Saturday, October 30, 2010

Of Mice and Rats

As some of you may remember, I had a memorable rat/mouse incident last year, and to really come full circle, I want to share a few tales of my dealings with the rodents of Tonga in 2010.

Right before my parents arrived I noticed I was, once again, being invaded by rodents. I tried the usual remedies: keeping all food in the refrigerator, which just made my bread cold, and bringing over my neighbor’s cat, which simply resulted in cat poop in my house and two very long nights of Mui Mui and the cat crying and fighting. Sarah was in Tonga, so, unable to come up with another solution, I asked her to pick up some rat poison for me. She kindly did, and I set the blocks of rodent death up in my ceiling where the rats had taken up residence.

After a few days, I started to see results. First, the mouse droppings disappeared. Then, when I woke up one morning I was met with a giant dead rat on my bathroom floor. I screamed, called Lupe over, and we measured: 12 inches…ugh. We then both decided we did not want to touch it, so called for a high school boy who lives nearby to come and dispose of the rat. Fotu thought it was awesome and Tupou kept sympathizing with the dead rat and telling me how faka’ofa it was.

A couple of days later, there were no visible signs of rodent life: victory was at hand! However, that’s when I started to smell something. The first day it was faint, and I couldn’t quite place it. The following day, Lupe came over and, using our olfactory powers, we determined there was something very dead in my ceiling. Now, my ceiling is essentially plywood boards nailed over rafters, which makes it impossible to see up into it unless you take the boards down. Le’o was called over and told to bring a hammer, and Fotu and Tupou accompanied him. The five of us sniffed around my house and concluded the smell was coming from above the bathroom, the smallest room by far. We pulled down some of the boards, brought a chair over from the school, and using a mirror and flashlight tried to look inside, but it was dark, and we couldn’t maneuver around the toilet and get high enough up into the ceiling to find anything. Finally, Le’o decided that the only way to find the rat was to pick me up and have me sit on his shoulders to I could get up into the ceiling with the mirror and flashlight. I’m realizing now, while typing this that this story isn’t going to sounds as ridiculous as it actually was, but bear with me. Now, in Tonga, men, especially married men, do not really associate at all with single women, never mind touch them. For example, when Le’o and I walk somewhere together, we walk on completely opposite sides of the road. So the fact that he was picking me up was mortifying enough. Add to that looking for a dead rat with a mirror and flashlight in the ceiling of a small bathroom, and you may be able to get an idea of how absurd the situation was. After a while we still hadn’t found anything, and were about to give up, when Fotu found the dead rat: outside in the opening of the pipe that serves as my shower drain. The pipe had been conducting the decaying rat inside and up into the bathroom. I’ve never seem Le’o so embarrassed, or red, and after that, he didn’t even talk to me for almost a week! (Not in a mean way, just in a very Tongan and embarrassed way.)

My second (and hopefully last) rodent tale happened when my parents were here. Tim had gone for one of his early morning length-of-the-island walks, and Robin and I were making breakfast when I saw a mouse. I managed to trap it under a bowl in the bathroom but since neither of us wanted to kill it, I went over to the school and asked some of the boys to come and dispose of it. Well, this was too exciting an offer to pass up, and within minutes, all of the class 6 boys were sprinting toward my house, armed with sticks and rocks and wearing boxes and empty milk cartons on their heads; they had been playing solider. They burst in and immediately accidently set the mouse free and then spent the better part of a half an hour chasing it around my house, all of them screaming and laughing and giving detailed battle instructions. Fotu, of course, followed them- who’d want to miss out on this excitement!?- and was very helpful in shouting out exactly what everyone should be doing and when. Finally, after tearing apart the kitchen, they recaptured the poor mouse, and, holding it by the tail, marched out victoriously.

