Transparency. Every time I visit a government primary school I am intrigued by the information posted in every teacher resource/work room. Written for everyone to see is the information about each teacher: date of birth, whether they’re married, number of children, qualifications, where and when they attended which schools, and where and when they have taught. Occasionally, I’ve even seen salary figures. Of course, this is in a country where one of the first questions you may be asked after meeting someone is “how old are you?” If you really don’t want to tell, you can always make a joke of it, as Tongans are great jokers and teasers.
Sharing. This will probably be a recurring theme, but it really struck me, again, recently how much a part of this culture it is to share. I went into one of the curriculum team’s rooms and was offered mai chips (Mai is breadfruit, and quite dry. The only way I really like it is as fried chips. Very tasty!). I happily took a few to munch on. A little later I went to another room to ask a question and was offered bananas. Good. I could add it to my small lunch. (More on bananas in a minute.) As I walked home, a woman in my neighborhood was cutting sugar cane in her yard, and she called to me and gave me a 6 foot piece. (A “no thank you” was absolutely not polite, though I had no idea what we would do with it.) Then I walked into our yard and Sione was standing in the bed of his pick up and knocking down star fruit with his rake. Of course, I was offered one. (I gladly accepted that!) I told them the sugar cane and star fruit were “mana.” They understood and laughed with me.
|With my gift of sugar cane.|
Well, we got their son,Christopher, to cut off 2 pieces of the sugar cane—one for us to try and one for Jim to take to ‘Ofa, our Tongan tutor. Her grandchildren were very happy. The rest we gave to Sione and Belinda.
Back to the bananas. The woman who offered the bananas to me said that these are true Tongan bananas. They grow on shorter trees and are smaller than the variety we see in the States. She said they are the sweetest and best, but you shouldn’t eat them “half raw,” which meant not ripe. She was upset that palangi (foreigners/European descent) insisted on eating them before they are ripe and have good flavor. She also said that anything “good” they said was Tongan. If it wasn’t good, it came from somewhere else, and then they all laughed. (This is the same woman who told us the hopa banana story.)
The sharing of plants and flowers is also accepted as a right. At several of the primary schools we have visited, someone in our group has seen a plant growing in front of the school that she wanted, and just started pulling off a branch, or digging the bulbs. Soon teachers from the school were helping her and giving some to others in our group. Everything grows so well here that they can just put the branches in the soil and they’ll grow. I can’t imagine going into someone’s well-tended garden in the U.S. and just helping myself to plants I’d like, though sometimes I wish I could. I definitely have plant envy. It’s a good thing I don’t have anywhere to plant flowers here.
Poinsettias. Now that it’s fall, I have suddenly noticed the poinsettias blooming. They’re so tall, that I hadn’t paid any attention to them before this-- just tall green saplings, but now that they’re dressed in their red, and sometimes yellow, blooms, they’re everywhere to my eyes. So this is how they really grow, and not in pots, sold for the holidays and discarded? Very nice!
Decoding skills. Having always been (since I can remember) a good reader, and reading came easily for me, decoding the pronunciation of words has never been a problem. Once more I have been rightfully humbled. A partner school of TTI (Tupou Tertiary Institute) is Whitireia Community Polytechnic in New Zealand. As I was discussing resources with a teacher at TTI she kept talking about some school I had never heard of, but I just let it pass. Then I got out my notes about their partner schools, and she said, “That’s the school I’ve been talking about.” What? How do you pronounce that? So we had a little lesson. (By the way, have you tried pronouncing it yet? Whitireia) It’s a Maori word, if that gives you a clue. It’s pronounced Fi(long i)-te(long e)-ra(long a)-a(short a). Also, you should kind of roll the r into an l. There, humble pie eaten.