Sunday, May 30, 2010

I don't smell very good right now...

chalk dust
night school with class 6

victory!after-school hangout
decorating :)

It's been brought to my attention recently that I haven't been including "It's Tonga" moments very regularly in my blog these days; a friend mentioned to me that I'm probably just becoming so used to these things happening every day that they don't shock me anymore, which I suppose makes sense. I decided that for all my "It's Tonga" Moments my neighbors and villagers probably have ten "It's Senifa" Moments, where I did something that was utterly incomprehensible to them. Here are a few that I know leave my neighbors dumbfounded, written from their point-of-view, in a round table discussion format:

-"She lives alone...and she seems to like it! We even offered to let our kids sleep in her house and she declined. Furthermore, she goes to bed and wakes up at the same time every day! And she seems to get annoyed when we wake her up in the middle of the night to borrow salt or oil to cook...I just don't get her!"

-"Well, have you seen her walking about in the sun all the time? Can you just imagine? If she keeps on like that her skin will get dark! But she doesn't like to walk in the rain, oh no, as soon as it starts to rain she runs for cover. Doesn't she know that by walking in the rain you not only get to where you are going, you also get a shower and washed clothes?!"

-"What's more- she refuses to hit our kids! I don't know how many times I've told her she should hit my kid, even if he's not misbehaving, but she just smiles and shakes her head! I'll tell you what I did. I even told her how to pinch the kids to maximize pain and minimize a visible bruise, and still! Her classroom must be downright chaotic!"

-"Get this- one day I saw her talking to one of the boys in the village, then the next day I saw her talking to a DIFFERENT one! Then again, she is an American...." (knowing nods all around)

-"Well here's the kicker then. I walked past her house one Sunday and she was playing music inside...and it wasn't about JESUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" (At this I imagine all the women letting out a collective gasp, then shaking their heads in pity)

So with that I will close out the "It's Tonga" Moments section of this blog. It's been a good run, but I realized last week, when a chicken walked through my library and it didn't phase me, that maybe, finally, I'm becoming impervious to the unique eccentricities that Tonga presents me with on a daily basis.

Now for some updates:

While I still hold the reservations about the library that I expressed in my last post, I have to say, having the library running and seeing the kids using it and benefiting from it has been amazing. The kids are not only reading like fiends, they are now checking out books and taking them home to read with their siblings and parents. (Although one boy came to my house at six-thirty this morning because he wanted to return a book and check a different one out- I told him to go home and go back to sleep)

The library has become a popular after school hang out where the kids come to do their homework, play cards, read, or do puzzles. I just want to say that, and I know this is on a purely selfish level, watching them be excited about being in the library and reading and learning has been incredibly fun for me. Last week some of the high school girls completed a complex, spherical puzzle and a few other kids have taken a keen interest in origami. I've also been holding my night study classes in there, which has been nice to get the class six kids out of the classroom a few nights a week. With some (mostly) friendly reminders, the kids have been taking great care of the library and the books. When we first started getting in books and they started reading on their own I had to sit them all down and teach a mini-lesson on how to turn the pages without bending them!

Last week one of Peace Corps' program leaders came out to 'Eua to lead a workshop for school principals interested in receiving a volunteer next year. I was invited to be a part of that meeting and speak about the role of a volunteer in a school and community. It was a great opportunity to let future counterparts know what Peace Corps is about and what they should, and should not, expect from a volunteer. As it turns out, the program manager did a wonderful job explaining the goals of Peace Corps and what we are in Tonga for. She ended the presentation with this quote:

"The only form of assistance which is unending is that which we can provide for ourselves. We in Tonga, must not forget that the progress of this country, be it fast, be it slow, or be it non-existent, depends on us...Any major step in the advancements of the in the hands of the men and women of our country and it is with them that the ultimate progress depends."

-King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV
June 8, 1967

Golden. Sitting in on this meeting went a long way towards alleviating the worries I have been having about the expectations of volunteers and counterparts not being well-aligned. I think everyone left that meeting with a good idea of what Peace Corps Volunteers are here for and how they should be utilized. It was made clear that we come in with a set of skills, that usually don't include grant-writing, and that we are meant to be capacity-builders and not "thing-getters" (not a word, I know, but the best I could come up with right now).

In other news, I will shortly be saying farewell to my infamous faleTonga (palm-leaf hut). It will be uprooted from its current residency by my house, carried across the school yard, and re-rooted in place of my neighbors' old faleTonga, which got devastated this past cyclone season. (I'm pretty sure he's been sleeping in my classroom since) I hadn't been sleeping in the faleTonga much anyway since it started getting pretty chilly and windy at night. In fact I've been mostly sleeping in my bed, which I'm becoming more comfortable with despite a few frightening spider, rat and molokau incidents.

I guess the biggest thing going on here is that I'm considering extending my service here in Tonga for a third year. I'm confident there's enough work in the library to keep me busy for another year, and I really want to see this project through and not leave it halfway done. As I mentioned earlier in the post, I am (finally) becoming really comfortable here and feeling like I'm integrated into the community and understand the culture well enough to do valuable work. I'm part of something I believe in (Peace Corps) and part of a group of people I feel privileged to be considered a part of. My work here is fulfilling and fun, and yes, challenging at times, but isn't everything that's meaningful sometimes challenging? Teaching here is awesome, the kids are enthusiastic, bright, resourceful, respectful and happy. Oh, and have you seen my pictures? The scenery here's not bad either :) After church Sunday I walked to my favorite beach on the island and spent the afternoon reading a book in the shade of a tree. It was hard for me to justify leaving in that moment.

On the other hand, I know I cannot, nor do I want to, stay here forever. As you can certainly tell from the "It's Senifa" Moments, I have not, nor will I ever, become Tongan. I've learned a lot about myself here, my perceptions about a lot of things have changed, and I've fulfilled my commitment. Maybe it's time to move on. I hear the job market in America is terrific right now (joke!). And I'm certainly not getting any younger (I'm only half-joking about that). My house flooded again last week, worse than it ever has before, so that was a bit frustrating and something I won't miss.

It's a difficult decision, and one that I will have to make soon to meet the application deadline if I want to apply to stay another year! 'Oiaue! (A Tongan expression of grief, excitement, or concern- in this case all three!)

If you're thinking...hey, I'm quickly coming to the end of this post and that title has nothing to do with anything!?! Well, I sat here for ten minutes trying to come up with a good title, and in that time realized that, really, I do stink. Good writers try to appeal to all the senses, right? It was between that and "May." Smell ya later.

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