Friday, January 29, 2010

Foki ki ako! Back to School at GPS MATAMAKA!

(Photo: GPS Matamaka students class 1 to 3, we are making goblin faces)

DING DING DING! The sound of the empty propane tank (aka the school bell) echoed throughout the village on Monday, January 25 as it officially announced the commencement of the 2010 school year at GPS Matamaka. I have been waiting for this week to finally come for the last month, because I can actually start to “work” at my site.

My co-teacher (Ma’asi) and I returned back to the island right after planning week in Neiafu. It was nice to be back and retreat to one of the nearby beaches around my house since it has been ridiculously hot the past two/three weeks. However, the last three days have been windy and rainy, but it has made the temperature here very pleasant (plus we really need the rain). Anyway, members of the PTA have been very busy preparing the school property for the year. The lawn has been neatly trimmed and all the rubbish was disposed of from the school yard.

The first day of school first started out with all the students lined up in front of the school and Tongan flag. Just like any event here in Tonga, we have our opening prayer which was shortly followed by the Tonga national anthem. We have a total of 16 students this year! It is a big number right? We may have a couple of stragglers still coming next week, but for the most part that is everyone from class one to six. We were originally anticipating around 25, but some families moved to Neiafu or elsewhere around the area. The students were priceless when I watched them all line up with their little red and white school uniforms singing their national anthem. My new goal has been to get the Tongan anthem memorize so I too may sing along with them.

My principal/head teacher of Matamaka is teaching classes four to six, while Ma’asi teaches classes one to three. If you have not figured it out already, GPS Matamaka has multi-level classrooms. I will be observing both classes for the next two or three weeks so I can get an idea of where students stand with their English language. In addition, I have been busy trying to get the library up and running. The work has mostly been reorganizing the books, due to the fact that there has been no form of organization system at all in the past. All the books seem to have been placed randomly on the book shelves. On the contrary, the library could use some more books for the children. Most of the books have been donated by yachters who visit the school, so if anyone is reading this and would love to help contribute the English development of children in Matamaka, please send us some/any used or new books. There are other projects floating around the school that I am starting to work on. The biggest and most important has been trying to figure out the solar panels. I am still looking into some missing wires and equipment, but I hope to figure it all out soon so we can get some computers online at the school.

One of the highlights of my week has been with the Ma’asi’s class one to three class. I was trying to teach them new and different animals from around the world. I drew various animals on the blackboard such as a pig, a giraffe, and an elephant. After having the students say the animals in English and Tongan, I asked them what sound each animal made. Everyone knew what the sound of a pig and elephant were. When it came to the giraffe, Ma’asi and I just looked at each other because neither of us really knew what sound a giraffe made! Ma’asi ended up just making some random sound that could only be described as a somewhere in between a “meow” and a “baaaa.” The poor children believed us and were making the giraffe sounds all morning. Note to self; make sure you know the sound of every animal you plan on using for a lesson.

In the end, everything has been moving along quite dandy. I am starting to adapt to the outer-island lifestyle (which is even slower than the rest of Tonga believe it or not). One day this past week I thought I was running really late for school. It was 8:25 and school starts at 8:30, so I did not finish my morning coffee or weet-bix and just left school. It turned out that I was too early! I guess you can say we run on a different time schedule out here in the outer-islands.

These have been all the new developments at GPS Matamaka. I will post some new photos of our library soon after I make it beautiful with decorations and student’s art and crafts! If anyone has any questions regarding GPS Matamaka, Vava’u, Tonga, or me, please do not hesitate on contacting me! Malo ‘aupito.

‘Ofa atu

-Tongan boy.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Back to school, Mount Talau, and everything in between in Vava’u

The school year is just around the corner for all the primary and secondary students in Tonga. I have just spent the last week preparing with my principal and co-teacher in Vava’u High for uike plani or planning week. I have been really looking forward to this week, because I will soon finally have a “real” schedule. The last month has been pretty much dedicated to getting to know my community and familiarizing myself with Matamaka and Vava’u in general.

