Monday, March 5, 2012

Life in an Undeveloped Country

This post was written a few weeks ago, but I'm only posting now, as I've been unable to get to the internet cafe.

Before we came to Tonga, we inquired about getting a visa to stay for a year. We were told that we simply go to Tonga, and apply for a visa within the first 31 days.

But when we showed up at the airport for check-in, we were told that we must either have a visa, or a ticket to return within 31 days.

We had neither.

The airline agreed to let us fly, since we had been given the wrong information, and they (supposedly) rang ahead to Tonga, to let them know the situation.

Ha. Did you ever hear of a bureaucratic problem that was so easily fixed?!

When we arrived in Tonga, at 2am local time, we were the very last passengers in line, and the man behind the counter was looking decidedly sour. Just my luck!! The first unfriendly Tongan in the history of the entire world...

Our explanations fell on deaf ears. He told us it would be a fine of $600 in total, for breaking the rules. 600 dollars!!!

What a start. And I was still smarting over the fact that security in Australia had confiscated my toothpaste for having it in my hand luggage. Apparently it’s considered a “liquid”. Who knew that toothpaste was a security risk these days? I might not have minded if it was just cheap Colgate toothpaste, but these were brand new tubes of all-natural, organic toothpaste to last me a year in Tonga! Pffffft.....furry teeth, right back atcha...

Anywho. Let me try to tell you about life in an undeveloped country.

There is no such thing as a hot shower. In fact, the shower is broken, so we have a shower via a garden hose poked through the bathroom window. If you are lucky, someone will happen to be outside to turn the hose off when you are finished.

Otherwise, you get dressed while the hose continues to splatter up your legs, then you trek outside through the mud to turn off the hose. This pretty much defeats the purpose of a shower, which is why I have taken to having my shower clothed, under one of the frequent tropical downpours, or swimming in the ocean.

When it rains heavily, the water pours off the corner of the gutter, which is where we may be found cooling off, filling up bottles for drinking, or having the aforementioned shower.

Washing clothes is done by hand. This has proved rather a challenge, with 6 of us (my husband’s teenage son is also with us) , and rain every day since we have been here.

Sometimes the toilet works, sometimes it does not. If you happen to do a number 2, during the times it’s not working, you have to go and put some water in a bucket and pour down the toilet. This system works okay....except for when the entire water system is not working, at which point you have to put up with the smell for 20 minutes, until the water comes back on again, and you can fill up the bucket.

There are currently 14 of us living in the house....on weekends. During the week, add another 3 teenagers to the mix, cousins who come from other villages to go to school here. We are lucky enough to have our own room, but those who don’t just find a space on the living-room floor and sleep there.

And then there is the family of four – an uncle, his pregnant wife and two little boys – who are here on a regular basis. I haven’t seen it, but apparently their bush shack is so primitive that it floods when the rain is too heavy.

There are always people coming and going. Relatives turn up at least once a day, bringing with them mangoes or lychees picked off their tree, or mud crabs caught from the sea. Neighbours drop in for a feed or a game of cards.

Our 6 year old son climbs through the fence into the neighbour’s yard and plays with their son. I don’t have to worry over him. Here in Tonga, everybody looks out for everybody else’s children, and everybody knows who belongs to who.

The village school began last week. The first day was cancelled due to heavy rains. The second and third day the students cleaned up the school, mowing the grass and sweeping classrooms etc.

It never ceases to amaze me how in this country, where poverty and mud reign supreme, all the children arrive at school with clean, freshly ironed uniforms.

On the first day of proper school we were late, so we had to take the truck instead of walking. Whoops. My son and his cousin trooped into assembly after it had started, taking their shoes off at the door. The teacher didn’t seem overly concerned. Nobody owns a watch or a clock, so what can you expect?!

The teacher explained that they needed to bring a toothbrush to school, as they would be having lessons on tooth-brushing. (I wondered if all the other mothers inwardly cheered like I did...). Each student also had to bring two rolls of toilet paper.

Upon leaving the school, no sooner had we gone out the school gates, and we got bogged in a massive mud puddle. My husband was driving, so my mother in law got out to push. When that failed to make a difference, I got off the back of the truck to “help”.

Unfortunately, there is something about getting bogged that never ceases to amuse me. I tried to push, I really did, but the revving and roaring and my mother-in-law standing in a mud puddle with mud flying all over her skirt was just too much for me. I was nearly wetting myself with laughing.

Eventually a man, hearing the commotion out front, came out of his house to help us, and we continued on our way.

My mother-in-law has a typical laid-back Islander sense of humour. When we got home she had a great laugh as she washed the mud from her legs.

There is a church service at 5:30am three mornings a week (for the really faithful....or the men who have just finished an all-night kava drinking session), one evening a week, and three times on Sunday.

An hour before church, the bell tolls so you know to start ironing your clothes and taking a shower. A half hour before, the bells toll again, to let you know it’s time to start getting dressed, and when the bells tolls again, you’d better be walking to church or you’re gonna be late...

My husband, feeling some pleased with his devoutness, got up in the dark the other morning, to attend morning church. When he arrived at church, the power went out, so the preacher sent everyone home. “Hummmmpphh” husband said...”after all this effort, surely we could have sat in the dark and talked!” He “hummmmppphed” even further when the power came back on as soon as he arrived back home.

At the moment, there is an abundance of mangoes. Here the mangoes are small and mostly green. They don’t pick them, they simply wait for them to fall off the tree. So sweet and juicy. And me oh my!! You have not tasted pineapple, until you’ve tasted a local pineapple. My sons devour them.

Outside my window, there are banana trees, coconut trees, a mango tree, two breadfruit trees (I think these are called “durian” in English, but I’m not sure), a lychee tree, a lime tree. This is why, in this poor country, nobody ever starves of hunger, nor does anyone sleep on the streets. Every family, every village, takes care of their own, no matter how distantly related.

An acquaintance of mine back in Australia told me that she and her mother once visited Tonga and found it “boring”. I believe if they stayed with a local family, and immersed themselves in the local culture, they would have found it anything but boring.

I am learning so much. Trying new things. I've been eating sprouted coconut. Sprouted coconut!! How healthy must it be! So much has been happening, I wonder how I'll ever manage to keep up on this blog. But I'll try. Really I will.

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