Friday, September 28, 2012

Only in Fatumu

As said earlier, Sione, our Tongan father, is the town officer. Interestingly enough, one of the responsibilities that comes with this title is that he is in charge of the entire village's water and electricity bills. Many nights someone (or a few people) will stop by with money, and he or Vaiola will take out numerous big notebooks, and fill in columns of numbers...when we inquired we discovered the bill paying system.

A few nights ago, I retired to our bedroom earlier, and around 8:30 Mark came in to tell me he was going to make a formal announcement to the village with Sione. Shortly after, I hear Sione talking in a megaphone....apparently, the best way to make "formal announcements" is by standing in the back of your pick up truck, speaking into a megaphone while someone drives you around.

This is our little red truck.

After about 30 seconds of Sione speaking, I receive a text message from Mandi, who is assuming that a hurricane is fast approaching Fatumu, or some such natural disaster (later we were told that yes, in fact, the megaphone is the method used to announce hurricanes...always good to know).

Mandi: do you hear the guy on the mehaphone? What is he saying?!

Me: ha, yes. It is Sione, I don't know but mark is with him.

After mark gets home and tells me...

Me: he's telling people how much they owe for their water bills.

Haha only in Fatumu!

Lovin and learning Fatumu,



I have been surprised that:

All Adele songs sound better with a reggae track.

Celine Dion is making a comeback in Tongataupu.

Tonight, for example, 30 potato sized root crops were on the table to be consumed during dinner.

I get a cold when seasons change, even in the Pacific Islands.

When at 5 am and 6 am and 7, 8, and 9 am, and 5 pm and 6 pm, etc etc, the church bells are rung, they are not rung once, or twice but many, many times. This morning at 5 am I stopped counting at 20. 20.

Things like garlic on a piece of chicken, and a bowl of cereal can make my day.

I prefer egg and butter sandwiches to egg and ketchup sandwiches.

Today, during a conference with the current volunteers (who are nearing the end of their 2 year commitment), we explained things like spotify, siri, Netflix, pinterest....and they had never heard and didn't know...What won't I know in two years? Things change so fast!

There isn't really a Tongan entertainment industry. The current hit movie is from India. I think it's called Dezi Boys, that or the Dezi boys are the main characters. It has wonderful music.

I decided to name our cat Dezi, cause no one had named it yet. The name has caught on rather quickly.

My biggest fear is not the Molokau (giant, stinging centipede), but the kulis (dogs). There are packs of dogs evvvvverrryyywhere. Some are pitiful, literally starving puppies. Others are vicious. I feel a dog bite is inevitable.

The "coconut wireless" is not to be underestimated. It is quicker, and reaches more people than even Facebook. Yesterday I heard a group of women discussing what a fellow PCV had bought at the market. Last week I was told interesting news about myself from another PCV, who heard it from their homestay family. And always, always, always, everyone knows where the palangis have been, what they have done, who they were with, and anything/everything remotely "funny" they have said. The coconut wireless is not a force to be reckoned with.

Full of surprises,


Putu- lisi's version

First, I must have you know that Lisi was not my first Tongan name....the first was Alisa, or Elisa, or Ilisa or something that I could never quite remember. Every time someone asked me my name I would stumble all over myself. Finally at Putu nĂºmero UNO, mark told a bunch of people I can't remember my now I'm going with Lisi. :)

One aspect of Tongan culture that I am struggling to get used to regards social interactions-every time a group of people get together, whether it's church, a putu ,or even just eva peing (wandering around) - men and women stay separate.

At the Putu we attended Saturday (from 9-4) there was a big tent for the women and children to sit in, and then a different tent for the men. I have no idea what the men were doing, but we women pretty much sat, stared, laughed at the kids, and stared some more.

After about an hour of sitting and staring, Vaiola took me to the front yard where there was another tent full of women. They all sat facing the front porch where it was clear, some sort of ceremony of sorts was going to happen. I was given a seat on the porch with a handful of other ladies. There were many speeches, a few songs, lots of laughter and lots of tears. The women leading the ceremony was the eldest sister of the man that had passed away. The "chief of the funeral" is always designated to the eldest sister of the father. The sister is in charge of all the funeral arrangements, which is so very interesting. She also has the unique role (and this is the ceremony that I got to witness) of cutting all the women's hair in the family that suffered the loss. I saw twelve people get their hair cut... In tonga, the only culturally appropriate time to cut your hair is when a loved one has died. So yes, long hair is in. This particular auntie was very nice, as she didn't cut anyone's hair too short. I have heard stories of "bad" or disliked nieces getting bad haircuts, but that was not the case Saturday. All in all, a very interesting, very long, very wet (it rained all day) Saturday.

