Saturday, April 10, 2010

More about the Big Pineapple

Peace Corps Group 75 was in Nuku’alofa for In-Service Training (IST) last week. For 4 days we had language lessons in the morning and other trainings in the afternoon (grading systems, cultural sessions). Though I got some information out of those sessions, the best parts of were outside the meeting.

I went shopping. Not only are most things cheaper in Nuku’alofa than Pangai or Ha’ano, but there actually are things to be purchased. Even for the expensive items, I was very able to spend the money, since I hardly spend money on my island and there are so few things in the store in Pangai Here is part of my purchased list:

1. Mats. I bought huge mats for my living room, since the only furniture in there is a table and a chair. Now, guests can sit on these mats, not old ones that I inherited from other PCVs. I also have floor pillows on their way, though who knows when I'll get them.

2. Clothes. I had been on the hunt for more thing to wear to work, since most of my clothes are wearing out from my handwashing, or they’re getting holes from climbing over barbed wire fences that keep pigs out of yards. Unfortunately, most clothes in Ha’apai (read: the second-hand clothes sold out of a big cardboard box at the market) are about size 20. But in Nuku’alofa, there are stores. I had a choice of clothing. I bought a number of skirts and shirts, spending more money than I would ever spend in Ha’apai in a month on all my expenses.

3. Kitchen stuff. I finally bought an electric tea-kettle that works. I had been boiling only a liter at a time, but now I can boil a whole 2 liters at a time. And if you don’t think that’s exciting, come live with me for 4 months.

4. Tea. It’s a staple in my life, and I bought 120 bags.

We also ate really well. Nuku’alofa has yogurt, “fancy” cheeses like cheddar and gouda, and fun things like salsa and really good Indian food. It’s easy to say that the food in Nuku’alofa is really good. There is variety. I didn’t eat boiled fish or a boiled root crop all week.

We went to the one “nightclub” in all of Tonga: the Billfish. It’s mostly a bar, but it has a dancefloor, so the Peace Corps flocked to dance. It seems like the one place in the whole country where we can act like we might in America – drinking and dancing – and no one cares, since all the Tongans that go there are acting the same.

Any PCV from outside of Nuku’alofa could stay at a guest house close to the Peace Corps Office in downtown Nuku’alofa, so I and about 20 others did just that. It was fun to be around everyone again, just like during Pre-Service Training. We were able to catch up on all the things that are going on in everyone’s villages and lives.

Though we’ve only been in the country for 6 months and at our sites for 4 months, some people have really great secondary projects(as opposed to their primary projects of teaching English or business) beginning. People are planning gardens, doing English tutoring, and starting exercise classes. Many of them have inspired me to start more projects outside of my class. I’m most eager to start a world map project. I hope to paint, with the students’ help, a world map on a wall in the school. Currently, there are no maps in the school, not even of Tonga. There is one outdated globe written in German, but, not surprisingly, we don’t use that much.

After 4 days of meeting and eating, everyone parted ways. I’m back in Pangai, ready to head to Ha’ano tomorrow. I’m looking forward to enhancing my house and wardrobe and getting back to my regular life.

Nuku'alofa: The Big Pineapple

Peace Corps from my group went to Nuku’alofa (above) for In-Service Training (IST). This was my first trip to the Big Pineapple (not the Big Apple) since December, and I noted some differences between my humble island and Tongatapu.

In Ha’ano, everyone says hello to everyone else. We call people by name, since we know them, and, for the Tongans, they’re probably related. In Tongatapu, no one knows who you are. Even as a palangi, they don’t pay attention, since, if a palangi lives in or visits Tonga, they probably are in Nuku’alofa.

In Nuku'alofa, is it absolutely necessary that pedestrians look both ways before crossing the street. On Kauvai, there are only three cars on the island, and, as another PCV said, "You'd have to be a complete idiot to get hit by a car on Kauvai."

There are multiple restaurants in Nuku’alofa, compared to the two in all of Ha’apai.

Girls wear shorts (showing their knees!) in Tongatapu. I saw a girl with an open-backed tank top, and it was quite scandalous! In Ha’ano, in public, we wear long skirts and sleeves. Always.

In Tongatapu, everyone would speak English to me. I would respond in Tonga, but they would press on in often near-perfect English. In Ha’apai, except for with some Chinese store owners, I speak only Tongan. Not at all near-perfect, but Tongan it is.

In Tongatapu, you can find almost anything you want to eat or cook. Certainly, it’s at a price. A box of cereal might be $7.50 USD, but if you want cereal, there is cereal. In Ha’apai, we make do with whatever the stores have. No jam on my island? Ok, just peanut butter and crackers for breakfast. No bread? No butter? No eggs? That's Ha'apai.

