Thursday, June 13, 2013

Loto Kolo

As the sun slowly falls over the tall swaying coconut trees, the long green grass, a green so green that it is the color of life itself (a grass that tries in vain to immerse our small island into uninhabitable jungle once and for all), and finally, the blues and reds and pinks and oranges of the most vibrant and lively flowers you have ever seen-something magical begins to happen.

I walk down the dirt path, shouting "Malo e lelei" and "fefe hake" as I go. I come into the clearing-a wide, circular field. The islands only "store", a small lumbering hill, the Wesleyan church, and bush, make up its' boundaries.

The male "youth" play volleyball. They have cut down two trees, stripped them of branches, and staked them into the ground. Every night someone brings the net, and they tie it up. They range in age from 16-25 ish. They are brown and muscular from all their long hours working in the unforgiving Tongan sun.

Someone's cell phone is playing music-a reggae version of an Adele song, or "Azonto" (my favorite song).

In the field next to the volleyball net there is one odd rectangular patch of cement. On this the younger boys watch the youth in awe and envy. They hold a rugby ball, and sit shirtless. Skinny, strong little bodies, accustomed to hard work. They're hoping when the youth switch to a rugby game, that maybe there will be an odd number and they can play too. Sometimes it works that way.

But usually they get bored, so they run up that lumbering hill to the Tree. A massive tree with gnarly roots growing up out of the ground. They play a loud game of marbles, with rules I have yet to figure out. They shriek with laughter , and usually in anger as so-and-so cheats and so on. They are loud and physical, tumbling all over each other like a bunch of little puppies.

Some of the women are sitting on a mat at the top of the hill. They laugh and watch. Shout warnings at naughty kids and tell the days gossip.

The younger girls are huddled, usually singing or talking. They take turns giving piggy back rides, jumping rope, and practicing Tau'olungas, which is a traditional Tongan dance performed mainly with one's hands.

The rest of the women are sitting outside the falekaloa (the store), also swapping gossip- Chatting about bad weather, food, chores, and kids.

The babies, the little ones, run to and fro. They shake their booties to whatever music is being blasted. They cry because someone's dog finally bit them after they'd teased it for 20 minutes. They throw rocks, or sing songs, they call my name, or Mark's, over and over again. They entertain themselves.

From the top of the hill you can see all of loto kolo, the center of town. You can look down and out across the ocean. The sky seems so big and puffy, yet near and touchable, you can actually tell the world is round, you can see that globe shape.

Standing there, it's easy to see how this island is a paradise. It's beauty- both natural, and in the communal ties of the people, is a blessing.

I am a part of it, if only for this short while.


Malimali means SMILE!

There's a really cool organization here called the Malimali Program. They visit primary schools and teach the students the importance of brushing their teeth. Some of the other volunteers have Malimali volunteers/staff at their schools weekly, but we had yet to have them visit until last week.

They had extra staff with them this last week, and we're able to examine, clean, and seal the back teeth of all our students.

As our village is a bit of a hike from the wharf, my students carried the school benches down to the beach and we all set up shop there.

The kids were an interesting mix of excited, curious, and nervous.




My class one students also received shots. They didn't love it.

(I just love his hair-he is the quintessential boy in every way. I want one just like him).

Any given day....

The church bells ring at 5:00 am for the morning service. (we definitely don't get up for that).

Morning classes start at 6:00 am for the older students. ( they are preparing for a secondary school entrance exam, which is both extremely difficult, and quite important. Their scores will impact how good of a school they get in and attend the next 7 years..a lot of pressure for an 11 year old.) The test is in October.

We get out of bed sometime around 7. We eat breakfast (we have three options- oatmeal, omelets-mark wants me to make sure you know that it is without cheese-or, if we're lucky, cereal with warm milk powder) together (which is a huge blessing!).

Mr. Cooprider quizzes me on my Tongan, and corrects all my incorrect sentences.

(our current words. We try and update every other week, but sometimes we are lazy. Funniest current word-fakapuopuaka. This word means dirty like a pig. If you haven't lived around pigs ever, you can't know how big of an insult this is. I find them most disgusting when they are squealing for their food)

(my students have been watching through the windows, in the doorways, and occasionally-because mark forgets the boundaries-from in the living room. Trust me-boundaries are important! Last week I was, to put it gently, busy, in the bathroom. That didn't stop three different kids from coming and asking me random questions. Can't I even poop in peace?!)

