Friday, October 28, 2011

My last days of school

PHOTO: My last group photo with students, staff, and PTA members of Matamaka GPS.

All good things must come to an end. I was granted an early COS with my Peace Corps service in the Kingdom of Tonga. As a result, my COS date was moved to September 24, 2011. It truly has been an honor and privilege to have worked in Matamaka for the two years. I have learned so much about myself and about the Tongan culture. I couldn't have asked for more picturesque sight in the world! Matamaka GPS was surrounded by crystal clear blue water on three sides with 'Ovava trees perfected located to hang my hammock.

Faita: Malo 'aupito ngaue lahi fanau 'ako! 'Ofa 'atu lahi! Kauleka Matamaka mo e fuka 'amelika.

My last week of teaching was a bittersweet moment. I love the kids, but they also drive me bonkers half the time. I have pushed them so much with English in the past two years. I have seen significant improvement with their language development since my arrival to Matamaka. We have been hard at work preparing for the big Secondary Entrance Exam. Three out of the five class six students are passing the English portion of the exams. We still had another month to bring up the other two. Regardless, I am very optimistic they will all do very well on the exam.

PHOTO: Who wants to do more sentence writing?

I dedicated my last week at Matamaka finishing up the last minute renovations at the library. This included trying to log all of the books and school materials in our new stock registry. Organizing all of the books on the new shelves has also been quite a task since we have SO many new materials. Pitisi and Ma'asi have been great with helping me with everything. I made sure I took enough photos with the kids before I left Matamaka. These were some of the highlights. I will follow up with another blog entry with actual leaving Matamaka as it deserve its own entry. What can I say? It was a challenging assignment, but also an amazing opportunity at the same time. Thank you Matamaka GPS for everything! I will never forget all of the fond memories I had.
PHOTO: Ma'asi and Pitisi with the kids in front of the library.

Swimming with humpbacks!

PHOTO: Up close and personal with humpbacks!

I finally had the opportunity to check off "swimming with whales" off of my Tongan bucket list. Considering the fact that Tonga is only one of three places in the whole world that permits whale operators let their guests take a quick dip with these breathtaking creatures, I HAD to do it before I left Tonga. Of course, I went with my favorite boat operator Dive Vava'u. They are the only license whale watching operator with prior experience working with whales in other countries. In addition, the owners are both marine biologist so they very legit (I highly recommend their services).

PHOTO: More exciting whale pics

Regardless, a bunch of PCVs and Japanese volunteers got together for the big event. It was pretty much all volunteers in the boat. We were all very excited when the day started to find some whales. However, we did not have any luck for the first two hours. We were getting a bit skeptical if we would even see ONE whale. All of sudden, they just popped out left and right! Our first "successful" swim was with a calf with its mum and male escort. IT WAS SO COOL! Words cannot describe when you see these behemoth creature swim by you. It makes you feel like another small fish in the sea!

PHOTO: Whales where you at?

At the end of the day, we all got to dive about three times each since we had a huge group. It was still a great day to share with the other volunteers. In addition, it was a Stephanie (another PCV) birthday--what a great way to spend your birthday eh? Lastly, before heading back to Neiafu, we stopped by Mariners Cave. Most of us were able to overcome the fear of diving 3-4 meters to an underwater cave. It was quite an adrenaline rush. Definitely recommend bringing fins and a guide. Not something to venture off on your own. Just another day in the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tonga. Cheers!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Big Fish 2

PHOTO: The Fifita family of Matamaka with one of the two big sword fish they caught.

Looks like another successful day at sea. Two men from village went out to sea and caught these two massive bill fish off the island of Hunga. Could not believe how a simple line and hook can catch one of these bad boys. Of course everyone had to run to my house so I could take group shots with the fish. I, too had the opportunity to take some pics with the sea creatures. They are literally bigger than some of my class six students! I can only imagine how much money they made from meat at the fish market in Neiafu. Regardless, this just shows the type of game around the waters of Vava'u. So all you fish enthusiast get on down to Vava'u and start fishing! Cheers!

PHOTOS: Randomness at the beach with Matamaka GPS in the background.

Last minute library fun

PHOTO: Painting the two new bookshelves for the library with Tina.

My last month in Tonga was dedicated to the final renovation of adding two new bookshelves for the Matamaka GPS library. They were constructed by one of the PTA members and painted by me and my principal's family. The new shelves will accommodate the hundreds of new books we acquired from the US through donations by former Matamaka residents. The library looks better than ever now with the new addition.

PHOTO: Night school at Matamaka GPS.

Furthermore, night school for the Class 6 Secondary Entrance Exam was in full swing. I normally take the first shift for the night and either Pitisi or Ma'asi do another subject for the second half of the night. It is amazing how these kids are so dedicated to coming school all the time. It could be partly that there is nothing else to do in the village, but heck its keeps us all busy.

PHOTO: Fakakai. YUM!

