Sunday, December 26, 2010

Happy Holidays

Merry Christmas from Tonga! Christmas in Tonga was a lot different than what I am used to in America. Christmas morning I woke up and opened a gift from my co-teacher, Moala. She gave me a chocolate bar...quite a treat in Tonga! Next I went to church, where I sang in the choir for the first time. We sang a medley of popular Christmas songs like "Joy to the World" and "O Come All Ye Faithful". I had no trouble with the notes, but it was a little tricky singing them in Tongan when I am so accustomed to the English. After church, my neighbor, Fou, took myself, her daughter (also named Fou), her mother-in-law, and Sean to the beach for a picnic. I spent the afternoon relaxing, eating, and doing crossword puzzles. For dinner, a couple other Peace Corps Volunteers came to my house and we celebrated with a very untraditional meal of chicken, salad, and fruit. It was delicious!

Yesterday was a Sunday, so I went to church again. As I was looking for a seat, I was not sure if I should sit with the choir again. One of the ladies motioned me over, so I joined the alto section, assuming we would sing the same piece we sang on Christmas day. When it came time for the choir to sing, I stood up with everyone else. However, no one seemed to have any music, which was a bit strange. When the director cued us in, I was surprised to hear the familiar sounds of the "Hallelujah Chorus"! I did my best to sing along, but I was completely lost during the verses, which were all in Tongan. Definitely not my best choir performance.

Yesterday afternoon, I got to chat with my family at home. It was so nice to hear everyone's voices! Later, I took advantage of the fact that no one is allowed to work on Sundays and spent some quality time in my hammock reading and napping. There's not a whole lot on my agenda for this week, so I expect lots of the same. Loving the island life!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sunday, December 19, 2010

I am a Peace Corps volunteer!!!

It's official...last week I was sworn-in as a Peace Corps volunteer. We had a great ceremony which included our group taking the Peace Corps oath, the singing of the American national anthem, the singing of the Tongan national anthem, traditional Tongan dances, and, as with any Tongan event, some good food. Here is a pciture of me after I accepted my language certificate and pin.

Going back a couple weeks (since I haven't posted any updates lately), there were some really awesome thing I got to do in Ha'apai before leaving for site. One awesome event was our Peace Corps culture day. Each village was responsible for learning a Tongan dance, cooking a Tongan dish and an American dish, and practicing another art form (song, skit, poem, etc.). Our village did the maulu'ulu (the sitting dance), read poetry, and cooked lots of good food like vai siane (cooked bananas), otai (mango punch), ota paka (crab salad), and pancakes. It was also really neat to see everything the other villages had prepared.

The following day, those of us in Fotua attended a putu (funeral). A putu is usually held at the home of the deceased (sometimes at a church). There are several days of preparation for cooking and cleaning before the acutual event. My host mother was gone for several days helping out. The day of, people start going early in the morning and usually stay until late afternoon. All day, there is singing outside of the house and a constant supply of food. People bring gifts of mats and cloth which they take inside the house to present to the family. Once you enter the house, you lay down your gift, kneel at the body, and then kiss the body. I only stayed for a few hours, but I was glad to experience this unique event.
That Saturday was supposed to be my last day in Ha'apai, but our flight was cancelled due to rain. We spent the weekend at a guesthouse, and flew to Vava'u on Monday for a week of attachement. I spent one day at my site, and then three days with a current volunteer. The current volunteers did a great job of introducing us to Vava'u. We spent one day at the beach, one day touring the island, explored town, and went to a couple restaurants. Here is a picture of the Vava'u crew (minus Farfum and Ashley).

After our short stay in Vava'u, we went back to Nuku'alofa to wrap-up training, swear-in, and do lots of shopping for our houses. Finally, after two and a half months of waiting, it was time to move to site! I am now happily moved in to my adorable house. I have to wait a couple days for the rest of my stuff to arrive on the boat, but I have been busy shopping, cleaning, and meeting new people. I start teaching at the end of January, so I have some time to practice my Tongan, get to know my community, plan for teaching, and relax. I am looking forward to a great couple of weeks! Here are some pictures of my new house to end with.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tech Training

The last several weeks, we have switched focus from language to technical training. The other two business trainees and I have had the privilege of meeting many local business owners. We also conducted a training session last week for some guest house owners. We led a discussion of business needs in Tonga and presented the concept of a mission statement. Our participants told us it was the first interactive training they have attended. It was sometimes difficult to illicit their participation, but it was encouraging when they did show interest and develop their own ideas. It was also great practice for any training I might hold at my future site.

