Saturday, June 18, 2011

Camp GLOW Kalapu

In preparation for our girls leadership camp, Camp GLOW, the whole Ha’apai planning team has worked to get local donations to supplement the international funding we’ve received from our generous family and friends. One of the traditional Tongan fundraisers is a kalapu, a kava-drinking event where all the money is contributed to a cause. Though the “causes” are usually school scholarships or electricity for the town hall, the cause at a kalapu a few weeks ago was Ha’apai’s upcoming Camp GLOW.

Kava drinking is a strictly male affair. Unmarried girls and women can participate, but their role is to serve the kava and banter with the menfolk. The men reply with flirting and often more obscene remarks to the tou’a. This was the primary context for courting in the Tongan days of yore, but now there are few Tongan youth girls who enjoy tou’aing. No surprise there; it’s easy for the kava circle to be a sexist event.

That’s why it’s ironic that, in preparation for a girls leadership camp, we organized a huge kalapu, complete with tou’as.

To advertise our kalapu, we placed an ad to be read over the local radio station. The ad described the camp and what the money was for, but the part that got people interested in supporting us was the line that said, “Camp GLOW’s kalapu will have international tou’as coming!” International tou’as – from America and Japan (a Japanese volunteer friend). The phone number given in the commercial was ringing off the hook with interested kava drinkers. “International tou’as? Really? Will one be at my kava circle?”

As the kalapu was held in the main town, I went in after school on Friday to help Juleigh prepare. The Tongan camp counselors and our Japanese friend came to Juleigh’s for dinner, and then we headed to the kava hall together.

By 8:15, when we arrived, there were already 5 kava circles, each from a different village, and each with its own kava bowl. Each tou’a went to a different circle; mine was from a town right next to Pangai. There were about 20 men, and, by the looks of them, most of them were over 40. But kava drinkers don’t age well. The drink makes the skin wrinkly, scaly, and dry. And as they drink and smoke in the kalapu, men’s faces seem to slow; they can’t move as fast, open their eyes as wide, or speak as coherently. Perhaps these men were only 30, but from years of drinking, they looked like no spring chickens.

Especially one man. He could have had other reasons for his dishevelment, but I like to pretend it was the curse of the kava. When I first saw him, falling out a van, already drunk at 9pm, he resembled a hairy bushman. Swaddled in a huge fur coat. I think he had some kind of a staff. Lucky me, he was from the village I was tou’aing for. He sat behind me, but he would poke me to get my attention, and then shake my hand or make some unintelligible comment. At one point he gave me an orange. Then he disappeared, and I didn’t miss him.

After hours of this – trying to carry on conversation with increasingly poor conversationalists, shifting my legs to keep them from falling asleep, and of course ladling out the muddy drink – the money was collected from each group and counted. We had raised over $600 USD in one night.

Just after 1am, the tou’as retired. We were going to Juleigh’s house to sleep, but there wasn’t enough room in the car. Because nothing would have happened if we didn’t make a decision and act, Juleigh and I decided to walk the 15 minute walk back to her house. The only problem was, she was carrying some of the money we’d raised. “Ok,” we thought, “we’ll take the lit roads, walk quickly, and not talk to anyone. Besides, we know everyone in town. How could they rob us?”

We walked only 100 paces outside the hall, when a man stopped us. When the light hit him, we realized it was Maka (“Rock”), the guy who, months ago, had borrowed Juleigh’s speakers and lost part of them, thus rendering the speakers unusable. He drunkenly attempted to apologize for the speaker incident with one of the few phrases he knows in English, “Sorry for the misunderstanding.” (Yes, that was quite a misunderstanding. Juleigh thought he would return working speakers, whereas he thought she wanted nonworking speakers.)

We continued on. Close to Juleigh’s house there is a section of road without good lighting. As we approached this area, we saw another large, slow-moving man in the shadows. I whispered to Juleigh, “Ok, let’s not talk so maybe he won’t realize we’re foreigners.” As we passed him, he jumped in front of us and shouted, “Hey, I know these girls!” Sure enough, it was a lewd, oafy minister I didn’t particularly care for from my island. We hurried on to Juleigh’s house.

We all spent the night, using Juleigh’s sparse furnishings and emergency relief blankets borrowed from the Ha’apai Red Cross, the coordinator for which is helping with Camp GLOW. In the morning everyone faded away to their homes, and Juleigh and I reexamined the budget in light of our fundraising.

That was about 3 weeks ago. Now, Camp GLOW is happening! Tomorrow! The work is never over (but I took the time to post this blog anyway…), but we’re in the final phases of preparation!

Ready, set, GLOW!