Saturday, August 28, 2010


Hello future PCVs of G76 to TONGA. My school is doing a postcard project. Basically, we are trying to collect as many postcards from around the world and at least one postcard from every US STATE. BEFORE LEAVING FOR PST, PLEASE SEND A POSTCARD FROM YOUR HOMESTATE TO TONGA. It would be much appreciated.

The address:

Matamaka GPS
Farfum Ladroma, PCV
P.O. BOX 137

***We especially need postcards from the Southern States ex: MISSISSIPPI, ARKANSAS, ALABAMA, etc. Please represent!***

Ain’t any party like a Mormon dance party

PHOTO: Tonight’s going to be a good night.

They call it hulohula here in Tonga. In English/Feleti’s definition equals dance party. Every so often through the year the Mormon Church throughout Tonga hosts these events at their church. You do not have to be Mormon to attend these hulohula, as everyone is welcome. I was told it was to help young Mormons find their “eternal family.” I don’t know if that is true or not, but these dances are actually a lot of fun (with the right attitude).

The Matamaka Mormons hosted a hulohula last weekend. The village of Nuapapu and some people from the main island made the voyage to Matamaka. The dance was right next to the beach. The church had done a superb job decorating for the event. They had use a small orange tree with ripe oranges as the center piece for the dance floor with ribbons running all around.

PHOTO: Par-tay!

These Mormon hulohulas can be best described as junior high in the US all over again. There is at least three feet gap between you and your dance partner. Don’t even think about getting closeror it will be pretty scandalous. However, pants are allowed for the men so you don’t have to wear tupenus. It does have to be khankis or black pants. No jeans. I found this out the hard way when I wore jeans to my first Mormon dance in Ha’apai and I was told, “You’re wearing devil pants.” LOL. I didn’t know Gap jeans were made in h@ll. In addition, people come up to you and bow to ask for a dance. You can’t really say no. I just wanted to watch, but ended up dancing more than I intentionally planned. In the end, it was a blast and it offered an alternative activity for the villagers on a Friday night. Until the next hulohula

A tragic sea accident…

PHOTO: The boat that sank near Matamaka.

It was like any other normal day in Matamaka. I woke up, went to school, had my lunch, went back to school, came home, made my dinner, and prepared to go back for night school. However, Wednesday, August 11, 2010 will always be the most disturbing day in my Peace Corps Tonga experience.

Around 5:40 PM, I was washing some dishes at my house when I noticed several men running to the wharf. My initial thought was, “damn they must be late to go fishing.” It wasn’t until one of my students ran to my house and screamed, “Feleti…ha’u ha’u ko vaka ngoto!” I wasn’t familiar with the word ngoto. All I understood was “come come, something boat.” I had quickly told Taina (the student) that I will go see it later. I thought it was some fancy yacht thath had anchored in front of the Matamaka. Big deal, I thought. It was about 5:45 PM when I decided to just get to night school a little bit early and bring my camera because Taina insisted so. He had refused to leave my house without it. So, we walked to the first beach by house. I was confused. There was no fancy yacht. “Feleti, fakavavevave!” (Feleti, hurry!) Taina shouted at me as he led me to the other beach of Matamaka.

By the time I walked to the top of the hill, I noticed two Matamaka boats out in the middle of sea. The sea was very rough that day and thought it was an odd time for the boats to be gallivanting around. It wasn’t until I ran into my principal’s wife when she told me that there has been an accident. A ship from Ovaka had sunk. Ovaka is the next island from Matamaka. She told me that the boat was full of people who went to a putu or funeral at Ovaka.

PHOTO: Matamaka boats helping the survivors from the sunken ship. MATAMAKA 507.

I quickly ran to the beach and captured some photos of people who were getting plucked out of the water. It was then that I noticed that one of them was close a friend of mine. By the time the first Matamaka boat returned to the beach with the first set of survivors was when I saw the top of the sunken ship bobbing around the water. Regardless, the Matamaka residents already prepared blankets and a little triage area for the victims. Ironically, the Tonga Red Cross was in Matamaka for disaster preparedness that week.

PHOTO: The scene from the top of the hill where I first saw the events unfold and the first rescue boat to make it back to shore with survivors.

As more and more survivors were brought to shore was when I realized how spread out people were in the sea. We later found out that more survivors were at a third beach outside of Matamaka. Boats were quickly sent there to help them. By this time other boats from neighboring villages have arrived to help with the rescue efforts. They too were scoping the waters between Matamaka, Sisia, and Ovaka islands.

