Sunday, October 28, 2012

Mark's Nerdy Language Post

I can't write honestly about my time in Tonga without talking about the Tongan language. Like most Peace Corps Volunteers, the thought of learning to speak a new language was really exciting to me. And, since I was already an English grammar nerd, these feelings have only multiplied; it truly is one of my favorite aspects of this experience. This being so, I've decided to write a really nerdy blog post about the Tongan language. It may be be boring to some folks, but perhaps other language nerds will appreciate it...

What makes Tongan somewhat difficult to learn:
- When a noun is the subject of a sentence, the syntax is Verb + Subject + Object, instead of the English Subject + Verb + Object. This may sound simple, but making that switch in your mind when you're speaking is extremely difficult...
- The possessive pronouns are divided into two "classes," and every noun belongs to one of these classes. For example, most food is in the "eku class," so "my mango" is "eku mango". But, "my hand" is "hoku nima" because most body parts belong to the "hoku class".
- Different types of nouns have different ways you pluralize them, whereas in English, we almost always just add an "s" on the end. For example, "cups" would be written "u ipu" because "u" is the plural marker for most small objects.
- For all personal and possessive pronouns, there is a "dual class". So while we say "their clothes" for any plural number of people, in Tongan there are different words depending on whether the "their" is two or three+ people.
- One of the letters in the Tongan alphabet is called the fakau'a - a "glottal stop". Basically, when you see an apostrophe in the middle of a word, you have to stop the sound with your throat and begin again. So, even though "tui" and "tu'i" sound very similar, one means to believe and one means king.

What makes Tongan somewhat easy to learn:
- Because of the influence of English on the culture, many nouns have nearly identical Tongan equivalents. For example, newspaper is "nusipepa" and computer is "komiputa".
- To change the part of speech of a word, there is usually nothing you need to do to the word. For example, the word "va'inga" is the verb for "play" and the noun for "game".
- To ask a question in Tongan, you do not need to do anything to the word order. For example, "Na'a ne lele" could mean "she ran" or "did she run?" depending on your voice inflection.
- To change the tense of a verb, you simply add a "tense marker" to the sentence, instead of dealing with the endless hassle of verb conjugation. This makes life so nice...

- Ma'ake (pronounced Ma-ah-kay)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Site announcement!

Today has been a long time coming...Here's our big news.

We will be living on the island of Vava'u.

This is a crappy picture, but Tongatapu, where we are currently staying, is the southern island, and Vava'u is the bigger set of northern islands.

Katie and Chiara will be living on 'Eua.
Steph, Micheal, Wren, Peter, and Tynesha will be living on Tongatapu.
And Mark and I, Ryan and Abby, Mandi, Harrison, Jeff, and Joey will be be on Vava'u.

This is an even worse picture.....but it's the best I have right now. This is Vava'u. Neiafu is the main town, in the red box by the yellow roads. Our site is number 11-west of the main island group. We will be living on our own little island! This island was the one we were most hoping to have because it is the most rural-we are soo thankful and feel so blessed! We will update with more info soon, but for now just wanted y'all to know!

* we were told today that due to security reasons, we aren't allowed to post the name of our city on our blogs. If you are curious, shoot us an email, or look at a map and figure it out. ;)

- The Coops

Sunday Lunch, Tongan Style

If you've wondered about traditional food here, this is Tongan Fare 101. Let's talk about "Lu" (pronounced loo), the self-proclaimed favorite food and after church meal of choice for most Tongans. I knew that this type of preparation was pretty common among all the Polynesian cultures, and this is Tonga's particular version. This last Sunday, we broke out our camera for the cooking process so that we could share it with you.

Lu starts with a stack of leaves from the taro plant, which remind me a lot of collard greens in the US. Then, you make a cup with the leaves and add coconut milk, onions, and some kind of meat. This is then further wrapped in foil or banana leaves and cooked in an "umu" - the famous Polynesian underground oven that is heated by fiery hot rocks. Some umus are the picaresque pit in the ground, but some (like ours) are just small holes lined with tin, to promote further use. Here is ours:

Alissa preparing the taro leaves with Vaiola, our host mom:

Momma and Poppa:

Maile chopping some chicken and fish, and Luisa peeling some mango:

In my opinion, the coconut milk is the most hardcore part. This ain't your store bought, processed, canned version; this is the real deal. You begin by cracking open and grating some brown coconuts (using a tool that could couple as a medieval mace). The pictures don't do it justice, but our brother Muli is an absolute machine at it.