Wondering how aunt robin would cut my hair,


Putu Part 2: The Manliest Meal I've Even Eaten

As I mentioned before, there have been two funerals in our village thus far. My experience at this last one is quite a story. I wish I had pictures.

A traditional Tongan meal consists of two parts: the haka and the kiki. The haka is a pot of some kind of boiled root crop, the Tongan staple starch. And the kiki is simply something involving meat or fish to eat with the haka.

Since a Putu is such a big, village-wide event, there were a lot of mouths to feed, and Tongas are quite the big eaters. For the haka, the villagers skipped using big pots. They skipped using extra huge pots. They opted to boil their root crops in 50 gallon steel drums over an open fire (it was a sight to behold). The kiki came together when a truck full of men showed up with a freshly killed cow in the bed (as in 5 minutes earlier). The men proceed to deftly "go to town" on the cow with machetes. Then, all of the bones with meat on them were put into another steel drum of boiling water along with a few onions.

Fast forward about another hour of me futilely attempting to decipher why the men continued to keep laughing after saying the word "palangi" (white person), and it was time to eat. Being the guest, I ate first. On my plate was placed two huge cassavas, a popular root veggie, and two gargantuan hunks of beef-on-bone. I kid you not - it probably weighed ten pounds. After I began tearing in to the dinosaur size pieces of meat, the rest of the men began (side note - women and men sit separately during formal events, so it was nothing but Tongan testosterone). For the next little while, the men did some serious feasting, with cassavas in one hand and gigantic pieces of beef bone in the other. It was a glorious, carnivorous celebration of manhood. I tried to do my best to kailahi (eat a lot), but nothing can compare to a group of large Tongan men going to town on brontosaurus size hunks of beef. It was quite memorable.

Makona 'aupito, (very full)
- Mark

Ngaahi Putu

One of the more unique things about Tongan culture is the overwhelming influence of Christianity. Often one of the first questions we get asked is about religion, and folks usually skip over asking if we are Christians and go straight to our preferred denomination. Add this to the influence of the absolute monarchy, and it is not surprising that most holidays, events, and social gatherings have some religious significance. A great example of this is a Tongan funeral - a "putu." Since we've been living in our small host village of Fatumu, there have been two putus - which is fairly uncommon, it being a village of only 80 families.

It has been fascinating observing this unique cultural event. The neatest part to me was actually the days leading up to the funeral day. On those days, everyone in the village dresses in black to signify mourning with the family. And at night, the villagers take shifts riding the bus to the mortuary in town and hold continuous prayer meetings for the family that consist of spontaneous praying and hymn singing. Then, on the day of the funeral, the entire village along with extended family from out of town, gathers for an all day ritual of praying, singing, fellowship, and eating. It is not even a question whether or not school will be closed or if working folks will stay home. Wholehearted support of the mourning family has simply woven itself into the culture of the nation. A beautiful notion.

As with most developing, rural countries, community plays much more of a part of daily life than we are used to. Even so, I was still struck with this beautiful example of how the church community should function in the lives of hurting people. I don't know the culture near well enough to feel out how much of these types of activities are heartfelt or just simply cultural - a question that, I'm sure, will continue to come up during our time here. Yet, I couldn't help feeling wholly inspired and convicted by the communal support of the Tongan people.

'Ofa atu (love to you)

Tongan Things That Make me Smile

The common sight of pigs and piglets crossing the road in mama-duck-and-duckling fashion.

The fact that it's a surprise when a car does not stop and offer us a ride when we are walking between villages.

Being greeted, usually by name, by every Tongan villager we wander by.

Our host family's grandma laughing hysterically at literally every Tongan word that comes out of our mouths.

The funniest Tongan words I've learned so far: (I apologize for the mild crudeness of some, but you've got to admit they're funny...)

"Hipi" (pronounced hee pee) refers to having long hair
"Fakapikopiko" means lazy
"Tisikou" (pronunced tee see koh) means to dance (or disco)
"Puke" (pronounced poo keh) refers to being sick
"Lele" means run, and "Fakalele" means having the runs.
"Huhu" (pronounced hoo hoo) means fork, injection, or breast. So, if you ask for a huhu at the dinner table and use the wrong pronoun, you're in for quite the embarrassment.