With all that said, planning week was not what I expected it to be. It was very counter-productive due to several reasons. First of all, the Ministry of Education of Tonga failed to deliver the educational materials for the primary schools prior to planning week. As of Wednesday this past week, I was told the books were still waiting to be shipped from Nuko’alofa. School only starts this upcoming Monday, so what is the rush Tonga? Next, teacher attendance for uike plani gradually became less and less as the week progressed. Furthermore, the meetings were scheduled to begin at 8:30, but in Tonga time this usually means 9:30. As a result, only a handful of individual were actually present when important announcements were being made in the beginning. Lastly (the one thing that absolutely drove me crazy), the breaks in between sessions throughout the week lasted from forty five minutes to an hour and a half. It literally was time being wasted. Teachers and staff just sat around and chatted. It was not until 2PM came around when someone finally came up to the closing prayer before everyone left. Correct me if I am wrong, but would it not be easier to just get everything done and over it so we could leave sooner rather than sitting around and prolonging a schedule as long as possible? In the end, uike plani is over! Going back to my island this weekend and getting ready for classes to begin at GPS Matamaka.

On a more positive note, I finally had the opportunity to hike Mount Talau with a fellow Peace Corps volunteer and my co-teacher (after my first real busy week in Tonga). It was a great hike and the view from the top was amazing. Mount Talau is the second highest point in all of Vava’u. From the top, you are able to see the Port of Refuge and the city of Neiafu looking beautiful like usual. In addition, you can actually see a small portion of my island of Nuapapu from the distant. The entire hike up from the “dirt road” to the top took about twenty to thirty minutes. It was not a bad hike, so I definitely recommend it if anyone is in the neighborhood to climb to the top. Check out some of my pictures of the view from the top.

Peace Corps Group 75 had an orientation workshop at the Vava’u Youth Congress this past Thursday and Friday. It was great to see some of the administrative staff from Tongatapu in Vava’u. I was a bit skeptical about the objectives of the workshop, but I was proven wrong! I felt that the entire event was very informative and helpful to both my Tongan counterpart and I. I guess I was just so traumatized from how the sessions were done at Pre-Service Training (PST) that I had assumed that this past workshop would be presented in a very similar fashion, but that did not happen. In addition, the meals and tea times for the entire event were quite scrumptious (thanks to the kind generosity and excellent food preparation of the Wesleyan school).

Lastly, we had an opportunity to do a meet and greet with the governor of Vava’u. I was particularly happy with this because he was my first Tongan noble that I had the chance to meet in person. I decided to wear a more traditional Tongan/tapa shirt for the occasion. After everyone went to introduce themselves and shared a little bit about their interests of developmental projects in Vava’u, it was finally my turn and of course I was last. I spoke in Tongan and shared a little information about me. Directly after that, the governor quickly said and I quote “Oh, I thought you were Tongan.” Ahh, life is too great. Whoever said a palangi can never be a real Tongan? I still have a long time here in Tonga, so who knows how I will turn out after the next 23 months. I will leave this blog with that. I am off to my motu. Please stay tune for my next update from down here in the Kingdom.

‘Ofa atu

-Tonga boy

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

UNDER ATTACKED! Mortein to the rescue…

So, I was reading a reading book, minding my own business one quiet evening and all of a sudden I had an epiphany. I thought, “Damn I have been so lucky with my house without having any issues with any creepy crawlers.” Two seconds later the most hideous creature crawled past my right foot making a voyage towards my kitchen. A MOLOKAU! Ahh, somebody call 911! This is probably the ugliest thing in Tonga. These centipede things have a mean sting when encountering innocent people like me.

Prior to getting settled-in in my house, I had sprayed the black Mortein all around my house and created a protective barrier against any uninvited visitors. The bottle clearly states, “Creates a protective barrier for up to 6 months.” Ha! I guess in Tonga it only last up to three weeks. Anyway, I quickly reacted and grabbed the nearest Mortein spray from where I was reading (yes I am nerd and strategically placed Mortein around my house for moments like these). I sprayed the sucker and it was freaking out and moved even more quickly under my fala (mat). So what do I do next? I ran for my machete! LOL. With the Mortein bottle on my left hand and machete on my right, I was ready for the great battle that was about to happen between the molokau and me. I sprayed more towards the sucker and he started to charge after me! After realizing the Mortein was only slowing his progression towards me, I sliced it three times with the machete. The damn thing was still not dead! All three pieces of the molokau continued to walk independently in different direction after it finally accepted defeat. After that whole ordeal I swept the remains outside and sprayed my house in various locations.

