Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Visit from the outside...

"It's Tonga" Moments of the Week:
- The following conversation took place in the post office last week:
Me: "Uh, hi, can I mail this?"
Mail person: "You have to wait until Lupe returns from lunch"
Me: "Oh, okay, when will she get back?"
MP: "At 1:30"
Me: "'s 1:45"
MP: "Yes."
Me: "So... when do you think she'll be back?"
MP: "1:30"
Me: "Right, I'll come back later."

-I was riding in a van with some other of the PCV's on my island, and they were talking about someone who got married the week before. I didn't know who they were talking about, and asked. I got the following description: "The girl who's brother drives way too fast down the road in the blue car." And knew exactly the girl they were talking about.

Last week a few PCV's from other island groups came to visit us out here on 'Eua, and what a treat! It was really interesting to see how different their lives are from ours and hearing updates on everyone. The volunteers from Tongatapu (the big island) referred to it as "sin city" because you could get a beer there, among other things. We all got together and went to the Hideaway, a little resort on our island, and the only place that has a menu you can order food off of (you have to do it the morning before you actually want the food, but still). Once the food got there, someone observed that of the eight of us PCV's eating, seven of us had set our napkins and silverware aside and were eating with our hands. Haha.Napkins are kind of a foreign concept here, although during the attachment phase of training the PCV I stayed with found that the tissue paper that our toilet paper rolls comes in works well as napkins. That's not something I've picked up yet at my house.

Like I said before, it was really interesting to hear how different everyone's experiences have been so far, one guy from Tongatapu commented, "I spend more money on ice cream than Peace Corps pays me!" Which was hilarious and sad at the same time because the ice cream shop is across from his house and we rarely get ice cream in 'Eua. Here in 'Eua we spend hardly any money at all because there's really nothing to spend it on. Our neighbors tend to bring us food from the bush, we don't have any shops or restaurants, and there's just not much we need out here. Although, one thing I have been living without the past few months is a mirror. (It's amazing what not having for a mirror does for your vanity, although I used to sometimes take a picture of myself with my camera before going to school to make sure I didn't have food on my face, but then my camera broke.) After dinner I went to use the restroom at Hideaway and saw a mirror for the first time in two months. It blew my mind. I must have stayed in there for ten minutes making faces at myself.
We learned that the volunteers on the main islands are able to go out to bars, wear pants ( I could, theoretically, and I do when I go hiking, but it's pretty traditional out here), and buy things like mirrors. One even has internet in his house, while I have to walk an hour to use the internet. But on the other hand they don't get to watch the whales breaching off the coast from above on a cliff, or explore caves and hike through the rainforest. And I would definetely choose 'Eua over Tongatapu. But it was very interesting to hear the differences from volunteers who are a seven-minute plane ride away! And it was great to see them again, because we don't get visitors too often! We showed them around the island for the weekend and a good time was had by all.
I'm officially more than two months into my actual service, and still going strong! Wahoo!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

School, Camping Trip

The hike to the beach
Poako (night study) at my house for the high school kids
My front yard
Playing with exposures on Ashleys camera

Climbing down to the beach
Jason filleting our dinner (Aaron- that's your knife!)_Raw fish- ifo aupito (very delicious)
Um...maybe been on a little island too long

Sleeping arrangementsAshley and I on the beach

"It's Tonga" Moments of the Week:

1) In my studies of the Tongan language I came across the word for hospital, falemahaki, which literally translates to: House of Disease. If that weren't comforting enough:
1a) The hospital is currently out of tylenol. Yeah, that's right, they just ran out.

2) I got ready for school Monday, and no one showed up. Not one kid, nor any of the teachers. Apparently there was a teachers conference (I wasn't supposed to be there) and no one bothered to tell me there would be no school Monday and Tuesday.

