When it comes to getting rid of two years of accumulated belongings, there are several PCV examples to follow. Some PCVs decide to give everything to just one local friend and let them redistribute as desired (or not distribute anything and keep it all). Some leave everything inside the house for the next PCV to take over. Some slowly acquire other PCVs’ belongings to sell to new incoming Volunteers. One in Africa, that I learned of from my dad, invited community members to come to her house at X time to claim what they’d like. (I think it turned out to be a madhouse. She said they even took the coffee cup that she was using; I could have seen that coming.)
I will take the “try to divvy things up among families” approach. There are certainly some families who have helped me more than others throughout the two years. I’m closer to some people than others – that’s just inevitable. So as I looked at my belongings and the three Big Ticket Items – the stove/oven combo, the dorm-sized fridge, and the washing machine – I tried to think of how I can thank those who have helped me by giving them one of these more expensive items if they don’t already have them.
There were really four households that I was particularly close with, but two of them already had a stove/oven, fridge (or better, a deep freezer), and washing machine. One house is only an unmarried man now that his sister, her adopted kids, and his mom moved to the main island. Living alone he hardly keeps house and doesn’t need any of these things – or at least he would never use them.
That left one family. It’s a couple whose kids have married and moved away, and they’re perhaps the nicest people in my village. Since they don’t have any of these things, I thought how great that I could show them my appreciation by giving them a couple of things. Sione, the man, fishes, so I asked if he would like the little fridge to keep the fish cold. And for Loutoa, I thought she could use the washing machine instead of scrubbing by hand.
Great, they were so happy to hear that I wanted to give them those things, and, true to Tongan form, they’re giving me a gift to thank me for giving them this gift.
That left the stove. There were very few families that didn’t have a stove. One is the family that spends half their time here in Ha’ano and half the time in another island group. Or the family where people in town say the husband and wife are splitting up, and the wife is moving away, so where would the stove go? Or the family that I don’t really know as well that lives in the village (read: little community of 5 houses) nearby.
Considering the family in the other village, I thought about how, the day I was loading my belongings off the inter-island ferry, the wife was there asking what I’ll do with my things when I leave. Oh, brother.
Perhaps I could have looked around more, but I was sick of everyone asking what I was doing with every belonging, I just wanted to know who was getting what. Enough of this casual stroll over to my house to peek in and see if this article was claimed by anyone yet. Enough of the people talking, when I’m right in the room, about who is getting what of mine.
I decided to give the stove to Tanita’s family, the one in the other village.
I thought of how they have five kids and that’s a lot of cooking on an open fire. And I thought of how nice they were when I first got here. When I got locked out of my house on day 1, Tanita came with a hammer to help me break in the house. (And, we’ll remember, she also gave me a raw fish to eat. I felt like Gollum.) And the dad always helps when the electricity is out in my house, and I love the kids, and so on and so on. So I just said, “I’ll give it to them, and that’s that. No more village talk.”
If living in a Tongan town for two years has taught me anything, it’s that you can never stem the gossip; you can only change the focus. After giving Tanita claims to the stove for after I left, I heard new talk around town.
No longer were they rumoring about who I would give what to, I heard through the “coconut wireless” (we don’t have “grapevines” in Tonga) that at least one person was saying I was being biased about who was getting what. Let’s get some things straight, Ha’ano people who will never read this blog:
1. Of course I’m biased! There are definitely some people who helped me more than others through my service, so I’d want to support them and their families, just like they helped me.
2. I’m specifically trying to share my things around town to give many families something to help them rather than just giving it all to a couple of people.
3. It’s my stuff, so I can do what I want with it. So meh.
To be fair, that was through at least a second-hand source, and gossip can get distorted beyond recognition here. Also, the woman who mentioned that tidbit defended me saying, “If you give anything to anyone, they should just say ‘thank you’ and that’s it.”
By the time I post this, I’ll have already given away everything down to the extra batteries and deodorants and left Ha’ano. Perhaps some people will be disappointed with the bundle their family received, but I already gave you two years of work, and that wasn’t enough?
Update: Gave things away. I gave bundles of things to about a dozen families around town. The things I was happiest to give away were the toys, puzzles, and dress up the kids played with every day at my house. The kids having something fun to do makes me not care about the gossip. Sorry, parents, if you didn’t get that floor mat you were eyeing – but your kids got toy cars and a shapes game!