Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Couples in Tonga

Married couples are treated a lot different than single volunteers are in Tonga. Here it's unheard of to live alone, or be alone anytime - Tongans do everything together and if they're not married they live with their parents. Even when they get married they move in with the guy's parents. So they think the single volunteers are faka ofa (sad), especially that they live alone. Because of this they'll very often bring over food or invite the single volunteers to dinner or other events, generally they check in on them a lot more. For married couples they see that we already have our family unit and leave us alone for the most part. Instead of inviting us to a dinner they'll just drop off a plate of food. This has it's benefits and downfalls - we get more much-needed privacy but it's harder to fit into the tongan community around us, we have to try harder to be involved. We also heard that married couples get asked a lot if they have children and if not, why don't they? We have had this question asked a few times. In Tonga the womens' job is to get married, have lots of children, and do the household chores/make food. This is even written out in school classrooms - dividing the mens' and womens' chores and responsiblities. Boys do the yard work and harvest/plant in the bush plots, women do the indoor sweeping/cleaning and cooking. Even down to sports - boys play volleyball or rugby and girls play netball (sort of like a slow version of basketball, boring). If a boy plays netball he's a fakaleite (like a girl) and is made fun of. This role-dividing drives me crazy, I'll be happy if I can change some girls' minds on these matters.

Our friend Alicia lives in a smaller village and has been experiencing a lot of this - tongans getting very involved in her life. Her neighbors recently told her one day when she got home that they had two surprises for her - they'd made her a bookshelf, and they neutered her dog!! They didn't even know if she wanted him neutered, they just did it! They also share a lot of things - she eats dinner with them every night and they share food, and her neighbors don't have their own bathroom at their house and the one at the school is in horrible condition, so they even share her bathroom, taking turns buying toilet paper! People in her village also share a lot with each other, for example there were three broken washing machines so they put them together to make one working machine and now it rotates between families in the village. Another friend, Sarah, lives in a small village here and they have her on a rotating feeding schedule for having dinner at all her students' homes! And her neighbors do her laundry for her.

So experiences even on the same island can be very different just based on if it's a married couple or single volunteer, and experiences in different island groups are even more different. Here in Ha'apai it's like an outer island, with not much available and all depending on the boat schedules, in the capitol city they can get just about anything - mac 'n cheese, candy bars, lots of restaurants, etc. but it also doesn't have the same feel as a village or smaller island.

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