Saturday, November 28, 2009

Leaving on a Jet Plane

I am currently in Tongatapu, and tomorrow I will be heading to Australia to get my tonsils removed. It looks like I'll be there a little over two weeks, so hopefully I'll have some time to get some sightseeing in as well.

I have pretty fast internet here, so I thought I'd upload some pictures and try some videos too. School is finished, and the last few weeks were filled with lots of dancing, singing, card-playing, and soccer.

I spent Thanksgiving at one of the guesthouses on the island with the other Peace Corps volunteers on 'Eua. Peace Corps sent us out a big turkey, and we pulled together some mashed potatoes, green bean cassarole, corn on the cob, eggplant parmesean, macaroni and cheese, black bean soup, coconut crab, and of course, apple pie. It was also our last hoorah before group 73 atarts to leave, so it was nice to spend that time all together.

Malia and 'Oline brought their bush knife to school to cut the grass in the yard Walls going up on the faletonga

Ta'anga G.P.S. building the frame of the faletonga

everything about this was a bad idea, but cool picture

Rat's cave

Taniea, Lupe, and Toakase

soccer in the yard

Lopeti dancing with Pita drumming

Class 6 girls ta'olunga

Class 3/4 at the end of the school year. That is their teacher in the background sleeping.

Monday, November 23, 2009

R.I.P. Tahi

This latest update is written with a heavy heart. Tahi- my constant companion, my source of comedic relief, my dog- passed away Saturday. On Friday he was fine, running around the school yard playing, and Saturday morning he couldn't walk. I sat with him and tried to feed him carnation mixed with water (my neighbors said it would help) but he was gone pretty quickly.

My neighbors (who live in the same schoolyard and take care of Tahi when I travel and have three dogs that Tahi hangs out with all the time) told me, in no uncertain terms, that Tahi had been poisened. They had seen it before (apparantly it's not uncommon?) and it had in fact happened to their dog last month. That kind of added a whole new dimension of grief. I heard this not only from my neighbors, but also from a few different people in the village, everyone saying the same thing, he must have been poisened. They even explained to me how it is done- they mix bettery acid and pesticide with a can of tin fish and feed it to the dog. They said someone probably got mad at Tahi because he had killed their chicken or something. But the thing is, Tahi has been extremely well-behaved lately, he hasn't been chasing pigs or chickens and as far as I know he defninitely didn't kill any. At first I wrote it off, it HAD to be an accident, everyone on the island knows Tahi is my dog and I feel like because of that he is granted a lot of leeway where other dogs might be more severely treated. For example: the day Tahi ran into church they all said it was okay, he could sit with me in church (I quickly vetoed this however). I think there is no way someone killed Tahi as a result of Tahi misbehaving. So then I got to thinking that IF someone hurt Tahi on purpose, they had to have done it because they were upset with me. I've heard of Tongans hurting volunteers' dogs before when they were upset with the volunteer, it is seemingly a more socially acceptable way of expressing anger than risking a confrontation with someone, especially a palangi. So I poured over my transgressions of late. This is what I came up with, my confessions:

-Two Sundays ago I skipped church and came to the office to watch T.V. shows on the computer.

-On Tuesday, it was a warm, clear night outside- I could see every star in the sky, so I snuck out of my village and went on a walk. I snuck out because if I told anybody they would send their kids with me (to protect me from the tevolo- devil) and I just wanted to walk alone. Unfortunately I wasn't very good at being sneaky- every single dog started barking as I made my way back into the village.

-Wednesday I went to tea, then afterwards came down to the office and didn't return until after dark.

-In church on Sunday one of the men in the village told me I'd been traveling too much. He doesn't know I was in Tongatapu because I was sick and then went to Ha'apai to help with the training of the new group. Maybe he has been upset because I've been away a lot.

-I've been building a fale-Tonga with my neighbor, Tevita. Most of the village has been assuming I'm involved with him simply because I spend time with him. They also thought I was involved with the guy that was teaching me to play guitar last year and who is now in Tongatapu. In fact I'm not involved with wither of them, but I never really disputed the rumors as I've found that it doesn't matter what I do or say, they WILL talk about me. This is a VERY difficult place to be a single palangi woman and keep your reputation in tact. So maybe someone was angry that they thought I was kaka (cheating).
After spending two days trying to figure out what I did wrong and why someone would do this to Tahi, I came to my conclusion. I cannot allow myself to believe that someone hurt Tahi on purpose. If I believe that, I don't think I could continue to work here and put my heart into my work. If someone did hurt Tahi on purpose, I will never figure out who, or why, and I will never find peace with it. Furthermore, there is a LOT of toxic stuff around here. There aren't exactly safe places to put toxic stuff such as old batteries, motor oil, etc. And all the cars are generally leaking something. There are any number of things Tahi could have gotten into, and I can't continue on here wondering if my neighbors, the parents of my students, the people I sit next to in church killed my dog. So I have decided to consider this a tragic accident, and to mourn my friend.

Here are just some of my favorite Tahi moments:

- Sitting on my lap on the plane ride out to 'Eua

- Spending nights with me in my hammock where we huddled for warmth when it was freezing clod and he was still a puppy

- Running down the center aisle of church the first time I took him- for some reason I was under the misguided impression that he would just sit outside and wait for me to come back out.

- Camping with him at Fangatave beach when he was still small enough to pass down the cliffs

- Hiking with me in the rainforest and him drinking his water out of a half coconut shell.

- Him draping himself across my legs as I sat on the floor and played guitar.

- Him jumping in the wharf to swim with me when it became clear that I was swimming away from the dock he was standing on- he was a great swimmer!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Highs and Lows

Ready to go!

There's a pool table in 'Eua!

Back by popular demand- It's Tonga Moments:

- I was riding in a van with my neighbor, Tevita and his sister. It was dark. We could see something ahead on the road, but couldn't quite make out what it was, we thought maybe it was a loose cow or something. We were all kinda joking about it, but as we got closer, it became clear. It was two very large pigs trying to make baby pigs. The female pig's eyes were about to pop out of her head. I laughed, but quickly realized I was the only one laughing. In Tonga there is this brother/sister stigma and anything remotely sexual in the presence of siblings is EXTREMELY uncomfortable and inappropriate. Once boys reach puberty they may no longer sleep under the same roof as their sisters. If a boy is at a dance club or party and his sister comes in he has to leave. If a guy starts dating the sister of one of his buddies, they can no longer be buddies, and the brother will avoid his sister's boyfriend at all costs and will even give him dirty looks. Anyway, it's something that is deeply rooted in the culture, and there's more to it than even I understand. But the rest of that car ride was spent in really awkward silence.

