Saturday, July 24, 2010

World Map Project Vava'u...done and done

PHOTO: Peace Corps Tonga.

This past weekend, the Neiafu Public library and PCVs from around Vava’u came together to complete the first World Map Project in Vava’u. The new map was completed at the Public library with children from the Saturday reading program who helped paint the mural. This project was spearheaded with PCV Carolyn Winik from Tailulu College and the Neiafu Public Library Committee (NPL). The NPL funded the event with assistance from PTH, a local hardware store in Neiafu. The entire event was a huge success and this World Map Vava’u is the second completed project in the Kingdom of Tonga after another map completed by another PCV in the island of ‘Eua earlier this year.

PCVs, library volunteers, and children all gathered at the public library early Saturday morning the 24th of July. PCV Winik and other PCVs prepared the board earlier in the week and outlined the countries with a projector. The adults first outlined the countries with paint, followed by the children filling them all in. After all the countries were painted, a few volunteers and I added the second coat and finishing touches to the mural. The end result was magnificent! The entire event on Saturday took about six hours from start to finish.

PHOTOS: Highlights from the Mural Painting at the NPL.

The mural will be put up on the side of the Public Library for the public to enjoy. Everyone had a lot of fun helping out with the project, especially the kids. The next big event for the NPL will the annual fundraiser dinner in a couple of months. Excellent work Carolyn for organizing the entire event! MALO NGUAE.

Bon Voyage to our first shipment of postcards from Matamaka!

PHOTO: The kids and Ma’asi with their personalized postcards before I sent them off to the post office.

At last, we are ready to send off our first set of postcards out of Tonga to all of the people who wrote to us with the Postcard Project. I know it has taken a long time, but there was a ton of cards we had to go through. Most of the people will receive personalized cards from the students that they designed themselves. On the contrary, I wrote to some of the people as well with postcards from the South Pacific. I hope everyone likes their postcards and continues to tell others about our Postcard Project. We have had great response from around the world! THANK YOU to everyone and MALO ‘AUPITO.

Here are the following people who should be receiving a card:

Judith Pease = Lebanon, NEW HAMPSHIRE, USA

Mary Lukens = Kodiak, ALASKA, USA

Denise LaChance = Los Angeles, CALIFORNIA, USA

The Kellers = Sao Vicente, REPUBLIC OF CAPE VERDE

Robin Ray = Arcata, CALIFORNIA, USA

Roger Reed = Riverside, CALIFORNIA, USA

Jane Reinking = Maple Grove, MINNESSOTA, USA

Beki Matteson = Hannibal, NEW YORK, USA

Harris and Anna Miller = West Des Moines, IOWA, USA

Kelly Schmitt = Haslett, MICHIGAN, USA

Debra Legge = Vancouver, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA

Paul Karasch = Waylord, MASSACHUSSETTES, USA

Birgit Kern = Heideiberg, GERMANY

Janet Garnier = New Port, RHODE ISLAND, USA

Katrin Raush = Werl, GERMANY

Emelie Zantua = Dubai, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

Alicia Bumpus = Kennesaw, GEORGIA, USA

Joyce Gunn = Pittsburg, CALIFORNIA, USA

Susanna Selvino = Padova, ITALY

Mary Ann Horn = Saint Clairsville, OHIO, USA

William Lindsey = St. Augustine, FLORIDA, USA

Bonnie Jeanne = Pittsburgh, PENNSYLVANIA, USA

Pro = Shanghai, CHINA

Richard and Beth Smith = Indianola, WASHINGTON, USA

Peler = Prague, CZECH REPUBLIC

Bianea = Went Beach, NSW, AUSTRALIA

Lauren Horie = JAPAN

Florian Heiler = Berlin, GERMANY

Ruben Bravo = Madrid, SPAIN

Bard = Branson, MISSOURI, USA

Sebastian Diesing = Heine, GERMANY

Abnishnabae Art Gallery = Thundery Bay, ONTARIO, CANADA

Jan and Dwight = Rainier, OREGON, USA

Jane Hudson = San Jose Village, TINIAN

Detlef M. Plaisier = Leipzig, GERMANY

A. Oude Elferink = HOLLAND

The Glesers = Modesto, CALIFORNIA, USA

Lynn Barnes = Juneau, ALASKA, USA

Rajko Golovic = MONTENGRO

Anu Kainiemi = West Midlands, ENGLAND

Roger Allen = Galiano Island, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA

