Join our adventure in The Kingdom of Tonga

Archive for July, 2008

Shout to AK

So Ak from Lombard IL sent me a piece of prayer cloth from their revival in May.  I’m not sure what I am suppose to do with it so if you’d be so kind as to let me know.

A Tongan Poem…

I stumbled across a poem today, written by a Tongan poet by the name of Konai Helu Thaman.  I thought it was really powerful, and it reminded me some of the last blog post– regarding the “culture clash” between Tongan youth and their predecessors.  The title of the poem is “Cinema.”  Interestingly, there is no longer a movie theater in the Kingdom of Tonga.  November 2006 was a tumultuous time for this nation.  The capital, Nuku’alofa, was essentially taken over by riots.  There are conflicting opinions as to the cause of the riots– some of the unrest apparently stemmed from anti-monarchy protests.  Another contributing factor was Tongan hostility towards Chinese immigrants and their businesses.  Anyway, a portion of the city was burned down in a fire.  The movie theater was not a target of the riots, but fire has a way of spreading– and the theater was lost.

The Cinema (by Konai Helu Thaman)

HOLIUTI… the glaring letters sprawl across the unpainted walls;

the laughter and noise of children half-naked in body and mind

Waiting… anticipating the hideous eyes of guns and blood

The lens bringing these closer to their young innocent eyes.

Inside they giggle and tickle one another

Embarrassed by the embracing, the long drawn-out kisses

Rehearsed many times but the children do not know;

Words… what do they mean?

The sounds of guns and sirens make sense…

Well done!  Malie!  Deafening shouts annoy Europeans who sit upstairs

Drinking cokes, frowning at the ignorant natives

And fanning themselves impatiently.

The show is over and there is a faint murmur… ‘Ti eni’

There is a rush for the only exit

The children, half asleep hurry home to the warmth of their soft tattered tapa

Under which they will dream of rich palangis and brave cowboys

And will wake, laden with the wounds of Time

Tongan High Schools, Chinese Hair Salons, and life in Vaolola

Being a high school teacher is such a shift from the last two years of my life.  Although my original teacher training was at the secondary level, my most recent experiences have been with upper elementary students.  Now I find myself in a large, urban high school with classes full of teenagers.  I have to say, at my little primary school in Ha’apai– classroom management was rarely an issue.  The students were at that remarkable age where they loved learning, and being friends with the teacher was “cool.”  Plus, having a teacher from the States was such a novelty for them.   The high school students in Vaolola (a suburb of Nuku’alofa) have surpassed that stage in life, and have reached the lovely age of puberty.  I hope the sarcasm conveys itself… All of a sudden, classroom management is my biggest issue.  But I do recognize the immense challenges faced by this new generation of Tongans.  Most of these kids have been exposed to American dvds, video games, pop culture, and life abroad.  Their favorite musicians are Rhianna and Shaggy.  Yet they are growing up in an extremely conservative culture, that proclaims life choices should be based solely on Biblical guidance.  School starts every morning with an assembly, hymns, and prayers.  This week, one of the short sermons was directed solely at the teenage girls.  They were told to “remain chaste” and forsake pleasure for God’s will.  I couldn’t help but note that the responsibility to stay chaste was only a directive for the females, and the boys were never mentioned.

A massive component of the Tongan economy relies on money sent from Tongans living abroad.  I have since found out that the majority of my current students have one parent or both parents living and working in New Zealand, Australia, Samoa, or the United States.  Their children are now raised by the grandparents– an elder generation of Tongans who surely feel the cultural gap from their “wordly” grandchildren.  The school “handles” discipline problems and bad attitudes with a severe display of corporal punishment.  Students are literally beaten publically with a large piece of wood.  I’ve witnessed corporal punishment in Haiti and Bolivia.  Even growing up in the rural South of the US– my own elementary school implemented  corporal punishment. But I’ve never seen it to the extent it is used in Tonga.  So that is something that I am grappling with, and will continue to struggle with throughout my time here.

