Tongablog

Join our adventure in The Kingdom of Tonga

Archive for September, 2008

Change…

Scot and I really want to apologize for not keeping this blog better updated!  We really appreciate all of you who take the time to read about our lives here.  We PROMISE that we will have some updated photos soon☺

Exactly a year ago, we prepared for this journey.  Our cars were sold, our house was packed and we prepared to move to an island Kingdom that was a great mystery to both of us.  Now, we have settled into a bit of a routine here.  Our jobs are not dramatically different than our previous work in the States.  I spend most of my time in a classroom and Scot spends most of his time updating, repairing and teaching about computers.  We are enjoying the more “urban” landscape of Nuku’alofa, but I still keep in touch with former co-teachers and students in Ha’apai.  On Thursday nights, I’ve been going with a neighbor to the outer village of Nakolo.  We tutor both primary and secondary students in a small hut, constructed entirely by coconut fronds.  It is one of my favorite parts of the week.

Over the last month, we have told several Peace Corps volunteers goodbye.  With their two-year commitments to Peace Corps completed, several friends have returned to the States.  However, a new group of 24 Americans will be joining us on October 9.  We are all ecstatic to welcome them to the Kingdom of Tonga!   We recently had the opportunity to meet two former PCV’s, Sylvia and Rita.  This mother-daughter duo both served in Peace Corps.  Sylvia volunteered in Tonga and Rita volunteered in both Jordan and Ghana.  They came to Tonga on vacation, but brought suitcases FULL of gifts and school supplies for the current PC volunteers and our Tongan communities.  It was incredibly kind and generous. Their dedication to Peace Corps around the globe confirmed statements from leaders as diverse as George W. Bush and Queen Noor of Jordan, who have both described Peace Corps as excellent U.S. Foreign Policy.  Unfortunately campaign promises and lavish praise has not helped secure funding for the federal program.  Like many other organizations, the PC has recently fallen under dramatic budget cuts.

Due to our increased Internet access here in Nuku’alofa, I’ve been able to closely follow the American economy and election.  I’m sure that some people are dismayed that I am so far geographically removed; yet maintain such an active awareness of it all.  Shouldn’t I be sitting under a palm tree, drinking coconuts?!  Well, that is just not my style.  Nor should it be.  This election is such a crucial time for our nation.  Yet one aspect of it all that has really been enhanced by my current geographic location is that prior to living in the Southern Hemisphere, I did not truly grasp the scope of how much the rest of the world is interdependent with the United States.  During our May trip, I was shocked to see that the Number 1 News Story in Auckland, New Zealand was the N.C. Democratic Primary.  I also had no idea that the NZ housing market was suffering due to the domino effect of our own near collapse.  It really surprised me that Australian friends here in Tonga are following the U.S. Presidential election with the same intensity as I am.  And I was blown away by the fact that Tongan friends also have family fighting in the Iraq War, due to Tonga’s participation in “The Coalition of the Willing.”  They too expressed utter frustration and dismay about the War.  Our friends here, Kesi and Kataki, have a cousin fighting in Iraq.  I asked them what the soldier had to say.  Their faces were grim, and they replied, “He says it is hell on earth and asks us to pray for him.”

These experiences have further solidified what I already knew.  In this era, our world is intensely connected.  The U.S. cannot act unilaterally—when it comes to the economy or our military.  I read a Washington Post article online the other day that has me incredibly concerned.  When asked by a Spanish newspaper if Senator McCain would meet with Prime Minister Zapatero if elected President, he refused to commit.  I found his refusal to be utterly egregious.  Spain is one of our allies, a respected member of the E.U. and a member of NATO.  Their Prime Minister was democratically elected and Spain has been instrumental in the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and in rebuilding Haiti.  In my humble opinion, the answer to the question at hand should have been… OF COURSE I will meet with Prime Minister Zapatero.  This belligerent “We don’t need help from anyone who doesn’t 100% agree with our partisan politics” approach to foreign policy seems incredibly foolish to me.  And many members of the international community agree, as evidenced by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s support of Senator Obama, the thousands of Germans who came to hear Senator Obama speak in Berlin, and the regular dialogue I have with people here in Tonga (to name but a few examples.)
Here on the island of Tongatapu, I am literally thousands of miles away from Wall Street.  I have never claimed to be much of an expert on the economy, but I can’t help but pay attention now that the news of a $700 billion federal bailout has made it here.  I haven’t read the THREE PAGE REPORT (my high school book reports were longer) from the Treasury Secretary Paulson about why the bailout is an absolute necessity, but since I’m not an economist and the “inner details” are not available to the public, I guess I have to “take their word for it.” Of course I don’t want to see another Great Depression and I don’t want to see more economic suffering of the middle class and working poor.