Everything that is imported is much cheaper in Nuku’alofa. My island charges $5 pa’anga ($2.50 USD) for milk, but it’s only $3.80 in Nuku’alofa.

I’ve been away from my island for almost two weeks, and I’m very ready to head back. I can’t wait to see my dog (hopefully my neighbor actually fed him) and get back into my comfortable, quiet life. Enough of this big city business.

Question and Answer Sessions

I’ve gotten a few questions about my life in Tonga, so I’ll answer them here. It’s sometimes hard to know what might be interesting to someone in America, because to me, it’s just part of my regular life. Therefore, if anyone has questions, please let me know!

Do I host people at my house?

I haven’t had any formal occasions at my house yet. I’d eventually like to cook an American meal and invite some Tongans over to enjoy it, but there are some obstacles to overcome.

1. Tongans eat a lot. The amount of food they consume during their own mealtimes intimidates me; how many tacos/pizzas/hamburgers/pots of pasta would I have to make to satisfy a half dozen Tongans? And how would I get that amount of “specialty” food on my little island?

2. Many Tongans don’t like spicy food. This probably stems from the fact that they never have exposure to it, since almost every Tongan meal consists of boiled fish and boiled root crop with only salt as seasoning.

3. I’m lazy. That’s the way it is. People often will cook and give me food, and it’s gotten me into a habit of not cooking.

People instead just wander over to my house. They’ll come listen to music or enjoy the breeze since my house is right on the beach. Some girls come over to use my oven and bake cakes, since most people don’t have a gas-oven. (They have the traditional Tongan ‘umu, or underground oven.) Even if they’re just coming to cook, it’s nice to have people feel like they can come over to my house like they do with Tongans.

Are foods like eggs or chicken similar to eggs or chicken in the US?

Eggs are all imported, since Tongan chickens apparently lay really small eggs. Also, all the chickens just wander around, so you’d have to follow a chicken until she laid an egg to collect them. Most people (unless you’re a PCV with a fridge) don’t refrigerate their eggs. I’ve kept eggs for about a month unrefrigerated, and they’ve all turned out ok.

When Tongans cook eggs, it’s usually fried or hard boiled. Scrambled eggs and adding other flavors and ingredients is a foreign concept on this front. To get eggs on my island, you have to remember to pick them up while in the main town, so they’re pretty rare, though I often have a stash. People in town know that, so, when they’re baking for a feast or something, they’ll come by to borrow 6 eggs or so. Of course, I’m happy to give the eggs away, since the village so readily gives me anything they have. That’s the culture: if you have something to share, you share.

Chicken. There’s palangi chicken, which is imported from America and kept in the freezer at the store, but most Tongans eat Tongan chicken, that is, a chicken from their backyard. These chickens are thinner than those we in America are familiar with (that’s the natural chicken, not full of hormones!), and they’re most often boiled whole or tucked into the underground oven. Fried chicken is usually palangi chicken just put in boiling oil. No worries about seasonings or crispy crusts.

When do men drink kava?

There are a number of different kava ceremonies, but the most common for commoners are the faikava and the kalapu. The faikava is a church-oriented kava ceremony held on Sundays before church and maybe Friday or Saturday night. The kalapu is the evening kava ceremony, usually Friday and Saturday nights. It’s a fundraising event; usually participants pay some pa’anga, the Tongan currency, to come drink. My village has kava at the kava hall probably 2-3 nights a week, and each church (except the Mormons) have their own faikava on Sundays.

The one time women can drink kava is on their wedding day. But really, it tastes like muddy water and makes you sleepy, so that one time should be enough for anyone.

What’s church like?

Tongans in my village go to church anywhere from 1-5 times a week. There are 4 churches: Mormon, Church of Tonga, Free Church of Tonga, and Wesleyan. There are other churches, like Catholic and Seventh Day Adventist, but just not in my town.

There’s a lot of yelling by the ministers – hellfire and brimstone it seems. There are usually 3 hymns. When singing, Tongans go for volume and not tune, so there’s a lot of yelling by the congregation during songs. Depending on what church you go to, you may face the back of the church while sitting on the floor for certain prayers (Church of Tonga), go to Sunday school for two hours and then an hour-long church service (Mormon), or pray aloud – though individually – at the same time as everyone else (Wesleyan).

Churches collect donations only during specific times of the year. I think this month will be the big Wesleyan fundraising where the church announces how much money families have donated, thus turning it into a competition to see who can donate the most… and go broke the fastest.

I like to go to all the different churches to see what they’re like. And maybe someone will feed me after church.