Monday, August 10, 2009

betel nut, anyone?

Greetings from the beach!! Hopefully it's crazy warm and sunny right now and I'm working on my tan with my nose stuck in a good chick-lit book. In my absence, the amazing Travel & Dive Girl has offered to fill in with a great story about her attempt to embrace a new culture and a "legal" narcotic. Enjoy!!

While the lovely and entertaining K13 is off partaking in the sand, sun, mini golf, shopping, the all-you-can-eat buffets and many other things that Myrtle Beach has to offer, she’s given me the opportunity to guest post in her absence. I’m honored by the opportunity and hope to keep you entertained with my post recounting my perceived near death experience while on a scuba diving vacation in Micronesia.

In 2007, I was fortunate enough to visit the tiny Micronesian island of Yap. Yap is located in the Pacific Ocean, 800 miles east of the Philippines and is known for it’s stone money, manta rays and is also “once in a lifetime” destination for scuba divers (hence my visit). I was determined to dive with the supposed “devil fish” so that I could cross it off of my list of things to do before I die. Little did I know; death was closer than I had imagined and believe me when I say - the Angel of Death has bad teeth!

Upon our arrival in Yap, we were greeted at the thatched roof airline terminal by a handsome, well groomed young man who was holding a sign with our group name on it. Being my friendly self, I stride over with a smile on my face to say hello and to introduce our group. When the young man returns the smile and opens his mouth to return the hello, I am horrified, mortified and shocked by the state and color of his teeth and gums. How can he be so beautiful on the outside, but his oral hygiene be so nasty?

As I’m contemplating the situation before me and trying not to stare, he lets a gigantic spit ball fly from the corner of his mouth, which lands squarely in a nearby bucket with a splash. *ewww* I’m trying my damndest not to offend this man with the look of repulsion on my face, but seriously, I couldn’t figure out WTF was wrong with him?

When he realizes the stunned woman before him is staring, he smiles once again and offers me some of his “stash” and apologizes for not offering me some sooner. I graciously decline and quickly move along, so that my friends can partake in this new, visual cultural experience.

I soon learn his “stash” is a local narcotic delicacy called betel nut and it is chewed like tobacco; however it’s made of the nut from a palm tree, wrapped in betel leaf and seasoned with ground limestone, cloves and ground tobacco. Chewing it provides a mild euphoric feeling, heightened awareness of your surroundings, tingling limbs, increased body temperature and even a sense of arousal. Hmmm, as interesting as that concept may be, I could not imagine sharing a French kiss with a betel nut chewer. I would rather lick the shoe of someone that cleans horse stalls for a living. Prolonged use however causes red teeth, red gums and eventually tooth decay. Beautiful…

It soon became apparent that betel nut use was widespread – everywhere we turned, we were greeted by warm (slightly high), welcoming individuals, both young and old, men, women and children - all with nasty smiles.

When in Rome

As part of our visit to Yap, we were taken on a cultural tour of a local village. As part of our tour, we were able to partake in local food and beverages, watch village elders make handicrafts and they shared with us the history of their village. As part of our tour finale, we were asked to partake in some betel nut, while watching the village youth perform a cultural dance on our behalf.

As I’m not one to back away from a challenge (or a dare), how could I possibly pass up the chance to try some mild narcotic? How bad could it be - all the locals are doing it? They wouldn’t offer it to tourists, if it could kill them right? Four year olds are doing it – what’s the risk? Turns out – only 3 people in our group of 16 were up for the challenge. “Chicken-asses”, I said. In hindsight, they were the wise ones and I was the dumbass.

Moments before the ceremonial dance was about to begin, the etiquette of betel nut chewing was explained to us – basically chew it, but do not spit it out during the performance or you will be considered disrespectful. Easy enough, right? No, I was absolutely wrong!

I pop the betel nut in the side of my mouth and begin to chew, but the instant I do I have an overwhelming urge to spit the thing from my mouth, as the taste is revolting, my lips are becoming numb and I no longer have feeling in the inside of my mouth. As we are seated within a mere 2 feet from the dancers, spitting it out is not an option, so I try to focus on videotaping the experience while holding the disgusting wad inside my mouth – all while red drool is escaping my lips and running down my chin and onto my white t-shirt.

In addition to not being able to feel my lips, I suddenly realize that my ears are ringing, my face is burning, my heart is racing, I could no longer successfully move my arms or legs, my vision had become blurred and I could feel my consciousness slipping away. “Shit”, I thought to myself, I’m going to faint!

In my semi-conscious state, I realized that if I didn’t get rid of that betel nut immediately, I was going to pass out. Without trying to draw attention to my perilous state, I slowly begin lowering the video camera to my lap. My husband leans over and asks “what are you doing? Why aren’t you videotaping?”

In my impaired state, I think that my husband is an absolute idiot for not caring about me, but that’s a discussion I couldn’t possibly have with him at that moment, so I manage to whisper in a slurred voice, “I’m going to die”. I then lean over and spit the wad between my feet. Unfazed by my distress, he whispers back “If you do that, the village Chief will most likely try to give you mouth to mouth. Look at him smiling at you.” *shit*

For the next hour 10 minutes, I fought to maintain my consciousness, with one stubborn thought - “Screw you Angel of Death. I’m not prepared to die in the middle of nowhere and I’m certainly not prepared to be given mouth to mouth from anyone on this damn island”.


Kris said...

That picture is freaking hilarious! Very interesting... I must know more! haha

Brian Miller said...

rotfl! oh my! i remember as a young boy my (crazy...well intentioned) uncle giving me a small plug of his red man...indoctrinating me (nearly killing me) into southern tradition. i thought i would die as well. i'll tyr anything once...that just may be a curse. lol.

JW.BW said...

Oh WOW!!! You are one brave woman for trying that stuff!!! Sounds alot like Khat that they use in Africa, its actually the cause of alot of their economic problems, so many people are addicted to it and its just leaves that they chew. Whew!! Your a brave one!!

Rachel said...

Oh my gosh! That's hilarious and scary all at the same time! Super weird story! Thanks for sharing!

CrazyCris said...

oh my! there is such a thing as going a bit too far for an adventure! ;o)
(I wouldn't have wanted mouth to mouth from that guy either!)

CB Mauro said...

Sounds like the Kava they tried to get us to drink Fiji. Thanks for the unexpected laugh!