Amelia Conklin = East Lansing, MICHIGAN, USA

Ann Blum = Harlan, IOWA, USA

Richard and Candi DeCarlo = Harlan, IOWA, USA

Polo Gaputan = Las Vegas, NEVADA, USA

Christine L. = Iowa City, IOWA, USA

Jaquanda Franklin = Coralville, IOWA, USA

If your name wasn’t on the list, it may be on the second round of cards which will be in a couple of months from now. Thank you.

PHOTO: Ma’asi with his postcard to GERMANY.

24—Best Year Ever

PHOTO: View from ‘Euakafa.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to me! Well, technically it was on July 10, but I just finally made it to town and use the internet. I have been telling myself that being 24 will be one of the best years ever. In a more traditional “American” life, 24 usually mean your first “real” job after college with an apartment in some awesome city (or at least that was how I envisioned it. In reality, I am in the middle of the South Pacific living in a remote island without running water or electricity and serving in the Peace Corps for almost 10 months now. Who’s living the life, right?

Lucky for me, my sister, Ciara, her friend Katie, and Ashley were all here to help me celebrate my “best” year ever. Another fellow PCV from Talau also came over to Matamaka join the weekend festivities. I would’ve had more people come over, but my house was seriously packed already. Anyway, we started on Friday with barbecue on the island. My co-teacher, Ma’asi, went into town earlier that day and purchased some chicken and hotdogs. ‘IFO ‘AUPITO! We sat around and ate a delicious meal followed by brownie cake that my PCV buddy made.

PHOTO: The island of Vaka’eitu.

Saturday, my actual birthday, we all went to the deserted island of Vaka’eitu. It was a magnificent uninhabited island only twenty/thirty minutes away from my island. We arrived at low tide, which was nice because it allowed the girls to lie out a bit on the sand. On the contrary, my sister and I went snorkeling instead. So far, I would say Vaka’eitu has the best snorkeling I have seen in Vava’u. Fishes literally swan all around me and the corals were outstanding! We also had a small picnic with quesadilla “pizzas” (with real pepperoni from the states!—compliments of Candi DeCarlo). We ended the evening with pesto at my house and a bonfire by the Matamaka wharf. Ash lost her North Face sandal sometime in the evening. We couldn’t find it. It is probably half way to Fiji from now. On Sunday, aka church day, we attended church service at the Church of Tonga and later slept all day because it was Sunday.

To end the weekend festivities, on Monday we all went to a kai tunu or barbeque/picnic at ‘Euakafa with the Pentecost church. It was a ton of fun. I have always wanted to go explore this island. It is an uninhabited island with pure white sand beaches and beautiful corals. Ashley and I were amazed at the amount of sea cucumbers lying around the beach. She felt she had the obligation to “save” as many sea cucumbers that were drying up on the beach by throwing them back to the ocean. She did well. LOL.

PHOTO: Ashley saving sea cucumbers while the girls walk around the beach. Hiking on ‘Euakafa. Birthday feast at mi casa.

Overall, my birthday weekend was fun. I’m glad that people came and had a good time. It was great to explore some of the nearby islands around Matamaka. A lot has happened during my 23 and I can only imagine all the things that I will experience on my best year ever…24!

And then there was light….

PHOTO: Solar panel and power inverter. GET EXCITED!

