Thursday, December 24, 2009


23 ‘o Tisema: Christmas Eve Eve

Here we are in the tropics at Christmastime. The Tongan Christmas is unlike any Christmas I’ve ever experienced. The overwrought commercialism is largely absent; while there is some gift giving it appears to be mostly small stuff. Concerts are popular; there was a big local concert last night featuring some local musicians, including the brass brand from Tupou College, our neighborhood school. Our PC neighbor went and said it was great, but we stayed home because Kathy’s been laid low by a staph infection.

It started with a boil on her leg a few weeks ago, then last week another boil appeared on her left shoulder. While she was diligent in following the prescribed treatment, it became clear by Monday evening the infection was spreading to her neck and left ear. Our medical officer took her to a real palangi doctor on Tuesday; he prescribed intensive antibiotics and put an IV port in her left forearm. (Readers who know Kathy will be cringing at this point knowing her opinion of needles, especially big ones.) So for the last two days she has been receiving injections at 8 a.m., 4 p.m., and midnight; as I write this at 11:45 p.m. we are waiting for the nurse to arrive. Tomorrow she goes back to the doctor and hopefully we can move to oral administration. The injections are painful, but they appear to be having an impact.

The other big news is that our landlord and his plumber replaced our broken instant hot water heater with a new one yesterday, and so now we are living in luxury with hot water to our shower and sinks. Kathy’s convinced (and I’m not arguing the point) that the lack of hot water for the last two months is largely responsible for her current medical issue.

When we moved in last Thursday, our next door neighbors were in the 5th day of the putu for the family patriarch who had died of renal failure sometime over the weekend. He was only in his mid-50s. Lots of people around, lots of comings and goings and feasting; several big tents had been erected on the grounds, and various activities, including prayer services and vigils going on all night. For some reason the Tongan people feel it is important to stay up all night when honoring the dead. They then sleep throughout the daylight hours, and when the sun goes down the putu festivities kick into high gear. This goes on for 10 days. All this is over now, but several relatives from abroad will be staying through the holidays, so there is still some music making going on in the late evening, and most of it is pretty good.

24 ‘o Tisema: Christmas Eve
It’s Christmas Eve and we are experiencing a Christmas Eve like none we have experienced before. For some reason the Tongans like to celebrate Christmas with fireworks, a curious choice for a Christian kingdom. So there is random fireworks being shot off around our neighborhood all evening. This might have something to do with the fact that most of the falekoloas (small shops) are owned by Chinese, and you’ll remember who invented fireworks. Also, I have never seen as much traffic and related activity as we saw today; it appears the Tongans like to wait until the very last minute to do their Christmas preparations; not a bad tradition, in my view. Which leads me to our TOP EIGHT LIST OF REASONS TO SPEND CHRISTMAS IN TONGA:

8. You don’t have to listen to the same Christmas carols being played over and over in the shopping malls; there are no shopping malls.

7. You don’t have to watch all the ads for after Christmas sales; Tongans have not commercialized Christmas and most of their holiday gift giving is inexpensive candy, clothes, etc.

6. You don’t have to worry about competing with anyone in your neighborhood with lighting displays; we have seen one house decorated with a few Christmas lights.

5. You don’t have to worry about being snowed in or inconvenienced by winter weather. Today it was sunny and 82, and right now it’s about 70 and breezy. Tomorrow promises to be the same. And the day after, and the day after that….

4. You don’t have to worry about your tree drying out and catching on fire. We have yet to see a Christmas tree anywhere.

3. You don’t have to eat figgy pudding, fruitcake or anything else that you typically find on the Christmas dinner table. It’s just not here. We’re having tuna pasta salad and banana bread made from bananas from our yard. (This item is a good thing only if you don’t like traditional Christmas goodies; I’m missing all the Christmas cookies, fudge, peanut brittle, peppermint bark, ginger bread men, and Geena’s party mix big time!)

2. You don’t have to buy any obligatory presents; the shipping costs are simply too prohibitive. On the other hand we are missing the joy of gifting our loved ones.

1. You don’t have to read anything about Sarah Palin’s “Going Rogue” book tour, balloon boy, or Tiger Woods’ affairs in the papers or on the news; we have yet to find a newspaper and we don’t have a TV. (Many Tongans do have TVs, but they use them only to watch pirated DVDs).

On the health front: Kathy’s much better; the IV port in her arm is gone and she’s on oral antibiotics and generally feeling more like herself. I, on the other hand, came back from running around town and promptly felt feverish, had a sore throat and headache, so I took some ibuprofen and fell into bed. Because of this we had to cancel out of the Christmas Eve party with all our PC friends. Dang.

We are missing family and friends and pray that all of you are having a wondrous and joy filled holiday season, and that you are not cursing Jose Feliciano after hearing Feliz Navidad for the 500th time!