Thursday, December 18, 2008

I'm official!

This week Group 74 of the Peace Corps in the Kingdom of Tonga had our official Swearing- In ceremonty, which is to say that we celebrated our survival of traing. To commemorate the experience I have compiled some of my personal training highlights. (Viewer discretion: some context not appropriate for children but I will try to keep it PG) *Our arrival in Nuku'alofa closely followed by my first illegal activity in Tonga: buying bottled water on a Sunday. It was a back door purchase instigated by an Aussie (or maybe he was a Kiwi... I'm not sure but apparently "It's kinda shady, eh?") *Vava'u, the heat, kapapulu and spegetti-o pizza, and the naked children *Basketball Jones: Daily basketball games on the Mormon court. Tongans vs. Palangis. And finally being a major baller, quite possibly the one of the best female ballers in the nation at that moment. *A new definition of clean. I was sitting on the porch of my first homestay playing around with One and Sifa while Va'inga washed sheets in a large barrel of the edge of the porch. He left the wash for a minute. I hear a tinkel and to my dismay, see Sifa leaning off the edge of the porch and peeing into the open barrel of wash with a big 'ole grin on his face. *Fevers, boils, parasites and fakalele (which means "like running") * "In da Bush" * Watching the monumental moment that was Election Day on a foreign island and our celebratory dip in the harbor. *A Pornographic Experience: My host family borrowed a t.v. and dvd player from a neighbor and was so excited to have a "sio vitio" night with me. My host dad presented me with their selection of dvds. Both he and my host mother stood over me watching as I flipped through the titles. I stumbled upon a couple "Barely Legals","Almost Legals" and a few I should not mention (I will let your imaginations fill in the blanks). I tried not to gasp or react in an obvious manner but glanced up at my host parents. They were nodding in approval and complete absence of recognition on their faces. "sio vitio?" I forgot to mention that pornography is illegal in the Kingdom. *Anga faka-palangi: the boat trip, the beauty and the drama *Quickly discovering what they mean by "The Tongan Sneak Around" and just how sneaky they can be... These last two months have been a ride. Now the real life part begins.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Giving Thanks in ‘Eua

As part of training, we are assigned to spend a week with a current volunteer to get a sense of what our life might be like for the next two years. The idea is to be placed with a volunteer who currently works and lives in the area you are assigned. I was placed with a volunteer on an island that I have now deemed “my vacation home”. ‘Eua is the only island with notable elevation so there are fantastic hiking trails, cliffs and banyan trees, oh, and a rainforest with a waterfall. I am getting ahead of myself. Let me start from the beginning. I traveled to ‘Eua from Nuku’alofa (if you have been following, you may note that this is where I will be living) on a three- hour boat ride. Being a land mammal, I was pretty sure my sea-legs were underdeveloped. I, Ashley (another trainee) and a current volunteer, sent to show us the ropes quite literally in a few different ways, climbed up from the deck to the top of the boat with the crew. We stood grasping the crates tied to the top and ducking to avoid the waves that swept over the vessel. I arrived in ‘Eua with my breakfast still in my stomach and wearing a fresh skin of dried sea salt. The adventures continued the following day with a hike through most of what the island has to offer inland. The banyan trees’ tangled roots and branches reached deep down into eroded caves and stretched above the rest of the trees to make an interesting skyline. (Matt, if you read this, these are the trees you dream of climbing.) The paths cut through field of palms and coconut trees that juxtaposed groves of pine trees. (The pine trees were sent to the island as part of New Zealand Aid as a source of lumber; yet, nothing is really built out of wood…) There was a lookout above the rainforest where we could over hear a parrot’s conversation and caught a glimpse of one in flight. Yet the highlight was without a doubt, Rat’s Cave. While the name dauntingly seems to come from an Indiana Jones flick, it is quite possibly one of the most beautiful places on earth. We shimmied through a hole in the forest floor and dropped onto the floor of a shallow cave gouged in the face of a cliff over looking the South Pacific Ocean. Looking out, the wind whipped and all that could be seen was sea kissing sky. It was like sitting on the edge of the world. You could image the water simply tumbling off the edge of the horizon and falling to the abyss. And then there was Thanksgiving. Eight Americans from various states gathered in a Tongan guest house with a turkey shipped from the States and a collection of other delicacies, like apple pie baked from scratch and mashed kape (a starchy root crop that is so dense that it attempted to cement the wine bottled we used to mash it in its thickness), inviting a German guest and a handful of Tongan children to join us. It wasn’t holiday with the Oswald’s and there were no peanut butter balls but that turkey was good and so was the company.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Stills from Tu'anikevale

For Tahi...

