Alice in Tonga as a Peace Corp Volunteer

The following journal is written by me, Alice Birney about my experience living in Tonga as a Peace Corps Volunteer. All views and opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Peace Corps, its employees or the United States Government.


Alice in Tonga


Ben, Anne, Alice and Sarah dressed in their Tongan finest-ready for church.

New Zealand

Well I made it here and let me tell you it is beautiful. Shannon (another PCV group 73) and I are driving around the South island and doing hikes and such wherever we find something cool. The first thought I had though, Wow is it cold! Imediately the woman in the airport (the point I discovered the temperature) said "it's nice in the sun!" A nice way to say it is cold. Several other kiwis describe the weather as 'fresh' again a nice way to say COLD. One day it started to precipitate and Chris insisted it was rain, My vote was snow. On closer inspection we agreed on sleet so again, cold. Funny thing though it is getting warmer as we go South. strange but I will take it.

Some highlights so far:
Shannon and I went to the grocery store. Ok I get that this is not that exiting to you, but for us it blew our minds. Spinach, lots of it and we can buy as much as we can eat! Yogurt, and it only took us 10 minutes to choose one, not bad. Olives, good bread, cream cheese, oranges. Treats at every turn.

We met up with Chris (a kiwi friend I met in Samoa) and headed to the mountains. We climbed around on these rock outcroppings (not climbing with ropes and stuff mind you) and after much debate about propper clothes temperature and ability level we decided to hike through this cave. I am so glad we did it, even though the first 10 steps took us waist deep into a river feed by snow melt. Again with the theme, NZ is cold, but the cave was really fun.

The best thing yet though was something I didn't notice, not for a while anyway. After hiking various trails in several parts of the country I saw a candy wrapper. The amazing part is it is the only litter I have seen yet. I love this country. So more to come later, I have more adventuring to do. Love you all. Peace
-alice

Oh, Yea

FYI- I did it I finished my Peace Corps service. It has been bitter sweet so I am glad to have another few weeks there in December. Saying goodbye for real might be hard though. Now I am traveling in New Zealand for a few weeks and IT IS COLD! I don't know how I will survive Michigan next month. I am feeling randomly overwhelmed but overall good. More adventures to come. Peace
-Alice

The last loaf of bread

Well the Close Of Service conference is over and I am closing up shop here. Just so you know I am officially finishing my service November 12 and traveling to New Zealand for a few weeks. I will be back in Tonga for the last day of school with my students and then back to America mid December.

As of now I have just started my freak out process. This happens every time I move or have a big change so in a way I knew this was coming. I just had my COS physical and there were all sorts of questions about anxiety, depression and insomnia. I answered truthfully and I have experienced all of these, but not to worry the doctor agreed it is all completely normal. I am starting to see it in other volunteers too. Those who are the most laid back are suddenly testy and irritable as am I at times. I spent an hour this morning crying uncontrollably but the hardest part is I am having all emotions. I am exited to go to NZ but sad to leave my village. I am happy to spend the holidays with family, but sad to miss the festivities here. It is hard here, but readjustment will make it hard there too. AHHHHHH.

I keep thinking of lasts. I have definitely bought my last bottle of shampoo and my last dish sponge here in Tonga. It is possible that I have eaten my last eggplant and BBQ, but one can’t be to sure. Just because I probably won’t need a new toothbrush or tank of gas for my stove doesn’t mean I am almost out the door though right? So I always bring it back to bread. No matter what I haven’t bought the last loaf of bread yet. It is just a matter of perspective but sometimes baby steps are what we need to make it through the day. I am still here, still just livin’ though finishing, packing, sorting and cleaning have become my main activities. As with everything this is hard, fluid, stressful, wonderful, horrid, unthinkable, happening, joyous, adventurous, tiring but most of all it is time. To those who I will see shortly, I am truly exited. To those I won’t see for some time, I will miss until then. To all, I love you. Peace
-‘Alisi

Flag

What is the difference between Tonga and America?  I love that question mainly because there is no possible answer to it.  Or rather there are 1,000,000 ways to answer making it too broad a question for anyone to pose in conversation.  So instead of attempting to answer that question I will just relate another of my observations for your amusement.

At school we have a flag and a flagpole.  The idea is each day we raise the flag as we sing the national anthem.  Ok nothing delightfully odd here I know.  Earlier this year the rope wore out and we had to go without a flag for several weeks.  Fortunately within the month we acquired a new rope and we could raise the flag again!

Then I noticed that a student had to climb the flagpole everyday to put the rope up.  Now my Tongan is not perfect by any means, but I am sure no one but me questioned this.  The kids seem to like to volunteer for this and no one, students, teachers or parents is concerned about them falling on the concrete step below.

I feel like this would be questioned in America.  Whether it was by the teachers or parents regarding the safety of the climber or just inquiring why we don’t leave the rope out at night.  Maybe it would be the children questioning the new routine, why we have to climb everyday when we never did before.  Maybe Americans wouldn’t question any of these things a nd I am just assuming they would because I do.  The rope is short, maybe to short to tie off every night?  Maybe leaving the rope out all day and night will wear it out faster?  Either way no one sought out the answer.

So I, the American, had to ask.  As it turns out the rope is often stolen so people can build traps for the wild pigs in the bush.  Not what I was thinking, but hey at least I know.  I guess I never tried to build a wild pig trap in Michigan and therefore never had to go searching for rope.  So knowledge is great and I am off to watch the kids climb the flag pole once again.

