Would you like to see a country with some impressive national pride? Come to Tonga. NOW! There are people wearing red….everywhere! I have been almost publicly shunned for wearing a red skirt/white shirt combo rather than an entirely red ensemble. There are also occasional ‘lakas’ [parades] consisting of lots of Tongans driving around the island and shouting!!
What is causing all this ruckus, you ask? Why, it’s rugby! For the past few weeks, Tonga has been participating in the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. Even more exciting, there is a player on the national team who hails from my village [giving my village, and our whole island, a reason to celebrate!]
On a recent Friday, my principal asked me if I’d like to ‘laka’ instead of school as usual. Naturally, I said ‘of course!’ I assumed we’d decorate his truck a bit and then go into town and drive down the main road…short and sweet. Do you think that is what happened? ‘Ikai.’[Definitely not.]
We did decorate his truck! The teachers literally chopped down two little trees and fastened them onto each side of his truck. We made posters, a banner, and even a giant eagle to represent our team, the ‘Ikale Tahi’ [Sea Eagles]. Then, far too many people climbed into the back of my principal’s truck and began the trek into town. On the way in, I began to suspect this ‘laka’ was going to be bigger then I’d anticipated. More and more trucks draped in red began appearing behind us…and then the honking began. Oiaue!
When we finally arrived in town, we proceeded to drive around and around for at least 3 hours! The trucks honked and honked, blared loud music, and occasionally made a pit stop to have an impromptu dance party. After these shenanigans, I assumed we might be finished. Nope. We left the big city of Neiafu and headed for the villages singing and shouting ‘Go Ikale Gooooooooo!’ In one particularly boisterous village, a man was ready for us with a giant pail of water. Right as we drove by, he tossed it at us successfully drenching me, and pretty much only me. However, it was a much needed cool down. Typical Nola style, I hadn’t prepared properly for what turned out to be an all day trek. I had no food, water, or sunscreen. Luckily Tongans are very generous. I ate plenty of snacks and drank enough water, but my poor nose was bright bright red after our day in the sun.
Our team may have only won 1 game thus far, but the Tongan team spirit has not diminished in the least. Long after the Rugby World Cup has finished, devoted fans here will be wearing red and looking ahead to 2015.