Sunday 21 March 1999
One man was cutting the kava plant, Piper methysticum, a dusty little cluster of dry twigs and spindly roots. As he hacked with a bush knife, making a pile of roots, another man scraped and peeled each root, while a third man worked on the half-peeled root with a coconut shell, rubbing off some - but by no means all - of the red dust.
The coconut rubber handed the piece of root to the men who were standing. They opened their mouths. They had black teeth and gummy, coated tongues. They stuffed the woody kava roots into their mouths and with a crunch like chicken bones, they began to chew them.
These chewing men - one in a straw pie-plate hat, another wearing a T- shirt that said "Alaska - The Last Frontier", the third in a sensationally filthy sarong - walked in circles, chewing seriously, their cheeks bulging.
I heard many eye-witness reports of bombs falling on the Presidential Palace in Baghdad.
At that moment, one of the men leaned over and spat a big wet wad of masticated wood, the size of a scoop of ice-cream, onto a green leaf that had been spread on the ground, apparently for this purpose.
Bombs also fell on Baghdad Airport, destroying runways.
Splat went another blob of kava and spittle, as the man in the T-shirt bent from the waist like a bobbing duck and released it onto the leaf.
Splat - more mush hit the leaf: it was like a kid spitting up baby food he hated. That was the consistency of the stuff - a cowpat of Gerbers baby food.
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