Saturday, September 18, 2010

Breaking News: Fire obliterates Neiafu Guest House

PHOTO: A lot of smoke and not due to burning rubbish. View from Talau.

Around 5 AM local time on Saturday, September 18, 2010, La Alvina Lodge in central Neiafu burned down to ashes. Early speculations claim that the cause of the fire was from a lit cigarette or a match. No lives were lost from the incident. All the guests evacuated from the building. The Dancing Rooster bar and restaurant, the building next door, was spared and did not suffer from any major damages. Neighbors from around the area rushed to the scene to help control the fire. The Neiafu Fire Department also responded to the incident. However, rumors have spread that one of the fire trucks ran out of the water and some of the fire staff were "under the influence" from the night before. It was a Friday night in Tonga after all, wasn't? As a result, It wouldn't be a big surprise if all these rumors were true. Regardless of what the truth is, La Alvina Lodge is gone and nobody got seriously hurt. Here were some photos from the aftermath.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

It’s that time again…SHOUT OUTS for AUG/SEPT

PHOTO: The kiddos with some of the new books from KENTUCKY!

The first SHOUT OUT goes to......INTERNATIONAL BOOK PROJECT of the USA for their generous donation of books to Matamaka GPS. We received thirty one books ranging from math and science textbooks to leveled reading materials for the children. The children were very excited to read the new books. A special MALO ‘AUPITO, THANK YOU VERY MUCH to the Virginia Clark Hagan Foundation of Lexington, Kentucky for sponsoring Matamaka GPS. They made the book donation possible! We are very grateful for their help.

Another SHOUT OUT to DETLEF PLASIER of Leipzig, GERMANY. He has been active participant of our Postcard Project by sending us tons of postcards. Detlef went above and beyond by sending a box full of school supplies. We received scissors, watercolors, pencils, a map of Leipzig, and more. His contributions have made successful projects with the children of Matamaka. As a result, Detlef receives a ROCKSTAR STATUS from all his new friends in Tonga.

Lastly, a personal SHOUT OUT to CANDI DECARLO for continuing to send me goodies from the States. She has been awesome with care packages, as well as boxes of supplies to the school. I cannot even count how many boxes she has sent to Tonga since I first arrived last October. For real, THANK YOU SO MUCH if you are reading this. It has been much appreciated.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Pizza Hut? Papa John’s? DiGiorno? No….it’s the Matamaka Pizza!

PHOTO: Can you say YUM?

The class six exams are coming up in a few weeks. To help my students out, I held a special cooking class at my house on how to make a pizza one Saturday afternoon. The catch, they all had to follow an English recipe and speak fakapalangi (English) the entire time. At first everyone was a bit hesitant on speaking at all. I gave everyone directions and they just giggled and said “okay Feleti.”

It was a lot of fun. They learned a ton of new vocabulary like “spatula” and “greased pan.” It was quite a treat for them to “hangout” at Feleti’s house for the afternoon. All the other village kids kept watching from outside my window. I told them they all have to wait until they are in class six. Come on, my house is tiny and can’t fit everyone.

The recipe is quite simple. Flour, milk (Anchor box milk, o yeah), Chesdale cheese, peppers, onions, garlic, pineapple are some of the ingredients we used. We even opened up one of my imported pepperoni from the States (SO GOOD). About an hour and half later, it was done. They never had pepperoni before, and I wasn’t sure if they liked it or not. I was told it was spicy. You know how hard it is to get pepperoni here? Lol. I later assigned them an essay on a “how to” paper after the cooking class. They weren’t going to get away that easy from homework. Good times, good times.

PHOTO: How to bake a pizza the Matamaka way.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Tongan Fundraiser aka KONSETI

PHOTO: Please don’t stop the music.

Fundraisers in Tonga come in different forms. One of them is called a kulapu, where men donate money to drink kava. Another common one is called a konseti. This type of fundraiser is commonly used by primary schools. The students get all dressed up in traditional Tongan attire and perform various Tongan dances. Performances range from sitting to warrior dances. Regardless, they all do an amazing job!

