Quintessence of Tonga. Washing line snaps: replace washing line. Remove old line? Why??

Quintessence of Tonga. Washing line snaps: replace washing line. Remove old line? Why??

It is Saturday, dusk. I return from a recce to watch with the Fijian housekeeper the last minutes of a Fiji/Tonga rugby match. Happily for local sensibilities, Fiji wins handsomely.

Out on my walk, the local roads are paved with coral, coconut shells, and mud. Men are walking about in posses. The girls and women are sweeping the yards. The yards are littered with bottles, squashed cans and unidentifiable human litter trodden into the mud pond by the house pigs. But the leaves are swept from around the tree roots and off the doorstep. Messy nature, it can’t keep to itself, better sweep it up.

Occasionally a leaf pile is lit, overpowering the franjipani scent in the still evening air. The smoke says there are more than leaves burning. Perhaps plastic got caught in the sweeping; there is still no sign it was deliberately targeted for removal. The plastic wrappers and metal cans are signs of wealth, so they get to stay longer than a palagi eye likes. So says my co-guest and co-conference speaker Cecilia, a Polish geographer teaching at ‘Atenisi University for semester one.

A row of giant clams, insides filled with concrete, are painted blue along a boundary wall. We see only the ocean colour, and the clam trophy count. Opposite, a community kava club rooms leads the architectural refinement. Water tanks placed under verandah corners to mark the outer space. The collection of column styles edging the verandah are upstaged, so cannot offend.

Returning home, the chained dogs jump between loud guard duties and submissive back-rolling. On the other side of the gate, six tiny cats eye my entry, but stay still on their evening-warm concrete. They consider whether I might be fearsome or feed them. Just one is brave enough to sounds submit to ear tickling, the price of getting close to the curiosity of my Pringles flavoured fingers. Is this the contract cats put their paw-mark to, to evolve into domestication and so secure their safe survival? “You can enjoy my soft loveliness if I can have some of your food”. Lucky them, for their fur and lithe structure. And did solitary aloofness form part of the appeal, or was it the essential defence against losing their souls in the deal? These six have their souls, but precious little sustenance.

My single crackling and flickering compact fluorescent fails to illuminate my keyboard lying on the eighties-era MDF computer desk. Instead I can read it propped on the firm field-sized bed. Tongans need size, not soft mattresses. A poaka pork and coconut diet is cheaper. Dim light seems the island way, with slow time. An ageing strip fluorescent lights the dining table enough to see faces and food, while keeping the rest of the room in shadow. A medieval focus on the feast; raw fish salad, egg salad, roast poaka, yam, breadfruit, slaw, and melon scooped into ice-cream-like balls. Best-lit is the bathroom. The plumbing, though, doesn’t match this standard.

As the crepusculum creeps, the roosters cease scenting the air with their crowing. Children’s play sounds win the air waves: gentle gambolling, dog joined; the sounds of warm humidity. I should surrender to the soporific sounds. Like a Muslim country, call to worship, by the Catholic bell, will be well before dawn. The roosters can take up after the changes are rung out.

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