Some other things I have been doing lately include lots of dancing, sports practices, song practice, and of course, plenty of beach time. Every weekend for the past month there has been a Mormon dance in a nearby village. Mormon dances are much different than any dance I’ve been to in America. For one, if a boy wants to dance with you, they come up to where you are sitting and do a little bow. There is no conversation involved; you simply go out on the dance floor, stand at least 5 feet apart, and essentially dance by yourself. The exception is the slow songs during which couples waltz. Anyway, I think they are a blast.

Another common event is ako hiva, choir practice. Recently there was a big Mormon conference, so our island had a combined church choir that rehearsed almost every night leading up to the event. As a side note, I swear I am not becoming Mormon, I’ll only be going to Mormon events for one more week. Anyway, it was great being able to participate in a real choir…they used even used dynamics! It also helped me practice reading Tongan music. I now understand the number system (it just coordinates with the scale of the key signature starting at 3 and going up to 9), but I’m still working on rhythms. I am sure I will learn soon.

Finally, I have been playing some Tongan sports lately. I tried netball (although I wouldn't really call it netball since there were no nets) and touch rugby. I wasn't particularly good at either game, but it was lots of fun.

I only have a couple days left here in Ha'apai, and then I will be heading to Vava'u for a week checking out my site and shadowing a current volunteer. I can't wait to check it out!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Home Sweet Home

The other day I was chatting with some Peace Corps friends, and we realized that we are beginning to forget some of the things that are different about our lives in Tonga. So for my own benefit and in order to show that I am not just on vacation for 2 years, here are some of the differences between Tonga and America:

· Suto (hitchhiking) is our main method of transportation.

· I take bucket baths with fresh water every day because any r

unning water is salty.

· Someone from my host family accompanies me whenever I want to walk somewhere.

· There are dogs, pigs, cats, and chickens in my backyard.

· School is cancelled when there is too much rain.

· We get a break for taimi ti (tea time) around 10:00 each day.

· Most afternoons there are rugby games in the field across from my house.

· Dances are the main social activity every weekend.

· Catholics are the most liberal church.

· The beach is always a short walk away.

· There are 3 or 4 cockroaches that live in my bathroom.

· There are no t.v. channels, our t.v. is just for watching movies.

· We have a Playstation and a Playstation2, but no games.

· My host mom spends all day weaving while my host dad spends hi

s days in the bush.

· The act of giving is more important than what is given.

· There is a child crying approximately every 5 minutes, but they are u

sually just faking.

· There is only instant coffee.

· Root crops take place of salads.

· Guys can do what they want.

· Mosquito bites are an everyday occurrence.

· Music is everywhere…choirs, cell phones, speaker systems, etc.

· I wear sandals every day.

· My host family eats dog.

· It is never below 60 degrees.

So, those are all the things I can think of now. I'm sure I will discover more over the next 2 years! Lastly, here are a few recent pics:

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Singing and such

I am over half way through training! My Tongan is getting slightly better. It will take me a couple more months before I can actually have substantial conversations, but I have mastered the basics. I can introduce myself, talk about my family, explain different foods, and comment on the weather. My Tongan name is Lose (pronounced low-say), and I will often hear people asking “Fefe Lose? (Lose, how are you?)” as I walk around the village. I can usually have a small conversation in those scenarios, which is exciting!

I have been very involved in church activities lately. Next weekend is a big conference, so there have been lots of choir practices to prepare for it. I had a scary moment at one of the rehearsals when the choir director came up to me and asked if I sang “solo”. I was nervous that he was asking if I would sing by myself, so I immediately said no. When he looked disappointed, my host sister explained to me that he was only asking if I would sing soprano, to which I agreed. Turns out the Tongan word for soprano is “solo” and the word for solo is “sola”. Good to know for future reference!

