Saturday, November 20, 2010

September: My Parents Came to Tonga

 The month of September got off to a sad start, because my dog Moli disappeared the first week of the month. I went to visit friends on Friday and left her tied up, and when I came back later that night she was gone. She had slipped out of her collar and it was still attached to the rope. I have no idea what happened to her. I searched some in the next couple of days, but there was no sign of her, and I’ve decided I’m officially done with having pets in Tonga, though several people have offered me replacement dogs. I’m really sad she’s gone, but on the bright side I think that maybe now I’ll travel after C.O.S. since I won’t have a dog to take home anymore.

Goodbye Moli- you were a good dog
I helped a little at Camp GLOW, which was held on Tongatapu. It seemed to go really well. I was disappointed because none of the girls from my school ended up attending. I’ve decided that I’m going to get more involved with it next year and try to get some St. Andrew’s girls over there. Anyway, the rest of the month was pretty busy getting final exams written and trying to cram in the rest of the material before the year ended, and as a result I’ve resolved to plan better for next year.

By far the most exciting part of the month was when my parents came to visit on the 27th. Mo’unga was nice enough to drive me to the airport to pick them up, and then we came back to my house, where surprisingly enough, they wanted to stay. I tried to clean it well before they came and sprayed liberal amounts of Mortein. I taught my classes and they came and introduced themselves to the Form Ones. Mom brought gifts of candy and pencils, which were a big hit. Then went into town by bus and walked around a bit, and unfortunately Mom twisted her ankle at the market so we went back.

On Friday we had a “work-a-thon” at the school and singing practice. I had Mom and Dad come to the morning assembly, where they were recruited to hand out certificates to the form one boys who did the “rubbish patrol.”

That night we went to a feast and culture show at Oholei Beach, on the east side of the island.
At Captain Cook's Landing Place on the way to the show.

Fire dance!

On Saturday we did an island tour with Tai, which was fun. It took all day and went around the entire island. We saw:

The Ancient Tombs at Lapaha...

Captain Cook's Landing Place (picture c/o Tai, haha)...
The "Fishing Pigs"...
The Ha'amonga...
'Anahulu Cave...
Keleti Beach...
The Natural Landbridge..

The Blowholes...
  Liahona, the two-headed coconut tree, and Abel Tasman’s landing place (no pictures, sorry!). Sunday we went to Pangaimotu Island, where we had lunch and lounged around on the beach.

August: Preparing for Finals and School Bazaar

This month was a bit hectic. We finished up the last of the Internal Assessments in my Form 5 class. This turned out to be stressful because just as I was trying to teach my students how to do a persuasive speech, the principal decided to send the students who hadn’t paid their school fees home (which of course was more than half my class). So right when I was trying to teach uncooperative, uninterested fifth formers how to write speeches, (not to mention forcing them to write and perform them) in the span of about two weeks so I could send their marks in, they kept being sent home!

That was really frustrating, and a big part of why I’m asking not to teach Form five next year- it’s just so much pressure! And of course I’m still figuring out each new thing as I go. Also, I realized that the third term is my last chance to teach everything left in the year, because the fourth term is purely finals. I should have known this, but I was thinking for some reason that I had two terms of teaching left, and I was rather shocked when I made that realization.

Near the end of the month, we had two big events. Firstly, Kulaea, who is one of the teachers and Naite’s daughter, left to go to school in China. She got a scholarship from the Chinese government to study computers. She’s super smart and hardworking, so I know she’ll do really well, but it was sad to see her go.

At the same time, we got two new volunteers from New Zealand, Rachel and Simon. They are a retired couple and they both taught music in their careers. They will be here for the next three months, staying in the apartment above the staff room.

The same evening we also had a birthday party for Marie. We held it at Josh’s house and had a Mexican food potluck, which was delicious!

The next weekend, we had our school bazaar, which is a big fundraiser for the school. They sell vegetables, plants, coconuts and firewood from the school ‘uta, furniture made by the Industrial Arts department, artwork by the Fine Arts department, handicrafts made or donated by the students, and of course, food! I donated some chicken legs and banana muffins, which made a few pa’anga for my class. I also bought a fan to decorate my house. There were a lot of people who came, but there were a lot of things left over at the end. I noticed the teachers buying most of it up, which was nice of them. 