- So as you may have read in my last blog, all my students were convinced I was going to die when I went out scuba diving. The last day of my certification course we were doing two open water dives. It was the Saturday before the class 6 exam, so class 5/6 had school. As I was heading out that morning, they were all waiting around for class to begin when I left. They ran out of the classroom and asked me where I was going (typical Tongan greeting). I told them I was going diving, and once again they tried to convince me not to go. When I made it clear again that I WAS going, we said our goodbye's:
Pita: Bye Jennifer!
'Ana H: See you manana!
Hingano: See you later!
'Ana L: See you in Heaven!
Lopeti: Bye Jennifer!

Me: Bye guys...Hey! 'Ana, the closest I will be to heaven this weekend will be in church tomorrow, I will see you there.

'Ana L: (looking skeptical)

Scuba diving was amazing, and I can't wait to do more. It's something I have always wanted to do, but the amount of equipment and planning involved was kind of a turn off. It's not something you can go out and do on a whim, but I've concluded that it's worth the preparation. Also I think the diving here is probably among the best in the world, the water is relatively warm , crystal clear, the fish are is a world apart under there. And one of the coolest things is that here it's relatively untouched. Scuba diving in 'Eua began just a few months ago except on special dive trips out to the island, so it's not a place that gets a lot of human traffic. OH! One of the coolest parts? We could hear the humpback whales singing. They were quite far away, but it was neat to hear them. I finished the dive course and made it back safely to go to church on Sunday, much to the surprise of my students.

Two weeks later I get a call from Arisa, the dive instructor on the island, saying hey if you want to go out and swim with whales this week we can go Monday or Tuesday. Um...yes, please. There are only three places in the world where it's still legal to swim with Humpback whales, and Tonga is one of them. This fact did make me stop and think for a bit about WHY there's only three places in the world left where it's legal to swim with these whales...but it was an opportunity I wasn't going to pass up. We went out Tuesday afternoon- it was a beautiful day and the water was exceptionally calm. Within twenty minutes we had spotted whales breaching in the distance. We caught up to them and realized there were at least seven or eight all swimming together, which is unusual. They were spy-hopping, breaching, and really it looked like they were just playing and having a little whale party. We slipped in the water. At first I was a little apprehensive- they're just so big!- but as soon as I got in the water and saw them underwater I immediately felt at ease. Any trepidation I had was gone; there is just something supremely calming about being in the water with these giants. From the underwater viewpoint we counted at least nine of them. They were moving through at a leisurely pace, and at times it seemed almost as if they were showing off for us. At one point I was pretty close to this whale and I dove down and was swimming eye-to-eye with him for as long as I could hold my breath (we were snorkeling). It sounds cheesy, but looking into the eyes of a humpback whale, you get the feeling they hold all the answers to the world. It was a profoundly moving experience, and probably the coolest thing I've ever done. I know we hit a really good day, because Arisa was super excited about it and she does this every day. I had in fact been putting off writing this blog because I knew how difficult it would be to do this experience justice with words, and I knew I wasn't nearly talented enough. But there it is.

So those have been the highs, now for a few lows...
I currently have tonsillitis for the third time since being at site, and am now in Tongatapu being treated. But getting here was not easy. Yesterday I woke up and my tonsils were a little swollen and painful and I maybe had a little fever, but I went to my teachers meeting, and after that I went hiking with another PCV (Ashley), my neighbor Tevita, a couchsurfer, and Arisa, the dive instructor. I almost didn't go, but it was a beautiful day, I hadn't been on this hike in a while, and I love showing new people around the island. Ashley and I were the only ones who had been on this hike before, and it's about an eight-mile loop that would take us to two caves, two lookout points over the rain forest, and a giant banyan tree. It was a great day, a great hike in great company even though I wasn't feeling one-hundred percent. When we finished, we were on the opposite side of the island from my house, and I had planned on staying at Ashley's house last night so I didn't have to walk the additional two and a half miles home. Ashley was tou'a-ing (serving kava) that night in another village, so she just left me with her house keys. I took a nice bucket bath and started watching a movie on Ashley's computer. Almost immediately I started feeling crummy. I called the PC medical officer who told me to come in to Tongatapu today to see a doctor. Okay, that was good. But I started feeling worse and worse, I was feverish, I couldn't eat and could barely drink because my throat was so swollen. I decided I needed to go home, especially so I could get my house ready to leave today and get packed up. So I called my neighbor, Lupe, and she sent Tevita to come get me in her van. Ashley was still gone. Her door to her house is funny in that you cannot open or close it without a key from the inside or the outside. She had left me with the spare key, but when I went to open the door to get out, it didn't work. I slid the key under the door for Tevita to try it from the outside. Didn't work. Dang. By this time I was feeling REALLY crummy AND tired. After trying the key for ten minutes we concluded that it really just didn't work. At which point I pulled out my leatherman from my backpack and dismantled the doorknob. It worked. I was finally free from the house. Tevita and I reassembled the doorknob...and then were face with the problem of how to close the door. It won't close without a key. And I wasn't going to leave it unlocked. I had been trying to get a hold of Ashley, but predictably was unable to reach her (it's bad form to have your cell on while tou'a-ing) and you usually tou'a until one or two in the morning. I just wanted to get home. I was in tears by this point, which I mostly blame on the fever. I ended up calling another PCV on the island who has another spare key to her house, running to his house to get it, then coming back and locking up Ashley's house. I felt a wave of relief as I climbed back into the van to head home. Tevita turned the key. It wouldn't start. The engine was barely turning over. Cue more tears. Tevita gathered five Tongan boys to push the van until it was going fast enough that somehow it started. Okay, finally on my way home, we passed the wharf I realized, with much despair, that all the flights off the island had been cancelled for today. I would have to take the boat, which leaves around five in the morning. I would have to be at the wharf around 4am. And the last seven boat rides I've taken between 'Eua and Tongatapu have found me hanging over the railing retching. Cue more tears. I wasn't even sure how I was going to be able to throw up considering my throat was nearly swollen shut. Does it get backed up? Would my head explode? No doubt it would be painful. By the time I made it home it was nearly midnight, I would have to be on the boat in four hours. I wasn't packed. My house was a disaster. I collapsed in my bed, thinking I would wake up early to pack and get my house ready, when I heard a knock at my door. It was my neighbor Lupe. She came in, sat on my bed, and rubbed baby oil on my throat for an hour and a half. Her sixteen-year-old son, Viliami got out of bed and came and washed my dishes and cleaned up my table. Tevita stayed up and fixed Lupe's van so that I could get to the wharf in the morning and catch the boat. I tried to tell Viliami that he didn't have to wash my dishes, but it was no use. Finally I just relaxed and closed my eyes and let Lupe rub my throat. It felt really really nice.

I woke up this morning not feeling any better and not having slept much or well. Luckily, the boat ride in was as smooth as it's ever been when I've been on it, and I was actually able to sleep a little. I did not throw up. The PC medical officer saw me, got me some medicine and went and got me some soup (on her day off). She is also putting in the paperwork to DC (again) to get my tonsils removed. I'm crossing my fingers they approve this time, because being sick here really stinks.
Once again I have been overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and support from the Tongans surrounding me. They don't have much in terms of material things, but whatever they have they share. Even more than that, however, is how giving they are of themselves and their time. They're never too busy, too tired, or too self-involved to help someone, and that doesn't just go for me, it goes for anyone who needs help with anything, ever.