Last weekend, I went to a big church dance. Several young men had just returned from their Mormon mission in America, so lots of people came out to celebrate. To honor them, families went up and gave them leis made out of various things like flowers, candy, garland, oranges, and even potato chips! The leis were stacked so high you could barely see their faces by the time everyone was finished. Afterwards, the family shared the treats with everyone at the dance.

A couple preliminary observations about church here in Tonga are that people cry a lot and they make do with what they have available. In reference to the crying, it is very common occurrence. At church this Sunday, anyone from the congregation was invited to go up and share their testimony. At least 5 or 6 of the speakers cried during their talks. It is just a natural thing for them to do. Regarding making do with what they have, Tongans lack many of the aspects of worship that Americans would find essential. There are no bulletins, water is used during communion instead of wine or grape juice, and all the songs are sung a capella. Yet this does not detract from the service, there are just less frills in church. It’s actually kind of nice.

Lastly, I put up some more pictures on facebook…here is the link to check them out!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Site Placement

Drum roll please…………… I will be working teaching customer service, hospitality, and cooking in Vava'u. From what I understand, my responsibilities will be mostly geared toward the business end and will have very little to do with cooking. Given that my favorite meal in college was cereal, it is probably for the best. However, I can muster up some tasty desserts when I put my mind to it, so perhaps I can contribute something!

I am very excited about my site placement…I think that teaching will be fantastic and Vava’u sounds wonderful. There are plenty of things to do such as hiking, diving, caving, restaurants, and more. Not to mention many of the resorts are in Vava’u, so hopefully that will entice lots of people to come visit. Also, the group of people heading to Vava’u is pretty awesome, and I think we will have a lot of fun together.

Some other exciting things from this week include my first time serving kava, going to a Mormon dance, and attending missionale at the Wesleyan Church. Serving kava was a vastly different experience than the kava ceremony that Peace Corps had for us when we first arrived. As the toua, a woman is responsible for stirring the kava and filling the coconut shells to be passed around the circle. Usually, the guy sitting to the left of the toua is the one who tries to win her affection. Unfortunately, my potential moa (boyfriend) was only 18 and had awful hair. Not to mention the fact that he didn’t speak English, sigh. My favorite part of going to kava was when they brought out a couple guitars and a ukulele, and began to sing. It was great!

Missionale is an event held by many of the churches in Tonga as their annual fundraiser. At the service we attended, members of the congregation would go up one by one and present their monetary donations. In between each individual donation, a collection plate would be passed around and we would sing a hymn. At the end, the names of the individuals and the amounts they gave were announced along with the grand total. I wonder what percentage of the donations were given out of Christian love and what percentage were from the social pressure of having your name announced?

After the service, there was a huge feast complete with roast pigs, fish (raw and cooked), root crops, crab, chicken, noodles, cakes, hot dogs, eggs, and lots of soda. You could barely see the table there was so much food! After experiencing kai mate (lit: eat until you die), we spent a relaxing afternoon at the beach.

This week and next I will continue with language training in my village, and then I will start technical training. Additionally, I have some culture assignments to do such as weaving my own kiekie and learning a Tongan dance. And hopefully I will learn some cooking skills while I am at it!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Choir, rubgy, hulahula, and more!

It’s hard to believe that I have been at my home stay for almost 2 weeks now! My host family is wonderful…I couldn’t ask for more hospitable people. There are 11 people in my house, my host parents, 4 girls about my age, 2 boys my age, and 3 kids. My host sister, Manu, is also 22 and she is awesome. She speaks English, so she is able to translate for me. Also, the kids are adorable. Vika is 5, Mote is 3 and Luce is 1. They are also great for helping me practice Tongan. If they give me a confused look, I know I said something wrong!

My host family has been great about including me in a lot of recent events. For one, I got to attend a Tongan choir practice. It was interesting for me because their music used a number system instead of the normal music notation. It was definitely good practice for learning intervals. Also, they are loud! Their dynamics could use a little work.

Another event I attended was a hulahula (dance). The music they played was about a 50/50 split of Tongan music and American music. My host sisters are awesome dancers, and I had a good time with them. Speaking of music, the music they play at my house is very interesting. They have a bizarre mix of contemporary Christian, traditional Tongan, American pop, and rap music. I love the contrast of “Shout to the Lord” and Lil Wayne. One night I got to watch some music videos, including “Ice Cream Paint Job”. Yessssss!

