Thursday, August 12, 2010

Back in the Big Pineapple (Part II)

I also got to meet up with a Tongan friend who recently moved from Ha’ano to Nuku’alofa. I went over to Mele’s house after gorging myself at the Wesleyan feast.

She soon offered me more food, which I declined, and then she suggested we go rest. (That’s typical Tongan: have a guest and then encourage them to sleep.) I ended up falling asleep, and I awoke to Mele screaming into her cell phone.

A friend who is still in Ha’ano just called to tell Mele that another friend, Suli, had up and gotten married to a guy in Ha’ano. Suli and Sesi didn’t tell anyone beforehand; they just went to Pangai and got hitched. I’m not sure how many people knew the two were dating at all.

Mele was beside herself with this news and told everyone in her house. Most people responded with, “Suli who? And Sesi who?”

Suli was Wesleyan. Moreover, she was one of the women who was “ordained” to give the sermon herself. That qualification meant, however, that she wasn’t able to dance. Ever.

Sesi is Mormon. Mormons can’t do a lot of things: drink alcohol, drink caffeine, smoke, etc. And they have to go to church for three hours on Sunday.

Traditionally, after marrying, the woman changes to the man’s church. Thinking about this, I thought, “Oh, poor Suli! Now she’s Mormon and can’t do a lot of stuff!”

On the other hand, a Tongan who heard Mele telling the news said, “Oh, good for Suli. She can finally dance.”

Back in the Big Pineapple (Part I)

While John and I were in Nuku’alofa waiting for our flight to leave to New Zealand, we took advantage of being in the big city to get some work done for projects we have planned in our communities. John talked with the hospital about an outer-island health education program and I worked to get supplies to paint a map of Tonga in my school.

But I also got to have some fun in the city. It was the start of the Wesleyan Church’s annual conference, and the minister in Ha’ano invited me to come to the feast and eat with his family – and about a thousand other people.

I walked to the location of the feast by myself, and, as I was swamped by people on the streets surrounding the feast, I wondered how I would ever find anyone I knew here. Then, amid the throngs of bodies, I see Kimami, the minister. We duck around the masses and enter the tented eating-grounds.

This was more food than I’d ever seen in my life. There were dozens of tables lined up and then piled high with food prepared by the family seated at the table. This isn’t like an American Thanksgiving feast. This is literally plates on top of each other, teetering between the roasted pig and my lap. I cringed as I thought of how much saran wrap, foil, and styrofoam would be burned after this lunch.

I must have been late to the festivities because most people at my table were replete and in a food-coma daze, moving piles of food to find a place to rest their arms. As soon as I sat down, a teen girl jumped up, found a clean dish, and began piling it with foods I might like. She passed me the plate and a coconut, and then she proceeded to offer me food that was individually wrapped in to-go boxes: sweet and sour chicken, sapsui, crab salad, canned vegetable mix.

After eating more than my fill, the table asked me to take some food with me.

Me: Oh, I couldn’t, I’m so full!
The Table of Wesleyans: No, please. Want pork? How about some chicken?
Me: Ok, I’ll take this and this. Thank you for finding helpful things. (That sentence sounds better in Tongan.) I am so full! I’m going to go sleep because I’m so full!
Table: Good! So, do you want to come to the feast this evening?

New Zealand… just like "Lord of the Rings!"

Late June marked the halfway point of my first school year in Tonga. All schools took a two-week break after the first two terms, and John and I took that chance to go to New Zealand. This was our first trip out of the country since arriving last October, and I was very much looking forward to it.

My spirit isn’t crushed by Tonga. I don’t feel overly stifled by the conservative society, nor do I constantly pine for western comforts of restaurants and hot showers. Even so, the little things I took for granted in America were the things I looked forward to in New Zealand: stores with things I actually wanted to buy, a bar where I could get a mojito, a place where I could show my knees and not offend anyone. (Though it was winter in NZ, I wore my shorts with tights, but that was close enough for me!)

We started in Wellington where we saw the Beehive, toured the Te Papa museum, and ferried around the harbor. But more exciting to me was the sensation of being in a city. The first day there I stopped in almost every store I saw. (I’m sure John loved that.) That night we went to a grocery store to find dinner. I wandered up and down every aisle, savoring the near-endless choices and fantasizing about how I could make a DIY yogurt machine work in my Ha’ano home. (Alas, I couldn’t think of a way, so the yogurt maker stayed in NZ.)

