Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The art of asking properly.

Recently, I had new neighbors move in next door.  An extremely nice multi-generational family, as most homes are in the Kingdom.  They graciously bring me delicious lu on Sunday and I have baked banana bread for them in return.  They enjoy the bread as much as I enjoy the lu, evidently, as Sio asked me for the recipe and then surprised me one day with a big piece of keke to try from her oven.  I should add that to call it bread in Tonga isn't well understood.  Bread here is only white bread from the local bakery.  Anything else in a loaf shape (whether made from banana, papaya or similar is cake/keke).

On a recent balmy night, I heard a whispering at my front door, 'Tevita, Tevita.'  It was the daughter from next door and after exchanging "malo e lelei" she broke out in rapid fire Tongan - and not just a sentence or two.  I was seriously trying to comprehend what I had done, said or needed to do.  She finally stopped for a breath and I admitted to her that I really hadn't understood anything she had said.  Without skipping a beat, she asked, "Do you have any lemons?"  I struggled to keep from actually guffawing and replacing a laugh with a smile, I said yes, gave her the fruit and life went on.

When replaying all this afterwards, I'm know what had transpired.  One doesn't just ask for something in this culture, it's like a form of prayer.  One gives apologies for the intrusion and a whole lot of supplication followed by abundant blessings and thank you/s to the party/parties involved.  Somewhere near the end of her request, I did hear Peace Corps, so I'm sure they were thanked for having me live next door.

I'll second that....thank you Peace Corps.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


The other day, I got a lift from one of my co-workers, a young man in his mid 20's. He's a genuinely nice person and as I asked if I could get a ride to do an errand, he replied, "You don't need to ask.  Just get in, David."

We soon came upon a traffic jam and I asked if he knew what is going on.  He explained it was for a funeral of someone from a neighboring district.  This prompted me to ask if he was still wearing black to honor the recent passing of the King.  He shook his head and matter of factly said, "respect".  I then realized he was from the same district as the deceased in the funeral procession.

The Tongan word for respect/honor is faka'apa'apa.  It's not just something you say or think about, it's something Tongans live by.

What a beautiful way to learn a language.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Time Travel Faka-Tonga

Sundays in Tonga are pretty quiet.  It's traditionally a day for church, eating and sleeping.  That's it.  There are no restaurants open, except for a few.  How that happens, I don't know.  One can walk around, but not run.  One can ride a bike, but not fast.  No activity that exerts or appears to be work or play related, with the exception, of course, of cooking.  Oh, and one can go down to the beach but no swimming allowed. The exception here being that there are tourists resorts, off island, where you can do all the swimming you want. 

I respect Tonga's traditions and most Sundays can be found at home doing little things, as I was on this day, by sorting, labeling and organizing pictures.  Just me, iPhoto and images from many years of living.  So, on this particular Sunday, I traveled to Germany and happened upon the Wasserburg again.  Sunday is, indeed, a great day for church, cooking, sleeping and rediscovering our changing world. 

Wasserburg - Heldrungen, Germany, September 1976

In 1976 I traveled in Europe for 6 weeks.  Our first destination was a small town in East Germany, Heldrungen, in the Thuringen region.  The wall dividing Germany was still in place at this time.  I happened upon a picture I took of the town wasserburg (water castle), pretty much in ruin, but it was being talked that it would be renovated/rebuilt one day - they were actually doing that to all the old castles in East Germany.  I got curious and Googled Heldrungen, and lo and behold, the castle has been renovated and I was thrilled to see almost the same angle of a recent photo (2005) as the one I took 31 years prior.  How nice!

From all the sites listing hotels near the castle, it appears it is a major attraction and was home to a youth hostel.  Not sure if it still is.

There's a wiki doc here about the history of the fortress - it's been around for quite some time.  It's a google translation from German, so it may read a little wacky.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Fafabulous Holidays.

One day, an old man went to the sea.
He'd always dreamt of a holiday Fafa away.  

So, he got on this

To go here

He stayed in this

and showered here

after spending the day here

with occasional breaks for one of these

He ate a lot of good things

Grilled red snapper with taro fries

He received a beautiful Christmas Eve present

He enjoyed some of this

And a fair amount of this

He was entertained by fire torches

and Tongan fireworks.  