M. S. Princess Ashika

A new (to Tonga) passenger/cargo ship brought in as an alternative to the Pulupaki to travel from Tongatapu to Vava’u stopping in Ha’afeva and Lifuka Ha’apai. The hope was to have this nicer boat with tooms inside and even snacks available so people would feel less likie the cargo they were traveling amongst. There were some questions posed about Ashikas seaworthiness in open water, but unfortunately these were raised by the owner of the Pulupaki. This was seen by some as his way to cut out the competition by starting bad rumors about their boat.
The MS Princess Ashika sank on August 6, 2009 in the middle of the night. The Pulupaki was the first rescue boat to arrive, followed by others from Tonga, Australia and New Zealand throughout the day. Within hours 54 people were rescued from the water. After the initial search no one else was found alive. 3 bodies were found, but 72 people are still missing.
There was much confusion in the first few days following the event as many people didn’t know if their loved ones would be found. Should they wear funeral clothes? Was it time to hold hopes of rescue, or start mourning? Many family members wore black clothes, but didn’t wear the funeral ta’ovala which shows they are in mourning. After two weeks we had enough boats, equipment and clear days to get some answers. The New Zealand Navy who were working on the search efforts found and positively identified the boat. It was on the ocean floor 100 meters below the surface. This is 40 meters beyond what is possible to recover with divers. Bringing up the bodies and goods on the boat would have to be done with machinery which is very expensive. Too expensive in fact so the area was declared a maritime grave. All the missing persons are now presumed dead and the funerals begin. We are fortunate in Nakolo, we did not loose anyone from our village.
Most were not so lucky. There are two peace corps volunteers on Ha’afeva, the next stop the boat was to make. 20 people from their village lost their lives. The only feasible solutioin was to have one massive funeral for all lost and the entire village would attend.
There was also a Japanese volunteer who lost his life. As all international volunteers are called ‘pisikoa’ in Tongan, many link us together, but I did not know the man personally. There were also four WWOOF volunteers headed to work in Vava’u. because these are the foreigners, these are the stories I have told and relate closest to.
Most of my neighbors lost family members. Some are close and some are distant relatives, but everyone has their story and connections. It reminds me of 9, 11 in that everyone knows where they were when they heard and how they were connected to the national tragedy. Since there are just over 100,000 people in Tonga, 72 presumed dead is a large number.
I witnessed several different grieving processes throughout this process. As PCVs or Americans we discussed avoiding the topic of boats and the sea in our classrooms for a while so the students had time to mourn and adjust to the change in their own way. Maybe singing ‘Mary had a little lamb’ would be better than ‘Row, row, row your boat’ for a few weeks. This seemed like a proper precaution from an American standpoint, but Tongans are different. The most requested song in the beginning was ‘My heart will go on” the song from the movie Titanic.
Then a song was written and recorded about the Ashika specifically and that became the most requested song. There was a memorial stone carved with all the names of the missing. Many foreigners supported this until they found out the Tongans planned to throw it into the sea at the maritime grave site. =20 Different cultures different ways and if this helps the Tongan people who have lost loved ones, I say do it. Many family members have gone out to the grave site to pay their respects.
Many brought funeral mats, wreaths and tapa which were thrown into the sea at the site. The family of the Japanese volunteer also made the journey to the maritime gravesite. They had some different reactions too because there is no ‘presumed dead’ in Japanese culture. Without a body the person is just missing.
Of course all of these beliefs and reactions are just what I have heard. In my encounters I have only talked to others who, like myself, didn’t lose anyone close to them. Most of the conversations were along the line of “Did you year about the boat that sank? Very sad huh?” and that is it. So now life goes on of course, but there are still effects being felt from this tragedy. Sometimes it is fuller planes because those that can afford it now choose to fly. I have a friend who goes out on a fishing crew for 2 weeks at a time. He is basically out of a job until the owner buys a new boat next year. Not that he is complaining, he, the owner and the other crew members are all scared to go out on the little old fishing boat. They are not the only ones and the effects become obvious when we go to the fish market and there are 0Ano fish. So even on a small island in the South Pacific, sometimes there are no fish. This has been a recurring theme over the past month and no one knows when there will be fish or not. Who can blame them? Surely not I.

Tsunami

Hi everyone, just a quick note to say I am ok, safe, unharmed physically as is everyone on my island. Some volunteers and I compared notes this morning so here is what we found to have happened.

Yesterday morning there was an earthquake off the coast of Samoa. It was a 7.9-8.3, or a big one and it was 30-80km below the surface, or close to the surface. Those conditions combined make for tsunamis.

And they did. There was a large tsunami in both Samoa and American Samoa. After the warning anouncement went on the radio there was only 10 minutes before the tsunami hit. They have sustained lots of damage, injury and loss of life. The numbers aren't in but they were hit hard.

In Tonga the wave hit the northern most island of Niuatoputapu hard. They were out of radio contact so a plane was sent, but couldn't land because the airport is gone. Same is true for the hospital and most of the structures in the town of Hihifo, the capital. Again the numbers aren't in but they were hit hard. There is a boat loaded with supplies both food and medical as well and doctors and first responders on it's way. The boat ride is 48 hours. As for Vava'u and Ha'apai they experienced abnormal seas that manifested as the sea going out way past low and coming in way past high tide repeatedly and in a short time frame. Some boats and wharfs were dammaged but no injury that I have heard of. On the southernmost islands of 'Eua and Tongatapu (my island) we did not experience tsunami waves and asside from the radio announcements all seemed like a beautiful day in the South Pacific. It is another hard time here. Only 6 weeks after the Ashika sank and now there is a tsunami. This is hard. But like I said all on my island are well physically. Just thought you should know I am safe. Peace
and healing
-Alice

I'm Back!

Sorry folks I know it has been a while. Some things have changed and I have been quite caught up with the changes. I spent a month in America (june/ july) to be with my grandmother as she passed. Now I am back in Tonga, settling back in and recording my experiences the old fasioned way with pen and paper. So finding time in town to type then send them is putting my letters farther behind. I do like this system though. I had forgotten how nice it is to write, actually write not type and I am enjoying the experience. So here is a journal entry, not all but one and I hope you enjoy it. More coming soon, or later, or eventually. Love
-Alice

Fetu’u To

Well Peace Corps is full of dos and don’ts and I try to be conscious of their wishes, but more importantly I try to be conscious of the culture I live in. After a year and ten months living in Tonga I have a good idea what is expected of me. Moreover I have a good idea who is paying attention and who isn’t. That said, the other night I was writing before bed. I had had a drink, but that is it, who wants to drink alone anyway? I didn’t necessarily want to be alone, but it was after dark so I couldn’t really go anywhere. However I could hear my neighbors two houses over. They were outside listening to music and laughing. I wanted to just walk over and join in the fun, but it is dark and what would Mele think? Plus I don’t know if I can keep up with a Tongan conversation, would it be weird having the Peace Corps there? Well I am sure I do a lot of things Mele wouldn’t approve of, but hey she is already asleep. Plus you never know until you try and I know the way. So I walked over and they were more than happy to have me. We talked and laughed and drank. It was Sepa’s birthday so I gave her a birthday back massage. Good thing it wasn’t a guys birthday! It was nice to be with a group of friends.
A bit later I saw a shooting star. This sparked a conversation of how to say shooting star in Tongan (fetu’u to), I had forgotten. Then Sepa told me to make a wish, Oh Yea! So I thought about it and decided my wish was to see my family and friends. I miss you all so much. Sure I am learning a lot in Peace Corps, but what am I trying to prove? Is it worth being away from family for so long? I have already made a pact with myself. My next job has to be one where I make enough money to go home SEVERAL times a year. This whole being too far away business is stupid! Don’t get me wrong I love Tonga, but I don’t love the separation and distance. Then I saw a second fetu’u to. I guess I get another wish! This time I realized that I was living my wish. I really do want to be here. Right here with my new friends in my new town speaking my new language. I don’t have much time left here and I may never see some of my Tongan friends again. I love learning new ways and things and words even though it is frustrating at times. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. So I guess what I am trying to say is, I am Happy.