With any luck, I’ll make it through the next few weeks without any more serious rodent encounters, but, all in all, despite the damage they’ve caused mice and rats and the world’s dumbest cat have made for some pretty entertaining tales over the last two years.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Tim and Robin in Tonga

Immediately after Camp GLOW finished, I rushed back to my house, and spent the next 36 hours frantically cleaning and doing laundry to prepare for…my parents! Tim and Robin came to visit me in my village, and if you think I was excited to have them here, it was nothing compared to how thrilled my neighbor, Lupe, was. She had been preparing for their visit for months and truly outdid her normally amazing hospitality. Lupe and ‘Alisi, her mother, made beautiful flower/leaf necklaces to greet my parents, and send the children with me to wait at the airport while they prepared some special Tongan food in the ‘umu. The plane was a little delayed, but finally it landed, and Robin made a bit of a scene running across the runway (or so I was told- all my neighbors were watching from their backyard). Even though their bags were somewhere in NZ, they were happy to be here, and off of planes, and we headed back to my house to rest and eat the first of many many meals.

In a truly Tongan start to their time here, our first night was spent at a massive feast. A deacon was ordained at the Catholic church in town, and Catholics (and feast-loving non-Catholics) from all the islands in Ha’apai came in to Pangai for the event. Lupe took great care dressing all of us up in her Tongan finest, although I’m not sure how wild Tim was about wearing a skirt and Robin about wearing a mat. In town, there was a big fancy mass with the Bishop of Tonga and all the Tongan priests and nuns, complete with beautiful, if somewhat competitive choir singing. This was followed by the largest feast I’ve ever attended. Seriously. Luckily, I convinced Lupe to let us all sit at the back and one of the less intimidating tables, where we could watch the entertainment from a comfortable distance. The food was a great introduction to Tonga: shellfish, octopus, taro, sweet potato, chicken, pork, beef, fish- it was all there. There were many traditional Tongan dances, which were beautiful, especially a very ceremonial and formal one depicting the making of kava. It was a lovely, if somewhat overwhelming, first day in Tonga, and I’m really glad my parents got to see some true Tongan celebration.

After finally getting our luggage we headed out to Uoleva to stay at Patti’s resort for a few nights. The island really is my favorite place in Tonga, and we had a lovely time relaxing on the beach and in the pillow huts. Tim really enjoyed the hammocks, and slept in one at night, even in the rain. We saw a humpback whale off the shore on our last evening, which was beautiful and incredible. We had to stay an extra night, which we were more than fine with, because Ha’apai experienced a slight fuel shortage when the fuel ship stopped running for a few weeks (two men died aboard because of a gas leak of some sort and one of the men was the son of the owner of the boat so it couldn’t run while the extended funeral took place). It was a perfect relaxing break, especially after the stress of the camp, and we all had a lovely time.

When we got back to my village, Tim quickly established himself as a siana ngaue (man who likes to work) and siana fakamalohisino (and man who likes to exercise). Although the Tongans didn’t really understand why anyone would wake up early and walk to town just to walk and go swimming everyday even though it was winter, they really enjoyed watching him do these things, and then, of course, talking about it. Once his ridiculous obsession with coconuts was discovered, people started stopping by to give him or my neighbors coconuts to drink and eat, and of course, to laugh at the fact that anyone would be so enamored with coconuts, something that’s absolutely everywhere here. The boys at my school were thrilled to have a new palangi to play and swim with and Tupou, my almost 3-year old neighbor, quickly realized she could get anything she wanted from him by looking adorable and yelling “Timi!” and then slipping in hints like “I’m hungry”. The language barrier didn’t even matter as she just pointed to things she wanted and took anything she was offered! Leo, my neighbor, was also excited to have a man to hang out with, and was kind enough to let Tim accompany him to work in the bush, something my father is very very proud of, and to drink kava. He even enlisted his help in killing pigs to roast, which was pretty fun, apparently.

Robin and I took a much more low key approach, going to walks on the beach, to see the land bridge, and into town. We spent a lot of time cooking and reading and relaxing, and even ran my ever popular cake baking lesson with class 6 one afternoon. While Tim, who will eat pretty much anything, was thrilled to devour all sorts of Tongan delicacies, Robin had one memorable barrier when presented with a pig leg complete with a little hoof sticking up. Yes, it was pretty funny. While Tupou was on a mission to charmingly exploit Tim, Fotu made it his duty to teach Robin Tongan and spent hours pointing things out to her and patiently correcting her pronunciation, all of which she promptly forgot. This was nothing compared to the difficulty Tim had remembering my neighbors names, and Fotu became Frodo for the better part of the first week! Robin also made another friend: Kava, my neighbors’ 7 month old and 30 pound baby. He is still the most adorable baby ever, and definitely the fattest one. Lupe made sure to bring Kava over for Robin, who she is convinced is very sad inside because she doesn’t have any grandchildren yet. These sentiments were always expressed with a meaningful look at me, since she, as she keeps reminding me, had her first child when she was 25.

