Arriving at the new decade

Every conversation I have with someone in my community, after formal introductions, begins with, “Osi mali?” “Are you already married?”

“No, no I’m not,” I reply.

“You will marry here,” they tell me assuredly, and then point out every girl who will be my future wife, which becomes every girl that walks by. “She is single,” and they point to a girl who may not have even reached secondary school.

If they are married, the conversation proceeds to “What church are you part of?” and if they are not married, they ask to be set up with a Palangi girl, assuming I’m the world’s best pimp.

This is my purpose for the month of free time between swearing in as Peace Corps and starting work: meeting people and becoming a part of my community. I have done so by going to church on Sunday, including the Sunday Kava before church where all the important men in town hang out before service. I have gone to Kava with the brother of a man who died recently, where I met most of the men my age and was given a lot of free bread and raw meat. I was woken up at 7 am by my neighbor, the band teacher, and told to come march with the marching band through the capital, a surreal experience being the sole Palangi bridging the predominantly male band with the five female netball teams marching behind me. And I went to an amazing Christmas Concert run by my school at the King’s church, with a full chorus, band and drum-line. But most community integration occurs walking down the street with conversations proceeding like the aforementioned one.

Which is why I have joined a youth group called “On the Spot.” Started by the Fefita family, it is the first youth group in Tonga founded as an arts initiative. Youth groups in Tonga consist of pretty much any age as long as the participants are not married, so people are anywhere between 13 and 33. In “On the Spot,” girls and boys converse and joke around without dating and marriage being presumed. It’s revolutionary! Granted the Fefitas are only half Tongan, and half New Zealander. They are also all in ridiculous shape due to these incredible workouts they run three times a week. I guarantee I will have a six-pack by the time I leave Tonga.

Besides the meet and greets and going to the youth group, I have also biked to the beach. The one beach I have pictured is called Secret Cove, and it is worth coming to the Pacific to see. Take a right after the kings house, bike until the end of the road, take a left and then turn right at the big mango tree and you can’t miss it! It is a circle of rock surrounding a sandy beach leading to a pool surrounded by a wall of lava coral that the waves strike against. The pool fills up like a bathtub at high tide making it swimmable, but is walkable during low tide, and every time the waves hit, they fill the blowholes making them spurt like geysers, and are quite fun to attempt to stand above. There are even bigger holes that fill and empty with every wave, hissing as they empty like a ghost or a kettle. The pictures do not do justice—it is simply gorgeous.

Went to a Christmas Eve potluck with a Peace Corps Volunteers, Aussie Aid, Japanese Volunteers and Tongans, and watched movies with some fellow volunteers all Christmas Day. For New Years, we went camping at a beautiful beach on the east side of Tongatapu. People from the youth group made a roaring fire as the sun went down for the final time in 2009, and we roasted hot dogs on whittled palm tree sticks. Once it was completely dark, the Fefitas brought out kerosene and started doing fire tricks with balls dipped in the kerosene at the end of strings. The youngest at 13 years old to the oldest at 26, were carving incredible patterns in the sky with fire, once even standing on each other’s shoulders and simultaneously doing tricks. And even that wasn’t enough for Ivane who had to then blow fireballs from his mouth, including while burying himself in the ocean. We set off fireworks and firecrackers as the first watch hit midnight, and did the same when the second watch hit midnight, but kind of cool knowing for an hour that we were the only time zone in the new decade. I feel asleep at 2:30 after a brief dance party, but woke myself at 5 am to see the first sunset of 2010, which was amazingly mirrored in the sky by the setting of a full moon. And then I went back to sleep in my tent.

Now “uike lotu” commences, or the week of prayer, where people go to church twice a day, every day, for the entire week. Now the question is, do I have to go every day as part of my community integration? And I discovered that the tiny bugs running across my table where my computer sat were termites, and that the table was completely infested with them. I finally conceded to a little poisonous spraying, something I tried so hard to avoid but I guess there was a reason I was the only volunteer I know of not to have used chemicals yet. Anyway, Happy Holidays!


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