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September 23rd 2008
Published: September 26th 2008
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Kava NightKava NightKava Night

The light in the lower left corner is a nakamol. The green light up in the tree signals others to know there is a nakamol.
2 things upfront:

1) Vanuatu's newspaper is online! AND, our training group is in it! Now, I haven't taken the time to look up the article on the website, but here is the site in case you'd like to keep up on the news: www.dailypost.vu

2) I'm rating this entry "PG." Moms and Dads, you may want to glance through this one real quick before reading aloud with your kiddos.

Alright - Kava. My understanding of kava is constantly under reconstruction. I will tell you what I know and modify it as need be. Kava is a ceremonial drink that comes with it's own set of unwritten rules. Our first night in Vanuatu, some current volunteers took us out for kava so that we could learn a few of those rules and not offend any of our future Ni-Vanuatu friends and family. Drinking kava is one of the many ways that we as PCV can integrate into our communities and take advantage of a relaxed atmosphere to get to know more about the culture and ways of the people. For now, we drink kava with volunteers and drill them with questions in very hushed voices.

Kava tastes like a potato straight from the garden, with a little dirt still stuck in it's crevices. It is made from a root, ground in various ways (crushing, meat processor, even chewing) and mixed with water. Kava powder is commonly sold in the markets here for customers to mix themselves. By doing this, however, one would miss out on the main aspect of kava which is drinking it socially and "storying" with your fellow drinkers.

Kava bars are also called nakamols. For many Ni-Vanutatu, kava is a nightly thing. For others, it is strictly ceremonious: weddings, births, visits from special people, or served at the end of meetings. Each village has it's own customs for drinking. Some do not allow women to drink, some seperate the men and women when drinking, etc.

The first nakamol we went to seemed to be in someone's backyard. The kava was ladled up from a hidden container under the bar and placed into small bowls. Sometimes kava is served in coconut shells. The amount of kava you get depends on how much you pay.

Because the aftertaste of kava is not very enticing, most nakamols offer "washamouth" which can come in the form of fruit, bread, even beer. Most people spit after drinking, in fact, all through the nakamol people are hocking up and spitting all over the floor. As some of you who know me well or have run with me, you're right in thinking I fit right in! After drinking and spitting, you can proceed to a seperate but close by stand to choose some "washamouth" and cleanse your palette.

Again, please remember that kava is an honor when offered. The main idea behind drinking it is social and sometimes spiritual. I spoke to one volunteer whose village's chief does not allow church, but the kava drinking is exceptionally ceremonious. After drinking one's kava, each person takes about an hour to sit alone and meditate. He says only after that time will one regroup with others and story.

Kava is a depressant and most people simply feel mellowed and a slight numbing in the mouth while drinking. It does not have any "hangover" type effects. A few rules that we boisterious newbees are working on : No flash photography and No loud talking, as most kava drinkers are sensitive to extreme sensory input.

That's about all I know for now. More on this important part of Ni-Vanuatu culture soon!

Disclaimer: The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.


26th September 2008

Sher and Justin, I'm sure this is only the beginning of many strange foods/drinks/ceremonies you'll experience. How fortunate you have other PCVs there to guide you through the wild world that is Vanuatu! I looked for the newspaper article online (I even registered!) but had no luck. Maybe it isn't up yet? Keep the updates coming, I love hearing from you!

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