On the production and effects of Kava, the Vanuatu drug of choice

Alcohol here is relatively unimportant. Some people drink it, there are people who are known drunks, but really it is confined to the big cities. That is because there is kava. Not the kind of kava that comes in powdered form in the US as a sleep aid. This is fresh root shopped and mushed and turned into a wretchedly nasty drink. I mean, it tastes nasty. This is not up for dispute. Everyone agrees it tastes awful, but for some reason people continue to drink it.
After several sessions of imbibing, here are my impressions (with Jason’s editorials). First off, don’t drink after you’ve eaten. This is strictly a before dinner drink. The effects are a bit like being drunk in that your head spins a bit and coordination is more difficult but it differs in that alcohol can make people act crazy or reckless and kava mostly makes you want to sit and chat or go to sleep. Also, kava immediately makes your mouth go tingly-numb but sensation returns pretty quickly. It is pretty mellow and works great for making me deaf to the roosters in the morning. (I sort of hate the roosters. I might start eating meat just as an excuse to kill the damn things. I swear they have no sense of time. Dawn does not come at 2 am, it doesn’t come at 3 am it doesn’t come until 5:30 and even then there is NO reason to be making that much noise that close to my head.)
The culture in this village says that women can drink one or two shells. That isn’t true in all villages or on all islands. On Tanna, the island with the exploding volcano, women aren’t even allowed to look at a nakamal where kava is being drunk. Seriously, they have to walk around the back through the jungle at night to avoid going near the place where the men are drinking kava. I will discuss feminine/masculine issues at some later date. The women don’t seem to prepare the kava on any island, though I wonder if that is different within the home instead of among a group of people. Not that the homes are anything shy of a group at any point.
To make kava, you start in the garden. You dig up a kava plant and break off the roots. Then you stick the kava plant back in the ground so it can grow some new ones. You bring the kava back home and peel it. Then you chop it up into little pieces, usually using a bushknife on a 4×4. This is manly time, afterall. From there you can choose to chew it into a pulp and spit it into a bowl, grind it in a meat grinder or grind it in your hand with a piece of coral. Once it is sufficiently ground, mushed or masticated, you add water and start straining. It goes through the strainer about five times, maybe more. By strainer, I actually mean a t-shirt, sometimes a slip, or a piece of mesh (I think it comes from a coconut tree, but I’m not sure yet) or other random piece of cloth. When it gets good and muddy colored, you drink it.
You always drink facing away from people. This is to save your own dignity. It tastes bad and people make funny faces. It can also make you spit, so general people walk away from the group, drink the kava, spit for awhile, then come back. If you eat something right away, it takes most of the taste out of your mouth. Then you sit and storian until you are ready for food and sleep.

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