The first trick you need to master is the identification of
the nakamal, as theyre not the most obvious places in
the world. The guidebooks will tell you to look out for a
red lantern. I, at least, had in mind a swinging red lantern
hoisted outside a building with a Nakamal sign
outside, but this is not the case. The red lantern is, in
fact, a red light bulb usually obscured by a filthy
hurricane lantern and stuffed inside a bush. If youre
in a town this red bulb will be at the end of a very dark
drive that leads towards someones darkened garden; if
youre in a village its at the end of a dirt track
leading to a clearing in the wood. Either way there will be
no lighting at all and you will finally bump into a corrugated
iron or wood shack with a hole in the front: this is the bar.
You then to need scrub up on your fluent French:
Je voudrais un kava, sil vous plait.
Vouz amais la kava, monsieur?
Oui, Jaime la kava.
At this point, pretend its far more Chatwin-esque than
it is (He: That sounds like a Parisian accent, sir. Me: I
have spent some time in Paris).
Then comes a very exact protocol for drinking the kava. If
its your first time, dont worry its
nowhere near as nasty as all the locals are pretending. You
buy either a small or large cup (a wooden bowl
or half coconut shell) for 50 or 100 vatu. Take the cup to
the nearest wall or bush. Stand facing said wall or bush,
giving yourself only a few inches space between you and it.
Drink the cup down in one go. If you cant finish it
all at once, dramatically throw the rest away, as it is not
the done thing to take a second gulp. Then make a grimace
as if it were the most fowl thing known to humanity, spit
loudly to your side and go and sit yourself down on one of
the benches or logs provided.
One of the others sat around will then probably offer you
a boiled sweet or piece of fruit to take away the taste and
you can talk about how nasty it is, but kind of how nice at
the same time and far better for you and the community at
large than alcohol, the scourge of the Pacific islands.
At this point youll notice the lack of women around.
This is due to a strange set of gender politics surrounding
kava. Grown men are not technically aloud to make or serve
kava; women arent technically allowed to drink or even
see kava, which leaves an odd gap in the loop. Historically
this has been filled by pre-pubescent boys. These days there
seems to be a lack of willing participants, which forces the
need for women. The problem here is that none of the men really
like this fact, so at this point youll probably find
yourself in the omnipresent nakamal conversation where all
the men slowly shake their heads and lament that there are
women in their midst.
There is one final thing to remember and that is the locals
cant really take any more kava than you, despite the
fact that youre new to the game. Take comfort in this;
youll not end up looking foolish. Time to order another
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