Saturday, June 5, 2010

April and May: IST, Sports Day, and Social Night

        Hello again! I can’t believe how long it’s been since I put up my last blog. I guess you can tell I’m getting busier and busier! Anyway, it’s now June. I was a busy last few months. We had our mid-year exams already, and my Form 5 students are finishing up their research reports. I was hoping the results would be more impressive than their mid-year exams, which I just finished grading. Yikes!! Less than a quarter of the class even passed! I guess I know now why they curve the grades. My Form Ones did a little better, but it was still pretty scary. I think I need to step it up with the homework. (Or something). I actually wrote on one of the Form 5 essays “This makes absolutely no sense.” However, I only received 7 Internal Assessments (out of a class of 20), which makes me curious as to why they even bother coming to school at all! (Sigh)

Anyway, on a more pleasant note, we had our IST (In-Service Training) in April, which was awesome because everyone was brought in and I got to catch up with everyone and hang out. I also got a bit of a break from school, although all I missed was Sports Week. I was really thinking I had lucked out, because our weeklong school break was the week after, and I had already planned a week of relaxation and catch-up with lesson planning. I had a traumatic experience when I woke up that Monday to the sound of children’s’ voices outside and saw that the kids were there for some reason. I checked the schedule they gave me at the beginning of the year to see if I had made a mistake, but no, there it was, we were supposed to be off! I then called the principal, who informed me that they had decided the week before to cancel the holiday (for some reason that I’m still unclear on). Nobody bothered to tell me this, however. I was pretty angry about it, not to mention extremely bummed! But such is life in Tonga. I’ve been trying to be more proactive about finding out pertinent information, which means I now constantly whisper “what are we talking about now?” to my co-workers at all of the staff meetings. We’ll see if it helps.

The same week that we had our IST, the intercollegiate sports weeks was held. All of the secondary schools in Tonga got together at Teufaiva Stadium (the largest stadium in Tonga) to compete in track and field events. I was only able to make it on Saturday, but it seemed like a lot of fun. The whole area around the stadium was filled with people and tents. The students from all of the schools came to cheer on their teams with songs and cheers, and some even had “cheerleaders,” (mostly boys dressed like girls, for some reason). St. Andrew’s has historically been one of the last-placing schools on sports day, but this year they actually won some medals, so everyone was happy about that.
The following weekend, the Rotary Club of Nuku’alofa put on a children’s fun fair. Several organizations had booths selling food or holding activities with prizes. They even had bounce house and a dunking tank, which was very popular. At one point I think I saw about 6 little boys climbing into it at once. The Peace Corps had a face painting booth, and they asked all the volunteers to come help paint faces. I made it there a little late and the fun fair was already in full swing. Sandy and Sarah were already there painting faces and there was a constant stream of kids. Almost all of the boys wanted to be “Spiderman,” and I can now say that I know how to paint a Spiderman face!
St. Andrew’s also had our yearly “social night” for the form 5 and 6 students. It was like a school dance, and was interesting because they invited students from three other high schools to come- Tonga High and two of the Catholic schools. I felt kind of sorry for the students because they all had to wear their school uniforms, but it seemed like they had a lot of fun anyway. They had activities so they could meet the students from other schools, a dance competition, and finally a feast at the end. The hall was decorated with balloons, leaves, and tapa cloth and it looked really nice. I brought Marie and John, who happened to be in town, and we had a lot of fun dancing and hanging out with the other teachers.
May 8th was my birthday. It didn’t have the greatest start, because I went to a funeral that day for the brother of Mele, one of the teachers at my school. He was only in his twenties so it was a very sad funeral. It was the first Tongan funeral I’ve gone to and it was interesting. I went there together with my school; the principal and most of the teachers came, along with the school band. In Tonga, when you attend a funeral you are supposed to bring something to give to the family, usually money, tapa cloth, or pieces of fabric. We all contributed something, the male teachers gave $10 each and the female teachers brought tapa or fabric. I don’t have any tapa, so I just bought some fabric at the store to bring. 