As a break from our very laid back time in Koulo, we went whale watching one day with Brian and Sabina, which was awesome. Although we didn’t see any whales, we did get to hear them with a special underwater microphone, and we stopped off a few times to go snorkeling. Tim and Robin loved it, and we saw some beautiful fish and coral and even a little reef shark. I enjoyed it too, but I was freezing- it was winter! We also took a little trip up to Foa to hang out at the beach one afternoon and eat at Matafounua.

After 2 weeks, it was time to head to Tongatapu so my parents could go back to America. Lupe and her family prepared a ridiculous amount of gifts, which added to the crazy Tongan gift-giving circle: Tim and Robin initially brought some presents for my neighbors when they came; Lupe prepared obscene amounts of food and Leo killed a pig to thank them; my parents bought some special foods and ice cream to thank them; Lupe and her mother made many incredibly beautiful Tongan handicrafts: fans, bags, wall hangings for my parents, brother, and sister; I bought them a stroller in Tongatapu to thank them for the pig…oh Tonga, it never ends!

In Tonga we stayed at a snazzy higher end hotel with real showers with hot water(!) and thanks to the kindness of my friend and her wonderful boyfriend went on a mad sun-set tour of the main island (our plane was delayed coming in…of course). We managed to see the Ha’amonga (big mysterious stone archway) before the sun set and surprisingly were able to see a fair amount of the blow holes in the dark under the stars, which may have made it more incredible. On their last day in Tonga, we went shopping for handicrafts and jewelry and canned powered milk…don’t ask! Luckily, Monica’s mom was on the same flight back to LA and we all drove to the airport in a van from her school.

I am so glad my parents were able to visit, and I really think they enjoyed their time here. It was really nice “seeing” Tonga from someone else’s perspective. Since I’ve been here for a bit, I don’t always appreciate how beautiful it is, and how kind and loving the people are. It was nice, especially after a big project and heading into my final few months, to re-realize how lucky I am to be here, and what an amazing place this is. I also realized how many of the cultural customs I’ve internalized, and don’t even think about. Because of this, I think I may have done a less than stellar job of preparing my parents for certain events, but it was pretty interesting to see that the things I first struggles with, I don’t even think about now. I loved having my parents here, and I’m just so glad they were able to see where I’ve been and meet the people who have become so important to me!

Camp GLOW Ha'apai: in Retrospect

Well, this update is long overdue, and to be honest, I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to write. To start with, Camp GLOW was incredible! It was an amazing program and a wonderful, if exhausting, week, and I’m really proud that we were able to pull this off. The girls all loved the camp, and I think everyone involved learned a lot.

The week leading up to the actual camp was definitely the most stressful week I’ve had in the almost 2 years I’ve been in Tonga. Not everything was planned (in fact, most session weren’t), a key Tongan who we were really relying on bailed and hadn’t done anything she said she’d done for a few months, and about half of the campers dropped out for one reason or another. This being a new program, I think some parents were hesitant about allowing their daughters to join, leading to excuses like “my daughter is not allowed to attend because she has to stay home and do the cooking.” Yikes…

Anyways, working with another volunteer who is coordinating all the camps and her amazing counterpart, we were able to get almost everything into place, and we started the first ever Camp GLOW Ha’apai as scheduled, albeit an hour or so late given the “Tongan time” factor for everyone to arrive! We ended up with 15 campers: 13 girls in form 3 (9th grade) and 2 “youth” (girls who finished high school), 4 PCVs, and 4 Tongan ‘counselors’ as our core camp group. We were also lucky enough to have 4 amazing women with connections to the Wesleyan school we used who served as our caterers, and I really do owe them my life- without all their help, we never could have pulled anything off, or dealt with the occasional Wesleyan roadblocks we encountered during the week.