The school bell rings, well, it is rung, at 830.

(the school bell)

Sometimes we have assembly, sometimes we don't.

Mark sets off on his walk to Matamaka. I clean up breakfast.

I teach my class 1-3 (kinder-second grade) and my class 4-6 (third- fifth grade) before lunch.

Mark and his students

My class 4-6

I eat a quick lunch, then play with the kids during their 1 hour lunch break.

After lunch, the kids brush their teeth. I yell at them not to waste our precious water. Sometimes they listen, sometimes they don't. Sometimes the other teachers join in the yelling, sometimes I go it alone. Last week I lied and told them we would return to America if we ran out of water. That scared them for a few days...

School is over at 3:20. Mark is usually home before or right at the end of school. We started po ako (night school) a few weeks ago. ( yes, these kids are in school way too much!) It starts at 5:00 two days a week.

The rest of the time we Eva pe ( wander around), read, work in our-or really-Mark's garden, play the uke, try to send text messages,lesson plan, floss, bake, stare at the ocean, try to remember the words to songs like "I'm yours", and talk.

We end the day reading ( currently Lost on Planet China, and up next, When Helping Hurts) together, then tuck ourselves into our mosquito netted bed, listen to the mice playing under us, and watch a tv show on our ipad (currently The Wire and Once Upon a Time).



Most of the women here usually spend their day weaving. Typically, they weave mats from pandanus leaves. The process for preparing the leaves is both time-consuming and difficult. Also, there are a number of different ways to prepare the leaves depending on what exactly you want to weave, and what color you would like the leaves to be. The women also weave fans, baskets, jewelry, and other handicrafts.

I have been wanting to learn how to weave a Tongan basket (to be honest, because it seemed the easiest to make, and arts and crafts really aren't my thing) so last week I went to one of the weaving circles and asked to be taught. (there are two public places in N that women gather to weave-the town hall, and the Wesleyan church hall).

The Tongan basket is woven from the leaves of a coconut tree. This basket isn't used as a decorative or "beautiful" item, but rather for work- usually to carry food home from the uta, or something like that. I had lots of help, but here's my basket (the leaves were green, but after a few days they dry out like this)

I'm pretty proud of it.

My lessons really paid off, because later in the week a bunch of people from the Mormon church came to fix up my co-workers house, which in some way or another involves weaving coconut leafs.

Everybody working hard

Finished product (I wove 5! :) )

I'm still not sure how exactly these will be added to Paea's house...more later! But here's a pic of his current house.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Island Politics

Since I imagine most people aren't well informed about the political system of Tonga, I'll give you a little glimpse. Tonga is one of the few remaining monarchies in the world. The king holds pretty much absolute power, and since most of the seats in Parliament are reserved for nobility, all the big decisions of the country are made by a select few. The king and nobles even speak their own distinct dialect of Tongan. However, the rulings of the king and parliament actually do not effect the lives of people in the outer villages much at all. We came to Tonga expecting the king to be a popular topic of conversation, but people simply don't talk about him much.

The "local government" if you will, has much more of a grassroots and traditional feel. Each island group is divided into districts with one representative to the national government, and each town elects their own "Town Officer". The Town Officer is a highly respected position within the community, and acts similarly to what I imagine a village chief would be like 200 years ago. Projects, disputes, development ideas, and any other important village matters are overseen by the Town Officer. And most importantly, he sits at the head table and gives the last speech at feasts. As is highly recommended as a good strategy for Peace Corps Volunteers, we have built a good relationship with our Town Officer and are sure to keep him in the loop and work with him whenever possible.

This last month, we got the unique opportunity to observe the election of a new Town Officer. Elections are held every three years, and once a TO has served for a consecutive 15 years, he is not allowed to run again. Sateki, our current TO, is very popular and respected, but this year, he hit his 15 year mark. So, it was guaranteed that we would have a new TO this year, and it came down through the village grapevine that three men would be running for the position. We were curious about the process, since it would affect us as volunteers, and when someone told me that there would be "campaigning", I was certainly intrigued.

