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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

As I write this I am sharing some yummy veggie curry with some friends from our new favorite place, 'MahiMahi Curry.' They're the only place open in town today and they're doing delieveries ONLY! We have befriended the owners, John from Canada, and his Tongan wife, Mia. Thank goodness for them because it was a very long night/morning and my friends and I need to refuel!

Last night, I went to church with my neighbor and counterpart, Foulata Finau, and her daughter Fou Si'i (Si'i just means Jr.). Service started at 10pm and poor Fou Si'i looked so exhausted when we were walking in. She fell asleep on the pew almost immediately! She's seven.

I was suprised to see so many people there! My church is very large and on Sundays there are barely enough people to fill even one of the three columns of pews. So it was nice to see that there are more people in my congregation. I met a lot more people that I probably haven't met before because I only attend the ten am service- not the 5am nor the 3pm!

Anyway, the three of us went and while Fou Si'i slept, and Foulata listened to the sermons, I studied one of my Tongan grammar/vocabulary books that I usually bring to Church. I love it when I learn a new word and then hear it seconds later in the sermon, or read it in the hymnal! It's a small feeling of accomplishment that keeps me motivated to study my Tongan books from training. Though last night, the study books served the main purpose of helping me survive thirteen sermons! Now, it was as bad as it seems and then it was not. You see they had the thirteen people talk for each about ten minutes and inbetween each speaker, we would sign a short hymn. It really helped break up the two hours! Because, I tell you, listening to sermon after sermon until midnight in a language you don't understand is very exhausting, not to mention that it wasn't exactly my idea of a great pregame to the New Year!

But then, after the last sermon, we did something amazing which made it all worth it! The fai fe kau (minister), asked everyone to bow and pray. Some people got right to the floor, while others bent forward in their seats. Then everyone began to pray outloud- at different times; some yelling, some whispering; some crying and others just pouring out their thank yous to the Lord. Then after about a minute, someone began to sing, and while some others joined in song, the sound of individual prayer continued. I opened my eyes and gazed around the room in awe. It was the most amazing sound I had ever heard. There was so much emotion in the air that it was intoxicating and I couldn't stop smiling and staring at everyone. Then, I saw fireworks go off from the corner of my eye. Small ones. But they were being ignited right on the lawn not even fifty yards from my pew. They were beautiful and what was even more amazing, was that the Tongans continued to pray and sing, fighting the sounds of the fireworks. Of course, the fireworks were set off on purpose by the church but it was so cool that they just went off while others appeared to not even notice- except for the children who were all jumping up and down outside. It was so beautiful to observe and be apart of! I feel so lucky to experience these holidays as the Tongans celebrate them. It is so rewarding to me to actually celebrate them with another culture and another people because I never really think of what other countries are doing when the clock strikes midnight or when I wake up on Christmas morning. I mean, I have of course been curious but now I have actually experienced it! Only a few more hundred countries to go!

We left church around1230am after hugging and saying happy new year to everyone in the congregation. While I went to my friend's house to get ready for the night, my neighbors were going to a feast. haha Naturally! Why wouldn't I think that my fiftyish-year old neighbor and her seven year old daughter were going out after midnight instead of going home? And of course, there would be more feasting! Duh! :) I just love to laugh at Tongans and their ways. They're so great!

Now, while my neighbors were at their faka'afe, I went to my friend's house to hang out before we hit the town, which we didn't do until around 330am like most other Tongan youth. It was a great night and a wonderful sunrise to walk home to. That's about all I will comment upon in describing my New Year's Eve celebration post-church....

I hope you are all having a wonderful time celebrating the New Year right now! It's a new decade baby! Come and join us Tongans in it! ;)

'Ofa atu!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Sai. It has been too long! I know! I’d like to say that I have been extremely busy, and have otherwise had no time to update this blog but the truth is quite the contrary. I have been relaxing or as the Tongans say, taken a lot of time to “malolo.” Some of us PCVs like to call it “malolo-ing.” Either way, I have had no trouble embracing island time!

With that said, I have so much to catch you all up on! My procrastination has now left me overwhelmed with which experiences are most important to detail to you all!

Tau kamata. First, Vava’u can best be described in one word: MAGICAL. I knew from the second I saw the islands from the airplane window seat that I was one of the luckiest people in the world to be living on such a remarkable island as Vava’u.

To clarify, I now live on Vava’u lahi, the main and largest island within the Vava’u island group. The Vava’u islands are one of three island groups within the Kingdom of Tonga, and it’s capital, Neiafu, has most recently become my home for the next two years. Woot Woot!!