On a different note, class 5/6 took their exams two weeks ago, which means no more night school (And early morning school and Saturday school)! It also means from here on out school winds down pretty quickly. After their exams every day the village had a feast for the kids, and I gave my first impromptu fakamalo (thank-you speech) in front of the whole village. Everyone kinda smiled and nodded, and I thought it went pretty well, then the lady that went after me stood up and explained to everyone what I had been TRYING to say. Haha, oh well, they seemed to appreciate that I tried.

The weather's warming up finally, and the village and island seem to be coming to life again; the youth are more active, people are out of their houses more, and there's just more going on. I decided that I wanted to build a fale-Tonga (Tongan hut) and so the past two weeks I have been working on that with the help of my neighbors. It is nearly finished, the only thing left to do is weave all the coconut fronds for the roof and sides. When the new group of trainees goes through attachment, I will have three of them come stay at my house, which is too small for four people, so I will sleep in the fale. Also when my family comes I will sleep in the fale because (like I mentioned above) culturally it's not appropriate for me to sleep under the same roof as my brother. Also, now that it's warming up, it'll be a nice place to hang out and read a book as it will be cooler than my house.

Speaking of books, I've read a couple really good ones recently: Ishmael and Papillion. Ishmael I think should be required reading for human beings; it makes you look at things from an entirely different perspective. It's a little abstract, and I had to read it slowly to process it, but it was well worth it. Papillion, on the other hand, is a terrific story terrifically told. It's a true story of a guy who unjustly got sentenced to life in prison and how he finally escaped after many failed attempts. I highly recommend both books if anyone is looking for something to read next.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Tsunamis, swim lessons, and scuba certifications (how's that for some alliteration?)

Tevita juggling
Class 5/6 one night after poako
I was cleaning my house and found a molokau, which Tevita captured, then proceeded to de-fang and play with (must be a guy thing?)
I was cleaning my house and got distracted and decided to practice juggling...

I've received a lot of e-mails, facebook posts, and even a few phone calls inquiring as to my safety after the earthquake and ensuing tsunami. I want to let everyone know that I am all right, my island was basically unaffected by the tsunami. Also I live on the highest coral island in the South Pacific, so I feel pretty safe here in terms of tsunamis.

I spent the last week in Tongatapu (a main island) for a week of training on how the incoming group of Peace Corps Trainees should be trained. A few days before I got there I was contacted with an opportunity to teach swim lessons while there to women who don't know how to swim. Many Tongans, despite their inevitable proximity to the ocean, have never learned to swim. This was an issue that was thrust into national attention after the Princess Ashika boat tragedy in which every woman aboard perished. Last I heard it was illegal to talk about in public- so enough of that, eh? Okay, one more thing, it has been interesting to note the different approaches that the governement has taken in dealing with the Princess Ashika tragedy and the recent tsunami which killed 9 people in Niua Toputapu. They seem a lot more sympathetic and proactive towards the tsunami situation, whereas with the boat sinking they seemed to spend more time and effort denying any responsibility or even trying to avoid the subject all together. Okay, that's it, really.

When I got into Tongatapu on Friday, I met with a representative from the Red Cross to solidify the plans for lessons the next week. As it turns out, not many plans had been made. We didn't have a place to do the lessons, and when I asked what her goals for the lessons were, she explained to me that she wanted to teach the women life-saving techniques, and how they can help other people who are in trouble in the water. "Huh. It was my understanding that these women don't know how to swim...?" I asked. "Oh, no, they don't." She replied, matter-of-factly. " you think that might be our first step...?" I suggested. She thought about it, then agreed that we probably ought to teach these women to swim before we teach them to save others in the water. With that cleared up we set about figuring out where we were going to hold these swim lessons. There is one swimming pool in Tonga that we had contacted, but they wanted to charge us $50 a day to use it. We decided on trying the Navy base, even though it is a deep wharf, but it is protected and close by. Well, come Monday morning we still hadn't confirmed that we would be able to swim at the navy base, but at about 10:30 it came through that they would allow us use of the wharf area. That was a relief, but I still wasn't sure anyone was going to show up.

As it turns out, we had plenty of people show up- they were all fifteen minutes late (which was difficult because I was trying to fit the lessons in during the lunch break of our training sessions), but we had 14 women show up. I introduced myself, and talked a little about what we wanted to accomplish that week. The women all seemed on board...until it was time to get in the water. Apparantly they hadn't been expecting to have to get in the water, and that was a deal-breaker for some. As it turns out, the lady from the Red Cross had made all the Red Cross workers come, and most really didn't want to be there. As it was, we got nine in the water that first day, and we actually ahd a really good first lesson. I was optimistic about the week. Tuesday rolls around and at the lunch break I rush to the Navy base...and no one showed up. Not one person! We called the Red Cross, and they said since it had rained at 9am that morning they couldn't make it. Another lady had a stomachache. Wednesday I had three: Lavinia (a Peace Corps program manager) a doctor from an outer island and her daughter. Lavinia and the doctor didn't know how to swim at all, they started out in their life jackets, while the daughter (she was about my age) was already a pretty proficient swimmer. By the end of Wednesday, the doctor had a breakthrough and swam across the entire wharf without her life jacket. She was pretty athletic and once she had the confidence she took off. By Friday, Lavinia was also swimming without her life jacket and able to float and tread water. So it turned out t be successful, at least for those two, and we had a good time with it. I think it's a really important skill to have, especially in Tonga, and hopefully I can do it again and plan a little better next time.

A scuba dive business just came out to 'Eua, and they run scuba dive certification course, so a few of the other PCV's and I decided that this would be a great opportunity to get scuba certified. Our certification course starts on Saturday, and we're all pretty excited about it. We received our books last week and were instructed to read them and answer the questions at the end of the chapter. One night I was sitting on my steps reading my manual when my class 5/6 kids came for night school. They saw a new book in my hands and their eyes lit up. I let them look at it and explained that I would be diving on Saturday. When they heard this a few of them started frowning, then one boy blurted out, "But you're going to die!" The rest quickly agreed, that yes, I would defnitely die if I tried to do that. One boy suggested I would be eaten by a whale. (I've been seeing whales on a daily basis the past month) They went as far as to tell me not to go. I assured them that I was NOT going to die, and that I had already paid for the course and was definitely going. They looked at each other, then one boy turned to me and said, "Well, can I have Tahi (my dog)?" They proceeded to argue amongst themselves about who would get what when I died as I sat there staring, mouth agape. Finally I said, "I AM NOT GOING TO DIE! Time to start class, let's go."

