Friday, December 23, 2011

Hello America!

Family, food, malls, cars, cold, food, Christmas, food, friends, travel, beer, food. America is a little overwhelming! However, it feels so great to be home and I could not be happier to see my friends and family.

Wishing everyone a merry Christmas and joyful new year!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Happy Holidays

Here in Tonga, the holidays are now in full swing. Not only is Christmas quickly approaching, but last week was graduation which marked the official end of school. In other words, in Tonga it is summer break and Christmas at the same time! How fabulous is that? This magical combination means that the past couple weeks have been lots of fun.

The first holiday celebration I attended in Tonga was our Peace Corps Thanksgiving dinner. We were able to track down all the traditional Thanksgiving foods; turkey from Tongatapu, stuffing and cranberry sauce from America, homemade rolls, mashed potatoes, glazed carrots, pumpkin pie, and apple pie. Yum! Also, it was great to spend some time with my Peace Corps family.

Last Tuesday was our Christmas program at school. Even though it's still November, Tongan schools usually do a Christmas program early before summer break begins. Each class was responsible for preparing a Christmas tree. Most classes brought in regular old trees with branches and leaves because pine trees are non-existent in Tonga. Even though most weren't traditional Christmas trees, they still looked beautiful with all of the garland, ornaments, and balloons. The program also included lots of Christmas songs. My favorite was "The 12 days of Christmas" performed by Class 1 and Class 2. So cute!

The most recent celebration was our graduation ceremony on Thursday. It was very different than most graduations I've attended in America. There were the usual speeches and announcements of the top students, but there was also lots of music, tons of candy necklaces and money as gifts from students' families, and a table full of prizes. It was also my first time attending a ceremony where I had students graduating. I was so proud of them all! Now it's time to travel, relax, and visit with family and friends.
Happy holidays everyone!




Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Pleasant Picnic


Yesterday was on of the last events of the 2011 school year at Mailefihi, a farewell picnic for the teachers who will be leaving next year. As of right now, there are 4 teachers leaving next year, one of them being my neighbor and fellow PCV Ashley. Next week there will be an announcement for all the Wesleyan schools about the "hiki fiako" or relocation of teachers. That means that many of our teachers will be moving to teach at Wesleyan schools on different islands in Tonga. However, we will also be getting many new teachers next year. I'm curious to see what the 2012 staff will be!

Anyway, I think that the picnic yesterday was a fantastic way to say goodbye to the teachers who are leaving. It was a gorgeous day with lots of sunshine and a wonderful island breeze. At the beach, we had a stunning view of some outer islands and the open ocean beyond. There was plenty to do including volleyball, cards, swimming and naturally tons of food. My favorite was eating all the fresh pineapple and watermelon...perfect picnic food!

Along with this end of the year event, we had a Christmas program on Friday, our last Sunday church service with students and teachers today, a upcoming candlelight march on Tuesday, and the graduation ceremony on Thursday. We are so close to being finished, and then I'm so looking forward to my travels in December! Until then, I will be found enjoying the beautiful beaches of Tonga and some delicious island food.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Student Assessments

It's official. I have the coolest job ever. For the past two and a half weeks, my students have been doing their final assessments. Each student had to prepare an appetizer, a main, and a dessert. My job was to grade their work in the kitchen; cleanliness, hygiene, proper methods, correct uniform, use of knives, etc. After grading their work, I also got to assist with taste testing. Yum.

I was very impressed with the food the students prepared. Here are some example menus:

- Tempura, fish and chips, brownies
- Lobster cocktail, lobster bombay, banana split
- Chef's salad, fish curry, pineapple fritters
- Sushimi, stuffed chicken, tropical fruit salad
- Green salad, polynesian fish, banana foster





It was all delicious, and I had a super fun two weeks. Now, that the assessments are finished, the students have choir practice and cleaning everyday until graduation on November 24th. After that, some travels around the islands and America here I come! Can't wait!




Sunday, October 30, 2011

Happy Halloween

Halloween is not a big holiday in Tonga. In fact, no one really celebrates except the tourists and expats who live here. But today thanks to a fellow volunteer, Ashley, some of the class one and class two students got to experience Halloween for the first time.

