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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Good morning!

My day thus far has been incredibly productive and I am happily taking a break, eating my cereal and my vine drink I made yesterday while listening to Jurassic Five, “What's Golden” to celebrate :) I washed sheets, towels, etc. which is always the butt of laundry and hung them to dry. Laundry takes me usually an hour or two to scrub through and my wrist is always left with a rash after rubbing the clothes up against it. I also swept all the puaka (pig) poop from my yard and fetched water from the simovai to fill up all my nalogens. They're now sitting in my freezer cooling and doing that alone is productive because nothing is worse than running out of water in this heat! I also hung out with Lilio and her niece and nephew, and went to the bakery to get them some bread for their breakfast. All of this before 830am. It's been a Tongan morning :) and to top it off, my blog writing was just interrupted for a dance party with Fou leka to Flo Rider, “In the Ayer.” It's going to be a great day! In fact, I'm putting that song on repeat! Dance disco! Throw your hands up!

Puna! Puna!

Last evening a few of my neighbors stopped by my house on their way to the wharf to go for a swim. Even though I had just showered, I could not resist because the wharf is always PACKED with tons of people of all ages swimming, playing music, tossing footballs- just having a great time! Remember, Tongans prefer to go swimming when it is cloudy or raining. Around 6ish in the evening you'll hear the sounds of kids screaming as they 'puna' of the wharf and anchored boats. Puna means to 'fly' in Tongan and the kids fearlessly puna crazy dives and flips into the water. They're absolutely fearless and it is so much fun to watch them! They run one after the other and the other; not waiting for the previous jumper to come up from the water before they make their splash. You'd think people would be constantly diving into one another but no. They're Tongans. They're fine.

After swimming I went to choir rehearsal and even though I was late, there were still Tongans walking in up until the closing prayer! I stuck around and played with some kids who were in the back of the hall watching. They were also playing checkers with an old board and pieces that they had scraped up: pebbles and tossed cigarette butts.

Then I went home and made myself a yummy dinner of eggplant Parmesan with cheese that I had bought on the main island and brought back with me. Cheese you can find here, sometimes. It depends what the boat brings in. Either way, it is so expensive so the dinner was a treat. Of course, my neighbors came over just when I was dishing it up and in good ole Tongan fashion, I served as much of it out as I could. Tongans share everything as I have mentioned before. I am constantly reminded of that and even though I don't have to- being a 'palangi,' I want to make it a habit of my own as well.

Well, time to take a cold bucket bath because this heat is once again making me feel faint!

Thanks for reading!
'Ofa atu!
I am officially in hiding.

I have blasted my music and locked my door trying my hardest to ignore the constant banging of sticks on my door and walls and its accompanying cries of, “Ashley! Ashley!” from up in the trees next to my kitchen and bedroom. I am entirely surrounded by three tireless, relentless, exhausting....

little Tongan girls.

Do you remember my blog about my adorable neighbors Foulata and Sela who come to my house to use my color pencils and pull on the ears of my dog stocking that once tugged upon plays Christmas music? Do you now also remember me contemplating hiding the stocking under my bed, pretending it had gone missing? Well, while I do not have the heart to do so, as they love to dance 'disco' to it (and I also don't want to miss out on all the laughs I get from watching them), today they have driven me so crazy that I have resorted to locking my door and playing the music so loud so as to pretend that I cannot hear their desperate crys to come in.

I sound cruel. I know. But you must understand that while the rest of Tonga is sleeping because remember now, it's mid-day and too hot to do anything else beside siovitio pe mohe (watch videos or sleep), the children know they can come to my 'cool-palangi' house, where they know I'm awake, and listen to music, sit by a fan, paint their nails, play with arts and crafts, etc. Now, I do get so much joy out of showing them my belongings- my map of the world, and talking about all that surrounds Tonga, and my computer and the pictures I have from Sea World on it. It's their first time seeing some of the animals in those pictures and it is so rewarding watching their faces as they look at these animals/places for the first time. I also enjoy just coloring with them and that it what we did today before I 'threw' them out.

We colored, sang and 'napped' for what of course seemed like hours haha (I swear I love kids!), before I had them leave because I wanted to shower. If I left them in my home while I was in the bathroom, my food would all be eaten and any leftover food crumbs would probably be buried in the keyboard of my thereafter broken computer. So, after about 30 minutes of trying to get them out, they finally left. My efforts very much reminded me of trying to get a fresh overtired five year old to go to bed while babysitting. Anyone feel me on that one? You see, the kids know I won't hit them like Tongans would if they were misbehaving so, I am in a difficult situation. I suppose this is a taste of future complications I'll have regarding discipline while in the classroom because I will not I my students unlike all the teachers at my school. (I'll talk about hitting in Tonga later as it deserves it's own entry alone but don't be appaulled. I can't believe I'm saying this, but it's not like what you think and the kids are brought up with such discipline. They're tough kids and are used to it. They usually just laugh and I find it very ineffective of course, but...yes, anyway. I did say I'd talk about this later, huh?)

