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Archive for March, 2008

1st Year Aniverssary, Sandy Beaches

Well today is officially our first year anniversary of being married, but we spent yesterday celebrating.  It wasn’t much, but it was absolutely perfect.  First of all, those who were at our wedding, can you believe that it’s already been a year since we were on the beach together?

At any rate we made arrangements to go to Sandy Beaches, which is a very small, quiet, and expensive resort on the north end of the next island north of Lifuka called Foa.  It’s run by a really nice German guy named Boris.  He usually only likes for his guests to be able to enjoy the beach there, but he made an exception for us. We started the roughly 6 – 8 mile bike ride in the morning and rode through the beautiful tropical vegetation we have grown accustomed to here.  There was one point where we started through a huge insect swarm only to realize half way through that it was a swarm of honey bees, which scared me to no end once I realized it.  Being surrounded by thousands of bees is not a pleasant feeling.

At any rate once we arrived at the resort we realized that there was almost no one staying there at this particular day so we had the place to ourselves.  We ordered  gigantic fishburgers and fries and some vegi spring rolls and a couple of beers.  It’s a rare treat to be able to have any of those things here because food is expensive and we make next to nothing.

We enjoyed the rest of the  day on the beach and then had a leisurely ride home right before sunset.  It was awesome.  Check out the pictures on page 2 of 2008 pictures.

The man with one arm…Diana’s.

Well there is not much that is new since our last post, but we did have a good Easter holiday. Lara and Trenton came up from Nuku’alofa to visit us this past long weekend. We had a really great time and we tried to show them as much as can be seen here in the short amount of time that they had. We ended up catching a ride to the south end of Lifuka and walking across to the next island south, Uoleva, at low tide. There are 2 “resorts” on Uoleva, (and I use that term loosely) named Captain Cook’s and Diana’s. We had stayed at Captain Cook’s a couple of different times since we have been here. Yet it is a bit expensive and we decided to try Diana’s this time. Unfortunately Diana’s has gone considerably down hill since the last Lonely Planet update because it was a wreck.

It was a considerable walk from the north end of Uoleva to Diana’s in which we planned on camping, but we had one Jica (Japanese) volunteer with us who want to stay in a fale (a house). Once we got there Phil and I walked over to an older Tongan couple sitting in the shade. The man had one arm and was very friendly. The woman had on a see-through shirt that was the talk of camp for the evening. They were both very friendly and showed us around the very disorganized and ravaged camp. He assured us time and time again that it would be up to par by next month and there are all sorts of Europeans coming to stay, which I think was either very optimistic or an out-right fib. At any rate, we had a great time talking in the full moon light and kerosene lamps. The next morning we gathered a type of shellfish on the beach, “pipi’s” as the New Zealander’s call them, Tongans call them “feingota”. We kept them alive in water bottles and brought them home in which we made a great pipi white wine pasta, a rare treat!!

When Karen and Lara went to Mariner’s to get the white wine for the sauce they told us that the man with one arm had just gotten out of jail for murder and that Diana’s was defunct. They had no right to the land and that the place was likely to be taken from them if they can’t secure proper rights to it. This was quite the eye opener. We had payed $10 paanga each to people squatting, one of which was a murderer. He seemed like a very nice murderer, but none-the-less …creepy. Well anyone reading the latest Lonely Planet, mark out Diana’s for now on your agenda and think about staying at Captain Cook’s, or even better bring a tent or hammock and camp somewhere.

On Monday, we left fairly early in the morning and Lara, Trenton, Karen, myself, and Phil rode to the north end of Foa. Foa is the next island north of here. The north end of it is particularly beautiful. As we were riding we met 2 guys from Ohio (they are everywhere, aren’t they Geoff) and a guy from Australia riding up to Matafonua where you can rent Kayaks. We just went up and hung out on the beach for a bit and then came back so Lara and Trenton could catch their flight….which didn’t happen.

Another aside for travelers, Lara and Trenton had their flights sold on Monday, even though they arrived at the airport an hour and ten minutes early. It was nice to have them an extra night, but it was frustrating for them I know. So arrive plenty early, like 2 hours I’d say. Although…. I heard that some World Bank people were supposed to come to Ha’apai in January and arrived at the airport 2 hours early, but the flight left 3 hours early so they obviously missed it. To their obvious irritation, they decided to not come at all. Things work different here and I’m not sure that westerners will ever get use to it. You just have to be aware.

Look for more pictures soon on the latest pic’s page.

A week of “ups and downs…”

It has been awhile since we have posted any new information, so I thought I would fill you all in on our week.  Honestly, it has been one of the most challenging times since beginning our service here.  As our photos show, we are definitely living in a geographic location of much beauty.  On this blog, we try and highlight some of our favorite moments here and generally share our perspectives with optimism.  But life in Tonga is not always easy.  It is not a perpetual honeymoon, and every day here isn’t spent lounging on tropical beaches.  Most of the time, the days are long and hot and extremely tiring.  Tonga is incredibly geographically isolated, and as you could imagine– the culture often reflects that reality.  Some of our struggles come from the lack of variety in terms of food here… Fresh vegetables are a rarity.  The diet consisting largely of carbs is helping me to pack on the pounds, while Scot is continuously loosing weight.  For those of you who know us, neither of us are practicing Christians.  I would describe myself as an agnostic, and Scot is an atheist.  The constant barrage of Christianity is neverending here.  It is absolutely integral in Tongan culture and traditions.  I’m reminded of it at church every Sunday, when we sit through an hour of being screamed at by an old man on a pulpit.  I’m reminded of it at a high school field day, when the winning teams repeatedly burst into a chorus of “Thank you Jesus!”  And I am especially reminded of it when I am asked to explain to my students the significance of the Sabbath Day and to teach a lesson in English about the Old Testament story of the “wise” King Soloman who offered to chop an infant in half to keep two “silly” women from bickering about a baby (hopefully sarcasm is conveyed via computer screen.)