One boat came back with an unconscious girl. Kato (the Red Cross lady) and a Matamaka woman quickly started CPR. Minutes had passed before a fast boat from the nearby village of Falevai came to take the girl and her family to the hospital. Kato had requested that I help her with CPR all the way to the hospital.

PHOTOS: The triage area setup by the Matamaka people. Babies and other young children were also onboard when the boat sank. They all were rescued by Matamaka boats.

The boat was fairly fast, but just not fast enough. The high school girl, whose grandmother and brother helplessly watched as we kept continued with the CPR, was announced dead upon arrival at the hospital. It was the first time in my entire life for someone to die right in front of me. I later found out her name. I cannot believe how quickly life can end. She was just going to a funeral that day. She was going back to school the next day, but her life was cut short. All her hopes and dreams just disappeared within minutes and I felt powerless to help her live. I tried my best.

After leaving the hospital, I realized that my phone fell in the water while trying to board the boat. In addition, my wallet fell somewhere (someone thankfully found it and returned to me) and I was left with a flashlight and sweater. Normally, I would be upset, but after the entire ordeal I realized they were all just THINGS. Material objects that are all replaceable. I was alive and well. That alone was something to be grateful.

PHOTO: CPR on the beach.

It was a crazy day. It was one of those things that you think would never happen to you. Was I traumatized? I would say I am more aware that how life can end at a blink of an eye. On the contrary, I was proud that the CPR lessons that the Red Cross and I prepared in February paid off. The people knew right away what to do and wasted no time. They learned something and it reassured me that my work in Tonga has not been a complete waste of time.

The sun was about to set when the incident happened. More people might have died if it occurred an hour later as most people were not familiar with the area. They would have drifted out to sea without knowing where Matamaka was located. The village does not have a lot of light that can be seen from far away. Furthermore, all the Matamaka boats were at the wharf (it is located on the other beach of Matamaka) because of the rough water. A night rescue would have severely limited the effectiveness of the search due to the number of flashlights available over such a large area. Even if all the other boats from the other villages came to help, by the time they would’ve arrive there would have been survivors floating in every direction.

In the end, it’s important to expect the unexpected. It’s better to take preventive actions in any situation than a potential deadly price. I always thought it was silly for Peace Corps to mandate a life vest anytime you ride a boat. Although, I can swim and most likely survive a ship sinking, I know that I can give my life vest to someone else who does not know how to swim. In Tonga, an island nation, you would assume everyone knows how to swim, but in reality they don’t. By the way, my friend was okay. He lost his things, but he is alive and healthy. The sun comes up and a bright new day waits. Don’t take it for granted. For real…LIVE YOUR LIFE.
PHOTO: Notice the sunken boat in the far right in this photo; it had continued to drift after finally hitting a reef.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Matamaka is GaGa for GAGA

PHOTO: The Class 1-3 with their Lady Gaga inspired face painting.

Arts and Crafts week was a blast due to all of the school supplies that have been donated to Matamaka GPS this year. The entire school made butterflies and caterpillars from watercolors and old egg crates. They are very simple to make and I encourage others to try one out! To make the caterpillars, simply cut long strips of old egg crates. Have students paint or color them with markers, water colors, or liquid paint. Next, cut little wedges in the bottom of the egg crates for the Popsicle sticks which are the "legs." Then, use yarn, glitter, beads or pretty much anything you can get your hands on to decorate the caterpillar.

For the butterflies, simply fold a piece of white paper and trace out a butterfly. Cut the butterfly out and have the students decorate them all. This is a great way to work on symmetrical shapes with the kids. To showcase all of the caterpillars and butterflies, we decorated a long piece of brown paper with pictures of various flowers and plants. Viola, the project is finish!

Furthermore, I introduce piñatas with the Class 4-6. Soane was even impressed that he had to make one for himself. We used balloons that were donated by Candi DeCarlo (Harlan, IOWA) and we wrapped them with recycled newspaper and paper scraps. Afterwards, we used watercolors to decorate. I separated the students into three groups, because it would take way too long to finish one. We will break all the piñatas at the end of the school year at our cultural day celebration. As of now, all of the art works are in our library for parents and visitors to enjoy.

In the end, Arts and Crafts week was a huge success. The entire school had face painting on the last day to celebrate. We were inspired by the Lady Gaga GLEE Episode. The children and staff were all little “theatrical,” with our Gaga looks. To all our Matamaka GPS followers, with your support we can continue doing projects such as these. THANK YOU!

PHOTOS: Highlights from Arts and Craft Week.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

H1N1 Shots

PHOTO: Next...

