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Picking Veresa's Brain

As I explored Suva without a map or a clue, I wandered into a tiny little shop with traditional Fijian crafts.  The first thing to catch my eye was homemade cloth, but “tapa” is a whole other story.  There were so many things to buy, but if you ever visited my home, you’d know there just isn’t that much room anymore.  However, there was one item that I’d seen in other shops; I just didn’t know what it was.  But, when Veresa explained to me that it was a brain fork, a replica of what cannibals really used to pick someone’s brain, it could not be passed up. 

After my purchases, I decided that I really should pick Veresa’s brain – just without my newly purchased fork.  I told him I wasn’t the usual kind of tourist who wanted sun, sand and five star hotels.  I preferred a cultural experience.  Did he have suggestions?

Boy, oh, boy!  Did he ever!

Arrangements were made for me to meet him at my hotel later that afternoon.  Once again, I was off to an unknown destination with somebody I hardly knew.  Honestly, I didn’t even remember the guy’s name at the time.  Sometimes I wonder about doing things like this.  However, never, ever, once have I had a bad experience.  I know, one bad experience could be seriously bad.  And, if I were a woman, I would never do half of what I’ve done.  But, yes, I hopped on a bus with this complete stranger for yet another unbelievable experience. 

The first stop was to a village on the other side of the bay.  It was where Veresa and his family lived.  Their home was a long structure of three rooms.  Shoes were removed before entering.  If there were chairs, I didn’t remember them.  We sat on the floor with his wife and three month old grandchild.  And, it didn’t take long to see that Veresa was one doting grandfather.

From there, we walked through the village to get to a scenic point overlooking the bay.  I read that if you ever met a village chief, you should not wear sunglasses or a hat.  Well, the chief wasn’t there.  He was in Australia!  But, Veresa still suggested I take my hat off as we walked the village.  When in Rome . . . or Fiji . . .

After the stroll, we wandered to his favorite watering hole.  Fortunately, it wasn’t for Bitter beer.  No, I was offered the traditional Fijian beverage, kava, and it was an amazing cultural treat.  Now, I’d seen the yagona roots for sale in the market.  It was a twisted mess of roots that left me puzzled.  How in the world was that prepared?  Well, now I can tell you.  The first step was to pound it to death in a mortar with a pestle.  As I prepared to make a video, it dawned on me that I could share how the same kitchen instruments were used in Africa.  That was such an unexpected opportunity.

In my Liberian video, they saw two people using the mortar.  Well, I was informed that in Fiji they sometimes used four people to pound the yagona root.  Yes, I asked for a video moment and ended up with five men taking turns at the pestle.

After the root is pounded to powder, it’s poured into a cloth sack. That sack it soaked in a very special traditional bowl and mixed up by hand.  It might taste better if it was hot.  I’m sure it would taste better with sugar added, a lot of sugar.  But, what looked like sawdust mixed in lukewarm water also tasted like sawdust added to lukewarm water.  However, there was a little aftertaste that kind of left the back of my tongue numb.  If you drank enough of the sawdust, you could get drunk.  I have no idea how much is needed.  I never came close.
Before taking the first sip, you clap your hands once.  The traditional cup for this traditional drink is half a coconut shell.  When the drink is finished, which I just couldn’t do in one gulp, you clap your hand three times. 

I ended up with two cups.  I probably would have had a lot more but as the sun went down, the mosquitos came out to play.  I didn’t want to play with them.  It was time to go home.  But, I had to promise that I’d return again and maybe again.  This was their after work tradition almost every night after work.  Works for me.

You might think that Veresa went way above and beyond what would be expected to entertain a stranger.  You would be right.  But, he wasn’t done.  Across the horizon, as we looked over the bay, he pointed out the island where he grew up.  And suddenly, I knew where I was going to spend a few free days while I was in Fiji. I’d been searching for a destination. 

I’m quite sure I seriously stumbled upon the right brain to pick.
Copyright 2016 by Phillip Martin All rights reserved.