A laugh here, a giggle there, "Tonga time". Snicker, snicker.
Infuriating, this "Tonga time". Enraging, frustrating, ridiculous, preposterous. How can we function like this?
Tomorrow, the Matamaka reunion starts at 9 am and is finished in the afternoon.
Great, we set the alarm. Hop out of bed at an early 6am. We have to pump the water, fill the water buckets, charge the car battery which provides power for our single light, fill the dish washing tubs, take a bucket bath (after waiting 20 minutes for the bucket to fill), make breakfast, do the dishes, get more water to filter to fill our water bottles, take out the compost, kill approximately 234 ants, empty the trash so more ants dont attack while we are gone, and pack our backpacks for our day in Matamaka.
The walk takes around 30 minutes. We are hurrying, killing ourselves to get there before 8. It's Christmas in America, and we want to call our parents before the reunion starts. We don't get very good cell service in Nuapapu, so we plan to call from Matamaka.
We arrive slightly after 8. We are wet from sweat, panting. We pass the first house and call out a greeting. "Yes, here for the reunion...oh...it starts at 10?" Oh..,okay. That works out fine, we're running a little behind schedule ourselves.
We pass the next house. "Yes, we ate well, thank you, for always, always asking. Yes, here for the reunion. Oh, it starts at 12....". That's ....interesting.
We head to the school to make our calls. We come back down to the center of town. It's almost 11. Turns out....it starts at 12. No big deal, we are soo so so flexible. We wait. After a long church service, and a feast, it is 4:00.
We are asked by everyone we pass, "will you stay for the faiva?" hmm. We aren't sure, we didn't bring flashlights, don't want to take that jungle walk in the dark. We ask when it will be starting. "5" is the reply, from everyone. Oh...less than an hour, of course we will stay. News spreads. Now everyone knows the palangis are staying for the faiva.
At around 530, I realize it is not going to start at 5. I ask around. 7, it seems is the new time. Oh, don't mind me, I'll just sit here in the grass another 2 hours...waiting.
At around 9, yes 9pm, people begin to prepare for the faiva. I catch bits of conversation..."I'm going to go shower", "here is a light for the show". Showering, changing, make up, hair, tree posts with lights attached have to be out up, the speaker and the dj show up, a table appears. At 930, it starts.
What had I been doing from 4 to 9? Sitting in the exact same spot of grass! Waiting. Waiting like a palangi. Waiting like a crazy person. Stewing and grumbling, and fighting my urge to start the dang faiva all by myself.
We get home after 1. I am exhausted.
We double booked ourselves. It happens. It wasn't at all our fault, could not have been less our fault. Remember that Christmas pageant I mentioned? The one where everyone knew all along we would be Mary and Joseph, except for us? Well, the pageant was scheduled to happen on Christmas Eve, but we had been told it would be on Christmas. Who knows...lost in translation. (except, we knew the days of the week in Tongan months before we moved here....way back in May I was reciting those babies...just throwing it out there). Anywho, we had promised the people in Matamaka that we would come to the Christmas Eve service there, because we had been told nothing was happening on Christmas Eve in Nuapapu. Oh the things we do to ourselves.
After our two hour long drama practice the day before the play, we realized we were double booked. Forgetting everything we had come to learn about Tonga, we persuaded the church in Nuapapu to have the Christmas Eve service start at 5. So we could go to it, perform our lines, and hurry to Matamaka.
Here in Tonga, every church has a bell. It usually rings an hour or 30 minutes before church is supposed to start (or both an hour and 30 minutes before church is to start). And then again when it is starting. And when I say ring, I do not mean a mere one time. In the morning, the bell is meant to wake you up, and in the afternoon, serve as a signal to start preparing yourself for church. (our friends Ryan and Abby live right next to a bell. It rings every morning at 4am. They have counted to a hundred before losing count...)
We asked and asked and made double sure, the first bell would ring at 4:30, the service would start at 5, after our part, we would leave. Everybody wins. We keep our appointment, our promise.
On the day of the pageant, we leave our house at 4:15. We are dressed in our costumes, ready to go. We pass the church hall. The pastor is in work clothes and burning trash...not a good sign. We pass the next house, whose occupant happens to be the director of the play. She is out weeding her lawn. We are growing very concerned, flustered, and grumpy. We call her over and have a little chat. She sees we are ready to go. We ask again if it is starting at 5. And then those dreaded words come out of her mouth... "io (yes), 5 taimi fakatonga". And then she laughs.
We are pissed. Now, I find it hilarious. But then, I could not have been more frustrated.
We ask if we can go ring the bell, get a "i guess you crazy palangi" kind of answer, and walk to the church. Mark rings and rings that bell, and I swear the whole town was laughing at us and completely ignoring it.
It ended up starting at 8. (and we did make it to Matamaka after all).
Example # 3
Two expats living in Neiafu planned a trip to Australia or some such destination. They had a wonderfully interesting goodbye party that I did not attend, but heard about. The next day, the day they were supposed to be off on their grand adventure, I heard that they missed their plane. Curious, I asked why. Apparently, the prince was in town for a visit, and was taking that same flight from Neiafu to Tongatapu. He got to the airport early, and was ready to go, so the plane left.
(parents who plan to visit, don't dilly dally, get to that airport and camp out if you have to! We do not want any of that nonsense when you visit!)
The truth is, last week I had "had it" with "these people". I was so annoyed, so frustrated, so uptight.
But, I'm wrong to be mad.I don't know anyone on the island who has a job they have to be on time for, who sets appointments, heck, who even has a working clock. They don't need to do any of that. Everything is so small, and there is never any rush. If something starts five hours later than planned, it absolutely doesn't matter at all because nothing is happening anyways. It is killing me slowly, but I will learn to unwind my tightly wound up self.
And no, we are no longer committing to go to anything, ever. We respond maybe to every invitation, never sure of what we are actually committing ourselves too.