And...getting to wear a skirt every day is pretty great. (see picture below)

- Mark

False alarm, but still-alarmed!

Upon our arrival at home stay we were given a water filtration system. It is said to be the best water filtration system there is.

Upon our arrival in Tonga, at least once a week, or sometimes more, we are told about the various things that could kill or greatly hurt, or incredibly sicken us.

One such health talk included all the possible worms in the entire world that one could ingest/that could burrow into your skin or eye or any other horrific place.

So of course, when we went to refill our water filtration system last night, we were greatly alarmed to see a handful of black, eyelash sized squigglies swimming all around in our pre-filtered water. Immediately we guessed they were hook worms, and sent out a number of texts to ask other volunteers if they had them too. The result: volunteer-wide panic. The next day our wonderful PCMO (peace corps medical officer) informed us that they were just mosquito larvae.

We are relieved, but remain disgusted.

(moms and dads, this is in our PRE-filtered water, not our perfectly clean filtered water) :)


Our house, our perspective

The street in front of our house. And Sione's tractor. Sione also works in the uta, or bush. One day we will post about all the things that grow here...there are a lot!

The garage/kitchen/where Louisa and Ngaki sleep

Our living situation is rather unique. We live in a very American type of house, and sometimes one of our brothers sleeps in our house too, but otherwise no one sleeps/uses the entire house. There is a kitchen and living room inside the house, but instead of gathering in the living room/cooking in the kitchen, the garage has been turned into a multi-purpose room.

All our meals are prepared, cooked, and eaten in the garage. The right side of the garage is lined with a stove and lots of tables used as "cabinets" and a "pantry", and a makeshift bucket sink system.

The left side of the garage has a sewing machine, an ironing board, and a bed where Ngaki (our grandma) and Louisa sleep.

Louisa on her and Ngaki's bed.

To the right of our house is the house that Vaiola and Sione sleep in. We haven't been inside their house yet, but we have used this washing machine to do our laundry.

This is our bed! We are super lucky to have an actual bed and a room with a dresser in it. We call our place the Ritz Carlton.


Our plane arriving in surreal!

We all got an amazing Lei which was good since we'd been wearing the same clothes for quite some time, and were probably pretty smelly!

Thats me in the brown amazing walking off the plane to screams and cheers!!


Welcoming party!

Our amazing Tongan language teacher -Tulu- is far left, laughing. We see that laugh alot...usually directed at us.


The three overarching goals of the peace corps are:

1. Provide service (from willing and qualified volunteers) to help interested countries meet their needs for trained manpower, particularly in the poorest areas of developing nations.

2. To help promote a better understanding of the American people on the part of the people's served.

3. To promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of the American people.

Changes have been made to the structure of Peace Corps Tonga, and this year everyone in our group will be working as a Primary English teacher. The three main objectives for us as teachers are:

1. To improve our students learning of English.

2. To improve teachers teaching of English.

3. To improve community awareness of healthy lifestyles.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Group 77

Introducing Tonga Group 77!

Tynesha is from Ca and just celebrated her 29th birthday.

Ryan and Abby are the only other married couple on our team, and crazily enough, are also from Colorado. :)

Wren has seen The Court Jester and has Harry Potter UNO cards....need I say more? Instant connection!

Chiara is the baby of the group at 22, but incredibly cool, AND she speaks Indonesian, Italian, and ...soon Tongan.

Joey is from Paso Robles and is most likely to be found in his classroom wearing his tupenu as a cape (instead of a skirt).

Steph was brave enough to bring her bike to Tonga-we are jealous!

Katy is actually the first person I connected with from group 77-she knows everything there is to know about Peace Corps, seriously, it is insane!

Peter is the funniest person in our group, but only mark and I have figured that out. Odd connection to Chiara, he speaks Indonesian too!

Jeff is the "papa" of the group-oldest at 31. Our group ranges in age from 22-31.

Micheal draws whales really well.

Harrison has been to six of the seven continents.

Me and Mandi. Mandi is super creative and most of these pictures are hers...which is probably why I don't have a pic of her by herself. She is also from Colorado, and reminiscing about different Denver restaurants with her is a favorite past time. Mandi is the only other PCV living in Fatumu with Mark and I. We love her!

Who is that hottie with a nub of a ponytail?!

Group 77- bonded for life, already!


Friday, September 14, 2012


Today during training we we're asked, "What is one expectation you have about your Peace Corps Tonga experience?".