I finally have a consistent power source at the island. Seriously, a HUGE THANK YOU to my girlfriend’s family for sending me a solar panel, a power inverter, and some extra fuses. I purchased a new 12V battery in Neiafu to install my own little renewable power system. It has completely turned my life around at Matamaka! Not only can I charge my cell phone regularly, but I can now charge my laptop and watch movies! YES!!! The downside has been that word travels fast that Feleti has a new battery and inverter. “Feleti, can you please charge my phone?” or “Feleti, what are you doing?”—when clearly I’m watching a movie. Ugh...fakahela ‘aupito. I don’t mind helping out my immediate neighbors who have been kind and helpful to me, but some of these random people who have NEVER said a single word to me suddenly wants to be my new best friend? Please, my house is not a Holiday Inn and visiting hours are strictly between 4-6 PM or by invitation only.

Tonga is not Hawaii

PHOTO: Welcome to Tonga!

My first visitors from Iowa came to Tonga for an eva (vacation/go around) and it was quite an eye opener for them. Let’s face it, I am the only one in my ENTIRE family who would ever do or even consider joining the Peace Corps. They are a very high maintenance crowd who prefer luxury and comfort vs. “roughing” it with a sense of adventure. I just had a kick when my sister and her friend finally made it to Matamaka and realized that life here is completely different after getting off the twelve-ish or so hour flight from LAX. Tonga is Tonga and definitely not Cancun.

They fully experienced life as an outer island Peace Corps volunteer here in the Kingdom. It took a few days for them to get accustomed to living without any running water or electricity. I believe they never used my pit toilet once the entire two weeks. They would hike every time to the school to use the toilet over there. My pit toilet isn’t too bad, I don’t think? LOL.

PHOTO: Sticking some pa’anga to a traditional Tongan dancer during the VHS Jubilee.

Between the conservative dress code and Sunday church service, they were immersed to “traditional” Tongan culture. They realized quickly how easy life was back in the States, especially with daily tasks such as: washing dishes, cooking food, showering, etc. We did laundry one day and it took us about six hours total with some tin cans and a pipe (used as a pump.) Yes, living here is a workout in itself.

I appreciate their visit even though I know they would’ve preferred to visit Fiji or Samoa. The tourist infrastructures in those countries are far better than Tonga. Furthermore, Tonga is way more conservative and more expensive. They would’ve preferred to lay out more in the sun, but it’s best to not wear a bikini unless you’re in a resort or deserted island.

PHOTO: Washing dishes with tins and preparing some delicious food with a head lamp.

In the end, it was good they came. They understand a little bit better how my life is so much different than in Iowa. Furthermore, I think they learned to appreciate all the things they have from back home. They really enjoyed interacting with the kids and teaching them sign language. On the contrary, I feel that my village was content with meeting some of my family from Iowa. The big question is, “will other members of my family come visit before I’m done in Tonga?” Hmmm…probably best to not get my hopes up. I just laughed when my sister told me, “I didn’t know I signed up for Survivor for my vacation.”

Saturday, July 17, 2010


PHOTO: Gifts from the United Kingdom.

I want to give a HUGE MALO ‘AUPITO and SHOUT OUT to C. Wilkin from the United Kingdom for the generous donations of school supplies to the students and staff of Matamaka GPS. We received toothbrushes, toothpaste, colored pencils, erasers and more.

I would also like to thank my sister Ciara and her friend Katie for also bringing school supplies to Matamaka GPS. They had brought some arts and crafts supplies and games for the library.

Lastly, more SHOUT OUTs to Ann Blum (USA), Trisha Kramer (USA), and some yachties from New Zealand for the recent donations of children’s book for our little library. The students always enjoy reading new books. Furthermore, a THANK YOU to SPREP (from Samoa) and Darien Book Aid (from the USA) for additional reading materials and technology equipments.

I just received awesome news that Matamaka GPS will soon receive a shipment of books from the International Book Project. This organization is based from the USA. They help develop libraries from around the world. To learn more about this great organization or to help sponsor shipments of books to schools from around the world, check out their website. Darien Book Aid supports underprivileged schools around the world and are always looking for donors from the around also!


International Book Project:

Darien Book Aid:


One last thing (I promise), THANK YOU for the people who have sent postcards for our postcard project. My students and I have been swamped every week. We will send out the first set of postcards back from Tonga by the end of July. Not all the cards will be written by my students, because there are simply too many postcards. I wrote back to most of them. Please be patient, we will get caught up someday. Please be advised that mail from Tonga could take awhile.

