I quoted the headline from the SF Chronicle: “Gas prices turn drivers from gas guzzlers to gas sippers,” but I benefitted from the big bad vans. By my third day I had contributed quite a bit to global warming, making round-trips into Nuku’alofa to see the Kava ceremony where the King was presented with about a hundred ‘umued pigs, another to go shopping at every market on Tongatapu to get food for the coronation feast, another to see the coronation itself, which turned out not to be mine (Sorry, Bob), and still one more for the Tutupakanava, the traditional torch-lighting spectacle around the wharf in honor of the newly-crowned king. I went shopping with the driver, Finau, and we must have driven to every market and store on Tongatapu to get the food that would be prepared for our village’s contribution of ten tables. Everyone in the village was contributing twenty pa’anga. I “treated” at the counter whenever they’d let me. And I put what I could into the green bags.
On the day that I decided to support the bus system, after an hour of waiting I decided it wouldn’t support me, and when a van full of policemen drove by, I hitched a ride back to Ha’ateiho, only I wasn’t quite sure just where in Ha’ateiho the house was once we got off the main road. Didn’t the police know? After leaving our carbon footprint all over the neighborhood, I called ‘Ana on my cell phone, and she walked outside to where we were making the call about three yards from her door.
‘Ana, who had already told me about the bad effect of deportees sent back to Tonga, told me, “We kept seeing the police drive by, and we thought they were looking for someone who’d committed a crime.”
“That was me,” I said, thinking of my carbon footprint. “They found me and deported me from Nuku’alofa.” I gave her another green bag.
It turned out that a shop in town, near the Café Escape and just yards from empty blocks where buildings had stood before the 2006 riots, sold green bags that said “‘OUA ‘E TALI TANGAI MILEMILA.” Don’t use plastic bags. But everywhere I looked people were using them.
When I gave a green bag and a Wrap ‘n’ Mat to Vika, ‘Ana’s daughter-in-law and a doctor at the Vaiola Hospital on Tongatapu, she told me, “I remember the days when my mom would take us shopping and she’s always say, ‘Go get the basket.’” Were those days over?
My thoughts soon turned to water the subject of water, that is. I found out that ‘Ana and her family had had to go to their other house to get water because their tank no longer had any. I didn’t understand this business of tanks. When I was in Tonga in 19701971, I drew water from the well and poured it a bucketful at a time into a Gerry can, and when I needed water, I scooped it out a cup at a time. But how did tanks work, and why did the house I was in still have enough? I wondered, too, if I was depleting the water supply. I visited the school where I had taught in 1970, and it seemed unchanged except for the cell phones in the teachers’ hands and the vans that picked up the children who in past ages had walked to and from school; and, while there was a water tank, there wasn’t enough water for the children, who were asked to bring water from home. Back in the 1970s, the children had lined up to brush their teeth. They didn’t do that anymore. Water was too scarce.
I stared at the bottles of water on the kitchen sink the bottles ‘Ana had provided for me. I could see through them to the grassy lawn and the coconut tree. But where did they come from? Who were the bottlers? Did they deplete the water supply? What was this about ground water? Rainwater? Tanks?
I went to a beautiful new home owned by a family who had lived in a hut forty years earlier. It was a mansion. But there was no water for the toilet.
Then my persona of Eco-Bore could feel an assignment coming on: a research paper for any students unfortunate enough to sign up for my class instead of Bob’s, where they could be writing from the point of view of Koko the Gorilla or advising George Bush on the difficulties of learning their native language if he thought English was too hard. But, hey, my students were finding web sites like tapping.com, giving not just three reasons not to consume bottled water but twenty, including that it would give you smoker’s lips: those unsightly fine lines and wrinkles from constantly wrapping around an object.
THEN CAME SUNDAY, when the Tongan Constitution makes it unlawful to work. (Article 6: “The Sabbath Day shall be kept holy in Tonga and no person shall practise his trade or profession or conduct any commercial undertaking.)