Long story short, and ten years later (I hope I haven't lost any faithful readers here...), I am stuck in my house. I am going to wait until I think they are gone to pick some 'vaine' from the vines outside my house. They're these delicious vine pockets of yummy seeds comparable to a pomegranate and it makes a very tastey lemonade-like beverage. I was going to have that and make avocado salsa :) There are avocados at the market now and they are HUGE! I also splurged and bought some tortilla chips at the 'American Store' for this meal. Now only if all the Tongan children in my neighborhood would quit holding me captive!

Again, I do love children. Oh no. There's more of them coming....I am going to have to dig an escape tunnel! Guess that's all for now! 'Ofa atu!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sapate Ako

Today was Education Sunday in Tonga (Sapate Ako). The youth choir, which I have just recently joined, sang a few songs and some children shared scripture readings. There was also a special sermon, intended to get the children enthusiastic about the upcoming school year but even more importantly, it was to encourage them to go to school. This part of the message was just as much for the parents as it was for their children. You see, many kids do not attend school regularly and there are those that have never gone to school because they are busy working in the bush with their fathers or weaving/doing housework with their mothers. Fortunately, children staying home to work is not common where I now live however, this was true for many children in Ha'apai, where I lived for two months before getting to site. My little brother and older sister where never in school but there would come the rare occasion when I would see them in their school uniform. It was, at the time, final exams and the kids were awaiting school break so I figured I was misunderstanding when they had exams or if they had already completed the school year. However, my instincts were correct, in that, for the most part, they were skipping school. My older sister, Laveni, did a lot of the housework while my host-mom did her weaving and my brother went to the uta (the bush) with my host-dad. He is five years old.

With that said, I was relieved to learn about 'Education Sunday,' and the message that it brings to the Tongan people. My neighbor and counterpart, Foulata, was speaking on the behalf of our school, at a village a twenty or so minute car ride away. She asked me to go with her so that she could introduce me as one of the new teachers at the school, Mailefihi College. I agreed as for one, I really enjoy spending time with Foulata and two, I knew she would appreciate my support. In addition, I LOVE the village that we were going to, Lea matu'a. The people there are incredibly friendly.

Before the service I was a doua which, if I have not mentioned it before, is the woman who serves kava to a circle of men at community events/churches/weddings/parties, etc. really, whenever they want kava, men drink kava. Most Tongan men drink it every day here and it is a real treat to have a doua. For most woman this is more like a 'coming out' if you will and typically, the man sitting to her left would be her 'date'. In the past, most marriages were arranged at these kava circles but for now, they just enjoyed having me (a palangi) there. To clarify for just a moment, kava is a type of plant which when mixed with water makes a Tongan drink that serves as a relaxant and gives a high much like the equivalent of marijuana. Most female Peace Corps volunteers find it very beneficial to be a doua at least once during their time in Tonga because it gives them an opportunity to meet the men in their community. Otherwise, they really do not have much opportunity to do so as male and female interaction is not like it is in the states. I have found that being a doua before or after church is the best time as conversation is kept appropriate (because it's Sunday), and you are surrounded by some of the most respected men in the community, including the faifakau (the church minister).

Sorry for the long tangent but it occurred to me that I might not have mentioned kava before and it is a very important element of the Tongan culture.

So after the kava circle, we went to church and after listening intently to my counterpart, trying to understand as much of her Tongan as I could, I was surprised to interpret that she wanted me to come up and introduce myself in front of the congregation as one of the new teachers, and to explain my upcoming duties and responsibilities at Mailefihi College. In Tongan, mind you. Which, I don't mean to brag, but my Tongan is rather good. Though my ego was crushed when I mistakingly said to everyone, “Give me children” instead of, “bring your children...” Everyone started laughing and out of ignorance I began to laugh as well. It wasn't until after I had returned to my pew, and was reviewing my speech in my head, when I realized my mistake. I felt ridiculous but was not longly wounded. You have to just laugh when such things happen. That's why I love language barriers. There are always more smiles and laughter in the beginning than there are words!

