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