Then, you make a sieve out of some fibers from the outer shell of the coconut (kind of a homemade cheese cloth, if you will). Some hot water is then added to the grated coconut, and you use the sieve to squeeze the coconut like crazy, one handful at a time.

So, the coconut milk is actually the grated meat, pressed with water (not the liquid found inside the coconut itself). I tried my hand at it, but Muli said I was fu'u vaivai (too weak). He was absolutely right.

Here's the finished coconut milk and the assembly of the Lu:

When everything is done, the wrapped Lu and some whole root crops are put into the umu, and the umu is covered by tin and burlap sacks. Then, it's off to church while the food bakes. The finished product makes for a huge, delicious, pre-nap Sunday lunch.

Come visit and try some Lu!

- Mark


This is 'Ofa. 'Ofa means love in Tongan. We love her. She gives the best hugs, and is my favorite little voice to hear say "Ma'ake" (Mark's Tongan name).

Those plates with the white stuff in them? Breakfast last Sunday. Delicious coconut milk and sugar rice (The Tongan word for rice is lice. That's thrown me off a number of times). Try to eat a plateful of that and not nap during a 2 hour church service.

The living room in our house. We've never seen anyone in here. I've mentioned before that the garage acts as our kitchen/living room. We think there are two reasons for this : it is stinkin hoooooot in the house, and, Tongans love to be with people.

The first semester of my junior year, Elise and I decided that we would always leave the front door of our apartment open. We wanted to talk to everyone that passed, and wanted people to feel comfortable coming over/in whenever they wanted. We literally tied the door open every morning...and we made a ton of friends. Our house became home to a lot of people. That semester is one of my favorite times in life. (do notice that it lasted only a semester- people are hard!). Tonga is this. It is beautiful and challenging, and the reason why stuffy living rooms like the one pictured above are hilarious.

I have no idea why not one, but two, of these beautiful sensual statues stand proudly in our living room.

I will have to be artistic here. These are drawings I made for a rhyming memory game I used while teaching a few weeks ago. Please notice the girls hand. (no, I did not draw the frog, obviously). Would someone like to send me a simple drawing book?!

- Alissa

A Few Signs that Culture Shock is Wearing Off

At First: People here are so mean to dogs...I can't believe that some folks actually eat them regularly.
Now: When we walk through some parts of the village, I carry a big stick, just in case a group of dogs decides to turn on us. I can't say that I'd mind much if some of the nastier ones wound up on the dinner menu.

At First: The ants here are crazy...they can hunt down and immediately cover any sweet thing within their reach.
Now: If there are only a couple of ants in my sugar spoon, I'm totally fine stirring them right in to my tea. I've seen hundreds invade the sugar bowl.

At First: It's a struggle to formulate even one sentence in Tongan...
Now: When I talk to family on the phone, my gut reaction is to speak Tongan.

At First: Seeing a medium sized piglet being roasted over the fire makes me so sad...
Now: More crispy pig skin, please.

At First: I miss hot showers...
Now: Nothing feels better than a cold shower after our morning run.

At First: A new shirt into the laundry pile every day...
Now: I've only worn this one three times this week. It's definitely not smelly enough to wash yet.

At First: When you raise your eyebrows to say yes to me, I just think that you're confused...
Now: Why waste the effort to nod your head when a quick eyebrow raise will do just fine?

At First: It's a bummer living in the southern hemisphere when it's Fall in Colorado...
Now: Mango season is starting! Fiefia!

- Mark
(Alissa still isn't 100% ok with ants in her tea)


I eat somewhere between 5-12 cookies everyday. Except for days like today, when I only ate two...but I had cake for breakfast and lunch, so that evens it out.

Yes, I can still fit into my clothes.

I walk somewhere between 3-8 miles everyday. This is why I can still fit into my clothes, and the reason my feet are disgusting.

In Tonga, if you don't like something, you hiss like a cat. This is one aspect of integration that I wish Mark weren't so eager to pick up.

Every night after our host father has finished eating- he lifts his shirt up, up above his hoohoos, and rubs his belly. I find this uncomfortable, hilarious, and intriguing. ( it is actually against the law for men to have their shirt off in public...the real Tongan law. Crazy!)

Riddle me this....Though the Tongan female dress code requires covered shoulders and below the knee length skirts, Ngaaki (grandma), frequently performs her fakekaloa (store) duties/transactions while wearing only a towel.....

It is getting hot, it will get hotter. We are wet most of the time-our hands, faces, everything...a constant flow of sweat. Though I was surprised by how often I wore my fleece in our first month, I miss those days already...laying in bed, dripping...really sucks.