After, I went back to doua again as the men drink kava following church as well. I was showered with flower necklaces made from the women in the village and was presented with a taovala, which is a woven grass skirt. It it the most respectful piece of 'clothing' that a Tongan can wear and while I have been borrowing my neighbors, I had not yet had my own until now. It takes a Tongan woman at least six months to weave one of these and it was given to me all to express their gratitude of having me teach their children for the next couple of years. What astounds me is that my presence to their village was not known before my arrival yet when I got there, I was treated like a princess and it was as if they had been planning my visit for weeks. I was so grateful and am anxious to return to that village.

I look forward to when I start 'planning week' with my Tongan staff. I have only met a few but supposedly they are putting on a big feast for my 'Welcoming Party.' In Tonga, you should not expect anything less. These people are always ready to feast and host parties where they can sing, dance, and most importantly, LAUGH!

Hope you all are having a wonderful day and ask yourself, 'How many times did I laugh today?”

'Ofa atu!
Malo e lelei!

I hope everyone is doing well! I'd like to say thank you to those who sent Christmas wishes, cards, and presents! I know it's a hassle sending them down to the pacific but I appreciated it more than anything and thanks for just not forgetting about me during the holidays as I now live in Tonga, which remember, in Portuguese, means 'in the middle of nowhere.' :)

I just got back from a workshop in Tongatapu. I love traveling so getting on a plane again was very exciting! I stayed at Sela's Guesthouse which has been my home each time I've stayed in Tonga. After thinking about it, I have actually spent more time at Sela's than I have in my own home in Vava'u. Peace Corps has been staying there for years and Sela is very warm and hospitable. She even baked us cakes on our last visit for the Christmas holiday. This time, she had two new kittens which were awfully fun to play with though I cannot say the same for the other new creature at the house- a molokau. These are centipede-like creatures whose bite is INCREDIBLY painful. They say it's inevitable that you'll get bitten by one during your two years tour but I'm almost four months in and happy to report no such monster has bit me! Still, I check under my sheets each night before I go to bed ;)

In Tonga, I got the opportunity to see fellow volunteers from my group whose sites are in Tongatapu. It was fun to catch up and share stories about getting settled into our communities, making friends, the recent holidays, etc. I ended up eating out almost every meal and didn't pocket a penny of the per diem money we got for the trip. I also dipped into my savings from last month to buy a guitar :) Though, contrary to some of your thoughts, this was not an impulse buy! I want to learn how to play the guitar during my free time on this island- and Lord knows, I'll have a lot of free time! I even picked up a 'How to play the Guitar for Beginners' book off the 'Free-table' at the Peace Corps office.

All in all it was a wonderful visit and the work part of it was quite enjoyable as well haha The workshop was for all Emergency Coordinators throughout the kingdom. There is an EC on each respective island group to represent all the volunteers. I am the EC for the Vava'u island group and thus have to be trained on my duties and responsibilities as an EC in the event of a natural disaster. It is cyclone season now, but it's never to late to get trained on such preparedness.

The most interesting thing that I took away from the workshop was our discussion on riots and political unrest in Tonga, which although is not a natural disaster, is still very important for an EC to be trained on as such an event could result in the evacuation of volunteers from the island(s). One volunteer shared her account of the most recent and most intense riot Tonga has ever witnessed. It happened just a few years ago in the country's capital Nuku'alofa. There was a peaceful pro-democratic demonstration going on down the main street of the city when a few very animated demonstrators left the rally and broke into a Molisi store (which is a grocery chain in Tongatapu). They started taking cases of beer and passing them out to the demonstrators/onlookers and in consequence, activity intensified. People began to break into more stores and set fires, targeting most importantly, the ever prominent Chinese-run falekoloas (store in Tongan). (Side note- The Chinese had a contract with Tonga to open these popular falekoloas which sell lots of goods from overseas. These Chinese-run stores are absolutely EVERYWHERE in Tonga and are taking away business and business opportunities from the Tongan people and thus, lies the animosity that Tongans have against the Chinese here in Tonga. Their contract expired a couple of years ago still, their stores remain and Tongans continue to suffer from the draining economic opportunities).

Apparently there are decent video clips of the demonstration and riots. Over 1/3 of the city burnt down and this was merely a few years ago- 2006 I believe. I am still learning. But I encourage you to look up the information and videos online, including YOUTUBE. The police here used this private video footage as a means to prosecute people. Though the police's involvement during this time was questioned as such footage shows Tongan police inactive in executing law enforcement. Though nothing like this had ever happened and in their defense, the Tongan police had never been trained on handling such a situation. Unfortunately, in addition to this lack of knowledge, there were speculations that the police were taking cases of beer and other goods, and loading them onto their private vehicles.