We started the week off focusing on goal setting and planning and motivation to achieve goals. This was a new concept to the girls and most of the counselors, and we spent a lot of time throughout the week revisiting and revising personal, professional, and educational goals and laying out the steps needed to attain them. We were lucky enough to have some amazing guest speakers come to our camp to run sessions. A really incredible woman from a bank here came and taught the girls about budgeting and savings, something that’s a real issue here, and the focus of the bank’s nation-wide educational initiative. We enlisted the help of a female lawyer, who taught the girls (and me!) about the rights women and children have under Tongan law and about different movements in the South Pacific to try and get countries like Tonga to agree the U.N.’s human rights laws.

We also had two women from incredible NGOs in Nuku’alofa: the Women and Children Crisis Center, which helps fight domestic violence and abuse, runs a safe house for battered and at risk women and children, lobby parliament, and run trainings, and Tonga Family Health Association, which does a lot of education and outreach on HIV/AIDS and sexual health, a pretty taboo topic here. These women ran sessions on Women’s Health, Sexual Health, and Sexual Harassment, all of which the girls had had little exposure to before the camp. We did all sorts of risqué stuff like touch condoms, talk about sex, and reinforce the idea that it’s not ok for men to sexually harass women. Writing that, I realized it doesn’t sound like a lot, but, especially for Ha’apai, this was pretty ground-breaking.

While the camp was happening, word spread though the NGO channels, and mid-week I got a call from the Tongan branch of the Salvation Army- they had heard about our program and offered to come and run a workshop of Drugs and Alcohol and Anger Management, both of which were wonderful! We also had the support of the local Police Domestic Violence Unit, which has a female officer in Ha’apai who came to meet with the girls, and various businesses, who hosted a few girls one morning to show them the career opportunities available to them here and provide examples of successful females in the workplace.

The camp was by no means all work, although we did spend quite a bit of time in the classroom. We also felt strongly about incorporating healthy lifestyle factors and creative expression into Camp GLOW, things that girls in Tonga really aren’t exposed to. Physically, we did some dancing and aerobics along with stretching/flexibility and relay races, and, a camp favorite, swimming at the wharf. We also did a lot of team building exercises, including trust falls (a bit scary, I’ll admit!) an afternoon with a parachute: a real crowd pleaser. On the arts and crafts end we made team posters to decorate our dormitory, tie-dyed t-shirts, and made a camp banner. It was really fun watching the girls get to use the art supplies we take for granted back home- they were all so excited and they looked awesome in their t-shirts.

For night activities we held a beach camp fire one night, which was a fun escape, watched “Mulan” in the dorm on a giant projector screen (sheet), had a “Club GLOW” dance party complete with strobe lights, and even had two of the girls dress up as pop stars and audition for “Digicel Star”, a Tongan knock-off of American Idol sponsored by a communication services company and being filmed by a fellow PCV!
To cap off the week, we had a program for family and friends where the girls performed skits and a dance, received awards and certificates, give speeches, and, of course, ate lots of food. It was really great watching the girls on the last day and seeing how special this experience was. Most of them didn’t want to leave and kept asking to stay one more night (something the extremely sleep deprived side of me wasn’t going to allow) and almost all of them begged to be allowed to come back next year as junior counselors. All in all, it was just incredible.

To be honest, as a pilot program, we ran into more than our fair share of obstacles and learned a lot from everything. But, this isn’t the time or place to get into that. Really, it only means the upcoming camps in other island groups and next year’s Camp GLOW Ha’apai will be even better! This camp and working with these girls was by far the most important thing I’ve done here, and has been such a phenomenal experience. The girls we were able to spend a week with really are the future leaders, and it was wonderful to watch them learn so much and grow of the course of just one week. Setting up a grass-roots program like this around Tonga really will change the future of this country. I know that sounds corny and cliché but I do think it’s true. The best way for developing countries to change their course is to invest in education, especially for girls, and seeing what 15 girls in Ha’apai are able to do if pushed, it makes me very optimistic.

