ORDINARY TONGAN LIVES - Tofoa, Tonga
Story collated and written by Haitelenisia Afemui ‘Uhila Angilau for her 'Ordinary Tongan Lives' facebook page
“Sometimes my husband would ask me, ‘What’s your childhood memory?’ And you know, the first thing I remember is violence.
I was about 3 or 4 when Mom was attacked by Dad’s brother. My Dad was away for further studies. Mom said to go hide in a bathroom. To this day, I can still hear him attacking my mother while we cried from the bathroom. On another day, my Mom just missed a flying machete by seconds. It was ugly. Then it was just a rough road for my family from there. Mom resigned and worked in the U.S to help repay a family loan. She came back and found Dad had affairs. Then one Sāpate Ako, we came back home and Dad’s clothes were all gone. When they finally divorced, I read the divorce papers.
For years I watched my Mom cry. I don’t know how she managed to get money for us during those years. Some days we ate, some days we didn’t. Sometimes she’d give me a dollar to take the bus. I knew my younger sister would need it so I left it to buy bread for her and walked to school. But I went from a quiet and nice young woman to a rebellious, naughty, and violent person. I had lots of bottled-up anger in me. I turned to alcohol and when I got drunk, I wanted to fight. Most people only remember that about me.
I flunked at one form and was told I’ll have to repeat. I felt really bad for repeating. And I was in the bottom 25% all the time. But one day, ‘Ilifeleti, a teacher pulled me aside. He said, ‘Siu, you have the potential. You just play too much.’ I held on to those words even to this day. I don’t know if it’s because it’s a male figure but that’s just what I needed. I went home that day and studied like never before. That year, I moved to middle 50% and ‘Ili’s words fueled me to the top 25%. I graduated form 7 as an A grade student.”
“If you were to ask me my greatest accomplishment, it’s not my degrees."
I have a Bachelor of Arts and a Post-Grad Diploma in Environmental Studies. I have a Masters in Climate Change and a Masters in Geographic Information System. But that’s not it."
My biggest accomplishment is paving the way for my little sister so she didn’t have to deal with what I went through. All my degrees were applied through scholarships. After I graduated in 2004, I applied every single year to every single scholarship I knew. I applied in 2004, 5, 6, 7, 8 and didn’t get one until 2009. I determined I’ll get an education and refused to think I won’t find employment. But even at university, I was still very angry. I had unresolved issues to deal with and of course it had to come out somehow.
My husband helped me to sort through them. One day when I had my own office at the university, my Dad showed up. It felt bad that I didn’t have any emotions at all. All I could remember were his words saying I’ll follow my mother and we’ll end up eating &@$%! On Father’s Day however, my Mom dropped the bomb during family devotional that we should visit him. It was time to reconcile and live peacefully with each other.
I couldn’t back away from it or what’s the use of praying as a family? But I wanted another day to wrap my head around it. I prayed so hard before we went to see him. I had wanted to lay it all out but it didn’t happen that way. We just had a nice conversation and maybe that was enough. Since the day my Dad chased us away from our home, his first time to set foot at our place was to visit me and my son after birth.
Things didn’t play out as I planned, but that was the first step of healing for me. I think that’s why I [was] stuck here in Tonga. Part of my son’s middle name is Talilotu. I cannot count the times God has answered my many prayers. And the many times we’ve fasted just to get through the tough times. Now I just have a heart to help. Although I’m in Fiji, my heart will always yearn for Tonga. Because of the many people who were there for me in my life. They encouraged me and I want to do that for someone else.“