During the past six weeks of training our little crew in Tu'anikevale has grown quite close, unexpectedly so I might add, and it is sad to end our Tongan version of summer camp as we are sent across the nation to various attachments. Sadder still is that we two members of our crew have resigned from training and are flying back to the states tomorrow. I am hurt to see them go and feeling a little lost without Trent, or Tahi in Tongan. I have to accredit Trent with a lot of the bonding that occurred in our group through, if nothing else than, making us laugh when we didn't think we'd make it this far. Many of you may not have recognized his talent, but Trent was an aspiring poet. He asked if I could put up some of his poems on my blog. (Apparently a lot of people actually read this mush I type up.) Trent, this is for you with love. Poems by Trent Wallace MONGOMONGA Mongomonga in my room Mongomonga full of doom They are big and fast and black And they’re always coming back Mongomonga go away This to God above I pray If my wish is not fulfilled Mongomonga you’ll be killed Molokau Oh Mr. Molokau Please tell me why You make people scared And make people cry Maybe it’s because You have hundreds of feet Or maybe because You are always discrete Maybe because You always seem mad Or maybe just simply Your sting hurts so bad Maybe it’s because You’re shaped like a stick Or maybe because You’re just so darn quick Maybe I can’t answer The question of why Yeah maybe, just screw it I hope you all die!!! HIGHS AND LOWS As I walk down the street In my village today All the Tongans I pass Say “Malo lei lei” My spirits are high A smile on my face I feel like I’m home Yes, I love this place Snap back to reality I hear a yelp A dog’s being beaten I think he needs help I hold back my rage With all of my might Because sadly, in Tonga This behavior’s alright When language is over We take to the court We shoot hoops and play rugby Or some other sport Everyone’s happy We have such a blast We all laugh and play Time passes so fast Snap back to reality My shower’s cold as can be And the spider above Is bigger than me As I shampoo my hair I keep open one eye If the bastard touches me There’s no doubt I’ll die Just when I think I won’t make it a year My house father shouts “Tahi, come drink a beer!” I eat a huge supper That’s fit for a king When I’m with my family I need not a thing Snap back to reality I’m reading in bed When I hear a noise That fills me with dread A Mongomonga flies by And makes my skin crawl He gives me the finger And lands on the wall I choke down some Nyquil While I drift off to sleep I pray to the Lord My soul he will keep My dreams are all filled With family and friends And a girl that I like Please don’t let it end Snap back to reality Very quickly I wake To roosters and kids And bells, for God’s sake Although I’m quite pissed On my face a smile grows In Tonga you deal With the highs and the lows 

Sunday, November 16, 2008

My Assignment...

It now appears to be the time for me to put on my big girl pants. I have been assigned to work with the Ministry of Education of Tonga to develop and implement a special education/ inclusive education program. I will live in the capital city, Nuku'alofa pop. 20,000, and be housed by the ministry. My job will include working in a special education classroom, teaching a course on inclusive education at the Teacher Training College and traveling to the various island groups to raise awareness for inclusive education. I am, while flattered, feeling grossly under qualified. I was preparing myself to teach in a small hut-like classroom to a group of less than 20 students but someone saw something else and probably just enough book knowledge to qualify me. Do not get me wrong, I am thrilled to receive this position and ecstatic just knowing how much I can do; but with that same power, I am scared. Wish me luck, friends.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Tu’anikevale: Kaukautahi

I happen to be one of the lucky PCTs that is stationed directly off the ocean and at dusk we often visit the various beach access to the ocean or the lookout points. The kids head off to their swimming spot everyday and glad for us to tag along when we can. The Tongan phrase for swimming in the ocean is ‘kaukautahi’, which literally translates to ocean shower or ocean bath; very fitting for the sweaty, mango-mustached children that partake every day. As we were jumping in from the road into the dammed area, a fellow PCT and I stepped back just to watch. He whispered, “We are jumping into the ocean on a far away island with the village children. It’s just like a movie.” And it was. Only far better. Here are some of my favorite pictures:

Friday, October 31, 2008

What Ails Me.

