Monday, September 14, 2009

Live Music and Soccer

Lia getting down with the girls Dinner is served

Lopeti and Heather are still feeling each other out

Pita and Arisa dancing

Ashley getting down at the dance party Pita taking it away on the drums

Jordi, Lopeti and Siale

I'm skipping the "It's Tonga Moments" segment for this installment due to lack of good material. Sorry.

In other news, another couchsurfer came to 'Eua last week. His name is Jordi, he came from Spain and had been living in New Zealand for a year. I met him at the wharf and was (pleasantly) surprised to receive the greeting of a kiss on each cheek. Of course the wharf is a bustle of activity when a boat comes in, so everyone there saw and reported the "scandal" to their respective villages. I still get asked about my "moa" (boyfriend) walking down the road. There are three ways to respond to this, you can say, "What? I don't have any chickens" As the word for chicken is also "moa." Or you can say, "Which one?" which never gets old. The third option is to lie, deny, and counter-accuse. Someone told me this strategy during training, and I think it should be included in the formal training curriculum. Your relationship status here is always a hot topic of discussion, and usually comes up within five minutes of meeting someone new. They need to know if you have a Tongan boyfriend, want a Tongan boyfriend and if you will get married here in Tonga. After all, (according to Tongans) I'm getting pretty old not to be married yet. So when I am seen talking to (or REALLY risque- WALKING with!) someone of the opposite sex, I get harassed about it for weeks. I get asked how my boyfriend is by people I don't even know. Last week I went on an early morning jog with one of my neighbors and we came back into the village right as the morning church service let out. That was a pretty awful walk of shame. The only thing worse would have been if it had been on Sunday, because then it would have been illegal too! My neighbor didn't seem to think it was a problem, and it is clear that that universal double standard exists here in Tonga too, where because he's a guy he'll get props from all the other guys about going on an early morning jog with me, whereas I will be seen as the village hussy. Part of me thinks it's crazy to be embarrassed about something as innocent as jogging with a friend, but I know how the people in my village see it and how they will report it to others. It's kind of a bummer about living here.

Back to Jordi. He seemed like a really neat guy and joined us for our weekly palangi tea meeting. He didn't seem too into hiking, which is about all there is to do on 'Eua, so I invited him and everyone else over to my house the following evening for dinner and soccer with my students. I've been playing soccer with class 5/6 in the afternoons before night school, and Jordi had mentioned that he's a soccer player so I thought it would be fun for him to get to hang out with Tongans and I knew my kids would be thrilled. The next afternoon I made a huge batch of tortillas, Ashley brought over some beans and fresh veggies, and we made chicken burritos. Heather brought homemade salsa, Arisa (a Japanese dive instructor living on the island) brought some homemade sushi, and Lia brought ice cream. Jordi and I got a big game of soccer going with the kids which was a lot of fun. When I play with them I usually don't enforce rules, but Jordi tried hard to teach them all the rules and how spreading out would be more effective than everyone chasing the ball. After a while I think he realized that his attempts were futile.

After soccer he spotted my guitar in my house and asked if he could play a little. I gladly let him have a play on the guitar, which before long turned into a big outdoor concert, complete with barefoot dancing and some of my boys breaking the sticks that make my fence to use as drumsticks. My fence suffered, but it was well worth it. Jordi is an extremely talented musician, singing songs in both English and Spanish. The kids were ecstatic, and they are still talking about Jordi, asking when he will return and where Spain is. It was one of the more fun nights we've had here in 'Eua.

There's a boy in class 5, his name is Sunia, and I adore him. He is the smallest kid in the class, and just a genuinely sweet kid. I've talked quite a bit before about the teachers hitting the kids in class, but one thing I may not have mentioned is that the kids also hit each other a LOT, and this is perfectly acceptable during class, playtime, and whenever. It seems like after kids reach the point where they're kids and not babies anymore, they're pretty much raised by the older kids in the village and their siblings. These older kids discipline the younger ones by hitting them, because that's exactly how they were raised. When a kid is not paying attention in class, the teacher tends to ignore it to a certain extent and the kid will get smacked upside the head by another kid for not paying attention. One interesting thing is that this never escalates into a fight, and the kids don't get mad or hurt very often from being hit by one of their classmates. Anyway, the point is the kids hit each other quite a lot here, and I don't like it much. I tell them that when I am teaching their class, I don't want them to hit each other. Unfortunately it is pretty much instinctual by now for them to hit each other, so they slip up quite often. When they do, I ask them to apologize to their friend which they always do. Well, one day I was playing soccer with the kids before night school, and Sunia jumps over my fence. As he's doing this his tupenu (man skirt) flies open briefly. No one saw anything, but another student, Pita begins to give him a hard time about it. pita is the biggest kid in the class, and I wouldn't call him a bully, but he does have a tendency to give other kids a hard time sometimes. Pita continues on teasing Sunia, and I watch as Sunia walks over to Pita, gives me an apologetic glance, then says, "Sorry, Pita." And just DECKS him. I tried hard not to laugh, Pita had it coming, and Sunia didn't hurt him. When I composed myself, I thanked Sunia for apologizing to Pita, but told him that usually apologies come AFTER you do something wrong and not before, and that maybe you're not REALLY sorry if you apologize then decide to do it anyway.