Everyone dresses in black and wears a ta’ovala, which is a woven mat worn around the waist. I don’t have one of those either, so I borrowed one from another teacher. The funeral was held at the family’s house. When we got there, we all formed a procession carrying the gifts. We walked into the house and sat in a room, putting all of the gifts in a pile in the middle. Mele’s family sat there too. The principal said a very long prayer, and then everyone sang songs, with the band (who was outside) playing the music. After that, more people said prayers, and then we all went in to pay our respects to the deceased. Usually, everyone kisses the body and then gives condolences to the family, but I decided to skip the kiss. After this we went home. The whole thing took about an hour.

After the funeral, my friend Marie came over and I made a birthday cake. I had found some canned icing at the American Mini-Mart a couple months ago that I was saving for the occasion. It was delicious! Later, we went to dinner at Little Italy, which is a nice Italian restaurant in town. It was also Marloucha, another volunteer’s birthday a few days before, so we celebrated together. It was really nice and the food was awesome! Too bad it’s too expensive to eat more often!
Another exciting thing in the last few months is that Rustin bought his ticket to visit! He’s coming here in July and we plan to hang out in Tonga for a few days and then head to the North Island of New Zealand. We’re still deciding where to go once we get there. I’m so excited to see him again and take a vacation, I can’t wait for July!

And lastly, I went to ‘Eua at the end of May. A bunch of us (Marie, Cherise (her Australian friend), Josh, Sarah T. and I) took the boat for the weekend and stayed at Mark and Elena’s house in Hango. The boat trip over there on Friday took about two hours, but felt longer, because the sea is really rough. The boat rocks like crazy and lots of people get seasick. I took a pill before to prevent it, but I was still feeling pretty nauseous by the end! Mark met us at the dock and we walked to their house. It’s actually located in the middle of a pasture, so there are cows and horses running around constantly. But it’s pretty big and they’ve made it very nice and comfortable, and all of us managed to fit. 

We walked over to ‘Eua High to see Jennifer and her library. She’s done an awesome job organizing it. The next day, we hiked in the ‘Eua forest reserve. It was really beautiful, and very different from the other parts of Tonga that I’ve seen. It’s hilly and covered with tropical pine, and it kind of reminded me of northern California. We first hiked to a huge banyan tree, which you can climb down and into a cave. Then we hiked up to a lookout point, from which you can see to the ocean. Then we climbed into “Rat’s Cave,” which looks out from the top of a cliff. It was cool, but a little scary when climbing into it. I was dirty and completely exhausted by the end of the day, but the view was worth it!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

March: Classroom Inspection, New Dog, and Toru

Well, March is already almost over! I’ve had a cough for most of the month that has just started to get better with the aid of a round of antibiotics, so that hasn’t been to fun, since I haven’t been able to sleep very well as a result. Most of my free time has been taken up planning for my classes and trying to figure out their IA (Internal Assessment), which consists of a research paper, speech, listening comprehension, and an exam, and how it all fits in with their grade. It is very complicated and confusing, so I have decided to stop trying to figure out the grading system and just teach them what they’re supposed to know! So far I have been focusing on the research paper, which is due in May, but I seem to keep finding out new or conflicting information regarding how it is supposed to be done. This has been rather frustrating, as I have to keep changing the due date and the requirements for the students. I’ll be happy when it’s over. I think teaching will be a lot easier next year just because I’ll have experience with this school system.

My new (ill-gotten?) puppy, who I named Molly, has been taking up a lot of time and energy too. She’s cute but really naughty, and has been wreaking havoc on my house. She must put a lot of thought into it to, because it seems as though she is constantly coming up with new and more creative ways to destroy. So far she has both urinated and defecated multiple times in the house, chewed up rolls of toilet paper into tiny bits, torn the lining out of my bike helmet and pooped on it, pulled my jeans off the clothesline and pooped on them, chewed up the screen, vomited on the couch, peed on two blankets (that had to be taken to the Laundromat) and much, much more. She also is constantly jumping on, scratching, and biting me. I can’t wait until she outgrows this phase. The police (randomly, one day) assured me they won’t kill her, but sometimes I think I wouldn’t mind if she “disappeared.”

We also had “classroom inspection” by the Principal and Chairman of the Board last week, so all of the teachers and some students were working hard to get our classrooms decorated for it, even working past midnight the night before. However, the actual inspection was pretty anticlimactic. I never even heard how our room measured up! I also lost a bunch of my precious colored sharpies to thieving students in the process, and no one has ‘fessed up. I guess that’ll teach me to share!