So I have an owie and I am bonding with the PCMOs (Medical Officers. There is something about me and nurses. They always seem to be my fast friends...) but during one language lesson I was elevating my swollen ankle (It got infected from a bug bite but is not a big deal. I am taking drugs and I'm okay, Mom.) My buddy Trent jotted down a poem written from my perspective on my notebook. It went a little like this: "First there was the dreadful heat, Then the mosquitoes raped my feet. The second week I finally cried, A few days later my stomach died. This present week is almost done; And my little ankle looks like the sun. But when life is rough and the cards stacked to the deck, I just laugh at my teacher 'cause he looks like 'SHREK'!" And he does too. It's uncanny, if only he were green...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ten reasons I don’t think we are in Kansas ( well, Iowa) anymore.

1. There is a banana tree outside the shower I use. 2. Speaking of a shower, it is freezing and from collected rain water but it is all good since it is 90 degrees and humid constantly. 3. The toilet has a full flush and a half flush, you can choose depending on your need of disposal. 4. The seemingly unsupervised children roam the village in hordes. 5. My 4 year old host brother runs around the house naked with a stocking cap covering his face and yielding a machete. 6. No shirt, no shoes, no service doesn’t exists. Half the people in line at the bank were barefoot. 7. Loitering is not discouraged. In fact, it is a national past time. If you ask anyone what they are doing, their most frequent answer is “Eva pe” or “Sio pe”. Just wandering around or just watching. 8. I miss public transportation. There is a guy in the village that owns a bus and drives it into town twice a day and you just catch a ride with him when he goes otherwise you hoof it. 9. If I walked down the street an hour ago, everyone knows it and speculates as to why. 10. My sexiest legal swimsuit consist of men’s basketball shorts I picked up at the market and my Pat McManus t-shirt.

For Mrs. Green's Art Students:

In Tonga, men and women both dress up their attire for formal occasions by wearing a traditional woven garment around their waist. The men wear a taovala, which looks like a woven mat tied by a rope, and the women have a kiekie, which is more stylized by the creator. The kiekie can by woven strips, braided ropes or other styles hanging from a belt around the women’s waist. The kiekie and taovala are part of Tongans strong sense of indentity and pride in their culture as they are the only Pacific nation to wear these regularly in their daily life. The uniqueness of the taovalas and kiekies say something both about the creator and about the person whom they are created for. How might this cultural fashion element speak to the views of the Tongan people who are very modest in dress and very proud in the heritage? note: The women above are wearing taovalas for a Catholic Sunday Mass.

Tu'anikevale: The Tou'a and the Men

Every evening as the church choir practice and maululu dances wind down, the men take over the halls for their kava circles. The kava circle is a boys club where the men get stoned on kava and shoot the shit, gossiping and poking fun at each other. If they are lucky, the men get a tou’a to serve them. The tou’a is a single young female who is willingly to hang with the boys, let their come ons roll off her shoulders and sass back to them while serving kava late into the night. The tou’a is typically guaranteed only at the formal kava circles or the circles held for fundraising for community projects where the men pay in to join the circle. I was asked to tou’a at one of the later and I could not say “no” to an invitation for my first peek into the Tongan boys club. The men were, I think, unusually kind to me keeping their crude jokes to themselves for now. I am pretty sure my instructor being in the next circle kept them somewhat inline. (He’s kinda a big guy. I wouldn’t mess.) The best way for me to describe the circle is to compare it to a puff, puff, pass situation in a smelly frat room where that guy is falling asleep against the wall and the guy on your left is giving you the eye but blushing when you catch it. The highlight of the evening came when an older member of my circle stood to relieve himself and his tupanu ( the mens’ wrap around formally worn in Tongan) had slipped down and his butt crack was peekin’ . The men rolled and continued as he walked across the room and bent over to talk to another man and mooned us all. Ah, giggle fits. Tongans are fun. Fakaoli, man.