As part of their English lesson this week, these students learned how to say "trick or treat" and "thank you, happy Halloween". They also made butterfly and lion masks as their costumes, and learned to say either "I am a butterfly" or "I am a lion". The kids walked over to my classroom, decked out in their masks and carrying plastic bags. When they arrived, they knocked or my door and said "trick or treat" in their best English. A couple kids got ahead of themselves, and when I opened the door shouted "I am a lion". Regardless of what they said, they all did a great job and were rewarded with lollipops, a pencil, a toothbrush, and silly bands.

Happy Halloween!


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Weddings

This week I was able to attend not just one, but two weddings! I still do not understand all of the elements of a Tongan wedding, but I will try to explain the things that I do understand. Also, there are many parts of the pre-wedding rituals that I don't know, so I will just stick to the day of.

Most Tongan weddings are done in two parts. First, the couple goes to the courthouse and to a minister to fill out all of the official paperwork for a wedding. For this part, only close family and friends attend. The second part is the couple's Sapate Taha (first Sunday). This is the first Sunday they attend church as a married couple. Lots of family and friends attend, and there is a big feast after the service.

The first wedding I attended this week was a mix of palangi and Tongan, which made for a super fun day. This couple was leaving for Australia the day after the wedding, so instead of a big celebration on Sunday after church, they did it all on the same day. There were lots of things that I am used to at wedding; exchanging rings, saying vows, cutting the wedding cake, bridesmaids and groomsmen, etc. However, it was undeniably a Tongan wedding, too. There were flower necklaces, gifts of traditional Tongan mats, roasted pigs, Tongan dances, etc. It was a great time!

The second wedding wasn't an actual wedding ceremony, just the Sunday service. At the service, the couple sat in the front, wearing white clothes with lots of fancy mats covered in shells, beads, and feathers. Their clothes were so beautiful! After church, we went to a huge feast at the groom's house. During the feast, there were fakamalo speeches (thank-you speeches) from many family members. During these speeches they offered well-wishes and advice for the new couple.

I'm so thankful I got to be a part of these weddings, they were super interesting. I have at least one more Tongan wedding to attend soon...the wedding of my friends Pa and Ashley in December. Can't wait!






Saturday, October 8, 2011

One Year

First year in Tonga was excellent. Here are some highlights!






Arrival of Group 76 in Tonga.






My training group.







Swearing-in ceremony.









My house in Vava'u.






My class from Pouono Catering and Hospitality School.









Dancing a traditional Tongan dance, the ta'uolunga.







Riding in a U.S. Navy helicopter.







The king and queen of Aloha Night.







My dad came to visit!!!








Celebrating the anniversary of Mailefihi Siu'ilikutapu College.







Kelana Social Night 2011.







Go 'Ikale Tahi go!







Group 76 Vava'u crew. 'Ofa atu!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Go Ikale Tahi Go!

A few months ago I posted an entry about the importance of rugby in Tonga. Well, one post was not enough because this past month has shown me that Tonga is even more obsessed with rugby than I originally thought. The Rugby World Cup started earlier this month, and I never anticipated the team spirit that would encompass the entire country of Tonga.

Tonga played in the opening game of the World Cup this year against New Zealand. At school, we were told to wear red to support the Tonga national team, the Ikale Tahi (Sea Eagles). Not only were the people at school wearing red, but everyone was wearing red that day. There were tons of spontaneous parades, all the high school bands played in town, and every person made sure to find a t.v. to watch the game. Unfortunately, Tonga lost to the All Blacks, but it did not lessen the excitement surrounding the event.


Last night was Tonga’s last game in the World Cup. The Ikale Tahi had too many losses to advance to the quarterfinals, but they certainly went out in style. The pulled off an incredible win over France, which was the biggest upset of this year’s World Cup. The after match celebrations here in Vava’u were fabulous. Tons of people got into vehicles and drove around beeping horns and blasting music. Those without vehicles watched from the street, cheering and dancing. There were fireworks being set off from the back of a truck, water being tossed on the crowd, and lots of make-shift drums. Even the police and fire vehicles joined in the celebrations, circling around town with their sirens blaring.


I had so much fun celebrating Tonga’s win last night. It helped me appreciate the pride that goes into everything Tongans do; supporting the Ikale Tahi, singing in church choirs, welcoming visitors. The list goes on, but I hope I can also learn to do things with just as much pride and enthusiasm.

Go Ikale Tahi Go!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Camp GLOW Vava'u 2011

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhNstkapatg - watch this first!

