Saturday, July 30, 2011

School Supplies from Virginia

PHOTO: Look at all of the school supplies

A special July shout out to Swantje Willms of Alington Virginia. I received a very nice package full of school supplies for the children of GPS Matamaka. It all worked out very well after figuring out some shipping logistics to my home in Iowa instead to Tonga. Ended up saving on some international shipping. I plan on just packing it in my suitcase bound to Matamaka. Thank you Swantje, it is people like you who help make a HUGE difference to the Peace Corps cause and for the promotion of international goodwill and friendship. Malo 'aupito. Thank you very much.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Random Videos from TONGA

Here are some long awaited videos that I finally am able to share with everyone. I am still in America for a Peace Corps Medical Hold and will be returning to Tonga soon? who knows? Anyway, internet here in the US is SO MUCH MORE faster than Tonga! I hope you all enjoy them all. If anyone has any questions let me know.

VIDEO ONE: Sports Day 2011. Here are the kids on a rainy morning
with Tug-o-war in the rain. In Nuapapu Village.

VIDEO TWO: Tug-o-war between the mothers during Sports Day 2011.

VIDEO THREE: Taking off on my first Navy helicopter ride off the USS CLEVELAND. Great Aerial shot of Vava'u.

VIDEO FOUR: Over the island of Nuapapu and Lape.

VIDEO FIVE: Tongan sitting dance at the closing ceremony for the US NAVY MISSION in Neiafu, Vava'u

VIDEO SIX: The Slide Show that I made for the completion
of our training in 2009! It has been awhile!!!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Yamaneko Explores IOWA

PHOTO: Yamaneko with the Des Moines Skyline in the background.

What is a Yamaneko? A fellow Japanese volunteer started making these personalized clay figurines to travel around the world. It is very similar to the traveling gnome concept. The Yamaneko symbolizes friendship and the ultimate goal is for people with Yamanekos to meet one another from different parts of the world. Toru, the JICA volunteer, has made hundreds of Yamanekos since he first started. Each one is especially made with a unique serial number. He even makes special edition Yamanekos like Ababacus edition or even a fiance Yamaneko. People with Yamanekos are suppose to take photos of it at unique places and are then submitted to Toru's Yamaneko blog/website. Currently, Yamanekos are all over the world. I am grateful that Iowa officially has its first Yamaneko!

***I have been asked how people can get a hold of one of these Yamanekos. Unfortunately, you cannot buy one as they are free. However, Toru must personally give one to you.

Yamaneko overlooking the Des Moines capitol building.

Yamaneko with the windmills of Western Iowa in the background.

Yamaneko playing at a golf course near Harlan, Iowa.


12 hours in FIJI

PHOTO: The Sri Siva Subramaniya Hindu Temple in Nadi, FIJI

Flying via Air Pacific to get back to the US, I had the opportunity to see a little bit of Fiji during my 12 hour lay over in Nadi for my flight to LAX. During the 1 1/2 flight from Nuku'alofa to Nadi, I was lucky to meet a few people who were also on their way to LAX. They were nice enough to offer if I would like to split a hotel room for the day with them. Why not? I now had some people to explore Nadi with. They were all from California and visited Tonga for the one of the royal families birthday party! Crazy, how I ran into these people.

PHOTO: The hotel pool and our suite room.

We ended up getting a hotel room for the day at the Raffles Gateway Hotel. It was conveniently located near the airport. It had a nice swimming pool that I later had a chance to take a dip in before the long flight to LAX. After getting settled in at the hotel, we decided to go to town. My new friend Genesis had to do some shopping for some South Pacific handicrafts for a new Wellness Center his friend had opened up in California. We all ended up taking a shuttle to Jack's in downtown Nadi.
PHOTO: Jack's and a McDonalds in Nadi.

Upon arriving to Jack's, I ended up buying a couple of items since their sales representatives were pretty convincing (plus they did give us a free ride--which we stopped by the Hindu temple pictured above for free). Afterwards, I was able to stop by the famous restaurant Saffron. They serve one of the best vegetable curry I had every tasted. It was absolutely brilliant! Next, I simply just walked around the main street and was amazed at the amount of goods you can purchase in Fiji (so much better than Tonga). They even have a McDonalds!

PHOTO: Downtown Nadi.

The landscape in Fiji is by far so different than in Tonga. They actually have rivers, streams, and mountains. Economically, they had by far more stores and food options. Culturally, it is multi-ethnic society. The Indian-Fijian population is very prominent in Fiji. In the end, by the time we checked back in for flight to LAX I was well rested for my long journey home. The warm shower at the hotel was my first in six months--amazing! I was grateful for all the people I met who made great travel companions. Best of luck to them all!