One of the things I've noticed here as my grip on the Tongan language has gotten better is that sometimes it is difficult to express yourself in Tongan due to a lack of adjectives that can describe how you feel. I was listening to the radio with a my neighbor yesterday, and we couldn't find a station that was playing music, they were all just talking. I go, "Well, that's annoying." Then I try to think of what annoying is in Tongan, and my neighbor doesn't know, so I look it up in my dictionary. It's not there, so I look up irritate, which is in the dictionary, but the Tongan word for "irritate" is the same as the Tongan word for "mad." Huh, I tell my neighbor, well, no, I'm not mad exactly....that's not the right word for it. He tells me then I am either lotomamahi (sad) or faka'ita (like mad). Well, no, not exactly, I tell him.

This situation got me to thinking about how many ways there are to express discontent in English. You can be mad, but you can also be irritated, upset, annoyed, bothered, perturbed, and countless other adjectives that all mean something a bit different. In Tongan you are mad, sad, or like-mad. Another distinction that is seen as fairly important in English is the difference between "want" and "need." They mean two very different things to us, but in Tongan, the same word covers both- fiema'u. this can be really frustrating when you're trying to tell someone you NEED something, but you know it can be interpreted as you want that thing, or, the more likely scenario, you're trying to tell someone that you want to do something that is not a pressing need, but it will be attended to as a pressing need for you.

This lingual difference again got me thinking about what that says about our respective different cultures. In English, it is important for us to tell others how we feel in a very specific manner, but here in Tonga, personal feelings don't hold much value. Especially if that feeling is anger. The Tongan way of dealing with anger towards someone else is to do it very indirectly. Take the generic scenario of living with a roommate who is a sloppy. In America, we would tell that roommate, "Hey, slob, pick up after yourself." Well, in Tonga, that situation would be handled very differently. The offended party would tell the other roommates, the neighbors, the landlord, and the household pet about her irritation with the expectation that it would get back to the offending party, and it would, because talking and gossipping is a big part of the culture here (Gossipping tends to have a bad connotation to most westerners, but it is not seen as a bad thing here at all). Once the offending part heard that the roommate was upset with the mess, she would clean up, and not a word about it would ever be exchanged between the person that was upset and the sloppy roommate. Another thing I noticed right when I got to Tonga that Tongans start most of their sentences with "Mahalo pe," which means maybe. They usually use this when they are stating a personal opinion, which leaves room for everyone else in the discussion to respectfully disagree without causing confrontation. They also always pose suggestions as maybes, as in, "Maybe it's too sunny for you to walk to Mata'aho today."

This culture of indirectness can be frustrating at first, like when you hear through other people that the neighbor is upset with you because your dog has been chasing her pigs (purely hypothetical...i wish). Or like the time when I went to school thinking it had started an hour late and asked the principal why school had started late which was answered with a sincere and profuse apology from the principal, only to find out later that school had in fact started right on time, it was I who was an hour off.

So why all the indirectness and avoidance of confrontation? Well, Tonga is a really small country (~100,000 people) and most people live in small villages where all their neighbors are their relatives and lots of people live in each household. They can't afford to argue because it could tear a family, or even an entire village apart. The culture here is far more people-centered, and a high value is placed on interpersonal relationships, and Tongans take really good care of their relationships. So, while it can be frustrating, and sometimes seem unusual, there is a sort of virtue in being indirect, gossiping, beating around the bush and sometimes even lying.

1 comment:

Michele Hernandez said...

oh man!!! i think men are all the same: seem to think we're getting too old at 24 and NEED them to help us iwth our little "unmarried" problem.... its so funny! just like PC Africa!!