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!