Tuesday, June 8, 2010

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's a . . What?

Kathy has been teaching her primary school kids about animal groups, and now they all know about how birds are vertebrates that have two legs, feathers, and can fly. Of course they learn that there are always exceptions, like chickens that are birds that don’t fly. (Then there are bats which do fly, but aren’t birds, but that’s another story.) Until I came to Tonga I had no trouble with this knowledge myself, but I have now witnessed several events of actual chickens flying. The most recent one almost caused me to crash.

I was riding along on my bicycle when a chicken started to run across the road in front of me. No big deal, chickens are everywhere, even in downtown Nuku'alofa. A car was coming along a bit too fast toward us, so the chicken flew up to avoid the car, but her timing was a bit off and she was hit by the car’s windshield. Feathers went flying, but most alarmingly the chicken was now hurtling out of control toward me. I ducked, managed to stay upright, and with racing heart got stopped safely. I don’t know the ultimate fate of the chicken from this encounter, but she did get herself up and run off. So you have it from me; Tonga chickens can fly, so be careful out there!

About the bats: early on in her experience at her school Kathy observed a teacher doing a lesson, in which she was talking about Tonga’s “flying fox,” a pretty good sized bat that we saw a lot of when we were in Ha’apai. The teacher was going on about the bat, and concluded by saying that because this creature can fly, and using big arm motions to demonstrate, categorically stated that therefore “A bat is a BIRD, because BIRDS can fly!” She then proceeded to have the children mimic her, flapping their arms, reciting “A bat is a Bird because Birds can fly!”

These sorts of situations in schools pose some tricky dilemmas. Many Tongan teachers are not particularly well educated, and there are tremendous gaps in their knowledge, particularly of geography and biology. (Segue: When Kathy and I were doing some of our initial research about Tonga before we came, we learned that the peka (the flying fox bat) and another smaller bat are the only mammals native to Tonga). And of course one cannot just jump in and try to correct them. Later on when Kathy was teaching about animal groups as part of her English lessons she taught the correct information in a very straight ahead, factual manner; the teacher was in the room during the lesson, and nothing further has been said.

The domestic animal life really is something here in the Kingdom. In our "city" neighborhood pigs are all around. Even though we have a fenced yard, there are several holes that a very young pig can get through, so we've had to do some chasing lately as we don't want them tearing up our our little bit of grass and molesting Kathy's newly planted vegetable garden. One of these little guys was killed by dogs who must have followed the pig through the hole into our back yard. Not a pretty sight. Dogs roam the neighborhood freely, and while they do have owners they are not kept as pets and are not well cared for. Not to mention that many Tongans think roast dog is quite a culinary treat. They can be a menace to bike riders as well as piglets, and I have been bit on the foot by a neighborhood pack that decided to chase me on my bike one day. And then, of course, the chickens. We don't mind them being in the yard because we have heard that they like to eat the giant stinging centipedes (molokaus) that occasionally come snaking into the house and scare the bejeezus out of us. And anyway, after all, what can you do when as we now all know "Chickens are Birds, and Birds can Fly!"

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Saturday Market

Welcome to our Saturday mornings in Nuku'alofa! It always involves a bicycle ride from our house in the South part of town through downtown to the road that runs along the waterfront. As we ride along the waterfront we're reminded that we do indeed live on an island as we don't see the water during the week. As we near the Saturday flea market at Queen Salote Wharf the street is lined with vendors selling mostly root crops from their bush plots.

There is plenty of car traffic, and drivers are inclined to stop anywhere along the way to make a purchase or just say hello to someone they know, so we have to be on our toes, so to speak. As we near the market the traffic slows; there's always quite a crowd as people come from all over the island looking for bargains.

At the flea market there are usually three rows of vendor booths set up, one end of which is under cover. It's probably half a kilometer from one end to the other. We walk down one row and back the other.

It's a great place for people watching; most everyone is dressed in weekend informal attire, but we often see people in more traditional attire, such as the folks dressed in black and elaborate ta'ovalas, signifying they are mourning the recent death of a family member. They will wear the funeral dress for a month, and if the relative was close they will continue to wear black for a full year.

Lots of vendors like to take advantage of the big crowds; the two cell phone companies in particular. On this day the Mormon missionaries were also present. The Mormons are a big presence in Tonga, and missionaries in their uniform traditional garb are seen everywhere. The nicest buildings in Tonga are Mormon churches and schools; we recently attended a meeting at the Mormon high school and it was comparable to one of the better schools in the U.S.

These pictures were taken the day before Mothers' Day. The first three Sundays in May honor children, mothers, and fathers in that order. So on this day there were many fancy dresses and lots of cakes and flowers for sale in addition to the normal assortment of a little bit of everything, from cosmetics, toiletries, all kinds of food items, shoes, used and new clothing, tools, some furniture, even a toilet. I find myself humming Alice's Restaurant (You can get anything you want . . .) a lot on our Saturday market forays.

We have established a few flea market traditions; about halfway through as we are beginning to wilt a bit from the heat and just before we double back, we buy shaved ice from an entrepreneurial family that includes Mom & Dad, their daughter and a grandma, pink lemonade for me and half-strength pina colada for Kathy.

On our way back I always stop to talk with Maui, a Tongan who has lived and worked in Oregon for many years and is often wearing Oregon Duck colors. I first noticed him when I spied a Portland Trail Blazers jersey hanging in his booth. He and his wife mostly sell Avon, but their kids sell popcorn (Kathy's a regular customer and a generous tipper) and like many vendors they have some used clothing and other stuff to sell as well. They've been back in Tonga for a year, but his wife and kids will be going back to the States in a few months for school and to deliver their next baby.

At the market we have found a product that is better than any other kind of potato chip I've ever eaten, the Toatu chips, made here from breadfruit, taro, banana, and cassava. The two girls who staff the booth also sell Tongan made soap, kuikui nut exfoliant, and pineapple and papaya jams. We're usually good for a purchase or two here.

There's one section reseved for local fishmongers. It's always felt a bit daunting to buy here, but the variety of fish and shellfish available is impressive.

After stopping at the Beach Hut (locally known as "Fresh") for a capuccino, it's back to downtown and a stop at the Talamahu Market. This big, open air market has been a fixture a downtown for quite a few years. We buy most of our fruit and vegetables here, and it also has an area for craft and clothing vendors on the second floor.

One of our favorite vendors (because she has a nice variety of salad greens) always hails us with a "Hello, friend" hoping to get our business, which she usually gets. But we always buy from at lest two or three vendors as it always seems that the shopping list can't be filled at only one. In fact that's the way of all shopping in Nuku'alofa; any trip to buy four or five items involves shopping at least three different stores.

Our bike baskets are fully laden at this point and we're getting hungry so it's time to head for home and see what the rest of Saturday will bring. I have posted more pictures in a Picasa web album; click on "Picasa" to the left to see more of the Saturday markets and people of Nuku'alofa.