Uafu (wharf)

Laukau, my co-worker asked if I wanted to go to the wharf with her to pick up her grandfather. I didn’t have anything else going on and I had only been to the wharf with Peace corps, so sure, new experience. We headed to town at about 5. The drive in, a few quick stops and we were there before 6. We parked and Laukau asked if I wanted to eva (go out, walk around) or just wait in the car. Having no idea what the time frame of this outing was I decided to go, worst case scenario we find him quick and jump back in the car.

We walked around chatting with folks we knew and then found her grandfather, easy as pie. We sat and talked, waited, more eva, came back. As we set out the second time I had to ask where we were going and if now that we found her grandpa if we would head out? Apparently he has cargo and he is waiting for that. So we set out for the gate where you collect ticket stubs, possibly a claims ticket. Back and forth again, something about tickets, life is so interesting when you don’t totally understand the language. Now we seem to be in the right spot and there is a guy calling out names and handing out ticket stubs, bonus! We wait and wait, no one seems to be claiming tickets, just waiting. It seemed like a large number of names were called with very little claiming, based on the number of people waiting. Then the man calling out names announced this was the last time he would repeat the names! He started in on the list, the same list, and every other name got a response from the crowd, same crowd. I guess it wasn’t time yet for collection, just observation, but now, oh yes it is time. (don’t ask me why, I can’t explain it) Then our name was called and we ran up to claim the ticket but someone already took it? Oh no! But no worries it was just grandpa was tired of waiting for us to claim the ticket and claimed it for himself. Good now lets go find our box of pigs!

It didn’t take us to long to realize they weren’t off the boat yet. It turns out the pigs from Vava’u are the last of the cargo to be unloaded. With this in mind we wandered around and saw what there was to see. Some of it was like cargo and luggage one might expect, suitcases and well sealed boxes all packaged up and ready to ship. There were many other packages, containers and baskets of all shapes and sizes. Coolers were a big favorite. Coconut leaf baskets lined with banana leaves were also popular. Some things, like the branches and leaves used for weaving and tapa, were just bundled. others like the giant taro, were unloaded by themselves; big enough to count as their own container I guess. We tried to guess some contents, coconut, a leaf basket with fish, cooler with root crops, no way to know if we were even close, but it helped pass the time. My favorite boxes of all were the pig boxes. They were basically 1” thick sticks nailed together in a rectangularish shape. The bottom generally had a flat piece of wood or panel. These boxes were then stacked, but due to the variation in the straightness, size and square ness of the boxes it became a bit precarious. The contents varied, but I definitely saw pigs, chickens, fish, all sorts of root crops and weaving materials, suitcases, cars and of course the boxes forever known as just cargo. By far the most impressive sight was the three live sea turtles. Each kept on its back and took four people (four burly Tongan men to be exact) to lift. Wow.
Then the pigs, Yea! We found our box, now just to put it in the trunk and we are on our way. Well maybe, but it didn’t fit, now what? Fa’o puaka! (put the pigs in bags) So Laukau’s grandpa, Sione (a friend of the family) and guy with a t-shirt on his head (who happened to be standing next to us) broke open the box and each quickly grabbed a squirming squealing little pig. Then proceeded to stuff them in a sack. Those fit nicely in the trunk. So we headed home and just 5 hours after we arrived. Whew!

Peace Corp Ending

My COS (close of service) conference is next week and I am SO EXITED!! I have been thinking for some time about the possibilities of what to do after Peace Corps and now it is time to really decide. As of now I am debating officially cosing in November (one month early) so I can travel to New Zealand or Fiji. Then returning to Tonga for the graduation of my students and my counterparts wedding. This leaves me precious little time to get home before the party, but I can do it! After the holidays the job search begins so if you hear of any Art Teacher jobs available, let me know.

I was asked to stay a third year as Volunteer Leader. I am touched more than anything. They like me! Yea! But I really don’t want to stay. From the outside you can only see if a person is standing and facing life. It is hard to tell the strength of the rope that holds them there. I feel like my rope is fraying and I just hope to make it to December.

For now I will just keep teaching, working on the website for the beach resort, helping with Breast Cancer Awareness month and trying to get a study hall built. Busy busy here, but that is good we are getting things done. My site is asking for another Peace Corps volunteer so hopefully the work will continue also.

Throughout my service I have been teased as ”Village Girl”. I am the one who will pass up a party on the US Navy ship to go to a school event on a Friday night. (I totally did that) Now there is a bit of a shift and we are joking about meimei osi itis (almost finished itis) I appreciate town more and escape my village sometimes. It is ok though as it just allows me to come back refreshed. Joining more comities pulls me in to town more, but I am less opposed to that this year as I was last year. I guess regular communication with friends and family, and warm water falling from above are just REALLY nice and I take them whenever I can get them.

Distances

Although many volunteers have left, we still have a lot here (based on land mass and population). Still we are definitely not packed. Part of that is just the geography of Tonga. My friend Bria lives 20 miles away and I can see her village from mine. But since she lives on the next island over, ‘Eua it is expensive and time consuming to get there. As for Tongatapu, my island, the big island, it is still small. The perception to Tongans is that it is huge, probably because it is the biggest they have. Still it is only 35km to town from my house and I live far away. That distance is following the roads around the lagoon too, not as the fruit bat flies.

To get to Tongatapu takes 1 hour by bus (once you get ON the bus, it could take 1 minute to 2 hours waiting for the bus) and 30 minutes by car. According to my neighbors it is “very far” and impossible to bike (3 to 3 ½ hours). My friend Joe regularly bikes to work a 1 hour bike ride. All the women in his village shake their heads and warn his wife about all the girlfriends he obviously has as it is impossible to bike that far. The hardest part of transportation in Tonga is the busses only run 7-5 Monday to Friday 7-3 Saturday. So if you want to stay after 4:30 you are spending the night. No busses on Sunday so after 3 on Saturday you have to stay until Monday. I can’t get to town after 3pm ever so pre planning is definitely required. Either that or spend the 40 pa’anga (20 USD) for a cab home. Since that is almost half of my food budget for the week I have yet to choose that option.

