Map of Tonga in the South Pacific

Map of Tonga in the South Pacific

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

This 'n' that

A word about flexibility.
As we were waiting for our invitation to join the Peace Corps we were often asked when we’d be going and where. We’d have to answer with a lot of maybes. The constant reminder from the Peace Corps was wait and be flexible. In truth, it should be the Peace Corps motto. Everything is a maybe, depending on….

Too much rain? Change today’s schedule for Monday’s.
No airline seats available for that day? We’ll send your luggage on ahead and you’ll come 2 days later.

If this would drive you crazy, then the Peace Corps probably isn’t for you. I ‘m going on the idea that my time is their time, and I find it interesting to see how it all works.

The staff we have come to know are a dedicated, caring, and amazing group of people. We’re in capable and knowing hands. Thanks, Peace Corps!

In our village pigs are everywhere—all sizes and shapes. The houses have fences around them, but you know pigs! They wallow in the middle of the road in a large puddle after a rain. The piggy bank sized piglets follow mom around. All are docile and quickly get out of the way if you hiss at them. If they show signs of defensiveness, they are quickly roasted and eaten. If one gets inside the house’s fence, the dogs quickly bark and chase them out.

Which brings me to Friday morning. I was still in bed when I heard quite a pig-dog commotion. Sounded like they were running around the house. Then they came around a second time. The large dog and the 5 puppies were in hot pursuit. My thought, as they came around the third time was “They may come right through the house. Now that would be interesting.” Meanwhile Jim was up watching the whole thing, realized the pig couldn’t find a quick way out, and he opened the gate. End of the game, though the dogs, of course followed. The PCT living next door had watched it all. He was enjoying it like NASCAR.

Once in a while a word just strikes me as funny, or makes a picture in my head that I’m sure the Tongans never would understand. Kaukau means shower, but Fakakaukau means thinking. I like to think of it as a brain shower. Of course now I’ll never forget that word. (Unlike so many others that just don’t stick!)

The many (!) steps of mat making in Tonga

November 5, 2010

One month in the Peace Corps, 4 more weeks of training, one week of attatchment (living with a Volunteer at the site you’ll be assigned to for 2 years),  a final few days which includes the dreaded language test, and then Swearing In on December 15. 

The weaving.

I’ll try to give you some idea of the steps and workmanship involved with the mats that are woven. Some are for the floor, some are finer and used on tables for special occasions. All of them are time and labor intensive. My apologies if I’m wrong on any of this, but this is what I’ve been able to learn. I’ll use photos. Enjoy. If you have further questions, feel free to ask, and I’ll try to find out. Some are made for overseas Tongans, and they pay large amounts for them. This is a way for the families to make some money, and everyone is very happy when a weaving group is able to sell a mat overseas.

The leaves are harvested and the spines along the edges and the center spine are removed.

The leaves are coiled in preparation for boiling them.

The boiling pot full of leaves.

The leaves are put into bundles of 20. Next stop: the ocean for 8 days.

The leaves are split lengthwise, with only the more flexible half saved.

They are coiled and hung out to dry. Next they are again put into 10” coils.

The strips are cut into narrow strips.

Weaving the mat.

The finished product.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


November 4, 2010

We (as in Americans) just don’t know how to celebrate! As least that’s what I think after today. In a coming blog I’ll tell you about the mats the women weave and the laborious process it is, but now I want to tell you about a celebration we went to today that involved the giving away of 60 mats. They were all made by women in our small village.

It was held this afternoon in the Community Hall. Several relatives came this week from the States to visit. Those families have been feasting all week. Today, though, women brought the mats they had been making to the Hall, and they will be taken back to the States in return for large bags with perfume and other gifts, as well as food.

As we entered the Hall the music was at full volume and many women were dancing (lakalaka). The joy and excitement filled every nook and cranny. After a while a group of women came in holding their mats for all to see, and they danced around the hall. They put them in a pile at the front, and then another group would come in. Several different groups did this, and the bags were handed out. Their pride in their workmanship, the music, and dancing…. When all had been shown and the bags given, everyone that wanted to could dance (Everything from polkas to the hokey pokey was played at full blast.), children included. Then our host mother came and got me and Jim and escorted us to the front to be at the head table for the feast. This was way beyond Thanksgiving. Hardly room for plates on the 16’ table. There were fruits, vegetables, fish, roast pork, chicken, root crops, etc. It was kai mata—eat ‘til you die. (Nothing will be wasted. Leftovers were distributed to families after it was over.) This was an event that I will remember for the rest of my life, especially the joy!

Showing off their hard work.               

                                                                 Our host mother loves to dance!

                                                   What a spread!