PHOTO: Me with the new people I met at dinner before our flight to LAX.

"Springbreak" Mala 2011

PHOTO: Group photo with the Aussies and PCVs at Mala.

I recently traveled to Mala Island with a bunch of PCVs and Aussie medical students to take some time off during our school break. We were lucky enough for the owner Nessa to invite us into his resort even though it was close at the time. He will pick you up for free with his boat from Talihau beach, which is a quick three minute boat ride across the small channel.

PHOTO: Cooking it up in the kitchen and the final product. 'Ifo 'aupito!

We were all very surprised when Nessa offered up food from his kitchen. The cooks were not yet in the island, so as long as we did all the work it was alright. What did we do? We all dug in and prepared a delicious meal with hamburgers and potatoes/banana fries. The resort had a legit kitchen with industrial size refrigerators and cooking equipment. It was quite a nice change from my little kitchen in Matamaka. By the time the food was all prepared, the sun was just beginning to set. It was a very picturesque scene!

PHOTO: Me serving the fries.

The resort plans to re-open in July and should be open for the rest of the tourist season this year. To learn more information about Mala Island Resort, check out Google "Tonga Holiday" and search for Mala Island. Prices are pretty reasonable and fairly accessible from the main island of Vava'u.
PHOTO: Some of the girls posing for the camera.

Adventure day in Vava'u

PHOTO: Some PCVs and I preparing our bikes for our trip to Holonga.

One of our fellow volunteers from Vava'u had a new opportunity come about and has decided to pursue her dreams. As a result, for those of left at Vava'u made sure she had an excellent last week in the Kingdom of Tonga (most of the PCVs went to New Zealand for a holiday). Most of us were on the school break so we had time to explore some sights around the main island of Vava'u lahi. We decided to go for a nice bike ride to Holonga where there was a beautiful outlook in the Northern end of the island.
PHOTO: Biking down the road.

It took about forty minutes to an hour from Neiafu on our bikes. We lucked out by missing all the hard rain, but it made the trek from Holonga to the outlook almost an impossible task due to all of the mud. The wheels were barely turning! By the time we made it to the outlook, it was absolutely breathtaking. It definitely was worth trekking through all of the mud. In addition, there were plenty of wild orange trees that you could snack on en route.

PHOTO: The view from Holonga point and all of us before the picnic.

After the taking some pictures and quick picnic at the look out, we headed down to the beach. This time we left our bikes on top of the hill, because the trail became too steep. There were some magnificent flora on the trek down with various wild birds singing throughout the entire trail. Some of them were pretty stunning and massive. At the bottom we enjoyed a refreshing beach for a couple of hours before the clouds started to turn gray. The beach was completely deserted. The nearest village is a twenty minute hike, therefore it truly is an off-the-beaten path. The bike ride back to town was far easier as you were going down the hill.

PHOTO: The hike down to the beach.

I highly recommend backpackers/travelers to Vava'u to check out Holonga point. A lot of the trail seems pretty sketchy, but it reality it is not. Just do not get off the trail. The trail ends at the look out point. To head down to the beach, there is small walking path before the main trail turns off. Cheers!

PHOTO: Beach picture.

PC Macedonia Postcards

PHOTO: Postcards from PC Macedonia

I just wanted to share some postcards that arrived from Macedonia by PCV Maggie Davies 08-11. She found out about our Postcard Project through the Peace Corps publication of Peace Corps Times. Her students in Kavadarci, Macedonia sent these beautiful cards. She is one of many PCVs who have made connections with GPS Matamaka. PCVs from Thailand, South Africa, and other exotic places have made wrote to us in Tonga. My students will be preparing postcards from Tonga upon my arrival back to Matamaka. We are now in the final end of the Postcard Project as my service is slowly coming to its end. However, it is still not too late to send your postcard from your home country and we can still get them processed before I am finished. Cheers!

The Circus comes to Vava'u!

PHOTO: The flying man.

The Circus of Samoa performed for three days in Vava'u. I don't know if it was the first time the circus to ever come to Vava'u, but the people had a good laugh from the show. The circus didn't have any lions or elephants (what we would consider a "circus" in America), but it had plenty of acrobatics acts, magic tricks, and of course a clown. I was impressed with the eclectic cast for the show. They had people as a far away as Brazil, Portugal, Colombia, and more! The show took place at the Melifihi hall in Neiafu. They closed off all of the windows to prevent people from peeking inside. Tickets were $5 to $10 TOP, which was quite a price for the average Tongan. Regardless, how often does a circus come to Vava'u?