After night school that night my neighbor Elizabeth came over to get help with her homework and saw my dive manual sitting on the table. As she flipped through it I told her I was going to do that this weekend. She looked at me, then back at the book, then up at me and said, "But you're going to die!" "I AM NOT GOING TO DIE!!!" I replied, as calmly as possible, which was not very. She was quiet for a while, then said, "Well, when your family comes in December I'll make sure to take them to the place where you died so they can see where you died." I assured her again that I really, really wasn't going to die. She remained unconvinced. So, if I DO die this weekend while scuba diving all these kids are going to look pretty prophetic, eh?

I have a little problem that I don't know if anyone can help me with. It's about my dog. The neighbor's dog had puppies, and several times now I have seen Tahi drinking this other dog's milk. Is that normal? Should I try to stop this, or just let nature run it's course? In my defense, I am feeding Tahi plenty, he's probably the fattest dog on the island (not saying much).

As far as day-to-day things, school is almost finished, the class six exam is next week. School doesn't ACTUALLY let out until December, but after the class 6 exam, things wind down pretty quickly. By that I mean, the kids come to school and play cards all day. After the class 6 exam there will be no more poako (night school), so I'm kinda looking forward to that. It's warming up here, which I'm really excited about, but that also means probably a return of the rats in force. There've only been one or two a night lately :) The new training group arrives in less than a week, and I will be heading to Ha'apai to help with their technical training. I'm pretty excited about that, Ha'apai is pretty much a perfect opposite of 'Eua. Whereas 'Eua is covered by rainforest and perfect for hiking and exploring, Ha'apai is the place to go for pristine beaches and snorkeling. I'm hoping to get out scuba diving while I'm there (If I don't die first). So a few things to look forward to :)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Live Music and Soccer

Lia getting down with the girls Dinner is served

Lopeti and Heather are still feeling each other out

Pita and Arisa dancing

Ashley getting down at the dance party Pita taking it away on the drums

Jordi, Lopeti and Siale

I'm skipping the "It's Tonga Moments" segment for this installment due to lack of good material. Sorry.

In other news, another couchsurfer came to 'Eua last week. His name is Jordi, he came from Spain and had been living in New Zealand for a year. I met him at the wharf and was (pleasantly) surprised to receive the greeting of a kiss on each cheek. Of course the wharf is a bustle of activity when a boat comes in, so everyone there saw and reported the "scandal" to their respective villages. I still get asked about my "moa" (boyfriend) walking down the road. There are three ways to respond to this, you can say, "What? I don't have any chickens" As the word for chicken is also "moa." Or you can say, "Which one?" which never gets old. The third option is to lie, deny, and counter-accuse. Someone told me this strategy during training, and I think it should be included in the formal training curriculum. Your relationship status here is always a hot topic of discussion, and usually comes up within five minutes of meeting someone new. They need to know if you have a Tongan boyfriend, want a Tongan boyfriend and if you will get married here in Tonga. After all, (according to Tongans) I'm getting pretty old not to be married yet. So when I am seen talking to (or REALLY risque- WALKING with!) someone of the opposite sex, I get harassed about it for weeks. I get asked how my boyfriend is by people I don't even know. Last week I went on an early morning jog with one of my neighbors and we came back into the village right as the morning church service let out. That was a pretty awful walk of shame. The only thing worse would have been if it had been on Sunday, because then it would have been illegal too! My neighbor didn't seem to think it was a problem, and it is clear that that universal double standard exists here in Tonga too, where because he's a guy he'll get props from all the other guys about going on an early morning jog with me, whereas I will be seen as the village hussy. Part of me thinks it's crazy to be embarrassed about something as innocent as jogging with a friend, but I know how the people in my village see it and how they will report it to others. It's kind of a bummer about living here.

Back to Jordi. He seemed like a really neat guy and joined us for our weekly palangi tea meeting. He didn't seem too into hiking, which is about all there is to do on 'Eua, so I invited him and everyone else over to my house the following evening for dinner and soccer with my students. I've been playing soccer with class 5/6 in the afternoons before night school, and Jordi had mentioned that he's a soccer player so I thought it would be fun for him to get to hang out with Tongans and I knew my kids would be thrilled. The next afternoon I made a huge batch of tortillas, Ashley brought over some beans and fresh veggies, and we made chicken burritos. Heather brought homemade salsa, Arisa (a Japanese dive instructor living on the island) brought some homemade sushi, and Lia brought ice cream. Jordi and I got a big game of soccer going with the kids which was a lot of fun. When I play with them I usually don't enforce rules, but Jordi tried hard to teach them all the rules and how spreading out would be more effective than everyone chasing the ball. After a while I think he realized that his attempts were futile.

After soccer he spotted my guitar in my house and asked if he could play a little. I gladly let him have a play on the guitar, which before long turned into a big outdoor concert, complete with barefoot dancing and some of my boys breaking the sticks that make my fence to use as drumsticks. My fence suffered, but it was well worth it. Jordi is an extremely talented musician, singing songs in both English and Spanish. The kids were ecstatic, and they are still talking about Jordi, asking when he will return and where Spain is. It was one of the more fun nights we've had here in 'Eua.

There's a boy in class 5, his name is Sunia, and I adore him. He is the smallest kid in the class, and just a genuinely sweet kid. I've talked quite a bit before about the teachers hitting the kids in class, but one thing I may not have mentioned is that the kids also hit each other a LOT, and this is perfectly acceptable during class, playtime, and whenever. It seems like after kids reach the point where they're kids and not babies anymore, they're pretty much raised by the older kids in the village and their siblings. These older kids discipline the younger ones by hitting them, because that's exactly how they were raised. When a kid is not paying attention in class, the teacher tends to ignore it to a certain extent and the kid will get smacked upside the head by another kid for not paying attention. One interesting thing is that this never escalates into a fight, and the kids don't get mad or hurt very often from being hit by one of their classmates. Anyway, the point is the kids hit each other quite a lot here, and I don't like it much. I tell them that when I am teaching their class, I don't want them to hit each other. Unfortunately it is pretty much instinctual by now for them to hit each other, so they slip up quite often. When they do, I ask them to apologize to their friend which they always do. Well, one day I was playing soccer with the kids before night school, and Sunia jumps over my fence. As he's doing this his tupenu (man skirt) flies open briefly. No one saw anything, but another student, Pita begins to give him a hard time about it. pita is the biggest kid in the class, and I wouldn't call him a bully, but he does have a tendency to give other kids a hard time sometimes. Pita continues on teasing Sunia, and I watch as Sunia walks over to Pita, gives me an apologetic glance, then says, "Sorry, Pita." And just DECKS him. I tried hard not to laugh, Pita had it coming, and Sunia didn't hurt him. When I composed myself, I thanked Sunia for apologizing to Pita, but told him that usually apologies come AFTER you do something wrong and not before, and that maybe you're not REALLY sorry if you apologize then decide to do it anyway.

