Okay, the dance. Nothing like any dance I've ever been to in America. The dances are held at the Mormon church on the basketball court around back. People who are not a member of the Mormon church aren't allowed to come into the dance, but they sit outside the fence and watch; the whole village turns out for a dance, whether they're allowed to come in or not. The basketball court is enclosed by a few rows of folding chairs, and between each song everyone clears the dance floor and finds a chair to sit in. Now to the good stuff. When a guy asks you to dance, he'll walk over to where you're sitting, stand in front of you and nod his head. Then he'll turn and walk out onto the dance floor. When you dance with him, you stand a good two feet apart, and he won't look at you. There is no eye contact, and it's way too loud to try to talk. When you dance, you just kind of rock back and forth, there is never any hip action going on at all. As soon as the song ends he thanks you and you both go back to your seats, where inevitably another guy will come and nod his head to dance with you. OH! The best part? Most of the music played is American hip-hop. Completely vulgar stuff, some of it. I'm not sure they quite understand the meaning behind some of the music they play... It was a lot of fun though, and I'm sure I'll be going to quite a few more dances while I'm here.
My homestay sister Sepi has acquired a taste for some of the music on my iPod as well. Her favorites? Shakira, Gloria Estefan, and My Chemical Romance. Very ecclectic, I love it. I am not allowed to walk alone here, so whenever I walk anywhere, she usually goes with me. This has turned out to be really great for me, because whenever anyone calls out to me or stops to talk to me on the street in Tongan, she stands next to me and feeds me all my lines in a whisper. Haha, I usually have no idea what she's telling me to say, but I'm beginning to figure out that she's very protective and doesn't like boys talking to me, so I'm not sure I've always been too friendly with the boys around here. But I always smile, and they usually laugh. Tongans love to laugh, and they are always joking, so if you laugh with them you're pretty much okay in their book.
It's funny for me to think about how much I've changed already in the past three weeks. Not fundamentally, just my perceptions and habits. One of my great pleasures here in Tonga is a cold shower in the middle of the afternoon. Back in the states, I probably wouldn't even consider taking a cold shower; if we didn't have hot water, I'd wait until we did to take a shower. I haven't taken a hot shower since I got here. I get really happy when I hear a lizard chirp in my room at night, because that means I don't have to worry about the other bugs that night. When I come to town, I usually stop at the store and buy an Otter Pop for 15 cents, and that pretty much makes me really happy for the entire day. Yesterday I used a little more conditioner than usual, and I thought to myself, "Whoa, I'm splurging!...Wait, did I really just think that? Yeah, I did." Also, something I would never do in America: I often have to pick bugs out of my food before I eat it. It's pretty unavoidable. On that note, I was really sick for the first time since being here last week. It was a stomach thing, and it only lasted 24 hours, but it was not pleasant.
I entertained the idea of outlining a typical day in Tonga for me, but as I thought about it, I realized that there really isn't a typical day, each one has been pretty unique. We usually start each day with language class, where we all meet (there are five of us in my language group) in a little open-air shelter down by the water. This lasts until about noon. Usually at ten or ten thirty, we take a tea break where we drink tea and eat mangos that we pick from the mango tree in the yard. The afternoon is filled with some type of training, either culture, safety, health, or technical. Sometimes we travel to another village for this training, usually taking a vehicle or bus that operates on a little cultural phenomena they have here called Taime Tonga, or Tonga Time. All that really means is that if it is supposed to come at 1:15, you can usually expect it between 1:00 and 2:15.
Yesterday afternoon we had a special training session called "coconut survival." We all headed out to the bush and learned how to husk coconuts to drink their milk and eat the meat, start a fire without matches, and weave baskets from coconut leaves. Some of the guys attempted to climb the coconut trees, without much luck. Then a little Tongan boy (he was seven years old) scrambled up the tree like it was nothing, holding a machete in his mouth. Pretty soon he was hacking away at the tree and coconuts were falling out of the sky. Hopefully I will be able to post some pictures soon, it was a pretty neat day.
Tonight should be another exciting and new night. My village is having a kalapu, which is a kava fundraiser that we are putting on to benefit the local elementary school. I will be tou'a-ing, which means I will be serving the kava to the men. (Traditionally women aren't a part of kava drinking except to serve the kava) As a tou'a, I will be responisble for making sure everyone's cup is full, as well as fending off unwanted attention from guys on a mild narcotic in a language I don't understand. One of our language teachers will be performing a traditional Tongan dance, which entails dressing up in traditional dance attire (one of the few times it is appropriate to show your shoulders in this culture; although still not your knees) and drenching your legs and shoulders in coconut oil. As you dance, people will come up and slap money onto you, which sticks because of all the cocnut oil. Tradition goes that if the money sticks to your legs, you are a virgin. Draw your own conclusions...Anyway, it should be a very interesting night, and I will hopefully be able to post some pictures of it next time I come to town!