Earlier this week we went with Sione to pick up Vaiola from work. He decided it was beneath us to sit in the bed of his pick up truck, so he put two folding chairs in the back and we sat on them. I felt like the queen of Tonga on my pick up truck throne riding through town and bush, eating some ice cream, waving at the commoners. This is the life.

- Alissa

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Funny Story and More Funny Language

The other day, we asked our language teacher to teach us some Tongan swear words so that we could catch potential potty-mouthed students in our classes. I always have a stack of language flash cards in my pocket, so naturally, I made a card with these words and their English translations. Fast forward a couple of days, and Sela, a Tongan 5th grader and her mother were hanging out in our garage while we were studying. I noticed that the girl was intrigued by our actions, and I thought it would be a sweet gesture to let her see some of our flash cards. I'm sure you can guess what card caught her attention...

Being the more perceptive spouse, Alissa was the first one to notice Sela's stunned-excited-embarrassed-all-at-once face. She calmly asked if I had indeed written the kapekape (swears) on a card. I immediately realized what had happened and shot up out of my seat, just as Sela was informing her mother about the specific contents of my special card. Unbelievably embarrassed, I began to desperately explain to her mother in broken Tongan my reasoning behind the card, and that I had not created it to simply increase my conversational vocabulary. She was very gracious to me and told me that it was a good idea, as a teacher, to know the words. The whole family had a good laugh over it, but I was still pretty embarrassed. I usually don't have any good "most embarrassing moment" stories; perhaps I have a good one now.

In addition, here are some new funny Tongan language things we've learned recently:

In our unit on the body and health, Tulu told us that the Tongan term for body odor was "namu peka." I knew that namu meant smell, but I hadn't heard peka before. It turns out that peka is the word for bat (as in the hairy flying animal). So, when you comment on someone's poor odor, you are quite literally telling them that they "smell like a bat." I guess the flying foxes aren't known for their attractive scent.

Another day, Mandy was telling our group about something delicious she'd eaten for dinner, and that she was sorry she didn't bring us any. Tulu suddenly exclaimed, "Amenita! Kaipo!" Kai means eat and po means night, so we were a little confused. She explained this term (in a way that all of us found hilarious) by saying that Amenita was "eating on the sly". Apparently, it's a big no-no to eat in a sneaky manner and not share with others. To this day, we still laugh about Tulu, a non-native English speaker, using the term eating on the sly...So, so funny...

- Mark

As simple as toast

Sunday's are special here in Tonga, different. It is, truly, a government mandated sabbath.

Which means for me:
No bus or taxi service into town. I am not leaving Fatumu, come what may.
No laundry, better get that done on Saturday, or you are going nama peka.
No exercising, so, if you put on your running shoes, and try to convince others you are just Eva peing, they will follow you to ensure that you don't break the law. (as per yesterday).
No thing to do. People sleep all the livelong day.
Cold Lu.

On Sunday afternoons we always eat Lu for lunch. Someday soon we will post about it. It can be either incredibly delicious, or horrifically disgusting. It is a surprise basket and you never know. 75% of the time, I really enjoy it, but...the other 25%-watch out! However much I like warm, straight from the umu Lu, cold Lu is another story altogether. Go ahead and swap those percentages.

As you might have guessed, cold, leftover Lu ,is the go to Sunday night dinner.

Last night I was not feeling it, and as luck would have it, it seemed they had other dinner options in mind for us. As our host parents discussed dinner for mark and I in Tongan, mark was brave enough to suggest something small and simple. I couldn't believe my ears when our host mom suggested toast. Quickly I stated, " oku ou sai ia toast!" - I like toast! As I thought about crispy, buttered bread, my stomach rumbled joyfully. Oh, what a wonderful sabbath.

As Vaiola began to cut slices of bread and warm a packet of butter in a bowl of hot water, mark asked how they make toast here in Tonga. Silly mark, "with a toaster", Vaiola replied. We all laughed. Of course, we didn't know they had a toaster.

But then...out comes a snackster, and a can of spaghetti-os. And not only is the snackster covered in dried, hardened, old spaghetti, but a lizard crawls out. And then the making of "toast" begins. A scoop of spaghettios, the buttering of the INSIDE of the sandwich, and in the snackster it goes. The infamous spaghetti sandwich. (which I truly find delicious, please try it, the crispness is just wonderful). It's just...sometimes when you expect one thing, it's hard to adjust to another....

(nick is the only other person I've ever met that appreciates the snackster as much as I do. This post goes out to snackster lovers everywhere!).