But, as with all things in Tonga, things are done traditionally, respectfully, and in absolutely no rush. The campaigning that occurred was simply done in the kava circle - the same thing that happens every night. No debates, no slogans, no advertising. Just about a month before elections, there were a few faikavas in which at some point in the evening, a candidate would give a quick, five minute speech about their plans if they were to be elected. And as with all formal speeches, done at every single occasion big or small, they were received warmly and respectfully. Despite all mixed feelings about being here, the simplicity of village life will always be something I love.

Long story short, a winner was chosen a couple of weeks ago, announced the same day as the vote. It was the man that most people predicted to win. The two that lost were from the same church and supposedly the same family, so it seemed inevitable. (we're learning that we can really trace the whole village back to maybe 3-4 families) He begins his term in July, so we are interested to see how this change in leadership will affect things for us. Though, we are sure not much will change, as things in the village continue as they have always continued - slowly and steadily...



I'm moping about the house. Listening to Norah Jones, jonesin, badly, for a glass of red wine.

This weekend is a three day weekend. We'd planned to have everyone out here again. We were excited. I made snicker doodles.
We were going to head to town Friday morning.
We were going to buy onions and vegetables and oatmeal and rice- cause we're out.
We were going to buy an ice cold diet coke, because that's always important when you live without a refrigerator.
We were going to update our blog, and check our emails-touch base with the people we love and miss.
We were going to meet up with friends and they were going to ride back with us for the long weekend.
We were going to have lots of fun.


We live on an island.
And the weather is bad.
The wind is blowing and howling and creating fu'u hakohako weather to brave the seas in a tiny, old, wooden boat.
And I am very unhappy about my new weekend prospects. Which will look exactly the same as my weekday prospects. Which just isn't all that exciting.
Sometimes it's the little things.....

Old news, new pictures

On the day the solar was turned on, the group of solar workers, along with a few Japanese supervisors (remember, the Japanese funded the project), came to finish up and celebrate with us all.

I heard singing all morning. It was coming from the wesleyan church hall near our house.I didn't think much of it, as there are usually kava circles there, however, I did notice how early it started, but chalked it up to solar celebration. (an aside: the singing at kava circles is outrageously beautiful. I love falling asleep to the sound of a dozen men on ukes, guitars, and one banjo drifting over me in my bed. There's nothing quite like it.)

When I started hearing the loud cackling which can only be attributed to a Tongan woman, I knew something was afoot. I hurried over to the hall and found the men like this:

And the women and children like this:


I wasn't sure what we were all waiting for, but as there was nothing else to do- I joined them. We sang and mocked each other. Sat listlessly and hissed at the dogs to get out of the hall (all must obey except our buster, he is king in N.)

Then I saw them coming.

All the youths with those poor Japanese men. They led them in and paraded them around the hall. All turned and an enclosed dance floor was created. Women were kissing these great sports-of-a-Japanese-men. The women were, literally, picking them up and carrying them around. It was a sight to behold. I watched gleefully-happy to not be the oddest man out for once. How can you not laugh?

When everyone was settled- thank you speeches were given, the lights were turned on, and gifts were given to these men.

It was a good day! :) (sorry the pictures are bad-the flash on our camera is broken).


In my leisure

I have read near/just over 40 books.


To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I'd read this book before, but at too young of an age to appreciate it. This is a book about innocence and childhood, and parenting. Read it. If you've read it before and you weren't yet out of college-read it again. I cried, I laughed, I laughed til I cried.

Life of Pi by Yan Martel
Oh I could not put this book down! Partly, perhaps, because of my newfound adoration of the ocean. Nevertheless, it is a great story and asks some really interesting questions. In fact, if you are familiar with Rob Bell's highly controversial book entitled "Love Wins", it raises similar ideas. Read it. And, how's the movie?

The Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness in Africa by Josh Swiller
This is not the first book I've read by a returned peace corps volunteer, but it is by far my favorite. I can't tell if I like this book more because I'm a PCV, but regardless, it is fantastic. The author has so much charisma, knows how to tell a story, and, most importantly, has one heck of a story to tell!

Ender's Shadow by Orson Scott Card
What can I say? I'm not a sci fi nerd but the first book, Ender's Game, was life changingly awesome, and I couldn't help but be sucked in by this last book either. If you haven't read these two-give them a chance. Extra incentive- the movie is coming out sometime in the near future!

