Saturday, March 27, 2010

Get ready, get set, ALU!

Photo: Students from GPS Matamaka, Lape, and Nuapapu sprinting towards the finish line.

We just wrapped up a successful Outer-Island Sports Day at the neighboring village of Nuapapu on Friday, March 26, 2010. In Tonga, “Sports Day” only happens once a year. It is an event where all the GPS schools come together and compete in athletic events such as: relays, tug of war, potato sack races etc. Unfortunately, the outer-island schools generally do not get to participate with the rest of the schools in town. As a result, the outer-island schools have created their own Sports Day. It all began last year when GPS Matamaka hosted the first ever “Outer-sland Sports Day Invitational.” The only participant was GPS Nuapapu. The event was a huge success that GPS Nuapapu hosted the event this year. GPS Lape was the newest member to participate this year.

Photo: The opening ceremony of Sports Day with all of the participating students.

The students of GPS Matamaka have been training for Sports Day for the last three weeks. Ma’asi, Soane, and I have been busy teaching the students the best techniques in potato sack racing, spoon racing etc. It has been a blast working out with the kids for one to hours after school with various cardio and stretching exercise. They have all worked really hard and it has paid off tremendously.

We all left Matamaka around 8:30 AM for Nuapapu via boat. The event was scheduled to begin at 9:00 AM, but in Tongan time it really means 10:30 ish. After the prayers were done and welcome speech from the Nuapapu town officer, the games finally commenced. I was in charge of the finish line and handing the top three winners their “ticket” to be given to the official score keeper. All of the other teachers helped with the starting line or organizing the next event. Surprisingly, the entire event went very smoothly. I anticipated some sort of disorganization of some sort to arise, but I underestimated the event organizers too soon.

Photo: Action pics from Sports Day.

My favorite events would have to be the tug of war and potato sack races. GPS Matamaka ended up beating both schools at the tug of war and the students were absolutely ecstatic about it! On the other hand, Nuapapu overall did a better job with the potato sack races; however, it was priceless to watch all of the class one to three students race for the finish line. They were so cute with their little hops and big smiles.

Photo: GPS Matamaka with the before and after picture of the tug of war event. You can see it in their faces how bad they wanted to win the event. It was absolutely priceless.

Although GPS Matamaka received second place overall in the Nuapapu Sports Day Invitational (off by a mere four points), the students competed very well and showed great sportsmanship. It did not really matter who won or lost during Sports Day. In the end, everyone was a winner for participating and giving their heart out for all of the events. Next year GPS Matamaka will once again host the Outer-Island Sports Day Invitational. We will have a DJ and invite GPS Ovaka. As a result, that would complete all of the villages in the immediate surroundings around Matamaka. GPS Matamaka, Lape, Nuapapu, and Ovaka will be the four schools that will hopefully take part in the 2011 Outer-Island Sports Day.

Photo: We are the champions. GPS Matamaka after the closing ceremony.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Big Fish

(The other fisherman with Lopini who caught this monster fish!)

I was in class two weeks ago when one of the local fisherman, Lopini, ran up to the school asking me if I could possibly take a picture of a fish he just caught. Luckily, I really wasn't really doing much at the time and heck, why not?

It was not until I made it out to the beach and realized how massive this fish was! Lopini had caught a huge billfish that morning with another fellow. The entire village was super excited with this catch and everyone came to wharf in order to see it for their own eyes. This fish was a monster! It really looked like it could eat three or four of my little primary school students. Everyone took turns with the camera and the fish. I was the photographer and it was very amusing to see each person pose next to the fish.

Lopini took the fish to the market to be sold. It ended up to be 151.7 kg or about 300+ pounds! Surely, he made bank that day. I still cannot imagine how this fish was swimming just around my village. The sea is starting to become really active with these bigger animals coming out lately. Just a couple of weeks ago, a pair of dolphins swam next to our boat from Neiafu to Matamaka. It was very much a scene from movies, but it actually happened in real life. They were jumping and enjoyed all the attention from the people on the boat. In addition, I also a huge turtle one time. It was the same size as the boat I rode! Man, I cannot even imagine when the humpback whales are back in town. The next few months are going to be very exciting! I will try my best to have my camera with me when whale season begins.

(Lopini on the far left with his mother Vahena, neighbor Una, fiefakau Eisi, and baby William)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

They are actually growing! What? Our beautiful school garden!

(PHOTO: GPS Matamaka kids checking out the seedlings from our school garden).

Who would have thought I might actually be a decent farmer? My co-teacher, students, and I have been working on our school garden for the past month. We finally finished clearing a substantial amount of land next to our school. The owner of the plot of land was nice enough to let us start a school garden for free. It has taken about two weeks to clear all rubbish and old roots from our garden area. In the past three weeks, we planted some seeds to make some seedlings and it has been growing at a ridiculous pace!

The seeds that we planted were all donated from the US thanks to Candi DeCarlo of Harlan, Iowa. Our goal this year has been to experiment which crops grow the best on the type of soil available on our island. So far we have planted: tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, peppers, corn, watermelons, potatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers, and onions. We plan on expanding with: cantaloupes, eggplants, carrots, potatoes, and local crops such as: bananas, papayas, and vanilla beans. Every day the garden continues to expand as more seedlings have been transplanted to a more permanent location. We have been very lucky that the perimeter fence has kept all the unwanted animals from entering into the garden area. Pigs in Tonga have been known notoriously in ruining vegetable gardens!

(PHOTO: The boys water the plants every day after school and then search for mangoes with the rest of the kids afterwards.)

The students have been responsible in clearing most of the land and watering the seedlings every day. They all seem to enjoy being involved with the project. The students have been very intrigued with the new crops such as the pumpkins and cantaloupe. Overall, the majority of the villagers have been impressed with how fast the crops have been growing. Many of them had doubts that anything would grow on the piece of land that we had to work with. As a result, we have been asked numerous times if we will be sharing all the crops with the villagers. We have not really decided how we will distribute the crops yet, but we will probably try to divide it with all the students' families. If there are any extra we will distribute it evenly to the rest of the villagers.

What is the next stage of the GPS Matamaka garden? If our luck continues to a successful harvest in a few months, I hope to expand the project with the youth group of Matamaka. The Matamaka youth has a nice piece of land outside of the village that is currently not being used. My co-teacher and I will help coordinate with the youth to implement a large scale garden/farm with more fresh produce. The Matamaka town officer already has our approval for the expansion next year. In addition, I will be contacting the Vava’u Youth Congress to learn more about their greenhouse gardens in Neiafu and how GPS Matamaka can build a small scale garden at the island. Furthermore, there have been several ideas about starting an egg farm at Matamaka. I heard through the “coconut wireless” that this has been one of the more successful Peace Corps in the past. I will start researching more information about this and hopefully secure some international funds/grants with all of the agricultural endeavors in Matamaka.

(PHOTO: Planting sweet corn in our school garden and Ma’asi with the corn three weeks later.)

In the end, everything has been going very well in Matamaka. If any readers out there want to contribute to the school garden and future youth garden, please do not hesitate and let me know. More seeds of any variety are always welcome so please send them our way. I will keep everyone up-to-date with any progress and photos of the GPS Matamaka garden in the future. Malo ‘aupito!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Feleti can actually conjure up a delicious meal? Bon appétit!

(PHOTO: I actually roasted a pig. I could not get myself to kill the little guy though. Sorry pig).

For all of those people who know me from back home, you would know my very limited cooking skills. I always justified my habitual eating out or ordering in as supporting the local economy. Well, it has been a wake-up call since I arrived in Tonga. Unlike Amelika, Vava’u does not really have fast food restaurants or deliveries. I would consider this next two years as an excellent opportunity to improve my culinary skills (eeks).

Prior to arrival in Matamaka, I was always given food from my host families or I indulged myself in one of the abundant eateries located around Nuko’alofa. When I arrived in Matamaka I learned to adapt to my new environment and lifestyle. Man, life has been so different without a refrigerator! Fresh produce only last about a week, along with white bread from the market. Anchor box milk only lasts for twenty-four hours and forget about butter and ice cream.

It took me about three weeks to figure out which food works best in my outer island. For example: if I want cheese, skip the gouda or cheddar and instead buy Chesdale (box cheese that does not refrigeration) or buy brown bread instead of white, because it has a longer shelf life. Butter has been tricky, but I learned to buy frozen butter right before I catch a boat. Then wrap it in plastic and place in water. It prevents the butter from melting right away. These have been some examples of preparing meals in the outer islands.

(PHOTO: My first attempt of baking oatmeal raisin cookies. I do not know where I went wrong? Lol.)

To this day, I would not say I have perfected or mastered my newly discovered culinary skills, but I can definitely say I have improved dramatically. In Matamaka, I have prepared some delicious vegetable curry and rice, pepperoni and supreme pizza, fried rice, omelets, fresh pesto pasta (with chopped nuts and everything), spaghetti, banana breads, brownies, cookies, vegetable stir-fry, and the lists goes on. My co-teacher Ma’asi has been my guinea pig and so far I have not had any complaints with my cooking. My neighbors always enjoy it when I bake brownies and cakes. One of my techniques with “integrating” in Matamaka has been to bake goods and then giving them out to all of neighbors. I would say I have covered half of the town (at the time of writing). Today, every time I eva-pe (walk around) people are always asking what I will be baking next (the Tongan way of asking “when are you going to bring us some brownies?”) Eventually, I will get around to all twenty-five or so families in Matamaka. I am just lucky it is not a very large village, because that would be a lot of cakes and brownies.

(PHOTOS: Yum, my delicious Matamaka Supreme Pizza and banana bread with M&Ms and banana nut bread).

In the end, I am really happy with the progress I have made with my cooking skills. I feel that I am eating healthier than ever in the outer island than my life in America. The biggest difference has been the quality of food I am eating at Matamaka. Literally all the vegetables are fresh and organic! Furthermore, most of the breads and pasta I have been eating are made from scratch. Everything is so fresh! Back home, if I were to cook some spaghetti, I would easily just buy a jar of tomato sauce and be done. In Tonga, I make my own tomato sauce with fresh everything! I know right, you do not believe me. I guess you all would just have to come and visit and try it for yourself!

Hmmm…I wonder what I should cook next time?