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Monday, May 10, 2010

So, like I said earlier, I went to Fetoko island the other day. You can see in the single island shot how small this island is. The only people who live there are my friend Jason and his sister and her husband, who live on their boat offshore. This island is indescrible. It is so magical and the energy that beats from the place is amazing! It was a perfect place for me to get away and help me to relax for a bit!

My friend Saskia and I went and camped right on the top of the island. We jammed with the guitar and the ukileli as the sunset on the beach. My guitar was so out of tune and I'm not great at tuning the thing so after a few attempts, it turned into Sas playing and me singing along, happily looking across to the sun setting below the island, 'Ofu, straight ahead, and feeling the coral in between my feet.

We later sat up at Jason's kitchen area and talked until my eyes became too heavy to stay awake. Jason lived in a tent for a few months while he was building his current home which is a traditinal Tongan fale (home) made from palm leaves and wood. I also posted a picture of that too! He has a long drop for a toilet that sits right on the cliff of the island with no cieling or walls but some palm branches he wove together to protect you on one side so no one can see you while you're doing your business. But otherwise, you're just going to the bathroom in the open, looking out to the sea. Cool, huh? haha

The shower too is the same way. It's a beauitful shower post and head that stands right on the side of the island looking out across the way to two other islands, both uninhabitated as well. It's very open and free! The whole island is like that, just so relaxed! There are hammocks to lounge in that just have the best views! I woke up one morning from my tent, only to grab my sleeping bag, move to the hammock to watch the sunrise, and then dose off to sleep again :) Such a great morning!

Then the rest of the day was filled with just sitting around playing scrabble, listening to Manu Chao, getting skunked in playing cornhole and lying on the ground talking about religion, science, was so great! Just what I needed! No talk of anything school related and no talking in Tongan. Just to be on a deserted island.

I ate fruit and delicious bread that I picked up from the bakery beside the wharf before we left and Jason made yummy curry the first night. He has built a small kitchen area with doors that you flip up to open so that you can see the whole island around you. The whole thing is solar powered and they have a sink, a huge store freezer, oven, and outside, a large grill that used to sit in the kitchen of a restuarant he used to own in town, Aquarium's Cafe. Great situated place that we'll definitely be going to, Mom and Dad!

Anyway, I was in my glory and found it the perfect getaway, around some of the chillest people I've met on this island! He's island is just so unique and his lifestyle so sustainable. Him, his sister and her husband are real dreamers and love to see their ideas through. They're great engineers! It's cool to be around such inspiring people and to not only see their dreams come to life on this island, but to also feel the dream yourself while you're out there.

Can't wait to go back!
Interested in reading fellow PCV blogs from Tonga??

Just in case you're too bored from reading under the coconut tree...
















Sunday, May 9, 2010

Saturday, May 8, 2010

I finally decided I needed to just get away from my community and work for the night and spend some time relaxing! After all, I live on an island! Shouldn't it always be a day on the beach, lounging in your hammock with a corona in hand? It's funny that I live in absolute paradise out here but yet I still NEED a vacation from it! The Tongan islands are usually the place people dream to escape to! So, where do you escape if you already live in paradise?

Your getaway vacation and paradise is all in your mind. I had been trying to reach ths place just at home here by opening a book or learning to knit but the realities of all my committments to the world outside, were still knocking at my door- literally! I even turned the lights off, locked my door, sat on the ground and ate dinner beside a small candle. I pretended no one was home. I just needed alone time and wouldn't have gotten it otherwise if I didn't do that. It's silly, I know. I need to get back on track and I need to take more time for myself and to do 'palangi' things so, I decided to go camping with a couple of friends and it was more than rehabilitating! I am now uploading some pics from the adventure and then I'll follow up with the great story! Hope you stay tuned!
Happy Mother's Day!!! I get to be the first to say it because in Tonga, today is already Mother's Day :) As in the states, it is a very big holiday and mother's are given gifts by their husbands and their children; everyone goes to church and a special performance is put on for the mother's. After church, families usually have a big feast and eat ice cream, which is such a luxury! People of all ages, especially the adults, will kill for ice cream and if ice cream is going to be eaten, it is always for a special event. You can measure someone's wealth if they are eating ice cream- no joke! "Te ke kaileilei," Tongans will say, which means, "You will eat well."

I have one close friend in a neighboring village who is originally from Seattle, WA but came to Tonga to work and has since married a Tongan and has a child. She's my age and this is her first Mother's Day. Her husband is going to kill a pig for her, which is an honor and a very big gift to give in the Tongan culture. Her husband is so sweet! Any of you dad's out there going to roast a pig in the backyard?

At church, my youth and I put on a dance for the mothers and it made them all cry! It brought tears to my eyes seeing everyone get emotional because I missed my mom and, grandmothers, and everyone....but I try to keep things very separate when it comes to my life here and my life back home- when it comes to holidays, that is. I just think that this is their holiday and I'm experiencing it with them but I try to not dwell on the fact that this is an important holiday and tradition for me too and it's going on back home, with all the people I love, without me. It's depressing thinking like that, so for that reason, I try to keep the holidays separate.

But what helped dry the tears was the smiles I got looking at everyone in their new mother's day clothes. The mom's were wearing new scarfs and shawls. They LOVE scrafs and shawls! A new craze too are those fake hair pieces you can just clip into your hair. It's so awesome but you will honestly see older women with their dark Tongan hair or their old gray and white hair, with these hair clips of youthful, blonde and dirtyblonde shiny hair. It is just so wrong but so perfect! It's quite the sight! But they love it and it's the style. They love the 'palangi' look it gives them by wearing their hair in a way that makes it look blonde or highlighted, making it look 'palangi.' Oiaue!