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Believe it or not, I had never read this classic. The book, besides making me laugh and cry and miss too dearly for words my mom and sister, actually made me want to be a better person. I too, whilst reading this book, strived to be like Pilgrim on this journey. What a wonderful book!

Promising books in my future:

The Good Earth by Pearl Buck
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas
Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan

Any suggestions?


Changes II

I'd like to think I'm a little more laid back.

(because...this is island time and island ways. And, I have learned the hard way, absolutely nothing is scheduled, or planned ahead for.)

I'd like to think I'm a more independent wife.

(because there was a time when, between marks two jobs, and my own responsibilities, I did not see much of my husband. Then, I was jealous of every minute with him. Now...I see him...always. It has been good for my heart, and it has allowed me to let go a little).

I'd like to think I'm a little less sensitive.

(because people here, due to cultural differences and whatnot, are constantly criticizing. If its not my horrible Tongan, it's that I'm gaining weight, or my bad singing. Im learning to roll with it).

I'd like to think I'm a little more open.

(because after awhile, I found that I was judging a lot of things I didn't understand. But learning a new culture, a new people, is just peeling layers....I've got a lot more discovering to do, there's a lot of things I don't understand here...but that doesn't mean I should wipe my hands of it, people, this experience/process).

I'd like to think I'm a more willing friend.

(because, to be honest, I've never been more lonely. But, here I am, as alone as ever, with an entire island of people that can't escape me, and whom I can't escape from. Friendships, on some level or another, are bound to happen.)

I'd like to think I'm less vain, and a bit more simple.

(partly because the one mirror we have is broken. Partly because I smell bad and am dirty lots of the time. Partly because of what the south pacific and mosquitoes do to ones skin. It's not pretty. A lot because I just don't have access to many "things" that complicate, or overcrowd, or accumulate, here on the island).

I am most certainly more patient than ever. Than anyone. In the whole world. If there was a guinness book of world records for patience, Mark and I would hold the title.

(because I have to wait, a lot. The record is 8 hours. Because nothing, ever, is on my timeline-that is a humbling thing. You spend a day completely at the whim of anyone else. It's hard....the need to be flexible and patient is mandatory. Oh..I've thrown my tantrums about it. But I've learned, the best thing you can do is just try and enjoy it.)

But, certainly some changes are negative.

I'm a sloppy, unmannerly, and greedy eater.

(because some of my eating habits have become a little...fakatonga. And because my greed for good food is unquenchable and I become an animal when I have access to it-particularly when I have to share it).

I'm a sloppy, unmannerly, greasy dresser.

(this is simple-I hand wash my clothes. If buster jumps up with muddy paws, and streaks my shirt-it stays, it stains. In fact, that did happen, 4 months ago. Those paw prints still stand proudly on my yellow shirt. Have you seen my husband eat? Every bite of food he has spilled and dripped down his shirt is still very much visible. So, we aren't clean. And on top of that, between weight loss and hanging our clothes on the line-nothing fits. Marks shorts fall off of him, my shirts...well, let's just say they over expose. When we go out to dinner with friends in town we look quite different than the other palangis traveling through on their super yachts- and has anyone seen marks hair recently? It's as long as mine! .... I actually think this island look suits him just fine...).

I'm beginning to be a sloppy, unmannerly, and dramatic english speaker.

( because I use English less, I am finding it takes me longer to search for words in that brain is constantly thinking, then translating, thinking then translating. It is exhausting. At night I fall asleep translating whole dialogues in my head. So that's one part. The other part is, I'm not getting to express the amount I'm used when I do get to say something, in English, to someone other than mark, it's dramatic. If I've been angered about something-I'm really angry. If happy- I'm through the roof).

I am, at times, less hopeful, more cynical, about this world and my dreams in it-about the reality of development and sustainable impacts in cross cultural work.

(because, I often ask myself, what will I leave behind here? What will stick? What stuck from previous volunteers? The answer is....not a lot. What do sustainable projects look like in Tonga, or anywhere? What does development look like after the "developers" leave? If I choose a life overseas, will I have friends? or will this loneliness be apart of my life? Will I always have to live without berries and tortilla chips or can something else be arranged?Lots of questions-good questions. If anything from these 8 months here, I better know what questions to ask myself to prepare for our future).