My favourite local drinks are Zobo and Kunu. Zobo is made from the Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) flower, attributed with antihypertensive and laxative properties. In Nigeria, it is mostly grown in the Northern part of the country but the dried flower is commonly sold across the country. The Zobo drink is made by boiling the dried flower with spicy/flavouring substances such as ginger, fruits like pineapple and adding sweeteners if desired. Kunu (Kununzaki) is made from millet seeds and sometimes from sorghum or corn. It is mostly consumed in the northern part of the country and is attributed with several health benefits. The Kunu drink is made from a lengthy process of fermenting the seeds, grinding with spicy/flavouring substances, sieving to discard chaff, adding boiling water and sweeteners as much as desired.
These drinks can be prepared by anyone, although, a level of expertise is required to obtain a consistent and tasty product. Therefore, there are people, usually women, who produce and sell these drinks on their own at retail prices. This is readily available as they are hawked in markets, along the roads and sold in shops. However, attempts have been made by few individuals to mass produce and properly package the Zobo drink, which they supply as wholesale to shops. This is not a common occurrence, though. A striking feature in the sale of the Zobo and Kunu drinks by the retail women is the packaging of these drinks in used disposable plastic bottles, which they claim to have thoroughly washed. The used disposable plastic bottles have been previously used for soft drinks, malt, bottled water, juice etc. and are usually sourced from places like refuse dumps, waste bins, roads and parties. One presupposes that the mode of production of the wholesale suppliers would be more hygienic, considering that they make use of new disposable plastic bottles.
In an array of drinks where the Zobo and Kunu drinks are available, my choice had always been one of the two depending on my mood at the time. I would also regularly patronise a shop that has a consistent supply of any of these drinks, if the taste is nice and the location is convenient for me.
All this changed after reflecting on two encounters, in a way that is not unconnected to an increasing engagement with the dirt discourse of the DIRTPOL Project.
In the first encounter, I witnessed a young woman picking a used disposable plastic bottle from a waste bin. In the second encounter, I witnessed a young girl in a party, going around the tables and picking used bottled water containers. I am aware that these used disposable containers are also used for other purposes like the packaging of herbal concoctions, liquid soap and so on. I am also aware that conscious efforts are made to pick seemingly clean ones and to wash them by the people concerned. However, considering my ignorance of the history of the used disposable plastic container used in packaging my Zobo/Kunu drink, and my ignorance of the cleaning process involved in each bottle, I thought it wise to discontinue the taking of my favourite drinks until when I can conveniently make it myself.
The problematic nature of the cleaning process was brought to fore in my recent interviews with teenagers who purchase cooked food from roadside vendors/stalls. One of their indicators for a clean cooking environment was the cleanliness of the water used in washing dirty plates. A teenager narrated an experience where she saw very dirty water being used to wash dirty plates and in cooking at a neighbourhood’s food stall. Needless to say that she made some life changing decisions because of that experience. Consequently, one is forced to ask hygiene related questions like ‘is this Zobo/Kunu the second or third or fourth (and so on) end use of this container? How clean was the cleaning process? Is it possible that the used plastic container has absorbed molecules of the substance(s) previously contained, which may not be easily removed by mere washing? Is one comfortable with using a container that has touched another’s lips, even after washing and having to use a straw or cup? The answers to these questions appear to be largely a matter of personal convenience, preference and/or context.
About the author: Jane Nebe is a project researcher on the DirtPol project and is concerned primarily with issues pertaining to dirt in education and schools. Jane is based in Lagos, her academic background is in pedagogy and she speaks Igbo， Yoruba, Nigerian Pidgin and English.
About the project: DirtPol is an international cultural studies project based at the University of Sussex. For more information please visit the DirtPol website.