Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Culture Day and Technical Training

So it’s been a busy couple of weeks since I was able to post last (You have no idea how difficult using the internet can be here!). We had our “culture day” performances on the 7th, and that was a lot of fun. Our dance actually went pretty well and I was relieved that I didn’t screw it up. The dance we taught to the kids was a big hit and the crowd seemed to really love it. Our host familes dressed us all up in Tongan outfits and also made our dance costumes. Mine consisted of a mat which was wrapped around me and then tied. I also wore pieces of fabric with shells glued to them on my wrists and ankles and an elaborate flower thing around my waist. Pele had a similar outfit, though her dress was fabric and decorated with these things made from cassette tape. The guys in our village group wore these things made from leaves- basically just a leaf skirt and that was all. Their dance was also a big hit- a neighbor actually mentioned that people are still talking about it even though it happened about 2 weeks ago! I will try to get some pictures of all that up soon.

Last week we did our technical training, which consisted of teaching strategies, classroom management, lesson planning, etc. It was pretty helpful, (some parts more than others), though it was pretty tedious sitting in the hall from 8:30 to 4:30, especially since the benches are really hard and uncomfortable. By the end of the week, I made sure to run in and snag one of the few plastic chairs so my back wouldn’t be aching by the end of the day. 

This week we’ll be doing our practice teaching. We had our first day today and I felt like it went pretty well. I was assigned to teach at St. Josephs, which is the local Catholic secondary school, since apparently the Catholic and Anglican school systems are pretty similar. In Tonga, the school system is different from the US. Almost all of the primary schools are government-run, where they teach grades 1-6 (they are called classes). Students then take a government-issued test in class 6, and their grade on this determines where they can go to secondary school. In general, most of the students who score high on the class 6 exam go to the government-run high schools, which are better funded and generally offer a better education. Students who did not score as well will usually go to the mission schools,though some attend them because of their familie’s church affiliation (like Catholic, Wesleyan, Church of Tonga, etc.). Often these schools will not have any pre-requisite in terms of passing the class 6 exam, and are church-run and often have difficulty with funding, as their school board and PTA have to come up with a large portion of their budget. I was told that at the school I’ll be teaching at, there may be drastically different levels of English skills within the same class, so I will have to try to provide “extension activities” appropriate to these different levels. Classes in Tonga are graded almost entirely on the final test, taken at the end of the year, so the curriculum is very much a “teach the test” approach, which many of the Peace Corps volunteers dislike.

Anyway, since me and Juleigh, one of the other trainees, were both teaching English at the same school, we decided to combine our classes and team-teach our lessons. We had about 25 students once we combined the Form 1 and 2 classes (the American equivalent of 7th and 8th graders). I was happy to see that I knew one of the students, who is Sione’s host brother. We just did an introductory activity and had the students introduce each other. The class was actually pretty well-behaved, but it could get pretty noisy. There was someone hammering outside the entire time and for some reason it would echo and get very noisy. The next day was better in terms of noise level. It was funny because the boys and girls automatically sit on opposite sides of the room. It seems like, on average, the girls know more than the boys, so we are going to try to mix them up tomorrow and see how that works out. Despite how nervous I was to start, I’m finding the practice teaching really helpful in getting to see how the Tongan students act, what level they are at in English, and how to plan the lessons.

Other than the teaching, we’ve been back at language classes. Our language teacher is a Tongan lady named Poli and she is really cool. All of the other trainees are kind of scared of her, because she likes to act like she is really strict, but all of us in her group really like her. She taught me how to do some weaving stuff and how to make flowers out of the weaving grass that people use, and I am trying to make my own kie-kie (which is a sort of belt-thing that Tongan women wear around their waists). I think I am going to have her help me shop at the market in Nuku’alofa too- I have no idea how to buy fresh fish. 

Today I bought a cheap chinese-shop snorkel today, and I am hoping to go snorkeling this weekend. I also learned that the school I will be teaching at, St. Andrews, will be having their graduation on the same weekend that I will be back in Tongatapu for my attachment (when we stay with another volunteer). So I’m hoping I will be able to attend that and meet the staff, and even possibly see my house (I’m keeping my fingers crossed for that one)! I’m really excited to finally get to my site and start to getting situated. Only three more weeks of homestay!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Site Placement!

