Friday, August 12, 2011

The Rugby Games

The Rugby World Cup will be starting soon, kicking off with the New Zealand All-Blacks playing the Tongan 'Ikale Tahi. The most famous rugby team in the world will be playing the Tongan Sea Eagles. For the opening game. Though I think we could all place safe bets on that game, Tongans are gearing up to see their kin start the tournament off. With local rugby leagues starting this time of year too, it's a favorite way to liken good players from villages to those who resemble oceanic birds of prey.

The perfect opportunity for that happened today: the opening games of Ha'apai Rugby League 2011. I, as a PCV, joined with the Tonga Red Cross to ensure the players' safety. I had seen rugby games last year. I was asked my Ha'ano's team to be the team doctor - I was the only one on the island with bandaids. The games were brutal. I would hear crunching bones upon collision, channel my mother, and whisper to myself, "That is so dangerous." So when Teisa, a woman from Tonga Red Cross, asked for my help with first aid, I thought it would be a worthwhile endeavor.

Armed with gauze, medical tape, bags of ice, and nothing more, we went to the rugby field to watch the four games of the day. Soon after the first game started, there was a hit, and a player was on the ground. I was on the edge of my seat. "Do we run in now, Teisa?" She told me to wait. Sure enough a few moments later he was up and back to playing. The same thing happened again. And again. I quickly took this lingering on the ground as if near death to be a ploy to rest.

About 15 minutes into the first half, whenever anyone stayed down for a minute, the rest of the team collapsed on the ground too, calling for water from the sidelines. Young eager boys would dash onto the field to revive the enervated players, who would then struggle to their feet. Yet, rather than tag out for one of the substitutes waiting on the sidelines, they would stay in the game. What sacrifice they make! These youth can hardly stand on their own feet they are so exhausted, but they stay in the game for their team!

The couple of times I did run onto the field for players who took longer than the standard rest period, it was for players who were lying, disoriented after a hit. All my past medical training tells me to not move someone who has been smacked by 3 or so rugby players and can't sit up on his own, yet, when I tell his teammates to stop jiggling his legs in an effort to awaken him, I'm ignored. So what is the point of the Red Cross being there?

Perhaps it's to give the audience something to talk about: a palangi or "foreigner". "Ooh, look at the palangi go onto the field!" "Hey, stay down, and the palangi will come help!"

Or maybe it's to give some honor to the league. "Professional First Aid from the U.S. Peace Corps."

To be sure, had something really gone wrong, it's probably better to have Red Cross there than just anyone. (Though the one island group's doctor was a coach of a team, so he was there too...)

I don't know what my real role was there. But, like so many Tongan events I don't understand, I got a costume and some food: a neon Tonga Red Cross vest and a plate of cookies. Gosh, I hope that's how they run the World Cup.

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