Would you drink dirty dishwater if it made you feel better?
This seems to be the heart of the matter when it comes to foreigners in Fiji and their experience with Kava.
Kava, commonly referred to as grog, seems to be the national pastime of Fiji.
Kava is made from the Yaqana plant which is grown all over the Fiji islands. The plant is harvested and dried and then the root of the plant is taken and crushed into powder by a process that’s simply referred to as grog pounding. Small brown paper bags of the grains are sold for 1 Fijian dollar, roughly 50 cents.
The Kava is prepared by placing the powder in a strainer and soaking in water, similar to making tea. The result is a muddy watery compound.
Friends and families gather around the Kava bowl after a long day and the Kava is used as a way to relieve stress and to relax the mind and body and to socialize. Sessions can be a few cups or can last well into the night. It is not uncommon to hear the soft sounds of guitar and gentle banter until sunrise.
We were invited to partake in some Kava in the old capital of Levuka, Fiji. Walking around the backstreets we met a friendly man name Paola and when we asked him about the Kava experience he promptly invited us up to his house for some.
Walking up into the village we were greeted with seemingly endless “Bula” from villagers and small children. Paola and his friend Emissira introduced us to his friends and showed us their “Jungle Gym.” A small building made of corrugated iron and filled with weights. This is where the Fiji Olympic weightlifter train and where a local man won Fiji’s only medal in the recent Commonwealth games.
We sat and chatted as the Kava was prepared. Once it was ready we were handed a small coconut shell filled with the murky liquid. High tide meant we wanted a big cup and low tide meant a small cup.
A high tide was poured for me. I cupped my hands, clapped and said “Bula!” I downed the drink. Handing the cup back, participants clapped three times and said “Vinaka” which means thank you.
Initially, I thought the concoction tasted of ginger and my tongue began to tingle as the inside of my mouth went numb. The process was repeated a countless number of times as more bags of grog were purchased and more members of the ‘gang’ stopped by to enjoy the Kava.
The effects could not be ignored, a relaxing buzz that softened the body but allowed the mind to remain intact. Conversation flowed easily as our hosts quizzed us about cultural mores in our countries and about how they integrate the practice of yoga and meditation into their weightlifting routines.
Hours later, our bellies painfully full of Kava, we wandered off into the night, happily buzzed, and wandered through the small town in search of something to eat.