In Ha’apai, my island group, there are a handful of stores that are big enough to walk into. The rest of the stores are only storefronts, and we ask and point for the goods behind the counter. Everything in these stores is almost always the same. It’s big news among the Peace Corps Volunteers when something new comes in. “Blair, there’s a new chip that isn’t chicken flavored. It’s great!” Those treats never make it up to my island though, so I can only dream of the plainly flavored potato chips as I eat neon-colored, chicken-flavored chips called Bongos.

We drove from Wellington to Napier, on the east coast of the North Island. I was the first to drive the rental. I wasn’t nervous about (1) driving at all after 9 months or (2) driving on the opposite side of the road than I used to drive on or (3) managing roundabouts for the second time ever. I wasn’t nervous, but I was awfully concentrated on that road.

We made it to Napier, the Art Deco Capital of… New Zealand? The world? We took a wine tour to 4 vineyards, enjoying a sampling of 6-8 wines in each place. John made out well on that excursion, since I don’t really like wine and wouldn’t usually finish my tasting. The pictures from that day progress from our normal selves to those with droopy eyes and purple-stained teeth.

We went on to Lake Taupo in the central thermal region of New Zealand. We walked around the thermal hotspots, checking out gurgling mud and steamy lands. A few months ago, while lying on my bedroom floor in Ha’ano, I told John I was thinking about doing something crazy in NZ, like skydiving or bungee jumping. We kept that in our minds around Taupo, but upon seeing the height of the bungee bridge, I quickly withdrew my plans to “do something crazy.” Instead, we went mountain biking, which, I discovered, is not my forte. I more enjoyed the massage and thermal mineral pools at our hotel.

On the way from Taupo to Auckland, we took at detour to visit the Waitomo Caves, home to thousands of glowworms. Sure enough, when we got into the caves, there were thousands of glowworms.

In Auckland, we again enjoyed all the trappings of a city. In Wellington, we had gone bowling – something that was on John’s list to do. In Auckland, we did karaoke – my list, of course. We did other things that wouldn’t be on any list of mine in America: getting McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s not that I really wanted either of those things. But they were both drastically different than anything in Tonga, and thus they were both delicious.

At one point, John said something like, “The best McDonald’s in the world is in New Zealand. The best Indian food, Thai food, Mexican food – they’re all in New Zealand. The best massage is in New Zealand. The best television is in New Zealand. Know why? I’ve been in Tonga for 9 months.”

I can only imagine how exciting America will be.

More on Tongan Giving

Tongans readily give each other whatever they have. Just last Saturday, I was on the beach watching a fisherman pull his catch from his net, when another fisherman who had gone spearfishing came ashore.

The spearfisherman had about eight or so medium-sized fish and a sea urchin. A friends and I went up to him to see what he had. The fisherman, who has his own family to feed, tells us to take this fish, that fish, and the prized sea urchin. After all that work, he’s just going to give a lot of it to us.

My friend had told me earlier how hungry she was today. “No good food today,” she had told me. Now, with a fish in hand, she promptly ripped off the head and took a nice bite. I delicately gnawed at my fish, not wanting to end up with half a tooth or the Tongan gold cap. My friend tells me to wait and cut it up at home, and, oh, just take this fish too.

Tongan Requests (and Getting More than They Bargained For)

Any time a Tongan asks for something from a palangi, it always begins with a long spiel. “Pele, I’m so sorry for my request!” “Oh, I apologize for coming to ask this!” And only after apologizing profusely do I find out what they’re actually here for.

A few nights ago, a guy who’s often at my neighbor’s house came over. He began by apologizing for a while, then asked if I had any tea. I always have tea in the morning, so I definitely had tea to share with them. I took the box from the shelf and opened it in offering to him.

He gently pulled out two tea bags, shaking them out a little. I said he should take three; the bags are so small. He declined, thanked me again, and left.

I thought tea sounded nice, so I opened the box again to get myself a bag. I looked in the box and, to my horror, saw a cockroach right there with the tea. Maybe it was dead? Nope. It crawled around.

I saw Finau the next day, and, laughing, I asked him if he saw I had a cockroach in my tea! He said no... and smirked. That didn’t stop him from coming back though. He came over again the next night for cockroach tea.