One of the things I've noticed here as my grip on the Tongan language has gotten better is that sometimes it is difficult to express yourself in Tongan due to a lack of adjectives that can describe how you feel. I was listening to the radio with a my neighbor yesterday, and we couldn't find a station that was playing music, they were all just talking. I go, "Well, that's annoying." Then I try to think of what annoying is in Tongan, and my neighbor doesn't know, so I look it up in my dictionary. It's not there, so I look up irritate, which is in the dictionary, but the Tongan word for "irritate" is the same as the Tongan word for "mad." Huh, I tell my neighbor, well, no, I'm not mad exactly....that's not the right word for it. He tells me then I am either lotomamahi (sad) or faka'ita (like mad). Well, no, not exactly, I tell him.

This situation got me to thinking about how many ways there are to express discontent in English. You can be mad, but you can also be irritated, upset, annoyed, bothered, perturbed, and countless other adjectives that all mean something a bit different. In Tongan you are mad, sad, or like-mad. Another distinction that is seen as fairly important in English is the difference between "want" and "need." They mean two very different things to us, but in Tongan, the same word covers both- fiema'u. this can be really frustrating when you're trying to tell someone you NEED something, but you know it can be interpreted as you want that thing, or, the more likely scenario, you're trying to tell someone that you want to do something that is not a pressing need, but it will be attended to as a pressing need for you.

This lingual difference again got me thinking about what that says about our respective different cultures. In English, it is important for us to tell others how we feel in a very specific manner, but here in Tonga, personal feelings don't hold much value. Especially if that feeling is anger. The Tongan way of dealing with anger towards someone else is to do it very indirectly. Take the generic scenario of living with a roommate who is a sloppy. In America, we would tell that roommate, "Hey, slob, pick up after yourself." Well, in Tonga, that situation would be handled very differently. The offended party would tell the other roommates, the neighbors, the landlord, and the household pet about her irritation with the expectation that it would get back to the offending party, and it would, because talking and gossipping is a big part of the culture here (Gossipping tends to have a bad connotation to most westerners, but it is not seen as a bad thing here at all). Once the offending part heard that the roommate was upset with the mess, she would clean up, and not a word about it would ever be exchanged between the person that was upset and the sloppy roommate. Another thing I noticed right when I got to Tonga that Tongans start most of their sentences with "Mahalo pe," which means maybe. They usually use this when they are stating a personal opinion, which leaves room for everyone else in the discussion to respectfully disagree without causing confrontation. They also always pose suggestions as maybes, as in, "Maybe it's too sunny for you to walk to Mata'aho today."

This culture of indirectness can be frustrating at first, like when you hear through other people that the neighbor is upset with you because your dog has been chasing her pigs (purely hypothetical...i wish). Or like the time when I went to school thinking it had started an hour late and asked the principal why school had started late which was answered with a sincere and profuse apology from the principal, only to find out later that school had in fact started right on time, it was I who was an hour off.

So why all the indirectness and avoidance of confrontation? Well, Tonga is a really small country (~100,000 people) and most people live in small villages where all their neighbors are their relatives and lots of people live in each household. They can't afford to argue because it could tear a family, or even an entire village apart. The culture here is far more people-centered, and a high value is placed on interpersonal relationships, and Tongans take really good care of their relationships. So, while it can be frustrating, and sometimes seem unusual, there is a sort of virtue in being indirect, gossiping, beating around the bush and sometimes even lying.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


Windy day
Climbing on the cliffs
The wind was in my eyes.

It's Tonga Moments:

- I was teaching night school, in the middle of a good class, when all the sudden there was a commotion outside. The kids jumped up to look out the window, said something in Tongan I didn't quite catch, then every last one of them took off out the door, leaving me standing at the chalkboard mid-sentence. "Well," I thought "THAT'S never happened before." I follow the kids outside, and find them all chasing after a cow which had wandered into the schoolyard. After a ten-minute intense cow-hunt, the cow was back across the street where she belonged, and the kids came back to the classroom and resumed their work.

- I've been working on a story writing unit with my class 5/6, and last week I was reading them beginnings of stories and having them write their own endings. The stories I got said a lot about Tongan culture:
- One story was about Duke, a dog who got in trouble for digging up the neighbors garden and the town. I had three kids write that at the end of the story Duke was killed, cooked in an umu (underground oven) and eaten.
-Another story was about Froggy, whose mother was trying to teach him how to swim. Two kids wrote that Froggy just couldn't figure out how to swim, so his Mom took him home and beat him.

-Whenever I cook I tend to have leftovers because it's tough to cook for one person, and occasionally I will give my leftovers to the Class 5/6 kids who have come early to poako (night school). Usually they really enjoy whatever I give them (french toast, pasta, curry, etc.). Well, this night there had been tofu at one of the chinese falekaloas (shops) which is rare, so I bought some and made a stir fry with some veggies, eggplant, and seasoning I got from ramen noodle packets. It was pretty tasty. I took the leftovers out to the kids and they dug in eagerly. Then they got these strange looks on their faces. I asked if they liked it. "Yes, yes, delicious- here you go we don't want anymore, we're very full." Haha, they have NEVER handed my back a plate with food still on it. So tofu is a no-go here. Oh well.

Like I mentioned above, I have been working on story-writing with class 5/6. This has been difficult for everyone involved, because creativity is not something that is practiced or even really accepted in Tongan schools. Unfortunately story-writing is a big part of their exam at the end of the year. The first story they turned into me was a story they wrote about a picture I had cut out of a magazine. Each student had a different picture to write about. We had been working on story writing together for about a week at this point. I have nine students in this class now, and I got nine papers that started "It's was a beautiful day and it blew from the West." I looked at the papers and scratched my head, then asked them who had told them all to write that. Well, their teacher had of course. After reading through the stories I realized they all ended the exact same way as well: "That day he learned an important lesson." Doesn't matter if the story was about a girl, or that she really didn't learn anything at all, every story ended that way. It was especially frustrating because I couldn't exactly tell them NOT to do that without undermining their teacher.

One of my main frustrations with education here in Tonga is that the kids aren't EVER expected to think for themselves, to be creative, to find a solution to a problem. All "learning" here is rote memorization, chanting in unison, and copying off a blackboard. When I ask them to come up with a unique answer they STARE at me as if I'm from another planet. All their lives they have been given the answers and expected to copy them into their notebooks and memorize them, and believe me, they are REALLY good at memorizing. When it comes to writing a story from their imagination, they are lost. It's like pulling teeth. They are sure there is a right and a wrong answer, and sure that they have the wrong answer. It doesn't help that they are used to teachers hitting them if they get the wrong answer. It makes me want to pull my hair out, but we're working on it, although this unit is taking far longer than I had planned.

