Friday, October 21, 2011

Ten Things I've Loved About Tonga

             Oh my! It has recently come to my attention that I am down to my last month of service in Tonga. Actually I'm just kidding, for as my friends and fellow volunteers know,  I've been obsessively counting down the days and months since the beginning of this year. At long last, we have come to the final month, and though I have been extremely faka'ofa (pathetic) about blogging for a while, I felt this occasion deserved a post.

            Anyway, I felt that I should start with a picture of me when I first came to Tonga, more than two years ago (!):

And here's me now:

Wow, it's a bit mind-boggling to think of all that has happened these past two years, all the experiences I've had and how much I have learned since I first arrived here. Though there have certainly been challenges, I'll focus on the good here. So, with no further ado, here are...

Ten things I've loved about Tonga (in no particular order):

1. The beautiful (and I mean beautiful beaches). Though they have tended to lose their luster as the two years have dragged on, I was recently reminded of the awesomeness of the beaches just a few days ago, when, after a  long, hot, dusty bike ride, we jumped (fully clothed, of course) into the cool water. Ahhh...pure heaven.

Beach in Foa, Ha'apai
My favorite beach in Tongatapu- Keleti Beach

2. Collecting shells! I am sort of obsessed with shells. See the picture below:

Shells I collected from Ha'apai back in 2009!
3. My fellow volunteers (including Aussies, Kiwis, and JIKAs). It has been great serving with such inspiring, interesting, talented, and just plain cool people, getting to know them, and creating friendships I know will last a lifetime.

Group 75 at our C.O.S. conference
Marie, Ashley, Me, and Sarah at our C.O.S. conference in August
Simon and Rachel at Keleti Beach last year
Farfum, Toru, and Me at their going-away dinner last month

4. Learning about Tongan culture. Though I have certainly found it confusing, strange, infuriating, and frustrating, it has always been extremely fascinating to me all the same.

Giant tapa time!
Primary school students at Education Day

'Atele College students dancing the kailau (not sure what this lady's role is though)

5. Great Tongan friends. They're a little hard to find, but when you do, consider yourself lucky! Here are some of my great Tongan friends:

Mele, Me, and Silia last year
Me and Hina at our school's bazaar
6. Getting to know my students. Admittedly, it's been a sort of love-hate relationship here. Managing a classroom of students has been one of the most challenging and stressful jobs ever, but at the same time I love the times when I'm just hanging out and chatting with them. They have taught me a lot during my time with them (and they can be pretty cute too).
Left to Right: Elisapeti, Salome, Halamehi, Me, 'Ana, Ilaisaane, Meletonu, Latai, Lisia, and Ola
My buddy Siope
 Douglas, Moala, Salome, Me, and Lesieli

7. Gorgeous flowers. I especially love the colorful and intricate flower necklaces (kahoa) that Tongans make for special occasions. And how cute are these little spotted orchids? They're my favorite!

Yes, this is a real flower!
My kahoa from Parliament Day
Orchids in the school garden

8. Quiet Sundays. It was a little difficult at first to get used to the complete shut-down of Tonga on Sundays, especially when you forgot to buy something on Saturday. But I have slowly grown to love the peace and quiet of that day- it forces you to just relax and re-charge.

Curling up in the sunshine with a good book

Doing some laundry
Or just relaxing

9. Tongan handicrafts. Like shells, I am also sort of obsessed with Tongan handicrafts. Here are some of my favorite acquisitions over the last two years.

Tapa flowers for your hair
I love this pink tapa painting!
Shell fan
My new custom-made octopus necklace

10. Whales! During whale season, these things are absolutely everywhere. You can even see them from the shore, rolling, jumping, and playing. Unfortunately, I never got to swim with them, but it's definitely possible!

This one kept slapping the water with it's tail
A mom and baby whale waving to us!
Check out some of my friend's blogs for some whale swimming posts!

  Well, that's all for now, see you in a month!  love, Mel