Friday, September 28, 2012


The people in Fatumu (and in Tonga) are a friendly and curious bunch.

They are always asking questions about the palangi (white person) and wanting to know things about me and America.

Initial conversations seem to always include the following three questions:

1. What is your name? This is obvious. Anybody would ask this. And I usually respond with "'Amenita" or "Amanda" or "Mandy".

2. How are you doing? Again, this is a question I am use to answering. I usually respond with "very good" (sai aupito) or "excellent" (toto atu).

3. Are you married yet? Huh? Really? That's what you want to know next? Out of all the other things you could ask? Like where are you coming from? How about ... what are you doing? Do you like Tonga?

This dialogue happens... ALL THE TIME. All the time.

And since I'm not married - and I don't have a boyfriend, it's something I find myself being a little embarrassed to truthfully answer. This isn't how I really feel though ... I'm not embarrassed that Prince Charming hasn't shown up yet. He will. Sometime.

But I can't ignore the fact that the average age to marry in Tonga is 22. And that so much of a female's identity here seems to be wrapped up in when and who they marry. Remnants of Una's 21st birthday are all over the living room. The 21st birthday in Tonga is extremely significant for it marks when a young lady is ready to be married (if she hasn't already).

When people ask my age here and I tell them I'm 28, I usually get 1 of 2 reactions:

- Why aren't you married yet? (Followed by a look of pity)

- What?! But you look so young! (Followed by another look of pity).

So how do I respond to any of this?

Let's back up to Question #3: Are you married yet? I've found that it isn't actually enough to say "not yet" because then I'm asked follow up questions like:

- "Well, surely you have a boyfriend back in America!" (answer: Nope. I don't.)

- "How about marrying a Tongan man? They are so nice. They will treat you well. They are hard workers." (I am sure men in Tonga are very hard workers. In fact, I know this. However, I'm not actively looking for one right now so I don't need to hear about your friend's cousin, your sister's friend's brother, etc.)

Remembering what I learned in training (that flexibility and humor are important traits for every Peace Corps volunteer to embody), I came up with a solution.

Recently, this is how these types of conversations have panned out:

Me: Malo e lei lei! (Hello!)

Tongan friend: Malo e lei lei! Ko hai ho hingoa? (Hello! What is your name?)

Me: Ko hoku hingoa ko 'Amenita. Ko hai ho hingoa? (My name is Amanda. What is your name?)

Tongan friend: Ko hoku hingoa ko Sione. Fefe hake? (My name is Sione. How are you?)

Me: Toto atu! Fefe koe? (Excellent! How are you?)

Tongan friend: Sai pe. Oku ke osi mali? (Are you already married?)

Me: Ikai. (No.)

Tongan friend: Oku ke fie moa? (Do you have a chicken/boyfriend?)

Sidenote: The Tongan word, moa translates to both chicken and boyfriend in Tongan. I guess this is sometimes fitting... :)

Me: Io! Moa fakapaku! (Yes. Fried chicken.)

End Scene.

Usually this is followed by lots of laughter, a feeble attempt (on my part) to speak more Tongan and a change of subject.

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