Alright that’s it. MALO :D

Vava’u High Jubilee

PHOTO: The main gates at VHS for the Jubilee celebration.

This year Vava’u High School celebrated their first Jubilee celebration. 25 years ago Vava’u High opened its doors for secondary students with the aid from the people of Japan. Jubilee festivities took place from the 3rd of July to the 7th. The event drew hundreds of Vava’u High students, graduates, teachers, and prominent members of Tongan society. The Tongan Princess’s daughter was the guest of honor for the event along side with the Japanese ambassador to Tonga.

Large feasts were prepared each day at the rugby field in front of VHS. Everyone was welcomed to eat and celebrate. A PCV at VHS officially introduced his new state of the art computer lab. He has installed over 30+ computer monitors which are linked to three servers. I am not sure of all the technical information of the system, but the new technology comes from South Korea. The PCV installed multiple educational programs to the computers. He was absolutely ecstatic with the completion of VHS’s new computer lab.

PHOTOS: PCV Lopeti with his new computer lab.

The village of Matamaka hosted the feast on one of the days and my family and friends from Iowa were able to experience a real Tongan feast. They were able to see some traditional Tongan dances and even the Princess! In the end, I would say the entire Jubilee was a huge success.

PHOTO: One of many feasts for the event.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Crow's Nest Cafe

PHOTO: The entrance of Crow's Nest Cafe in Neiafu, Vava'u.

Hungry? One of my favorite places to eat in Neiafu is the Crow's Nest Cafe. This neat little cafe offers an all day menu of various breakfast items, sandwiches, and daily specials. The owners, Tess and Steve, also specialize in making different types of breads and bakery goods that are quite famous in Vava'u. My personal favorite are the cinnamon rolls! Prices are pretty reasonable, even with my Peace Corps budget. They do an awesome "punch card" system which 15% of your bill adds up on credit for free or discounted food for the next you stop by and eat. Another personal favorite of mine are the burgers. For $15 TOP, it is the biggest (and best) hamburger in Vava'u. The place is pretty popular, but may be a bit hard to find if you have never been there before. It is located near the main wharf area and across the street of the Tongan Customs/Quarantine building. Just ask around if you are lost. In the end, if you are looking for a nice home cooked meal and a place to sit back and relax...check out the Crow's Nest Cafe. You will not be disappointed.

PHOTOS: Tess and staff preparing delicious meals. 'Ifo 'aupito 'aupito!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Vava’u Yacht Club

PHOTO: One of the yachts on the race to the finish line.

Every Friday afternoon at the Port of Refuge in Neiafu, the Vava’u Yacht Club organizes a Yacht race around the harbor. The event only happens during the tourist season (June to September-ish?). Sail boats and her “crew” all meet up at the Mermaid where the details of the race are explained. The harbor has different markings that are turn-around points for the different yachts. After all the participants are determined, everyone heads off to their designated yachts and wait for the go signal. The winners generally win a prize which ranges from free meals at the Mermaid restaurant to t-shirts.

PHOTO: The skipper of the boat (aka Ashley).

Ashley and I were lucky enough to be invited to get on board of one of the vessels. Ashley even had the opportunity to man the helm! We learned a lot from the entire experience about different sail terms. I am determined to someday own a yacht and sail around the world. There was very little wind that day of the race, so it really wasn’t much of a race. It was funny how we were in second place in the beginning and then finished last. Regardless, it was seriously a ton of fun. The skipper of the boat was such nice guy to even invite us along.

In the end, Ashley and I had an awesome time hanging out with a bunch of yacht-ies and watching a spectacular sunset in the Port of Refuge and on a yacht (of course with my PC issued PFD). Ashley did such a good job sailing the boat. I definitely recommend anyone who visits Vava’u to try it out. It is a great way to meet people and it is free!

PHOTO: Sunset at the Port Refuge.