Church fundraiser or wild dance party?

Oh tonight, where to start?

Sometime last week or so, Mandi was asked to learn a special dance for an upcoming concert. As news of her participation in said upcoming concert spread, who else do you suppose was asked to participate? Now, if you know me, I'm not much one for any onstage performance. I don't sing, I don't dance, I dread the that leaves ...nothing.

At dinner one night it was decided that mark and I would sing. (the particular dance mandi was performing is a dance done by single girls, so clearly I couldn't dance). Though I persisted that I could not sing, and that I cried when I had to perform in front of people, it seemed my host family was okay if I cried, as long as it was in front of people whilst singing.

Mark had the great idea to get a group of PC girls to sing a small backup part to a song he could play on the ukulele.

Fast forward to today, concert day. During our lunch break, mark and six of us girls practiced our sweet little song, with sways and claps and everything. The PC decided to make this a somewhat official event, and provided transportation for everyone, and a few staff members came.

Now, the event didn't even start until 8...which is pretty much my bedtime here in Tonga. (and when I say start, I mean that was the scheduled beginning time, but we were on Tongan time, which meant it didn't start until 9, definitely past my bedtime). The "concert" was a youth group fundraiser, and it was, in short, amazing. The youth group performed dance after dance, opening, hilariously enough, with God is Good...a song from way back in the day. Jernigan, dad? That, however, was the only church song in English...the rest were really cool, and the dancing incredibly impressive. Though we are technically not allowed to be in the youth group since we are osi mali, we are definitely planning on getting involved, mainly to learn how to dance. :)

How is getting your groove on a fundraiser, you ask? you dance, by yourself or in a group, if people like how you shake your stuff, they stuff money down your shirt. If you are confused about how this fits in with this extremely conservative Christian culture, don't worry, so was I....but it's awesome! Our singing song earned a pitiful $80, but Mandi's dance earned $400! I learned later that the total for the night was over $3,000 so...definitely consider it for your next fundraising event.

Of course the night could not be complete without us being dragged up in front of everyone and forced to dance. Again, a struggle for me. If I learn anything during my time here in Tonga, it will probably be to get over myself. Oh how difficult for me to stand with a handful of other people and shake my hips! But I did it (okay, begrudgingly at first, but then someone told me I needed to dance like I was having fun so that snapped me out of it!)

All in all, a fun night! We came home early, at 1230! Everyone else didn't make it in until 2 am! This youth group sure knows how to party!! And I can't wait for the next youth group fundraiser!

- Alissa

Friday, October 5, 2012

Primary school

This week we all got our first opportunity to plan, prepare, and teach a lesson at a Tongan school. Those of us that were working at the Fatumu primary school had one hour teaching slots. I was a little nervous, but my lessons went great. It was great to be in a classroom again!

Do not be misled by the small class size. In Fatumu most teachers teach multiple grades at once, but the classes were separated for our practicums.

Mark teaching poetry to class four.

Reviewing poetry with class five

Thumbs up if these words rhyme!


A Unique Anniversary

As is probably typical in most foreign "host family" situations, we've experienced a crazy amount of hospitality. Though some things are very new and, at times, difficult to get used to, they really have spoiled us. A wonderful and humorous example of this was our anniversary- it's a story that has to be told.

Tongans love to celebrate, but they really don't have as many "big days" as we do. Normally, they don't do much to celebrate most birthdays or wedding anniversaries. But because they knew it was a special day that is usually celebrated in America, our family put together a little morning treat for us. I'm sure that their planning conversations involved piecing together their limited knowledge of how Americans celebrate and doing their best to improvise with what they had. In my mind, I compare it to to the Way's gift of an unbelievably huge number of Macdonald's breakfast sandwiches when we stayed the night with them. Equally hilarious and touching, simply because their only motivation was to make us comfortable and bring us joy.

So on the morning of our anniversary, we were awoken by the voice of host mom softly calling out "congratulations"- primarily for the purpose of letting us know that they were about to enter our room, whether we wanted them to or not. Then while we were still half asleep, we were greeted by our host mother, father, and sister with gifts of flowers, a card, juice with wine glasses, and a cake. The cake was affectionately inscribed with the message "Inversary Cake," which is, of course, hilarious, but also undeniably logical when you think about it. All In all, it was quite a unique, enjoyable, and unexpected breakfast in bed. Even though we weren't able to go to dinner, see Over the Rhine, or go on any other romantic outing, we still felt loved and loved each other all the same. And even though this is only our third anniversary, I'm sure it will be among the most memorable.

