Many Peace Corps Volunteers find that Sundays in Tonga take some getting used to. The standard line Tongans say is lotu, kai, mohe pe – just church, eat, sleep. Sure enough, that is the schedule any given Sunday. Almost anything else is prohibited, either by law (rumor has it, in the capital city, you could get fined for riding your bike too strenuously) or custom (another PCV was scolded by neighbors for trying to do repairs in his own home).
During our time in Fangale’ounga, I went to another PCV’s house to watch the “Sound of Music” one Sunday. I invited a Tongan neighbor to come.
“Is it a religious movie?” she asked, fearful of breaking Tongan tradition of doing non-church things on Sunday.
“Uh, yeah, it’s about a nun.”
Upon finding that, although it’s about a nun, it’s not a religious movie, she left. But she seemed to enjoy “My Favorite Things.”
My Sundays in Ha’ano are much the same. Church bells first ring at 4:30am for the 5am service. I sleep on.
The main church service is around 10am. There are 4 churches in Ha’ano from which I can choose, so I pick one, take a 5 minute walk, and join the 30 or so other churchgoers inside. Church lasts an hour, and after that I go to someone’s house to kai 'umu.
An ‘umu is a traditional Tongan underground oven. Lu, the traditional Sunday dish of coconut cream with sheep/chicken/fish/beef/etc wrapped in spinach-like leaves, is cooked in the ‘umu along with a root crop. Since coming to Ha’ano, I’ve been invited to kai ‘umu with some family every Sunday.
After that, it’s taimi malolo, rest time. Usually after eating with Tongans, I’m in a food coma, so I’m more than willing to rest. Some days some Ha’ano girls around my age will come over to sit around and chat.
Around 4pm, I go to church again, mostly for something to do. It’s also a good chance to see some older members of the community – pretty much the only people who go to church in the afternoon.
After that 45-minute church session, it’s usually time to wander around the town or sit around again. People go to the porch by the dock where there’s a nice breeze.
There’s a lot of down-time on Sundays, obviously. Since I wasn’t working my first month in Ha’ano, Sundays were much like any other day, except I couldn’t swim, do laundry, go for a run, and so on.
Fortunately, I finally started work!