Debt Collection

I think I would hate being a debt collector in the USA. Knocking on doors, trying to get deadbeats to pay you money you have borrowed. I'm sure you would get doors slammed in your face, physically threatened and probably cussed at a lot. It would even get worse if you were threatening to foreclose on someone's home and force them out into the streets.

Imagine my apprehension when the manager of the bank asked me to accompany him to visit ARD Clients. ARD stands for Asset Recovery Division and if your loan is in ARD, it means the bank is going after the assets you put up to borrow money. This is the final step and usually only happens after months and sometimes a year of nonpayment.

We head out first thing in the morning and our first stop turns out to be a person who lives just a block away from me. I'm thinking this is not a good thing. I don't want someone who lives that close to me being pissed off. I stay in the car and it turns out there is no one home.

We make a couple of other stops and the same thing: No one at home. It is around 10am, which is actually late in the day for Tongans, who often wake up at 4:30 or 5:00am. We then head to the very edge of Vava'u. It's as far from the main city of Neiafu as you can get in a car. This time, there is someone home. It turns out to be the son of the people who owe money. He volunteers that his parents are now living in another village and tells us the name of the village. He is polite but he is not the guy who owes the money. I'm wondering if he really told us the truth.

We make another stop, in another village. The neighbor tells us the man we are seeking is doing some work across the street from the Church. We turn around and go to the Church. There he is. He comes over to the car, greets us like old friends and carries on a conversation with the branch manager in Tongan. The manager hands him a letter to sign, which is from the banks attorney saying his assets are about to be seized. He signs it without reading it and as we are leaving says "Malo", which means thank you. No confrontation, no shouting and no threats. Of course he knows he owes the money, but then again so do people who are behind on their bills in the US. I'm wondering if this is really the "Friendly Island" as Tonga is nick-named, even when the bill collectors are after you.

We make a couple of more stops, not finding anyone home. Finally we head to the village where the son had earlier told us his parents are now living. We pull up to a random house where we see people standing outside and ask if they know the couple. Of course they do. They give us directions to their house. We get there and it appears someone is home as all the doors and windows are wide open. We call out their names because in Tonga, you don't knock; you just stand outside and call out a name. No answer. I'm thinking, yes, here is someone who is clearly avoiding us. A neighbor comes out of her house and says the man is not home but the woman is down the street. Neighbors always know everything. She offers to go get her for us. Much to my surprise, a few minutes later the woman comes walking up to the car. She is very pleasant and again signs the letter without reading it. She says her husband will be back that evening and they will call the bank's lawyer the next day. As we are leaving, she says "Malo".

This same scenario gets repeated several more times as we find a few more clients. None are irate and all are pleasant. Perhaps being a debt collector, at least in Tonga, isn't that bad after all.

***Other News***

If you have Google Earth or some other similar program, you can check out my house and the neighborhood where I live. Here are the coordinates

West 173 degrees, 59.193 minutes
South 18 degrees, 39.007 minutes

I have not actually done this myself (due to very slow Internet connections) and my home is only about two years old, so it is possible it is not there yet. The building and big field across from my house are the soldier's barracks.

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  1. I look forward to your cultural observations. I've recommended your blog to friends and family. And the photos - as "they" say "a picture is worth a thousand words".

  2. I sent the previous comment. Glad you are back in Vava'u. Can never remember whether to sign my name or if it shows up.

    Stan's Mom