Over the last few months, I've learned that simple, little things make a big difference when you're trying to make a new place feel like home. And when you're trying to get used to life immersed in a different culture, this is a difficult feat. Though I may come off as a crazy "pet person" when I say this, our dog, Buster, really has made our little house on our tiny island feel like home.
Since we last wrote about him, our puppy has grown from a pint-sized, constantly biting rascal to a life-loving, good natured "teenage boy" of a dog. Compared to any American dog, he has had quite an interesting upbringing so far. As is typical, there is quite a distinction between the way a Tongan treats his dog and the way an American treats his dog. In Tonga, dogs are seen as animals that serve one purpose: they guard your house. Thus, to treat a dog with really any kind of affection is indeed a foreign concept. A large number die off when they are puppies, and when there are too many dogs roaming around, they are eaten. This may seem cruel, but to a Tongan, they are animals that serve a specific purpose, and, well, meat is meat. And I must admit, we have eaten dog, which our neighbors enjoyed immensely, and it wasn't half bad.
While it is unfortunate in many ways to be a dog in Tonga, there are up sides. They receiver total and unbridled freedom; leashes would also be considered pretty weird here. So, as he has been growing up, our spoiled brat of a puppy gets the best of both worlds. He gets plenty of love from us, and because the folks in our village know he is our dog, they treat him well (at least when we're looking). He gets first pick of any of our leftover food, chicken bones, or fish guts. And, as long as he doesn't wander too far into another dog's territory, he can roam the town all day long, free to play with anyone or anything he pleases.
Also, since school has started, Buster and I have formed even more of a special bond. If he's around the house in the morning, he usually joins me on my daily hike to Matamaka. He'll follow me to work, hang out at the school with the kids all day, and walk back with me. No leash, no commands. Just hiking with my tail-wagging, pig-chasing boy at my side. The path is usually incredibly muddy and can be tiring, but my thirty minute hike is one of my favorite parts of the day. It's a great time for some solitude and a great chance to purely enjoy where I live. And walking with Buster, unleashed and running free, makes it all the better. I think there's a part of everyone that would get a childlike sense of satisfaction when you're hiking through the woods with your pup by your side.