Quite and zoned out

Kava is considered as the national drink of Fiji. Picture: drinkroot.com

WHEN we were in our mid to late teens and short on cash, we’d often drank kava because it was cheap.
To be honest, I didn’t really enjoy the brew but drank it anyway as a source of coming together with my mates because it was all we could afford.
And as far as taste went — I preferred “lewena” (sliced rhizomes) over waka (root) because for me it was smoother and nicer to drink.
Ok, I’ve had lots of people berate me over this as they point out that I’m “soft” and they’ve used a smattering of some other choice words and phrases to describe my preference for lewena over waka.
Sharing a bilo was always a great way of catching up with friends and listening to the many stories that came with the communal mix.
And if there was a guitar lying around the collective harmony was quite something. In between the taki and singing there was always lots of fun and laughter during the early stages before we got “doped”.
And when this happened everyone became fairly quiet and zoned out except for the occasional “taki” that rang out to determine the next round. Getting up to go to the loo was always an interesting experience when one was feeling doped.
I reckon that the late Michael Jackson must’ve had kava somewhere because his Moon Walk has some very similar characteristics if you get my drift. A “wash-down” with beer was a luxury and not something we could afford.
However, the mere mention of a “wash-down’ says it all — that we don’t really enjoy the drink but drink it anyway because it’s been the done thing for ages.
At FBC, where I worked in the early ’70s, there were three to four kava stations scattered throughout different departments of the building. After visiting all four at different times of the day, it was interesting how I began to feel — slightly light-headed happy and very relaxed and a little numb on the face and in the mouth.
Multiply the countless times this happened during the day and you can only wonder how we got the job done.
Yes, we finished the job without any mistakes most times. Because that’s what was required of us.
Drinking kava at work was different from drinking in a social setting.
In a social gathering in those days the only chaser we’d have were bits of curried meat — either chicken or lamb — and only when somebody’s family were kind enough to provide the yummy food.
It was sacrilege to bring anything else such as Chinese lollies, nuts, sweets, refreshing mints, “snakes” or anything to chew on after a bowl.
It just wasn’t the done thing in those days.
Now, whenever I come home and have a mix with the “gang”, I can’t help chuckle at the variety of after bowl tidbits everyone brings to the get-together.
Everyone has a stash of something at the tanoa.
The usual process is, straight after drinking a bowl the person would reach for their favourite taste blocker. And what is even more hilarious — as soon as they had their taste blocker they’d screw up their face like they were trying to rid their mouth of the obnoxious taste they had just experienced. Hilarious yes!
Of course, being a little cheeky, I’d ask everyone why they were having their after bilo taste stopper. “Weilei Colin — it’s to take away the taste of the grog!” My next question is probably the same as yours — then why drink grog if it tastes so bad?
“Bro, you’ve been living in Australia too long and you’ve forgotten what it means to be having a grog party!”
Ok, I get it — I’m not used to drinking grog here in Australia. The only time might be at a wedding or at a funeral and those have been few and far between.
So when I do come home, I know that invariably there’ll be moments when, I join the “gang” for a communal mix.
Don’t get me wrong — I love the atmosphere of a grog party where the jokes fly thick and fast. I honestly believe it’s a great way of friends coming together to share whatever it is they have to share. And to not see this happening would be very un-Fijian.
However, do we have to drink so much that we become so doped that we become useless, un-motivated, tired and depressed and no good to ourselves or to anyone else? And yes, I’m aware that many who drink kava also want the “buzz” that comes with it.
I don’t mind the “buzz” however I must confess that when I know I’ve had my fill, I’m not shy in coming forward to excuse myself from a grog party because my body isn’t used to the brew.
And because I live away, my hosts are usually generous enough in giving me a leave pass to have dinner.
Because I believe that if you’re going to drink kava or alcohol it’s important for two things to happen — drink plenty of water in-between bowls so you don’t get dehydrated and eat some solid food to absorb the effects of the brew.
Kava is a drug and attacks the nervous system.
It also affects the liver and kidneys and we need to be hydrating with copious amounts of water in between bowls to flush out our system of the kosa and other impurities.
A lack of hydration is probably the main reason so many people get kanikani or dried skin and are affected by many medical ailments that can come with excessive use.
The condition is symptomatic that the body is severely dehydrated and in urgent need of fluids. Determining excessive use I believe is different for each and every individual because of our physical make-up.
Reason being, our body is about 90 per cent water and both kava and alcohol dehydrate us very quickly depleting our fluid levels.
For example, if we’re working out physically in a gym or out on the land we need to drink plenty of water to keep our hydration levels up or we risk a serious breakdown and malfunction of our body.
The same can be said of drinking alcohol and kava. Simply put, we need to flush out our system so that our blood cells aren’t depleted by the effects of alcohol or kava where we become vulnerable to sickness and disease.
When drinking alcohol or kava, remember the golden rules, hydrate (drink plenty of water) and eat a solid meal.
Taki mai.

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