Friday, October 5, 2012

The Super Bowl in Tonga

I know it's not February. So how can I be talking about the Super Bowl already?

Well, I'm not because here in Tonga they don't pay much attention to American football. They do, however, pay attention to akapulu (rugby).

In the Manly Department Tongans beat Americans by a landslide. Rugby is so hardcore. It's like football, minus the pads. Seriously. Think about football without pads for a second. Crazy, right?

Last Saturday Fatumu played in the Tongatapu Island Championships and it was a big deal. For such a tiny village to make it to the this particular game was really special... for everyone involved. Including me.


So we all piled into the bus - whose door doesn't close and whose driver loves to blare Celine Dion reggae - and drove into Nuku'alofa. After a morning in the capital city (where I somehow was able to find and inhale a chocolate milkshake), we caught the bus back to Tonga College.

Stepping off the bus I very much felt like I was at the World Quidditch Championships (Harry Potter reference anyone?). The field was muddy and people were dressed in colors representing which team they were cheering for - aside from the very buff gentleman with the rat tail that sat in front of me - he wore a tie dye shirt that said "The Sky is the Limit". Mark, Alissa, and I paid our 5 pa'anga for entry (about $3 US) and found a seat in the stands.


The game was suppose to start at 3pm, but began around 4:30pm - remember we're dealing with Tonga time here. Not many people stayed in the stands. Instead, they lined the fields so they could gain an up-close-and-personal akapulu experience. Most of the other Peace Corps volunteers ended up joining us so there was a rather large group of palangi sitting near the end zone (I don't think that's what they call it in rugby but for lack of a better term I'm using it).


About 2/3 of the way through the game there was a play that involved somebody on the red team hitting somebody from the green team (Fatumu) a little too hard and then a fuhu (fight) broke out. I've seen quick fights like this occur in college football - you know the kind: one or two punches and then the refs break it up - but this was something else. Part of the crowd rushed the field, women (whose sons were playing) started swinging straw purses... it was a little chaotic for about 60 seconds. And then it stopped - just as quickly as it had started.

People were back to smiling. Except for the guy who got punched in the face. He went inside the tent to get bandaged up. There was a little blood.

After a stern lecture from the man in charge of the megaphone, the game resumed. Actually, I'm not sure it was stern because I still don't know enough Tongan. I just assume it was because of his tone. Of course he could have been talking about running out of ramen noodles at the concession stand. I'm not really sure.


With 10 minutes left the sky opened up and it started to pour. Out of nowhere hundreds of bats started flying over the field. Why bats? Your guess is as good as mine. The cows in the field next door lied down. Apparently they do that when it rains. I ran under a tent. I watched as that Fatumu akapulu player - the one from the fuhu - got bandaged up from the fight. The game ended. Fatumu started cheering like it was the Super Bowl even though they lost 20-7. People were dancing in the rain. Slip-n-sliding in mud. Stomping in puddles.

They were just happy to be there.

And I was too.

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