Tongablog

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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:)

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