Friday, January 28, 2011

new pictures are posted!

I have posted a few more pictures [with captions this time!].  Take a look!

this week.... Me'akai Tonga! aka Tongan Food!

I blinked and another week passed.  I don’t know how this keeps happening.  This speedy week will be accompanied by a speedy journal entry.  In my last entry, I promised to talk a little more about Tongan foods.  So…here we go!  A huge staple in the diets of many Tongans are root crops.  Taro, Yams, and Kumala [which are very similar to our sweet potatoes] are served with essentially every meal.  Breadfruit is also a delicious starchy treat!  All of the above can be dipped in ketchup which is quite popular here. 
As we’re in an island nation, fish are a pretty popular source of food as well.  My Tongan host father was a fisherman so I got fish a lot during my homestay experience.  In one of my pictures, you can see my homestay dad suited up in his diving gear.  Often, a few men from our village would go out and dive at night with flashlights.  Come morning, they’d return with lots of fish, a few crabs, or a lobster if it was a really great night!  Luckily, my homestay mom was a great cook!  One of my favorite meals thus far has been her baked fish with hopa.  Hopa is a type of banana.  They taste pretty similar, but look a bit different. If a banana is the tall, skinny sibling; then hopa is the short, stout little brother.  As far as other sea foods are concerned, I’ve tried octopus and raw fish soup and I just discovered today that people eat jellyfish here!
Aside from fish, Tongans eat many meats similar to Americans.  They love puaka [pork], pulu [beef], and moa [chicken].  The big difference, I suppose, is that in the U.S. we go to the supermarket for our delightfully pre-sliced honey ham.  A few hours before a feast in Tonga, I see one of my neighbors carrying a squealing pig down the street, which then becomes dinner!  Surprisingly, hot dogs are also very, very popular here.  Sometimes during homestay, my dear Tongan mom would prepare a giant meal for me and then add a few hot dogs as an afterthought.  Yes.  Of course I need 4 hot dogs along with the 4 sandwiches and 2 fish you’ve just served me! Oiaue! [that’s Tongan for Holy Moly or Oh my Goodness!]
Also, everyone loves Ramen Noodles!  Here the packs are different brands and are called ‘nutolo.’  They are quite the staple.  A lot of the time, people don’t even prepare the noodles!  They crunch up the bag and eat ramen noodles like potato chips; Tongans and Peace Corps Volunteers alike. However, I haven’t jumped on this band wagon quite yet. 
Most families have a special Sunday ‘Lu’ after church.  ‘Lu’ leaves are the leaves of the taro plant.  Sunday ‘lu’ consists of Lu leaves wrapped around some type of meat [fish, chicken, lamb, or corned beef usually] with a coconut milk sauce.  The ‘Lu’ is baked in an ‘umu’ which is a traditional underground oven.  Ifo ‘aupito! [aka delicious]
As you might expect, fruit is plentiful here!  In Vava’u, where I live, pineapple is in season all year [wahooo!].  People also eat a lot of papaya, bananas, mangos and various other fruits which I had never heard of before coming to Tonga.  There is a delicious drink called ‘vai siaine’ [literally banana water] which consists of boiling sliced bananas, water, and coconut milk. 

In other notes, school officially starts this Monday!  Yikes! I am excited, nervous, name an emotion, I might be feelin' it. :)

Have a wonderful week America. Toki Sio from Tonga!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Warm and Toasty in Tonga!

Hello dear blog readers!  Wait a second.  I just remembered that I’ve been letting this blog collect dust for the past two months.  So… there’s probably no one but my dear mom checking it at the moment.  Nevertheless, I think it’s time to make another entry [this entry being the first of a continual stream…hopefully!]. 
Here’s a VERY short encapsulation of my Peace Corps journey, thus far.  I arrived in Tonga in the beginning of October.  I lived with an amazing Tongan family for about 2 months while I [along with my 26 fellow new PCV’s] learned the ins and outs of Tongan culture and language and received TEFL [Teaching English as a Foreign Language] training.  Now, let’s fast forward to today.  It has been 103 days since I waved goodbye to the ‘rents [and of course took a stereotypical ‘airport farewell’ picture] and set off for [is]lands unknown in the South Pacific. 
I know 103 days sounds like quite a long time, but I feel like this adventure is absolutely still in its beginning stage!  For my dear Truman friends, I think I just had 103 days of Freshman Week.  However, substitute the parties we attended for ‘concetis’ and ‘hulo hulas.’  These are two kinds of rockin’ dances I had the pleasure of attending in my homestay village.  They usually consisted of Peace Corps volunteers being shown up by Tongan ten year olds in possession of killer dance moves while the rest of the village looked on and giggled.  Also, substitute experimenting with dorm dining hall food for embracing ‘taimi ti’ [Peace Corps Tonga LOVES to supplement a good day of learning with plenty of tea and snacks.] and new Tongan foods [more on interesting foods later!].  Finally replace Truman Week faux classes and summer camp-esque activities with days full of presentations and team building activities.  Also, much of our time during Pre-Service Training was spent among fellow new volunteers.  It was definitely very comforting to be in the company of 25 amazing people who were experiencing many of the same challenges as myself.  So… I’m realizing this analogy may be kind of weak.  My point, though, is that the beginning of Peace Corps, much like Freshman Week is a transitional time meant to prepare us for a successful segway into confident and independent service.
But, moving on to more interesting news…  I am now quite comfortably settled in my new home!  My village has almost 300 people which is huge by Tongan ‘kolo ‘ [that’s the word for town] standards.  My town is a hodgepodge of many houses and churches all scattered on a pretty steep hillside overlooking the bay.  I would consider walking anywhere in my village to essentially be hiking. ;) 
The people here are pretty amazing and very generous.  On an almost daily basis, pineapples and papaya are brought to my front door.  Sidenote: Pineapple here is SO much better than any pineapple I’ve tasted before.  I will admit that I have eaten a whole pineapple by myself in one sitting here.  People are also very, very friendly here.  Tongan culture is very communal compared to our individualistic American tendencies.   People in my community have offered to stay and keep me company in my teeny house, because it is very odd in Tongan culture that anyone would live alone.  I quite happily declined, though.
I’ve also had the pleasure of experiencing many, many church services since arriving at site.  Going to church is a great way to meet people in my community.  However, I never quite expected to spend my New Year’s  Eve [10 pm to 1 am] at a church service!  It was quite a sight.  All the families brought pillows and woven mats and kids slept under the pews during the service.  There are also very early morning services at churches in my village.  Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday church bells start ringing at about 4:45 am.  Yes.  A.M.!!!  In the spirit of trying new things, I attended one of these services.  I don’t think I’ll be going back anytime soon, though. :) 
If you’re wondering why I haven’t talked about my actual job, it is because I haven’t quite started yet!  It is currently summer vacation here.  We begin school in one week and I’m very excited to actually start doing something productive.  I feel a little guilty that thus far, I’ve just been enjoying my new home and getting to know my neighbors.  Soon the real work begins and I will be sure to have lots of great ‘school stories!’
Ok. I PROMISE I will be blogging more regularly now!  Sorry about the delay, Mom. :)