Supposedly there’s no caffeine, but who knows. The blend I drank was called remix, which is haitai with copious amounts of fresh ginger and sugar, and maybe powdered milk. It looks like greenish coffee, tastes great.

The guys don’t bet on the scrabble games; I asked. The man in charge of this particular social club is called Papa Alpha, who seemed to command great respect from behind his battery of thermoses. “We take care of Papa Alpha, and he takes care of us,” said one well-dressed self-described hustler, “currently at the Ministry of Finance”, as he enjoyed his remix.

Some of these clubs have soccer teams that play against each other on weekends, but are not part of the Liberian Soccer Association. Some of the people here pay membership dues, some don’t. At 2 in the afternoon, the place was absolutely jammed with young men, some university students, some not, yelling about Ghana’s World Cup loss and other topics. Thanks to Papa Alpha for the free cup of remix.