Saturday, January 31, 2009

Ants in my pants

Well not in my pants, but everywhere else. Yesterday I realized we'd forgotten a cookie sheet full of food that we'd re-heated in the oven, and it was swarming with ants inside the oven!! And for some reasone they like our electric tea kettle and we have to rinse it out every time we use it, which is at least a couple times a day for our drinking water. If there's one little crumb of any kind of food there will be a line of ants to it in minutes.

I saw another horrible sight yesterday right before discovering the ant-infested oven. I was standing at the kitchen window and witnessed our puppy, Lucky's front feet get run over by our neighbor's large truck! The puppies sleep under the truck sometimes when it's raining out, and usually they move when the truck starts up, but the neighbor got in and pulled out really fast, running right over her feet. Luckily she's still just a puppy and I don't think their bones are fully developed, so they weren't broken, probably just pinched bad.

We recently heard some crazy stories about other islands in the Ha'apai group. The island of Tofua is volcanic and very hard to get to, but gorgeous from the photos I've seen. We can see it and the other volcanic island, Kao on the horizon on clear days here from our beach. In the middle of Tofua there's a crater lake, someone went scuba diving there and saw a huge shadow swim by him!! So possibly there are a pair of bull sharks in the lake somehow, or there are still some kind of ancient fish/creatures living there since it's so untouched and isolated on that island. Another story we heard is about an obvious murder case. But since the murderer's family was related to people high-up in the community, they ruled it a heart attack. Crazy.

Today's Saturday so there are a lot of boats coming into town from other islands. We're trying to keep Lucky, the puppy, in our yard so she doesn't get stolen like the other one did. I woke up before it was light out this morning to the noises of our neighbors and neighbor kids running around the yard area, and later singing and yelling in Tongan. Very nice. One thing we've learned we can use here is sarcasm, the local Tongans don't get it when you use sarcasm.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

First Day of School

So I just had my first day of school. For you teachers out there listen up, you'll enjoy this. On the first day of school in Tonga all the school children bring cleaning supplies. When they arrive the girls are in charge of sweeping the classrooms, washing the windows and cleaning the bathrooms. The boys are in charge of mowing the lawn, sweeping and burning the leaves and then playing rugby after they're done. As the students are doing this the teachers just sit and talk to each other and make sure the students are working hard. I'm not sure if this would fly in the states, but all you teachers out there, give it a shot. After the students finish their cleaning they then have an informal class where they learn about school dress, rules and time of classes for the year. Students learn that in the morning at the sound of the bell each class must line up in a row in front of the flag poll where they have their morning prayer and then march off to their classrooms, boys in one line and girls in the other....yes, march. There is no electricity in most of the classrooms so it makes it hard to plug in a fan on those hot days. Just yesterday they canceled school because it was raining too hard, sort of like our Minnesota snowdays except its rain. Now that I have been at the school for a couple of days I have been observing each class to see where their english abilities are so I know where to start when I begin to teach in a couple of weeks. I have also been working on the school library, getting it set up and organizing the books. The school that I am at recently had a Peace Corps volunteer and she did a great job on the library so I have just been doing a little bit of touch up on it, otherwise it is almost ready to open for student use.

We recently had a low cyclone (Hurricane) warning on the 28th. The Fiji weather services issued a cyclone warning and said that one was heading towards Tonga, but late last night it switched direction and headed south away from Tonga. That was good because I was not looking forward to being swept away by waves.

Monday, January 26, 2009


On Saturday our puppy 'Ava went missing during the middle of the day. We were home, and hadn't seen her for just about an hour, and went walking up and down the beach and the roads by our house with no luck. We'd planned on going to the Liku (wild/undeveloped) side of the island with Sarah and Alicia for the afternoon, it was really nice out. And on that side of the island no one really goes there so we could wear our swimsuits! I thought 'Ava would be there when we got back, but she wasn't. We think she wandered off a little, and some Tongan stole her. It's common for that to happen. They'll take puppies out of people's yards too, our neighbor had told us that people come and steal the puppies at night. And Alicia took one of the puppies home, and early in the morning while she was sleeping some little Tongan kid stole the puppy out of her yard and cut off the collar she'd made. Someone saw him do it, so she was able to find the puppy. But no one knows where 'Ava is, the neighbor kids just kept saying "'Ava go far, far away", and that she's lost. We walked around after church and the feast yesterday, looking in people's yards but didn't find her. The couple that's running a dive shop here is also missing their dog. They said if you don't find the dog in a couple days it's either dead or in a pot, or if it's lucky maybe someone kept it as a pet. But they don't treat pets like we treat pets here. Tongans feed their pigs a lot, they're worth a lot of money and they want to fatten them to eat them. But the dogs aren't really fed, they get scraps sometimes or they'll look around for food on their own from what I've seen.

