Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Flower and Poem

This awesome flower is growing outside my house. It made me think of my favorite poem by a Tongan writer. I have this poem taped on my front door. It reminds me that the people I work with here may see the world differently than I do.

you say that you think
therefore you are
but thinking belongs
in the depths of the earth
we simply borrow
what we need to know

these islands the sky
the surrounding sea
the trees the birds
and all that are free
the misty rain
the surging river
pools by the blowholes
a hidden flower
have their own thinking

they are different frames
of mind that cannot fit
in a small selfish world

-Konai Helu Thaman

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Tongan Remix

When I picture the South Pacific Islands, I see beaches and palm trees, hammocks and PiƱa Coladas. In the background, I hear the strumming of ukuleles and singing in an unknown language.

Why I still carry this illusion is a mystery. I would expect someone like me to know better, as I have been living in this “island paradise” for two years. Let me start again, this time with a more accurate picture of “hanging out in paradise.”

For me, a Saturday is rarely spent at the beach. This morning I did the same thing I would do on a Saturday in America; I went shopping. The sun, the dusty roads, and the inevitable sweat however, provided enough variation to exasperate even the most “adjusted foreigner.”

After I survived the walk home, I sought that illusion of the island paradise. Grabbing a book and a cold coke, I sat down in my hammock and prepared to relax. I turned on the radio hoping for some local music to complete the scene. “What’s wrong with this picture?” you may ask, “It sounds like paradise to me!”

And you’re right, it is picturesque. But the illusion is broken (as it always is,) by some piece of reality. That is, Tonga is not simply the island paradise that we foreigners want. In fact, some Tongans are searching for something in the other direction, reaching for the culture they find exotic. How do I know? On this particular Saturday, it’s the song on the radio.

Picture this: I am lying in a hammock, hot, sweaty, and dusty, drinking a coke and listening, not to ukuleles, but to a remix of the Macarena with a variety of pop Christmas carols.

I laugh to myself, realizing that once again, the illusion designed to beguile the tourist is broken. The people here do not lie on the beach in hammocks, listening to island music as the palm trees sway in the breeze. They go about their lives, playing mismatched songs from overseas, creating their own illusion of exotic pop culture.

I have come to like the remixes. They are a reminder that life here is a jumble of “exotic” cultures that in the end, make it unique; and I will always choose its surprising remixes over the illusion of paradise.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

What you should know before running in Tonga…

  1. When running in a rural village, plan on being accompanied by anywhere from 2-10 children, (or more!)
  2. Enjoy the company of the children, they help keep the ‘Tevolo’ (devil) away as you run through the bush!
  3. For a country where exercising is much less valued than in America, the track in town can get very crowded!
  4. When running at the crowded track, be prepared to dodge children, rugby balls, women and men walking, and women doing ZOOMBA! (dance/aerobics program)
  5. At the track, you are likely to feel very good about yourself, as you will be one of the few people running.
  6. This confidence may not last if you join a weekend running/swimming race with all the athletic Tongans and foreigners, in fact, you may be one of the last to finish!
  7. No matter where you run, you will be stared at…
  8. Especially if you run when it’s hot and your face turns beet red! “Who is that white girl running in the hot sun?” (Fair question!)
  9. Wearing headphones makes it more difficult to hear the remarks from the boys you pass or the boys practicing rugby at the track. (This however, does not always work!)
  10. It’s hot.

This blog post inspired by my desire to keep running, but being forced to take time off by the pains in my leg. (oh and number 11. It’s just as easy to overrun your muscles here, just because it’s hot doesn’t mean your muscles warm up faster…. Oops J)