Ta'u tolu 'osi mo lahi 'aupito ke ha'u (three years down and many more to come)

- Mark


A lot of you have been asking about language class- how it's going, what we are learning, etc. (we love it when you guys have questions-keep 'em coming! You can email them to us, or comment on a blog post).

Mark would say that learning Tongan is his favorite thing right now. He is amazing at fact, we are both in wonder at his ability to understand and piece together language. He is definitely gifted linguistically. I am so proud, and oftentimes jealous. ;) He has gotten more than a few compliments, and has almost surpassed some people that have been here for two years... So, ya, when I say he is good, I mean that he is really good.

We have language class for three hours every morning. We have covered time, weather, directions, greetings, past/present/future tense, family, and a host of other grammar points. This coming Friday we have our first language test. It is really only practice for the big test we have at the end of training, but I'm a little nervous nonetheless!

Our host family can speak English really well, but for the most part they do an awesome job of speaking Tongan, and forcing us to do the same. What they say is true, language learning is faster and easier when you are completely surrounded by it. Already, some words come out quicker in tongan than English...what will we talk like in two years...probably a hot mess of Tonglish!


3 years?!

Absolutely cannot believe that it's only been/already been three years!

In these three years:

1. We have had over a dozen jobs.
2. We have lived in three places.
3. We have had two pets.
4. One of us has wet the bed once.
5. We have laughed til we cry, and literally cried til we laugh.
6. We have been really really angry at each other, and have even gone to bed that way, but have never spent the night sleeping apart because of it.
7. We have had to sacrifice for the other.
8. Of the 36 months we have been married, we are going on 27 of those months spent living with other people. Holy moly!
9. We have watched the entirety of 30 Rock, Arrested Development, Lost, Friday Night Lights, Prison Break, 24, Scrubs and more. (Netflix is the new cable!)
10. We have followed gender norms-(like mark is the breadwinner and still doesn't seem to know , not only how to start a load of laundry, but also that dirty clothes go in the hamper and are not to be strewn all about on the floor). And we have created our own norms (like Alissa pays the bills, and still doesn't seem to know, not only how to cook, but also that if you want to make a shepherds pie, or something of the sort, you DO have to cook the ground beef prior to baking it in a casserole dish.

And since our arrival to tonga, we have already had to grow and support each other in new and difficult ways. We have seen some lower lows, some higher highs, and some uglier versions of already unattractive aspects of us. We are ready to take Tonga by storm, and pretty prepared for Tonga to take us by storm.

This year will be the first since our wedding night that we don't celebrate our union serenaded by Over the Rhine. Truly heartbroken by that. Here's to a new year, and new traditions!



Crispy- pangungungu

Fa'u, fa'a, and fu'u ..always getting them confused.

Of course :
Mahi means sour. It also means underwear. Mahi Mahi could mean sour underwear, or could refer to the fish. Oh and of course, mahimahi also means slightly as long as that's clear.

- alissa


Tonight during dinner, we were suddenly all piled in the truck and following Muli, who was driving the tractor, down the windy roads of Fatumu towards the beach. Halfway there the truck was parked in the middle of the road, and Sione jumped out and disappeared into the uta.

After a minute or two of hesitation with the palangis (white people) , our other host siblings plunged in after them...we followed. Down a dark mud path we quickly walked, until we realized the tractor was headed back out, so out we ran (with the tractor right on our heels). The question "what is happening" went through my head approximately 20 times in this 5 minute scenario.

(an aside: radical face "Welcome Home" will forever take me "home" to that bright blue house our first summer...sitting in the backyard on our soon-to-become white trash nasty couches....home is that song, that house, that summer, with a cool breeze in the air, a fire going in the fire pit, and a hot dog in hand. Thanks for making that home, you special group of people that knit together those magical moments. When I'm an old lady and talk about the good ol days...somewhere in there will be this story, and you people.)

What was happening is this: community at its best, what God envisioned when he thought up the church, sharing.

We eat every meal in the garage, and the garage doors are never closed. And to every person that walks by, every single person, "come eat!" is yelled. Now, this town Eva pes like no ones business, so that's a lot of dinner invitations.

Our family owns a generator and some sort of air compressor...every other evening, it seems, someone is driving by and needs their car tires aired up, etc. Our family stops everything, in the middle of dinner, to meet any need, to help, to share.

Tonight was no different, a car stuck in some mud in the uta, and our tractor the only thing that can pull it out.

I have so much to learn.

Opening up and learning to Vahevahe,