Map of Tonga in the South Pacific

Map of Tonga in the South Pacific

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

GPS Culture Day

November 29, 2010

Ha’apai GPS Culture Day

It’s the end of the school year and all the Government Public School (GPS) children gathered at the Wesleyan Hall in Ha’apai. It was supposed to be outside, but we had a lot of rain. People—parents, relatives, friends, school children, and teachers started gathering there over an hour early. My guesstimate was 700-800 people. Music played loudly while we waited for it to start: polkas, Christmas songs, such as Winter Wonderland, Jingle Bells, Joy to the World, Feliz Navidad, and The Little Drummer Boy. All were in English except Feliz Navidad. Five schools (I think) were represented. After the opening prayer and welcome, each school performed one or two dances. You could tell the students and teachers had spent a lot of time learning them, and they danced with pride and precision. The costuming was beautiful. The village school where we live with our host family also participated, and it was fun to see the children we knew perform.

I’m so glad that the Peace Corps encouraged us to attend. What a wonderful way to experience another aspect of the culture by seeing the traditional dances. The encouragement, support, and pride of the families for the children was inspiring.

Arriving at the Hall.

Inside the hall and on stage.

The children gather and wait in school groups.
Host family members.

Getting ready to perform.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ping pong anyone?

 Last Sunday we had a special Sunday feast with 3 of last year’s Peace Corps Volunteers who lived in this house and this village. Somehow the large kitchen table was moved to the porch as we all ate together. The table has remained on the porch. Yesterday ping pong paddles and a ball appeared, And the ping pong battles began.

This afternoon I was trimming the fibers for Jim’s kafa (the rope that ties his tu’avala). I had a ringside seat to observe the games. Four males (3 teens and one adult) were playing. The four young children were underneath, or playing/squabbling nearby. The 2 women of the family came in and out as they had time, or when the children needed them. It was great fun with a lot of teasing and laughing. One young man took it all very seriously, and would argue heatedly that he had made the point, or that his competitor hadn’t. The rest were more easy-going about the whole thing. They played for several hours. A great way to spend an afternoon. It rained, but we were covered and protected.

Now it’s evening and I noticed that the table has been moved to the back of the porch again. Will the ping pong games continue? I hope so. Maybe I should start practicing… I used to be pretty good a lifetime ago. Hmmmm….

November 27, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

What a grand day it was! All 26 of us gathered at the Hall with our food. The village groups had planned the dishes, bought and prepared the food.

But let me back up and explain more about the day…..

Our host family attends the Wesleyan Church, and today was also a feast day for them---Misonale. It’s the day that each family contributes a yearly donation for the work of the church in the coming year. So, the preparations were of epic proportions. Many people were there to help. Five suckling pigs were roasting over an open fire, the umu (underground oven) was packed full, 8 cakes had been baked in the umu last night, the kitchen was full of side dishes, chicken marinating in soy sauce and garlic, and the list goes on and on. Add to that ---it rained all morning. Children played on the porch.

Now here come 4 Peace Corps Trainees with a turkey, ingredients for dressing, and gravy to make. Talk about stretching a kitchen beyond its limits! Well, we had asked to use the electric roaster and we took it to our bedroom to heat. Before they got too involved in the kitchen (7-8 A.M.) we mixed up the dressing and put it in foil packets, put the turkey in the roaster, along with the dressing, and got out of the way. (Oh, and we ran out of salt and had to find some in the pouring rain. But crisis averted, and the salt was added.)  About 11:30 the turkey was done, and we managed to borrow enough utensils to get the gravy made. Hooray!

When we came back, our family was at church and we cleaned up our pans. Then it was relax and enjoy. Some of the older children and teens were here, and they took care of younger ones and played ping pong while the adults were in church. The rain stopped in the late afternoon.

A great, successful day was had by all!

                                                            Getting ready for Misonale.
                                               Peace Corps volunteers gather for Thanksgiving.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Need a basket? Make one!

