Picture your average track and field meet. From my vast experience (a.k.a. a one year track career in high school), I thought I knew essentially what to expect when my school participated in our first track meet. There would be a few races, parents watching from the stands, and well…that’s about it. As it turns out, I got more than I bargained for.
Our journey to the track meet began with cramming 15 kids + Nola into the back of a small truck. During our ride, the kids sang victory songs, taunting all the towns we passed along the way. When we arrived, all the moms staked out a nice viewing spot and laid down their ‘fala’ (woven mats that a good Tongan mom doesn’t leave home without!). No event in Tonga can begin without a prayer, so next a ‘faifekau’ [minister] stood up and delivered a quite thorough prayer/sermon blessing our brave runners! Next, to kick off the day’s events, kids from each school lined up with big banners and proceeded to march around the track like miniature soldiers.
As the races began, most families rested under giant tents set up for each team. You do NOT sit under the hot Tongan sun all day; a tent is quite the necessity! As I glanced around, I realized there was a very disproportionate female to male ratio under said tents. I was a little confused, because I assumed dads would love to come cheer the kids on. Alas, my confusion subsided when I spotted the rolling Kava-mobile! [I think I’ve talked about it before, but Kava is a traditional drink made from the kava plant’s root. Men frequently have kava circles where they sit, imbibe, and talk about life while enjoying the relaxing effects of Kava] One of the local guys decided to brew up a big batch of Kava and turn the back of his truck into a flatbed Kava circle in honor of Sports Day.
I thought I was all set to be a great spectator during Sports Day. However, I somehow ended up as the official 2nd Place name recorder. After each race, our 2nd place runner would scamper over to my table and I’d attempt to record his or her name. HOLY MOLY! I was not adequately prepared for this task. I strained to hear the kids’ names as ‘Mambo Number 5’ blared next to me. I may also have been distracted by the group of moms [and a few dads as well] groovin’ right out there in lane number one. Between races, they’d head out to the field and dance as I’ve never witnessed moms dancing before! [more on that in future posts…] During all of this hoopla, I am still attempting to decipher Tongan names. Unfortunately, there are no Jane Smith’s here. After I asked the kid to repeat himself about 7 times, I finally had a name like ‘Epalahame Vea Vaimo’unga written down. I am assuming most of my name interpretations were pretty incorrect, but oh well! I tried.
In classic Tongan fashion, we also had some ‘taimi malolo’ [break time!]. The whistling and cheering abruptly came to a halt. In fact, almost all chatter ceased. Why, you ask? Because it is ‘taimi kai’ [time to eat] of course! Moms unloaded giant baskets filled with enough roasted pork, hot dogs, chicken, and yams to feed an army. As usual, multiple moms set food in front of Nola laughing and insisting that I needed to ‘kai ke mate!’ [which essentially means eat until you die. It’s quite a popular phrase here :) ]
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my first Tongan track meet. It was extremely well organized and included a DJ, dancing moms, a full Tongan lunch feast, and even the rolling Kava-mobile. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch a track meet the same way again…