On Tsunami, On Kava

Perhaps our timing was off. We were coming close to the end of our time in Fiji, and had yet to feel the effects of Kava. Sure, we’d dabbled a bit here and there- the offering of a bowl at the market, a cup after dinner… We’d participated in the Kava sessions, but not with a goal of understanding it as we wanted to. In fact, we had proclaimed numerous times that we just didn’t get it- we thought the stuff was like any finely ground tea, and the stories about the tranquil effects seemed fragments of participatory imagination. So… Like any good travelers, we decided to make a night out of it- give Kava the good college try… Tonight we would sit and relax, consume, and consume.. And wait for this alleged buzz to set in. Tonight was the night.

So off we went, settling down into the comfy pillows piled under a grass hut. A group of locals sat aside a group of travelers, guitars belting out campfire songs and laughter emanating from every direction. Clap, Bula! Drink, clap, clap clap… Drink again. The cups were passed ceremoniously from person to person – each required to chug the contents and hand the coconut shell back. At each turn one could select the large bowl: High Tide! The group would yell… Or the small bowl: Low tide! Or- if brave enough- the supersize bowl: ‘Tsunami!’. Off into the evening we went, and slowly but steadily we sunk further and further into our pillows. Mouths numb and minds relaxed, we became believers, and found friends in our circle under the little grass hut. Who would have guessed that the name of the super sized glass would become the theme for the night.

Fast forward two hours. Fiji releases an evacuation warning for the island, our hostel director gathers the group together, and we find ourselves in the throws of decision making. Go up hill, or stay and take the risk. Busy with the nights activities, we’d been all but clueless to Japan’s devastating earthquake. Now rattled into reality, we felt helpless to the possibilities and hardly able to comprehend what we were being told. Police cars circulated the area with loudspeakers, announcing the evacuation. Hoards of people from neighboring guesthouses loaded onto buses and taxis bound for the vaguely defined ‘uplands’. Fellow hostelers packed bags and called home. We watched with our friends.. Under the grass hut. Drinking kava and playing music until we could ignore the signs no longer. We eventually joined the others, packed our bags, and prepared to evacuate.

No Tsunami hit Fiji on this night. But our first and only Kava experience will never be forgotten. Up until the early morning and oddly sedated from our magic tea, we worked our way through the fear of potential disaster ceremoniously. The friendships we made under that grass hut somehow feel stronger than one would expect- and another tie now binds us tighter to this place. Reminded of how fragile each day is, we leave Fiji with a new knowledge of island life, and new respect for the population that keeps it alive.

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