I truly couldn’t have made Camp GLOW happen without help from all of you. To all of you who helped me work out details, listened to me vent/be crazy, spread the word about the camp, donated online, and understood when I made this a priority above other things, thank you. I can’t express how grateful I am for all the support I received, and how integral it was to the success of the program. In summation, Camp GLOW Ha’apai was a “glowing” success (I know, I couldn’t help myself) and an amazing experience!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Camp GLOW Press!

Hello Lovely Blog Readers,

Yes, I am still alive! Yes, Camp GLOW happened! Yes, it was incredible! Really really incredible! And, I promise, that within a week I will have my summation post finished and online to tell you all about just how awesome it was! But, until then, I have, for your viewing pleasure, an article from the Women and Children Crisis Center's newsletter, one of the local organizations who had a guest speaker from. I know this is just Tongan press, but it's still pretty amazing.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

In Which I Found Myself Toa-ing, and Serving Kava to 30 or so Men for 4 Hours, for the Cause of Girls’ Empowerment in Tonga

For the past 6 months I have been working on trying to have a Camp GLOW here in Ha’apai, and have slowly been losing my sanity and probably my pride, as I have been desperately begging any and everyone for money and cutting the budget for this project left and right. To supplement the amazingly generous donations from all you incredible readers, we realized we would have to do some local fundraising, as we should, given that it’s a program in Tonga to help Tongan girls. Immediately, we decided to run a BINGO fundraiser- BINGO is very big here, despite the Tongan alphabet not containing the letters “b” or “g”, especially among Catholics (some things really are universal!). But, scheduling conflicts and activities in the church kept pushing us back, and while we’re still going to do the fundraiser 2 days before the camp starts (!) we realized we would have to run another one in addition to asking businesses for donations.

Enter kava, the preeminent form of Tongan fundraising, an activity I have been actively avoiding participating in (remember me hiding in various places around the school during the class 6 exam last year to get out of kava?) since I was forced into doing it during our training and had a miserable experience. It’s not that I actively hate kava, it’s more that I in no way want to be taking part in it. Drinking kava is a men-only activity, except if a woman agrees to sit alone at the head of the circle and ladle out copious amounts of the appetizing water and be the brunt of flirtations and jokes, a position known as the toa. Now, and here’s where it gets pretty funny, a woman can only toa if she is not related to any of the men who will be there drinking kava. This being a small island society where absolutely everyone is related, it’s very difficult now to find someone to toa without having to ban half the kava group- part of the appeal of having a foreigner toa. All of you, I’m sure, are shocked as to why I haven’t been jumping up and down to take part in this.

But, as the cliché saying goes, desperate times call for desperate measures, which is how I found myself last Friday night downing a bottle of pretty good wine (especially for Tonga) with Juleigh, the volunteer I’m organizing this camp with, in the convent where she lives (yes, convent with nuns) finding out that while Tongans are late for absolutely everything, they somehow show up 30 minutes early when it’s kava with palangi toas. Why the wine you ask? Well, as organizer of the kalapu I would be required to stay for the entire time, from 8:30ish to 1:00am (a harder task than you may think, given that I’m used to being in bed by 10:30) and it was general consensus that a good wine buzz would be fairly essential to make the first few hours bearable.

The rules of the relationship between the kava circle and the toa are pretty simple: the woman serves the kava to the men, and the men, in turn, are supposed to amuse her and make sure she is having a good time. The man sitting to the left of the toa has the expressed responsibility of making sure she is happy, and in traditional Tongan culture, this is how a date happened: a girl would toa and the boy she was interested in would deliberately sit next to her on the left. The man to the left of the toa is required to stay as long as she does, and fill in any lapses in amusement form the group at large with conversation. This previously mentioned amusement can take the form of jokes, stories, (muscle flexing contests, in the instance of the circle I was in) and music.

