In the Tales of the Tikongs, the author, Epeli Hau'ofa, presents a few situations where foreigners and the locals of Tiko interact with one another. The foreigners, as can be seen in a few chapters, are dealing in situations where the scenery or situation may be the same but the ways in which something is done or the knowledge that is possessed is so different that it throws them off. As I was reading these passages, I recalled a memory of a time where I was in a familiar place and experiencing a familiar situation but this situation never existed in this place before.
I have lived in the same town (Howell, NJ) since I was three years old; I attended all the public schools, including the high school. It was classic suburbia where everyone knew each other, lived in the same type of house, and people never missed a sporting event. For my family (as well as those around us), volunteering was an ordinary aspect of our days, whether it was working with children in our town with mental illnesses or traveling with our local church's youth group around the eastern coasts on mission trips. These habits became routine but I was still not prepared for the shock of Christmas Day 2008.
I participated in an organization called the Police Athletic League or PAL for short. Every Christmas morning, we volunteered somewhere that needed our assistance; it was usually a children's hospital. This year, however, we were informed at a meeting that we would be feeding the homeless Christmas morning. It was no big deal; I had done this before in multiple cities. Hands began to go up and everyone began shouting places of where they thought we were going. Trenton? Newark? Philadelphia? New York City? The answer the officers in charge gave us left the entire room speechless: Howell! It was going to take place at a local elementary school five minutes from my house! It baffled me that there were people in my town living without homes. I discovered that morning that there were more people living in tents and in the woods than I could have ever known. There was one family (a mom, dad, and three children) who lived in the woods behind my high school yet I never knew.
All of us were use to seeing this situation in rural areas in the soup kitchens we visited. I thought I was prepared for the situation but I never imagined I would experience this in the town I spent the last 14 years in. It was an area I thought I knew but, as can be seen from this example, do we ever truly know a place or a situation inside and out?
In the chapter 'The Seventh and Other Days,' Mr. Dolittle, an Australian from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, interviewed "Very Important Persons" in their offices. He was not prepared for the fact that he would be visiting workplaces that looked the same as those he had seen in the past but operated in a way that differed from the norms of Mr. Dolittle's society. The last office he visited looked normal at first; there was a boss and his secretary but he soon observed that these people were playing cards. He eventually learned that this activity, along with giving messages to each other, occurred six days a week and they accomplished all their work on Sunday. He even states that "never in all [his] life" and was so shocked by the difference that he left (5). This type of workspace does not conform to all the other offices he had seen in the past; to him, this is a problem. But it works for the people of Tiko, so why should it change? Mr. Dolittle thought he knew what worked but it brings to attention the idea that even though a person might spend his or her entire life in a certain situation or place, he or she may not entirely know what goes on there or even that something is opposite to the norm can work just as well as its counterpart.
Tales of the Tikongs has reminded me that something that is familiar can have a side to it that is the complete opposite of what you expected. A situation that seems familiar at first can take an unexpected turn like it did for Mr. Dolittle or an town that seems like the cookie cutter neighborhood could be hiding a secret that is imagined to occur only in rural areas. What this first half of this book has taught me is that we should expect nothing but be opened to and prepared for everything.