Tu'anikevale: My First Mormon Mixer

I had the most bizarre sort of fun at this event. The whole village attended the dance held on the basketball (or rather net ball here) court behind the Mormon Church. Crepe paper and balloons hung were crisscrossed over the fences and folding chairs were set up along the boundary lines. All the Mormons in the village showed up in their best get-up and the rest of the village drove their cars onto the lawn , directly up to the fence of the court to watch. The entire village bumped to the sounds of Tongan music and reggae intertwined with hits from America’s popular club sounds. It is quite hilarious to watch Mormons, who do not believe in enjoying a drink, get down to “Bartender”. As the song spills, “I’m at the bar with her…”, the men approach the women sitting in the folding chairs around the court and bow in front of the lucky lady they would like to dance with. The lady gets up and follows him into the middle of the court where they immediately beginning swaying about 3 feet away from each other, avoiding all eye contact and not speaking to each other. There is absolutely no bump and grind, my friends. After a few awkward numbers, I settled on dancing with the group of preteen girls who have become my posse. They like my palangi dance.

Tu'anikevale: My Family Ties

I am staying in Tuanikevale with a young couple not much older than I. Tupou is 25 and her husband, Vi’iangi, is 27. They have three children. One is 4, Sifa is 3 and Falemaka is only 5 monthes. The family is overwhelmingly kind and treats me well. I fight with Tupou trying to get her to let me help. Week one, I said she could treat me like a guest but by week two I need to be pulling my own weight; yet, today she still said, “Next week?” when I got up to do my dishes but I shook my head and did them anyway. I am not very comfortable being catered to. The family is trying to help me learn Tongan by quizzing me on various occasions, particularly right after I wake up when I can hardly speak English so most of the time I just sound like I am slow. One, the four year old, is probably the most fond of me as he yells my name from the front porch whenever I walk down the drive and runs out, often bare-assed, to greet me. He even speaks to me like I am slow since most of the time I just smile at him and ask him the four questions I know. I let him listen to my ipod a few times and now he runs into my rooms asking for the telephone and making a motion of putting head phones in his ear.

The family is among the poorest in the village and I believe this to be in part because they are so young. The kids consume most of their time and I don’t see them working much away from the home because of this. Vi’iagne works in the bush harvesting crop and Tupou weaves mats for sale in town but with such young kids they do not leave the house for long. The baby was sick the first week I was here and cried a lot so I felt like another child to add to their burden. They are wonderful parents, noting a difference in parenting (I will talk about that later), and seem like very happy people. The family is Mormon, which I just discovered upon arriving at Mormon service Sunday and that will lead to a bunch of interesting discoveries I am sure. I received the Book of Mormon during the service; special for me in English.

I am very grateful for all that Tupou and Vi’iange are doing for me. This experience is proving to be interesting and challenging. The home stay is definitely to break us into the Tongan way of life and it is doing so fast and hard for me.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Tuanikevale: The Human Experience

I have been sent to Tuanikevale on the Vava'u, the most northern group of islands, for my six week homestay. It is a sleepy village that never sleeps blanketed by thick stars and set in rolling hills of "the bush" that seperate it from the waves crashing on the coral reefs just beyond the beach. The people walk lethargically through the town and work in the bush harvesting mango, root and pinneapple taking frequent breaks from the hot sun and sleeping and eating every couple of hours but in the cooler evenings the thick air is full of the sounds of singing and laughing as the people gather to practice traditional dance or gossip around the kava circles. Every day is the same. And it is here that I have discovered again what I know to be true; people are people where ever you go and it is the simplest things that make us all the same. I am a foreigner still who "lea faka-Tonga si'i si'i pe." I speak very little Tongan but though a laugh, a touch, the upraised lift of an eyebrow, there is a commonality some understanding, even just at me being the butt of a joke.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Pictures from my initial stay in Nuku'alofa

