Tongan Punishment

In many ways, it is sometimes easy to forget that I live in a developing country. Sometimes it doesn’t feel that different. However, there are times when it really hits you in the face that things are different here.

During my interview for the Peace Corps, I remember my recruiter Tricia asking me how I would handle myself if I saw something that I thought was inappropriate but was culturally acceptable. I hadn’t thought much about it until my last week on Vava’u when the issue smacked me right in the face.

We were sitting in language class on Saturday morning on the porch of our trainer’s house. All of a sudden we heard children shrieking at the top of their lungs. We looked over into the next yard and watched a woman beat her daughter, who was perhaps two years old, with a switch. She kept hitting her and hitting her. Then she picked up a large stick and went after her son, who was probably four years old, and hit him repeatedly. The children were in tears and we all just sat there and watched. My emotions quickly ran from astonishment to anger to helplessness. In Tongan, it’s perfectly acceptable for a parent to hit their children. I had previously seen some children who had their ears flicked or who got a light spank but nothing like this. And clearly in my opinion, kids that age could not have done anything that warranted the beating they received.

One of my classmates remarked that children who misbehave in school also get hit and that one teacher where she had visited keeps a stick in the room to keep order.

After the beating was over, we all just sat there for a minute in stunned silence. Finally, our teacher, a 71 year old Tongan woman said “Some parents are not very educated”. Her remark made me feel a bit better that what we had witnessed might not have been the norm, but I’ve had a hard time putting the sight of those two little children being beaten out of my mind.

In the United States, we would have called 9-1-1 on that woman and her children probably would have been taken away. Now, I know why Tricia asked me that question.

***Other News***
I now officially have a place to live on Vava’u. The bank told me this week that they have rented the house for me that I mentioned in my last post. In Tonga, housing is provided by the host company, so the bank will pay my rent for the house while I’m working there. I am flying to Vava'u on February 29th and will start working at the Vava'u Branch of the Tonga Development Bank on Monday, March 3rd. I'll continue to work out of the main branch here in Nuku'alofa until then.

My friend Peter Levy, who is the only person I know who had actually been to Tonga before I left the United States just sent me some really neat pictures of Swallows Cave. I’ve updated my earlier post called “Secluded Beaches and an awesome cave” with his new photos. He took them on his last trip here.

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