Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Balanced Meal with the Mormon Women

A few months ago, I went to Pangai with people from my village to perform a square dance organized by the Mormon women’s group. These women, the Fine ‘Ofa, have quarterly activities – the square dance being one. Last Friday was the next quarterly activity: a discussion on health, enjoying a balanced meal, and then exercising.

Though this activity, the Balanced Meal they called it, was for only the Mormon women in my village, I was still invited to participate. (Any time there’s food, I’m always invited. And this one involved a balanced meal! How could I refuse?)

I went to the Mormon church that night and listen to a very brief lesson on healthy foods and why healthy foods are important, then it was time to eat.

I had doubted the healthfulness of the food I would see. At Tongan eating events, there are usually root crops the size of my leg and pigs glistening with fat. What would Tongans do to a healthy meal?

The eating was on the basketball court. Each family would sit together around a little piece of fabric and eat whatever food they brought themselves. As I walked to my friend to eat with her, I saw plastic to-go boxes of, honestly, quite healthy foods. I saw bananas, apples, papayas, chicken, and modest size chunks of root crops. Though I’m sure it was prepared by one family for themselves, someone still gave me a box.

It was delicious! The chicken was cooked flavorfully with peppers; the traditional Tongan foods were lacking their usually dehydrating amounts of salt; and everything was in moderation.

As I enjoyed one the box of food, other people from other families brought me some of their food too. I got baked papaya, whole baked coconut, octopus, shellfish, and all kinds of other things. They were all pretty healthy it seemed to me, though now I felt obligated to eat a lot of each one of them, which threw portion control out the window.

I should have known that, even if the food would be healthy, it wouldn’t be in modest amounts: I saw one family bringing their food in by wheelbarrow.

I was sitting with a friend who had cooked her own food too, though. Of course, she shared this with me. But, I don’t think my friend really appreciated the healthy aspects of the meal, since she brought basically all the regular food I see in Tonga: fatty pork, fried chicken, sapsui, and those limb-sized root crops.

After eating enough to make even a healthy meal unhealthy, it was time for exercise. All the women (all 10 of us) stood in a circle ready to begin. The group leader then said, “Ok, Pele, go in the middle and lead exercises.” I had a look of horror on my face, I’m sure, but I got in the middle and did a couple of things before gradually slipping back to the outside of the circle.

Another woman took charge and led the women in toe-touches, jumping jacks, and a kind of body-twist that I’ve never seen Jane Fonda do. The music was blasting, and I noticed that our entire workout lasted less than a song. That was probably about all the women could take; they were huffing, puffing, and “oiaue”-ing within 3 minutes. (Oiaue is a Tongan exclamation for just about anything: excitement, surprise, sadness, and, as was the case here, general exhaustion.)

I got sent home with my to-go box and other bits of food I’d acquired throughout the dinner. After that it was time to lie down. That was the healthiest Tongan-prepared meal I’ve probably ever had in Tonga, but I still felt like I had just eaten Thanksgiving dinner.


  1. Hi Blair. I'm Yasin, from France and i currently live with my partner in New Zealand. We are really interested to go to Tonga for few months next year. Hopefully we know someone who could send us there for an environmental project OR teaching french language, which seems the easiest way to live on one of the islands. Regarding the teaching, I would like to know what kind of facilities you have access to? As a volunteer, do you earn a small wage? Or house and food are provided for free? Is it difficult to teach if we don't know the local language? I assume we have to learn the basis to be understood by the student. Do the people speak english? That's it for the moment but i'm sure others questions will follow. Thank you for your time and your blog with great articles on the local culture.

  2. Hey Blair-anator! Why are all of these comments not in English? I am going to freak out if you can read all of that. Food in a wheel barrel?? That sounds like a typical family summer dinner to me:) Hope you're well - Texas misses you. And I think about you often.