The Day of Rest

In Tonga, it has been repeatedly emphasized, Sundays are for church, eating and sleeping. And that is not an exaggeration in the least. I attended the Catholic Mass. I figured I could follow this one for Catholic truly is 'universal' except Tongans sing a great deal more and do it well. After Mass, I was introduced to the priest. He referred to one of our instructors as his "auntie". His mother is her second cousin. We ate soon after. It was a feast, complete with a whole pig roasted over a spit. And then we slept. Everyone did. The streets were empty in the capital city and all the shops were closed. It is the law. The bakery has permission to open after 3pm and a few restuarants could open at 6pm with clearance from the King. Beyond that, it is illegal to buy and sell on Sundays. As well as excercise or do your laundry, those are illegal too. I will, however, have to tell some of you about our encounter with an Aussie on Sunday at a later date. We are traveling to Vava'u tomorrow to begin our 6 weeks of homestay.These islands are said to be the most beautiful but also very hot. I am excited to see all that unfolds during homestay. I am also a little frightened. Let me explain beyond the language, I am worried that I may offend. I don't believe I have mentioned the concept of modesty in this culture yet. Women and men traditionally wear long skirts covering their knees down to their calves or ankles. Even in Nuku'alofa it is rare to see pants and shorts are truly scarce. Women never show their knees or shoulders outside the home, even while swimming or excercising. While I am not one to flaunt, modesty has never been my strong suite so this respect of cultural sensitivity is something I am constantly trying to be conscience of. I have acquired a few more long skirts and am in the process of saying 'goodbye' to my legs outside of the shower but it is going to take some adapting for me. I do, however, respect this notion and see a real beauty in the humility of the women in this culture. From an outside perspective so far, it is to be admired. I love and miss you all!

Training with the Tongan Navy

For water safety training, we were driven out to the Tongan Naval Base. The base had two small ships in harbor and approximately five men on the grounds (one of which pushed a mower around the same ten feet of yard for the entire three hours we were in the water)and absolutely no artillary in sight. Our water competency test consisted of each of us individually jumping off one of the small ships into the water, where a few Tongan men were treading water and awaiting one of us to start sinking, treading water for 2 minutes without using our arms, swimming about 50 meters alone and then towing another person 25 meters. We did all of this twice. I'm sure you can all guess, I was a little frightened at first since open water is a different concept for me but I had a blast. The water was clear and blue and warm. I could see my own feet below me, which may not seem like a big deal but if you have ever swam in Lake Panorama you know how special that is. On a side note to my Iowa friends, I made a comment to another trainee about there not being any bugs on the water. She gave me a funny look since she is from California. I felt like a complete dork acknowledging that the only "open water" I am used to is lake water that has mosquitoes and dragonflies flighting on it in front of your face as you swim. I feel more and more country every time I mention Iowa. So all went well. I actually applied some of my lifeguard training (Erin, I know you are proud) and taught my fellow PCTs (peace corps trainees)how to successfully tow another individual. After we debriefed and prayed (everything here begins and ends with extensive prayers, I'll talk about that more later) we prepard to leave the base while the captain who had led our session picked up a guitar and belted out local tunes with his few men in the shade. I would sign up for this navy.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Kava ceromony

Once we arrived in Tongatapu, the new PC trainees (that's me) attended a bbq at the country director's house and as part of that we partook in a Kava ceromony. Kava is a south pacific drink made from taro root and sugar cane in room temperature water. It is said to give heightening effects to your sense and yet also make you very sleepy. The story behind kava in Tonga is that the Tongan King went to visit a family but they had nothing to offer him for a meal. The family, as the story goes, decided to kill their sick daughter and offer her as food for the visiting king. They killed her and began to cook her in an underground oven when the king found out what they had done. He was so moved by their sacrifice that he told the family to leave her buried. After some time the a taro root and sugar cane grew at the place where the daughter lay. The family noticed a rat that would nibble off the taro root, wobble about like he was intoxicated then nimble off the sugar cane and regain his balance. Thus kava was born. Interesting. The ceromony begins with the chief sitting at the top of a circle flanked by two speaking chiefs and the heirachoral ranking stems down from them to the bottom of the circle where the kava is made in a wooden bowl. The taro root is crushed and put into room tempature water and then strained out by dried reeds of sugar cane. The "doas" or single young females distributed the kava around the circle once the speaking chief speaks the name of who is to recieve and that individual claps in recognition of their turn to accept. After all the kava is drank, a young single woman comes out in traditional dress with all her exposed skin being her arms, shoulders and calves covered in oil to dance in the center of the circle of (typically) men. The men than slap money onto her oil covered skin and apparently if the money sticks then it is proof that she is a virgin. Lather up, ladies! Sounds sort of bachelor party like but it is a tradition boys club in my opinion. The kava tasted a little like, well, Iowa lake water; so dirt, only more watery. I didn't feel any side effects but others said they did so...? It was an amazing experience for sure but sadly my last on the recieving end since women are not allowed to participate in kava ceromonies. I could "go doa" and serve, which might actually be my style since it seems to be a more respectable cocktail waitress.

