Ha’apai back to Tongatapu

It has actual been a month since I last emailed, although this is the premiere entry as a blog! No new pig killings or castrations to report about. Well that’s not really true, I’ve probably seen about ten now—baby pig stabbed in the neck while in a bag, another gunshot to the head, machete to the neck, the list is endless! But here are some other things that happened in Ha’apai.

I went to a strange fundraiser one night at the Wesleyan church hall, but they made $500 from one to two dollar donations so who am I to judge. In the bottom right corner were the men, drinking kava and smoking rolled cigarettes, using telephone phonebook pages as papers. In the bottom left corner were the speakers, and the rest of the hall was for dancing. One mother brought her son dressed fully in drag—not an actual fakalate, but apparently a popular fundraising technique. He had hair extensions, a bonnet, and a beautiful white dress, and his face was plastered with make-up only the finest drag queen could dream of. An older and biological woman had done her face similarly and, wearing only a mat, shook like no other. There was also a man dressed like a Palangi tourist who danced like a narcoleptic. And every other dance, I was dragged to the dance floor, where girls aged 3 to 30 fought over dancing with me, pushing each other out of the way and grabbing my wrist. It is strange to see a thirty year old get jealous of a three year old.

I went night spear fishing with my host dad, Kelepi, just as it became completely dark, which while lots of fun, was completely terrifying. Being with Kelepi helped me overcome my fear of sharks enough to stay in the water, but that doesn’t mean I wanted to wander far from him. We were in the middle of the ocean, both with a semi-waterproof flashlight to guide our way that illuminate about six feet in front of you, and who knows what lurks behind those six feet. I tried to stay right behind him thinking that the best way to avoid sharks, but once the fish are speared, he pierced them with another smaller spear tied to a rope which is in turn tied to an empty plastic bottle After piercing the stomach, he pulls the string through the body until it reaches the bottle, and that way all fish can be kept together floating on the surface and therefore not drag on the coral below. But it also meant the bottle with fish behind it was very close to Kelepi’s feet, which means I would swim into them if I swam close behind him. This might not sound like a problem except for two things: one, if sharks were around, the bleeding fish flesh floating near the surface would certainly be their first target, and two and far more imminent threat, most of the fish he was catching had poisonous spikes on their backs and stomachs that wouldn’t kill me, but would keep me hurting for at least a week. So I stayed to the side of him. Which of course resulted a number of times in me swimming individually into small groups of jellyfish that somehow Kelepi knew how to avoid. We caught twenty fish by the end. By which I mean he caught twenty fish. I got some flesh, but the actual fish got away.

There was a 6.8 earthquake in Ha’apai! I, of course, slept right through it. Did you know that there are thirty earthquakes a month in this area?

I tried horse a couple weeks ago. Didn’t say anything because didn’t want my mom to know, but I have to fess up. A woman died in Faleloa, and so they killed a horse. Really tough meat but a tad tasty cooked in coconut milk and onion. Just blocking pictures of Dixie and Esprit from my mind…

My host father, Kelepi, the bishop, talked me about in church every Sunday I was in Ha’apai. Here are a few of the lessons you could have learned about me from attending church:

-How hosts are supposed to take care of their guests, but that his wife, Una, failed because I got sick.

-My host father asked me one Sunday morning when I was drinking tea with the neighbors if I was going to church and I said yes but later, which in Tonga means you are not coming, but I came, and he was surprised to see me and said so in Church—a lesson about keeping your word in Tonga versus the US.

-My pathetic skills at spear fishing—a lesson that you must practice and fail in order to become good at something.

(The rest are kind of boring. But then again, it is church.)

I have now left Ha’apai! We had a good-bye feast with, you guessed it: roasted pig, fish and root crops. My host mom cried when I left. But now I am in Nuku’alofa, the capital of Tonga, a true metropolis with two story buildings and more than two cars on the road, more than one restaurant, and even palangis I don’t already know. 20,000 people in the city—it’s huge. I finished training and swore in on Wednesday so I am now an official volunteer, and now I am living in my own house with my new dog Uli. Uli is the Tongan word for dirty, and Kuli means dog, so you can call him Uli Kuli, meaning dirty dog! Lots of fun words you can make with uli: fakauli means to “make dirty” or “to drive,” and fieuli means “want dirty” or “horny.” More language lessons coming soon! I have to keep track of my dog though, because Tongans find dog to be delicious meat, and while I did end up trying horse, dog is not so acceptable for me, and especially my dog! Someone already mentioned that I’m fattening him up, and they certainly were not implying he was looking cuter. People best not touch my dog, but alas, many a volunteer have lost theirs to such a fate so I have to be vigilant!

The only story I have so far is the club I went to on Friday with a bunch of PCVs. FULL of fakalates, the third gender. A quick explanation of fakalates: traditionally, if a parent did not have a female child, he or she would make one son a fakalate and he would do the strictly prescribed female chores. It has become the culturally accepted version of being gay, and is usually chosen by the child now, but is not considered in Tonga as the equivalent of being gay. You are not even gay if you are a man and have sex with a fakalate. It is a third gender—men who choose to fill a woman’s role. But anyway, fakalates at the club are quite amusing because these are large Polynesians dressed as woman. Some are easily mistakable as women just as some of the more masculine woman can easily be mistaken as fakalates, but most fakalates are incredibly obese and built like rugby players, but dressed in mini skirts. The most popular is a seven footer name Mangina (I’m not even kidding) with a nice bob haircut and a miniskirt. A few did not take the time to shave, but still wore wonderful skirts or dresses. The club was full of fakalates, a great safe environment for all genders to express themselves, although I’m pretty sure one of the male peace corps volunteers got confused in talking to what he thought was a lovely biological young lady.

Otherwise, it’s just been training, going to the beach, and moving in. Glad to actually be a volunteer now.


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