The pig is enormous. It’s the size of a smart car. A wall of flesh. A freak of nature. Bigger than I imagined a pig could be. (Manbearpig?) It’s pen is a joke. Not only could it climb over the fencing easily, it could just walk through it, like a car smashing through a wall in a Bond movie, laying waste to the enclosure in an explosion of splinters and maul my face off. I stare at its huge slobbering mouth. Thick white drool is pouring from its mouth and I imagine it taking my skull in its jaws… Marlon throws a bunch of plantains into the pen causing the mountain to scurry around franticly searching for the food with enormous slimy nose. I involuntarily take two quick steps backwards. The students laugh. I laugh too and explain I have never seen a pig this big. While I’ve seen many pigs in Tonga, they don’t get this large there. I don’t know if it’s just because we eat them earlier, don’t feed them as much, or just haven’t exposed them to gamma rays to turn them into monster mutants. I look around at all the livestock, besides the rest of the pigs, the other livestock looks different as well. The cows don’t look like the dairy cows that I’ve always lived near in New York. They have humps and long horns, like how I imagine a water buffalo looks. In a large pen of chickens I notice that about half of then have naked necks. Literally naked, like they were wearing electric collars that burned all the feathers off their necks, giving them a bizarre appearance of a misplaced little head on a big fluffy body. I again think of some kind of genetic mutation, but they assure me that it’s just the breed. We continue on the tour.
The fields of produce that make up the agricultural section of the university stretch out behind the main campus farther than I had imagined. There are fields of coffee plants, still small, and not yet fruit bearing with shiny leaves the deep green color of moss. Unripe papayas are bundled under strange umbrella like leaves. They are balanced on the end of tall stalks that jut up from the ground and don’t look like they should have the strength to hold their delicious load. The plantains trees don’t look like trees, but like house plants that forgot to stop growing. Long twisting stems extend from the bottom the massive bunches of fruit with a large deep red flower on the end, like huge Hershey’s Kiss. The earth under my feet is warm and a rich black color, and makes me think of my, so far, unsuccessful efforts to plant a vegetable garden in the gravelly sandy ground behind my home. Every once and a while Marlon or Santo will stop and pick something off a tree and give it to me to eat. A little green thing the shape and size of grape with a thick bitter skin that crunches, then a mealy yellowish center that is slightly sour, and a big pit like an olive. “Es mejor con sal,” they tell me. An electric orange sphere covered in fur, like those fuzzy craft balls you used in kindergarten class. I pealed away the the furry skin as instructed, and inside was an orange paste of tiny seeds that was sweet and tasted not like a real orange, but like fake orange flavor, like Tang or Sunkist with less sugar. We pass a limón tree and I stop to pick a handful of leaves off. “Qué estás haciendo?” they ask me. “Es para té,” I explain, but they look at me funny.
That night I boil water in a pot with the lime leaves and then stir in some condensed milk. Chefla asks me what I doing with a puzzled look on his face. I explain that my family used to make this tea for me when I was younger and it brings back memories. “Gringos están raros,” he informs me. I grin, thinking about all the raro of the day. “Well, this isn’t a gringo tea, my Tongan family were the ones who made this. But yeah it’s true, we are all pretty strange.”
Original published September 1, 2011, on tumblr as “Raro”.