And, all was good in that land fafa away.


Monday, October 24, 2011

When you work, what is your job?

It’s funny how some things from childhood remain such vivid memories as an adult.  Being born a Capricorn or maybe due to a loose strand of DNA, I am prone to streaks of stubbornness, which used to easily morph into a tantrum rage when things didn’t go my way.  This led to extreme pouting, so much so my grandmother would tell me “If you stick out that lip any further, I will be able to sit on it.”  When you are 5, that image alone is enough to create behavior change.  

I’ve learned that things are not always intended to go ‘my way’.  I’ve no count of the times I’ve asked myself, “Why has this happened?  Just give me patience!”  So naturally, it would turn out I would end up in the Peace Corps where “it all takes time, just be patient, it can take a year to really integrate, build trust and don’t push or be pushy” are staples of the Tongan training diet.  Last December we completed training, were sworn in and sent out into the Tongan world.  My world would be working with a Tongan church and their money transfer business.

My invitation to service was as a business teacher and I was looking forward to it - a lot.  My whole business career has been pretty much working in offices and taking a turn in the classroom was different, challenging.  So, when I got to Nuku’alofa, I came to my post as a business consultant, i.e. an office worker.  Gotcha!  Well, I’ve never worked for a church before, I told myself.  That will be different.  I’ve worked in a lot of money transfer environments before, so that isn’t so different.

I had met my counterpart-to-be prior and he had asked if I had a computer with me.  Hearing I did, he said to bring it to the office as they have a wireless network and I could access email, etc.  Well, good on me, because when I got there, I realized there were only three computers and not one of them intended for my use.  It was downhill from there.  My counterpart just sort of disappeared most days, and my supervisor tells me that she is going to New Zealand for 3 months and I’m thinking, “Dudes, what’s up?  If you hadn’t picked me up at the airport, I might think you didn’t even know I was coming.”  Oh, I did get an assignment to write a foreign exchange policy.  That was it.  So on my own, I started to do some basic workflows to learn how the work and money moves (always important) and you would have thought I was trying to take everyone's job away.  I didn’t blame the staff, I’m betting they were never told much about why I was coming to work there – so, at least, all of us were in the dark on the secret. Then it was decided to have an audit of the business and they would wait for that before knowing what I would work on.

I knew in my soul that I had gone through all this for a purpose and there was a reason to be here.  It wasn’t time for all of that business stuff yet, I had to integrate, build relationships with my co-workers, the church compound workers and my neighbors.  Each day I’d get ready, greet everyone with a smile and a hearty malo e lelei – thinking maybe this is the day it will all make sense.  People would ask, “What are you doing?  How’s work?”  #Just fine, doing good, don’t ask for details because I don’t know.  My program officer at Peace Corps was getting quite persistent and I reassured her that there was an audit ongoing, the staff was most welcoming and friendly and the results will help them decide my action plan.  Meanwhile, I was integrating, everything was going to work out, I wasn’t complaining, don't vote me off the island and patience is a virtue!

I had been doing some data entry work, and although I was glad they were taking the time to get their transactions into some kind of database, my program manager was adamant it was a job they could hire a temp to do and I should be doing seminars and training of staff.  I had previously tried to organize an activity, my supervisor said the staff thought it was a good idea but the church conference was coming up, people would have to take time off to cook for all the guests, so we would have to wait until that was over.  The training never happened.  And so, I continued on, smiles, determination, resolve and facing each day as it would be the dawning of Aquarius.

One day a trio of ministers came in, gathered everyone near and an announcement was made.  The conversation was in Tongan, I knew it was serious and after it was over, I found out that we were to have a new General Manager and Aquarius had indeed dawned.  Since then, he has reorganized, re-aligned, fired and promoted.  My program manager was thrilled and sent a letter off to the Board telling them of my background, what Peace Corps expected my role to be and ways I could help.  The GM gave me the new org chart and asked if I could write job descriptions.  With a quick “no problem” I went to work and gave him the first one to him to review.  After a lot of smiles and no corrections to my draft, I then proceeded to finish the 15 or so others, then moved on to edit the staff policy manual and create a staff confidentiality agreement.  He presented everything at a Board meeting and came back to tell me they affirmed my role as a Business Consultant and Advisor.  'Aho fiefia!  A happy day, indeed.  We’re now in the midst of some financial reconciliation (can’t seem to get away from that even in Tonga!) and general ledger development.  Just before I left on vacation, I submitted a grant application for a new computer installation in the office  Still awaiting word and hopeful it will happen soon.  There will be a lot to do when we can implement that.  It’s just a matter of being patient. 