On a lighter note, a neighbor told me that I could get my hair washed, dried, and a scalp and shoulder massage at a Chinese Hair Salon for seven pa’anga (about $3.50 US).  It is winter here in Tonga, and the showers are awfully cold.  It has been pretty hard to brave the cold and wash my hair well, so I decided to splurge for it.  As we’ve probably already mentioned, there is a significant number of Chinese people living in Tonga.  I have to say, I have never had my hair washed quite like that before.  She used half a bottle of shampoo and did this really funky acupressure, all the while listening to blaring gangsta rap. The “salon” itself kind of looked like a garage, and the chairs were car seats taken out of a van or truck.  But I have to say… my hair has never felt cleaner:)

We love our new little house!  Our neighbors are quite diverse, especially for Tonga.  Next door, is an American woman who is seventy-five years old and teaching Math at my high school.  Around the corner is a man from Israel.  His father was actually Persian and his mother was from India.. He’s been in Tonga for the last ten years and has the most incredible vegetable and herb garden I’ve ever seen.  I left his house with two huge bags, full of fresh basil, green beans, eggplants, cilantro, and bananas!  I met another neighbor today.  She is a Tongan nun, but has been living and working in Bogota, Colombia for the last five years. We are happily setting in, but of course miss all of our friends and family back home!  Thanks for keeping in touch:)

A Brief Update and Education Need Request!

Well, we are starting to settle in to our new little home (and life!) in Nuku’alofa.  As I mentioned earlier, I am teaching high school at Tupou High School, in Vaolola.  My schedule includes a World Geography course, in addition to English classes.  As I started reviewing the syllabus for the Geography course, I was stunned to see that the first six weeks of the term are all about the solar system!  I have no idea how this topic got included in “World Geography,” but I guess that is besides the point.  Anyway, there are about two books in the school library (written in the mid 1960’s) on the topic, and school does not have access to the internet.  That is such a bummer, because the NASA website alone is full of amazing multi-media resources.  However– if I received one in the mail, I could show a dvd to the class on my lap-top.  If you happen to run across any interesting materials on space exploration, they would make a fantastic donation to the school!  After the solar system unit, we will cover the more traditional “World Geography” topics.  Yet there is a noticeable absence of a world map in the classroom.  Since I have no idea how to teach Geography without a world map (and I donated the one we had to the school in Ha’apai), I am also hoping that one will magically appear in my mailbox:)  Below is one of my favorite pictures of my Class Six students in Ha’apai.  Aren’t they cuties:)

The best students ever!

The best students ever!

Amazing Day

So, I got to the airport around 8 yesterday and was fine sitting there until 11:30 when the plane arrived, but just before a dog ran out onto the runway and was lackadaisically wandering about.  A couple of guys went out running after it and within just a few moments the plane landed, just missing the hungry hound.  It’s something you don’t see often and a nice change from the norm.

The takeoff was fast and there were only 3 of us onboard with the two pilots.  Within 3 minutes they started circiling just a few hundred feet off the water.  I never saw the whales they apparently did because I was too busy trying not to get sick all over the place from the dardevil acrobatics.

I waited for sometime at the airport for a ride and arrived at home quite happy to see my Kalini.  We did some unpacking and wandering around our new home and neighborhood.  It was nice to see after thinking about our new place for so long.

Yesterday being July 4th, there was a nice party at our directors house.  It commemorated more than the U.S. independance, but also the completion of Director Cornish’s house, his birthday, and the end of COS for group 71.  It was a great time!!  I wish more volunteers could have been there!

Today I got up early and managed to get my Mac working with parts I had sent from home, but sent here to Nuku’alofa instead of Ha’apai because we knew we were moving here anyway.  We have spent the afternoon shopping for all the great foodstuffs that are just unavaliable in Ha’apai like sesame oil, and nice veggies at the market.  It’s amazing to be here and expect many more posts to come because we now have bandwidth!!

Hello Nuku’alofa!

