Lola & Toni in the Tonga

April 21, 2008, 11:31 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

A sad thing that happened last week. The mother of one of my students passed away.  So, on Wednesday I was to go to a Putu (funeral) with my students and some of the staff here at my school.  Putus here in Tonga are a huge affair.  Also, when a family member or friend dies, everyone wears black for an extended period of time.  If it is a mother or father, you are required to wear all back for at least a year.  If it someone else, you can usually get away with 3-10 days depending on who the person is that died.  So, since people are always dying, and Tonga has such a huge family system, approximately half the people you see or deal with in Tonga are wearing black at any one time.  Anyway, like I said, Putus are a huge deal.  They generally last for a few days and there is constant singing and praying going on.  This particular putu was huge.  There were tents sent up everywhere for people to eat, or people to sit and sing.  One tent in front of the house had about 100 women sitting there singing.  They sing non-stop except for when a group comes to pay their respect for the person and family, and then the group prays and sings.  There is also quite a bit of presents, money and food exchanged between the guests and family.  So, as a group, we came with a collection of money and many blankets, mats and tapas as gifts for the family.  We give the presents (which are later re-distributed through the community) and then go in the house to pay respects.  We say a prayer, we sing a hymn, we sing another hymn, and then we say another prayer as a group.  After this is done, we go see the body and smack a big kiss on her forehead.  This is the weird part for me because there is no embalming done in Tonga, so the body is kept frozen at the hospital until the showing.  So when you pay your respects, and kiss the forehead, it is like kissing a block of ice.  Since this is only my second putu, I still haven’t gotten used to this yet.  After we are done paying our respects, everyone gets to eat.  The family feeds all guests that arrive, and in many cases such as this, it can require feeding hundreds of people.  This is also one of the  only times you eat beef, or horse if there are no cows.

Anyway, this was a sad event for my student, but a very interesting cultural event to be a part of.  I am sure there will be many more in the future.


‘Aho Sipoti – Sports Day
April 17, 2008, 2:40 am
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Last Friday I skipped work along with everyone else on Tongatapu to attend ‘Aho Sipoti (Sports Day). ‘Aho Sipoti is essentially the scholastic intermural track and field Nationals. My Tongan counterparts try to explain it as “Intercollegiate Sports Finals” but that is not quite right as the kids that are participating are ages 12-17 years old.

‘Aho Sipoti is actually a 3 day event, Wednesday and Thursday are the initial heats to determine who is in the finals and then the finals and awards are held on Friday. Kids from schools on all the island groups in the Kingdom attend and compete. One of the coolest aspects of this competition is that schools on Tongatapu will raise money to help bring their comrades in from the neighbor island groups. As the Tongatapu kids don’t have to travel far they do fundraising to offset the travel costs of the neighbor island students. The competion is held at the local stadium called Teu Faiva which is a pretty nice venue. For ‘Aho Sipoti the grandstands at Teu Faiva are saved for the paying customers (who pay TOP$3) and all the students (or those who sit with them rather than in the grandstands) get in free and sit together in groups with their respective schools surrounding the track. There are even cheerleaders!….they are male, not feminine in the least, and they are literally cheer leaders. They lead the entire student bodies in the cheers they already know and keep everyone attentive and pumped up. I also learned about school “prefects” that day. Amid the sea of student bodies are student who stand up the whole time. I learned that they are prefects. Apparently due to their good behavior and schoolwork these students are awarded the title of prefect. As a reward these students get to stand up all day while everyone else gets to sit. Huh.

Tonga is a strongly collectivist society. The whole experience of ‘Aho Sipoti was this strange dichomous lesson in collectivist behavior. Like, how do you compete without feeling the sting of losing? Well, maybe it doesn’t hurt so bad if you helped raise money for the kid who won to get here, who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to attend. How do you recognize the best and brightest at your school in collectivist Tonga? Well, you make them stand up all day in front of everyone. I haven’t quite figured out the male cheerleader yet…why is he allowed to “show off” in a society that frowns on such things? I will definetely need to attend again next year in order to figure this all out.

I posted some picture of ‘Aho Sipoti. Check them out.



First Fridays
April 6, 2008, 9:21 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

In some places, first Fridays are another night to go out, or a chance to see free art at local galleries. For us serving in the Peace Corps, first Fridays are one of the best days of the month. First of all, we have just received our meager stipend for the month, so we have some cash in our pocket. I also have no work on Friday, so I can ride around a check out all the stores to see what they have if anything new. This Friday was good as I found boneless chicken and peperoni for a very reasonable rate, and shredded mozarella cheese at a specialty store. It is a great feeling when you find certain things you have been craving, and I was craving pizza. Second of all, the volunteers in Tongatapu get together for a monthly meeting to discuss volunteer issues and programs we are working on. This month, we also had elections for VAC (volunteer advisory committee). VAC is a body of volunteers who represent all volunteers in the field who may have concerns or issues they want to bring to the attention of the Administration in country. There are representatives from every island group that get together four times a year to discuss these issues and more. Of course, I decided to run for a VAC position because I guess I feel I can contribute and represent the volunteers. Unfortunately, only 7% of the volunteers in the world are married, and the average age of a volunteer in PC is 27. So, I may not be the best representative for this group, but we will see what happens.

