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...