PHOTO: Circus randomness.

I was "fortunate" enough to partake in the show even though I tried to hide when they pointed at me. Ughh. Did I tell you clowns freak me out? Anyway, they also had a cotton candy machine. I bought one which resulted to two days of stomach cramps. Oh well. At the end of night, the circus was entertaining and I got a good laugh. They were off to Ha'apai next, followed by Fiji and other South Pacific countries before they are all done.

PHOTO: The infamous cotton candy.

Hanging out at the beach with the kiddos

PHOTO: Me with the kids.

The night before I left for Matamaka for my holiday, I hung out at the beach to watch the sunset when some of my students joined me to hangout. I had a great time taking pictures of them playing around. What a great way to enjoy the sunset for my last evening in Matamaka for awhile. They are all very photogenic and love to climb coconut trees! These random photos were taken on Matamaka beach at the island of Nuapapu in the Kingdom of Tonga. Enjoy!

PHOTO: The amazing sunset in the heart of the South Pacific.

PHOTO: The kids taking the popau or canoe out to visiting yacht to sell fruits and crafts.

PHOTO: Lata climbing a coconut tree to show off to the other kids.

PHOTO: Jumping around.

PHOTO: Peni with his acrobatic skills.

Dive Trip Numbah 2

PHOTO: The dive team before our first dive off of Hunga.

I had another excellent opportunity for another dive with DIVE VAVA'U during the first week of the mid-year school break. A couple of PCVs and I chose Dive Vava'u again, because they're awesome and very reliable. Our first dive was off of the island of Hunga called Caddy Shack. There were a lot of small caves and tunnels that you can swim around in. It was a bit scary at first due to the tight squeeze. Regardless, it was very cool and worth it.

PHOTOS: Random diving pics.

Our second dive was a small island just north of my island Nuapapu. The dive site was called Shark Tooth. There is a large cave underneath home to multiple sharks. It was so cool to watch them swim all around you. Frightening at first, but at the same time it was very beautiful watching them swim so elegantly around you. This dive site also has some rock formation that looks like a shark tooth, hence it name. At the end of the day, we had another successful dive trip in Vava'u. We look forward for our next dive trip at the end of July (woot woot)!

PHOTO: The rescued baby turtle.

On a side note, Dive Vava'u rescued this baby turtle. A local taxi driver in Neiafu had it as a decoration on his dash board in a small container--wtf?!?! Karen (the owner of Dive Vava'u) bought the baby turtle from the man and have been taking care of it at her dive shop. They plan on releasing the baby turtle when it is ready.

Donations from abroad

PHOTO: Look at all of the new books!

Exciting news! GPS Matamaka received a cargo shipment from the United States full of hundreds of used children and adult books, a television, movies, a printer, a couple of used computers, a guitar, and a ton of random clothing. The cargo was a generous donation from the people of Matamaka who live in the US. The village had a reunion last December and the expats wanted to help out the village.

PHOTO: The Matamaka town officer's boat and some of the children putting the new books away in the library.

We literally had to use wheel barrels to transport all of the books to the school. I was stunned at the amount of new materials for the kids. Our school could not accommodate to all of the new books, due to lack of books shelves. We are definitely going to need to order two or three new book shelves. As for the new television and computers, I did not have the opportunity to see if they work or not before I left for my holiday. All of the new materials were neatly put away in a corner of the library, because we were getting ready to close shop for the mid-year break. I look forward to organizing it all when I get back to Tonga.

PHOTO: Ma'asi found this new outfit that he fell in love with.

Thank you for all of those who contributed to the school donations. We appreciate it dearly!

PHOTO: I'm pretty sure my students have done 70 out of the 101 ways to bug me. LOL.

PHOTO: You can never have enough Jesus books in Tonga.

Where have my students gone?!?!

QUESTION: What do you think these two students are doing???

Washing the assistant teachers laundry! What the heck? I was teaching one day and was wondering where a couple of students have gone. I found them at back washing my co-teachers blankets with there feet! Cool, but disturbing at the same time. "Why are you not in class?" I asked. "We have to get it done because it has to dry before tonight, Feleti" one of the boys told me. Apparently I didn't get the memo that it's alright to excuse students to do chores for teachers--This is just lovely and normal. On a brighter note, they were pretty excited to wash the bed sheets. They asked if they could wash mine. No thanks, I prefer to wash my own sheets. Oh, Tonga....