Anyway, I guess my point is that life as a Peace Corps Volunteer is full of challenges and stresses.  And this week, that stress increased significantly due to two more incidences of crime against PCVs on Ha’apai.  We are told that crimes here are few and far between, but since our group arrived here three months ago, we have collectively experienced five incidences- ranging from an attempted break-in and possible sexual assault, 2 occurences of theft, intimidation, and now physical assault.  I was the lucky one to experience the physical assault category.  While walking home from watching the sunset with Scot, a kid about the age of thirteen approached us.  We had never seen him before, and he proceeded to hit me very hard with a large stick.  Scot was able to restrain him and we later found out that he is supposedly mentally challenged.  It was really scary and I have a black and blue bruise on my leg.  Unfortunately the nearby neigbors refused to tell us the boy’s name or where he lived.  Because this is such a “tight-knit” culture, there seems to be a real desire to “protect” one another, regardless of the guilt of perpetrators.  We are at a point of really processing what happened, and assessing our thoughts and feelings around safety issues.

Thankfully, this week also included some fantastic moments as well.  As part of “World Environmental Day,” I was able to integrate environmental education into classroom instruction this week.  With the help of Kiki, (another volunteer here) we taught lessons about organic vs. non-organic materials, their biodegradable life spans, and recycling.  For most of the kids, it was the first time they had ever learned about the topics.  The education culminated in a recycling drive.  88 children (mostly between the ages of 10-14) from four different schools, met us on Saturday morning to collect aluminum cans around Pangai.  The response was overwhelming, and we filled up three large crates full of cans (literally thousands) to be recycled!  What was so exciting about the project was the manner in which the children responded.  They absolutely loved every minute of it!  We will upload photos from the day soon:)

Productive week, meetings with our supervisors.

This past week was quite busy and productive for us.  Three of our Peace Corps supervisors came to Ha’apai to meet with the current volunteers stationed here.  One of whom was Jeffrey Cornish, the Country Director of Peace Corps Tonga.  The meetings were really helpful and positive.  We were able to share some of our aspirations, thoughts and experiences about life as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ha’apai.   As a result of one of the discussions, I will hopefully assist the Peace Corps Nurse in teaching the rape and sexual assault training for future volunteers.

One question I was posed with this week was why in fact I decided to become a teacher.  That question (along with the fact that my 30th birthday is approaching) sparked another visitation of me mulling over my career path, life choices, etc.  As a kid, I wanted to be a Doctor.  I always knew that I wanted to “help people,” and I think that as a child the only profession that truly seemed to fit that calling was in medicine.  Later on, I envisioned myself in politics and policy making.  Yet during college, I had a hard time aligning myself with the electoral politics of the United States.  Instead, I moved towards the world of non-profit organizations and found myself most happy and fulfilled as a social worker.  Yet whether I was working with homeless teenagers or survivors of domestic violence, I always saw the link between poverty and educational opportunity.  Women often returned to abusive relationships because they did not have the educational background to financially survive as a single mom.  Quite simply, cleaning hotel rooms just wouldn’t pay the bills.  I worked with homeless youth who had been truly left behind by the school system and could barely read.  Without a solid education, their futures seemed bleak.  So I decided to become a teacher.  Besides the lofty goals and ambitions, I couldn’t help but be attracted to the teacher’s schedule of summers without work (the travel bug had already hit).

But teaching has taken many different paths for me.  I’ve taught homeless children at a shelter, pregnant teenagers and young moms, suburban ten year olds, Bolivian English students, and now Tongan students.  In an ideal world, students (male and female alike) in the US, Japan, Tonga, Haiti, and the Sudan would have equal educational opportunities.  If you will forgive the tired, old cliché, education is power.  So I guess that is why I am in the Peace Corps, teaching rural students to read, write, and converse in English.  I really enjoy the kids in the upper classes.  They are between ten and twelve years old, and are just so much fun.  As you can see in the photos, they are full of energy and enthusiasm.

However, teaching the five and six year olds is pure torture.  Thank goodness, I only have to do it for about an hour a week.  I never aspired to be an early education teacher.  It honestly takes a very special, patient person to work with kids that age.  And I am not that person.  Can I teach a college class on Gender Studies?! No problem.  World Geography to angry sixteen year olds?! Piece of cake.  But “Row, row, row your boat” to five year olds is enough to make me want to pull all of my hair out!

So that is a small reflection on my work experience here in Tonga.  The day to day of life is going well too.  We are continually amazed and in gratitude of all the wonderful care packages that find their way to us here.  We’ve adopted a cat, who is finally letting us pet her.  Our one year wedding anniversary is coming up, so we are planning on having an actual lunch at the one fancy resort here to commemorate the day.  Every evening we watch the sunset behind a volcano.  When night falls, it is impossible to go outside without being overwhelmed by the multitude of stars.  The Milky Way is entirely clear and visible and it feels as if you are standing in the midst of it.

Karen and her co teachers:

Karen and her co-teachers

Myself and Jeffery Cornish:

Myself and CD Cornish in my lab

Our New Cat:named puss puss (the Tongan word for cat)

Calico face

Molakai before:

molakai before

Molakai after:

molakai after

Also look in the pictures section at the new slideshow