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Friday, January 25, 2008

Privacy Tongan Style

I remember at a very young age learning that there are just some things you don't discuss in the USA. Things like age, income and religion. If you are an American who avoids those topics, then you will be in for a big surprise in Tonga.

There really is no such things as privacy here. Tongans will talk about almost anything and most of what they do is readily visible to everyone else. Here are some examples which may surprise you.
  • Each year, the churches in Tonga have a fundraiser. This is the primary way that the church supports itself. During the fundraiser, the church announces to the entire congregation how much money each family has donated down to the penny. A family will often hit up relatives overseas to help them come up with big donations so they are not embarrassed at the Church fundraiser.
  • Each year, Tonga National Radio broadcasts senior exam results of students who pass. If you fail the test, your name is not read. Everyone in the country knows if you are a good student or not.
  • Age is not considered private. Tongans will ask your age and marital status all the time. In fact, during our training, we were taught that we should introduce ourselves by telling everyone how old we are and whether or not we are married. This is especially true when addressing a group. It is not rude to ask someone how old they are.
  • At the bank where I work, I am sitting at the desk of someone who is on leave. Posted on the wall for anyone to see are the amounts that each of the Bank Directors and Managers receive for Utilities, Housing and Entertainment.
  • Each day the bank mails out a mass e-mail to everyone in the bank that says who is sick, who is on vacation, who is attending workshops and lists anyone who was late to work that day and whether they called in or did not call in to say they would be late. It also lists the names of people who are returning to duty after being sick and in some cases what sickness they had.
  • Medical Information is freely discussed. If you are "puke" or "sick", expect to explain in detail exactly what was wrong and be prepared to hear details of anyone who is sick no matter the issue may be.
  • A co-worker at the bank interviewed this week for another job. Everyone from the head of the department to his immediate supervisor knew about the interview including how much money he would make if he got the new job.
  • And finally, this one might fall into the "Too Much Information" category, but in many bars and restaurants, they do not have urinals in the men's room. It is usually just a troth. If you are using the bathroom, Tongans will walk right up, stand directly next to you and then start carrying on a conversation often looking right at you as they talk.
***Other News***
We said our good-byes to Jason Schneider this week, who was medically separated because of an injury to his shoulder. He is the first person from my training group to leave. Jason is probably freezing back in Michigan by now. We went out last week to a local ice cream shop and ordered the special, which is one scoop of every flavor they offer. His fellow volunteers from 'Eua took the boat to Tongatapu and joined us in eating every bite.


Then on Jason's last night, almost all of the Tongatapu volunteers showed up for a farewell dinner to see him off. Best of luck Jason. We miss you and hope you get better soon and can come rejoin us.
***Notes***
I have heard from several volunteers now that it is really possible to call here for just 10 cents a minute using the phone card at this link:


I was a bit concerned it might be a scam, but apparently it does work even though I have no personal experience with it. It only works from the USA but this is a lot cheaper than what we have to pay to call the USA and what anyone in the USA pays to call us. Every volunteer in my group now has a cell phone and there is no charge for incoming calls, so if you get a minute, I'm sure any of us would love to hear from you. (And if you try this and have a problem, please let me know so I can pass it along as well.)

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