Friday, July 8, 2011

Weekend of HELL

Photo: So if I ride a canoe on the main road, do I still need to wear my life jacket PC?

Once upon a time in an outer-island village in Vava'u a Peace Corps Volunteer endured four days of terrential rain, an enormous boil, and an accidental house arrest. Oh wait, all of these things did happen, but to who? Oh wait, me.

It all started on a "normal" Friday morning. The bright sunshine promised another beautiful day in the South Pacific. By 8 AM, all of the Tongan teaching staff had already boarded the last boat bound for the main city of Neaifu, while I was getting ready for school. This has been going on for awhile since, putu or funeral clearly takes precedent over the average Tongan day job. I am not required to "man" the school by myself, however the children are very eager to have English class and literally wait infront of my doorstep for me to wake up. As a result, I have a half day--which is better than no school.
PHOTO: Rain washes the contents of this pit toilet (one of many) throughout the village.

It all started with a sharp pain on the back of my left leg. At first, I thought it was a cut or a possible bruise. Ahh! It evolved into a ridiculous boil by the time morning school was over! FML. Boils are nothing, but a pain in the ass. It is technically an infected hair folicle. This would have been my second or third (I lost count) boil during my service. Medical services at my site is non-existent unless I risk it with a local Tongan herb woman. As a result, I just have to "ride it out."

PHOTO: The boil on my left leg. One of many great souvenirs I will have from Tonga.

Still staying positve, I decided to do laundry. Laundry in Tonga is a workout. It consists of hours of strenuous handwashing and pumping of pipe tube inside a plastic tin. This doesn't include hauling water back and forth to rinse the washed clothing since I have no running water. Regardless, I finished all of my wash in record time of three and half hours! Great, eh? As soon as I hung the last of my clean clothes on the laundry line in front of my house, the clouds started to turn gray. Then it all started to go down hill...

PHOTO: All the random tins and pans on one side of my house.

The rain did not stop for a solid four days. Kid you not, four days of non-stop torrential downpour. My house on average leaks at two different spots. By the fourth day, I had run out of tins and pans to cover all the leaks and my boil made walking unbearable. On the final evening, I was woken up by one of the men in the village. My cellphone was out of battery since my solar panel had been down due to the lack of sun for multiple days. "Feleti, 'oku ke i'ai vai i loto?"--"Feleti, is there water inside?" I am thinking to myself, why in God's name would you ask if I have water in my house at 3:30 in the morning!

By the time I got up, I walked around my house and realized there was something incredibly wrong. All the insects had infested entire house! "What the hell is going on?" I though to myself. I took my headlamp and try to see what was going on outside. All I saw was water! My house has become an island. All the insects in the area have taken refuge inside my house! Coastal flooding has flooded half of the village.
PHOTOS: The Wesleyan church at Matamaka after flood water retreated to the sea and my neighbors house. There house was underwater for a couple of days. Sad.

My house is elevated about a foot and a half and the water was literally a half of an inch before spilling inside. I tried to open my door, but it was blocked because the man that had woke me up decided it was best to put his lawn mower on my step even though it was already submerged (the logic there--I will never know). As a result, I was stuck in my house. "This is not happening," I told myself as I hobbled around my house with a boil making a makeshift levy out of towels. By the time I finished placing all my significant belongings on chairs and my bed, it was almost six o'clock in the morning. I realized I left my camera at the school, but there was no way I could get there or walking in this water.
PHOTO: My sima vai or water tank. You can see how high the water went. I had to use buckets to remove the water fro the valve. My neighbors says its not contaminated, but I highly doubt that. Oh boy...

The water finally began to recede around nine am. The villagers had dug out at trench to help drain the water to the sea, since the flood had no end at sight. A neighbor women came and helped me to unblock my door and I was set free. At the time, I had been dying to use the bathroom, so I hiked to the school and also grabbed my camera to document what the storm left. It had flooded churches, the town hall, and several homes. I was lucky the village drained the water in time, because my house would have been next. A lot of pit toilets spilled over (including my own), so the village reeked. It also flooded my water storage, which I had to manually drain out the water. By the time it stopped raining, everyone was out and about either playing in the water (eeks!) or cleaning out their flooded homes. What a mess!

PHOTOS: The trench dug up for the water to drain to the sea. PROS: drained the water from the homes. CONS: Contaminated the water with rubbish and human waste, soil erosion, and marine/coral destruction. Sad, just sad. For the first time, there was a "stream" in Matamaka.