I feel like I've actually been making a lot of progress with the kids, especially in class 3/4. Unfortunately the class 3/4 teacher hasn't been helping much. When you ask any kid in tonga how they are doing, they will invariably switch on their robot voice and say, "I am fine thank you how are you." It drives me crazy, so one of the first things I did with my students was to teach them different words to describe how they are doing. Now every morning we sit in a circle and I ask the students how they are, and I hear 19 different responses, it's great. At first they just stared at me. Well, last week the class 3/4 teacher came in and decided to join our discussion circle and proceeded to ridicule the kids if they said something wrong. You could see them regressing back into wanting to say "I am fine thank you how are you." It was frustrating. Later that week I did an art project with them and she went around taking kids projects and saying, "Ugly, ugly, REALLY ugly." I just wanted to send her far faraway.

In other news, I met up with a couple of couch surfers ( an online organization connecting travelers worldwide) last week and we went for a hike to Fangatave beach. One of my neighbors, Tevita came along because he wanted to go fishing. We were lucky for a beautiful day, and when we got to the beach, Tevita and I went out in the ocean and had a kai tahi, which basically means you go out and pick up anything alive out of the sea and eat it all raw. Mostly shellfish. The couchsurfers were pretty good about trying everything, and most people find if they just TRY it, they usually like it. Once you get past the texture most of it is pretty good and considered a delicacy here. Fangatave is a beach that not many Tongans get out to, so everything is plentiful and ripe for the picking. While we were out picking stuff off rocks, the whales swam by. We heard them at first, their spouts, then we saw them. They were playing maybe 200 yards off the coast, and we stood there and watched them for ten or fifteen minutes before they moved on. That was pretty neat. We were hoping to see them from the cliffs above the beach, but we had no such luck.

I also went to the cliffs on the Southern end of the island last week, which was a place I hadn't yet been. One of the PCV's had a birthday last week, and she decided she wanted to go to Lakufa'anga for her birthday, so after school Friday we all got together and headed down there. It was beautiful, there were wild horses on the cliffs and we were able to climb down a little and do some exploring as well which was fun.

So last week I broke down and bought a new cell phone from the bookshop on the island. "Did my cell phone break?" you ask? Well, no. Truth be told...I bought it for the games. It has Tetris! I know, it sounds silly, but really, since buying it my quality of life has improved, and that's what's important. I chose not to bring a computer, personal DVD player, or really much at all for that matter with me to Tonga. My iPod speakers just broke, my shortwave radio is busted, and I was finding myself sitting around after night school, just waiting for 9 o'clock to roll around so I could go to bed. The dishes were done, I had pretty much planned for school through the end of the school year, I've read all my books a few times over. I filled an entire journal. So I bought this cell phone, it cost me $30, and I think it will be well worth the investment.

The library project has been stalled for the past month or so, the grant we are applying for was put on hold because money hadn't been allocated to the fund yet, but I just got news today that the money came through and they are accepting applications! Our application has been completed, but not without a little frustration of course. I am working with the class 5/6 teacher on this library project, and he had agreed to get letters of support from the town officer, the head of the PTA, and a few other key people. A few days later he came to me with all of the completed letters. I was very impressed with the speediness with which he was able to get the letters. I read the first one. It was great! It had everything in it we needed to say and it was even in English so we didn't have to translate. I looked at the second one. Wait a was the same letter, word for word, but signed by a different person. As were the rest of the letters. "Tu'amelie, " I said "who wrote this letter?" He said that he had written the letter and just gone around and gotten signatures. "Um...I can't send these in." I told him. He didn't understand. I tried to explain that the letters of support should actually be written by the town officer, the ministry of education, the principal, and the PTA. I told him our application would be far stronger that way, and that it was all right to help them with the letter, but not to send in the same letter from all these different people. He didn't understand, he thought I was being too particular (which I certainly can be sometimes), but he finally agreed to get seperate letters from everyone. A few weeks later I got all the letters, and they were all at least different. I found out later that the letter from the ministry of education was actually written by a teacher at another school who likes to try to practice her English, but I let it go. The application will be sent off tomorrow, and we're hoping to hear back within the next month or so about whether we will get funding or not.

I had a great night last week. Well, by Tonga standards anyway. I woke up (fully clothed, knew where I was)...and found that I had caught TWO rats in one night in my kitchen. Doesn't get much better than that (here). I did a rat dance.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Tragedy in Tonga

As many of you have already heard, a ferry traveling to Vava'u capsized and sank last week. Last I heard, 96 people are still missing, assumed dead. There were no Peace Corps Volunteers on the boat, nor was there anyone I knew personally, however Tongans have so many relatives and are so interconnected that everone seems to have known or been related to someone on the boat. It's very tragic, but somehow I feel like no one is very surprised by it. I have heard many things, including that this is not the first, or even the second boat to go down in that area. It was reported that the boat was not deemed seaworthy by safety officials, but put into use anyway. It was also reported that the King left for a vacation the day after it happened and has not yet released a statement about it. I know that Tongans are very upset with the King and the government and the way this is being handled and the fact that it happened in the first place. It is illegal to speak or print publicly anything criticizing the King or the government, and it is something that is just never done, but since this has happened, I have heard a lot of negative things coming from Tongans which is interesting. Anyway, just a little insight as to how Tongans are handling the situation here. Keep them in your thoughts and prayers.

"It's Tonga" Moments:

- I wanted to buy milk from the agricultural farm/college across from my village, but I can never seem to catch the milk truck as it goes out in the morning. My theory is that this is because it never goes out at the same time every morning. In pre-service training we are taught to vary our routines every so often so as to be "unpredictable", and someone must also have told this to the guys at the agricultural college because they follow this advice strictly, much to my frustration. Or they just go out whenever they wake up. But my guess is the former. I digress. So I can never catch the milk truck as it goes out, so I gave my class 5/6 students a few bucks and my pot for the milk and asked THEM to try and catch the milk truck as it went out. (Tongans just seem to instinctively know these things- when the milk truck will go out, when church will start, when the boat will leave/come in-whereas I have been programmed to assume that they happen on a schedule, which I think is my downfall, I have to let go of that idea, get past that mental block.) Anyway, sure enough, my kids show up on my doorstep the next morning with a pot full of milk.
"So when did the truck go out this morning?" I ask the kids.
"It didn't, Sameu didn't wake up this morning to deliver the milk, so we just went and milked a cow." One boy said, like it was the most normal thing in the world.
"Really? Huh. Thanks. Now come wash your hands."

-I went to Tongatapu last week to see a doctor because I've been a little sick lately (fine now) and told my students that I would miss Friday because I would be in Tongatapu. Thursday evening, the entire class (8 students) showed up on my doorstep, telling me that they had decided to come have a prayer for me since I was going to Tongatapu. It was very sweet, they sang a hymn and had a group prayer for me.