Rugby is an extremely popular sport in Tonga, so last weekend I went with some of my host family and a few trainees to watch some games in town. I don’t completely understand the game yet, but I am sure I will figure it out eventually. I might even try playing a little bit…my host sister plays on a team and she said I could practice with them. Luckily they just play touch, not tackle!

Although I’ve been able to do some really fun things, most of my time so far has been spent in class learning Tongan. In my village there are 3 other trainees and we have language classes together Monday through Thursday. On Fridays our whole group of 26 gets together for training regarding safety, medical, etc. When we aren’t in class, we usually head to the beach to cool off and study. At night, my village has been watching a lot of “Arrested Development”.

At the end of this week, I will find out my site placement. This includes where I will be working and what my job will be….exciting stuff! From what I already know, I think I will be teaching at a tertiary school somewhere in the island group of Vava’u. But that could easily change, so I have to wait until Thursday to find out for sure. Only a couple more days!!!

Here are a couple pics (there are some more on facebook) 76 arriving at the airport, a sunset, and my Tongan attire!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Hello from Ha'apai

I made it to Ha'apai where I will be staying until December with my host family. They are wonderful and treat me like a princess! I have pink mosquito net and everything. They also feed me soooooooo much food. Luckily we walk a lot and swim, so I get a lot of excercise.

Hopefully I can post this weekend with a longer update. I am thinking of all my family at you lots!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Malo e lelei!

I made it! I started in L.A. at staging, which is essentially orientation before arriving in country. Our Tonga group held staging with the group heading to Samoa, so there ended up being close to 50 of us. It was an interesting group of people from all over the U.S. We had some good discussions about what to expect over the next two years and how to handle a variety of situations.

Tuesday night we all headed to the airport with a crazy amount of luggage! Luckily my bags were within the weight limits. From L.A., it was a little over 10 hours to Apia, the capital of Samoa. The craziest part of the trip was that it was Wednesday morning in Samoa when we arrived, then after an hour flight we arrived in Tonga Thursday morning. Silly International Date Line.

Thursday was our first day of Pre-Service training. First, we were given an overview of our assignment, the Tonga Expanded Community Education Project. After that, we were formally welcomed to Tonga with a traditional kava ceremony. Kava is a drink in South Pacific that acts as a muscle relaxer and is served at important events and social gatherings. We only had a small amount, so I didn’t feel any of the effects. I personally thought it tasted like dirty, gritty water. However, it was a really awesome to participate. After the kava ceremony, we saw some traditional Tonga dance and had a BBQ.

Friday was a long day with a lot of sessions. We covered health and medical policies, security tips, intro to the Tongan language, and met some current volunteers. It was a lot to take in, but things that will be very helpful in the future. I also got a dog chaser, which is a fantastic little device that emits sonic waves to scare away dogs. My fear of being attacked by dogs is now greatly alleviated!

Today we started our morning with a fashion show of appropriate Tongan dress. For work and church, I will be wearing long skirts and shirts with sleeves. I will also wear a kiekie, a belt with woven strips. For casual wear, women still dress conservatively. Capris are sometimes acceptable, but usually women cover up capris and shorts with a lavalava (sarong) when they are in public. Bascially, the more conservative, the better!

The next part of our day was water safety training. It was cold and rainy, which wasn’t the best day for water training, but we made the best of it. Water training brought back bad memories of swimming lessons back in the day, but it wasn’t as terrible as I thought. We got to wear a life vest the entire time for one. Also we learned a lot of cool techniques for groups to work together in an emergency. Awesome team bonding!

After water training, some of us went out into town. We are staying in Nuku’alofa, the capital, so it has a fairly big market and some shops. At a shop I bought some fabric for a lavalava, and at the market I bought a fresh coconut. Although I’m not a huge fan of the coconut meat, I really like the coconut milk!

Tomorrow is Sunday, so we will be attending church, which is an extremely important aspect of Tongan life. I can’t wait to hear a Tongan choir, I hear they are fantastic! It is illegal to do most anything on Sunday, so tomorrow afternoon and evening will most likely be spent practicing some Tongan and relaxing with other trainees. Monday and Tuesday we will be visiting sites in Nuku’alofa. I know I am going to a bank in Tonga with the other volunteers and a few other places. Wednesday is our last day in the city. We leave for Ha’apai, a smaller island group north of Tongatapu. Apparently life is much different in Ha’apai, since is it much more remote and much smaller. Wednesday I will also meet my host family and start getting to know the people in my village.

