Saturday, March 26, 2011

'Aho Sipooti! [Sports Day!]

Picture your average track and field meet.  From my vast experience (a.k.a. a one year track career in high school), I thought I knew essentially what to expect when my school participated in our first track meet.  There would be a few races, parents watching from the stands, and well…that’s about it.  As it turns out, I got more than I bargained for.

Our journey to the track meet began with cramming 15 kids + Nola into the back of a small truck.  During our ride, the kids sang victory songs, taunting all the towns we passed along the way. When we arrived, all the moms staked out a nice viewing spot and laid down their ‘fala’ (woven mats that a good Tongan mom doesn’t leave home without!).  No event in Tonga can begin without a prayer, so next a ‘faifekau’ [minister] stood up and delivered a quite thorough prayer/sermon blessing our brave runners!  Next, to kick off the day’s events, kids from each school lined up with big banners and proceeded to march around the track like miniature soldiers. 

As the races began, most families rested under giant tents set up for each team.  You do NOT sit under the hot Tongan sun all day; a tent is quite the necessity!  As I glanced around, I realized there was a very disproportionate female to male ratio under said tents.  I was a little confused, because I assumed dads would love to come cheer the kids on.  Alas, my confusion subsided when I spotted the rolling Kava-mobile!  [I think I’ve talked about it before, but Kava is a traditional drink made from the kava plant’s root.  Men frequently have kava circles where they sit, imbibe, and talk about life while enjoying the relaxing effects of Kava]  One of the local guys decided to brew up a big batch of Kava and turn the back of his truck into a flatbed Kava circle in honor of Sports Day.

I thought I was all set to be a great spectator during Sports Day.  However, I somehow ended up as the official 2nd Place name recorder.  After each race, our 2nd place runner would scamper over to my table and I’d attempt to record his or her name.  HOLY MOLY!  I was not adequately prepared for this task.  I strained to hear the kids’ names as ‘Mambo Number 5’ blared next to me.  I may also have been distracted by the group of moms [and a few dads as well] groovin’ right out there in lane number one.  Between races, they’d head out to the field and dance as I’ve never witnessed moms dancing before! [more on that in future posts…]  During all of this hoopla, I am still attempting to decipher Tongan names.  Unfortunately, there are no Jane Smith’s here.   After I asked the kid to repeat himself about 7 times, I finally had a name like ‘Epalahame Vea Vaimo’unga written down.  I am assuming most of my name interpretations were pretty incorrect, but oh well! I tried.

In classic Tongan fashion, we also had some ‘taimi malolo’ [break time!].  The whistling and cheering abruptly came to a halt.  In fact, almost all chatter ceased.  Why, you ask?  Because it is ‘taimi kai’ [time to eat] of course!  Moms unloaded giant baskets filled with enough roasted pork, hot dogs, chicken, and yams to feed an army.  As usual, multiple moms set food in front of Nola laughing and insisting that I needed to ‘kai ke mate!’ [which essentially means eat until you die.  It’s quite a popular phrase here :) ]

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my first Tongan track meet.  It was extremely well organized and included a DJ, dancing moms, a full Tongan lunch feast, and even the rolling Kava-mobile.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch a track meet the same way again…

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Garden Fairies

One constantly enduring aspect of my Peace Corps service is its unpredictability.  It’s true that I have a generally structured schedule working at school each day.  However, there is always the unknown ‘X’ factor.  Every day I think I have life here a bit more figured out, but each day I experience at least one little surprise that reminds me I’m not in Missouri anymore [that might be funny if I were from Kansas].

Yesterday’s surprise came in the form of garden fairies!  First, you must understand that the yard surrounding my little house has always been a bit of a mess.  When I first moved in, there was not much grass to be seen.  The yard consisted of lots of tall weeds, rocks everywhere, and a mountain of old coconut shells. [People here feed pigs coconuts and accumulate quite a lot of shells.  My yard was apparently the neighborhood graveyard for coconut shells!] 

Slowly but surely the yard has been improving.  When the grass/weeds get out of control, a kind PTA soul comes over with a weedwacker [the most popular yard maintenance machine here, followed closely by big machetes…] and tames my yard.  My contribution to the yard work has been moving rocks around.  There are a few parts of my fence where my neighbors’ pigs are attempting to burrow underneath the fence in order to come leave pig poo gifts.  To battle them, I wander around my yard picking up rocks and then masterfully shoving them under the fence to create a pig proof rock barrier. 

Essentially, even after a weedwacking/rock moving session my yard was still a sad sight.  My dear neighbor, Mele Lose [who is 78 and loves to hobble over to my house to chat], always sits on my front steps and peering into my yard mumbles things like ‘faka ‘ofa’ and ‘palaku.’  She is saying that the yard is pitiful and ugly and a variety of other chatterings that I don’t understand.  : ( 

The moms did a wonderful job directing the very helpful kids.
  'Plant that one a little to the left, eh?'
They may be sitting now, but a minute ago the lovely ladies were
toiling away in the garden!
Here is where the Garden Fairies come in!  Yesterday, 4 ladies and an assortment of kids appeared at my front gate with brooms, shovels, and plants!  Everyone went to work sweeping grass, burning huge piles of grass, picking up the never ending supply of rocks, and finally creating a little garden for Nola.  I sat with some of the kids reading Dr. Seuss books while my pitiful weed collection turned into a respectably maintained yard.  Now… you can confirm with my ‘Master Gardener’ mother that I’ve never been one to pine after plants.  But, my new little garden made me pretty much ecstatic.  I suppose my delight stems not actually from the garden, but from the kindness shown to me by these lovely ladies.  It is not as if they were at home reading Vogue Tonga and needed further entertainment.  More likely, these women left piles of laundry and unfinished cooking and cleaning in order to come help me. 

