Sunday, September 16, 2007

Chewing betel nuts…

She sat on a bench in an open cottage near the National Gymnasium, unmindful of her surroundings as she deftly cut a piece of betel nut into half. She reached into the small woven basket beside her for a piece of small cigarette, poured a little amount of a powdery substance which I later learned as lime, wrapped the whole concoction in a betel nut leaf before popping it into her mouth. A few seconds after she chewed, she was spitting out a stream of brick-red saliva into a plastic empty bottle of nestea.

Such a scene is an everyday occurrence in Palau and in several parts of the world. What is it like to chew betel? This question haunted me since I arrived in Palau four months ago. I mean betel nut chewing exists in the Philippines where I came from but here in Palau, almost every Palauan chews.
It is a very common sight to see people chewing betelnut in Palau- whether one is in the office, car, street, shopping center, house, parties, gatherings or anywhere else. Kids and adults alike in Palau chew, and it seems as natural as breathing. There is always a small woven basket carrying all the ingredients- betel leaf, nut, lime, and cigarette.

Nut chewing is definitely an acquired habit more commonly passed down from grandparents to grandchildren, cultural link to the past lifestyles. A source who refused to be identified said that chewing is a hard habit to break.
“It’s just like giving up cigarettes, you can’t do it overnight but it should be on a gradual basis,” he said.
He said that when he stopped chewing he had to resort to chewing bubble gums instead because there is a craving that needs to be fulfilled, the satisfaction he used to get after chewing. He added that when he finally stopped chewing, many of the ailments he suffered, stomach ache and heartburn included vanished.

Another Palauan guy who chews said that it gives him relaxation when he is stressed, just like what cigarettes do for smokers.
“I don’t chew often, only when I want to think or relax,” he said. He added that nowadays, even five-year old kids chew, following examples of their elders.
I finally got the chance to chew yesterday morning. I was warned never to chew on an empty stomach, so I ate a piece of bread and followed it with a cup of hot coffee. The betel nut stayed in my mouth for no more than two minutes. I couldn’t stand the somewhat spicy taste. Suffice it to say I got dizzy and suffered a vomiting sensation the whole morning.
Whatever the reason for chewing, it’s a way of life in Palau which will go on for generations.

No comments: