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.

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