Healthy Eating Reflections

So I was reading a book the other day called “Bugs in the Peanut Butter”. Good book dealing with food standards and over processing. In the beginning they cited some of the healthier eating styles such as the South Pacific nations of Fiji and Tonga. Did you hear that? Tonga cited as healthy? Since they are the fattest nation in the world I was skeptical. I read on and found a few things out. The point of the citation was to acknowledge the importance
of organic locally grown food. Yes that is wonderful but from my point of view this is skewed. Many Tongans love their chemicals as much as Americans. It is the poorer families that eat organic because they can’t afford these chemicals, not necessarily a choice. Also most farmers only grow root crops so vegetables are few and far between. Lu or Taro leaves are eaten regularly, but for some kids this is the only veggie they get. Vegetables are available in the market, that is where I buy my food, but most families can’t afford to eat veggies every day. At a feast you can definitely find vegetables, but this is not a reflection of everyday eating. Also the snacks available are (according to this book) the worst available and almost have to be. It takes a lot of processing and chemicals to get food that is able to be transported to Tonga and to remote villages and still survive the heat and humidity while sitting on an open air store shelf. This shipping and storing dilemma makes highly processed chips and cookies a favorite snack. Some locally available foods from my perspective are canned corned beef and fish (if you saw it on a plate in America you might think cat food) white bread, instant noodles (like ramen noodles, a favorite treat crushed and eaten raw) box milk, crackers, cookies, chips, candy, butter, chicken, mutton flaps, flour (white of course, it keeps longer) sugar and sometimes eggs. I get some of my food there, but choose some healthy (although more expensive) options in town. Many people eat manly root crops and food from the falekoloa (convenience store) so I tend to disagree with the author about the health of the food in Tonga. Or just modify it by saying yes there is healthy organic local food available here, but the cheap food available to all is the most processed you can find.

Language

Well as you all know I have been learning Tongan. Here are a few of my recent observations.

I had a dream in Tongan, sort of. I wasn't speaking Tongan but my aunt Lisa was, fast too. I understood all that I was paying attention to, but mostly I was trying to get in a word edgewise to ask when she learned Tongan! To the best of my knowledge my aunt doesn't speak Tongan so this was shocking. She was speaking constantly though. I have to wonder if there was people outside my house having a conversation or something. ha ha

I speak Tongan everyday and with some people it is the only language I ever speak to them. I called one of my friends and someone answered the phone in English. We talked for a minute and I needed to know so I asked who it was (answering someone elses phone) Nope same person I just didn't recognize the voice in English. That is when I realized that we had only ever spoken Tongan. Impressive since I have had real conversations, not just hi how are you stuff.

I have noticed more than once recently that I picked up meanings of new words from context clues only. I still don't know the proper translation, but I got through those conversations just fine.

I took down my old word lists from my wall. I still look at them for reference relatively often, but I thought they were becoming a crutch so I trashed them (and started new ones of course). Liberating.

So this must be me noticing progress. It comes in waves of course but it is nice to be on a high point.

Littles

So I was teaching sentence writing to class 6. They are helping me by writing a sentence for each letter on my alphabet wall. When we got to D they wrote a sentence that sort of fit.

David made a delicious dog. 

I encouraged them to come up with a different noun, a food that starts with d. 'Istolo raised his hand and chuckled. "'Alisi this is Tonga, that is food." So I left the sentence as is. 
 
On that note after the funeral next door I noticed that Littles (neighbors dog that I feed and pet and have befriended enough to call my dog although the true owners are my neighbors) is not around anymore. Then I heard that during the funeral some of the boys umued (cooked in an underground oven) a dog. So I asked a friend if he ate my dog and he assured me it was a different dog. Someone had stolen my dog and taken her home. He offered to go get my dog and bring her back, but I thought if she has a home, good let her stay there. Really I just don't want him to bring a different dog and confirm my fears that they ate Littles. So life goes on for me, and as for Littles I hope she is happy in her new home, wherever that may be. 

Visiting Parents

My parents came in March and we had a great time. We went all around my island and also to Ha’apai. Now family has visited before but nothing like this. They had feasts and food every moment. I was going to say everyday but that is an understatement. Once we felt we almost had a handle on the food another two plates would arrive. Even the kindy (who I don’t work with) gave heaps of food and gifts.

Wow! During their trip we had a volcano, earthquake, tsunami and a cyclone all in two weeks. Honestly the cyclone was by far the scariest (that is because the tsunami was 2”) and I don’t think that made the news like the volcano did. OH and the info I gave you a while back is no longer true. I said Tonga was an island nation made of 171 islands at low tide. Actually now it is 172 islands due to that volcano.

Beyond the natural disaster stuff we saw beaches, my school, the land bridge, kids day with face painting by the peace corps, a new baby next door (a girl, 8 lbs. Her name is Vai), fishing pigs, sunsets, tombs, umutangata, huge fruit bats, hina cave. Wow no wonder I am tired. We had a great time though. And for your reading pleasure here are some exerts form my journals.

Feast(s)

The day my parents arrived my school offered them a feast. My parents weren’t hungry, but I explained that is how Tongans do things and this is how they welcome people so even if they didn’t eat a whole lot, we needed to go. Well they definitely wanted to go so we set out. On the way we saw Sione, the town officer, driving by. He stopped and I introduced everyone. Then he said he wanted us to go to his house and see how Tongans eat, with their hands! Of course he meant to feed us. I got that and to be respectful of our upcoming feast he only gave us appetizers. Now when my parents saw that we each got a plate with a piece of fried chicken, a small bowl of lu and three pieces of yam they knew it was a full meal. It wasn’t until the feast at the school that they realized that plate of food really was an appetizer.

Cyclone

When I woke up it was about 7. No power, big time storm. Strong winds, rain and a piece of metal, either someone’s roof or a pigpen, is in my yard. The storm started around 2 am and is in full swing. I guess my parents left just in time. I listened to the radio report and yup Cyclone Linn is here. Next the radio went out. After 10 minutes of only hearing static intensified with each lightning strike I turned it off. Around 7:45 Fetu’u called really concerned about my house. I could hear pounding=20of metal in the background so I assume his, or his neighbor’s house is not ok. I assured him my house was fine and after a few minutes he called to tell me they repaired his house so it is fine too. I can’t imagine repairing a house during a cyclone.

Next thing I know there is a truck outside my house. I guess the Peace Corps is picking me up. I got my things and proceeded to the scariest part of the cyclone, driving through it! Lots of wind and rain, but little visibility. We had to stop once for a large tree in the road. No worries there were heaps of soldiers removing it. Lots of down power lines too. We made it to the office safely and congregated in the med apartment. I guess they didn’t actually consolidate but picked up the outliers, as they didn’t know if they would be able to later.

Really we just hung out. Sune made grilled cheese and we watched Across the Universe. Around 10 the sky lightened up and the storm started to lighten. By 1 it was only drizzling but Peace Corps didn’t let us go until 4. It was an ok day but at the end I was ready to go home.

