Our first weekend in Faleloa included a Saturday with a few frustrations and a typical Tongan Sunday made a bit interesting since our host family is the Wesleyan Church’s Faifekau (Minister). We wanted our Saturday to be a leisurely morning/early afternoon in Pangai, the only town in Ha’apai with an internet café and ice cream, so that we could check e-mail and post to the blog. We had attempted to find out if the local “bus” that runs from Faleloa to Pangai every day, primarily – but not exclusively – to transport kids to the secondary schools in Pangai, would be running on Saturday; however, no one seemed to have a clear idea about that. So our host father said he would take us in, but when we told him all nine of us PCTs were going he wasn’t sure what to do. We assured him that we would just start walking (it’s about 8 miles) and that we were sure someone we knew would come along and give us a ride. However that certainly did not settle the issue as far as he was concerned.
So our group started out around 8 a.m. walking, and about a mile down the road we were offered a ride with some Faleloa fisherman which we gladly accepted. We arrived safely, gave the driver a few pa’anga for gas, and got to work at the internet café. We soon learned that our host father had borrowed a 4-Runner from someone in the congregation and followed us to make sure we would arrive safe and to give us a ride home. So much for our leisurely Saturday! Because he was anxious we cut our planned four hour or so visit in Pangai down to two hours and headed back to Faleloa.
The rest of Saturday was spent working on our homework assignments (charting our host family’s family tree and created a map of Faleloa) and getting ready for a tutoring session we thought we had set up with our host family daughter and several of her friends who have an important exam coming up which will determine whether or not they can go on to university studies. But we learned that there was an important church service involving the youth that she needed to attend and there was no mention whatsoever of the class we thought we had set up.
A Tongan trait that is very difficult for us palangi to deal with is that a Tongan feels it is impolite to not answer a question, even if they do not know the answer. So they will give you an answer even if they know it is wrong. I suspect our host family “sister” was willing to say yes to our suggestion to have the class on Saturday afternoon, because that was what we proposed and it would have been impolite to not agree. We have been taught to ask open-ended questions; we should have asked her when she and her friends would like to have the class and then worked from there. Lesson learned.
So we just had to hike the mile or so up the road to the North end of our island (Foa) and spend some time at one of the prettiest beaches you would ever want to see. Oh well.
Sunday: Sunday begins with a service at 5:30 am; we did not attend. After that service the family begins the cooking in the umu (earth oven) for the mid-day meal and then gets ready for the main service that begins at 10. Kathy’s dress was deemed totally unacceptable (she had been asked to do the English Bible reading, and the family wanted her to be totally appropriate) so a brightly colored dress was produced for her to wear. She was also provided her first ta’ovala (decorated woven mat worn around the waist) to wear with it. And I was also provided a special ta’ovala to wear as well. It was clear the family wanted us to represent them very well.
Host father fiefekau Mekulio also consulted with us about his sermon for the day. He was using a passage from Mark 10 in which James and John were asking Jesus to promise them they could sit with him in heaven; Jesus tells them he can promise no such thing, “You don’t know what you are asking for. Can you drink the cup of suffering I must drink?” Mekulio is struggling to find a good English phrase to use as the theme for his talk, which he wants to be about making choices to not use drugs or alcohol or engage in adultery, and he is trying to say something like “you ask for enough?” After reading the passage, these noted biblical scholars (forgive us Bob Webb) suggest he try the phrase “Be careful what you ask for” and the palangis in the audience would get his drift.
The service went very well, and since it was 99% in Tongan we had little involvement in the prayers and messages (except the occasional “Be careful what you ask for” in the sermon with Mekulio’s booming voice). Host mother Makalesi did provide us with a hymnal, so were able to join in the singing; that was fun. The singing in these churches on Ha’apai is full voice, shape note style singing, so it is more boisterous than beautiful. And everyone sings in harmony, more or less.
After church we took some photos of everyone in their finery before the big meal, which featured three different kinds of lu, a dish of meat and a few vegetables wrapped in banana leaves; octopus and eel (Kathy’s first experience with either) which were quite tasty.
The three things Tongans do on Sunday are go to church, eat, and sleep. After the mid-day meal most everyone had a pretty good sleep. Not a bad way to spend the day.