-After the prayer they hung around and looked at my magazines that I had recently recieved in the mail. There were a few mountain bike magazines, an Alaska magazine, and a People magazine. One boy looking at the mountain biking magazine seemed to be deeply confused by something, so I asked him, "Lopeti, what's up?" He showed me the picture he was looking at of a guy hucking himself off a 15-ft. cliff on his mountain bike, where there was obviously a path down that didn't involve leaving the ground with the bike. He couldn't figure out why the guy didn't go around. I tried explaining that some people think it's fun to throw themselves off cliffs on their bikes, but that's a pretty tough concept to explain, and when I had finished, I could tell he still couldn't quite wrap his head around it. I like looking at situations like that, where I do something Tongans find extremely weird or don't understand or where they do something I find weird and don't understand, and thinking about what it says about our respective cultures that we come from and were raised in.

-On my way back from Tongatapu I took my usual place on top of the boat above the wheelhouse. Fifteen minutes into the three-hour boat ride it became clear that I would have to pack up and sit inside the boat. I usually sit on top for the freash air and the view, but it was extremely rough and I was soaked before we even left the protected cove of islands and made it into the open sea. So I go inside the boat and in the middle there's a whole bunch of Tongans sprawled out on mats sleeping. They are wearing black, so I assume they are either going to or coming from a funeral. That assumption was correct. In my defense, none of them looked particularly alive at any point on the trip, and I spent much of the boat ride hanging over the edge of the boat puking or sitting in my seat with head in my hands thinking about puking and not falling out of my seat. It wasn't until we made it to 'Eua and were getting off the boat and I saw a van, with all it's seats and the back hatch door removed, covered in woven mats but empty, that I realized that the (dead) body had been on the boat. And not just on the boat, but lying with the Tongans in the middle, not five feet from my seat. A large part of me is glad I didn't realize this before or during the boat ride, as that would have raised numerous concerns (mainly about how it (?) would stay in place, while I was having trouble holding onto my seat) and (if possible) more nausea.

I think have the coolest dog ever. He does this relly awesome trick and I didn't even have to teach him. I have lots of wild chickens and roosters in my yard (which is also the schoolyard). One day I was sitting in my open doorway reading a book when Tahi came up to me with something in his mouth, clearly pleased with himself. As he came closer I realized it was an egg. Fully intact. Since then he has been bringing me eggs a few times a week. He never breaks one. It sure beats silly dog tricks like rolling over!

But on a different note, Tahi ahs also been causing some headaches. Yesterday he chased and killed a neighbors chicken, which is a big faux pas around here. It could have been worse, it could have been one of their pigs (which he's gone after before, but enver killed), but still, I don't think they were pleased, not that they'd ever tell me if they were pissed off, but I could kinda tell. So Tahi bought himself a ticket to get snipped pronto, hopefully that will take care of the problem, because if not, we're in trouble...

Friday, July 24, 2009

Beach cleanup/ tourists/ whales

Feasting after the cleanup
The boys taking a rest with some coconuts
Some of the group

Pasa and Heather weaving baskets to collect trash
Paea digging a "burn hole" for the trash we collected
Taniela, Tevita and I collecting rubbish
Making the umu
From camping last month

It's Tonga Moments:
- My neighbor Tevita (25 yr. old male) came by yesterday with lipstick on. Bright red lipstick. It was applied sloppily.
I looked at him confused, and asked, "Um...Tevita, are you wearing lipstick?"
"yes" He replied.
"Because my lips are dry."
"But....lipstick is for girls"
"I know, but my lips were dry" He said this as though I was crazy to be disturbed by him wearing lipstick. I made him wipe off the lipstick and gave him some chapstick.

-I went to buy a tray of eggs from the agricultural college last week for the first time (usually I just buy them a few at a time from the falekaloas) and the guy gave it to me for $2 off AND took out all the small ones and replaces them with big ones. I could look through the screen window and see the hundreds of chickens in their coops, and it's kind of a nice feeling to know exactly where your food comes from. Most of the time, sometimes it's better not to know. But I mean it is nice to know that the food hasn't been fortified or preserved or artificially colored. Anyway.

I think I mentioned in my last post about camping on the beach then spending the next morning trying to clean it up, but not being able to finish the job because there was too much trash and it started raining. Well, last week we ended up organizing a bunch of the Tongan youth from our villages to come out and help us, which ended up being a huge success. We talked about it at tea Wednesday, and decided to try to pull something together for Friday. Putting something together two days in advance is very Faka-Tonga (like Tonga; Tonga-esque). So we each went back to our villages and gathered as many youth as we could to come out with us. I gotta say, my village really pulled through; there were 9 people from my village and like five from all the other villages combined! We bought food to cook in an umu (underground oven) on the beach, then set off on our way.

One of the really cool things about the day was that none of the Tongans had ever been to this beach and it is one of the most beautiful places on the island. They just didn't know about it. The hike is a lot of fun, you walk along a cliff overlooking the ocean, then you have to climb down the cliff to the beach, and it was especially fun because we were trying to do it carrying shovels and food. Also, on the hike, the a few of the boys disappeared into the bush for a few minutes and came out carrying a few huge kape (root crop- not sure if there is an English translation) which we lugged down the cliff and cooked up in the umu.

One we made it to the beach we talked quickly about what the plan was then set off. Most of us walked up and down the beach, hauling the rubbish to a central location to be burned. Some wove baskets out of palm fronds to carry trash in, and a few worked on digging the umu (underground oven) and preparing the food. We worked hard for about two and a half hours, then it was time to play. I had brought a frisbee and football which we were tossing around on the beach. Then Ashley and I came up with the bright idea to teach them American football, which quickly turned into wrestlemania as soon as the ball was snapped. We didn't get far teaching them football, but yy the time we decided to go open up the umu and eat, my stomach hurt from laughing so much.

By the time the food was done, everyone was pretty well worn out. The food out of the umu was delicious, everyone chowed down, then it was time to head home. It was a really successful day, and everyone had a great time. We're hoping to do it again about once a month at different beaches on the island.

The next week, Jason- a business volunteer on the island, had a project with the tourism industry on 'Eua which all the Peace Corps attended as support to him. Basically all the guest houses on the island (2.5 really) worked together to do a cultural day for the tourists who were staying in their guest houses where they get to help prepare a Tongan feast and participate in everything Faka-Tonga. The tourists were able to participate in a traditional kava ceremony, learn how to weave baskets from palm fronds, husk coconuts, make coconut cream from the coconuts, and prepare a Tongan feast from start to finish. And by start, I mean, we rode out there in the back of a pickup truck with a live pig, which ended up being cooked over the spit. That was a little traumatic for some of the tourists I think. One actually commented, "Well, at least you know it's fresh!" Which I though was a really good attitude. But it was a fun and successful day overall, Jason's been doing some really awesome work with the tourism industry here in 'Eua, so it was a great day for him.