The next day I had hoped my encounter with the molakau from the night before was all nothing but a dream. I got up and prepared to make some coffee when I noticed four more molokaus dying from the Mortein on the floor around my house. What the hell?!?! I quickly grabbed the Mortein spray and my machete which started genocide of all molokaus in my house. If you were watching me through my windows from the outside of my house, you would have contemplated if I had gone mad on the island! I look back and laugh, because it really was funny after I think about. The entire experience was a rude awakening of where I am and what I have to put up with for the next two years. As a result of the early morning massacre, I had sterilized my entire house and bombarded the barriers of my house with a fresh heavy dose of Mortein. Since then, I have not had any unwelcomed visitors to my house. In addition, I taped up any additional cracks around my house that may be used as an entry way by any creatures.

After the whole ordeal in my house, I was getting sick of not being able to use my pit toilet after the sun goes down. The entire thing has been inundated by cockroaches every night after resting inside of it all day. Anyway I decided to spray the whole thing with black Mortein. Two seconds after spraying Mortein inside the pit toilet, the entire thing overflowed with panicked cockroaches, spiders, and more molokaus. Ahh! I sprayed more until I used up an entire can! I kid you not; a spider the size of my fist came out of the pit toilet. Two hours later I returned to the scene of the crime and it looked everything was dead all around the pit toilet. I swept away all the dead things and sprayed one more time in and around the toilet. The entire event was such a horrific scene that I could not use that pit toilet for two days! I was pretty scarred for life. I was so glad that the school is not too far from my house and it has flushable toilets! I returned back to Neiafu a couple of days earlier than I had anticipated due to the fact that I was running out of food and I was down to a half bottle of Black Mortein left. Note to self: Buy Mortein in bulk for the outer island. In the end, the score is Feleti 6 and molokaus 0. The odds are not in my favor considering all of this only happened within the first month and they are bound to get me sometime. Mortein is my new best friend!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

First phase of “integration” at Matamaka, done and done…

Happy New Year to everyone from Matamaka, Vava’u. I have been very busy trying to figure out my new lifestyle at my outer island community. A lot has happened since my last blog entry, but I will try to sum up of all the highlights!

This last past week throughout Tonga has been dedicated to uike lotu. This literally means week of prayer. Basically every church (except the Mormons) in Tonga celebrates by going to pray twice a day everyday for a week. It has been an excellent opportunity for me to meet everyone in my community, because church is huge deal down here in the Kingdom. Unfortunately, the morning church service begins at 5 AM with some churches even starting at 4 AM. It is then followed up by an afternoon service at 5 PM.

Due to the central location of my house in Matamaka, my bedroom is exactly across the street to the Wesleyan church bell. Unfortunately, it is the loudest bell in the entire village! The bell rings three times before the actual church service begins. I went to more church services in Matamaka in a week than I have in my entire life (in a week). The bell woke me up at 4 AM everyday and if that did not wake me up, the friendly church leader or faifakau would be so kind enough to personally invite me to their church service. Of course I could never say no, so I definitely got my church hours for the week. On the plus side, after every evening church service there would be a feast or kaipola. As the new Peace Corps Volunteer, I was always seated at the head of the table next to all the important people. If you know me, there is nothing else I love to do than eat so I got to eat a ton of delicious food all week. In the end, I was invited to a kaipola everyday for the last ten days! What am I going to do after all the feasts are over?

Time seems to stands still in Matamaka. I get up around 8 AM or when the chickens have annoyed the crap out of with their cock-a-doodle-doodles. Next is usually my morning tea with some fresh Nescafe with powdered milk. It has been excruciatingly hot up here in Vava’u and it does not help when my island does not have electricity which means no electric fans whatsoever. With that said, I have been spending a lot of time at the beach with some of the local kids swimming. The wharf has been the “it” spot where we all run up and down the thing to jump off into the fresh cool waters around the island of Nuapapu. Honestly, some of these follow me everywhere I go, I mean everywhere. I sometime give them some lollipops to send them home, but generally I think they are really excited for school to start so they can “hangout” with the palangi. I have to keep reminding them that I am here to help improve their English and not just hangout all day!

