When I decide it’s not too hot to go running, I usually run through the bush to a village about a mile away called Pukotala. A few hours after school one day, I was sitting on my porch tying my laces when I heard a new phrase I just taught my class:
“Hi, Pele, what’s up?”
It was three of my students on their daily wanderings.
“Nothing much.” (the response I taught them) “Te u ‘alu ‘o fakamalohisino.” I’m going exercising.
“Oh, tau ‘alu ‘o fakamalohisino?” Oh, we’re going exercising?
I rolled my eyes at the thought of these kids – barefoot and in jean shorts – running down the semi-paved road with me. Though they were quite capable on Sports Day, I doubted they could run for a couple of miles. Even so, I said sure. “Tau ‘alu.” Let’s go.
Not 2 minutes outside the village gate they stopped.
“Kuava!” They pointed to a guava tree on the side of the road, and stopped to grab a snack. We had handfuls of guavas to eat as we carried on at a jog.
Less than 5 minutes later: “Tava!” I looked all around us, but I couldn’t find the tree they were talking about. They pointed. “Look!” I didn’t see. “Look!” They pointed more forcefully. After squinting in the direction they indicated, sure enough, I saw a tree bearing the little, lime-sized tava fruits. At first (and second) glance it was only a tree. How did these kids see the tava right away – while eating guavas and running, nonetheless?
We continued on to the Pukotala gate then turned around to get those tavas. The boys jumped into the brush and headed towards the tree. One boy climbed the tree as if it were a simple staircase.
A boy pointed to the road. “Pele, go there.”
As soon as I was out from under the tree, the boy in the tree shook a limb. Down poured tavas, not unlike the Skittles: Taste the Rainbow commercials. They scooped tavas into their shirts, and I pushed them into my pockets. When we had enough, we started ambling down the road, eating as we went.
“Pele, ko e ha e lea-faka-Palangi ki ‘vao’?” Pele, what’s the English word for “forest?”
“Ki ‘kuava’?” For guava?
“Ki e? Ki eni?” For that? For this?
These kids were enthusiastic about learning English! Though they didn’t seem to always pay attention or be interested in class, they were excited to learn out here!
They weren’t the only ones. I asked them everything: who that person was on the road, how to tell if a guava is ripe, what the Tongan word is for “pocket.” And they were more than happy to tell me all those answers – even mixing some English words in with their Tongan.
I might be shy with groups of Tongan youth or adults – too embarrassed at the possibility of making mistakes in Tongan – but with these kids, it was easy to talk and joke. Though I didn’t get my heartrate up during that run, it was one of my favorite workouts in a long time.