Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"Stand up when I say the F word"

PHOTO: Japanese volunteer Toru with the donated Soroban to all Vava'u primary schools.

An activity during teacher planning week in Tonga, here was the instruction: "Stand up when I say the F word."

What is first thing that comes to your mind? Really, this is a primary school so get your head out of the gutter! lol. FAKA-ilifia, FAKA-tonga, Faka-lelei etc. The Tongan language is very unique. Believe it or not, this really happened in our workshop the other day and it just caught me off guard and thought "is this a trick a question?"

PHOTO: Teachers paying attention at one of the teacher workshops.

The Ministry of Tonga is coming out with a BRAND NEW syllabus for this academic year. It has been delayed for quite some time now, but I literally have a hard copy of the new English syllabus for the primary school. It focuses on student centered learning, which is a fairly new concept in Tonga. Teachers in the past are used to writing the equations on the board and expect students to just take it all in. It lacked attention in checking if students really understood the lesson. The head teacher gave an example with a cartoon. It went something like this:

Person 1: "I taught my dog how to whistle."

Person 2: "I thought your dog could whistle."

Person 1: "I didn't say he learned how to whistle."

HALLELUJAH! The speaker pretty much summarized the "Tongan" methods of teaching in the past years. They are really pushing for education reforms across the entire spectrum. It is quite revolutionary. The teachers all practiced writing lessons plans and activities that really gets the students involved with the lessons. We will see how it turns out as the changes starts to reform the entire Tongan educational system.

On a completely different note, I had an opportunity to eva (go around/hangout) at Talihau beach the other day with some friends. It was a beautiful day and we all enjoyed a nice kai tunu (barbecue). Check it out if your in the area. It is accessible via causeway from Vava'u lahi. Approximately a 20 minute drive from Neiafu.

PHOTOS: Talihau beach in Vava'u. Faka'ofo'ofa!

Monday, January 24, 2011

"Cyclone" Wilma

PHOTO: The clouds rolling in before the main event....

Cyclone Wilma paid a short visit to Vava'u early Tuesday morning. It was a Category 1 cyclone when it "brushed" Vava'u. Wilma did not cause any major disruptions like Rene last year. As a matter of fact the PCVs in Vava'u didn't even have to be consolidated. Regardless, most residents of Vava'u prepared for the upcoming storm by stocking up on food and boarding up their windows. Planning week for the government schools were canceled for Tuesday, which gave everyone a nice day "off." School workshops will start up again Wednesday with Japanese volunteers working with outer-island teachers with the abacus/soloban program. Furthermore, the new syllabus will be introduced this year to all the primary school. It will be very exciting to finally get the see the new changes.
PHOTO: Covering the windows.

In the end, Wilma brought rain and some wind. Not a big deal here in Vava'u, but could prove differently as it progresses South towards Ha'apai and Tongatapu. Who knows when the next cyclone will be? The season technically doesn't end until April-ish. We still have awhile....However, there is one thing for sure I am certain, watching the clouds prior to these huge storms are absolutely breathtaking!

PHOTO: Wilma approaching towards Vava'u

Friday, January 14, 2011

Kaleti Beach and Apple Pie

PHOTO: A view of Kaleti beach from above.

Our group 75 MST just wrapped up in Nuku'alofa and now I am back in Neiafu for the last ten months of my Peace Corps service. I can literally count down how many months I have left on both of hands. Crazy?! Where has the time gone by? Anyway, I just wanted to share this awesome beach that we visited in Tongatapu called Kaleti Beach. It is located in the Southern part of the island and is by far the prettiest beach I have been to on the island of Tongatapu. It is best to take a taxi from Nuku'alofa ($15 TOP) or if you have your own mode of transportation. It is quite a walk from the main road, so I wouldn't recommend going on foot.

The beach is very quaint with huge corals/rocks that provides nice swimming holes for visitors. There are hidden white sand beaches around different coves throughout the area. It is a great place to get away and hide from the rest of Tonga. At the time of visit, it was very clean, but I was told that rubbish is often throughout the area. In addition, there is a resort on the premises that offers spectacular views and food options for the hungry day trippers. The resort has numerous private bungalows available near the water. The best part of Kaleti beach is the snorkeling. We saw some a variety of corals and a plethora of fish swimming around the reef.

PHOTO: Some beautiful corals at Kaleti beach.

Lastly, a fellow volunteer made a delicious APPLE PIE! It was so good. It was a nice surprise, even though I just came back from the states. Some of us got together at another PCV house to catch up on how everyone's break went. In the end, MST was a great opportunity to see everyone. A fellow volunteer went home so we are now down to 21 out of 26. I wish her the best of luck and safe travels. Anyway, planning week starts next week followed by the first day of school on the 21st of January. Getting pumped for round two!

PHOTO: Me with the freshly baked pie. 'Ifo 'aupito!

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Third Peace Corps Goal: To promote the...