Hopefully, such a situation will not reoccur as unprecedented political elections are to come in the fall (I think the fall...). The Kingdom of Tonga is a constitutional monarchy (the last in the Pacific), but, much like the United Kingdom, the power will soon be turning primarily to the people rather than the king in this upcoming election. Many people are very excited about this progression but there are those who do not see the need for such change and there are those who are also weary about its consequence. Such opposition is always present during such a political evolution but Tonga seems ready for the challenge.

I, particularly, am very excited to witness the political change first-hand. Especially, because one of my favorite college courses studied the democratic change of countries like Germany, Argentina and South Africa. I find the social, economic, and political affects of such a change fascinating and it's very interesting to talk with my neighbors and those in the community about the election.

Entirely unrelated, I must share some exciting, exciting, exciting news!!! My future puppy was born just yesterday! :) You see, two of my fellow volunteers, Chad and Katie, have a dog, Si'si who gave birth to seven puppies! They promised me one of them and I cannot wait to visit them! They live in a village about an hour or so hitchhike away but I'll try to get up there soon. It works out wonderfully because come March (when the puppy will be old enough to take away from Si'si), I will have already started school and gotten myself acquainted to the schedule/flow of the school and its attending students.

My mom already sent me some dog toys and I purchased a collar at Molisi.I am so excited! Though a dog having toys is unheard of here and people will probably think I'm crazy, and I've been told that people steal the dog collars and wear them as fashion necklaces. Whatever. I'll give it a try anyway. They'll get used to the palangi-ways of dog companionship and ownership :)

Anywayzzz I am going to do a little reading before choir practice.

'Ofa atu!

Friday, January 8, 2010

VERY warm greetings from the South Pacific!

I'm sitting on the balcony of the restaurant, The Aquarium, enjoying a tasty lunch to myself while admiring the sailboats in the harbor. There's one boat coming in now that is just beautiful with about fifteen people on it, all anxious to dock at this restaurant and get some food as it is the only place open right now. Why? I have no idea but I'm glad that I too know about this place and their yummy burgers! You see, sometimes Tonga will just shut down on you and you'll never know why. I understood why town was dead because its three in the afternoon and everyone is napping but absolutely NOTHING is open aside from this place. I'll ask around but I doubt i'll get a clear answer as to why :)

Another story to add to Tonga's casualness when it comes to time and work... I had a ten am practice this morning at church for an 'action song' that we're doing again tomorrow during service. I arrived a little after ten knowing that I would be the first one there otherwise, but, to my surprise, I was the only person there. I went to our church hall thinking that I had misunderstood where practice was but again, no one was there. I walked around downtown and saw people here and there who should have been at practice but instead were getting groceries, buying ice cream, chatting with friends, etc. Even those in charge of the practice were sitting beneath a tree in the shade with their eyes closed, catching up on some shut eye. One of the girls was walking out of the video store and I joked with her, screaming out, “Hey, get to church!” She replied by letting me know she just picked up a great flick and was going to watch it at home.

We ended up starting a couple hours later once a good crowd rolled into the hall.

Taimi fakatonga. Tongan time.

You just have to laugh! And you'll learn to love it!
TGIF. For real! (wink, wink, Maire ;) haha)

I have survived my first 'Uike Lotu!' Uike Lotu means 'week of prayer' in Tongan, and this past week I have been celebrating the holiday by going to church twice a day at 5am and later at 5pm. Most days there have been feasts or what we call 'faka'afe' after service. It makes for long days full of LOTS of hot dogs and prayer time- not that that's bad of course, but I am exhausted! Though I have been getting great face time with my community :)

I go to the Free Wesleyan Church, which is the largest church in Tonga, though the Mormons are becoming ever more popular throughout the kingdom. Still, the King and almost all the royalty belong to the Free Wesleyan Church. Interestingly, my first Sunday in Tonga, I went to the king's Free Wesleyan Church in Tongatapu, and got to see him. Since then, I have seen him on several times but have yet to meet him nor do I think I ever will. There's an entire separate formality in regards to your manner and language around the king that takes years to acquire. Nevertheless, it's still cool to have seen him on such past occasions and I am sure I will see him often in the future by way of his promised visits to my church here in Vava'u.

There are, of course, plenty of other denominations of churches around my home but for the sake of being sensitive to my school, which is a Free Wesleyan school, I have been faithful in my attendance to the Free Wesleyan church. Plus, my neighbors within the compound all attend this church and its become a pleasant routine getting ready and walking with them to service.