Every so often one of the kids will bring me food. One of my favorite during the course of the two years is the sweet fakakai. It is basically flour or tapioca boiled into little ball and coated with sugar then stuck in the earth oven called 'umu. It is a nice tropical dessert type of meal, though most people call it dinner. It is carbs and sugar heaven. Not the most healthiest thing in the menu, but then again your in Tonga and that is last of your worry. My principal loves it too as you can from the picture!
PHOTO: Pitisi loving the food!

Exploring 'Eua

PHOTO: The famous land bridge of 'Eua that we couldn't find for the longest time.

I finally had the opportunity to explore the enchanted island of ‘Eua. It truly is a unique destination. ‘Eua is very different than the other island groups of Tonga. It is the home to the only rainforest in the entire Kingdom and wild horses! Yes, you read correctly—wild horses! Carolyn (PCV from Tailulu College—Vava’u) and I enjoyed a little weekend retreat and had the opportunity to visit the few Peace Corps Volunteers who live in ‘Eua.

PHOTOS: Some of the scenes from the boat ride.

The trip all started with a quick two hour boat ride from Nuku’alofa. We boarded the ship ‘Ikale (Eagle in English) and saw a couple of massive humpback whales en-route to ‘Eua. Being use to the island commute to Matamaka, it truly wasn’t bad boat ride—though others were over the rail most of the trip throwing up. Note to those with weak stomachs: bring some motion sickness medicine.
PHOTO: The 'Ikale

Upon the first sight of ‘Eua, I could already tell it was beautiful in its own way. You could see huge cliffs all around the island. The main city of ‘Ohonua is a quaint little town. It has your typical local banks and the few local shops. Most supplies and food are available here, though fresh vegetables are limited unless shipped from Tongatapu.

Without any taxi service in the island, Carolyn and I attempted to walk to the Wesleyan High School where our PCV hosts are residing. We were told it would be about a one hour walk or so—not bad we thought. Wrong! The hill from the wharf to the main road nearly took our breath away. We were so lucky a nice Samaritan offered us a lift to our final destination. For the record, ‘Eua is actually a lot bigger than you think on the map. Our host was a married couple from Oregon (though they are originally from the Alabama). They live in the Wesleyan High School compound. We enjoyed a delicious Mexican dinner conjured up by Breand with the help of our fresh vegetables. After dinner, we were pretty much pooped and spent the evening relaxing in their cozy house.
PHOTOS: Paul and Breand's house at the Wesleyan Campus in 'Eua.

Fully rested, we attempted to do a lot of hiking and exploring in the Southern end of ‘Eua. This is where the wild horses roam around free and the famous “land bridge” is located. On our hike, we documented the entire thing with video footage. It took us almost two hours to finally reach our destination! We were only able to hitch a ride for the last five minutes of the hike. The horses and cliffs were amazing! The scenery can be compared the highlands of Scotland but with a tropical twist. The view was absolutely breathtaking!

Then we got lost. Yes, lost. While trying to find the famous “land bridge” we for some reason followed the wrong marker sign and ended up hiking toward the rainforest until we could no longer hear the ocean. Disappointed we turned around, but luckily ran into a British friend we met on the ferry over to ‘Eua. She asked us how we missed the bridge. It turned out we were walking over it multiple times and never realized it! Wonk, wonk, wonk---FAIL. After following the correct marker trails, we found the lookout tower and WOW! Beautiful! We had a quick picnic from the food we brought.
PHOTO: The cliffs at the southern end of the island.

Walking back to the Breand’s house, there were no cars forever. After hiking for an extra hour and a half the wrong direction, Carolyn and I were already exhausted. On top of it all we were short of water and sun gave no mercy. We fortunately got a lift after walking for almost two hours back. By the time we arrived to Wesleyan compound we had hiked for a good six hours. Our legs were jello and exhausted.
PHOTOS: More highlights from 'Eua.

The rest of the weekend we relaxed at another PCVs house at the 'Eua High School compound. We made some delicious Japanese tofu and homemade carrot cake. We were so tired from our hike on Saturday that we spent all day Sunday bumming around the school library to use the super fast internet. The weather was bit wet the day too, so a malolo day was very appropriate (rest day).
PHOTO: 'Eua High School

The boat ride back to Tongatapu was a bit tricky. The one ship leaves around 4:30/5:00 AM from the main wharf in 'Ohonua. However, you need to get to the ship early to secure a seat. As a result, Carolyn and I were up at 2:30 and got there at 3:00 AM. We were lucky to get a seat, but note to self: BRING AN EXTRA FLEECE. The weather was freezing! The boat is pretty open so you can't really hide from the wind anywhere. In the end, 'Eua was awesome and definitely worth a visit.
PHOTO: Some PCVs of 'Eua!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Close of Service Conference (YIPPEE!!!)

Photo: Group photo of the PC Tonga COS Conference Group Pic.

