…for such a time as this

Stories about the adventure that is Peace Corps Tonga

I believe this is called stealing

In a post last year, I recounted an experience where my phone was taken and then returned. This was one of my first experiences with what the Tongans call “borrowing”.

There is no personal property in Tonga. Sim Cards (the chip in the phone that makes it work) can be passed from one person to another, meaning that your co-worker’s phone number is constantly changing, cars are shared between neighbors regardless of whose family it came from, money is spent on the collective whole not just your family, research projects are done by mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts or anyone who has enough English to write the thing (and they are all on the environmental effects of erosion…ya think there is some copying going on?!). The food in your house is not considered “yours”, anyone who comes in can eat it. I thought I was exempt from this, being a palangi (Tongan word for white person), until now.

Last week, I noticed that my iPod was nowhere to be found. A few days later I went to grab my headlamp because it was dark out and couldn’t find that either. I took a moment to think. Did I put it in another bag? Is it behind my dresser? I wouldn’t have lent it out because I know that most Tongan’s don’t understand the value of electronics and therefore don’t take care of them the way I would. (Again, there’s no personal property, if your friend asks to borrow your computer, you can’t say no, you don’t think of it as yours). So where was my iPod and headlamp?

The morning after realizing that these two things were gone, I was running late for school and went to grab a granola bar from one of my “food boxes” (to keep the mice out). Ok, this was weird, I was short (not that I count my food items….ok, I do. When you can’t run out and buy another box of goodies, you know how many you have left!) This was weird…who was EATING my food??

That day, I returned home from school and realized I needed to print something in my office. I ran out and was gone for about 15 minutes. When I make short trips like this, I’ll close my door, but I do not lock it. The most I am gone is maybe a half hour.

This time, I come home and I see one of my neighbor kids eating a Nature Valley Peanut Butter granola bar. Um, they don’t sell those here, I bought them in Fiji. I kindly walk over to Sevita and ask him where he got that “mea” (thing in Tonga….go figure, no word for GRANOLA BAR….yeah, ‘cause you don’t have them here!). He laughs (like all Tongan kids do when you are trying to make a point) and doesn’t answer. I ask him again and he points to my house. He starts to tell me that the kid from across the way got it for him. I then notice an empty chip bag next to him, also from my house. I walk to my front door; you would have never noticed that someone went in. Then it dawns on me, kids in my house while I am not there, missing stuff…it all makes sense now.

I wait until the evening and ask the father of Sevita to come over. We have an uncomfortable conversation about what has happened. I tell him about the missing iPod, head lamp and food. He says he is sorry this has happened but assures me that it wasn’t his kids that came in my house. He can’t possibly know this is true, their one year old wanders over daily and mom will holler for her to come back when she realizes she is gone 20 or 30 minutes later. I ask if someone can talk to the neighbor about his son who is apparently the thief, no one will. My Tongan isn’t good enough, so I let it go.

I feel cheated; my trust for my neighbors has been broken. It’s not that their bad parents, it’s that parenting is different here. Again, the collective thing.  But, if this neighbor didn’t think it was wrong, why would he close the door when he left?  Tongans never close their doors.

Moral of the Story: never leave your door unlocked, you’re the only one on the block who locks it now, but at least you’ll have your granola bars.

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4 Comments»

  Phil Shepard wrote @

Classic clash of cultural values

  Lois wrote @

I think the Lingenfelters wrote about this in one of their books…

  Melissa wrote @

Just six more months!

  Elena wrote @

Maybe Ttap is just quite different than Ha’apai, but I believe that’s called Little Rude Snotty Kids in any culture.
Kids who do that here get a beating, whether they are taking special things from their parents or a “guest.” They should know better than to try and take advantage of you like that, and obviously they know they’re doing something wrong because they’re just laughing and won’t tell you.
And the parents are obviously so ashamed they don’t want to admit it to you or confront a neighbour. I would be surprised if there weren’t unseen punishments later…
That really sucks though. I feel like that’s not Tonga, that’s rude kids who need to be smacked. And I wholeheartedly support you if you decide to put the fear of God in them! 😀


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