Noteworthy things:
Lots of banana trees didn’t make it but most houses and harder trees were fine.The power was turned off at 7 am when power lines started coming down. Church was cancelled!!! Seriously the 10 am Sunday service was cancelled. Not much damage but there was a coconut tree that fell but was suspended over the road by power lines! Wow check out the picture. Lots of raking and clean up but we are fine.

Feeling Better!

Wow, I feel better! I mean really better, not just no longer have a fever better. When I got back to my house I had to clean everything of course, hey I have been gone for a month. I started with the dishes and when I was done I instinctively reached for the chair so I could sit and rest. Then I realized, I AM NOT TIRED!!! Wow I didn’t realize how sick I have been for the last 4 months, but this is great.
To make it even better my new principal is amazing. We went from 4 teachers to only 3, but he is so dedicated it seems like 5. He is also really exited to work with me. I already have a schedule, I had it the first day back to work and I am teaching by it. This is like 3 months of work last year after only 4 days. I am feeling ready and exited for this year.

Also my neighbor (neighbors granddaughter that visits often) told her mom she didn’t want to go to school in Fua’amotu (the next town over, where she lives) she wanted to go to Nakolo to be with me! So another cute class 1 girl. She is a sweetie.

Yea I am happy. I hope you all have weeks equally as great as this one. Peace
-Alice

Health Update - Australia

Alice became ill repeatedly and finally got an appointment in Australia with specialists whose job it was to get to the bottom of her health issues. The long and short of it is she has had a long standing anemia which has made her susceptible to every new bug that has entered her world. Since her world is completely packed with new bugs, she has been sick a lot and very worn out and drained from the anemia. The Aussie Doctors figured this out, treated the underling causes and Alice is better.

Dianne (Alice's Mom)

Obama in Australia

Well mom asked me to get a feel out what Australians think of our new president. This is what I have gotten so far.

They are not as current with the situation as we are. Of course they know we have a new president, but they can't see any changes yet so they are really skeptical. One guy asked if I was from Canada and when I said America he responded with, Oh, I think I would rather stay up north.

Everyone I talked with expressed relief that this one can actually speak! Pronounce things! Maybe even had some ideas for the speeches or maybe he wrote them himself (which he is thought capable of). Bush was a constant source of entertainment to the Aussies (and the rest of the world). They may also hold a grudge as he mentioned Austria in a speech (about Australia). So I guess they feel about like everyone else. Hopefully for everyone's sake that changes with our new president.

In closing Go Obama
-Alice

My birthday

As some of you may remember my birthday last year was less than exiting as I was still sick with dengue. I sort of put a lot of pressure on this years birthday to be great to sort of make up for it. Well here is what I got.

We woke up in Apia Samoa. Sarah, Ben, Anne and I took a taxi to some waterfalls which are natural waterslides. This was entertaining in itself as we were the only ones there and we didn’t know where to slide down. I asked the woman who works there and she pointed to the big waterfall and said ‘you sit in the middle and you go down’ Seems easy
enough but there were two waterfalls so ‘the middle’ was open to interpretation. Good thing we had Ben, he tried them out first. That gave me the confidence to try and it was great. So waterslides to
begin the day, then we got to ride a monster truck bus (really a bus with huge wheels!) to a beautiful beach. We settled in, had dinner and then strolled to the bar where I had a margarita and we watched a fiefia performance with lots of dancing and fire spinning. We stayed at this beach for a while, snorkeled, made friends who we ended up traveling with and didn’t have to put on shoes for days. All in all a great birthday.

Peace
-Alice

Sink

When I moved to my site December 15, 2007 I found a perfect little house with a table, some chairs a counter, a rack to hang clothes and a princess bed. Then my town officer started making promises, one of which was a sink.

I started to think about how that would be nice and then immediately cut myself off and put it in the I’ll believe it when I see it category. Well about 3 months later I was working on a project one night and I noticed a PCV pipe coming into my house. One foot, three feet, six feet, what is this? Eight feet, nine and then Sione? my town officers head poked in. “‘Alisi here is your sink!” He brought me a sink, and several different pipes and fixtures which in the right hands could easily translate into a sink and running water in my house.

Unfortunately I don’t have the right hands. Sione assured me that Sio would be by soon to install the sink. After a month or so I asked again, and again was assured that Sio would come. Then maybe another month later I found myself with Sione and Sio at the same time and we decided he would come tomorrow. And he did!

Now it was already late when he came so I figured he couldn’t finish everything and I asked if he would put in the water first. That way if it was another month before he came back at least I would have running water. He did and as I thought he had to go after, but he said he would come back tomorrow to put in the sink.

A few days later I asked about Sio and found out he had left for New Zealand for three months. Wow ok. So I let that one go and enjoyed my running water for a while.

So then life happened and I was busy enough to overlook the sink on my living room floor for a few months. Then spring cleaning and the sink on the floor became a nuisance. So I started asking again and receiving the answer “yes I will come tomorrow.” And after tomorrow came and went I would hear “oh I forgot, but I will come tomorrow.”
Are we seeing a Tongan trend here? So I decided two can play this game and I asked again. The next time I saw Sio and he told me tomorrow I said fine you can come or not, but if you don’t come tomorrow I will come back and ask again everyday until you do. He came the next day and installed my sink.

So it only took 50 weeks to get my sink and water installed! And let me tell you the 3 months without running water make me appreciate it all the more. And the 12 month without a sink has made it amazing. I feel like I am slowly working my way up in the world of conveniences. But this one is really nice.
Happy Holidays everyone,

-‘Alisi

Sio a e tofua’a or in English...See the whales

And I did.  From Nakolo, we can see whales while standing on the road.  Granted they are far away, but the spouts and splashes are unmistakable.  I took much pleasure in watching these magnificent creatures, even though I couldn’t make out the whales themselves, just their disturbance of the water.

Until I went to ‘Eua.  After a crazy weekend I decided I needed a break and so I took the 7 minute flight to our neighboring island visible from my village.  It was great to see friends and explore this new island.  In addition I spent some time at the Hideaway, a guest house near the capital.  They have a lookout platform at the edge of the water and the reef is about 40 m. from there.  Just beyond the reef is a huge drop off.  Well I don’t know how deep it really is, but it is deep enough for whales to swim there.  We saw many whales, some as close as 50 m. away!  It was amazing, or faka-awesome as I like to say.

I saw many whales, but the highlight for me was a large adult jumping almost fully out of the water.  Wow.

Now I am content as I have seen whales so this latest one was a special treat.  I was at the beach with my youth group and everyone started looking at the sea, pointing or running to see.  I followed suit and ran to see a whale casually swimming just past the reef. Wow they can be close to our beach too!  This has been a wonderful experience, and I haven’t even left land.

How long is your skirt?