Though many Peace Corps volunteers have found it beneficial to rotate between the different churches in their village so as to meet everyone in their community, this has also posed problems for PCV in the past. Tongans are very proud people and may take offense to your absence one Sunday PLUS they are very proud of “their” palangi and can become territorial over their Peace Corps volunteer. This is more funny than anything else. Like I said before, palangis are quickly made family by members of their community, and very fast I have been friendly welcomed into the Free Wesleyan church and have become quite involved within the congregation.

The youth of my church have been putting on what they call an 'action song' at every service this past week. Recently, I have been joining in on their performance. We've been practicing for an hour or two after each service to prepare for the next day's 'action song.' What we do is basic hand motions and footsteps to Tongan and English worship music. It's very silly but I have enjoyed hanging out with the youth after church.

Tonight's our last action song and we need to bring Tongan flags as one of our props. I plan on having some of my little neighbors come over to help me color some Tongan flags. There are two girls in particular, Fou leka and Sela, who love to come over and use my color pencils. They always take the ornaments off my Christmas tree (which will be my table piece for the next two years), and hang them from different spots around my house. Leka and Sela also love to play with my stocking sent by my parents which plays ten second rounds of Christmas music. They will knock on my door every day asking if they can come over to dance 'disco,' which I know just means repeatedly pressing the stocking to listen to its music. It's adorable but I'm sure the day is coming when I will think to hide the stocking under my bed... :) Wait, I guess I am already plotting... hehe

We have almost reached the point of day when the world stops. I mean it. Everything becomes silent around here as everyone is sleeping and taking cover from the sun. Like I mentioned before, January and February are the hottest of the months and people get all of their responsibilities complete in the morning. Such behavior is not only appropriate but much needed during uike lotu because of the daily risings at 4am. Though it's hard for me to get used to taking frequent naps while it's still light out, the sun has drained all energy for anything else, and consequently, I have turned to the alternative of watching 'Entourage,' which, if I may provide a slight advertisement within this blog, Entourage rocks! With that said, I am going to take a moment to celebrate my last lazy morning of Uike Lotu with an episode and making some fudge sauce for my neighbors. BTW, below is a recipe for this yummy sauce!

1 can of sweetened condensed milk
2 squares unsweetened chocolate or 6 T cocoa and 2 T butter
1 tsp vanilla
½ oats (just to give it a little somethn, somethn ;)

Mix all ingredients in a heated saucer, stirring constantly until melted. Tastes delicious when placed as a filler between sliced bananas, and then frozen slightly.


As always, thanks for reading and 'Ofa atu!
Ashley :=)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Monday, January 4, 2010

Malo e lelei!

I hope that everyone had a wonderful New Years! The past few days in the new decade have been quite eventful between going to church every day this week at 5am and later at 5pm to feasting every day with Tongans from my church; Kelly's house flooding, Dominica's mattress being infested by rats, Farfum's house smelling like moldy food so bad that his neighbors on the island called him while he was in town, to Robert getting hit by a car while riding his bike! (Don't worry, he's alright.) Me, everything has been fine. Of course, I have the occasional cockroach in my home that likes to surprise me, and the lizards- but I love those little guys! Things have been going rather well :)

I made apple crisp tonight for my friends and neighbor. It was the first time I used my toaster oven to bake and it didn't turn out that poorly but it sure did take a long time! When I brought a bowl of it over to my neighbor, she immediately returned the bowl with four eggs. I just love Tongan customs! Especially because I have been searching for eggs all around town and no one has had them in a week!

It's rather silly because there are chickens absolutely everywhere here, including my home where I have a few with their chicks that walk around in my yard all day. Did you know that the Peace Corps' original project here in Tonga back in the 60s was to teach Tongans to make chicken coups so that they could farm their own eggs? Some people still farm their own chickens but most, buy them from the stores in town once they've come off the boat from Tongatapu. It's pretty sad that the Tongans wait and depend on these shipments rather than use the resources that are constantly pooping right outside their front door but there dependency on outer resources is no different than ours back home is it? Or anywhere elses in the world for that matter.

I can only hope that our new Peace Corps projects this year will be more sustainable. And who knows, maybe i'll finally catch a chicken to start my own egg-farming (Lord knows I've been chasing these chickens too long around here without one catch!). I have never farmed my own eggs so if anyone has any advice, I am ready to learn! Perhaps I can get people in town to be more independent with how they get their eggs by teaching my neighbors and the kids at school. Island time is on my side!

Here's to a new year with eggs every day for breakfast!

'Ofa atu!