The Government of Tonga, in coordination of the World Health Organization, has made a nationwide effort to give out H1N1 to everyone in Tonga. A medical team from the Neiafu Prince Ngu Hostpital started the "immunization" shots with the outer islands in Vava'u first before moving into all the villages in the main island a couple of weeks ago. I was surprised that they didn't give a clear explanation of what H1N1, why the have to take shot, some example of symptoms, and other important information. Furthermore, forget about cleaning off your shoulder with an alcohol swab, they just poked you with the needle right-away. Say your name and go. Literally gather up everyone in town to the town hall, make a line, and bam bam bam. Eeks, so much for well informed citizens. Lastly, I wonder what they did with all the needles? Considering the fact that waste management removal in Vava'u is not well developed, I can only imagine hundreds of needles on some makeshift dump next to a beach somewhere. Oh, Tonga...

PHOTO: All the students from my school lining up for their shots.

Friday, August 6, 2010

PC Tonga G76 Packing Suggestions

PHOTO: WELCOME poster to Group 75 at Vava’u last year. G76 with be here soon!

‘Oku ou talitali fiefia koe ki Tonga kulupo Pisikoa fo’ou! On behalf of all the current PCVs in Tonga, I want to welcome all the future volunteers of PC Tonga Group 76. Hopefully all the invitations have been sent out and you all are getting pumped to live and work in the South Pacific. I cannot believe how fast time has flown by since I received my official of invitation to PC Tonga. All the stress and waiting have finally paid off, eh?

I have compiled a list of “general” packing ideas to help give you a better idea of what you can and can’t buy here in Tonga. I am an outer-island volunteer, so my daily lifestyle is very different from PCVs in the capitol city of Nuku’alofa. Furthermore, my packing list will be more beneficial for MALE volunteers, because I simply do not know what are considered “essential” for female volunteers in Tonga. Please contact one of the female PCVs for specific information (ex: shirts, skirts, etc.). There is a link on the bottom right of my blog for most of the PC Tonga blogs.

Please be advised that these are only SUGGESTIONS and it will be impossible to bring everything. Remember that you joined the Peace Corps, so you will most likely have to give up most of the comforts we have from back home and “rough” it for the next 27 months. You will realize once you get here that you really do not need as many things as you originally thought. In addition, I have a feeling that most of PCVs in G76 will be placed in the main islands/population centers where resources are plentiful.

What to bring:

* A laptop—although not a necessity to have a successful PC service, it will make your life a lot easier. Internet is slow in Tonga, but there is internet in most places or you can travel to get online (like me). Just make sure it is insured, because Tonga will wear it down.

* An external hardrive—makes sure all your files are backed up, because you never know when your laptop suddenly dies.

* Special adaptors—Tonga uses the same plug-in as New Zealand and Australia. Double-check with all your electronics before you bring them.

* MP3 player—drowns the sound of chickens in the morning.

* Portable speakers—for the beach…if you want.

* Headlamp—I use to make fun of people who had headlamps, but they are one of the best things ever invented.

* Nalgene/water bottle and camelback—save the earth. Don’t buy plastic water bottles all the time. Easy to carry around and free water.

* A couple of hanging baskets—keeps fresh food away from ants and other unwanted guests.

* A good set of knives—most knives here are crap.

* A Brita filter—my sister sent me one from the States. It has been one of the best additions to my house. I still boil my water before I place it in the Brita. Better safe than sorry.

* Hammock—best for beach days or to lounge around in your house.

* Your favorite spices—salt, pepper, cinnamon etc. may be purchased in some stores. If you like Cajun, Creole, Steak spices etc. It would be best to bring some with you.

* Gifts for your homestay family—I suggest something unique from your home state/city. Little toys/dolls are great for the children.

* Photos—everyone loves to see them and they make your house homey.

* Sleeping bag—great for camping and also a blanket during the cold months here in Tonga. Yes, it is freezing right now at night.

* Snorkel and fins—why would you not bring some?

* Special medications and contact solution—just bring enough that will last you until December. Have friends or families mail it to you regularly.

* A simple watch—one that can get wet.

* Raincoat—it rains a lot during the wet season…weird?

* Sunglasses and an extra pair of prescription glasses—it’s sunny here all the time and your glasses are bound to break FYI.

* Swiss Army Knife—you never know when you will need one.

* Sewing kit—things will get damaged.

* Camera—one PCV brought a dual underwater/land CANON camera which I have been pretty jealous about. There are a ton of photo opportunities in Tonga.