Just a quick note. Some of my friends find the whole long skirt thing sort of oppressive, like they have lost all their freedom because another culture believes skirts should be longer than in out culture.
Because of this, some women (at times myself included) retaliate by wearing as short of skirts as is acceptable, which is knee length. I just wanted to point out the trials and tribulations of this line of
thinking. In addition to feelings about clothing, this culture also sits on the floor. Therefore with these short skirts women must now sit all the way down on the floor, Indian style, without showing their underwear. I find this difficult, however if you have a long skirt, easy as pie (one of those pies that’s easy, not apple or anything, maybe a pre-made crust too). So I if you travel to Tonga, I encourage you to think of the whole picture (or maybe how to NOT give folks the whole picture of your unders) when choosing what to wear, but as always it is up to you.
Just food for thought.
Peace
-‘Alisi

Airports

So returning to the states for Ben’s wedding involved a lot of airports and planes. After 6 flights 5 airports, layovers both long and short and a total of 34 hours in the air, here are the random things I encountered.

Fiji’s airport is a little different in that you don’t have to re-check in, but you have to get your boarding pass from the transfer desk and go through security again. When I got to security they asked me about the juggle ball. The choice was throw it away or wait for the woman checking people in to take me to the baggage area, find my bag and put the juggle ball in my bag. Yes this is the same ball I had to take out of the bag in Tonga. Wow I love the hoops we jump through in the name of security? I had a 4 hour layover so I decided a little wait might
be worth it. If it came down to it I wouldn’t miss my plane over this, but what’s the difference between waiting here and waiting inside? So I stayed by the desk. They offered a chair but I didn’t want to be
forgotten so I stayed close. After a while of passengers trickling in I started wondering if she will ever get a minute? The next passenger was Tongan so I struck up a conversation in Tongan of course. It was just Hi, how are you, where are you from sort of stuff but all the Fijian workers were shocked. One guys mouth was actually hanging open. What white folk can’t be bilingual? This sparked a bit of
conversation about peace corps etc. and the supervisor of the security area took notice. She then asked why I was there and the other workers explained the juggle ball. She just looked at them and said ‘what’s the problem? We allow golf balls on the plane” They explained that it wasn’t a golf ball so she asked to see it. Upon a brief inspection she
shrugged and said ‘looks like a golf ball to me’ Perfect! Now I can wait in the real waiting area. Off to LA.

Northwest lost my ticket, but some stressful calls and emails to Tonga straightened things out, wow at least I have a ticket to Detroit. Once that bump was smoothed out it was smooth sailing to the airport,
check in, take off all seamless. Then in the middle of the flight it was what I like to call bathroom time. The man next to me needed to go and after I stood up the guy across the isle got up to, then I saw the couple across the isle returning, so I enjoyed some standing time. The couple was old, probably Indian (that’s a guess) and the man was moving very slow. He needed help getting out of the chair so I gave space and was glad to help when asked. I also hit the flight attendant button as I know I can’t lift a person so if that was needed, hopefully they (3 strapping men? Seems reasonable) can help. As I reached for the mans other arm his wife looked me in the eyes and said EMERGENCY! I immediately ran to the front of the plane and told the flight attendants there is an emergency in isle 10. They ran off and I stayed in the isle. In trying to stay out of the way I just hugged the side of the isle hoping to make room as they ran past for towels, water, ice, medical kits and all they needed. Then it happened, just like a movie, they ran to the PA system and made the announcement ‘if there is a medical doctor, nurse, or anyone with medical training please go to row 10 now’. Luckily there was a doctor in first class and he ran to help. Even more lucky, he spoke the same first language as the woman!

Wow. So I am still standing in the isle and the man (looks familiar?) who was sitting by the doctor offered me the empty chair. Better than standing, I took it. Now when I said I would like to fly first class, this is not what I meant, be careful what you wish for I guess. As soon as I sat down I could feel the plane descending. Wow we are landing. It wasn’t too harsh but you could tell the pilot was hurrying as we went down fast. Well as fast as you can for a 747 at cruising altitude. So I started talking to the man next to me mostly about the situation at hand. I was sitting by the isle so I gave him the play by play as they moved the man to the floor in first class by the door, started CPR including mouth to mouth, chest compressions and the defibrillator! (don’t know how to spell it, but, yup they shocked him.)

They used many things from the various medical kits and I am sure did the best they could. When we landed we basically drove the plane through the airport right to the gate and there were paramedics
waiting. Wow so that just happened. Crazy. He did get the best support that he could have given the situation. I hope he is ok, but I have no information either way.

On the ground it took about 30 seconds to get the man off the plane and two hours to sort everything else out. They had to restock the med kits (go right ahead, we now understand their importance) refuel the plane and of course fill out all the necessary paperwork. The doctor came back and I promptly gave him his seat. A nice woman let me use her phone to call my parents to inform them of the delay and shortly thereafter, we were off, on our way to Detroit again.

During the rest of the flight I started thinking of the things the familiar looking man said while we were landing. His name is Jimmy, he is a comedian. He told me of his current jobs, stand up in Tennessee and a movie in Michigan. From the east coast, lived in New York for a while. Oh my gosh, I was sitting next to Jimmy Fallen! And I didn’t even know it. Here I am the ignorant Peace Corps volunteer without a TV who doesn’t know famous people when she sees them. Oh well it was fun talking, just like other people. I guess this proves famous people
are still people and we can treat them as such.

After this whole ordeal we landed, I got off the plane and as I walked through the doors there they were, my parents and two wonderful hugs waiting for me. Joy.

In LA on the way back it took me forever to find the Air Pacific desk. When I did I was one of the last passengers. But wait, they can’t find my ticket. So much discussion, sorting out, asking if I know a Thomas Birney (the first name my ticket was changed to) and then calling Fiji. The attendant that I started talking to asked why I wasn’t yelling at him. I explained it wasn’t his fault and I would deal with whatever situation I ended up in, plane or no. It’s not looking good the flight is boarding and I am at the ticket counter. Still on the phone with Fiji… anything? Then she wrote down some numbers in magic marker on a piece of paper and explained they couldn’t figure out my whole ticket, just to Fiji, but this paper will get me on the next plane. Yea right, but hey I'll take it. At least I will be closer to Tonga. So we ran to the security and I was escorted to the front. I GOT ON THE PLANE!!!