The next day I ended up doing the same thing all over again (preparing a Tongan feast) because my neightbors were having the faifekau (pastor) from the main village on the island over for dinner, so I helped them roast the pig and make 'ota ika (raw fish dish) and lu all day. And then the pastor didn't come, so we got to eat it too! Two days in a row of roasted pig is pretty lucky.

Whale season has officially begun! Whales have been spotted off the coast for the past week or so, and although I haven't seen them yet, I hear that soon they will be hard to miss. In fact, they say that I will be able to see them from the front steps of my house, which I'm pretty excited about. They come to Tonga every year to breed and they swim and play right off the shore.

School is coming along, we're getting close to the class 6 exam, which is a pretty big deal here, so class 5/6 has been working really hard, coming to school in the morning before school starts and in the evening after they eat dinner. Way too much if you ask me, but they don't complain. There are only seven students in class 5/6, and five of them will be moving on to high school next year which will be sad because they're a lot of fun. But then again, I'll see them every day after school I'm sure. Class 3/4 is my biggest class, and the class that I had a little trouble with at the beginning, and I have to say that now I look forward to seeing them every day; it is my favorite class to teach. They are superstars and are learning so quickly.

OH! I successfully made cottage cheese a few weeks ago, which was very exciting. I live across from the agricultural college (Lots of cows) and am able to get raw milk, which is really good for making cheese (which is unavailable on the island). I'm looking forward to trying other cheeses and yogurt once I can get into the main island and buy some yogurt to start it with.

Overall, life is good here, haven't had any rat issues lately, I think because it has been so cold (for Tonga- it's relative). I have no doubt that they will be back, and when they come I will be ready to stage an attack of epic proportions. I have had provisions sent, and while I don't want to give away all my secrets here, I'll just say that rats will be introduced to the power of electrcity and booby traps throughout my house. Muahahaha.

Friday, July 3, 2009

"Everyone needs a fakaleiti"- Krystal

Tahi looking guilty (above)
A cave on the beach (below)
On the cliffs above the beach
We brought a pot to cook mussles and/or snails in

The group on the cliffs
Katie, me, Ashley
This one's from the hurricane actually, it flooded the yeard of the guesthouse we were staying at, but we had fun with it
In a cave

It's Tonga Moments of the Week:

-I attended an HIV/AIDS workshop that was held in my village. Because my village is so small, the workshop was just held in someone's living room. In the middle of the condom demonstration, I look up to see one of my class six boys sitting in the doorway, watching the whole thing. There are two more of my students (classes 2/3) looking in through the window. No one else seems bothered by this, and they sit in and watch the entire thing.

-I was sitting in my house with my neighbor Elizabeth last week and I asked her what she had done the day before. She told me that she had made tuitui with her Mom, Lupe. Not sure what that was, I asked. She ran next door and came back with a lumpy, paste-y mass and handed it to me. She instructed me to rub it all over my face. I was skeptical, but it smelled really good, so I figured why not? As I was rubbing it on my face (it felt great!) I asked her how she had made it. Again she ran next door, and this time returned with some roots and leaves. She peeled on of the roots and stuck it in her mouth, along with a few of the leaves. "oh, neat!" I thought, "it's edible too!" I went to taste some of the root, but Elizabeth stopped me with an alarmed look on her face. "Watch" she instructed. She finished chewing thoroughly, then spat the mashed up root and leaf into her hand and began to rub it on her face. My stomach sank, I couldn't breathe for a second. I looked at the lump in my hand, "Did you chew this?" I asked. "No!" she replied. I let out a sigh of relief. It was premature. "Lupe did!" I just started laughing, because what else can you do? Elizabeth joined in, but she didn't seem to understand what was funny, she was just being polite. After Elizabeth left, I washed my face. It did smell really good.

It's been a busy month here in Tonga; although the last two weeks have been school break, things haven't seemed to slow down at all. A couple of friends, Katie and Chad, came down from Vava'u (the northernmost island group in Tonga) and stayed with me a few days. While they were here we tried to stay on out feet as much as possible. We went hiking in the rain forest one day, then the next two days we went camping at my favorite beach, Fangatave. As it turns out, they are excellent cooks, so I got to eat really well for a couple days! One night we made veggie pasta, and another night we made fish tacos.

Camping was a lot of fun, in addition to Katie and Chad, there was a couchsurfer here from New York, a scuba dive instructor from Japan, another PCV from Ha'apai, and Ashley, Jason, and I. When night fell we went on a nighttime cave-exploration adventure which was neat, there are really neat caves to explore all over the island. The next day we all rallied and spent the morning cleaning up the beach, and made some really interesting finds. One time at the base of one of the cliffs Jason actually found a human jawbone, but nothing that interesting this time. We ended up with piles of rubbish all along the beach that we had planned on burning on our way out, but it turned out to be too wet to burn anything. So now there are piles of trash all along the beach which looks worse than when we got there and it was all spread out. We're trying to get something together where we work with the youth to get a beach cleanup program started, so hopefully more to come on that.

Katie and Chad took off back to Vava'u Monday morning, but the rest of us got together and had a little birthday dinner for my birthday. Jason made pizzas- a sea bass pizza, a fried egg pizza, and an eggplant and cabbage pizza. I'm usually a cheese and pepperoni-type gal, but it's been so long since I've had pizza, they were amazing! I hadn't really been too excited about my birthday here (I would have just as soon forgotten about it) and I definitely wasn't planning on doing much, but it turned out to be a great evening with everyone around. One of my neighbors also knew it was my birthday and brought me a cake, which was a nice surprise. So overall a really great birthday.

The next day I went horseback riding to the cliffs on the northern coast of 'Eua which was beautiful. Pretty soon the whales will be coming through and you can see them playing right off the coast, so everyone's looking forward to that. We are all planning on going out when the whales come and swimming with them which sounds pretty exhilarating. Ashley and I are considering investing in a horse to ride around the island for the rest of the time we're here, so we're asking around about that. We both think it would be worth it!

The week before school let out was especially busy, I tested all my kids on their progress so far, then had to write up report cards for all of them. I only have 37 students, but I had to write the reports in Tongan, which made it tough. The first week of break I still taught class 5/6 (they continued to have class in the mornings in preparation for their exams at the end of the year) since their regular teacher went to Tongatapu for a conference. It was pretty informal and fun, one day I took them on a walk to town with their notebooks and we wrote down all the things they didn't already know, such as: barbed wire, litter, fence, etc. and practiced using the words in sentences. It was fun. School starts again on Monday, which I'm actually looking forward to. After testing the kids I've identified a few things I really want to focus on and hit hard this next term, especially for the kids that will be taking the class 6 exam.

Things are going really well here; there are definitely bouts of missing home and those modern comforts which I used to take for granted like a hot shower, but just about every day I feel like I've lucked out getting to be here. I am learning new things on a daily basis, which I think is fun. Staying busy has been key, although that's not always the easiest thing to do around here! It's always exciting to hear news from family and friends, so shoot me an e-mail! Cheers!