Peace Corps Videos

Monday, November 19, 2007

Aho Fakatonga (“Like a Tonga Day)

While much of our training to become Peace Corps volunteers has focused on the language, a good part of our education has also focused on culture. We are constantly reminded how important it is to not only be able to speak to the people here in their native tongue but also understand the Tongan culture. For the past few weeks we have been preparing for what the Peace Corps calls “Fakatonga Days” or “Aho Fakatonga”. It’s a chance for us to thank our host families and villages and to also show off some of what we have learned.

There are three villages with 11 trainees each here in Vava’u. Each village had to do a skit, learn a Tonga Dance and prepare handicrafts and food the Tongan way. The handicrafts from our village included mats, brooms, kava cups made from coconuts, baskets, hats, etc. We also had a wide assortment of food. I made Ota Ika, which is raw fish, but my homestay mother did most of the work. About all I did was stir in the peppers.

Rugby is very big in Tonga and when we first arrived here there were signs everywhere supporting the Tongan National Rugby team who had a great season this past year. We decided to do a rugby skit. There is a cheer that the players say before each game and we customized it to our village.

The men all dressed up in rugby clothes and ran into the room with the women cheering. However, we made a big culture blunder when we entered the room. On the stage was the principal of a local school and the head of the Peace Corps business program. All of our families were in the rear of the room behind us. We turned to do the cheer to our homestay families and friends, turning our back on the two people on the stage. Our language teacher came running out, made us turn around and perform the cheer with our backs to the audience and facing the two men on the stage. They were the “ranking” people in the room and it was considered rude to turn our backs to them. The other groups learned from our mistakes, lining up in a straight line so both could see, however, everyone played to the men on the stage.
We all knew that this was part of Tongan culture before we entered the room as we have heard about the importance of rank many times. I’m sure it won’t be the last mistake we make either.
For our dance we did a very special dance that was written for a women here in Ta’anea when she was a little girl. The woman also happens to be the sister of my homestay father. She spent many hours teaching the women how to do the dance and the women of the village went all out preparing the women’s costumes.
The song and the dance are really very beautiful. We are supposed to get a video of the performance. When we get it, I’ll see if I can figure out how to upload a portion of it.

Our village went for the more traditional dance and skit but we were certainly upstaged by another village of trainees who dressed up as fakaleitis. A fakaleitis is a man who is raised as a women and who dresses in women’s clothes. It is not uncommon to see fakaleitis working in restaurants or walking around town. Historically, when a family did not have any girls in the family, they selected one of the boys to do women’s work. The tradition continues today. However, none of the fakaleitis I’ve seen here in Tonga look anything like the men from our training group who tried to imitate them.

They got lots of laughs from the crowd and a lot of good-natured ribbing from the other trainees.

After all the performances, we went to another hall for a traditional Tongan feast. There were hundreds of people there and I bet less than 25% of the food on the tables was consumed. The tables were so full of food, we had to put our plates in our laps to eat. However, I don’t want to give the impression that no food was consumed because massive amounts were eaten, but there were a lot of leftovers as is traditional in Tonga. No one ever goes hungry here.

***Other News***

Friday I had a few free minutes and went to the Tonga Development Bank to meet the branch manager, who will be my supervisor for the next two years. We had a nice chat and exchanged phone numbers.
I’ll be training for about three months in Tongatapu and then moving here full-time probably around mid to late March. I do not know where I will be living yet either here or on Tongatapu during my training
I had my first language exam on Friday. I scored Novice High. I spoke with the woman who gave me the test afterwards and she told me that I was ALMOST Intermediate low, but that I didn’t use enough conjunctions in my sentences and I had messed up making things negative. I’m still hopeful that I’ll make it to Intermediate Middle before December 12th when we are sworn in as volunteers. It will be a challenge though as we have only one hour of language daily at 7pm for the next two weeks. The education volunteers are in model school and those of us in business are doing a workshop for business owners here in Vava’u. I’m trying to force myself to use as much Tongan as I can, but will miss the daily language classes. I did have a great experience Friday. It will sound simple but it was a great accomplishment. I needed a tube of toothpaste and went into a store and saw a tube behind the counter. I was able to tell the woman what I wanted, ask how much and pay her without ever uttering a single word of English and she never said any English either.

Finally my host family gave me an awesome surprise Friday night. I came how to find a REAL Pizza with Lobster and Fish on it and REAL cheese. It’s the first time I’ve had Pizza since leaving the United States. It was great.

***Notes***

I’ve added a book list to my blog showing the books I’ve read. I’ve only been able to complete two so far but hope to do some more reading once we finish training. (They have a nice little library here and there is a coffee shop with a book exchange as well.) If you haven’t read Absolution by Miriam Herin, pick up a copy. It’s a great story.

I finally got Mail on Friday. Thanks Mom and Dad for the care package and the awesome Chocolate chip cookies. They arrived in great shape. Also, I got two cards which were much appreciated.

1 comments:

  1. Excellent memories you have conjured up of my experience training as well. I still make 'ota ika at home. See you soon when the documentary production comes to your village.
    Brian

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