Anyway, that's my mother's day thus far! This afternoon, I'm going to church again to recieve communion and then I am going to present flowered necklaces to my 'Tongan Moms' with friends. It's another tradition that they do in church where all the mothers stand in front and get presented with gifts. It should be an interesting thing to watch.

I hope you all have a wonderful mother's day! I am just thinking about the wonderful mother's day my family will be having at my Aunt Janene's house! Yummy fruit salads, cinnamon rolls, lemon blueberry cake, tastey meat and veggie egg quiches! So tastey! I wish so much to be there!

Love you all so much and Happy Mother's Day to each of you!
'Ofa atu!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Today, I had the pleasant surprise of seeing two palangi children at school, a boy and a girl ages seven and five who had just recently moved to Tonga with their parents from the states. Their parents had gone quickly to the store and they were under the supervision of a Tongan co-worker of mine.

I introduced myself and showed them where my classroom was, asking them if they wanted to color or read any of the books that I have. They were excited to see another palangi. I made connections with them about home and let them know of who I was and what I was doing there so that they no longer thought of me as a stranger (you know how we teach kids back home about strangers... and rightfully so). I wanted them to feel comfortable, and I told them that if they ever felt scared they could always come to my classroom to draw.

A little while later, I observed from the staircase the little palangi girl, walking hand-in-hand with my co-worker to the playground where Tongan boys and girls were playing. The Tongan children instantly ran over to her and held her hands. They stroked her hair, and smiled at her and led her over to the bars that they were playing on. Tears once again filled up in my eyes at witnessing such acceptance, curiosity and love.

Kids are so generous; so kind, pure and innocent. They live to smile and laugh with each other and that's all. We should all let them remind us to do just that: smile, play and laugh. That would solve a lot of our problems today. We need to be more like them. We need to be more like them.
Okay. I'm going to start taking the time to write about some of the wonderful things that have been happening over the past few months- things I have been wanting to share for so long but up until now have not had the time to do so. I also know that in sharing these experiences, I will grow fond again of all things 'fakatonga.'

This past week I had two very touching moments happen to me at school and so moved was I that my eyes filled up with tears both times. The first, happened in my classroom. As a reminder, I teach English reading to forms 1, 2, and 3 (grades 5-8ish in US standards). My students suffer tremendously in reading, both in English and in Tongan and this is in large part to the fact that most students have no books at home nor access to them aside from the few, 'odd-end' books I have in my classroom.

I was having such a hard time with them in their reading that I decided that what they really needed was just to pick a book and explore it on their own- go through the pages at their own pace, pronounce the words when they felt comfortable to do so, and have the opportunity to look through the books' illustrations. So, I decided to bring D.E.A.R. to my school. Do you remember that?

D.E.A.R. stands for 'Drop Everything and Read' and it was a program that I remember doing in middle school. The kids come into my classroom and immediately walk to the shelf to find a book of their own, which they can read for ten minutes before I begin class. It's great because the class gets very calm and quiet, which provides a great transition for when they need to start learning and paying attention. It also allows me time to finish any notes or reorganize myself from my last class. The best part however, is when I get to walk around and observe them reading. This is the moment that I was talking about- the one that makes me want to cry with happiness.

I see these children who- for some, have never held a book on their own, or attempted to read one on their own; sounding out the letters of words. They're asking me questions about how to pronounce things or what things mean in Tongan. They look at the illustrations and point to pictures that they have never seen before and ask me what they are. Sometimes they get so excited about looking at the illustrations that I see them raise the pages of a book in the air and scream out to a friend on the other side of the room to have them just look at what new cool picture they have found. Of course, this is a distraction, but it is such an amazing one. They are so excited to learn about the world and I had no idea how much it would mean to them to have this time to read to themselves and look through books.

The value books have is irreplaceable and although the internet is opening up the world to children with endless opportunities to access corners both far and wide in a more convenient, efficient, and timely way, the sight of seeing the excitement on my kids faces when they open a book and flip through its pages is so much more personal and moving for me. I will never underestimate the power that books have ever again. The moment I see my children explore their way through a book, all the hard work that I put into teaching instantly becomes justified. That moment makes everything worth it. It reminds me of why I am here and it reminds me that my kids want to be here. They want so much to learn.


Those ten minutes of D.E.A.R., at the beginning of each class, tell me that I'm doing something right in teaching them and that feels good.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Hey friends and family!

As many of you know, I have been quite stressed from all my different commitments to my Tongan community and to Peace Corps. I have not had any time to myself nor any ‘palangi’ time for that matter. I have been 100% absorbed into my work, my Tongan friends, my secondary projects and my community activities. I have been living everything in the Tongan way of life… just doing as the Tongans do…..

In the end, it has driven me CRAZY! I just need a break as all of you guys already understand from my constant venting via email and late night phone calls. For all of that, I am SO sorry and I want to thank you all for being such good listeners and helping me out during this time of culture shock…more like time of loosing it! Thanks for all your great advice and I promise to take more time for myself and more time to do ‘palangi things’ with my palangi friends. I also really enjoy writing in this blog and I plan to do so more often now that I will make time for myself to do so! So, stay tuned for some cool updates and thanks again for all your endless love and support!

‘Ofa atu!