Today’s Bislama lesson:
Yu gat bel – you’re pregnant
Fukwia – barbed wire
Bad frend – enemy
Naoura blong solwata – Lobster (cockroach who belongs in saltwater)
Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere has always felt just wrong, it’s hot, in Australia Santa shows up wearing board shorts and a t-shirt and Christmas Day is barbecues on the beach…nah. Here in Vanuatu there’s a lot of Christian influence so the locals love Christmas, they put up nice decorations and everyone gets in the mood. Port Vila is jammed with people from the outer islands who come for Christmas shopping, maybe a cheap Chinese radio or some special shampoo to take home, nice. Jimmy’s mom is sending him watermelons from their garden, they’re red and green so it’s a Christmas thing, she’ll give them to someone who’s taking the 12-hour boat ride from Tanna, somehow they’ll get delivered to Jimmy and he can’t stop talking about how great that will be.
I head into town and brave the crowds and there happens to be a Christmas parade, OMG you just cannot make this stuff up. First in the parade is the Vanuatu “army” marching band, decked out in their finest camo, the leader is Harry-Belafonte-handsome, tall and muscular, and he wields his staff with real panache. It’s driving rain though and I swear I see spray coming out of the tuba. Next up are the local expat juniors on their horses, pubescent girls all bareback on their beautiful roan and bay mounts…but they’re mortified because it’s turned into a wet t-shirt contest. They’re followed by the Vanuatu Fibreglass Company float, proudly displaying their main product…a giant septic tank decked with tinsel. Next is the Vanuatu Correctional Authority, oddly cheerful and waving, maybe it’s a happy place? Near the end it’s Santa Claus standing in the back of a pickup truck throwing candy to squealing kids, he’s a jet-black ni-Van and wisely decided the white beard wouldn’t look right. Makes me think of the original St. Nick who was supposedly black, too.
Speaking of festivities I suppose I should describe my encounters with the local soporific, kava. Kava is made from the root of a nondescript bush and plays a central role in ni-Van life. It’s a currency of sorts, and the richest guy around is the one who has given away the most kava, he may have nothing but everyone knows just how much he has given to others so he has obligations all around the area. Kava is traditionally prepared by virgin boys who chew it and then spit into a jug (they choose virgins because there’s less chance of spreading hepatitis). I’m told this kind of kava is by far the strongest…but the kava bars I’ve been to thankfully all use an electric grinder.
Two mates from Sydney came over, along with Austin, and we decided it was “kava night”. A PRSA meeting was hastily called (Parents for Responsible Substance Abuse), we didn’t really know about dosages etc but I personally wanted to find out what was “at the end” of kava (I guess that means I wanted to know what happens when you’ve had alot). It’s a mild drug, not hallucinogenic, and the main effects are numbness of the tongue and total relaxation. Normally dispensed in “shells” (coco shells), there’s a small shell and a larger shell and a normal night would be one or two shells. What do we know, we get the guy to give us a salad bowl, and we gulp down 5 ½ huge servings. It tastes disgusting so you do it on an empty stomach (or one that will soon be empty). You’re not supposed to mix with beer…but…
Yah sure we were relaxed…I went to stand up from my bar stool but the message wouldn’t seem to arrive correctly at my legs. I looked down…two miles away I could see my feet…they still wouldn’t obey my commands but I really didn’t care. When you’ve had too much to drink here and need to drive home the official rule is to put your hazard lights on and drive slowly, pretty practical really since others can avoid you. We wanted a change of scene so I put on the hazard lights and we head over to the bar at the high-rise hotel/casino.
Now it was arms and legs that wouldn’t obey but we harden up and make it past the bouncer. On the lift my mate decides kava is coming up, not down…but it’s a fancy place, all marble and carpets, what to do? He waits for the lift to stop and aims a micro-burst down the crack between the lift and the floor…used kava sprays down 6 floors of elevator shaft. That’s better! Lift arrives at the top, he’s refreshed, we tumble out to the dazzling lights and sounds of the casino. Wouldn’t be the first time the guy watching the security cam has seen a crew like us…but we are most definitely not a risk to anything except the upholstery.
Next morning was pretty predictable…only different. Pot makes you spacey the next day… alcohol makes you feel dull and dehydrated…with kava you feel like critical brain functions have been surgically excised. You can’t complete a sentence…or a thought…you can only remember the first three digits of your phone number. Let’s go to the…unh….do we have any….unh…aren’t we supposed to…unh…I’m pretty panicked, two days later I start to claw my way back to cognitive normalcy, wait I need my brain, it’s really useful, can I have it back please? Not good. I’m glad to report that new neural pathways have been established and I’m 100% better now, and I’ve even gone for 1 or 2 social shells with friends since then. But I’ve learned that what is at the end of kava is axon and dendrite Armageddon, not wise at all for an aging hippie.
Hot sunny beachy Christmas wishes to all!