Are you Married?

One of the Peace Corps volunteers serving here in Tonga lives near a vegetable stand. He often stops there to pick up a pile of tomatoes or a stack of cucumbers. As would be expected, he has gotten to know the people who work at this stand and considers them friends. Occasionally, he'll stop by just to chat or even have a drink with them.

That was the case Monday night, a friendly visit, some Tongans and an American, just hanging out. Or at least that is how it seemed. As he was talking to them, he sees a big flatbed truck pull up and in the back a young woman, all "dolled" up, dressed to the '9's". He has seen her before, but never spoken with her. The truck pulls up in front the of the vegetable stand, the young woman, who was probably somewhere between 18 and 20 gets out and comes over.

The following conversation took place in Tongan, but went something like this:

"Are you married?"
"Not Yet"
"Will you marry me?"

Yes, you read that right: "Will you marry me". The woman asked him to get married. And yes, she was serious. We were warned during our training about this, but it's the first time I've actually heard about it happening. I've often been asked if I am going to marry a Tongan woman as have most of the guys in our group. In fact, asking someone if they are married is a pretty common question. My language teacher told me that when I am introducing myself at a meeting or workshop, I should tell a little joke and she suggested that when I say "I am not married", that I add, "but perhaps I'll marry a Tongan."

There are many reasons that a young woman may want to marry an American. Even though we live on next to nothing and live at the level of most Tongan people, it is hard to overcome the reputation of being a "rich American". For many, America still is the land of opportunity and getting married to a American is a quick way to get there and have a better life. And sometimes it is just that the person is more attracted to Americans than Tongans.

In this case, we'll probably never know the motivation. Because in case you were wondering, they won't be getting married.

***Other News***
On Thursday I got to visit three of the bank's clients at their businesses. All three were having problems with record-keeping and we went to show them how they could improve their record keeping. None of the three were actually tracking their profit, only how much money they had at the end of the day. The businesses were very diverse; a liquor store, an electrician and a tyre (That is the correct spelling here) shop.

I really enjoyed getting out and meeting with these Tongan business owners. Getting to help these folks is one of the reasons I joined Peace Corps. Hopefully I will get to do a lot more of this when I get to my permanent job in Vava'u. (I move three weeks from today).

I mentioned in my last post about how remittances are the top source of income to Tonga. Here's a article from Matangi Tonga online about the issue.

Tonga struggles to find a balance in global economy

04 Feb 2008, 12:02 Nuku'alofa, Tonga:
By Pesi Fonua
TONGA needs more remittances and more foreign aid flowing into the country, if it is to maintain a balance of trade with Australia and New Zealand, its main trading partners, Hon. Afu'alo Matoto, the Minister of Information said last week.

Tonga is in a difficult situation because while it is importing more than it exports to these countries the value of the pa'anga is fluctuating lower to the value of the New Zealand, Australian, and the Fijian dollars. Although the pa'anga is currently holding its value against the US dollar, at the same time the value of the US dollar is dropping against the Australian and the New Zealand dollars.Afu'alo, commenting on the economy, said that remittances and foreign aid are the two main sources of foreign currency earnings for Tonga at the moment.

His view Tonga's immediate prospects for the future, "is a perpetuation of the current situation."Afu said that Tonga had chosen to be a part of the global economy and to abide by the rules and regulations of the global economy, which "has made things very expensive for us."

He gave as an example of the new Building Code, "which we all agree is good but inadvertently has pushed up the cost of building a house, and of course the premium on insurance."Afu said that it is the same with our trading with Australia and New Zealand. There is no concession in the prices of goods that they export to the islands. "They are charging us the same price that they ask from other countries."With regards to PACER, the Free Trade agreement between Forum Island countries and New Zealand and Australia he said that these two countries are now demanding to have the same trade arrangement as the Pacific Islands were currently negotiating with the European Union, EPA agreement. "

Our EPA agreement negotiation with the European Union is on hold until next December."The Europeans are negotiating for a total free trade between Europe and the islands, but the islands are a bit weary because they have very little to trade with the Europeans.Afu said that Tonga and other islands are hoping to negotiate to enable Pacific islanders to find jobs on European ships and sports people to play in Europe, "but those are just trivial opportunities, comparing with allowing European products and services free access into Tonga."

This is the kind of free access that is demanded by New Zealand and Australia, and Tonga's only hope of balancing the trade imbalance is the New Zealand scheme of allowing Tongan seasonal workers to work temporarily in New Zealand. There is also talk for a similar scheme in Australia.Afu expressed his concern over the preoccupation by Tongans for a political restructuring of our political system. The question is would it make any different?"Any political change now I think will only set us further back. "Tongans have to look hard to find an opportunity within the system where they can make a living. With regards to small shops, the Chinese have got a strong foothold on it. One Chinese starts with one Falekoloa in town, then expands and has one or two Falekoloa's out in the villages. I think we have to look at other opportunities," he said referring to services such as plumbing, house painting and other skills which are in high demand but are not readily available.

Before he was appointed as a Cabinet Minister Afu'alo was formerly the General Manager of the Tonga Development Bank, an executive with the Bank of Tonga, the Secretary for Finance, Tongan's Accountant General for a number of years. He was recently Tonga's acting Minister of Finance.

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  1. So what was the answer.... did he marry her?

  2. The answer was a big "Ikai" or "No". In fact, I'm betting he never even sees her again unless they happen to bump into each other somewhere.