* Measuring cups/spoons—hard/impossible to find here.

* Bring something unique—just because you’re in Tonga doesn’t mean you can’t bring a piece of home with you. Bring a guitar if you like or a reasonable musical instrument. If you like rock climbing, bring your special shoes when you explore ‘Eua.

What I wouldn’t bring:

* A frying pan—the options of pots/pan here in Tonga have improved dramatically. Just make sure you purchase one in Tonga that is not made in China and it will last. (No offense to China made products).

* Extra batteries—bring some that will last you to PST with your electronics. You can easily buy batteries here in Tonga, but difficult to find in Ha’apai where PST will take place.

* “Fancy” shoes—I don’t know why I bought my nice pair of black shoes for “important” functions in Tonga. The truth is you where flip flops all the time.

* Extra medical supplies such as band-aids, antacids, sun block etc.—PC will give you medical box upon arrival to Tonga.

* Mosquito nets—PC will provide you one.

* Shaving cream/unnecessary toiletry items—get use to shaving your face with regular soap. You can purchase soap and shampoo down here. Unless you require special shampoo such as T-Gel or some kind of conditioner, then bring enough to last through PST.

* Too many pants/fancy clothes—you will wear your tupenu (only available in Tonga) 80% of the time in Tonga.

* “Fancy” watches—get the simple/cheap ones from Target or Wal-Mart.

What to bring for men:

* 3-4 button up short sleeve shirts—I suggest buying North Face, Eddie Bauer, and REI brand clothing. They will last the longest with the all the hand washing.

* 1 long sleeve black button up shirt—for funerals. They will happen more than you think.

* 1 long sleeve shirt with tie—for special events.

* 1 board shorts for swimming.

* 1-2 pair of jeans/pants—something to wear if you have a night out in town.

* 3-4 gym shorts—depends if you work out regularly and for lounge wear.

* 4-6 t-shirts/polo—everyday wear. Try to wear clothes that are plain and not attract too much attention to you. You already stand out as it is.

* 2-3 undershirts/white beaters—optional.

* 2 quick dry shirts—I suggest one long and one short sleeve.

* 2-3 shorts—one khaki and one black. Try to get shorts that cover/comes down to the knees. It is rude to show too much knees during kava circle. Again, better safe than sorry.

* 1 pair of tennis shoes—if you like to run or go for long walks.

* 1-2 pair of Keen/Chaco/Reef sandals—black would be the ideal color. You literally wear sandals everywhere you go. Therefore, it is good to bring a pair that can get wet or go for a hike with. Make sure you find a pair with good arch support, especially if you have flat feet. It is best to have a sandal that can withstand a puncture from nail or other sharp objects. I brought Keen hiking boots with me, but I have never used them once when I hike.

* Socks—if you are planning on bring tennis shoes.

* 8-12 of boxers/underwear—can never go wrong with bringing extra.

* 1-2 fleece/light jacket—it gets chilly during the winter months. I have a fleece and a light sweater on hand.

PHOTO: Poli’s Fangale’olunga group at our goodbye dinner at PST by our host families.

Black is a safe color to wear in Tonga. Many events actually require black attire. Avoid flamboyant clothing. Tonga is a very conservative Christian country. You get away with more things in Nuku’alofa than anywhere else, but it is important to be respectful in the host country all the time. You’re a Peace Corps Volunteer remember?

For FEMALE volunteers:

Sorry, I am not so helpful and wise with this section. I just know you need to have skirts that cover way below the knees with tops that do not show and shoulders or cleavage. Think conservative. Contact one of the female PCVs in Tonga for more details. Check the link on the bottom right of the blog page.

QUESTIONS/COMMENTS/COMPLAINTS: please let me know and I will try my best to help you out. PC limits everyone to 80 pounds for their baggage allowance, but it’s better to follow the airline baggage allowance. I was one of a few people who actually followed the 80 lbs. limit, but everyone else had brought 100 lbs. You will most likely fly Air New Zealand which last year allowed 50 pounds per check-in bag. They just passed a new rule though that only allows each person to have one free check-in baggage at 50 lbs. Any additional baggage is $50 USD? I am not sure if PC will compensate for the second bag or not. You may want to confirm with the PC Pacific desk before heading to the staging event in Los Angeles.

Please remember that these items are only suggestions and you can prioritize yourself which items are more important to you. You cannot bring everything. THINK LESS! You will be surprise how much you actually need. If anything, you can always have things mailed to Tonga.

Happy packing :D

Call me for a quick response!

PHOTO: TONGA awaits for your arrival :D