It just seems ridiculous to me that Wall Street and the Treasury Secretary could ask for that much money, without there being some sort of federal oversight.  I just pray that Nancy Pelosi and Chris Dodd stay strong on their conditions.  The NY Times states, “The average overall compensation in 2007 for chief executives at 200 large companies that had filed proxies by the following March 28 approached $12 million.” I think we really need to set some terms to all of this, including CEO pay limits.  Through the chaos of the financial crisis, their salaries have grown.  I may earn next to nothing in the Peace Corps, but I still pay taxes!

There is an excellent article online, (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/feb/28/iraq.afghanistan) which interviews Joseph Stiglitz (a Nobel prize-winner in economics, an academic tempered by four years on Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers and another three as chief economist at the World Bank) about his research on the accurate cost of the Iraq War.  The TRILLIONS spent is absolutely horrifying.  Stiglitz breaks down the numbers.  The current spending in Iraq equated to, “8 million housing units, or 15 million public school teachers, or healthcare for 530 million children for a year, or scholarships to university for 43 million students. Three trillion could have fixed America’s social security problem for half a century. America is currently spending $5 billion a year in Africa.  Five billion is roughly 10 days’ fighting.”
You may be asking how the Iraq War is relevant to the proposed bailouts.  What is so seldom discussed is that the US doesn’t have $700 billion!!!   One aspect of Stiglitz’s research is that the Iraq War is greatly  funded by loans from China and Middle East oil money.  Does the federal bailout equal increased reliance on foreign lenders?! Do we really want an economy, in which we report to China and the Middle East?! It also gives the U.S. government very little room to criticize human rights abuses and religious extremism in those regions.
I hope Americans remember this bailout when they complain about federal social programs being ‘hand-outs’ and argue against safety nets by saying that people need to ‘work harder and make better decisions.’  I have one short story about a much- needed social program.  In Charleston, SC, I worked as a teacher and social worker at a residential center for homeless, pregnant teenagers.  Unfortunately all pregnant teenagers do not have the financial and emotional support that young women like Bristol Palin are lucky enough to receive.  This particular program was founded in 1897.  Due to state and federal budget cuts, my position became “part-time, no health insurance benefits.”  I found out this week that the agency is closing down for good.  It survived the Great Depression, but did not survive eight years of Bush.
So if anyone is reading, I’m asking you to stop and think about what is going on in the world.  Read Stiglitz’s report.   Ask yourself if you trust the candidate that voted with President Bush over 90% of the time.  It is time for a change.

Advertisements

Women and Politics…

The purpose of this blog was originally to inform friends and family in the States about our lives in the South Pacific island nation of Tonga.  Interestingly, my current reality is (in this moment) more defined by events taking place thousands of miles away, then by my daily activities here.  I suppose that some of this occurrence is due to the nature of timing.  As we approach our year anniversary of living in Tonga, what once struck us as curious and “exotic” now seems almost mundane.  The festivities of the King’s coronation have passed, and life has slipped into a routine.  We wake up early, go to work, do the shopping and housework, and fall asleep weary from the day.  It isn’t all that dissimilar from our lives in the States.  Of course, the subtle differences remain–  now a warm shower first requires a visit to the outdoor rain tank, then heating the water up on a stove, and filling up the “shower bag.”  The cross-cultural communication barriers are plentiful (and still frustrating.)  Perhaps now we have just gotten more accustomed to dealing with them.

And these days, I find myself (for lack of a better word) obsessed with the upcoming US Presidential election.  Despite my geographic location, I am an American first and foremost.  And this election affects me, as much as any other citizen.

I titled this blog post, “Women and Politics.”  The subject has been a passion of mine, ever since (approximately ten years ago) enrolling in an undergraduate, Political Science course with the same title.  The class was taught by Lynne E. Ford, author of “Women and Politics:  The Pursuit of Equality” and “Encyclopedia of Women and American Politics.”  It was in that classroom that I began to formulate my own opinions and theories regarding power and privilege, gender and bias, sexism and stereotypes.

In the last blog post, I wrote some about the women in my family and their participation in political movements.  I decided that my mother’s awakening to politics required additional details.  Her first campaign was in 1968 and she was 14 years old (not eight years old, as I previously mentioned– my bad.)  Her middle school Social Studies teacher gave her class an assignment, to write a paper on who they supported in the Nixon vs. Humphrey election.  Since she wasn’t sure, her dad (my grandfather) took my mother to the Nixon Headquarters in downtown San Jose, California and also to the Humphrey Headquarters a few blocks away to get some information from both of the candidates.  She liked Humphrey’s stand on the war and his social values. Fourteen year old Mary wrote her paper supporting him and got an A on it.