Anyway, another reason first Fridays are so great is the fact that the Australian High Commision has an event called Sundowners. This is generally a get together of the palangi (white) community to drink beer and have some barbecue. It is a great place to meet contacts for our assignments, and generally hang out and have a good time. Oh, it is also the cheapest beer and drinks in town. This month it was held at the Australian Defense compound. Yes, the Australians have a defense compound in Tonga. It seemed a little odd to me, but when we arrived, it just seemed like a big party compound. There was a blow up jumpy house and play set for the kids, and a swimming pool. Sundowners usually lasts until about 7:30 – 8:00 when it is hosted at the AUS High Commision, but when held at the Defense Compound, it may go late into the evening. We ended up staying pretty late for an old married couple. After the party, we came home with two different Peace Corps couples that we hang out with sometime to continue the party. We made pizza, had a few more beers, and great conversation. It ended up being a great Friday.

Happy in Ha’apai
April 1, 2008, 3:13 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

crossing to Uoleva group

Originally uploaded by bigtintonga

So, recently we got to do one of our favorite things….Island hopping. After years in Hawaii, island hopping is the one thing you can do without spending a ton of money or travelling for 5+ hours.

Over the long Easter weekend, Lara and I planned a trip to the Ha’apai group to see our good friends and PCVs Scot and Karen who are posted on the main island of Lifuka in the Ha’apai group. In the Ha’apai group, there are many islands spread out all over the Pacific, but it is generally located between Tongatapu where we live and the island group of Vava’u where we spent six weeks of training.

There are 8 volunteers in Ha’apai, but two of them live on the island of Nomuka which is actually closer to Tongatapu. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see them, but were very excited to see the other six who were located somewhat close together. Scot and Karen had requested we bring lots of vegetables and any snacks that we wanted while up there, and they would plan a great weekend for us.

We left on Friday on time, which is almost unheard of here in Tonga and were in Pangai before 9:30 am. After arriving and spending some time wandering around Pangai, we realized why they wanted vegetables so bad. There were absolutely no vegetables at their market, and they had a much more limited selection of food as well as entertainment options than we have grown accustomed to here in Nuku’alofa.

After at least an hour of wandering, we decided to hit the only hotspot in the islands, Mariners bar and restaurant. Really, this is the only place to get a cold beer and something to eat in an actual bar type setting. It is also very expensive since it is the only option, and everything has to be shipped from somewhere else, to Tongatapu, then to Pangai. Either way, the beer was cold, and the company was great.

That night, Scot, who is an excellent cook, whipped up a great meal of fish tacos and invited all the PCVs over for dinner. Everyone was happy with the tacos, especially the fact that they were vegetables to eat. We had talked about what to do while we were there, and the next day decided to go camp on the island south of Lifuka called Uoleva. Uoleva is deserted besides two resorts. I use the term resorts very loosely though.

In order to get to Uoleva, you can take a boat, or you can wait to low tide and cross through the channel between the islands. We decided to walk it since taking a boat was expensive and less of an adventure. We loaded up the next day and headed out. In the photo above, you can see our group before we crossed the channel behind us. That is Uoleva in the distance. It was perfect conditions crossing, and a beautiful walk down the beach to the Southern end to where we would camp.

There are two resorts on the island, as I said. The one we decided to hit was called Daiana’s resort. They had Fales, a kitchen you could use, and apparently fresh seafood if you wanted to pay. Lonely guide reccomends this as a Beach Bums paradise. What we saw when we got there was a whole different story. The fales were falling down (except one), the kitchen had washed into the ocean, and the only water was from a well you had to dip a bucket in (which was fine). Good thing we brought tents and our own food for the night! We met Daiana the proprietor (or so she claimed) and she was a tongan sized woman wearing a mesh see through shirt. Her husband was a one armed man who had been recently released from prison for shooting someone. They ended up being really friendly and made for interesting conversation that night.

Anyway, Phil, Grant, and Scot went spearfishing for dinner, while I collected coconuts to make some fresh cocount milk to cook the fish in. Phil scored two nice fish that we cooked up in the fire later that night. It was an incredible day on this little deserted island. One of the best vacations we have had in sometime. The next day we walked back to Pangai and spent the rest of the day at Scot and Karens relaxing.

The next day, we rented bicycles to ride up to the island North of Lifuka, Foa to spend the day lounging by the beach. On the North end of Foa is one of the most expensive resorts in Tonga that I have seen. There is also a little restaurant an guest house at the end as well. We decided to spend the day by the Sandy Beach resort. The beaches there were incredible, with super clear water, and reefs about 30 meters out like most of the beaches we had seen there.

It was another incredible day, but we had a plane to catch later that afternoon. So, we raced back to Pangai got packed up and waited for the ride that promised to pick us up. Apparently the person picking us up was called to referee a rugby match and forgot, so we had to get another ride. Unfortunately, when we arrived to the airport to find out that they sold our seats. When you are talking about a plane that only seats 12 people and only flies once a day, you don’t have many options. Needless to say, we headed back to Scot and Karens for another night. We spent most of the evening with Grant at Mariners where we spent more money in four hours than we did the whole weekend there. Oh well, we had a great time.

Anyway, it was a great trip, and wonderful to see the other PCVs, but we found that the people posted in Ha’apai are in a much different situation than most of the other PCV’s. They are having more of the Peace Corps experience that we thought we would have. All I can say is that I am happy with where we got posted, and would love to visit Ha’apai again, but to live there would be a completely different story.

I have uploaded a few pics from our trip, and will get some more up as soon as possible.