Not to brag, but Camp GLOW Vava’u 2011 was fantastic! 28 girls attended camp and spent the week learning, developing leadership skills, and enjoying camp. Our camp director, Kelly, did a wonderful job organizing the camp which was a big part of the success. We were also very fortunate to have great counselors, junior counselors, and camp moms.

Camp started on Monday with lots of fun activities. There were ice breakers, poster painting, relay races, and sports. It was awesome to finally meet all of the campers after all of the promotion, fundraising, and planning we did.

Tuesday there were sessions about women's health, HIV/AIDs, and environmental education. In the afternoon, we did a rotation of tie-dye, sports, and games. The tie-dye shirts turned out great! Then there was a hike up Mt. Talau and a surprise ice cream party.

Wednesday there were lots of educational sessions; sexual harassment, domestic violence, critical thinking, and decision making. Wednesday evening we took a trip to the beach where did a beach clean-up, bbq, and campfire.

Thursday was focused on careers, so in the morning the girls went out into town to shadow women in different industries. In the afternoon there was a career panel and the girls had time to practice for the closing ceremony performances.

Friday was the last of the educational sessions. The girls learned about anger management, drug and alcohol abuse, and budgeting and savings. We ended on Friday night with a dance party. It was lots of fun!

Saturday was our final day, so we basically prepared for the closing ceremonies, took lots of pictures in our tie-dye shirts, and said good-byes. The closing ceremonies turned out well. The performances the girls prepared were great and there was lots of yummy food.

Overall, Camp GLOW was awesome...can't wait for next year!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Celebrations

This week there were several exciting celebrations; Ashley’s 24th birthday and the anniversary of Mailefihi Siu'ilikutapu college.

For Ashley’s birthday, I worked with Ashley’s fiancĂ©, Pa, to plan the surprise party. We decided all of the guests would get together and then Pa would bring Ashley when we were ready. Despite the fact that Pa called me twice while he was walking to the party with Ashley, she had no idea and was genuinely surprised. We then enjoyed some yummy cake, chips, chocolates, and biscuits. Ifo aupito!




The other big celebration was our school’s anniversary. It turned out to be an all-day event, and included church, food, music and dancing. We started in the morning with a church service. Several teachers read scripture and hymns, the brass band accompanied the singing, and the President of Education gave the message. Next we moved over to the school hall for the feast. I got lucky and was able to sit at a front table where the honored guests sit. Therefore, I had the best food such as lasagna, pizza, sweet and sour chicken, pasta crab salad and, of course, roasted pig. During the feast there were the usual speeches, but we also had lots of dancing for entertainment. I took part in a group ta’olunga with my class from the catering school. There were also sitting dances, line dances and some disco, too. Quite an exciting day!











Saturday, August 13, 2011

Dad's Visit Part 2

Picking up where I left off last post, dad’s next activity was a dinner at my house. Some of my Tongan girlfriends came over to cook and the two other volunteers from my school, Sean and Ashley, came over, too. We had lots of yummy food like crab salad, beef with pele, papaya, roast chicken, fried rice, and bananas in coconut milk. It was also nice for my dad to meet some of my non-peace corps friends.

Later that evening, we went to see the fakaleiti show. For those of you who don’t know, fakaleitis are Tonga boys who are raised as girls. Some of the boys grow up and begin dressing like men, but others continue to dress and act like women. I convinced my dad to go see the show because it truly is a unique cultural experience.




Thursday was my weekly music class at the kindergarten, always a highlight of the week. Friday another volunteer, Kalo, invited us to a concert for her church. This concert was a fundraiser, so there were lots of prepared dances. Some were to contemporary worship songs and others were traditional Tongan dances. There were also several skits that were very entertaining.

Saturday was our adventure to motu (an outer island). In typical Tongan style, we went to the wharf to find a boat and none of the boats were going to the island we wanted. We shopped around at the market for a while we tried to figure out what to do. Thankfully I spotted someone from the island and asked him if a boat was coming, and he told us one would be coming shortly. After a while the boat came and we were loaded on along with some of the villagers and lots of food for Sunday lunch. We arrived in Nuapapu and went to see Farfum, the peace corps volunteer at that site. Farfum and his principal showed us their school and gave us a tour of their village. I was happy my dad got to see an outer village where life is very different from life in town. The only electricity comes from solar panels and generators, and most people only have water from the rain water tanks. Also, there are no cars, only horses. It makes Transfer seem like a booming metropolis.


