Map of Tonga in the South Pacific

Map of Tonga in the South Pacific

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Bits 'n' Pieces

Transparency. Every time I visit a government primary school I am intrigued by the information posted in every teacher resource/work room. Written for everyone to see is the information about each teacher: date of birth, whether they’re married, number of children, qualifications, where and when they attended which schools, and where and when they have taught. Occasionally, I’ve even seen salary figures. Of course, this is in a country where one of the first questions you may be asked after meeting someone is “how old are you?” If you really don’t want to tell, you can always make a joke of it, as Tongans are great jokers and teasers.
Sharing. This will probably be a recurring theme, but it really struck me, again, recently how much a part of this culture it is to share. I went into one of the curriculum team’s rooms and was offered mai chips (Mai is breadfruit, and quite dry. The only way I really like it is as fried chips. Very tasty!). I happily took a few to munch on. A little later I went to another room to ask a question and was offered bananas. Good. I could add it to my small lunch. (More on bananas in a minute.) As I walked home, a woman in my neighborhood was cutting sugar cane in her yard, and she called to me and gave me a 6 foot piece. (A “no thank you” was absolutely not polite, though I had no idea what we would do with it.) Then I walked into our yard and Sione was standing in the bed of his pick up and knocking down star fruit with his rake. Of course, I was offered one. (I gladly accepted that!) I told them the sugar cane and star fruit were “mana.” They understood and laughed with me. 
With my gift of sugar cane.
 Well, we got their son,Christopher, to cut off 2 pieces of the sugar cane—one for us to try and one for Jim to take to ‘Ofa, our Tongan tutor. Her grandchildren were very happy. The rest we gave to Sione and Belinda.
Back to the bananas. The woman who offered the bananas to me said that these are true Tongan bananas. They grow on shorter trees and are smaller than the variety we see in the States. She said they are the sweetest and best, but you shouldn’t eat them “half raw,” which meant not ripe. She was upset that palangi (foreigners/European descent) insisted on eating them before they are ripe and have good flavor. She also said that anything “good” they said was Tongan. If it wasn’t good, it came from somewhere else, and then they all laughed. (This is the same woman who told us the hopa banana story.)
The sharing of plants and flowers is also accepted as a right. At several of the primary schools we have visited, someone in our group has seen a plant growing in front of the school that she wanted, and just started pulling off a branch, or digging the bulbs. Soon teachers from the school were helping her and giving some to others in our group. Everything grows so well here that they can just put the branches in the soil and they’ll grow. I can’t imagine going into someone’s well-tended garden in the U.S. and just helping myself to plants I’d like, though sometimes I wish I could. I definitely have plant envy. It’s a good thing I don’t have anywhere to plant flowers here.
Poinsettias. Now that it’s fall, I have suddenly noticed the poinsettias blooming. They’re so tall, that I hadn’t paid any attention to them before this-- just tall green saplings, but now that they’re dressed in their red, and sometimes yellow, blooms, they’re everywhere to my eyes. So this is how they really grow, and not in pots, sold for the holidays and discarded? Very nice!

Decoding skills. Having always been (since I can remember) a good reader, and reading came easily for me, decoding the pronunciation of words has never been a problem. Once more I have been rightfully humbled. A partner school of TTI (Tupou Tertiary Institute) is Whitireia Community Polytechnic in New Zealand. As I was discussing resources with a teacher at TTI she kept talking about some school I had never heard of, but I just let it pass. Then I got out my notes about their partner schools, and she said, “That’s the school I’ve been talking about.” What? How do you pronounce that? So we had a little lesson. (By the way, have you tried pronouncing it yet? Whitireia) It’s a Maori word, if that gives you a clue. It’s pronounced Fi(long i)-te(long e)-ra(long a)-a(short a). Also, you should kind of roll the r into an l. There, humble pie eaten.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Soup? Yes, soup!

Sweet corn soup
A recipe in the blog? Well, it’s not something I ever thought about, but an experience I had leads us to a recipe for sweet corn soup. It’s too good not to share.
I got a call from our Peace Corps programming and training officer about a church women’s group that was meeting that evening to talk about healthy eating and cooking. She had heard of my interest in this, and wondered if I’d like to attend. Of course. I called the hostess and we made arrangements for me to be picked up to go to her home.
In addition to her, her husband, and four women from the church, a man with big boxes full of food and cooking utensils arrived. A Fijian of Chinese descent, Roland loves to cook and share his knowledge of preparing good food and encourage healthy eating. What a treat! He made two courses: sweet corn soup, and stir fried chicken and vegetables. Delicious! As he cooked, we asked questions about his ingredients and methods, and he gave us tips and ideas.
It was wonderful to be among a group of people, just chatting and enjoying the evening and the tasty food. I’m sorry I didn’t take pictures, but here’s the recipe. We had it last night and loved it. It’s a comfort food and easy to make. It can be a “pantry recipe” with a few adjustments. I’ll add those ideas in. If you make it, think of us and Tonga!
Sweet corn chicken soup (Taught by Roland and suggested options by Lynn)
Bones from 2 kg chicken legs (or any chicken broth) He deboned the chicken to use that for another recipe.
Chicken from bones after boiling, i.e., the meat left on bones after deboning.  (or leftover or canned chicken)
1 can creamed corn
4-6 eggs, depending on size and preference
Salt to taste
Spring (green) onions, chopped
Sesame oil for seasoning at the end. This is an important “extra” to get that authentic taste.
4 T. cornflour (otherwise known as cornstarch)
Put boiling water over bones and continue to boil at least 10 min. Meanwhile add the can of creamed corn. Add salt. After boiling remove the bones and set aside. Mix the eggs and add salt and pepper. While the broth continues to cook add and stir the eggs into it. Add cornflour to cool water and stir to mix. Add to the broth mixture and bring to a boil. It should only slightly thicken the broth to give it some body. Shred any chicken left on the bones and add (or add your canned or leftover cooked chicken). Add the chopped green onions. Add a small amount of sesame oil to finish.
He taught it this way to make it a week-night supper, and it’s very budget-friendly, but you can adjust it to your time needs. If you use canned broth and canned chicken, this would be an easy meal to put together anytime. Just keep the ingredients on hand.