I am "palangi"

I am currently staying at a guest house in the capital city of Nuku'alofa. The term city is used loosely as the city is approximately 2 miles by 5 miles and as one Tongan woman on the street told me, "If you stay here long enough, you know everybody!" The people are so welcoming and greet you from their cars, their front stoops, on the street or even from inside their homes while you are walking by. Part of that could be because I am "palangi" or foreigner and I am a white girl. The Tongans also love to laugh and do so heartily at all times in any situation, although once again part of this could simply be because I am palangi, but the Tongans really are a refreshing sort of people. The city is unlike anything I imagined as far as a capital city is concerned. Pigs, chickens and dogs roam the street as well as people yet no one seems to get hit by the toyota trucks and mitzubishi cars that come barrelling down the dirt roads. Oh and they driver in on the right of the car and traffic is on the left. I continue to double take every time I see a small child leaning out the front left window of a car, swearing I just saw an infant driving that car! There are banana, mango and coconut trees in every yard and exotic flowers decorate the gates yet crushed pop cans and scattered trash flank the roads. Behind most houses are large cement rain basins to collect the rain which is used to bathe and drink in the community. The king lives here with the queen mother's castle across the road. The castles look more like upper surbia houses with very long driveways, a gate, and a few select members of the king's army wandering the yard. All of this is set in front of vast clear blue sea that kisses the sky interrupted by the glipses of islands in the distance. It is "'ifo".

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

En Route...

Hi friends, I am currently sitting on the floor of LAX waiting for our 11:15pm flight out of the United States. We are flying ten hours to Apia, Samoa to drop off the trainees that will serve in Samoa. There are 13 people to serve with this group in Samoa. One of these is from Cedar Rapids, yea Iowa. (And get this, one trainee heading to Samoa is fortunate enough to have the exact name of one of the members of NKOTB. I feel bad releasing Mr. Knight's full name and location but, uh, you get me. I asked him if he was missing his tour. He was thoroughly amused.) Back to the itinerary, after we refuel in Samoa we will fly an hour and a half into the next day. We will arrive in Tonga at 8:15am Thursday October 9, Tongan time. I will not have a Wednesday. Kinda like flying through a time warp, only not, but I do like to think of it like that. Upon arrival, we will be greeted by the in-country representatives and head honchos. It is all very exciting. I am traveling with a very interesting and eclectic group and absorbing all the information and names that I can. It seems that everyone has read or heard all sorts of different things about these little islands we will soon call home. I will share more soon. Peace

Monday, September 29, 2008

My mailing address

This will be my official mailing address for my entire service, I believe. Once I move away from the base, where I will be for my initial three months of training, mail will be shipped to me from this address, so all my pen pal notes can be sent here: 
Cassandra Kendzora, PCT
Peace Corps
PO Box 147
Kingdom of Tonga
South Pacific
Thanks in advance for any snail mail. I know it probably won't be cheap but I do love mail call.

Toki sio

Hello all,
It is now less than 1 week till I am jet setting to L.A. for my staging event. I fly out of Des Moines on Monday October 6. I will meet my so-far-mysterious cohorts once I arrive and begin my training process. This initial orientation will be brief as we are scheduled to fly out of Los Angeles at 11:30 pm on October 7. I will arrive at my destination of Tongatapu, the main island of Tonga, around 8:15 am Wednesday October 8. As I was putting all these details together, it dawned on me that this will actually be the first time I have flown alone. I am in for a wild ride, folks. 
Thank you to all my friends and family. Your love and support means the world to me and it is only because of  you that I feel confident in setting out on this, with no better words, adventure. 
I love you all and toki sio! (see you later)