Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Week in the Life....

Class 5/6 (above)
At a lookout with PCV Heather

Climbing on a huge banyan tree

At one of the lookouts over the rainforest
Stopping for a snack
Tahi- good-looking dog, eh?

It has come to my attention that all my blogs to this point have been event-centered and don't necessarily represent what my life here is about. My experience here hasn't been ENTIRELY camping trips and boat rides :) To that end, I decided it was time to describe what a "typical" day is like for me.

But first, back by popular demand- It's Tonga Moments of the Week:

- Last week I set off on a hike with a few of the other PCV's. We came upon a huge road grader sitting alongside the road. It was running. It was even beeping, as if in reverse. The guy behind the wheel? Fast asleep. Sprawled out across the front seat, feet on the steering wheel. We kept walking.

- On our hike we ended up bushwhacking part of the way looking for a beach we had seen on our boat trip a few months ago. All of the sudden we stumbled upon a huge chest freezer. There were no real trails around it, and there was no way a truck could have gotten through...we all just kinda stopped and looked at it and scratched our heads.

- I got back from the hike and walked up to my house, where someone had left me a bunch (about 100) of bananas hanging from my roof (that's not unusual, they come off the tree in bunches of anywhere from 50-150, and you hang them from the roof to keep the bugs off them). I still haven't figured out who it was.

-The next day I open my door to find a horse skull in my yard...probably a dog dragged it there.

- I was getting a ride back to my village with one of my neighbors the other day, and as I was opening the sliding door to his van the entire thing fell off. Then he picked it up and tried to put the thing inside the van. That didn't work. Finally he got it back on enough to make it back to the village. Now they just don't open that door, they climb in and out through the windows, back hatch, or front seat.

-I was on my way to akome'a (practice of things- more on that later) when a truck pulled alongside me. Out the window popped a hand...with a huge, cooked lobster in it. The guy in the truck handed it to me and drove off. Yum.

-A kid had a fish bone stuck in his throat. To remedy this, they got another kids to start running in circles around him really fast. And it worked.

A day in the life:

Well, a typical weekday for me starts between 6:30 and 7 with a cup of instant coffee and a cold shower (no hot water). School starts at 8:30 (roughly) and I spend all morning teaching English to 40 elementary school students split into three classes. In Class 1/2 we are working hard on numbers, the alphabet, and colors. Class 3/4 we are working on sentence structure and parts of speech. In Class 5/6 we are working on story writing, reading comprehension, and getting them through the Class 6 exam, which is what determines which high school they will attend. With classes 3/4 and 5/6 we are working on conversational English as well.

Teaching here is quite different than teaching in America for lots of reasons. Some I've touched on in past postings, such as corporal punishment, but it's also very rewarding in many ways. There are only 40 kids in my school, so I get to know them really well. They of course, are also the kids in my village, so I pretty much am around them ALL the time. Luckily for me, they are really great kids, and I enjoy being around them. I see them at church, before and after school, and at all the akome'a's. They are excited about learning English and always try to talk to me in English when I walk through the village, which is rewarding.

After school I usually spend the afternoons walking down to use the internet and working on secondary projects or going for a swim in the wharf. (Although it recently came to my attention that the entire islands waste probably drains straight into the wharf, which MAYBE could have contributed to the golf ball-sized thyroid gland issue I experienced last month. I haven't swam in a little while.)
Some of the projects I'm currently working on or hope to start soon include:
- Building a library at my school. We don't have a room for it or books, so this is an ambitious project. The ball is actually rolling on this one and I have the support of my community to build a library on the school campus. I am working on getting books now.
- Working with the other PCV's on the island who teach to put together a workshop series on topics such as: Positive Discipline, Classroom Management, Making and Maintaining Resources, etc.
- Working with the Youth Group in my village to create a sustainable way for them to raise money to fund musical equipment and various activities.

Around five we usually have akome'a (practice of things) where the youth group gets together to practice singing, action songs, and skits. Right now we are doing all of the above for a Children's Day program (I think). Every night this week we have had akome'a from about 5 or 5:30 to 10pm. I can't complain about being tired though, because all the kids from my school are right there alongside me, even the five year-olds. The entire village has been involved in some capacity, so it's actualy been a lot of fun.

After akome'a, I have poako (night study). (Obviously not this week- this week has been dedicated to akome'a in my village) I usually go three nights with Class 5/6 and two or three nights with the high school girls in my village. This usually lasts about an hour and a half, and it's pretty fun because it's not as formal as regular school (the kids aren't wearing their uniforms, I'm not wearing my kiekia). The high school girls come to my house, and we always start with any help they need on homework. After that they just really want to be able to speak English better, so I'll have an activity set up for them and then we will talk, play games (jeopardy, etc.), and listen to music. With Class 5/6 the goal of poako is to practice for the Class 6 Exam, so we still play games pretty often, but for example, the jeopardy clues are taken straight from the exam. By the time that's finished I'm usually pretty exhausted and fall into bed around 9:30. There's not much of a night life around here :)

On Wednesdays all the PCV's and JICA (japanese volunteers) on the island (8) get together for tea. This is a huge sanity saver, as it is an opportunity to share ideas, frustrations, successes, issues, or simply just to talk in English! Friday nights I sometimes tou'a (serve kava) because I have found it's a great way to practice my Tongan and get to know people in my village that I otherwise wouldn't be able to talk to.

Weekends are usually pretty quiet around here. Rugby season has started up here, and every Saturday the villages compete against each other. They play in a field behind the hospital, which, after watching one Saturday, I am convinced in no coincidence. Either Friday or Saturday a few of us usually rally for a hike. Other than that, Saturdays are for doing laundry, burning trash, and other household chores.