Overall, I am sooooo excited to finally be here! The friendly islands seem like a wonderful place. Please send me letters and emails because I miss everyone at home. Check the tab at the top for my address! Hopefully next week I can post some more updates!

Toki Sio!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Fond Farewell

The last few weeks have been wonderful, but now it is time to finally say goodbye. It is great to know that I have such a wonderful support system at home. Thanks to everyone for being so amazing! To all my friends and family in Transfer, Cleveland, Coraopolis, Durham, Ann Arbor, Louisville, Philadelphia, Columbus, Erie, and everywhere else, I already miss you!

This weekend was absolutely perfect. I got to eat great food, sing with my family, play trivial pursuit, take lots of pictures, and giggle. Hopefully I can also do some of those things in Tonga. Perhaps they will even find my headlamp as humorous as I do?

Well, I have my suitcases waiting by the door, and I am off to L.A. in the morning. Wish me luck...Toki sio!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Questions Answered!

Here are some of the questions I've been getting about joining the Peace Corps:

Where is Tonga?

How long will you be gone?

27 months. 3 months of training and 2 years working.

Can you come home at all?

I get about 24 days a year of vacation time, but I probably won't be coming home. It's an expensive trip, and it can be emotionally difficult to make a trip home part way through service.

Where will you be living?

During training I will be staying with a host family. After I move to my permanent site, I will most likely have a small place of my own. However, it is possible that I will continue to live with a host family.

What language do they speak?

Tongan...I'll be learning it!

Will you have electricity and running water?

Most volunteers in Tonga have electricity and running water (thank goodness!).

What about internet access?

It will depend on my permanent site. Internet is available at the Peace Corps offices, at some schools, and on the bigger islands. So at a minimum, I should be able to get online a few times a month.

What will you being doing?

(from my assignment handbook) As Business Advising/Educator, you will be assigned to a secondary or tertiary school where you will strengthen business skills in the classroom. Volunteers will teach basic economics and accounting as per an established Ministry of Education curriculum and work to design additional school-based curriculum that will introduce specific business skills that address business issues relevant to Tonga.

It goes on to explain opportunities for expanding extra-curricular activities, facilitating community development, and expanding classroom materials related to business. Secondary projects are also highly encouraged.

Can you get mail and packages?

Yes, please send lots of mail! I'll post my address when I find out what it is going to be.

Why are you joining the Peace Corps?

Why not? It's an amazing opportunity!

Are you nervous or excited?

Excited and nervous and ecstatic and anxious and lots more.

Well, that's all I can think of for now. I'm looking forward to a weekend in State College with friends and then some more packing next week!

Thursday, August 26, 2010


It's official! Last Monday, I was invited to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tonga. The Kingdom of Tonga is a tiny country in the Pacific, about a third of the way from New Zealand to Hawaii. I was thrilled to finally receive my invitation, and I could not be happier with my placement! As my main job, I will be participating in the Tonga Expanded Community Education Project as a business teacher. In addition, I will be helping with various extracurricular and community activities. I am hoping to get involved with a choir and maybe help out with a camp for girls. Music and why does that sound so familiar?

I will be leaving for L.A. on October 5th where I will meet the other volunteers going to Tonga (and Samoa, I think?). From there, we will depart for pre-service training in Tonga from October 7th until mid-December. There is lots to do before October rolls around. Today, I finished my passport application, but I still need to do a lot more paperwork. I have a looooong shopping list including, skirts, knives, a rain jacket, a headlamp, and much more. Traveling is also on the agenda, starting with a trip to Louisville and Nashville this weekend. In between that, I will be hanging out with my friends at St. Paul Homes and attending RHS sporting events to support Kristen and Wesley.

I am hoping to post some FAQs soon, so check back if you are curious about things like the food in Tonga and how long I will be gone.

Thanks to everyone for all of your support and love as I start this adventure. I look forward to sharing my stories from the other side of the world!