This was an exciting week, because on Saturday we were told what our site placements will be! I’m going to be working at a secondary school (like junior high and high school combined) called St. Andrews. It’s an Anglican school on the outskirts of the capital, Nuku’alofa, on the main island, Tongatapu. We were given an informational packet when we were told our placement, and mine says I’ll be teaching English to forms 1 and 5, which would be the American equivalent of 7th graders and high school juniors. I was able to find out that I’ll be living in a house on the school grounds, near the principle’s house (so hopefully he’s cool). According to the packet I was given, the school grounds tend to flood during heavy rains, so I hope that doesn’t become an issue!
Anxiously waiting for the site announcements

Me picking the next person whose site to announce

One good thing about being near the capital is that I should have electricity and running water, and I heard that the house I’ll be living in already has a stove and refrigerator. If that turns out to be true then I am definitely buying a washing machine with the money I’ll save- I had enough hand washing in Ghana and to know it’ll be worth it! About eight other trainees have been assigned to places on Tongatapu as well, so I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot of each other. I also learned that the other side of the island has some prehistoric monuments, which I hope to be able to check out, and some good reefs for snorkeling. I wish I had brought a snorkel, but hopefully I’ll be able to find one in Nuku’alofa. I’m kind of sad to know I won’t be seeing a lot of the other trainees who have been assigned to the other island groups, but I plan on visiting at least a couple of times in the next two years and seeing all the island groups.
The Tongatapu crew

Other than that I have just been doing the usual- language class, training, and church on Sunday. I was entertained/scared by the kids in church again- these two boys were playing with huge pieces of broken glass and pretending to stab each other during the last service. We started teaching the neighborhood kids our American dance last night. It’s going to be a medley of American songs with simple dances to go with them. So far it looks like it will be good-the kids are really cute and they seem to have fun with the dances.

Our dance practice for the Tongan dance that Pele and I have to perform has been going alright. We learned the entire part that we need to know, and now we just have to work on doing it gracefully. It’s mostly hand movements, with just a couple of stepping parts. When people perform that type of dance they put coconut oil on their skin and if the crowd likes it, they will stick money to their arms and legs. Our group decided we need to do a good job so we can earn some internet money!

On Saturday we had a lot of things going on. We did a breast cancer walk through Pangai (the main town on Ha’apai). Apparently, there is very little awareness about breast cancer in Tonga and it often doesn’t get diagnosed, much less treated. Also there is a stigma around having it, as it is sometimes seen as a punishment from God for doing something wrong, and also discussing breasts at all is viewed as inappropriate. So the Peace Corps in Tonga decided to do this walk to raise awareness. It was just the Peace Corps trainees and staff walking down the main road, and I don’t think we got much exposure, as I think we passed about 5 people total. But oh well.

Fanagale'ounga crew after the walk

After the walk we got on a boat and travelled to Ha’ano, an island a little north of us. 
The boat ride was sort of cool at first, but after a while it got pretty old, especially if you were sitting in the sun. When we got there we split into teams and did a scavenger hunt. We had to ask random people questions and take photos. It went pretty well, although there was quite a bit of awkwardness and blank stares when we tried to explain what we were doing and ask people questions! My team wasn’t too competitive, and we came in 5th place (out of 8), but it didn’t really matter, because everyone got the same prize anyway (some school supplies) except the first place people. After that we ate snacks and learned how to open coconuts with a machete (I’m going to need a lot more practice on that one!). It was cool for Pele, because she got to see her house and the school she’ll be working at (she’s taking over from another volunteer who’s leaving).

On the boat to Ha'ano

Me posing at one of our "hunt" items- a weaving house

After we got back, we went home and tried to figure out something to do, since it was Halloween. We ended up just getting together with the group from the next village over and watching “The Office.”

Sunday was pretty much the same as usual- lots of relaxing and eating. There was some kind of performance put on by a Pentecostal group from ‘Eua, so we watched that for awhile, along with the rest of the village, even though we didn’t really understand what they were saying.

Yesterday (Monday) we had a cooking session where we learned how to make Tongan food, although the Tongan-ness of a few of the dishes was questionable (like the salad and the vegetarian stir-fry). After we cooked we had a little feast and it was great! It made me excited to get to my site and cook for myself- no more boiled root crops and corned beef! I also got a letter yesterday from Cheryl (one of the clients, for those who don’t know). It was so cute, it made me cry! 

Anyway, that’s what’s been happening. I’ll try to post some more pictures soon! Hope everyone is doing alright. Feel free to write or call any time!