So school started three weeks ago. Kind of. I was really excited about school starting and got up early to get ready for before the first day of school, and I showed up, and as it turns out, the teachers didn't have anything for the students to do. They didn't even try to make up anything for the kids to do. They sat 30 kids in front of the radio, then ignored them all day. Kids were spitting on each other and rearranging desks to set up boxing matches in the middle of the room. The teachers were just sitting there, ignoring them, and trying to tell me their life story. I was kinda shocked, the whole time I was thinking, "That's great that your brother has been to America...but those kids are HITTING each other right there!" After sitting through two days of this, I pulled the principal aside and told her I needed to have a meeting with her. The next day there was a tropical storm and there was no school, which was a much-needed mental break for me, I was a little distraught after the first two days of "school." I met with the principal on Thursday of the first week of school and told her that I thought it was unacceptable that the students are showing up to school on time ready to learn and the teachers have absolutely nothing for them to do. She said she understood why I was upset, but the planning books hadn't arrived from Tongatapu yet, so the teachers couldn't plan anything. These are not planning books that tell the teachers what they're supposed to be doing, these are just the blank books where the teachers write their plans. And apparently they cannot plan anything without them. On Friday no one showed up to start school until 9 o'clock. (school is supposed to start at 8:30). The students were there in their uniforms ready to go, but no teachers, no principal. Finally I got the chance to talk to some of the other PCV's on my island about the situation at my school, and was shocked to find that it's not just the situation at my school, it's what happens the first week of school throughout Tonga. I was a little appalled. I guess it's just a much different environment that school in America, where a lot of importance is placed on the first days and weeks of school. School in Tonga apparently takes a while to get moving.

Since then, things have been better in some ways, the teacher have started teaching (novel, I know), although with that has come the emergence of corporal punishment. It just really doesn't make a lot of sense to me, I watched a a teacher stand over a 3rd-grader trying to read aloud to the class. Every time he mispronounced a word she smacked him with a ruler. He was so scared he was mispronouncing most words. It was difficult to watch. In our teachers meeting Friday I told them that when I was teaching if they hit a kid I will leave the room. This is another thing I had to discuss with the PCV's who have already been here a year and they said its another one of those things that happens in every Tongan school, and the best thing you can do is show them by example that there are other, far more effective ways of managing a classroom. Well, at least there's a lot of work to be done.

Well, after two weeks of school, I was ready for a little vacation, so a few of us (PCV's) decided to go camping last weekend. We hiked to a remote beach where we hoped to be alone (read: able to show our knees!). Then we set out into the water to explore a little. Jason and I came across an outcropping of sea urchin, which he picked up and assured me were delicious. We carried them to the beach where he cracked them open and dug out their meat, then rinsed it in the ocean and handed me some. Alas, it was delicious. It has the consistency of butter, which is a little strange, but it tastes great, so if you ever get the chance to try raw Tongan sea urchin, you really should :) Then Jason wandered off to climb some rock face, and Ashley and I were exploring the beach. A Tongan fisherman walked by and handed us two fish. We were so excited we had a little photo shoot, then we went off to find Jason and show him our prizes. We told him that we had gotten hungry and wandered into the sea and caught the fish. With our teeth. For some reason he didn't believe us. Then Jason filleted the fish, which we dipped into the ocean and again, ate raw. Delicious. The sunset was gorgeous, although with it came the mosquitoes. We set up camp on the beach, but had to take cover from the mosquitoes under out towels, and no one found much sleep. Then at 6:15 it started raining. It was a long, early, and wet walk back, but we had a great time. It was a good to get away for a few days.

I came back refreshed and with new energy and ideas for working with my teacher counterparts. Of course, no one showed up for school on Monday or Tuesday. There was a teachers conference to discuss a new math and science curriculum. I was not involved since I teach English, but I also wasn't informed there there would be no school. So it ended up being an extended vacation.

Ako hiva (singing practice) has started again, so every night I go there and sing with the youth group, which is really fun. It usually also involves kicking around a rugby ball, dancing, and/or eating coconuts. Between that and school I've been keeping very busy, which has been good. But enough about ME, how are YOU? I'd love to hear updates on everyone!