Tongablog

Join our adventure in The Kingdom of Tonga

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.

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2 Comments»

  Myra Luker wrote @

Very well stated!

PEACE
Myra

  Mom wrote @

I am so proud of both of you! Your campaigning from thousands of miles away is an inspiration to us back home.


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