At first my thoughts were broad-new friends, personal growth, learning a new language, cultural integration, teaching skills-both learned and taught.

But ..we all want those things, we all signed up for that. And yes, this experience will most likely change us, change me, much more than it will change Tonga, or the world, but...why are my expectations/goals so self-centered? What would it look like to impact Tonga? Impact who? How? Why?-what needs improving? I don't know the answer to any of those and maybe not ever. I expect to make a difference, but I honestly couldn't say what the difference will be right now.

To be perfectly honest, this is hard. Harder than I prepared for it to be, harder than I expected. An hour ago I was to the point of tears because (really, this is the extent of it) Tongan language is hard, and I don't know how to help with dinner preparations. Thirty minutes ago I was on cloud nine because I had two fantastic zingers right in a row that had everybody rolling on the floor (you had to be there). I love it sometimes, and I really don't other times. And the not loving it is the hardest...I've been planning for this exact thing for easily two years, but more like my entire life. This is what I wanted, this is what I eagerly anticipated all those days....shouldn't I always love it?

I am the harshest with myself-feeling guilty for being anything short of ecstatic. Well, I'm going to have to give that up if I'm going to survive. My first day here, I spent the night hugging the toilet-I don't love that. I have approximately 393057682 mosquito bites-I don't love that either. This is the experience of a lifetime, and I am all in...but I've gotta be honest with myself and you -some days are good, some days are bad. I am learning to live in the moment, to just be what I am, to relax, to be present, to take it one day at a time. I have a feeling this lesson will often be revisited....

Expecting and relaxing,



Spaghetti sandwiches are actually really good.

Language training + tech training + homestay= intense brain power 24/7.

Marks curls are on steroids here in Tonga, it is insane. (and today I arranged them on top of his head in a perfect bun...he is fakaofoofa.

Everyday gets a little easier, a little more normal/comfortable...and every day we learn approximately 200 more Tongan words, which is pure craziness.


'Eva Pe

When we arrived at Tulu 's (our language teacher) house today, she announced, much to our surprise, that today's assignment was to "Eva Pe" all day-literally wander around. We were to draw a map of Fatumu and learn how people spend their days. We walked the many streets of Fatumu (okay, okay, the two streets), and then decided to walk to the town of Lavainga Tonga to study Tongan with some other volunteers.

We studied at the beach, barely made it home before a torrential downpour, set up our water filtration system, and had a great dinner of fish and sweet potato with our host siblings while our host parents were at church. All in all, good day!



So much happens every is so difficult to know what to share!

Our host family is wonderful! Our host tamai (father) Sione, and fa'e (mother) Viola, are so gracious and wonderful! We are treated like one of their own and are spoiled and loved on everyday. Sione and Viola are exactly my mom and dad's age, so we are a perfect fit. Sione is the town officer and acts as a combination of a mayor and policeman in Fatumu. Viola works at the Ministry of Commerce, and speaks English really well. She preached during the second Sunday service today-we told her she did great but we really had no idea what she said. We DO know that she introduced us and Mandi (another PCV in Fatumu) and asked the congregation to help us learn Tongan. That's pretty cool.

Our host tokouas (brothers) Muli and Maile, and our host tuofefine (sister) seem to think we are a little funny and aren't quite sure what to do with us yet. They are 20, 17, and 14. We like them alot. =)

Our first night in Fatumu was a little rough; I got sick and have had a sensitive stomach ever since...definitely not desirable.

Our house here is great-we have running water, electricity, puakas (pigs), kuli e ua (two dogs), and a pusi (kitty).

When it gets quiet outside we can hear the tahi (ocean) and the sound of the choir practicing. There is nothing quite like Tongans singing.

Nofo a,


'Ota Ika

Time for my first Tongan food blog! It's soon I know, but this dish absolutely blew me away. I got it at a restaurant in Nuku'alofa during training; it's called 'ota ika, which literally means "raw fish."

It's similar to a ceviche, but oh so much better. A ceviche is a dish in which fish (usually shellfish) is marinated raw in lime or lemon juice, and the acid in the juice actually cooks the delicate fish.

This dish started with extremely fresh fish, and instead of being marinaded in just an acidic juice, the main component of the marinate was coconut milk, with just a little bit of lemon juice. This combination mellowed out the usually harsh bite of a ceviche and cooked the fish only slightly, giving the already amazing fish an incredible texture and balance of savory, sweet, and sour. The typical counterparts of tomato, onion, and chili were also added, giving it another element of freshness and a spiciness.

