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Tongan times #2 – Kava Night

August 15, 2013

As the downpours kept coming it was pretty clear the miserable weather that welcomed our arrival wasn’t going to change any time soon. Consequently, a fair few hours were spent cooped up in the communal room making brews and shovelling ridiculous amounts of Rich Tea biscuits down our throats. While this put a hold on exploring the island, it did give us ample time to get to know our fellow lodgers – most notable of all was the middle-aged German pairing of Tomas and Gert.

I needed another image to go here.

I needed an image to go here. This is what I went with.

Tomas was an outstanding booze hound. At best, conversations with him would be baffling, but generally vexing. This was primarily because he’d led such a fascinating life but had become so chemically inconvenienced by years of self-abuse that he couldn’t form coherent sentences long enough to tell about it.

After several attempts and many prying questions I was able to gather that he had been living in Tonga for the best part of 20 years, and started out as a highly respected pastor at a nearby Roman Catholic church where he regularly preached to a devoted congregation back when he was just 21. His dependency had since gotten the better of him and was forced to give up that prodigious post, although he still gets invited back each Sunday to play the organ.

Tomas was not a man of domineering stature – he stood at around 5”1, but due to the nature of his vice that wasn’t very often so an estimate is all I can volunteer on the man’s height. His shoulders were narrow and sloping, and his back curved in a way best described as Gollum-ish and on the end of his enfeebled arms was a set of swollen spade-like hands covered in calluses, broken skin and scars.

His forearms were stippled with tattoos he’d applied himself, and one on the back of his left hand was of a date drunkenly (I’m assuming) scribbled below the name of a town in northern Alaska he’d visited during a trip to the Bering Strait. Although he was physically incapable of talking about it, you knew from his appearance that his life was not an easy one.

It was difficult to guage what kind of a man he was as he did very little besides quietly shuffle around the hostel grounds by himself. Sometimes so quietly it would take minutes before anyone realised when he’d taken up a seat right beside them.

At night, Tomas came alive. Not to everyone’s liking mind you. Well, anyone’s really. Most nights were spent listening to him wail over his guitar long into the wee hours, only stopping occasionally to argue that he didn’t want to stop playing and go to bed and that he wasn’t in fact ‘fucking terrible’.

His compatriot, Gert, was a stark contrast to Tomas in many respects but equally unusual in appearance. Lanky like Peter Crouch, he towered over Tomas at 6’8 – and every inch of him was miserable. He had a dedicated Teutonic restraint and a face deficient in almost all expression besides general displeasure. Too much time spent with Gert would leave you a little less than deflated, hence the ridiculous amount of Rich Tea biscuits.

Seeing as we were holed up for the foreseeable, Owain and I took up the offer of joining in on the ‘famous Kava Night’ held by Danny, a young Tongan gentleman employed at the hostel. It turned out to be little less famous than we were led to believe as, including Danny, the total attendance was three. Which makes Kava Night about as famous as BBMak. However, we were intrigued to find out more about this intoxicating elixir so we sidled up next to this smoothly-spoken storyteller who regaled us with Kava-inspired myths and tales while serving us up all we could drink.

The Kava plant

The Kava plant.

It tastes a lot like muddy water (not whisky, actual muddy water). My guess is this is largely due to it being extracted from a root which has been gathered from a muddy field, chewed up and spat out by virgins and then arbitrarily diluted with rain water. Admittedly it doesn’t sound like the most appetising beverage in the world but I’ve drunk cans of Carling at a club in Merthyr Tydfil before, so I had no excuse.

It is tradition for virgins to chew the root as back in the day there were no machines to do it and apparently no other people with teeth, due to poor oral hygiene, which evidently went through the roof once the sex was had.

Although there doesn’t seem a whole lot to Kava, this rustic tipple packs quite a punch. After only two cups my tongue began tingling. After three cups it started pulsing. After four it took all my concentration to keep the thing from rolling out onto my chin. Five cups in and I was noticeably drooling, and after my sixth I was acutely aware of the numbness setting into the entire left side of my face.

It doesn't look half bad here.

It doesn’t look half bad here.

With one eye open I looked across the table where Owain appeared comparatively composed, although he did seem to be grinning quite a lot and I don’t remember Danny’s stories being particularly funny.

To Danny’s disappointment I declined my seventh cup only for Tomas to interject with an animated bid to take it off my hands. This shocked me as I was completely oblivious of Tomas being anywhere near us – he must have ghosted his way in at some point without any of us realising. I turned around to see him staring wide-eyed at my cup of Kava with both hands outstretched.

Kava mixing bowl

Kava mixing bowl.

I happily gave up the last of my serving and Owain soon followed suit, and then we both watched as Tomas gleefully saw off cup after cup of the stuff as if it were fruit-filled glasses of Um Bongo.

With heavy legs we all lumbered back to the communal room where Gert was sat looking very displeased about something or other and Tomas got out his guitar. The next morning the left side of my face became responsive again, which was timely as it was raining and I had lots of Rich Teas to get through.


From → Tonga

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