When Juleigh and I arrived at the hall we found it already filled with men from various kava kalapus (kava groups/clubs). Most men in every community belong to a kava group. Some of them only drink kava on Sundays and special occasions, but most of them are ‘savings groups’ and meet to drink kava at least once a week on a week day. Since Tonga is a communal society and you’re required to give anything to anyone who asks, especially your family, it’s often difficult to save money (something we’re having a big session on at our camp: Budgeting and Savings!). The way the savings kava groups work is that each week/month/predetermined period of time, one man takes home all the money that has been contributed up until then; generally each man pays $5-10 to drink kava for the night. To get a large number of people to come to our event, we went around to every kava group on our island and asked them to come to our fundraiser, essentially by-passing a night of one of their members going home with their money. We would provide the kava, since we were hosting the event, and they would come and donate their group’s intake from the night. This is a big thing to ask for, but the turnout was amazing. Hoping out of the back of the truck we had hitch-hiked to the hall in, I was shocked to find myself staring at over 200 men from 8 different kava clubs, all of whom had come to our fundraiser.

I was seated in the Ha’apai High School kava circle, which somehow included men and youth from the village next to mine. There were about 30 men in my circle, all of whom were very happy I was there, and took great delight in teaching me (and listening to me butcher) elaborate and traditionally appropriate phrases to say in Tongan thanking the men for drinking kava and playing and singing for me. The best part about the evening, by far, was the music. Because men came in their clubs, there was a little bit of competition with the added need to thoroughly entertain and amuse the palangi toas (along with Juleigh and I, another volunteer and her friend from home who was visiting and a Japanese volunteer came and toa-ed!) and most of the groups came with a fair number of guitars and ukuleles. My group even brought a binder of music, and for this special occasion, deviated from the usual repertoire and played some amazing traditional songs. Because of these factors, the night was a continuous rotation of songs played by the different kava clubs, and it was beautiful and amazing. It still shocks me every time of group of men, most of whom work in the bush and come in their work clothes, collectively open their mouths and sing. It’s incredible. My group had two guitars, three ukuleles, and it was lovely and made the night far better than anticipated. Also, because so many different groups came there were quite a few priests and ministers and town officers and other well-respected men, and that gave the whole event an air of being important and special, and as a result none of the teasing or joking really degraded into inappropriateness.

As a fundraising effort, we did very well: all told we raised $650 pa’anga (Tongan dollars) after having paid $400 for all the kava that was drunk (yes, these men can drink kava) and $50 to rent the hall. What was even better though was the turn-out and support. It was really encouraging and it makes me very thankful to be in such a place where, when push comes to shove, the community will rally around a project to make it happen. And, while I’m not exactly rushing to toa again, it was a far better experience than I thought it would be, and having 200 men serenade you beautifully is not something one forgets.

So, the countdown is on. We have 8 days until the camp and need to raise $1000 pa’anga, which I really think we can do. Wish us luck, and I’ll be sure to post after Camp GLOW is over and tell you all about it!

Lauren Comes to Tonga!

In April (I know, I’m a bit behind with this post), I was lucky enough to have my second visitor to Koulo, Ha’apai, the lovely and elusive globe-trotter, Miss Lauren Eriks! The trip was a bit last-minute, completely unexpected and absolutely wonderful. Lauren and her friend were spending 4 months traveling around New Zealand, and we’d been tossing around the idea of her coming over here, but there was nothing definite set. Then, after almost two weeks of no internet connection, I happened to go into town to check my email and got a great surprise: having found a great deal on airline tickets, Lauren just bought the ticket in the perfect traveler, and Tongan, frame of mind that things would work out. And they did- amazingly!

Lauren landed in Tongatapu in the evening, meaning she had to spend the night in town before getting a domestic flight the following afternoon. Some wonderful volunteers offered up their home and hospitality and provided a crucial cell phone link for the next day. In the morning I called the airline office to confirm her flight to Ha’apai, and was told the flight was canceled because the plane, once again, was broken. She was booked on the “big plane” via Vava’u, but this flight was now no longer going…maybe. I talked to three different people and got three different answers as to whether or not there was a plane. I got an extensive list of phone numbers for the airline, called them all, and was getting nowhere. Then I called the direct supervisor at the airport in Tonga, who told me there would be one plane to Ha’apai only in an hour and a half. After much begging and pleading I got a seat on the plane under the condition that the passenger be at the airport in less than an hour… meaning I somehow had to track down Lauren (who had no phone) and get her to the airport fast! Cue me calling the aforementioned amazing volunteers who found her, put her in a taxi, and got her to the airport in time to make the flight!