Generally, I have been spending most of time just relaxing and “integrating” with my community and by what I mean by “integrating” with my community consists of me talking and meeting everyone. It really has not been too difficult considering the fact that there are only what 120 people in the entire village? To make it even more difficult, this number is extraordinarily high because a lot of the people are only here for the holiday and will be leaving soon to go back to Tongatapu to work or continue with their studies. Other than relaxing, I spend most of my time catching up on all the fun reading that I have been missing out the last four years in college. Between reading and kava, that pretty much sums out my very typical day in my motu (island).

Anyway, there are a lot of hidden beaches around my village and I have been busy trying to scope out how to get to most of them so that when people visit they will have a good time exploring the island. One day I found this amazing beach on the most eastern side of the island. It was absolutely beautiful! I decided to go for a swim without my shirt which is a big no-no according to Peace Corps PST, so I freaked out when a boat came! I quickly swam back in so I do not “disrespect” the Tongan culture. In the process of running back to the “bush” I somehow got lost! I could not find the path that I had taken and was walking aimlessly around trying to find my way back to the village. It took two hours until I finally found my way back! I got tangled up with all of bushes and had to find a way around all the barbed wire fencing. Note to self for the future: stay within the path.


What is kava? It is water mixed with kava (some kind of root crop) that most Pacific Island nation drinks that tastes and looks like muddy water. It essentially is a natural tranquilizer that makes you stoned and then passes you out. Men usually drink kava in “special” occasion, but when you have nothing else to do, you drink it every day. I personally do not care for kava, but I drink it anyway to show respect for the culture. In addition, drinking kava gives you an excellent opportunity to meet all the men in the village (especially the important ones such as: the town officer, village chief, faifakau’s etc.). Well to no big surprise, I have been attending the local kava circle at the island. I feel that the men of my village find it very amusing every time I drink more and more kava. I generally request for a “low tai” which means “just a little.” In the end, after two or three hours of drinking kava and hanging out with the men, I generally can no longer feel my legs anymore (after sitting cross-legged style for so long) and just want to sleep. I plan on going to kava on a regular basis in the future, but definitely limiting it to one or two times a week. Kava is usually served before every church service, which is more ideal because it usually just last up to one hour. Otherwise, the evening kava can sometimes last up to the wee hours of the morning. Trust me, not into kava too much and probably limiting it to two to three hours of drinking for the evening gatherings.


Cooking meals on the island has been really tricky. It is a completely different ball game with food preparation when any fresh ingredients only last three to four days. I found this out the hard way when I had purchased some fresh vegetables from the Neiafu market to take to my island. I could not cook them all in time before they all got rotten. Even the loaves of bread that I had purchased only lasted five days before the all the moisture turned it moldy. What a hassle! Life would be so much easier with a refrigerator, but that is okay. I will just have to get use to it and find out different and more efficient ways to cook healthy meals on the island. On a positive note, it has been really exciting to just prepare food that I enjoy to eat! It is so nice to eat rice (haha). It is a nice break from the everyday ritual of eating root crops throughout Tonga. Hmmm, I am afraid I am going to have to embrace canned food for at least the next two years, because they have a longer shelf life than fresh food.

I do not know what it is with Tonga, but I am having a hard time maintain my weight. I know people back in America are probably wondering what my secret is, but I honestly am eating a lot down here yet I am still losing weight. It will hopefully flat line soon, but for real do not worry about me. I get full so easily from all the starchy foods. I also do not get enough exercise in as much as I would like, considering the fact that I cannot even go for a very long run in and around my village. I am going to look into swimming laps around my beach, but other than that maybe I will look into hiking or working in the bush for some other modes of exercise? On the other hand, it is a very different story for all of the women here in Peace Corps. The food unfortunately plumps them up (sorry ladies). It is from all the carbohydrates I am telling you!


I hope everyone in Group 75 is doing well! I have not heard a lot from anyone let alone people from Vava’u itself. Life in the outer island can be so isolated when your mode of communications are very limited. My mobile died a couple of days into my stay at the island. My solar charger was working for a while, but turns out it had to rain while I was at church and it broke the darn thing. I guess I have my SAT phone, but that is only to call out for emergency use only. This concerns me because basically if there are tsunami warnings or anything emergency related only the Radio Tonga can save my life. People really cannot get a hold of me. As soon as the solar panels at the school are in operational, I can finally charge my phone on a daily basis island at the motu. Until then, I will be saving my batteries so that I may be able to call out in case of emergency or just to check-up with people that I am still alive.

That is all for now. Toki sio!

'Ofa atu from Matamaka!