Sunday. Oh, Sunday. Sunday's are for church, and church only. It is actually against the law to do any work on Sunday (this includes exercising, swimming, and even playing cards). At first this was maddening. Coming from America, I saw it as: there goes 1/7 of my productivity, probably more, because Sunday's are a great day to get things done and prepare for the week. Not in Tonga. I have actually come to appreciate Sunday's here most of the time. If I am feeling stir crazy, it is acceptable to go on a walk (as long as you don't walk too fast- seriously, you can't walk as if you have a purpose) or I can close the doors to my house and do whatever I want. Church happens three times on Sunday, I go twice (I skip the 5am service, for obvious reasons). There is only one church in my village, so it is a great opportunity to see everyone and of course everyone is dressed in their Sunday best, so it's really nice. There is nothing open on Sunday, so you have to make sure you buy everything you need on Saturday. My neighbors always bring me lu on Sundays, which is taro leaves wrapped around fish, corned beef, or mutton chops, doused in coconut cream, and cooked in an umu (underground oven). The entire Kingdom eats lu on Sunday after morning church, and my neighbors always make sure I am included. Last Sunday I tried to recipricate, and when my neighbors brought me lu, I gave them a bowl of jello. Ten minutes later I get a knock on my door, and it is my neighbor, with a bowl of ice cream topped with jello. I briefly considered eating a few bites and sending it back with bananas sliced over the top...but who knows what they would come back with?

That's pretty much what a "typical" week looks like for me, although there is never really a "typical" week. Here are some other interesting aspects of my life here:

'Eua is a really unique island for a few reasons. To get to 'Eua, you take the shortest commercial flight in the world. Really- it's only seven minutes. Or you can take the boat, which I still have not done- it's a three-hour boat ride, and from what I've heard it is pretty tumultuous. Also, 'Eua is 30 millions years older than the rest of Tonga and geologically completely unrelated. It is the highest coral island in the world, and it is also the fastest moving chunk of land on earth, moving about six inches closer to South America every year.

One of the things about Tongan life that I have yet to fully embrace is the food. I read a book about the first people that came to these islands 3000 years ago and realized that since then, their diet really hasn't changed. Root crop, fish and coconuts. On my island we don't get a lot of fresh fish because the seas are too rough for the fishing boats. Also, there's a whole season where we don't get any vegetables. We're in that season now, and I'm not sure how long it lasts. As a result, the diet here ('Eua) consists mostly of canned fish and corned beef, root crop, and fried dough balls, called keke. I don't care very much for of any of that. I have become an expert at homemade tortillas, and I eat a lot of eggs and oatmeal, in every way imaginable. I feel a little like Bubba Gump, but with eggs instead of shrimp. Hard-boiled, scrambled, omlette, quiche, breakfast burrito....if anyone has any good egg recipies, let me know!
One of the things that is constant here is fresh fruit. It's seasonal, but it can always be found, which I am thankful for. Bananas are pretty much year-round, and right now oranges and avocados are in season. I'm not seeing much papaya anymore, which is sad, but guavas are plentiful and really good.
I've talked a few times in previous postings about kaipola's, or Tongan feasts. These are very common, held at every wedding, funeral, holiday and special church service. Roasted pig is served at every kaipola, along with sometimes horse (funerals), dog, chicken, lu, root crop, lobster, chop suey, canned spaghetti on buttered crackers, canned spaghetti snandwiches, canned spaghetti on fried get the idea.

Some of the challenges I've come across so far:
-Constant attention from everyone. Especially the boys and men. (I know, what a problem to have, right? But it really does wear on you trying to fend off constant advances, 95% of which are unwelcome) I don't necessarily like being the center of attention, but as one of six PCV's on the island, it's unaviodable. This is also a culture renowned for it's gossip. Everyone knows where I go all the time, what I buy at the shop, who I hang out with, and even the current balance in my bank account (you have to ask the teller, who will tell you aloud, thus everyone in the bank knows, thus by the next day everyone on the island knows.) They feel this gives them a right to ask for money.
- The language barrier is another issue, albeit one that is getting much easier as time passes. When I first got to my village, no one really spoke English, and I didn't really speak Tongan well enough to communicate. This is extremely frustrating, and I can now sympathize with two-year olds, as a few times I really felt like throwing myself on the ground and kicking and screaming as well. My language has come a long ways, but at first the only meaningful and effective communication I would have was at tea on Wednesdays with the other Peace Corps. I've never been a huge chatterbox, but that was challenging.
-Taimi Tonga. Tonga runs on its very own, very special time table. If someone tells you something will begin at 3, it means that they hope it will begin by 3:30, and it will actually begin around 5. This was really frustrating at first, because I am kind of a stickler about time and hate being late to anything. Now I am used to it, and I still show up on time (usually the first one there) but I have discovered the snake game on my phone, and I am proud to say that I am now a snake master.
-Whenever I go anywhere, I have to make sure that I am back by dark or my village worries about me. They don't worry about some strange Tongan guy hurting me however, what they're worried about is the Tevolo (Devil). If you walk anywhere alone after dark the Devil will get you. They really believe this, and so I always make sure I am back by dark. I even heard about one volunteer who was trying to tell the story of Cinderella to his class. His counterpart, however, insisted that the fairy godmother be called the Tevolo, because anything with supernatural powers that isn't God is the Tevolo. Well, that just confused the kids, and the story of Cinderella will forever be lost on them.

All in all, I am having a terrific experience here. I am enjoying living in and being a part of my village, speaking a new language, trying to understand and respect the culture, and learning new things every day. I am really looking forward to my next few years here, getting the library built and running, working with the youth group more and getting to know everyone here better. It's exciting!


Michele Hernandez said...

I'm totally laughing out loud! its too funny out there!!

Katie said...

awww Stella would LOVE Tahi! How adorable!