The past week has absolutely flown by at a rapid pace. I left Ha’apai after a two day farewell party hosted by my school. It was unbelievably generous, and an incredibly humbling experience for both Scot and I. Tongans undoubtedly wear their hearts on their sleeves, and honestly seem to love the act of crying. I’m not kidding—Tongans will cry (actually sob is a more accurate word) at the drop of the hat. Needless to say, upon our departure, the tears were flying in abundance. In Tongan culture, giving speeches is highly valued, so of course I had to give a farewell speech to the students and staff at the school. Of course I too got a little choked up, and Scot informed me that everyone seemed extremely pleased (almost gleeful) by my sentiments. I was relieved because I was afraid that my blurry eyes and wavering voice would not be deemed as an adequate display of emotion. An entire table spilling over with goodbye gifts was presented to us, which looked like the inventory of a Tongan handicrafts store. We will always treasure the gifts of tapa cloth (made from the bark of the pandanus tree), weaving, and jewelry. I left Ha’apai feeling very blessed by the opportunity I had to work with such talented, spirited students. Since my time in Tonga is far from over, I am optimistic that I’ll be able to see those students again and visit the little island of Lifuka, in the more remote Ha’apai group. Working with such kids as Funaki, Nafe, Tinalase, Paula, Feo and Siuala made me a better person and I really hope to cross paths with them again. Special thanks to Anne Kendrick and the students of East Cooper Montessori for their pen pal letters, which were thoroughly enjoyed!

I flew to Nuku’alofa solo, because Scot had some training to complete before he joined me. I decided to stay with our dear friends, Laura and Trenton, until Scot arrived. All was well and I was sound asleep in the guest bedroom, when I woke up with an excruciating pain in my foot. In my mind it went something like this.. “foot. Foot. FOOT!!!! FOOT!!!!!! Need ice to stop the stinging. NEED ICE TO STOP THE STINGING!!!!!!! I sprung out of bed and turned out the light, totally confused as to what was causing the horrific pain. And to my utter horror, there it was crawling around in the sheets. A Molokau. What has to be one of the grossest creatures on the Earth. Those of you not living in the South Pacific are probably not aware of Satan’s beast. This creepy crawly thing is kind of a cross between a centipede, scorpion, and small snake (they slither like a snake). They are known for their ridiculously painful stings. And there I was, in the middle of the night, feeling every second of it. I had no idea what to do, and limped to the kitchen for ice. Then I started repeatedly calling Scot, even though he was surely sound asleep on an island approximately 85 miles away from me. I’m not sure what I thought he could do to help the situation. I knew I needed benadryl and ibuprofen, but I didn’t know where Laura and Trenton kept medicine. Scot groggily answered the phone, and convinced me that I had to wake up my hosts. I felt horrible doing it, but quietly knocked on their door. Of course they got right up, found me the medicine, and Trent managed to slay the beast. Even he jumped and yelped a little when he saw the size of it. Let’s just say that I am sleeping with socks on and giving the bed a thorough checking for the rest of my time here.

The following day, I met with the Deputy Principal at Tupou High School. I’ll be teaching Junior and Senior English classes, and possibly a geography class as well. It will be a large leap from my time in the Tongan primary schools, but more along the lines of my teacher certification and initial experience. I was then at the docks until two in the morning, unloading all of our possessions from the boat. That goodness Viliami and Fonua (two Peace Corps staffers) were there to navigate the incredibly hectic and confusing process.

Scot finally joined me yesterday, and we are settling into our Nuku’alofa home.  I have been telling people that it is like a little dollhouse.  It is VERY tiny, but the bathroom and kitchen are inside—so that is nice change. Last night, our Peace Corps Director (Jeffrey Cornish) hosted a 4th of July party at his lovely waterfront home.  It was a blast, but I spent most of my time looking at his photography.  He served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Russia, and later went on to work as the Director of Action against Hunger in Uganda and at a refugee camp in the Sudan.  His photography was incredibly powerful and often heart wrenching.  Some of it reminded me of Haiti, but also made Scot and me long to visit Africa.  But for now, we are settled into our Nuku’alofa home and getting ready to start work on Monday!