It was so lovely having Lauren here, and getting to show her the “sights” of Ha’apai, my school and village, and, of course, catching up. Since we hadn’t seen each other in almost 3 years, we had quite a bit to catch up on, and it was great having someone to talk to about everything with- the first day my mouth was actually sore from speaking English so much in one day (English consonants use very different muscles than Tongan vowels)! The kids at school and my neighbors loved having a new palangi around, especially Tupou and Fotu, who took full advantage of the new friend who would play with them and pay attention to them, and the two of them were over almost every day to eat cake, color, and play endless games of ‘hit the balloon’, which they still talk about.

We did a lot of nofo ia pe (just hanging out) and cooking/eating (obviously!) and talking about food and sustainable food culture and activism and being cajoled by Mui Mui into petting him and playing with him. We also went swimming with the neighbors and quite a few of the kids from the village one evening, which was fun and amazingly picturesque, took a bike ‘eva to the liku side of the island and prevented my dog from being trampled by a herd of cows he wanted to play with, and went down to Uoleva for 2 days, which was beautiful. We were able to help one of the resort owners set up plans and to do lists for her vegetable garden in exchange for staying there for the night, and it was, as always, relaxing and gorgeous. My neighbors also invited us to do Sunday with them, which meant we were able to get up and help make the , including possibly the first ever all vegetable lū in Koulo, see the ‘umu, and were dressed up by my neighbor in taovalas (woven mats) and tupenus for church.

The only down-side was that the week went by far too fast; I had such a wonderful time. That being said, I am keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that I’ll have a few more surprise visitors before I leave in December! [Check out Lauren’s blog for some beautiful photos of her time in Tonga:]

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


The first Sunday of May is“Faka-Mē” the Children’s Sunday in the Wesleyan church. Some of you may remember my participation last year in the event, culminating in the embarrassed reading of a church hymn with a 5-year old…dark times for my self-esteem in the village. This year, I graciously declined an offer to read a ‘lesson’, and instead volunteered my talents as official photographer of the children, dressed to the nines in any and everything white, lacy, and preferably with feathers, much to the delight of the mothers as many families don’t have cameras or cell phones with cameras.

Sarah, another volunteer from the next island up, joined me for the first half of the day-long program, and it was nice to have a feast companion to play “guess that mystery meat” with (even if two palangais meant there was no way to avoid sitting at the head table) and share observations about the adorable kids with. Lupe, along with her mother, sister, and other extended family members, pulled out all the stops for their table at the feast, and the two of us have gotten quite efficient at baking dozens of cakes at a time. They also completely outdid themselves, weaving two new mats for each of the children to wear, and creating an entire woven traditional Tongan outfit for Fotu, complete with woven slippers (sandals). Fotu looked good, and he knew it, and strutted around most of the morning telling everyone how handsome he looked in his Tongan slippers!

In the morning church service, some of the children read hymns and sang songs, and then everyone went to the church hall for the feast. After a quick wash and costume change, the kids and proud family members came back to the church for the real “lessons”. There were recitations, hymns, action songs, and dramatic re-tellings of biblical and biblical-based stories. My favorite, by far, was the drama about Roman-era persecution of Christians in a time that fluctuated between ancient and modern. Lines such as “I heard on the radio that the Romans are persecuting Christians” were married with ‘finger-gun’ carrying soldiers wonderfully. The plot centered around a family that decided not to renounce their religion, despite radio warnings, and were all killed. What made it interesting was how funny the audience found it every time someone was ‘shot’ by a solider (complete with “bang” sound effects) and that after each death, a hymn had to be sung for the deceased as they were covered in white cloths. The hymn singing did mean that it took the better part of a half hour to kill an entire family of four.

It’s been interesting revisiting these annual events, and thinking about how much my experiences have varied from year to year. The biggest change, by far, is that I can understand a lot more because my language has improved, so this year, for example, I understood why people were being shot during a church play!