This was then served with what the restaurant called "Tongan fries," which were thin-sliced, fresh fried banana chips. So, the chunks of marinated fish sort of became a dip for these wonderful chips, creating an other combination of the tender fish with the crispy banana chips.

It truly blew me was a perfect first dish to experience the amazing seafood that Tonga offers. Me'akai lelei 'aupito! (very good food!)



Staging and Selas

After saying goodbye to the parentals, we spent a day and a half in LA at Staging. Staging is basically a run through of essential paperwork and safety and security info.
We left LA at 945pm on Sunday and arrived in Tonga around 11am Tuesday morning.

Bus on the way to the airport!

The Nuku'alofa airport...not sure if you can tell in this picture but there were a few dozen people cheering for us when we stepped off the plane-a really amazing welcome!

We spent four days at Selas guesthouse upon arrival. It was a great time to bond with the team and adjust to the crazy idea that Tonga is our new home for the next 27 months. This is a picture I took while walking from Selas to the peace corps office.



Our Bags Are Packed

(these are slightly old, but necessary)

We were worried about our bag size because the dimensions were slightly over, but our whole team made it to Tonga without any baggage issues-a small miracle!

Can barely walk,


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

First Impressions

The hardest thing about describing the whirlwind of the last few days is that they have been so defined by our team. These first three months will be much less about the preparation of us as a couple, and much more about the bonding, struggles, and collective growth of the 15 members of Peace Corps Tonga Group 77. This dynamic gives this time a blend of first-day-of-school and summer-camp-awkwardness, mixed with the intensity of a packed full training schedule, all topped off with the challenges of adjusting to an entirely new culture. However, what makes this more than crazy time great is that we have an exceptional team. It was a beautiful thing to realize that our journey will be accompanied by fellow people with hearts that beat so nearly to ours.

Thus, because it would take far too long to describe all wrapped up in the relationships and dynamics within our team, I'll try putting into words my first impressions of this marvelous country. If I had to pick one word to describe my thoughts towards Tonga so far, I would say that Tonga is a very simple country - a feeling that more than anything is already making me fall in love with this place and these people.

Upon arriving to Nuku'alofa, Tonga's capitol city, we stepped off the plane and were escorted into line where one single person checked the custom forms and passports of all international travelers. From there, we were loaded onto a bus, and took a 30 minute ride from the airport to the heart of the city - a trip that took us more than halfway across the entire island (which is by far the biggest island in the country). Along the way, the gorgeous countryside was mainly composed of vegetation and crop fields with an occasional small, concrete house sprinkled in here and there. Yet, every now and then, one of the current volunteers would point out a landmark to us.

After a single small house with a rusting roof was the main university of the country. After a small farm with pigs and chickens roaming free in the front yard was the Royal Palace of the Tongan King. The landscape was so unassuming. So rural. So simple.

Then, before we knew it, we were "in town." I don't have a huge amount of international experience, but I would say that every decently sized foreign city I've visited had a sort of "urban feel" to it - loud, crowded streets, big buildings, and the sights, sounds and smells of city life. Yet, even in the heart of this city, there are tiny, spread out houses next to a major bank. Chickens and pigs mill around across from an important government building. The streets sparsely filled with pedestrians and an occasional passing car. Simple. Unassuming. Life slowed down.

And in just a couple of days, we will move from our guesthouse in Nuku'alofa to the small, rural village of Fatumu on the eastern side of the island to live with a Tongan host family for 8 weeks of training. So, I'm sure that the simplicity we've experienced here is only a shade of what is to come.

'I 'Ofa,

Location:Nuku'alofa, Tonga

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

We Made It!

Ya know that part on 101 Dalmations when the dogs want to contact Scotland Yard and begin barking messages to each other? Yep...roosters do it too, so it seems. There is one very near our window this morning who has crowed his voice quite hoarse in his attempt to let all the other roosters know it is morning time. After he crows a half dozen more or so will reply, and then for the next 30 seconds there are continual crows happening further away. Then, back to our friend, who sounds as if he is perched right outside our window. I guess he is the commander of all things morning. Really, no sarcasm at all, it is nice to wake up to (though I may wear earplugs tomorrow).

We made it to Tonga! Our flight landed Tuesday morning around 11:00, and we were greeted incredibly by the current peace corps volunteers and staff. We love our team, and our anxious to get going on this whole thing-there is so much to learn!

Love to you all and more later!