My grandfather then took her back to the Humphrey headquarters so she could show them her paper.  They asked her if she wanted to volunteer on the campaign.  She eagerly accepted, and worked on the phone banks and passed leaflets at nearby San Jose State.  On election night, the campaign invited her “to the big party at the fancy hotel” in San Jose.  To this day, she remembers ” having a fabulous time even though we lost.”

I love this story.  It makes me feel the direct lineage between my mother and myself.  I see a bit of my own spirit in that story, one that I undoubtedly acquired from her.  I also love the role her teacher played in nurturing the intellectual capabilities and curiosities of her students. I think of my grandmother, who was active in “The League of Women Voters,” and know that she too saw a bit of herself in my mother’s budding personality.

Today, I find myself revisiting the topic of women and politics.  Through the gift of “you tube,” we were able to download many of the Democratic National Convention speeches.  As I watched the montage honoring Hillary Clinton’s life (narrated by her daughter,) it was impossible not to feel a deep sense of pride in her wisdom, tenacity, and spirit of fortitude.  Her speech was unbelievably rousing, and I felt so honored to have a woman like Hillary Clinton as a “spokesperson” for Democratic women like myself.  Michelle Obama’s fantastic speech inspired more notions of pride and solidarity.

And then McCain’s announcement came.  Sarah Palin as VP.  And like many Americans, I was stunned.  And then horrified.  And then I became angry.  McCain’s decision to nominate Sarah Palin is such an obvious ploy to entice undecided female voters.  Of course I welcome increased participation of women in politics.  Yet Sarah Palin is a candidate who will not advance the rights of women.  She is fiercely anti-choice, and wants to deny reproductive choice to victims of rape and incest (www.naral.org.)

As the political pundits, bloggers, and comedians reeled over the announcement, so came the sexist comments.  Do I believe Sarah Palin is a poor choice for VP?  YES.  Do I believe Sarah Palin is too in-experienced to be VP?  YES.  But not because she is a very attractive woman who has chosen to have five children.  Attractive women are very capable of being strong, political leaders.  So are mothers.  Sarah Palin is a poor choice because of her positions on a myriad of issues such as reproductive choice, teaching creationism in schools, and environmental protection.  She is also a poor choice because she has no experience in foreign policy.  I’m sorry Cindy McCain, but living in Alaska does not make Sarah Palin an expert in Russian politics.

Prior to this announcement, I gave John McCain the benefit of the doubt.  I disagreed with him on numerous issues, but I believed that he was an American who first and foremost wanted to serve his nation.  I greatly respected his initiatives to normalize relations with Vietnam.  Yet after this VP decision, I honestly feel that Senator McCain is jeopardizing the fate of nation by potentially placing it in the hands of a grossly inexperienced person.  But I will say, I have yet to hear Sarah Palin debate.  I read a blog post today that proclaimed, “Do you honestly think Sarah Palin knows the difference between the Sunnis and the Shiites?”  It is DEFINITELY a valid question.  Yet the tone of it was riddled with sexism.  I don’t know if Sarah Palin knows the answer (obviously she damn well should), and none of us truly do until she has the opportunity to answer such questions herself.  Viewing the clip where she asks (on camera), “What exactly does the VP do everyday?” gives me a hint to the answer.  And all this once again makes me really angry at John McCain.  How dare he gamble with the future of our nation, in an attempt to secure votes?  He could have easily nominated a seasoned female Republican leader like Kay Bailey Hutchinson or Olympia Snowe.  Not that I love their politics either, but there is really something to be said for the argument that Sarah Pain does not possess the qualifications and experience for the VP position.

And Senator McCain and Sarah Palin DID NOT and WILL NOT break the glass ceiling.  Women still earn approximately 75 cents to every dollar a male earns.  Geraldine Ferraro (who ran as VP in 1984)  obviously didn’t break the glass ceiling then and it is going to require more than this nomination to break it now.  Just ask Lilly Ledbetter, who was a manager in a Goodyear plant in Gasden, Ala. A jury found that Goodyear discriminated against her in pay, giving her smaller raises than the male managers.  The House passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, but Republicans recently blocked it in the Senate. Obama supported the Ledbetter bill. John McCain argued that it was not needed.

My advice to the Obama/Biden team— Now more than ever, Americans need to see and hear Michelle Obama and Jill Biden on the campaign trail.  Hillary Clinton needs public acknowledgment of a prominent cabinet position in their future administration.  Joe Biden needs to be talking about his incredible initiatives with the “Violence Against Women Act,” which provides funding for domestic violence shelters around the U.S., and Obama needs to talk about his 100% approval rating from Planned Parenthood.  My vote is obviously going to the candidates who truly care about women’s rights.

If anyone is still reading this, thanks for listening:)