Sunday we went to church at the Catholic church with my boyfriend. After church, we had lunch at his house with his family. There was lot of fantastic food and it was fun to eat faka-Tonga; the whole family sitting on the floor.


During dad’s last week here I was teaching, so he spent lots of time helping do things around my house and relaxing. His big project was painting my shower floor…it looks great! He also helped with dishes and laundry, which was much appreciated. Also during the week we played volleyball, went to a baptism, ate at a Tongan restaurant, and went to trivia night. However, I think dad’s favorite part of the week was teaching music at the kindergarten. He taught them a new song, and a McDonald family classic, “Down by the Bay”.


For dad’s last day, we had a lunch that my co-teachers and students prepared at the catering school. It was a nice way for them to say goodbye, and they also generously brought many Tongan gifts for dad to take back to America like jewelry, tapa cloth, fans, and a map of Vava’u. After lunch, dad and I watched some soccer, which was very entertaining. I always got in trouble for laughing at Wesley’s soccer games, but here in Tonga laughter is part of the game. Dad and I had quite a few good laughs during the game. Friday night a few people game over to my house for dinner. Then dad spent his last night listening to the dogs, pigs, and roosters, probably one part of Tonga he will not miss.



Saturday morning it was time to say goodbye. We had our last cinnamon rolls from the bakery for breakfast at the airport, and then dad took off for his long journey back to America. It was hard for me to see him leave, but I take comfort in the fact that I will be returning to America for Christmas this year, and I will have the opportunity to see my whole family. It was awesome having a visitor here, and I hope there will be many more in the future!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Dad's Visit part 1

After flying from Cleveland to L.A. to Fiji to Nuku'alofa, my dad arrived here in beautiful Vava'u on July 26th. He came with a suitcase marked "very heavy" and a handful of Tongan words, ready to experience my life here in Peace Corps Tonga.

The first couple days dad was here, we spent a lot of time relaxing, allowing him to adjust to the new time zone. We went to morning assembly at my school and saw some classrooms. We also walked around town, stopping at places like the wharf, the Peace Corps office, and some shops.

Friday was our first adventure...whale watching! Unfortunately, the waters were especially rough which resulted in some people on our boat getting seasick. Thankfully, dad and I took motion sickness pills in the morning and went the whole day without getting sick. We were able to see quite a few whales throughout the day, which was fantastic! We also stopped at an island for lunch and some snorkeling. Some people attempted to get in the water to swim with the whales, but were not successful. Maybe next time!

Saturday we took a trip out to one of the resort islands, Mala. We spent the day kayaking, snorkeling, and hiking around the island. It was a gorgeous day, and gave us the perfect opportunity to enjoy the beautiful island.

Sunday was an important day at my church because it was the last Sunday for our boy's head tutor before he leaves for Tongatapu. All the students and teachers attended church, and the school band provided accompaniment for the music. I borrowed some Tongan clothes from my neighbors for dad...he looked great! Sunday afternoon we went for a drive to some beaches on the island and just made it back for the afternoon church service. After church, there was a dinner for the head tutor, so dad experienced a Tongan feast. He tried some raw fish, octopus, and, of course, roasted pig!

Monday was a public holiday, so in the morning we went to one of the lookout points. It was a little bit of a hike, but the view of the cliffs and beaches is well worth it. After that, we went to the beach for a picnic and some swimming. Finally, Monday night we celebrated a volunteer's birthday with some pizza and drinks and a local restaurant.

After a busy weekend, Tuesday we just relaxed and did some laundry. However Tuesday night was a momentous occasion...dad's first time drinking kava! He went to the local police and fire station, enjoying the Tongan music and lots of joking.

Today we hiked to the top of Mt. Talau, the highest point of Vava'u. We saw some fantastic views of Neiafu, the harbor, and the outer islands. It was a little hot, but a nice adventure.

More things to come next week!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Rugby



This weekend was the end of rugby season, and I think I would be leaving out a significant part of Tongan culture if I didn't dedicate at least one blog post to the topic.


Tongans love rugby. It is probably the equivalent of American football in most parts of the U.S., but only the parts with crazy, die-hard fans who paint their bodies for games and fall into deep depressions at the end of the season. Our entire school schedule was switched because of rugby practices, I've heard rugby mentioned in church sermons and we are having a huge feast for our rugby team next week. It's a big deal.


