We’ve had a full and wonderful week here in Tonga. It has been a time of hard work, adjustment and happy new discoveries. I thought I would briefly let you know my impressions of things as I see them.
Tonga is much more primitive that I had imagined. The people are so poor and the infrastructure is not supportive of modern technology or economic growth. Most of the people here are just getting by and are living day to day. That being said, they are happy, friendly and loving people. If you say you like something they have, they are likely to give it to you. If you walk by their homes and say hello, it is said that they will invite you in and share a meal with you, insisting that you eat first and that you take home any leftovers. That is just the Tongan way.
Life moves slowly here and people are not impatient. In our clinic patients do not mind waiting all day to be seen. They are very, very grateful to have their work done and accept your best efforts as a gift. It quite literally breaks my heart seeing such levels of dental disease. Young patients come in with teeth rotten to the gums, and adults are missing many teeth. The attitude of the dentists previous to us has had to be that we take care of urgent needs and just let the more moderate problems go untreated. That is hard for Dad, but at weeks end, he is realizing that with so many needing care we will just have to prioritize and do what we can.
It is warm and humid here and the summer is just around the corner. I understand that by January it will feel like 110º. I think it is amusing to see youngsters wearing hoodies and jackets when it’s 85º outside. They love their American style clothing. Many families sell clothes, which hang on lines in front of their homes. Family will have sent them crates filled with things they can sell, and that’s how they make their living. They also sell any excess they have by spreading it out on tables along the roads. There are tables piled high with vegetables and fruits, and mounds of melons are everywhere. We buy them for about fifty cents to one dollar.
The children in the schools here all wear uniforms. I like that they do this because that way no one stands out as being more or less privileged than anyone else. Our schoolchildren here at the Liahona campus wear green and white. Other schools have their own colors – Some are red and white, some are dark gray and burgundy and others are brown or other colors. Most young men and boys wear the traditional tupeno(or skirt). It is more comfortable than pants in the heat. The children all look happy and well cared for. It is the rule that all the girls wear their hair in braids with a part down the middle. I have heard that many homes do not have hot water, and that is not unusual for children to shower buck naked outside when it rains. All the children wear flip flops or basic brown sandals.
In the schools nothing is provided for the students. I did not see books in the classes though I know there must be some. There are red and white journal type books that the kids bring with them to class and that is how they take notes. There is almost nothing we might consider normal in the classrooms. Just desks and a board in front. Pencils and pens are not in abundance. I think of my boxes of those at home and feel awful. I am glad I got a bunch and that they will be arriving soon so I can give them away.
I am grateful for the money that was given me to buy supplies and other things for the children here. I will distribute them happily when they come. I know that they will be received with great joy! When I see children playing, it is with a stick and a ball. I have not seen any with toys other than that. You do see some in the stores, but they are mostly things like buckets and shovels.
I am doing my laundry in the washer on the back porch. It is outside of our kitchen window and in front of the large cistern, which provides us our water. Dad is concerned we might have a dead cat or mouse in there so we are careful not to drink the water. Who knows? (We do have a three-part water filter by our kitchen sink. We use that water for drinking, cooking and such.) After the load is finished I clip the clothes to the line. When I washed our sheets yesterday it took them less than an hour to dry. They look pretty flapping in the wind. Next to the washer are the little baby kittens, which I am nurturing with lots of love and gentleness. They like cuddling in a pile with their backs up next to the water heater. Soon they will be venturing out with their mama, but for now they are still staying close to home.
We see a lot of pigs wherever we go. They are lean and mean and the meat is tough. I will probably not eat much of it. They are black or dark brown and just walk around unfenced most of the time. Cows are kept in check with a long rope tied to a tree or plant, and dogs run wild everywhere. They are all skin and bones.
We are getting the bugs – specifically the tiny ants under control. I made some boats of foil and put a wet cotton ball in them, which is dipped in borax powder. If you leave it out the bugs stay pretty much away. We are having a learning curve about putting dishes in the rack next to the sink…washed in soapy water and rinsed. If you leave them with anything on them, there is an instant feeding frenzy.
Rain comes without warning, is short lived and keeps things watered enough that there are no sprinklers here that I have seen. The air is fresh and clean except when people are burning their trash, or rubbish as it is called here