Peace Corps Videos

Monday, November 05, 2007

Tonga Prices

It’s not uncommon to discover that residents in many resort destinations get a better price than what the tourists pay. When I lived in Hawaii, KamaI’na prices (local prices) were published just about everywhere. You could stay at a huge resort for a lot less than a tourist, rent a car for less and even fly for less. In Florida, the practice is not as widespread, but you can still get a lower price to the amusement parks and certain other places. In both Hawaii and Florida, the key word is “published prices”. The difference here in Vava’u is that the local prices are widely available but you won’t see them posted anywhere. Friday I went to an Internet café on the water. This place obviously caters to the “yatchies” who dock their boats just outside in the inlet. There is a sign posted that says Internet Access is TOP$ 7.00 per hour. (That’s just less than four US Dollars) I spent an hour online and when I was finished, I told the woman, in Tongan, that I was finished. After her obvious surprise at hearing me speak in Tongan, she charged me $4.00 for the hour.

I then joined several of my fellow trainees for dinner at a local restaurant. The owner assured us that she considered us locals and she would always give us the local prices. What are those prices? You have to ask because they are not posted. Other trainees have found T-shirt shops that offer local prices. It’s actually pretty smart business because the locals would never be able to afford to eat or shop in these places and the concept certainly fits with the Tongan culture of helping out each other. Even for me, the dinner and beer were big splurges. The Peace Corps expects us to live at the same level as the locals and tapping into our money at home is strongly discouraged. To put it in perspective, as a Peace Corps trainee, I’m given an allowance of TOP$8.00 a day. One beer cost me 7.50. In other words, I spent almost an entire days wage just to drink a beer. Of course if you convert it to US Dollars and think what a beer costs in a waterfront restaurant in South Florida, it’s a deal. And here’s another funny twist to the story. When I walked in, the owner said “Hi Steve”. I’ve stopped wondering how she or anyone else knows my name. It’s very friendly, but also a reminder that you are always being watched and if you do something inappropriate, it will get talked about.

The culture toward palangis (Foreigners or White People) is different here than it was in Fu’amoto, our last village. Fu’amoto never gets tourists unless they get lost. While it is close to the International Airport, you wouldn’t drive through town and there are no businesses that cater to tourists. The people here in Vava’u see tourists all the time. Unfortunately it is not always in a good way. Twice, we’ve had tourists riding All-Terrain Vehicles through the middle of town at high rates of speed. The ATV’s are loud and the tourists riding them don’t seem to care about all the kids and people who are in the street. Vava’u also attracts people with higher incomes. Many are here to either rent yachts or to sail their own yachts. They have lots of money and I think that many palangis including those in the Peace Corps are grouped in with these tourists. It would not be hard for someone to spend more money on a week’s vacation than an entire Tongan family would make in a year.

The other side of this is that unlike Fu’amoto, you can escape here and live like an American for a night. A big group got together Friday night to celebrate the birthdays of two of our fellow trainees. Saturday, we quickly learned how fast the coconut wireless can work. And we also learned it’s not always accurate. There was a rumor going around that one of our female trainees had gotten drunk in town. The only problem is that the woman mentioned never went to town and was in the village all night. In the Tongan culture, woman are not supposed to get drunk or be seen hanging out with men. For the most part, women do things together and men do things together. Even married couples go their separate ways in public. At church here in Vava’u, the men and the women do not sit together. Knowing that, you can understand why this woman was upset about her reputation in the village. Our language teacher told her not to worry about it as there wouldn’t be a way to fix it anyway.

I spent most of the past weekend studying for our first language test which is on October 16th. It will let the Peace Corps know how we are doing and where we need help before we take our final test prior to being sworn in as a volunteer. There are three levels, novice, intermediate and advanced. My teacher tells me that she believes I’m past the novice level, but she is not the person who will be giving me the test. To become a volunteer, I need to be at intermediate middle level. As far as I can tell, the differences between the two have to do with the complexity of the answers. At novice you can say “I’m going to town”. At Intermediate, you can say you are going to town, what you will do there, what time you are going, how you are getting there, who you are going with and when you will be back. I can almost do that, but I do it very slowly. I feel pretty good about sentence structure but still need to learn a lot more nouns and verbs. I have a lot more confidence in my ability to speak Tongan now and believe I will make it to the required level.

I want to show off my host family here in the village of Ta’anea. That’s me in the bare feet.



I’m living with a retired minister named Siaosi, his wife, Tilisa and their daughter Diana. They have two other children who live in New Zealand and Australia.

I’ve also uploaded some photos of our night on the town where several of my fellow trainees decided to try out the Karaoke.

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