And as the GM told me the other day, ‘‘ 'Oua fakavavevave.” / Don’t rush.  “We will take things slowly.”

So, Kris, thanks for asking the question.  It was very timely, and oh, when I work, it’s Monday through Thursday, 8:30 – 5:00.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Malo. Malo he hiva.

These words are spoken in virtually every church service in Tonga.  “Thank you.  Thank you for the music.”
Music is one of the constants in Tongan culture, right up there with food, napping, rugby and joking.  When I first arrived at home-stay training, I would sit out in front of the house and watch the youth go strolling by, loudly singing with repetition.  I soon realized they were practicing their hymns.  Everyone takes their hymnal to church and they are dutifully opened when it’s time to sing praise, but Tongans usually don’t have to look at the words – they’ve sung these hymns since childhood and know them by heart.  They also know their own part of the song, since men usually sing different phrasing than the female voices.  How they know alto from bass and soprano from tenor is the subject of this post and should only be read by the brave.  It concerns sheet music which I can not read in any language, and thus, I can not at all begin to explain Tongan sheet music.  It's quite different and I will rely on our friend, Wikipedia, to help explain.  So, here goes:

"The Tu’ungafasi or Tongan music notation is a subset of the standard music notation, originally developed by the missionary James Egan Moulton in the 19th century for singing church hymns in Tonga.
Tongan music from the pre-European times was not really music in the current sense but rather a non tonic recital (like the 'pater noster'), a style still known nowadays as the tau fakaniua. Therefore when the missionaries started to teach singing, they had also to start with music from scratch. They found the doh-ray-mi-fah-sol-la-si-doh scale sufficient for their needs, avoiding the very complex and difficult to learn international music notation. But due to the limited number of consonants in the Tongan language, the note names were localised into to-le-mi… Unfortunately the word 'tole' is a vulgar expression for the vagina, and as such not to be used.
Moulton then developed a system where the main notes were indicated with the numbers 3 to 9, while a strike to the digits was used to sharpen them, for example: 7, being 7# or 8b. At the end the full 12 notes of the octave became: 3-3-4-4-5-6-6-7-7-8-8-9, which are pronounced as: to-lu-fa-ma-ni-o-no-tu-fi-va-a-hi, (variants of the Tongan numerals 3 to 9 being tolu, fā, nima, ono, fitu, valu, hiva). To extend the single octave (midi octave number 4) into the next higher, a dot can be put above the number. To reach the next lower, a dot or a little tail can be put under them.  If needed 2 tails can be taken to arrive at even lower pitches, but that is rare.  After all the notation is made for human singing, it does not need to have the extended range of musical instruments.
The Moulton notation, or Tongan notation was extremely popular and is still cherished by the Tongans. It is extremely common to see bandmasters writing out the music on the blackboards in the church halls during choir practices."  
I saw the following at Siasi o Tonga in Ha'apai in April.  It definitely is still being used.

