Piercing the Veil

Visiting a Rugby game on a Sunday afternoon is not exactly my idea of fun. The prospect of winning a game has never appealed to me to be much more than a waste of time and energy. But I half-heartedly agreed to tread along with a couple cruiser friends, hoping that it would initiate the penetration of the armor of tourism we were looking at from our anchorage. In spite of being an import from the high times of the British Commonwealth, there must be a local flair to it, I tried to convince myself.

The red clay of the Tongan soil was soon all over the players’ jerseys, pants and shoes and after a couple sets of light downpours from the smear grey sky the audience got their part too. Not the dignitaries, of course, they had their own raised little stall protecting them from the elements and also from the potential ire of their subjects. The royally appointed local governor was driven across the field in a tinted window sporting SUV, and like his lesser companions was dressed in the traditional black shirt and skirt, girdled by the typical Pandanus mat belted around the waist. His face would easily classify as savage, but so would the ones of the pink tourists from down under who mingled sparsely among the crowd. The game was as boring as any other sporting event, the show was in the audience where elders sat chatting on mats and youngsters fumbled with ear buds that wired them to the present times of remote controlled individualism. The good thing was that on the stroll up to the field on the hill and then back after the game we located two schools and one proved to be the seat of the Ministry of Education. We decided to give that one a visit on Monday to start our cultural endeavors in the curiously complex bureaucracy of the kingdom.

It took three hikes up the hill, two in pouring rain to be able to sit at the desk of Tevita, which stands for David, who would have been named Kavika in Hawaii in the realm of shifting consonants. Head Inspector of Government Primary Schools was his important sounding title. His assistant Lupe, which is the name of a local pigeon, as she revealed with an inward smile (or did she call it a dove?), had revealed to me earlier the divisions of the educational path the Tongan youth is filtered through: Six years of Primary School and then seven of Secondary for a total of thirteen years of mandatory schooling! He is a soft-spoken, friendly chap, a little on the shy side, full salt and pepper hair crowns his brown round face. He listened patiently to my passionate explanation of our intent to instill some important social skills in the students under his wing, then indicated softly that he felt it would be certainly very important for the kids in the kingdom to be exposed to the kind of performing arts instructions we were proposing. However the official channels had to be followed. Our potential visits to the local schools needed to be sanctioned by the Director of Education, the head of the Ministry, located in Nukualofa, the capital of the Kingdom on the big island of Tongatapu just short of two hundred sea miles further towards Antarctica at the Southern end of the Tongan archipelago. We were given her phone number to contact her and explain to her our intentions. “There will be no problems there and she is surely going to approve of it,” Tevita assured us, insisting once again that proper procedure needed to be followed. I guess, life in a kingdom after all is not that much different from life in any other form of human social conglomeration.

Students in all the schools here on the island wear white shirts and uni-colored skirts, boys and girls alike, even when playing a toned down version of Rugby on the schools lawn during lunch break. They all seem to be rather subdued and a little too well behaved. We shall see what all that is about once we manage to get a little closer. Big white-toothed smiles shine at us while strolling by. It’s obvious they have been told to be polite to any of the fair skinned palangis walking the dusty streets of their neighborhoods!

The phone call to the capital revealed that Lady Emly is out of the country for another week and a half, but we were kindly given her email address and so will once again sit down and draft a brief and rational explanation with an undeniable justification of the rather chaotic work we do when we invite our youthful brothers and sisters to join us in the absolute enjoyment of the present tense, where we simply are who we are, where we know precisely when we are just pretending to be, where honesty comes a long way before efficiency and where the heart leads the brain. Many a times I have wished we were a little more agile in the business aspect of our artistic endeavors. Why do we have to spend life in such an economic anguish, with absolute bankruptcy just a couple steps away? At our age we should be lining up our ducklings for the bittersweet joys of retirement! At the wall behind Mr. Tevita’s desk was an organizational chart of the Royal Ministry of Education. Curriculum and Policy, said one column heading, Quality Control another. The second to last column was termed: UNESCO activities. Hm, a mental note was pegged to the sidelines of my steady stream of consciousness. That’s the one body we should approach for support of what we do! Research on the Internet should be done to find out more, when and where to write proposals to. Can we split enough dollars off our daily physical needs to do that? Maybe someone in our noble audience of readers has the key to the treasure trove? How to approach such a gigantic organism from out of nowhere and with that persistent attitude of being against everything?

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