I am continually impressed and humbled by the generosity of my Tongan community.  I only hope I can keep my new plants alive, so that my Garden Fairies’ work has not been in vain.      

Friday, March 11, 2011

TIT: Transportation in Tonga

Transportation in Tonga should really be a spectator sport or maybe a math problem.  The truck rolls to a stop; 4 people, a dog, and three chickens hop off and 3 people and a pig hop on.  How many people are in the truck now? Who knows?!?  But mo’oni [really!], transportation in Tonga has been quite the adventure thus far.  My trips to the big city [which I think may only consist of about 1,000 people] begin and end with an always interesting transportation adventure.

On my way into town, I usually hitch a ride with my town’s school bus.  There is no high school in my village so the kids are bussed into Neiafu each day.  This transportation adventure commences around 6:45 when I hear the ‘warning whistle.’  I am still not exactly sure of the schematics, but it seems as though each week some lucky kid has the task of being everyone’s alarm clock.  Aforementioned lucky kid, runs around town with a big whistle alerting everyone that it’s almost ‘taimi alu!’ [time to go!].  About 15 minutes later, the bus starts honking its horn and it is really time to go!  I hurriedly finish my oatmeal and scurry out the door. 

Sometimes I get the honor of sitting up front with the driver.  The kids all pile into the back of the bus, which is actually not a bus at all.  It is a giant flatbed truck with benches and a big tarp protecting the kids from the ‘vela la’a mo ‘uha’ [hot sun and rain]!  We begin our journey out of town honking along the way.  It is quite humorous to watch as the ‘tomui’ [late] kids come running out of their houses as we drive by.  If the driver is feeling extra kind, he’ll stop the bus.  If not, it’s time for a little ‘fakamalohisino’ [exercise]!  The kids get a little extra track practice by performing a run, leap, and land to get on the bus! 

This picture was taken a few months ago during Pre-Service Training.
It was one of our first suto 'hitchhiking' experiences in Tonga!
The real fun begins when I attempt to ‘foki mei kolo’ [return from town]!  There is a big market in Neiafu that is the hub for Saturday morning shopping and gossip.  It is also the unofficial suto pe [hitchhiking] headquarters.  I usually make my way to the market around 11 am hoping to catch lots of people returning home.  Some days, I arrive and am immediately plucked up by some kind soul and plopped in the back of their pick-up truck.  Whenever this happens, I feel as though there has been some divine intervention on my behalf.  Glorious!!!!

Most days though, it goes a bit more like this. Today, Nola arrived at the market around 11.  I chit-chatted with some ladies from my village who work at the market.  They listed off a few people who had just recently departed.  Naturally, I arrived after a parade of cars had just headed back home.  After this discovery, I hung out playing with the kids, watching for people from my town, and then attempting to remember their names.  Finally, the market began winding down and a very kind lady said ‘Nola, ha’u!’[Come with us!].  I hop in the car, happy to be heading home.  A bit of laundry, lunch, and ‘malolo’ [relaxing!]  were now only 20 minutes away.  Or so I thought.  Two hours later, I finally reached my front door.  We had stopped at about 5 different stores, stopped to chat with friends, stopped to do a little passenger ‘musical chairs,’ stopped to help a stalled truck get moving, and [naturally] stopped to let some cows cross the road. 

Transportation it seems, like every other part of life in Tonga, moves along to the beat of a unique drum [and the tempo is just a bit slower than I’m accustomed to].  So, I have realized that there is no such thing as a direct drive from point A to B.  However, there is usually certain to be at least a little adventure between A and home.  …and if no adventure, an invitation to the family’s Sunday meal makes any sweaty 2 hour trek well worth it!

side note 1: new pictures are up!

side note 2: We are all safe and sound in Tonga.  We had a Tsunami warning, but Vava'u is
one of the safest harbors on earth!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Heeeellllllllooooo Vava'u!

This week I had the pleasure of accompanying my good friend and fellow Peace Corps volunteer, Stereo Sephora, to her radio show.  Miss Sephora loves gracing the airwaves and quickly got involved with radio when we arrived in Tonga.  Yesterday, on my weekly field trip to the big city, I joined her and tried my hand at the radio biz.  Vava’u has a grand total of two radio stations that play quite the variety of music.
I’ve mentioned before the strange variety of music popular here [remember? a plethora of Bieber Fever, Mariah Carey, and any song  Bob Marley-fied!].  There are DJs here that create some bizarre and fantastic mixes.  Have you ever wished to hear a Queen song with just a few Lil’ John ‘Oh Yeahs’ mixed in?  Well.  If so, come on over to Tonga and your wish shall be granted. 

Luckily, during my foray into radio with Stereo Sephora, we played the classics.  DJ Nautical Nora sent some Styx and Steve Miller Band out into the airwaves.  Sephora has some amazing taste in music and plays lots of tunes from the 40s and 50s.  I have much to learn, but I’d say my first radio experience was a great time.  Highlights included a request from a listener who calls himself the 'midnight falcon.'  I spent two hours sitting in an old shipping container [pretty fancy station location, eh?], shooting the breeze with a good friend and some good music.  Just another Friday afternoon in Tonga, eh?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011