"Tongan singers recognise up to 4 voices, which results in the typical 4 lines of numbers in the notation.  The leading voice is called 'fasi', a male voice.  The next one is kānokano or alto, a female voice.  The third is the tēnoa or tenor, and the last one the laulalo or bass.  Occasionally the bass sings a different lyrics than the rest.  The middle octave (of the 3 octave range mentioned above), varies with the voice, the kānokano is usually one above the tēnoa, while the laulalo is one below.  In addition the exact position of the middle doh or C depends on the key signature as in this schedule: When 3 notes are shown, the fasi and alto are together on top, the tenor is in the middle, and the bass is on bottom.  When 2 notes are shown, the tenor and bass are taken together, as otherwise the basses would come too low.  Some musicians, however, take the bass octave always equal the tenor, causing for some signatures the bass coming too high.  Then they need 2 tails under a number to reach a really low note.
The duration of a note is not indicated by a different symbols, as in the international music notation but by the number of notes in a beat.  The more notes in a beat, the shorter each has to be.  For example in the fasi ʻo e tuʻi ʻo e ʻotu Tonga (national anthem), we find as first measure: |3:-3/5:5|6:4/5:-5|
Every vertical bar (|) is a measure separator (often double at the begin and end of a stanza).  As this music has a 4/4 time signature
|3:-|-:-| is an example for a 2/4 time signature; 2 beats in a measure, every beat a quarter note long.  This results in a whole C. Note that the tie dashes can extend into following measures, unlike the international music notation where the note is to be repeated and then tie arcs are needed.  Some Tonga musicians following that example would also write a 3 in the second measure instead of a dash and also would then need tie arcs.
More time signatures
In 2/4 (like |3:4|) and 3/4 (like |3:4:5|) and 4/4 (like |3:4/5:6|) time signature every beat is a quarter note. Two digits (…:34:…) makes each an eighth note; have four digits (…:3456:…) and each is a sixteenth.  Three digits (…:345:…) are possible, the first one being a quarter and both others each an eighth, but might be confusing.  Some musicians put a comma or dot inside the beat (…:3,45:…) to remind the singers of the unequal duration.  But the real use is with a tie (…:3-4:…), to have a 3/8 note followed by a 1/8.
2/2 and 3/2 signatures are rarer, but work the same as the …/4 signatures except that all beats are twice as long.  One digit in a beat being a half note and so forth.
Occasionally one finds 6/8 (like |3:4|) and 12/8 (like |3:4:5:6|) time signatures. Then every single digit is a 3/8 note, while the most common occurrence is 3 digits in one beat, (…:345:…) each of them of course one eighth. Also here two digits are possible, the first one being a quarter and the second an eight, but again with all the pitfalls as the 3 digits in the …/4 notation. It is mainly used for (…:3:-4:…) meaning a 5/8 note followed by a 1/8."
If you've gotten to this point, thank you for your patience.  Maybe you are a musician like Dick or Zac and (hopefully) find this instructional and/or informative.  I just find it fascinating - choirs sing these pages like reading their favorite love story.

Note: My counterpart at work is (the best) fai hiva (choir director) at our church and was good enough to share some of his choir's music.  Thanks Tatafu.
Malo.  Malo he hiva.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Big Top hits Tongatapu!

We bought tickets for The Magic Circus of Samoa in the afternoon for the 7 pm performance.  VIP seating costs TOP$15.00, regular seating TOP$10.00.  The VIP gets you seats right in front of the stage area although I think most seating is good.  The tent is quite large inside, well maintained and bright with primary colors.  At 6 pm, the concession tent opened and you were allowed more than ample time to get you supplies of popcorn, candy, fruit punch flavored lemonade and Batman inflatable toys.  Why Batman?  Not sure, other than his popularity with the kids.  The reason for ample time is that you could only get into the concession area.  We weren't admitted to the big tent until about 6:30.  Bruno is a merchandiser.  (And a sailor, I learned, as the big tent and all travel by boat.)

"Ladies and Gentlemen and children of all ages.  Welcome to Tongatapu and Bruno's Magic Circus of Samoa.  Sit back and be amazed by the greatest circus performers ever assembled under the Big Top.  Are you ready for the show?   Are you ready to be entertained?" 

The crowd went wild with applause, cheering, whistling, stamping of feet as the lights went out, the tent was enveloped in darkness and theatre smoke set upon us from the stage.  At that point, we were indeed children of all ages.

Cue spotlight.  The ringmaster, Tupai Bruno Royale, enters center stage - larger than life.  A big man, big stomach and big, colorful Aloha shirt.  And, as the show went on, we learned he liked to change those shirts - a lot.  Almost as many costume changes as Cher at the Colosseum.

Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take any pictures.  I mean, with death defying feats being performed, one doesn't want flashes going off and disrupting an artist in the midst of displaying his/her bravado.

First up, the Polynesian beauties of Samoa on the balancing globes.  Two very pretty young ladies from Samoa balancing on exercise balls - round and round they go, up the ramps, down the ramps.  Great exercise for the thighs and buttocks, to be sure.  As were most of the performers, they were assisted by two shirtless Samoan beauties, Tasi and Tine, of the male gender and six pacs and all too ready to assist with the rings, hoops and other equipment being tossed about.