We made it! Group 75 just wrapped up our Close of Service (COS) conference in Tongatapu from August 9-11th. The event happened at the beautiful Liku'alofa Beach Resort on the Western Side of Tongatapu island. The entire conference will be the last time most of us volunteers will see each other before leaving Tonga. Our Programming Director also wrapped up her service in Tonga that same week. We have more than half of the original volunteers still here in Tonga (which is an amazing number for Tonga!).

Photo: One of the sessions during the COS conference and candle light ceremony.

The COS conference provided important information about being a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV). Sessions were held concerning international job opportunities, reconnecting back to US culture, and other fairly important topics. We also received our estimated value of a return ticket to our home of record. I was amazed $100 TOP flight difference between Cedar Rapids, IA and people flying into LAX?!?! Regardless, it was time to reflect and celebrate our service here in Tonga as it draws to a close.

Photo: Team Fanga'e'olunga, the only village during PST that survived the entire two years.

During the week we enjoyed a delightful Tongan floor show and buffet. The food was absolutely delicious. The resort offered an assortment of authentic Tongan dishes from the roasted pig to 'ota ika or raw fish. YUM! Throughout the week, the kitchen staff conjured up other scrumptious dishes from chicken curry to beef and mushrooms. Furthermore, the tree top bar at the resort offered a spectacular view of the ocean and classic South Pacific sunsets. We were lucky enough to see a few humpback whales swimming over the horizon on one of the days.

Photo: Team Vava'u Volunteers. From the top left going clockwise: Ashley- Melifihi College; Carolyn- Tailulu College; Dominica- 'Utungake GPS; Kelly- Channel College; Robert- Vava'u High School; and me- Matamaka GPS.

Now that COS is over, reality is starting to sink in. Most of PCVs will be in the process of finishing up our primary and secondary projects, packing up our houses, and saying our goodbyes very soon. It is mind boggling how fast the two years have flown by. Yes, it seemed slow at many points, but I can't believe we've been here for so long. As for me, I have begun the process of job hunting. If anyone is interested in hiring a RPCV, particularly me, let me know :)

****Photo credits to PCV John O'Malley of Tailulu College Ha'apai. Google "John outside the lines" for his PC blog.****


Wanted: Calculators (anytype--new or used)

Where: Matamaka GPS, Kingdom of Tonga

When: At your convenience

How: Please send us any calculators to Matamaka GPS.
Addressed to:
Matamaka GPS
P.O. BOX 136
Neiafu, Vava'u
Kingdom of Tonga

Why: A special request from the head principal as we do not have a sufficient amount of calculators available to both staff and students. Any help would be much appreciated. Malo 'aupito. ***If mailing from the US, please use a standard flat rate box as it will be the cheapest option to mail stuff to Tonga. Malo 'aupito--'Ofa 'atu!

Back to Matamaka! 23 months and going...

Photo: My students preparing an awesome art project for the library.

I am finally back in Tonga! The last month has been a roller coaster ride full of ups and downs, but in the end I am happy to back. I was officially "medically cleared" from Peace Corps Office of Medical Services the 29th of July and flew back to Tonga that next Sunday. The flight back was a bit crazy, since I almost missed my flight connection to LAX from Dallas. I had two minutes to make it to the D terminal and arrived to my gate with the gate door already closed and "Washington Dulles" on the TV monitor. I was lucky enough they were still fueling the airplane and they let me in. I loved how everyone stared me down for causing the plane to be delayed as I walked down the aisle to the back of the plane. Woops.

Photo: Tina painting away.

The flight to Fiji and Tonga were more pleasant than going to America. My little TV screen actually worked and I wasn't sitting next to the toilets. A woman next to me named Sia was a Tongan and was very interested with the Peace Corps. She was nice enough to offer me a lift to the Peace Corps office in Nuku'alofa. I had a nice package from 'Eseta Schaaf a Tongan residing in Salt Lake City, Utah. She had sent numerous school supplies and goodies. THANK YOU!!!! In addition, she had informed me that she is doing fundraising project to help purchase recycling containers for VEPA--an environmental NGO in Vava'u. Good on her!

Photo: The new school supplies from Salt Lake City, UTAH

A couple of weeks ago, we also had some members of the Australian Police visit Matamaka GPS for motivational speech to the students to carry on with their studies in the future. One of the police officer was actually a Matamaka native who studied at Matamaka GPS a long time ago. During their visit they informed us that they are sponsoring five Class 6 students scholarships for their entire high school studies. We only have four students graduating this year, so another person will chosen within the community. This is GREAT NEWS!

Photo: The students with the Aussie Police Officer.

On another note, Ma'asi's older brothers Samiu and his two sons are visiting Vava'u. Samiu married a Japanese volunteer and they all currently reside in Japan. The two boys are so cute! They do not speak English and understand very little Tongan. It is amazing watching the Tongan kids interact with them. Sayonara!

Photos: The Japanese/Tongan boys and the students from Matamaka.

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!!!