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The cava is being prepared. (Foto: Tobias Zolles)

After work beer – Kava

Tobias shares his experiences of a relaxed get together with the local students.


I was one year in to my PhD when I learned that we have a bar in our university building. How strange that I had not gone there with my colleagues before? Norwegian work culture is not famous for its after-work get together; Fiji and the University of the South Pacific (USP) felt different.

Right after arriving at the campus – and a mediocre breakfast at the hotel – we kicked off the conference with the first coffee break – actually Fijian morning tea. It was a full board selection of Samosa, spring rolls, sandwiches, salad, and fruits served in a nice pavilion by the ocean, a perfect setting for lively discussions. So Fijian tea breaks (at conferences) are better and more plentiful than Norwegian lunches - it felt like food heaven.

What is this Kava?

Following the conference and an amazing dinner, all of us were eager to try the “Kava”, a local drink we heard so much about, unsure what to expect. The local PhD students from the conference, made it work. We had a short visit to the marine collection of USP before we all met for Kava.

Kava has been cultivated for centuries in the Pacific region. The roots of this pepper-plant are used for its calming effect, and rumor has it that Tonga has the best. The root is ground and then put in water to make the drink. It is used to gather people for a relaxed chat.

But it is not that simple, there is more of a ceremony around it.

Our Kava-night

We all met outside in a pavilion sitting on straw mats. One of the locals was preparing the water. The Kava powder is put into a cloth to filter out the coarse pieces. The most senior person, in our case Clemens, got the first shot.

Picture 2: Mattia enjoying his first round of kava - what a focus in these eyes. (Photo: Tobias Zolles)
Mattia enjoying his first round of kava - what a focus in these eyes. (Photo: Tobias Zolles)

Clap your hands, say “bula”(hallo), drink the Kava suspension presented to you out of the coconut cup, and clap three times. One by one, each of us got their first Kava - ever.

The reactions were mixed, some felt a slight numbness and tingling on their tongue. For me it was a watery earthy drink, no tingling on my tongue. But Kava is more than having a drink, I experienced.

We shared stories as scientists, people, and friends. More and more people joined in – a welcoming and relaxing atmosphere for everyone. Thirsty and a bit curious to feel the calming effect of the Kava, I wanted to ask for more, but one does not just simply ask for more: clap and say “Taki”; and then the next round starts. This ritual has to be officially started for every new round.

We sat for hours, chatting and telling stories. In the end, most of us felt very relaxed, chatting got less loud and we chilled together. Kava is not about the drink, but about the atmosphere.

If it was the Kava or just the atmosphere that made us relax, we don’t know – some even speculate that it was just the jetlag? I will never forget this evening with my new friends.