Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Piper Methysticum

It might sound weird to some that one of my first posts would be about Kava (or Piper Methysticum), but that is only if you have never been to Vanuatu. Kava is of major importance here. Men drink it all the time, and it is used to cure all types of problems, from tooth aches or any health problem you can think of.

This is what it looks like. The part that is used is the root, which is cleaned first (check out next picture), and then grinded, mixed with water and filtered. Traditionally (and still in some islands, or when no other method is available) it was chewed (in some places by young boys that have still no female partner), I think that I will have the opportunity to try it done in that way, when I head out to some of the outer islands. (Lucky me eh! ;))

Kava is sold at nakamal, the name for a Kava bar. There seem to be hundreds of them in Port Vila alone. It really doesn't take much to build one. A couple of wooden planks for seats, a bucket with the Kava, a couple of shells (or now bowls) where you drink it from, and a source of water so you can rinse your mouth (very very very needed). Some times they will have some finger food that you can have afterward as well.
Unfortunately I do not yet have pictures of the nakamals themselves since I have not yet found a good opportunity to do so. It would seem weird to start taking pictures like crazy there. This is a place where men come after work to relax. It is a quiet place and I try to be cautious about disturbing that. But as I get to know some of them better and better, there might come pictures soon.
The first nakamal we went to, was great. It is called Galaxie nakamal, and the owner, Didier, gave us a tour of the place. It is still after one week and a couple of dozen nakamal later, the best one that we have been to. The variety of food is amazing and delicious (except from some chicken feet and other stuff that doesn't really attract me so much).

This is a picture of Didier, Jeanette and I on our first shell of kava. Shells can be of 50 or 100 Vatu (around 3,75 and 7.5 SEK or 0.35 and 0.7 Euro), The food costs 20 Vatu a piece (you can all make the Math now :)). This is the only cheap place to be in and we have tried to go there as often as possible.
The interest is double. Apart from being a really pleasant place to be with really nice people. It is the place where we got the fastest and easiest integrated in. They like us there and already know us. We are constantly being offered cake or kava. And we have decided to do some of the work there. I'll fill you in on the details as things progress, but we have been having some good ideas on what to do in this place.
Back to Kava. I have no pictures of the way it looks, but you can get a pretty good idea if you look at your sink after you wash your dishes... honestly it looks like that and tastes even worse :) The more you drink the harder it is to prepare yourself for the next one.
The effect is interesting however. It numbs your lips and tongue, and gives you a kind of relaxed feeling all over. Not very very strong but still an interesting way to spend some hours among friends. After this, men are all speaking very slowly, with a low tone of voice, and if they drink too much, they will be stumbling back home.
One of the great things about this social event is how silent and calm everything is. You have to remind yourself to keep your voice down and when you stop talking you cannot stop but be amazed at the peace and quiet around you. So different from Latin cultures. No screaming, no interrupting, conversations run really smoothly and can be incredibly interesting. The nakamals of Port Vila are a great place to hang out at night.

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