As the students perform, people from the crowd donate money by sticking it to their oil slicked skin or just placing it around their Tongan attire. They are fun events with good music. You may jump right in to dance if you want. Some konseti-s can make thousands of pa’anga. I was able to snap some photos from a konseti at GPS Liviela in Neiafu. Enjoy. Just another thing to look forward to if you visit Tonga.

PHOTOS: Some pics from the konseti event.

ROTI for SALE. 'Ifo 'aupito

PHOTO: How to make fresh roti.

I was very impressed when I found out that my counter-part’s sister started a small business. Lesieli is a mother of two and wanted to help contribute to the family income. What did she do? Lesieli started a roti business. Roti is very similar to rolled up quessidia, but with curry instead. She uses unripe lesi (papaya), tin fish, curry, and fresh roti made from flour and water. I am not a big fan of tin fish, but the way she prepares her roti is amazing. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even know I was eating tin fish.

PHOTO: Preparing the roti.

I admire Lesieli’s hard work and dedication. She literally stays up all night preparing all of the roti to be sold the next day. It is a daily routine, except for Saturday evening which is her day “off” since everything is closed on Sundays. Several falekoloas buy her roti. In return, she makes a net profit of $300-$500 TOP a week. It’s quite impressive, if I say so myself. Lesieli is an inspiration to women in Tonga. She has taken initiative and successfully launched a thriving business. I look forward to see if she plans on expanding her business in the future. As for now, she is quite content with everything and appreciates her family’s support. If you’re ever around Neiafu, try one out for yourself. They’re only a pa’anga each. Good food, great value.

Money vs. Environment. The Sea Cucumber Dilemma

PHOTO: What they look like. Here is what sea cucumbers look like.

What are they? Well, there are over one thousand different types of sea cucumbers around the world. They are related to star fishes and sea urchins and are essential to healthy reefs. Sea cucumbers act like swimming pool vacuum cleaners, but on a much larger scale in the ocean. Sea cucumbers feed on microscopic organisms, which they sense and sweep up from the seabed with frondlike tentacles that branch out from the mouth. Many sea cucumbers also ingest mud and sand and, in a manner similar to that of earthworms, absorb the organic matter, egest the waste from the cloaca, and leave castings (Encarta 2004). Long story short, sea cucumbers filter and clean the water. Without it, water becomes cloudy and coral life dies.

The issue in Tonga: OVERHARVESTING due to the commercialization of sea cucumbers. There is a very high demand of sea cucumbers from the Asian markets. As a result, Asian countries, like China, pay big bucks for these animal creatures exported from Tonga. Therefore, fishermen collect sea cucumbers for a quick source of income. However, the environmental impacts are tremendous. During the sea cucumber season in Tonga, boat loads of sea cucumber come into processing plants before being shipped out. Fishermen can easily make $1000 to $3000 TOP per boat load. It is a very lucrative industry, but not sustainable or best for the future. The harvesting of sea cucumbers was actually banned in Tonga for ten years (97-07), because numbers of several sea cucumber species were reduced dramatically.

PHOTOS: One of the sea cucumber processing sites. Hundreds of sea cucumbers collected from one night. The Chinese buying the sea cucumbers. Lovely…

I was able to visit one of the sea cucumber processing facilities in Vava’u. I can only describe it as a form of ethnic cleansing towards sea cucumbers. I was sickened at the amount of sea cucumbers being unloaded from each boat. The Chinese suppliers, inspected and paid money to the Tongan fishermen. Just imagine people killing whales, sharks, dolphins, and turtles and turning in the carcass at a collection depot, that was how I felt watching the entire event. Yes, all those atrocities also occur all over the world. Who is to blame though? Each country has the right to do whatever they want within their territories. Should we look into more international environmental protection? Where is GREEN PEACE when you need them? Give more money towards key Ministries such as Fisheries or Environment to protect certain species? Corruption? blah blah blah. Just another frustration working in a country like Tonga. In the end, who knows what will happen. If a certain threshold is passed with overharvesting, then the extinction of numerous sea cucumbers is forthcoming and the consequences will have devastating effects. I have an idea…STOP eating them and that goes towards shark fin soup and also other “delicacies.”