At the beginning of the month we had a lady from New Zealand who is in charge of the Anglican schools come for a visit. She looked at the hurricane damage, met with the teachers (but not me!), and gave us a training session. Before she left, the school took her out to dinner as a thank-you for all she had done, and I was lucky enough to be invited for some reason. We ate at this restaurant called Sea View, and it was delicious! I had a steak with mushrooms, and it was definitely the best meal I’ve had since leaving the States. I was seriously in a trance as I was eating it.

When we were leaving, we saw this palangi who was stranded, as his taxi had never shown up, and Naite offered to give him a ride to his guesthouse. His name was Stephan and he was from France, and he ended up coming to visit the school the next day for some reason. I think he wanted to see the “real” Tonga, which I guess the school is, though not “real exciting.” Of course the principal had him make a speech at the assembly even though he had absolutely nothing to do with the school. I’m sure the kids thought he was a new teacher. Anyway, we hung out with him on Friday night as well, or I should say I did, since Kulaea decided to flake out. So I rounded up Marie and Mele (one of the teachers at our school) to entertain him. We ended up going to the Billfish, which is probably the most popular club in Nuku’alofa, to eat and hang out. Though I think I’ve seen enough of the Billfish even in the short time I have been here, it was still fun. It’s always interesting to meet different people in Tonga, not only Tongans but other random foreigners too. Since Tonga is sort of an “out of the way” place to go in the South Pacific, I always wonder how exactly they ended up here.

This month I started helping Toru, one of the JICA (like Japanese Peace Corps) volunteers, with English once a week. He has a blog that he is writing in both Japanese and English, so I’ve been helping him edit the English part of it. If anyone wants to check it out the address is: . His blog is about him being in Tonga and also about this cat character he made called “Yamaneko.” He gives little figurines to people and has them take pictures of it in different places they go and send them to him. I got one a couple weeks ago but I haven’t taken any pictures yet!

Yesterday, I went snorkeling right off the north coast of town. You have to walk in shallow water pretty far out, to the edge of the reef, but once you get there it is well worth it. The view is really awesome: tons of different types tropical fish and lots of beautiful coral. It’s good to know it’s so close too. I will definitely be taking any visitors I have over to check it out. Now I need to find an underwater camera!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

January and February: School Starts and a Cyclone

Hi everyone! It’s now March and I’m just getting around to putting up a new post. There’s been so much that’s happened since January, so I’ll just go briefly over the main events:

Month of January: Pretty uneventful. I didn’t do much, just hung out at my house most of the time, waiting for the madness to begin. I did manage to get my hands on a sewing machine from the Home Ec. Department, which kept me occupied for a while.

School Begins: Wow, what a change! I went from doing nothing to being busy at all times, trying to figure out what on earth I’m supposed to be doing. I have three classes- two Form 1 and a Form 5. Like pretty much all of the volunteers, despite being led to believe that I would be team-teaching, I have the classes completely to myself and definitely no observation period. So that has been a learning experience, to say the least. The main issue has just been figuring out what it is that I’m actually supposed to teach. I’ve been slowly getting more and more information, but the process has been pretty frustrating. I’ve been learning a lot as I go and getting the hang of teaching everyday, but I still feel pretty lost at times, and I feel like I spend all of my free time either grading papers or lesson planning! I also said I would help out with the Girl Guides (which is like an international branch of Girl Scouts) since all of the teachers are supposed to help with at least one of the extracurricular activities. Somehow, the other teachers decided that I should be the “captain” of it, so now it seems I’m in charge. Yikes!

Dog Saga: So my dog Scooby disappeared at the beginning of February, the first to be exact, because it was the first day of school. I went to the computer lab to use the net, and when I came back out she was nowhere to be found. I was hoping she would return during the night, but she never did. The next day I told Naite and the principle about it, and they immediately suspected that she had been taken by the police trainees next door for their ‘umu. They made an announcement to the students about it, and a couple of kids told the principle they had seen them calling to the dog. The head tutor, Maake, was in charge of the “investigation” and went to ask the police about it, who said they never saw the dog. Apparently, they got in trouble for this very thing a couple years back, when they decided to indiscriminately shoot dogs (they are allowed to shoot strays, but not dogs with collars) and ended up killing and eating the king’s brothers dog, who complained and got some people fired. Anyway, Scooby never came back, and I was really sad and angry about it, not to mention confused. A few weeks ago, some kid came up and gave me a puppy, saying it was from the police, who evidently still claim they didn’t kill her, which has added a whole new level of strangeness to everything. I was under the impression that Maake was going to complain to the Police Commissioner, but a few days ago I asked him what happened with that and he never did. Apparently, to the Tongans, the new puppy was the solution to the problem. He said I could still go complain if I want to, and I’m debating if I want to go through the hassle.

