Lola & Toni in the Tonga

A big Swim
September 1, 2008, 2:46 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

In other recent news, Lara swam to a little resort island off the main island of Tongatapu on Sunday.  A group of people, including some of the Australian and Kiwi volunteers organized a Pangaimotu swim on Sunday.  Of course, swimming is against the law on Sunday here in Tonga as it is a day of rest, but I guess Palangis can get away with allot of things here in Tonga.

We were out the door early (6:45 am) which is unheard of for me on my new Peace Corps schedule.  Oh well, it was Sunday, and we could rest when we got back.  We met some friends and drove down to the starting point.  About 8 other swimmers showed up and about 4 kayaks and a motor boat.  The people in the kayaks and motorboat were there to make sure everything went smoothly and to help out if there were any problems.  Of course, since I have become extremely lazy when it comes to swimming, I was to accompany a friend of ours and her 18 month old boy in a double kayak.  I was there for support, and of course, breakfast.  The swimmers took off for a 1.5 kilometer swim around 7:45 and about 30 minutes later swam up to the wonderful little island of Pangaimotu.

Even though it was an extremely cold day in Tonga, I think it was probably pretty good for a swim…Of course, I didn’t get in the water.  At the end there was a wonderful breakfast of bacon, eggs, toast, juice and coffee.

Lara to this day impresses me with her desire to get out and do things like this….She is the best.


A day in the bush
September 1, 2008, 2:22 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

So, quite a bit has happened since we returned from New Zealand, like the coronation of the king.  We hope to upload some pics from that, and post on the events as soon as possible.  For now, I am going to try keep up with current happenings.

Lara and I both work with a local youth group here in Tonga on different projects.  They are a pretty organized group for Tonga, and have weekly meetings and a bank account.  They even have elected officials, which is pretty interesting for a country with a Royal Monarchy.  Anyway, we generally go to the meetings every week and events that the youth are having and participate as much as possible.  Besides a computer project I have been working on with them, I have been trying to get them into a vegetable planting project.  The vegetables could either be distributed through the community, or they could sell them as a micro-business enterprise project.  Either way, I thought it a good thing to get started, and they seemed to agree.    We have been putting it off for one reason or the other for a couple months now, but we finally decided Saturday would be our first planting day.

I think it is important to give a little background on Tongan agriculture before I go any farther.   Generally, Tongan families are given a plot of land in which to grow crops to support their family or make a living.  This is part of the social structure of Tonga.  Generally the nobles own the land and allow the Tongan people to farm on a section of about 8 acres.  This is known as the bush or “Uta” in the Tongan language.   This plot of land is passed down through the generations of Tongans as if they owned it.   This is how I know the structure, so I hope it is correct.  Anyway, Poli and Pila the adults who run the youth group have an Uta or bush plot that we could use.  Most of the time, the plots of land are minimally utilized  probably due to the fact that the land is all farmed by hand.

On a side note again.  The Uta is generally man’s land, and it is where the men go to work and bring home dinner.  I think it is more of a place for man to escape, and possibly get drunk, sleep and possibly do a little bit of work.   When and if you alu ki uta (go to the bush) you will notice the large amount of beer and liquor bottles scattered around the place.  This is what leads me to my conclusion of a man’s escape to do things he might not normally do in or around town.

On another side note.  Tonga is much different than other peace corps countries due mainly to these plots of farming land and the rich soil.  There is no one in Tonga who is starving as there are in other countries….In fact, Tongans are more well fed that the majority of people in developed nations.  They eat….allot!!!

OK, back to my day in the bush.  So, I was picked up by Poli and Pila on Saturday morning and headed to the bush with about eight or nine of the youth.  I was supplying the seeds, so gratefully sent by my dear mother and some given to me by the Ministry of Agriculture.   Their uta was gorgeous like so much of the Tongan landscape.  Most of Tonga is made up of agricultural land, but it still feels very tropical and in some cases like tropical jungle.  There were orange trees (very bitter), bananas of all kinds everywhere, mangoes, coconut trees, and of course your crops of Taro, manioke,  ufi, and other Pacific root crops.   We started clearing the piece of land they wanted to plant with vegetables, with many breaks to drink and eat young coconuts.  I realized that I had barely enough seeds to plant a small corner of the plot.  Oh well, we still cleared about half the area and then went to preparing the soil.  Clearing the land and preparing the soil is a very manual and physically demanding task to do here.  One person would turn the soil, then four of us would break down the big clumps with hoes, and then the others would break down the small clumps by hand.  Damn I was wishing I had that rototiller at Angie and Wylie’s house in Portland.  Then the planting started.  We planted two big rows of carrots, rows of tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, and eggplants.  Even though we planted a very small portion of the property, if all the plants fruit, it would be enough to feed a neighborhood of people.  We are hoping to go back every couple of weeks to plant new seeds, and if possible, plant starts that the Ministry of Agriculture said I could take when they are big enough.  If all works out well, this could be a very good project for the youth, and if not, at least we will have free vegetables in a couple of months.

After the work, it was time to eat.  A couple of the youth had started an umu (underground oven) while we started clearing the land.  By the time we were finished, the umu was ready.  Funny thing is that a bunch more people showed up right when they were opening the umu up..  Like I said, Tongans like to eat, and there is always enough food to go around.  The umu was filled with puaka (pig) pieces and manioke.  when they food was laid out, everyone ate like they hadn’t eaten in weeks….This is also typical of Tongan meals.   The food was delicious, and everyone ate until they were disgustingly full, another Tongan trait…I imagine you are getting the idea of Tonga and eating, no?

Everyone kept thanking me profusely for coming out to work with them.  The truth of the matter is that I really enjoy the work and being outside.  If I could do projects like this for the rest of my service in Peace Corps, I wouldn’t be disappointed one bit.  It ended up being a very rewarding day, and I hope to get a chance to do it more….