Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Day with the Women

I usually don't spend all day at my job at MAFFF (ministry of agriculture, forestry, fisheries and food), but since there usually isn't much going on that they need my help with I decided to stay longer this time and help with whatever they were doing. And it's almost always just the women in the office, the men are usually out in the bush or fixing machinery or vehicles. So when Elaise, the women-in-development manager, went out front and started weeding and gardening I offered to help. But of course, since I'm a palangi (white person) and Tongans don't think palangis do any type of labor work or don't think they can, they told me to sit and have a rest. I knew I'd have to fight this, I knew that if I tried to do more of this type of work or whatever they were doing they'd respect me more and it might break some of the stereotypes they have about foreign women. It gets old hearing them telling us to always just have a rest or offering us chairs to sit on when everyone else is sitting on the floor. I don't want to be held up above others. So when the other two women in the office went out with Elaise to do weeding as well, I just followed them, watched for a few seconds, and mimicked what they were doing. And of course the women laughed at me, made jokes, and asked if I'd ever weeded before, all in good fun. And so our long, hot morning began weeding and gardening, and talking and laughing. Tongans laugh a lot and like to share stories or gossip, and they often make fun of each other joking around. So I felt like I was getting closer to these women. A lot of the conversation was in Tongan so I was pretty lost, but once in awhile I'd catch some words or phrases and figure out what the conversation was about, and contribute what I could. Other times one of the women would translate to me what they'd just talked about and we'd then talk about it in English. Then for lunch one of them went and got chicken, another person had brought over some huge cooked yams, we had coconuts cut open for drinks, and I went and got the banana bread I'd made earlier. While we were waiting for the food to be done they were saying how much they like Americans because they always try the Tongan food, and don't make fun of the Tongan people - they said people from some other countries won't try the food and make fun of the island people here. Then before I had a chance, they'd already piled tons of food on my plate, more than I could ever eat. I protested saying I'd never eat it all, but they told me to bring some back to Brett for lunch. One of the women, Lola, said she was trying to loose some weight, and that's why she wasn't eating the chicken skin or fat. Another woman then grabbed all the chicken fat and skin off Lola's plate and soaked up all the fatty juice while she ate it all - for many Tongans the fat is the best part. And all the eating as always was done with our hands, leaving them all greasy. I left that day with dirt-filled fingernails and greasy hands, but a feeling of accomplishment.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great day! Reminds me of my supervisor's wife at Wilder Forest, Sara, who would go out into the fields with the Hmong women (from Laos, SE Asia)and help weed their large gardens.


Anonymous said...

that's really good that you were able to help break those stereo types!