The island is different in so many ways compared to that of Ha’apai, where I spent the first two months of my service on homestay. Most obviously, Neiafu is a town and thus has a lot of luxuries like restaurants, bars, hotels, schools, multiple churches, and lots of food stores…just to name a few. In Ha’apai, I lived in a very small village and would have otherwise hitchhiked into town if I wanted to eat out at the island’s only restaurant or attempt to find a successful internet connection.

Vava’u is that much more developed for one very important reason: the Port of Refuge. Neiafu’s harbor, the Port of Refuge, is known as the most protected port in all the South Pacific. That, paired with Vava’u’s unparalled beauty, and its most beloved annual visitors- humpback whales, Neiafu is one of the most desirable sailing destinations in the world. In consequence, Neiafu is Tonga’s most popular tourist destination, and thus features a lot of luxuries- otherwise not found on other islands, in order to cater to the “palangi.”

Most palangis are yachters from New Zealand and Australia, and come during Tonga’s winter season to anchor their boats in Neiafu harbor to explore the many riches of Vava’u such as some of the best scuba diving in the Pacific (including diving amongst the wrecks right in the harbor and closely off the island shores); snorkeling with humpback whales, climbing Mount Talau and watching the sunset over Vava’u lahi and its neighboring islands; exploring caves, dancing disco at the town’s great night clubs, or just heading to Neiafu’s maketi, which is the second largest market in the entire kingdom.

Vava’u is known amongst the kingdom as being ‘Simply the Best,’ and I understand more and more each day why its people have so much pride in their island.

Vava’u lahi is also different in that it is uniquely hilly. Ha’apai was extremely flat and Tongatapu- not a whole lot of elevation. But with Vava’u, I would comfortably compare it to being like San Francisco- believe it or not! The road is constantly flowing up and down and you’ll find MANY hills incredibly steep to walk up, and almost impossible to bike. However, it has become mine and my friend Carolyn’s mission, to bike Mount Talau by the end of our service!

Now although you’ll find Vava’u distinct geographically compared to that of the other islands of Tonga, it is still true to Tonga’s culture. The family, the church, and food, are still the three most important things to any Tongan and they will celebrate their thanks to these three by feasting and attending church almost every day with their community, which is their family. The Nuclear family in Tonga, includes what we would call our extended family and neighbors, and they will do anything for one another.

Of course, as a palangi and Peace Corps volunteer, I am included in this Nuclear family. I have been warmly welcomed by so many people, and am treated with the highest of respect at all community events, and even in just walking down the street. I cannot accurately describe how warm the Tongan people are, and how hard they work to make me feel at home.

That said, I should head back home because my neighbors and I (one of my many Tongan families haha), are going to church tonight to ring in the New Year! We have service from ten until midnight- though not as bad as some of my PC peers who will have been there since eight! But don’t worry, we’ll make up for it afterwards when the whole town begins to celebrate around 2am until late morning New Year’s Day. Like I said earlier….

Vava’u is simply the best ;)

I wish you all a fun and happy New Year!

‘Ofa atu!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Malo e lelei!
Well, there you have it folks! I am, as of this morning, an official Peace Corps Volunteer!!! I took an oath in front of the Tongan Peace Corps Staff, the Minister of Education in Tonga, the Archdeacon of Tonga, the Japanese Ambassador, and the New Zealand High Commissionor. It was a real honor and I felt so proud to be sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
I have wanted this for so long and I want to thank all of you who were so supportive throughout the whole process of getting here. I could not have done it without all of your efforts and endless love and encouragement. Thank you so so so much!
I leave Tonga today (the main island of Tongatapu, that is...), and will catch a 6am flight to Vava'u tomorrow morning, where I will spend my next two years serving at Malafihi College as an English Teacher. I could not be more excited about my placement and, I am anxious to jump right in to my community! That said, this is my last day with my fellow volunteers and I am quite sad to leave everyone :( We have some celebratory festivities planned for the evening ;) to enjoy our last night together. I can't wait! Tonga is so incredible and I have really enjoyed it here.
I'm not too sure when is the next time I will be near a computer but please keep checking my blog as I hope to upload photos of my new site!
Thanks again to everyone who helped me get here!!! I love you all so much :)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Greetings from the South Pacific!
I am once again on full alert stage for another natural disaster coming our way to the South Pacific. This time, it's a cyclone which is pretty cool because the other two times it was a massive tsunami and a 6.8 earthquake so a cyclone kind of mixes it up. Now, i'm not writing this to spread panic, rather, the contrary. The cyclone is currently around Fiji and Tonga is directly in it's path to hit the morning of my swearing in as a Peace Corps volunteer- yep. We were delievered the news at one of our sessions today and we all just began to laugh hysterically, trainees and staff included!
More seriously now, DON'T WORRY! This happens all of the time down here and Peace Corps handles these weather alerts very effectively. So, please don't worry, Grams! ;)
Love you all so much and will keep you postsed!
'Ofa atu!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Malo e lelei ki he pongipongi'ni! (Good morning!!!)