Hurricane/Tsunami Warnings: In the middle of February, Cyclone Rene hit Tonga. We were all “consolidated” which means all of us on Tongatapu came to the Peace Corps office to wait it out. We ended up staying for a couple nights, as the storm took longer than expected to pass through. I have to admit I was kind of excited then to see what a hurricane is like, but now I think one was enough for me! Staying in the Peace Corps office for nearly three days got me a little stir-crazy, and the aftermath was even worse. 

Luckily, my house was undamaged, but there was quite a bit of water on the floor that had to be mopped up, including a large puddle under the “capeti” (vinyl mat), which had to be pulled up to dry and became very smelly. Also, the power was out a few days, which made everything in my fridge go bad. Even worse, the hurricane had blown off a section of the roof of our computer lab, and several computers and the air-conditioning unit were water-damaged. The Internet was down for a couple weeks and the lab had to be moved to the staff room. When the students came back to school on Wednesday, we spent an entire day cleaning the classrooms and picking up fallen branches. So basically, the excitement of the hurricane is far outweighed by the hassles of the aftermath!

Not two weeks later, we had our second consolidation for a tsunami warning! As everyone probably knows, the earthquake in Chile caused a tsunami warning for the entire pacific region. So I was woken up at 2:00 AM to let me know we would be consolidating at 7:00, and again at 5:00 to let me know it had been moved to 6:00. Our principal and his family came by as I was getting ready to go to the office and they were nice enough to give me a ride. Once at the Peace Corps office, we were loaded up and driven to the “high point” of the island, (which really isn’t very high- the whole island is flat!) where we waited for the tsunami to hit. After waiting about 5 hours, it became apparent that it wasn’t coming, and we were taken home.

So anyway, that’s a general rundown of what I’ve been doing. I’m hoping March turns out to be less stressful than February was!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Holiday Time in Tonga

Happy New Year! As one of the first countries over the International Date Line, Tonga is one of the very first places in the world to greet the New Year. To celebrate, I joined some of the volunteers and some of the Aus-Aid people at a beach campout at Fua’amotu beach on the southern tip of the island. It was pretty fun, despite the fact that I’m not a big camper. 

I got to try out my new snorkel, which was awesome! Unlike the one I bought at the Chinese shop, it didn’t leak at all! (Thanks Mom!) The snorkeling wasn’t as good as Ha’apai, so I think I’m going to have to keep looking for good spots on Tongatapu. Later we made a bonfire and made sure to cheer at midnight (though there were some cell phone time discrepancies, so we celebrated twice) and even lit some fireworks. The night was a bit cold and the ground was hard, reminding me why I don’t really like camping, and by the next morning all I could think about was getting home and taking a shower. We hung out until around 1:00 waiting for our ride, during which time we watched this group of Tongan kids carry an entire litter of puppies to the beach, throw them into the water, let them swim to shore, and then bury them in the sand up to their necks. 

When I finally got back to town, I managed to get myself stranded at the Peace Corps office for a long couple of hours because I had sent my backpack containing my house keys ahead with some Aussies, which didn’t end up arriving until hours after me! To top it off, my cell phone died, so for awhile I was seriously wondering if I would be spending the night in the volunteer lounge! Happily, they eventually showed up and I could finally head home, where I promptly showered, ate, and fell asleep!