Then we got introduced to Toetu!  A Samoan midget of Asian descent, clown and mime and with his partner, Coconut, a very entertaining comic duo.  Ever met a buxom bombshell from Bogata?  Well, we did and she is famous for her trapeze head-stand feats.  Smiling the whole time.  Incredible.  And, of course, the lavalava wrapped Samoans were there to help, also smiling the whole time and throwing her rings to twirl on her appendages while balancing on her headstand perch.  Then, we met Ms. Rita from Nepal - what? - doing quite an amazing foot balancing act with smaller exercise balls and competently attended to by Tasi and his six pac.  Next up, Gipetto on the slack wire.  I only assume he is from Italy, which makes sense since we have an international show, and of course, he is assisted by Tine.  I'm exhausted at this point, as are Tasi and Tine, so we take a break.  Lemonade anyone?

First up after intermission are the absolutely incredible Hip Hop Boys on a Pole.  Jinnet nailed it, when upon viewing the setup before the lights came up, said. "looks like we're going to have some pole dancing".  Wait, isn't that Tasi?  isn't that Tine?  And isn't that Gipetto?  Where were the other two hiding in the first act?  Holy crap...these guys are everywhere.  Bruno requires multitasking in his performers.  But I digress...These guys were amazing, climbing that pole like a coconut palm, balancing of each other's arms, hanging horizontally from the pole with no support other than their shoulders - they pump serious iron in their training routines, me thinks.  Next up Rico, the juggler and winner of the 2010 Circus Performer Of the Year Award (in Madrid).  He's assisted by the Bogota Bombshell, still smiling, dancing and pantomiming to the Spanish music being played.  No wonder Rico won the award - he can juggle a lot of things at the same time and it doesn't look easy.  Altho, friend Jinnet nonchalantly whispers to me...'did you know juggling is done in Tonga?'  huh?  (This is not to say it originated in Tonga, and I have yet to see a juggler on the streets, here as explained in the link.)  We also had Ms. Hula Hoop from Holland (who doubled as the photographer for pictures in a key chain one could purchase as a souvenir) and must have spun at least 25 hoops around her ample Dutch curves.  Thanks Tasi for assisting.

After a less than memorable 4 legged illusionist/magician from somewhere, direct from Parguay comes Roberto and the flying trapeze.  This time the boys have to assist by pulling the rope that controls Roberto's trapeze height in the arena and they are busy - up/down, back/ forth while Roberto performs feats of daring including the giant swings back and forth and then dropping from the trapeze only to end up inches from the floor and certain death. Whew!

How about a little trampolene?  Here's Gipetto, Roberto, the Bogata Bombshell, Tasi, and Tine, again.  Tine had also performed a trick bike routine with his cross dressing friend Gina.  How many times can I say it?  This show delivers!

So, let's slow it down with a little audience participation with Toetu.  And who should get picked?  None other than Mark and Elena, fellow Peace Corps volunteers and neighbors and two more fun loving adventurers could not have been selected.  They were teased unmercifully by Toetu and Mark was not about to leave Elena alone on the stage with that little clown turned comic sex maniac.  

By this time, Bruno is in his 13th shirt of the night and not to be outdone by any of his competent cast.  He is, after all, a reformed magician, so he does a little audience participation of his own and has each successive audience member fearful of what embarrassing sleight of hand might befall them.  We laugh, they kind of laugh.  It was circus shtick.  All leading up to the big finale - the Samoan Fire Dance.  By now, you know and we knew that Tasi and Tine would be involved in some manner and Bruno again does not disappoint.  

The next time you find yourself in the South Pacific and see a poster for Bruno's Magic Circus of Samoa, please do not hesitate to go.  I'm sure the acts change, different equipment gets used and even cast members may alternate.  But I'm sure you'll always find Bruno, his shirts, his shiny tent and Samoan beauties, female and male, ready to give you a great show.  Thanks Bruno - well done and happy sailing.

Note:  Some names may not be used correctly, due to memory problems, hearing problems or in the interests of possible identity theft.