Guess what, in Fiji, the magic marker sheet didn’t get me on the next plane, huh. They explained how I had to leave the airport, which means pick up my bags, enter Fiji and then turn around and check back in. I left, spent some time in Nadi and headed back. So back a the airport guess what, the new piece of paper I got that morning didn’t get me on the plane either. The attendant was a little overwhelmed when I pulled out all the papers that were supposed to get me on the plane (maybe 7 in all) and said she couldn’t help me. So I looked around and finally found the manager I talked to several hours before and told her to talk to him. I waved him over and he sorted everything out. So now I have my final boarding pass. Thank heavens. I am getting slap happy and need to sleep. When I boarded I checked in and walked through the doors then turned left and walked out towards the stairs. No one else was there, but oh well. Then I heard someone calling me. I turned around and the same attendant from this morning was waving for me to come back. “Where are you going?” he asked “I don’t know to the plane. Why?” “the plane is this way” and he pointed to the right. Why did I turn left? Wow I don’t know, this is why people travel with partners.
When I landed in Tonga I was amazed to have gotten through so many trials and still arrive, on time with both bags and my principal waiting to give me a ride. Amazing, can I sleep yet?

Creature Discomforts

I have just been realizing a couple of things I have just shrugged off. I walked into the bathroom and virtually greeted the rat. I am considering naming her! I can’t kill her that I know for sure and now I just do my best to keep her out of the house, but the bathroom is fair game (be sure to cover the soap, she likes to eat it). As the rat slinks off I approach the toilet. Not terribly common, but by no means unusual there is a 4” spider on the wall right next to it. Oh well when you’ve got to go right? So I assumed the position, which would be on the toilet but perched as far to the right as I could. Luckily the spider was not too comfortable with this either and chose to head off to a crack in the wall. Afterwards I headed inside to brush my teeth and as I reached for the toothbrush, there was a cockroach (thanks again for the toothbrush case mom and dad!). The remarkable thing to me is all of these things I basically shrug off and go on with things. After all none of these creatures are dangerous.

If you want to talk dangerous creatures there is really just one, the Molokau. What is this medieval sounding creature you ask? It is a centipede that ranges from 6 to 10 inches long with two stingers on it’s tail. Ewwww! They are creepy and poisonous. I was stung once in Vava’u and immediately began jumping around and screaming in pain before I even knew what happened. Then with a little help from my friend (thanks Jason) I limped to the closest house and sat in the light to examine what happened. There was no noticeable mark where I was stung but the throbbing pain had spread from my toe to my whole foot and was creeping up my leg. By the time we called the nurse and she said to take benadryl the pain had reached my knee (maybe 5-10 minutes). Luckily the benadryl worked and the horrid throbbing lessened, but I was still limping all the way home. Not fun.

The tough part about this is now that the winter solstice is over it is warming up and things are reemerging. I have seen 2 molokau in the last 2 weeks where I haven’t seen one for months before that. One was crawling on the floor right where I was sitting within a foot of my leg. Also the cockroaches are much more prevalent. Basically whatever we have I am seeing more and more frequently.

Class 1

So my friend Katy gave me some alphabet stamps just before she left. So one day I needed some inspiration as to what to do with class 1 (I am not a born first grade teacher) so I made up a lesson with some of the stamps. First each student would get one stamp and stamp it on their paper. Then they would each get one crayon (different colors) and also write their letter on the paper. Next they would trade their papers and write each letter at least once. Not too tough and they will get to use the stamps and write all the letters (well A to F). So they started and were pretty good until we got to the trading part. I had kids that didn’t know what to do so just stood still, some traded with one person and thought they were done, some traded crayons and wrote their letter again. Also no matter what paper ‘Oueni (the short boy with his paper upside down) had I had to watch him to make sure he didn’t fill the whole thing front and back. He is an ambitions one. So I basically ended up doing all the trading and explaining in broken Tongan what I was doing and the kids wrote the letters. What a scramble, but we did it and I got the picture.

Then class was over and I thought I would analyze what went well and more forward in my mind what didn’t go well. First off they are only in class one, they don’t speak English (well some can say good morning, and one can say both, how are you and, I am fine, but she doesn’t know what they mean) I don’t really speak Tongan although I am getting better. Therefore I can’t explain well enough what we are doing and the kids get bored or confused, not because the don’t want to follow directions, but because we can’t communicate fully. Well in the end it wasn’t a total disaster, but it was just ok. I won’t try that with any other class 1 students…

Until the next day when Lopa, the class 1 teacher came to me raving about the wonderful lesson (she must not have seen the chaos). Apparently the students took their papers back to class and all showed her. Their faces plastered with smiles as they went on and on about what they learned from the Palangi and how they know how to write like a Palangi. They were so happy! And they love to learn! And they actually learned from me! So we have done alphabet stamps again, but with less paper trading this time.

Princess

So I have joked several times that I feel like a princess. This is true for many reasons, such as being invited to all the special events, getting a special seat at all the feasts, many people know me, many more than I know by name. Also I feel like a princess because I have obligations, many people expect the PCV to be there, someone will notice if I don’t go, many people watch what I do everywhere I go. So there are good and bad sides to this. Oh well it is just an analogy, right? So a few weeks ago, the Nakolo rugby team voted me as their princess. What this entails (or more close to the truth, what they wish I would do) is go to every game, tou’a Friday nights at the kalapu and tou’a Saturday nights for the team plus exercise with the team regularly. Needless to say I don’t do all of this, but I do go to the games when I can and sometimes if I feel like it, I will exercise with them, or tou’a on Saturdays (after a short interview of the participants to make sure no one is too drunk). So there it is, I am a princess.

It Takes a Village

Here in Tonga “it takes a village” seems to be more true than almost anywhere else I have seen. There is such a strong sense of community and family. I often have a hard time figuring out who lives where because ‘family’ becomes a loose term. This is comfortable for me because it is a lot like my family. We always had ‘extras’ whether a boy/girlfriend, someone who works for dad or a friend who needs a place to stay. These folks always become part of the family being invited to parties and having chores. Same in Tonga!

The attitude is almost a pay it forward attitude, but everyone has a job and everyone helps everyone so there is not a time frame to associate pay forward or backs. Generally you just give what you have and what you can, knowing that others will do the same for you, and they do.

It amazes me that everyone has a job, which is usually based on your age and gender. Example children are errand runners and will run to the falekaloa (convenience store) for their family. Remember that family extends to almost anyone you know so seeing Viliami at the store doesn’t mean that he is there for Palu, his mother. He could have been walking by Amalia’s house and she sent him. So it is not uncommon to go to the store and find 3 kids eagerly awaiting their turn too. Once Sione, my town officer asked why I came to his falekaloa? To buy a phone card and butter, I said. Yes but why did you walk yourself, send a child! Duh Alice.

Some other jobs include making tea (young women or girls), harvesting crops in the bush (men and boys if they don’t have school), building/repair (men), making kahoas (flower or candy necklaces) (women and girls), making umu (food baked in an underground oven) for a feast (men and boys), cooking food for a feast (women and girls). These are just a few examples and of course they are maliable. If a family doesn’t have a member that is the right age or gender, obviously someone else has to do the job. Women can help harvest crops in the bush and men can cook and do dishes, but the opposite is the norm.

