One of the first things Peace Corps medical staff tells Peace Corps Trainess is, “Don’t use Tongan medicine.”
- Got a stomach ache? Here’s a bitter fruit-thing from a tree.
- Got a boil? Wrap this old, torn shirt that says “Ruck Fules” around your arm, foot, head, etc.
- Got a sore back/sprained ankle? I’m going to twist and punch the affected area.
- Got a cut? Let’s boil some leaves together and mush it around in the wound.
All these have been personally witnessed. The PC staff doesn’t mean that those methods don’t work, but antibiotics and pills might be better.
I’ve been having some problems with my eye – it gets red and watery a lot – and some people ask me if I want some Tongan medicine for it. My principal jumps in, “No, the Peace Corps doesn’t allow them to use Tongan medicine.” Phew. Who knows where that might have ended up.
As another PCV has said, one great thing about being a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tonga is it automatically makes you qualified to do many things you would never be qualified to do in the States. Teach English, for one. But also, lead exercise classes, fix computers (or at least they assume you are whiz at fixing computers), and be a doctor.
A couple of years ago, the PCV at my site before me, Grant, had a kid come to his house for Grant to bandage him up. That’s not uncommon. I’ve doctored up some pretty bad cuts on these kids, at least by my standards. But Grant’s experience pales mine: the kid was whacked in the leg with a machete by accident. Not important enough to rush to the hospital right away, but surely the Pisikoa would be able to fix the boy, right?
My experiences have been mostly washing cuts, giving out bandaids, and giving simple hygiene instructions. I’m, of course, happy to help anyone who comes to me, and I hope after hearing it enough times, they’ll realize how to doctor themselves. (My newest first-aid tip that I’m pushing: If you have a cut on your foot, you must wear shoes. One kid’s foot had a huge gash on the sole, and he had walked the kilometer to school barefooted anyway.)
Note: All the medical supplies (Harry Potter glow-in-the-dark bandaids, ointments, gauze, etc.) all came from the US Navy. (Despite all the things they gave us, they didn’t include tape, so I’m getting creative in doctoring up these wounds.) A year or two ago, a US naval ship came to Ha’apai on a humanitarian mission to a number of different islands and countries in the Pacific. They checked out medical conditions that doctors might not have been able to help with Tongan resources. The vet saw animals all over the country, and PCVs often got their pets spayed or neutered. (Can’t you guys come back and neuter Papi?)
Note Two: For such a religious country, Tonga also has a strong history of old spirituality – namely a genuine fear of the devil. Someone could curse you or the devil could catch you in the dark, and you’d then be puke tevolo, you’d have the devil sickness. A girl in the community was possessed a few years back. She writhed and screamed all night but eventually was exorcised. What a relief.