November 13, 2010

Every part of the coconut and the coconut tree gets used. The coconut is used at every stage of maturity for food, too. We had seen some very functional, but attractive baskets being used to carry food from the bush, particularly root crops such as manioc, sweet potato and taro. Of course I wanted one. Last week when Jim went to the garden in the bush he saw Mosese starting to make one, and he asked him if he would show him how sometime. Mo took it apart and said he’d bring the coconut leaf home and Jim could make it. In the bush it takes about 20 minutes to make one, and you only need a knife to split the spine to cut it open when you’re done. Otherwise, all you need are your hands and a coconut leaf. I’ve got some pictures that will give you an idea of the steps and how it is woven. Ingenious, huh?

 Last Sunday we attended church in the village that is 2 villages away. It was a special Sunday as there was a guest pastor at the Wesleyan Church there from Nuku’alofa. We had walked to that church just the week before to see it. It was built in the old Tongan style of architecture, which you rarely see anymore. I have pictures from the walk, but it was a treat to worship there, thinking of the people who had built it and worshipped there over the years. If only walls could talk!

 Our formal language classes are over, though, of course, tutoring remains. We had our Mock LPI on Friday (language pretest) and what a milestone that is! Here is our language group with our very capable and patient teacher. Thanks, Ofa, for all your hard work and caring so much that we did the best we could. We always come to Center Day in our professional dress—what we will be expected to wear to work and on Sundays.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Road to Pangai

November 23, 2010
On the road to Pangai….

We live in the village furthest from the town of  Pangai. It’s the only town on the 2 connected islands with stores, a post office, a bank, a high school and other government buildings. It’s a 7-mile journey. We go through 4 villages, including ours, then a very narrow causeway that has ocean on both sides and links 2 islands, then the airport, another town, and, finally Pangai. The narrow road, or causeway, with ocean on both sides can be covered with water during storms, and it’s one lane, with spots occasionally for a vehicle to pull over and wait for another to get by. Sometimes we see men there with their fishing nets. The airport runway crosses the road, so the road has gates that close the road during take-off and landings. It’s not only the main road, but the only road that runs the length of our narrow island.

When we drive we pass stretches of bush, cultivated bush, pastures with a few steers. There is an occasional goat. In the villages the houses all have fences of various materials and quality. It is to keep the pigs out and the dogs are in charge of guarding the house and area. Pigs of all sizes cross the road in front of vehicles, and the vehicles do not slow down. Chickens, chicks, and roosters are roaming, too. In one village we pass the church still in use that was built in the old Tongan style. We pass the place where there is still an old wooden drum/bell. There are shelters where women gather to weave. The Mormon churches have the best fences and usually a beautiful basketball or tennis court, which is also used for dances.

Of course there are banana trees, sometimes with bananas and flower. There are trees with moli, tiny sour oranges, so good squeezed in water with sugar. I have come to learn about the “cotton” tree that has pods with cotton –like material inside that the Tongans used to use for pillows and other stuffing. Coconut trees are everywhere, and they have no season, so are always available—if you can climb and get them.

I love to see the flowers planted in the yards. There are zinnias, roses, marigolds, coleus, strawflowers, bird-of paradise, and amaryllis, to name a few that I recognize. There are also many flowering trees and shrubs, some are so fragrant, and used for leis. Hibiscus is everywhere.

There are people and children to wave to. If you go in the morning you’ll see elementary students walking to school in their uniforms, while older students are getting rides to Pangai to go to the High School. They, too, are in uniform, the colors depending on the school colors.  Once in a while there will be a biker.

Too soon the trip is over. I’m always looking for something new to see. I will miss those trips to Pangai!

The Causeway.

 Airport. The road is closed.
Banana tree.
Wooden bell.

Moli tree, above. Coconut tree below. It's a long way up!
Assembly for the opening of the school day.