Monday, June 13, 2011

June 2, 2011: Fire the cannon! It’s the Opening of Parliament!

It’s the tradition for the high school and college students to line the streets of Nuku’alofa as the King and the Parliament members come to open Parliament. Since Jim’s school, TIST, would be involved, he was able to walk to town with me so we could see it all unfold. As we walked we saw various schools gathering for the march. The bands were warming up. Vendors were beginning to set up tables. 
TIST students gather before the parade.

The police officers all donned their dress uniforms.

Band members and students getting ready.
As the march began, the drum major and the band from each school would lead the students, and often a banner was held proclaiming the school. Again, what organization! We watched as students marched (The cadence was called out: left, right, left, right, left) in columns of four. They would then line the street at assigned spots and wait for the rest to get into place.
Here comes the band!

A drum major leads with all the right moves, and the band follows suit.

This band stopped to give a special performance.

Some of the bands were real crowd pleasers with their music and moves. A few of the teachers couldn’t contain themselves and threw in a few moves of their own.
Students in front, audience behind.
 At last we heard the cannon fire several times and we knew the King would be coming. He drove by and the students stood. (He came by too quickly for me to get a photo.)  Soon afterwards the columns again began to form and the bands led the school groups to complete the procession.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Langafonua--Weaving Classes

This class was intense! At our first class on tapa cloth painting, it was relaxed, with a lot of chit chat among students as we painted and had tea. This class was concentrate, concentrate, concentrate! Talking was minimal, and tea time was brief. Our assignment was to make a coaster/mat. We used the spine of the coconut palm leaf for the frame, and narrow strips from the pandanus leaf for the wrapping and weaving. (You may remember the long process for getting the pandanus ready for weaving. I wrote about it in the blog about mat weaving.) As usual, being left-handed was a detriment, but there were three of us, and they adjusted to help us. Then it was learning to hold the materials correctly and put the repetitive method needed into my brain. Finally it made sense, but I certainly couldn’t zone out or kibbutz. When it was time to go I grabbed some extra materials so I could finish at home.
The setting was lovely as we got to work outside in the newly built fale (house). Several sat under the shade of the trees. The weather cooperated with a lovely breeze.
My attempt is done, notice, not my first attempt, as this will probably be the only one. It will be a lasting memory of the class, and I have an even greater respect for those who make these weavings. 

Tea time was brief!

 The following Saturday a class gathered for another form of weaving. This time we were learning to make bracelets. Again, we used pandanus. Isn’t that a handy plant?
After making a circle of stiff pandanus, it was tied, then another length of pandanus was added (softer and more flexible) that had the ends split into thin strips, maybe six of them. We began to weave, using another dark strip, about the same width as the strips we were weaving into. This class was much more relaxed, and everyone finished making a bracelet. There are different ways to weave to make patterns, and next time I’ll try a little more experimentation. An enjoyable morning!

The pandanus, a student's beginning work on the coaster, and a completed piece by a professional.

My humble attempt at a coaster and the bracelet.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

And the band(s) played on!

Education Day and celebrating the Queen’s birthday
It was a beautiful day for a celebration on May 27. It was warm and the sun was shining, with just enough clouds to keep it from getting too hot. People gathered by the thousands in Teufaiva Stadium (where Sport Week was also held) for Education Day and to celebrate the Queen’s 85th birthday. When I arrived at 9:30 the high school brass bands were playing and the primary school children were gathering on the field by school groups. At 10 the festivities began with prayers and a hymn, and then the singing of Happy Birthday to the Queen.
Primary schools gather on the field.

Singing Happy Birthday to the Queen.

 I was fortunate to be sitting next to a woman who had been instrumental in the education and music field, though now retired, and she gave me a wealth of information about the different dances and the traditional dress they wore.
The Queen's grandson attends Tonga College. He had the honor of presenting gifts to her. They performed a war dance.

Teacher Institute of Education students perform a seated dance.

Performance by Queen Salote College women. (Painted tapa cloth) The students seated behind them are singing.

A war dance. The music for this performance was drums--students beating the time on sheet metal.

For their dance these young women are wearing unpainted tapa that has been cut.

Coffee, tea, or milo? Cream or sugar? You can see that there's a performance on the field behind them.
 Since I had an invitation, I was also treated to tea (in china cups!) and refreshments. There were sandwiches, cut into triangles, and chocolate cake. Later there were plates of sliced fruit, and coconuts with straws to drink the water. Refreshments were served while the high schools presented their dances and entertainment. I marveled at the organization this event took, and the ease with which it happened. Everyone seemed to be where they were supposed to be, when they were supposed to be. The school children were quiet and well behaved. The music was a delight for the ears; the dances a feast for the eyes. I’m sorry you can’t hear the music, but here are some photos. (I took so many, but I’ll try not to overdo it on the blog. If you’d like a link to see them all in an album in Picasa, let me know.)