Thanks so much to everyone who is following my blog! I can't tell you how exciting this is for me and I really appreciate your interest in my life here in Tonga :) Thank you very very much!

Right now it's Sunday and I am breaking so many cardinal rules in the Kingdom. For one, I did not attend Church- not at 5am nor at 10am. Maybe i'll hit up the evening service but I may just be a lazy palangi for now ;) (Palangi means foreigner- anyone who is not Tongan. Though contrary to what you may think, it has no negative conotation for it).

Secondly, I am on a computer; doing work. In Tonga there are three things that everyone does on Sunday: go to church, eat, and sleep. Honestly, that is all. They only thing open on a Sunday is a bakery and these are rare to find. Your luck in finding one would be the capital or maybe some of the main towns on other island groups. I went to one already today and got a yummy apple struddle stuffed with, to my surprise, tomatoes! It was actually quite tastey :)

Today, I am heading over to my friend's home. Her name is Poli and she is apart of the staff here at P.C. We're going to have umu which is what everyone does after church. An umu is and underground oven which Tongans will use to cook traditional Tongan foods like kumala or lu. Kumala is a type of sweet potato and lu is a type of leaf that they fold meat and vegetables into with poured coconut milk on top. It's really delicious and actually the old Tongan food I like that is, when it's lu vesitapolo! (Vegetables ONLY; no canned corned beef, thank you!)

After the umu, my friends and I are going to ride over to the west side of the island where they have beautiful blow holes, caves and gorgeous beaches to explore. No swimming today because it's Sunday and technically, we are not suppose to be riding there because biking or any form of excercising is illegal on Sundays. You see, you can bike but you can't bike with a purpose. It seems strict but all the rules are set up so that your day is centered around worshiping GOD. But in reality, it is just that way so you can be lazy. Eat, sleep, and go to church. It's wonderfully relaxing but hard to get used to.

This is my last Sunday until I officially reach my site! I have two more days of pre-service training and then Wednesday, I have my swearing in ceremony :) I am so excited but it will be hard leaving all my fellow trainees.

Well, I suppose that's it for now! I have to ride over to the umu. Maybe they'll be roasting some pigs today over the umu. Yum! Pig drippings to season over the kumula cooking underneath ;)

'Ofa atu!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sesele Tongans! (Silly Tongans!)
- Tongans love those ramen noodles!!! They have them in different brands here but the kids eat the spice packets in them. Right now, my little brother Leka and Ana Leka, my three-year old neighbor, are splitting a pack of spices right now. They just pour the powder in their hands and lick them clean. So gross! Haha
- Yesterday, Tonga, my friend's host sister was at the wharf smashing hermit crab shells and then eating the hermit crabs haha so great!
- I have so many lizards in my room! But I love them and they are my little pets! They also eat the bugs in my room. I try to name them but they move to fast for me to pick appropriate names for each :)
- Tongans only go swimming when it's cloudy and we went yesterday afternoon and it was great! Tongans are fearless, especially the kids! (Though I think that's true to say about kids anywhere in the world...Tongans just never grow out of it!) Anyway, they were doing crazy jumps off the pier and I thought they'd smash their heads in the coral but no- they knew the water so much better then I and I think it's amazing! They are so aware of the sea and the land.
- Heidi was stripping bark off wooden sticks last night with a knife. She uses the shavings, mixes them with water, and makes a Tongan medicinal drink. She says she is a doctor! We laughed and laughed but it's totally true. She says my stomach couldn't handle it but i'll keep it in mind for when I really am sick...
- Soap. Tongans chew these special nuts and chew down a special leaf until it's doughy in their mouths. Then they roll it and it's soap! Ta da! Haha
- Transportation. Like I said, cars are all shared and everyone gives everyone rides and helps people out getting from place to place, especially strangers and foreigners! They live to share, please, and smile and laugh, laugh laugh! I can't say that enough! Haha Anyway, kids just jump on the back of these trucks with big beds to go to school. It's such a sight to see about 20 kids standing and sitting in the back of a truck. My sister fell off one the other day but all is chill. Honestly, it's like not even mentioned or a big deal AT ALL. It's great! No problems- ever!
- Ana Leka, three year old neighbor, is a true Tongan. She is ginormous! My friend, Marie, is tiny about my sister's size and wears Ana Leka's kiekies! (Her decorative over skirt)
- Going to eva at night is when the dating goes down! It's so fun to eva at night and see them going on- the boys walking near the girls on the street. Everyone has moas. Laveni has five and she says she is in love with them all! Ooo teenage years!
- Pretty sure I may have lice....ahh! haha