Friday, February 15, 2013

The Two-Sided Coin

Before our Peace Corps service, I primarily thought of "different cultures" simply in terms of superficial things like language, food, and customs. Having now lived, fully immersed, in a different culture for a while, I'm learning that these "differences" that are so often talked about are much more significant than they seem. A different culture is a different lens to the world; one's motivations, one's rationale, one's life goals, one's daily routines are all so, entirely different.

Something else that I'm learning is that there is no perfect culture. I knowingly idealized the simplicity of village life, but the truth is that there are many things that I enjoy about Tongan culture, and there are many things I don't enjoy. In the same way, there are things that I like about American culture and things that I dislike. And I'm sure that it would be that way in any culture in the world. There is no perfect group of people; there are only people who do their best to live according to their circumstances and their interpretation of life.

This week, our lives were greatly impacted by a fitting example of this two-sided coin.

First, an aspect of Tongan culture that is not necessarily our favorite - their lack of foresight. Something that is unfortunately seen when a boat sinks due to overcrowding, most Tongans (and they admit it) do not often think of or prepare for the future. They live in the now, the day to day. All summer long, Alissa and I have been wondering, "since we are living in the normal teacher's house, where is the new principal going to live?". But the village, apparently had not thought of this inevitable quandary. So, when our new principal showed up, as I wrote before, he had to move in to the tiny thatched roof house that the other teacher was living in. Thus, for the first week, the village was scrambling, trying to decide where he will live.

Now, on to an aspect of Tongan culture that I'm a fan of - their communal spirit and identity. It was quickly decided that the half-built tin and concrete structure to the side of our house (which I was thinking about turning in to a chicken coop) would be improved and made into a suitable dwelling for the new principal. So, as soon as some wood was acquired for the project, literally, the whole village showed up to the school grounds to work on the house. Granted, there was not near enough work for all 50-100 people, but it was a community event, so everyone came to help. It did turn in to quite a multi-day event indeed, complete with mini-feasts and thank you speeches during lunchtime. It was quite a thing to behold, that when something needed to be done, how quickly and efficiently the community rallies to undertake the task, and how truly second-nature this type of community support was.

We could tell countless stories of this two-sided coin of life in a different culture, but I'll leave you that one for now.

'Ofa atu,


From our porch:

1 comment:

  1. Seems like you have a good thing going