Peace Corps Videos

Friday, January 23, 2009

This is Tonga

There is a new volunteer here in Tonga named Peter.  He's a retired airline pilot and lives on the main island of Tongatapu.   When something happens that defies logic or that seems strange compared to the USA,  Peter simply explains it by saying "This is Tonga". 

So in honor of Peter, I thought I would share a couple of "This is Tonga" moments that have happened to me during the past week.

My first "This is Tonga" tale is set at a local Indian restaurant.  It's a new place and small.   I went there for dinner with about 12 other volunteers.  We were the only customers.  I think we all ordered curry, most of us asked for fish curry, but there were a few orders of vegetable curry and an order of chicken curry.  

After about 20 minutes, the first two plates came out.   20 minutes later, another plate came out and then about 15 minutes later two more plates came out.  We realized that we were getting our dinners in the order that they were placed.   And it was pretty obvious that each plate was being cooked one at a time.  Now, since there were probably 7 or 8 orders just for fish curry you would think they would cook all of those together, but that didn't happen.   Just under three hours after we entered the restaurant, the last two volunteers go their food.    And we were still the only customers.  Why did each plate of food gets cooked individually instead of together?   "This is Tonga".

The second "This is Tonga" story is from the same night.   The restaurant doesn't serve beer and after several  of us had finished our dinners and everyone else was still waiting, we went out to a corner store to buy a few beers.   It was raining really hard and the store is about a block away from the restaurant.   As we were walking back, we stopped under a small roof that was outside another restaurant and we started drinking our beers.   Yes, we were standing on the street with open containers in the middle of town drinking beer.   Not only that, we were loitering outside another restaurant that we weren't patronizing.  In the USA, several things would have happened.  The cops might have been called or the restaurant owners might have chased us away.   Neither of those things happened.  Instead, the women in the restaurant, grabbed chairs from inside and brought them outside to us so we had a place to sit.   "This is Tonga".

Peace Corps requires that each volunteer have a physical at the mid-point of their service.  I arrived at the clinic and waited about 90 minutes before the nurse called me.   As I'm waiting in the exam room, I hear the doctor saying he wants to re-test the last two patients who had their blood sugar checked because he thinks the machine is bad and giving inaccurate readings.   Not long after that, the nurse comes into the room where I am waiting and takes my blood pressure using what looks like a home blood pressure machine.   The machine says my blood pressure is extremely high.   I've never had high blood pressure in my life so I asked the nurse if she could either re-check it again using a different machine or do it manually.   She takes it manually and guess what, she proclaims that my blood pressure is finel.  So clearly this clinic was using machines that need to either be repaired or replaced.   A couple of days later, some other volunteers went  to to the same clinic and also had  blood pressure tests.   The clinic was still using the same machine that had given me the bad reading.  Yes, "this is Tonga".

Biking to the Beach

Even though I lived on the main island of Tongatapu for several months, I never got a chance to explore it by bicycle.   On Sunday, I joined my friends, Peter, Shawn and Alicia on a ride to a remote beach located not far from the house where the King lives. (He doesn't live in the Palace).

Alicia and Shawn with a Tongan girlIt was a really easy ride because unlike Vava'u, where I live, Tongatapu is very flat.   Once we got off the main road, we made our way through bush land, under some beautiful canopy trees, past horses and cows and down a dirt road to the ocean.

I had expected to find an empty beach since technically swimming (and probably bicycling ) are illegal on Sunday.  Instead there were about 40 Tongans of all ages hanging out on the beach and in the water enjoying the big waves.   Some were Tongans from New Zealand but others were locals who live here all the time.    The four of us were the only palangi (white people) at the beach   There are additional photos of our beach trip in the online photo gallery.

Do you know these people?

When I arrived back in Tonga from the USA last week, I opened my checked bags and inside I found a digital camera that DID NOT belong to me.  I assume that in either West Palm Beach or in Los Angeles my bags were searched and the camera came from someone else's bag that was also being searched.   Of course, I looked at all of the photos and there was nothing that would identify who the people are or where they are from.  So I thought I would post two of the pictures here.  If you know these people, let me know and I'll try to figure out a way to get their pictures to them.

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Getting someone else's camera in my locked luggage?.  Perhaps I should say "This is America".

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