Anyway, I enjoyed rugby season here in Tonga. At the school games, the students do lots of fun cheers and it is a big social event. The village games are a great way to spend an afternoon on Saturdays after shopping at the market. I still don't appreicate everything about rugby (i.e. it can be very violent) nor do I understand all the finer points of the game (scrums are endlessly confusing), but I do appreciate the school spirit and community spirit the game brings to Tongan. Although the schools and villages have finished their seasons, the Rugby World Cup starts soon, where the whole country will be rooting for Tongan national team. You can be sure I will be cheering for the Ikale Tonga team too!









Saturday, July 2, 2011

July, July

After a fabulous month of June, it is time to return to school, fundraising, meetings, music classes, and the like. I think my recent holidays caused me to unknowingly embrace island time. Suddenly I find myself strolling over to school 15 minutes late and feeling strong resentment over the fact that I cannot take an after lunch nap. My morning crossword time is severely lacking and I can't take day trips to the beach. How frustrating.

Anyway, having so much free time on my hands recently did give me a lot of time to think about why I am here in Tonga and the things going on in America. I missed some big events that happened at home during the month of June; my little sister's high school graduation, a close friend's wedding, road trips. Even though I was able to see plenty of pictures, hear stories on skype, and get updates on facebook, I was still sad to miss these important occasions.

But rather than dwell on these missed opportunities, I instead choose to focus on the opportunities I have here. I work at an amazing school, the people of Tonga are lovely, and I am learning new things everyday. I am truly blessed to be here, even though I don't have time to finish my crosswords in the morning. There are plenty of exciting things coming up soon...a big catering event for my school, my dad's visit, and Camp GLOW. And for those of you who know me well in America, you know that I honestly like to stay busy and stay involved. I am excited for the work that is ahead and all the things this new month will bring!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Adventures





During the first two weeks of June, my students from the catering school were working in local restaurants doing their practical work experience. The last two weeks are the mid-year school break, so I have had lots of free time this month for adventuring. Here are some of my favorites!


1. Camping on a deserted island


To celebrate several birthdays, most of the Peace Corps volunteers in Vava’u, a few Tongan friends, and a friend from New Zealand took a trip out to a little island called Vaka’eitu. Local stories about this island say that the village that used to be there relocated because it is haunted. A former chief found his wife cheating on him with another man and murdered her. Now her spirit haunts the island. Despite the stories, we had a great time there swimming, playing volleyball, and hanging out around our beach bonfire.





2. The Magic Circus of Samoa

Last week, Vava’u hosted a travelling circus from Samoa that has been visiting all the different island groups of Tonga. Some of the acts included juggling, tightrope walking, clowns, trapeze, and magic tricks. Unfortunately no animals since they don’t travel very well on the boat. At one point, I was called up on stage and I was serenaded by a dwarf clown. Definitely a unique experience!





3. Aloha Night

Last weekend, my boyfriend invited me to a social night hosted by the Catholic youth. The theme for the dance was “Aloha Night”, so we had matching, Hawaiian-themed clothes made for the event. It was much more formal that I anticipated. There was an opening processional march and a waltz competition. However, the youth are very fond of disco (western-style dancing) so there was plenty of that too. My boyfriend and I won two awards: best clothing and king and queen. I have to keep practicing my waltz so next year we can win that one too!


4. Mala Island

Mala is a small resort island, only a 5 minute boat ride from the beach on the main island. A lovely family stays there; a Serbian man, Tongan wife, and 3 beautiful children with a 4th on the way soon. We went to spend the day swimming and relaxing and hopefully enjoying some yummy food. When we inquired about food, the owner replied, “You can use the kitchen. You are Peace Corps, figure it out!” So, that’s exactly what we did. We cooked an awesome dinner and enjoyed our food as we watched the sunset.




5. Holonga

Last Thursday, I went with Ashley, Farfum, Carolyn, and Sephora on a bike trip to Holonga look-out point and beach. We rode bikes most of the way there (about a 45 minute ride) with the exception of some rather large hills. We then hiked up to the look-out point, which is an incredible view of the ocean and surrounding cliffs and beaches. We had a photo shoot and picnic at the top. Our next stop was the beach where we got to swim and cool off after lots of fakamalohisino (exercise). One the journey back we got a bit dirty. Well, actually we were covered in mud. Regardless, it was a fabulous day and it reminded me of the beauty of Tonga.



Next adventure...my dad in Tonga!!!!! I can't wait =)