Saturday, April 10, 2010

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.

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