PHOTO: Meet the pen pals!

The Third Peace Corps Goal: Helping promote better understanding of other peoples on part of Americans.

I had the privileged to meet with my US penpals from the IKM-Manning Elementary schools. The second and third graders were able to do a meet and greet with me before their winter break. It was a great opportunity to promote the third Peace Corps goal with the youngsters and staff of the school. The children were very eager to learn more about Tonga and see more photos about their Tongan penpals and Matamaka GPS.

PHOTOS: Talking to the kids.

Before the presentation, I prepared a quick slide show highlighting various facts about Peace Corps and Tonga. The kids were really eager to ask questions. Some of the questions were very funny like "Does Santa come to Tonga?" or "Do the kids play a lot of video games?" I think they realized how their lives are so much different than other children from the other side of the world. Furthermore, I had brought some cool things from Tonga to show the kids like tapa cloth, kiekias, ta'ovala, drums, fans, etc. In addition, I gave them all handmade bookmarks from my island and Peace Corps stickers (compliments of Meredith from the University of Iowa recruitment office).

PHOTO: Some of the artifacts of Tonga.

In the end, it was a lot of fun talking to all of the kids. The third graders sponsored a book drive last year for our school and Matamaka GPS received over 100 books from the kids. The second graders this year will hopefully be doing a similar service project this year. Furthermore, we will continue on writing letters back and forth to one another this year. Before I left, I surprised the kids with brand new letters their pen pals which they had written before I left for America. I want to give a special thank you to Mrs. DeCarlo for setting up the event. Malo 'aupito.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Time away from site. Off to AMERICA!

PHOTO: Home for the holidays!

Hello everyone, it has been awhile since my last blog post. I was busy catching up with all of my close friends and family in the US. It was great to get away from Tonga. I literally had not left Tonga for almost fifteen months and I was having some serious island fever. Here are some highlights from my month long vacation. After being away from home for so long, I can conclude one thing: AMERICA IS TRULY AWESOME! I appreciate everything little thing so much more now than I ever did before. Anyway here are my top five highlights.


PHOTOS: Eating out with friends and family in various eateries.

I definetly took advantage of all the delicious food available in America. My first meal as soon as I stepped out of the airport was a buffet at Red Rock Casino in Las Vegas. One word could only describe how I felt...AWESOME. I had made a list of all the food I had to eat before heading back to Tonga which included: Mexican, Hummus, Mongolian Grill, Ruby Tuesday Burgers etc. This didn't even include all the home cooked meals. I would say I checked off 80% of the list. It was absolutely amazing!


PHOTO: The famous Igloo of Cedar Rapids

Snow, snow, snow. I love snow! Another reason why I love living in the Midwest. I have to admit, shoveling snow does not bother me. I truly enjoy it. In addition, I got to spend some good quality time with cousin Kendee with constructing a huge igloo infront of my house. However, I didn't get a chance to hit the slopes in Galena, better luck next year.


PHOTO: Family photo with all of the dogs.

Must I say more? I was able to celebrate with my family two of my most favorite holidays of the year. There was so much contrast between celebrating the holidays in Tonga than in the US. For example, I didn't have to spend my New Years Eve celebrating in a church past midnight. My family prepared delicious meals for both holidays. Furthermore, I got to spend my first Christmas with Ashley's family in Harlan, Iowa. I was SO happy to spend it with everyone I care and love. Furthermore, I love how almost all my Christmas presents were for Tonga. For example: an air mattress, batteries, portable speakers etc. My family also had our traditional gingerbread house competition which Ash and I came in first place....woot woot.


PHOTO: Link and me!

My month long visit had given me the opportunity to spend some quality time with all the important people in my life. I never thought I would miss everyone so much. My time in Tonga has made me realize how much I miss everyone. Furthermore, my best buddy Link remembered me! My dog that is. I was afraid he would've forgotten me for being away for so long. In addition, I got to see most of my friends. I didn't get to see everyone as I would've like, but I truly tried to see as many.


PHOTO: Ashley and me at New Years

Ashley and I got engaged! I popped the big question when I was home and she said YES! We are both pretty ecstatic and are planning for the big day after my Peace Corps service. I'm sure Peace Corps will raise a red flag about this, but you know what I don't care. We love each other and it is only a matter of when and where we will actually get hitched. Currently, Ash is planning all the details with the help of our parentals. We are looking at March 2012. It's still awhile, so we should have plenty of time to plan everything out. As for now, I am just concentrating on finishing my time here in Tonga.

In the end, America is truly the land of the free. Places are open on Sundays and you can pretty much do whatever you want to do as long as your not breaking a law. No intense cultural stuff that Tonga is always so damn uptight about. Am I excited to back to Tonga? eh... Let's hope this year goes by fast. New Years Resolution: Do more things to make ME happy. Less on the cultural activities and avoid as many Peace Corps bureaucratic crap.

Peace and Love from Tonga.