Friends and neighbors can help fill the gaps also. If you don’t have a young child who can go the falekaloa, call a neighbors kid! (I use this one when I am sick and it is a life saver). When I needed a fence I asked my neighbor where to buy the fencing and she said find some youth, ask Fetu’u and Samu. So I did and later (3 weeks, but that’s another entry) they came with the fence, posts, nails and tools all gathered and donated by neighbors. Wow thanks!

Trimester Report Time!

These are my journal entries I turned into the peace corps, thought you might enjoy them.

I am integrating more each day. My language has improved greatly since moving to site, but I still use English a lot with a few people. In fact some people refuse to speak Tongan to me because their English is so good. I still have a vast majority of the village to speak Tongan to though.

I have found that I have made some groups of friends and I try to branch out a bit, but it is all I can do to keep up with the friends I already have. Not to mention learning the names of their family/ housemates. I feel like there are probably some people in my village I haven't even seen yet! But everyone knows my name and I feel bad when I don't know theirs (which is often).

I am starting to figure out this food sharing thing. I was on the bus and the woman sitting next to me offered me an apple. I declined as I had my own bag of apples, but thanked her. Then 'Ana my neighbor got on the bus and I said hello and handed her an apple. The woman sitting next to me smiled and nodded her approval. So I try, but I know I don't fully understand yet.

My main challenge is that I don't like teaching English. I don't really know how to go about it and the lax environment at school is nice for days that I am having a nervous breakdown, but it is no help in the area of curriculum or guidance. I am immensely enjoying my community and secondary projects, but sometimes dread going to school. On the flip side when I am in front of the class I feel ok. I can deal with the kids, it is mainly the teachers I don't like dealing with. Now if only my planning made any sense.

I guess one of the main lessons I have learned is to go with it. I try to go with it and say yes to everything and so far that has worked and I definitely feel integrated into the community, participating in the work and the play. Sometimes something doesn't make sense and I try to intervene and change it. If it is straight forward, no 'Alisi you rest, we will cook, I might just start chopping anyway. But a few weeks ago I was invited to a feast and we all went and set it up and waited. Then Everyone left the hall and sat outside, but they told me to stay alone? I didn't understand what was happening and of course no one would explain in English or Tongan slow enough I would understand. So I said I didn't want to stay alone, I would rather go with my friends. We did all go outside but 'Evalata just marched me around until she found a way for me to get back in! No matter what I wanted, I was back at the table alone so I should have just trusted they knew what was right and stayed. In the end I was able to eat with the ministers during the actual feast instead of waiting until the rush afterwards. It was a place of honor. Thanks 'Evalata!

I have not felt unsafe personally, but there have been two break ins at my school this year. One involved a fight, but not while school was in session and no one from the school was involved.

The one time I thought the situation could end badly one of the men in my village, very drunk, came and shook my hand and asked me to tou'a. To be polite I shook his hand too, but had no intention of going to tou'a when the guys were also drinking alcohol. He just stood there mumbling and wouldn't let go of my hand. Another guy from my village saw this and immediately came over and escorted the very drunk man away so the situation never had a chance to turn sour. This made me feel great as I know there are people looking out for me.

Garden

Well I did it, I planted my garden. In the end the hardest part was getting a fence. I have an area about 10x22 feet next to my house that is fenced on 2 sides, the third side is my house and the fourth, a 10 foot entrance for the pigs leading to my garden. There are about 5 stands of banana trees offering the shade I need for growing veggies. Funny that here you look for a partially shaded area and back home you seek out the sunny areas. I asked for the fence and was told yes I will do it tomorrow and it only took two weeks from then to get the fence! Once that was in I went to work breaking up the rock solid ground. We get a lot of rain and that has compacted the soil big time. Honestly I only dug down 5 inches or so and tried to mound the loose soil to give some more depth. I wasn’t sure if anything would even grow.

Well I am always delayed on the writing aspect of my adventures, but this time it has come in handy. I can report that EVERYTHING has sprouted! Now that is not saying everything will make it to harvest, but hey this is a start. I planted morning glories and moonflowers just for fun, lettuce, green and red sweet peppers, basil, cayenne peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, passion fruit and caleloo. I went with the theory that not every seed would sprout so I planted way to much. I remember specifically the watermelon I put 5 seeds in the mound hoping 2 or 3 would sprout. Well there are 6 plants coming up, I guess an extra seed slipped in! So I am exited to see if my first solo gardening adventure bears fruit, literally.

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Opportunity to Help
Alice's Wish List
Alice's Address

Topics from Tonga Updated 11-23-09


Fried fish anyone: yes that is a fish head in flour on a plate


These are all from a feast, the food in front of me.

prepare for tonga travel
the food to the right of me,

call tonga
the food to the left of me,


and the extra food in the coconut leaf baskets which no one ate at the feast as there was so much food to begin with.

girl slaughter pig
Meleni: means watermelon and I think it is an apt name for this pig. Phil, who lived with Sateki, who owned meleni also named her Mega Pig and that fits too. The first time I saw her cross the road I thought she was a cow. Unfortunately she is no longer with us as she met her end at a feast on boxing day to celebrate the graduation of Fahina, Sateki’s daughter.


Roasting a pig


Preparing leaves for weaving: this is just one step in the weaving process. First you cut the leaves from the plant, then dethorn them, then set them out to dry (and they curl) then hang the curled leaves to dry completely, then straighten and cut into desired width then weave.


Weaving in progress.


Finished weavings.


Preparing Lu for the feast: Lu is a popular dish here in Tonga. The outside is the Lu leaves which are similar to spinach. Then this bed of leaves is filled with something. In the picture it is mutton, but my favorite is Lu ika mo vestipolo (fish lu with vegetables) I don’t think this is common in Tonga, but my friends are trying to respect my dietary wishes.


Beautiful view from Vava’u

Trippy Quotes from Alice in Wonderland
Alice with her Host Mom, 'Iunisi in Vava'u


Vava'u Lookout

Short haired woman showing her hand like a map, pointing at the middle, Trippy Quotes from Alice in Wonderland
Alice at Lansing Airport. She knows where she is from, Michigan!

Tonga Time Converter

National Geographic article on Tonga, November, 2007

Welcome to Tonga
Peace Corp Booklet which describes Tongan culture and the Peace Corp experience there.

Alice's Wish List

  • Chocolate
  • Granola
  • Cashews
  • Wasabi almonds
  • School art supplies
  • Pictures    
  • Green or red thai curry paste
  • Tom ka soup paste

Alice Birney, PCV
Peace Corps
PO Box 147
Nuku'alofa, Tonga
South Pacific


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