My experience here on Vava’u has been an exciting challenge. Its been fun to learn how to start from scratch and develop contacts in a new culture. Tonga is, of course, beautiful with its clear waters, forests of palm trees, and friendly people. Yet I have found that people are quite reserved in their interactions with most foreigners, or palangi. This was most evident to me by how little people in my ward would speak to me at the beginning. But after about 4 weeks, something changed drastically and the lapse of time provided a much needed tool to integrate into the ward.
So far the work I’ve done on my project has laid a foundation of observations from which I can base more appropriate interview questions. It was great to actually walk down roads and stop to observe residential landscapes with varying plant material, new design principles and some interesting uses of various areas of the yard. I am just about to start the interview process with several contacts I have, and some will be people I will meet and simply ask if it will be possible to talk to them more about their beautiful yard. The greatest challenge has been not being able to identify very many of the ornamental plants used in the landscapes. I recognize a few that are used in the US, but many of them are new to me. That has also been fun to learn from adults and kids about the names of plants.
There is a strong connection to the land here. I’m still working on pinpointing how that connection to agriculture and subsistence living is related to landscaping around homes, but I’m hoping my interviews will begin to answer that question. I’m excited for what I’ll find out and hope I can find more answers rather than new questions as I begin this process.