Monday, August 10, 2009

Tragedy in Tonga

As many of you have already heard, a ferry traveling to Vava'u capsized and sank last week. Last I heard, 96 people are still missing, assumed dead. There were no Peace Corps Volunteers on the boat, nor was there anyone I knew personally, however Tongans have so many relatives and are so interconnected that everone seems to have known or been related to someone on the boat. It's very tragic, but somehow I feel like no one is very surprised by it. I have heard many things, including that this is not the first, or even the second boat to go down in that area. It was reported that the boat was not deemed seaworthy by safety officials, but put into use anyway. It was also reported that the King left for a vacation the day after it happened and has not yet released a statement about it. I know that Tongans are very upset with the King and the government and the way this is being handled and the fact that it happened in the first place. It is illegal to speak or print publicly anything criticizing the King or the government, and it is something that is just never done, but since this has happened, I have heard a lot of negative things coming from Tongans which is interesting. Anyway, just a little insight as to how Tongans are handling the situation here. Keep them in your thoughts and prayers.

"It's Tonga" Moments:

- I wanted to buy milk from the agricultural farm/college across from my village, but I can never seem to catch the milk truck as it goes out in the morning. My theory is that this is because it never goes out at the same time every morning. In pre-service training we are taught to vary our routines every so often so as to be "unpredictable", and someone must also have told this to the guys at the agricultural college because they follow this advice strictly, much to my frustration. Or they just go out whenever they wake up. But my guess is the former. I digress. So I can never catch the milk truck as it goes out, so I gave my class 5/6 students a few bucks and my pot for the milk and asked THEM to try and catch the milk truck as it went out. (Tongans just seem to instinctively know these things- when the milk truck will go out, when church will start, when the boat will leave/come in-whereas I have been programmed to assume that they happen on a schedule, which I think is my downfall, I have to let go of that idea, get past that mental block.) Anyway, sure enough, my kids show up on my doorstep the next morning with a pot full of milk.
"So when did the truck go out this morning?" I ask the kids.
"It didn't, Sameu didn't wake up this morning to deliver the milk, so we just went and milked a cow." One boy said, like it was the most normal thing in the world.
"Really? Huh. Thanks. Now come wash your hands."

-I went to Tongatapu last week to see a doctor because I've been a little sick lately (fine now) and told my students that I would miss Friday because I would be in Tongatapu. Thursday evening, the entire class (8 students) showed up on my doorstep, telling me that they had decided to come have a prayer for me since I was going to Tongatapu. It was very sweet, they sang a hymn and had a group prayer for me.

-After the prayer they hung around and looked at my magazines that I had recently recieved in the mail. There were a few mountain bike magazines, an Alaska magazine, and a People magazine. One boy looking at the mountain biking magazine seemed to be deeply confused by something, so I asked him, "Lopeti, what's up?" He showed me the picture he was looking at of a guy hucking himself off a 15-ft. cliff on his mountain bike, where there was obviously a path down that didn't involve leaving the ground with the bike. He couldn't figure out why the guy didn't go around. I tried explaining that some people think it's fun to throw themselves off cliffs on their bikes, but that's a pretty tough concept to explain, and when I had finished, I could tell he still couldn't quite wrap his head around it. I like looking at situations like that, where I do something Tongans find extremely weird or don't understand or where they do something I find weird and don't understand, and thinking about what it says about our respective cultures that we come from and were raised in.

-On my way back from Tongatapu I took my usual place on top of the boat above the wheelhouse. Fifteen minutes into the three-hour boat ride it became clear that I would have to pack up and sit inside the boat. I usually sit on top for the freash air and the view, but it was extremely rough and I was soaked before we even left the protected cove of islands and made it into the open sea. So I go inside the boat and in the middle there's a whole bunch of Tongans sprawled out on mats sleeping. They are wearing black, so I assume they are either going to or coming from a funeral. That assumption was correct. In my defense, none of them looked particularly alive at any point on the trip, and I spent much of the boat ride hanging over the edge of the boat puking or sitting in my seat with head in my hands thinking about puking and not falling out of my seat. It wasn't until we made it to 'Eua and were getting off the boat and I saw a van, with all it's seats and the back hatch door removed, covered in woven mats but empty, that I realized that the (dead) body had been on the boat. And not just on the boat, but lying with the Tongans in the middle, not five feet from my seat. A large part of me is glad I didn't realize this before or during the boat ride, as that would have raised numerous concerns (mainly about how it (?) would stay in place, while I was having trouble holding onto my seat) and (if possible) more nausea.

I think have the coolest dog ever. He does this relly awesome trick and I didn't even have to teach him. I have lots of wild chickens and roosters in my yard (which is also the schoolyard). One day I was sitting in my open doorway reading a book when Tahi came up to me with something in his mouth, clearly pleased with himself. As he came closer I realized it was an egg. Fully intact. Since then he has been bringing me eggs a few times a week. He never breaks one. It sure beats silly dog tricks like rolling over!

But on a different note, Tahi ahs also been causing some headaches. Yesterday he chased and killed a neighbors chicken, which is a big faux pas around here. It could have been worse, it could have been one of their pigs (which he's gone after before, but enver killed), but still, I don't think they were pleased, not that they'd ever tell me if they were pissed off, but I could kinda tell. So Tahi bought himself a ticket to get snipped pronto, hopefully that will take care of the problem, because if not, we're in trouble...


Michele Hernandez said...

tell your friends and family we're sorry for them and hope they find peace (a Pulaar funeral saying).

we had problems at home with dogs killing chickens: just hold it in front of him and hit him--hard--when he tries to go for it. my dad also tied the killed chicken on the dog's neck for a day (really funny on a miniature weiner dog!) that seems to do it.

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