Tongablog

Join our adventure in The Kingdom of Tonga

Archive for June, 2008

Goodbye Ha’apai

Well, as some of you already know—Scot and I are transferring sites and moving back to Nuku’alofa.  The professional opportunities in the capital really matched our goals and interests for our Peace Corps experience.  Scot will be primarily working with the Tongan Government on alternative/sustainable energy initiatives.  Tonga has received a large amount of funding from international sources to increase and implement wind energy, more solar power, and biodiesel production from coconut oil.  Additionally, he is hoping to help facilitate the creation of a recycling program for electronic waste.  Tonga is the recipient of philanthropic computer donations from around the world.  While the intentions may be good, the reality is that many of the computers sent here are hardly working—if working at all.  The power fluctuations and the heat makes the life cycle of these computers even shorter.  However, Tonga does not have the proper means to dispose of the computers.  What commonly happens is that they end up thrown in the ocean or buried underground.  Toxic chemicals and heavy metals from the computers then contaminate water sources and food sources.  These issues are potential projects for him in the future.

 

I will be teaching English at Tupou High School.  My teacher certification is at the Secondary level, so it will be nice to “return to my roots.”  There are NGOs in Nuku’alofa working on a range of issues, including domestic violence, teen pregnancy, HIV/Aids, and criminal deportee integration.  For those of you who know me- tapping into those communities also feels like “returning to my roots.”

 

Any transition is always a bittersweet experience.  I have loved getting to know the students at the Government Primary School in Pangai, particularly the upper elementary students.  I have a ton of respect for early childhood educators, because I have learned that my skills do not lie in that area!  The upper elementary kiddos make my day, everyday.  I love their personalities, their spunk, their smiles.  Although I will miss them, they truly are in good hands.  The school receives funding and donations from the Australian and New Zealand government, a Japanese volunteer teaches supplementary math classes on the abacus as well as origami classes, and the Tongan teachers are all well qualified for the positions.  Also, it is most likely that another Peace Corps volunteer will replace me in December. 

 

A very common phrase in Tongan is “Alu ki fe?” which translates as “Where are you going?”  It is one of the most common greetings when passing someone on the street.  At first it took some getting used to, and struck me as a nosey question.  I guess I am adapting, because now I ask it all the time.  Anyway, there is a moderate size Chinese population living in Tonga.  There are two stores owned and operated by Chinese families in Ha’apai.  Whenever I see my students around town, I will ask them “Alu ki fe?”  A lot of times, the response is “Alu ki China” or “I’m going to China.” Unfortunately, my explanation differentiating going to China and going to a Chinese Store seemed to get lost in translation.  So as Scot and I started packing up this week, we decided to donate our large world map to the school.  As the students pour over it, I have been pleased to see their successful identification that China is not, in fact, a store on our tiny islandJ

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Can you believe it is June?!

I find myself feeling a tad bit guilty every now and then, for not updating the blog more frequently. The truth of the matter is that time seems to move much slower here. Quite often- there is just not that much to say! But the blog is a great way of keeping friends and family aware of our daily lives and challenges— on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It is technically winter here, and often the days are cool and rainy. The respite from the sweltering sun is much appreciated, but cold showers now require a slightly longer pep talk! My classes at the primary school are going well. I mostly prefer working with the older students- ages 9 to 12. Their innocence is so refreshing. I had forgotten that there are children who can still be motivated by a high five! Their smiles and silliness keep me motivated, and I am always impressed with their diligence to work and study hard. The computer classes are going incredibly well. The kids love the interactive software, and we are able to teach supplemental English, Math, and Computer Skills three times a week. There was another funeral in our community this past week. Even though we had no idea who had died, it was expected for us to attend. To be honest, the funerals often cause some anxiety on our part. Not to be gross or too graphic, but the body is always in the room and all visitors are expected to kiss it. As you can guess, the bodies are not “prepared” at a funeral parlor. Sometimes the funeral (or putu in Tongan) goes on for days, so that family members living abroad can attend. Hopefully you get the gist of what I am getting at… Anyway, we managed to avoid kissing the body this time. Instead we just sat under a tent (wearing the traditional funeral clothing) with hundreds of folks. The entire process feels old, traditional, and sacred. There is something incredibly humbling about taking part in a traditional ceremony that has existed for centuries. I cannot even fathom how much preparation goes into organizing and implementing a Tongan putu. Everyone in attendance must be fed, so tea, cookies, and bread are constantly served in between meals. It is traditional to give food as a parting gift, and we left with an entire cake and a bag of raw meat (lamb, horse, and pig.) And I should mention that Scot looks fantastic in his tupenu and taovala- essentially a black wrap-around skirt and a large mat woven from coconut frounds! FYI- we changed the address on our blog to the main island in Tongatapu. Make note when you send all of those fantastic letters and care packages:)  Oh, if you are interested, we did upload some new pics from our New Zealand trip.