So, to backtrack, Christmas Eve, was nice, as I got to eat a feast of delicious Palangi food and visit with the other volunteers. Christmas day itself was a bit lackluster, I admit, due to boredom and the fact that my dog had somehow gotten hurt the night before. She showed up that morning with two deep gashes and a bad limp. I was actually pretty convinced that her leg was broken by the looks of it! I made some phone calls and found out that there is only one vet in Tonga (but in Nuku’alofa, luckily for me!) and he works for the Ministry of Agriculture, so (unluckily for me) he would be on holiday until January 4th like all the government employees. So there was pretty much nothing I could do about it. The next day I called our health officer, Jacinta, just to see if there was anything I could do, and she was nice enough to come look at Scooby for me, and concluded that the leg wasn’t broken. So that was a big relief! She’s still been limping since then though, so I think I will try to take her to the vet when they are back next week.

I also spent the rest of that weekend at home just hanging out. I didn’t go to church on Sunday, which was a nice relief, but I feel like I probably should since I’m supposed to be interacting with my community. I think it’s more difficult for us in Nuku’alofa to do, since our “community” is essentially the whole city, and for me, since I live on a school compound, I don’t really have neighbors to meet. I think most of my community integration will have to happen when school gets back in session and there are actually people here. All I have as of now is Naite (who has 10 kids and is incredibly busy), and the kids in the band who come around intermittently in between rounds of Christmas caroling/fundraising. They’ve been playing all around town for weeks! 

So, anyway, by the end of the weekend I was so happy for Monday to finally roll around so I could at least go out! I did some grocery shopping and was happy to discover that four packages had arrived for me when I got to the Peace Corps office, although then there was the dilemma of how I was going to get them back home on my bike! Luckily, Seini, one of our medical staff, gave me Sarah, and Louis a ride back to our houses! Of course I opened them shortly after arriving home. They contained all sorts of fun stuff and my parents sent me an awesome video camera for Christmas, which is exciting, although I’m still debating what I should videotape!

On Tuesday I hung out with Marie, another volunteer who lives in a village on the Eastern side of the island. We ate and did some shopping, and I discovered a really cool place that sells handicrafts. I guess it’s like a women’s collective where women who don’t have time to sit at the market can bring in their handmade goods to sell. I got some earrings and a flower hair thing made out of bark fibers. Then I assisted Marie in an attempted cat-napping! 

One of the volunteers, Sandy, inherited a cat from a volunteer who lived in her house before her, but she isn’t really into cats, so Marie was going to adopt it. As cat-carriers are pretty hard to come by in Tonga, she brought a cardboard box to transport it in. Turns out, it’s very difficult to get a cat into a cardboard box, much less keep it in there! We tried about ten different times to get the cat into the box, to no avail. The funny thing was, the cat is so friendly that it would come back to us every time, even though we had just been trying to stuff it into a box! I guess it’s been pretty starved for attention since it’s owner left. So Marie finally gave up on the box idea, and went to catch her bus, but she had missed the last bus out by that time, so she stayed at my house and then went for another attempt on the cat the next day. This time, a backpack was used, which proved successful!

Anyway, other than New Years, this week has been another slow one. Yesterday I hung out at home, although Louis came over for a while and brought his puppy to play with Scooby. It was great: they immediately became friends and played together the whole time, until Louis had to go somewhere and I said he could leave the puppy to play. No sooner had I turned around, and the puppy was gone! I looked all over for him and finally realized he had somehow gotten through the fence to the police training center and was eating the scraps from their ‘umu. I called to him for about 15 minutes and tried to lure him over with dog treats, but he completely ignored me! Finally, one of the police officers came by and handed him to me over the fence, which was rather embarrassing. Following that incident I decided to tie him until Louis returned for him!

Today (Sunday the 3rd), I actually had every intention of going to church, since I was feeling guilty about blowing it off last week. I asked Naite yesterday if I could go with them and she said sure, that they would pick me up at eight. I got ready and waited. Eight rolled around, then 8:15, and finally I called Naite. She said they all decided to sleep in instead, which was fine with me! So no church after all. I might be getting my fair dose of church this week though, because this coming week is actually Uike Lotu, “Prayer Week,” where people go to church every day of the week, and I think they also have a number of feasts and whatnot. It’s always the first week of the year, but I haven’t been invited to anything so far. I think that is one of the advantages/disadvantages of living in the city and not really knowing anyone! The volunteers in smaller villages seem to already have a whole schedule of church activities and feasts planned out for them. I guess I should enjoy the time to myself while it lasts, because I’ll start teaching February 1st!

Well, Happy Holidays to everyone! Here’s hoping this year is a good one!