Brett's at school on his first day right now (it's Mon. about 10:30am, I don't think the blog post times are right most of the time). The mosquitos have been a lot worse lately, we've been burning coils by our doors and wearing more mosquito repellent.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Pangai - big city to some

On Tuesday the couple from the outer island finally made it into Pangai for a visit! We were all excited to see them, their boat schedule was changed three times before they made it here in the afternoon. That night we went out to the one restaurant in town and had pizza and beer. There was quite the international group of people hanging out that night - america, ireland, germany, poland, australia. We met a few more people that are living in town here, they're fun to hang out with.

Eric and Melanie had to get back for the beginning of school, so had to catch the next boat back instead of staying in town longer. So it was supposed to come through during the day on Wed, then it changed to the middle of the night and Eric had to get up every hour and go out our back door to check for it on the beach. Then it changed to Thurs. morning, Thurs. night, and finally 5:00am on Friday today. So the schedules are constantly changing. On Tues. both big ferry boats came into Pangai and it was a circus in town. People were hanging out everywhere shopping for new supplies that came in. And the gas station had lines of cars waiting to fill up.

On Wed. night we were invited to Mele's house for dinner, her brother is the harbor master in Nuku'alofa and owns the training center I work at, so he wanted to have dinner with us and some other people in town here. Mele is the best cook here!! She cooks Tongan food, but with a more western style, using more spices and flavor. They had a buffet set up on their patio, we had a roasted pig, rice with veggies and little octopus, shrimp, and really good steak/beef. And last night we made bean burritos with Alicia, Eric and Melanie. It was really nice to see them and have them stay with us. On one of the nights it was like a big sleep-over with four people in our living room!

We had a few unfortunate events the last couple of days though. Alicia was ready to take her black puppy home for the first time, Brett went out the back door to find him, and he was laying there dead next to our house!! It was really sad, our neighbor kids were really cute though and helped dig a grave. Brett started packing down the dirt, then we realized the kids were mounding it up like a Tongan grave. They even lined it with rocks, and with white shells spelled out "puppy"! We noticed the mom dog was looking really sick too and not eating. The next morning we found her also dead next to our back door!! The neighbors think it might have been some kind of poisen or something they got into. The rest of the puppies are doing fine, bouncing around and nipping at our feet whenever we go outside.

Brett went to teacher planning today, and starts school with the kids on Monday. I'm just hanging out, doing a little work when needed. It's been pretty lazy here lately. We did get some packages and mail recently (thanks mom and dad!), so we're getting updated on the rest of the world through people and time magazines. I wonder sometimes what the newest songs on the radio are.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Little Helpers

So I'm starting to change my mind on how I feel about all the little kids living around us. Three more just came home from a longer christmas vacation yesterday, so there are five little boys living across the yard from us now, ranging in age from 2 to about 12 years old. It's better now with the older ones around, they keep the youngest in line. And the best part is they're our little helpers! We'll start doing chores or things outside like making a fire to burn our garbage or putting up clothes on the line to dry and the boys will just start helping us! We gave them some starburst and banana bread for helping. I've noticed they're always around the yard area, and if our doors are open they'll come and sit in the doorway or on the steps and watch us or the older ones will talk to us since they know English. We never know what we'll see when we look out the windows or doors with these kids, the youngest is seen sometimes peeing off the edge of their doorstep, or worse. And they climb up our huge trees in the backyard, really high up on tiny little branches. It will be different, quieter at least, once school starts next week (I think). And we found out that our other neighbor, Mosese and his family might be moving to an outer island. So there will be less kids around. His kids and wife have been gone for the last month though anyways.

Brett's birthday was fun on Sunday. I made a cake from scratch, we still had no eggs but it turned out. Then in the afternoon our neighbors invited us to a church service and feast, we thought it might be a few hours, but turned out to be a 2 hour church service for the kids going back to school, and a couple hours at the feast with lots of speeches. There were lots of long tables set up, each area with different food and drinks from each family. Mele, who we had lunch with on our first Sunday and works in catering, made sure to pass down some really good spaghetti to us. And Silosi and Ana, our neighbors, had roasted a pig for the feast.

The peace corps couple on an outer island, Eric and Melanie, finally found a way to get into town this week, the Olavaha boat is running again finally! First they were going to get in for dinner last night, then early this morning, and now hopefully they'll make it this afternoon. The boat keeps getting delayed or is running late. The smaller boat, Tautahi, made it this morning. So the stores are all really busy today, there's a lot of new food and supplies in that were running low. We heard rumors of ice cream and Brett went looking but didn't find any. We did get a big tray of eggs though. Another transportation problem - the airplanes, maybe because the petrol was getting low, I don't know. But Grant and his brother were going to Nuku'alofa and his brother got stuck here last night and will hopefully get on the plane this afternoon, the morning flight was cancelled.

In other news, the puppies are doing good, we've picked out a little brown furry one to keep, new photos are posted on the link to the left.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Here comes the sun

It was really nice and hot out today! We biked all the way up to Matafonua beach resort/beach on the northern tip of Foa island, it took about an hour to bike there but was well worth it. The bike ride was pretty, going across the airport runway where the road divides it, and the land bridge between Lifuka and Foa. The beach at Matafonua was gorgeous, turquoise-colored water and really sandy beach and swimming area. Sarah met us there, her village from Foa was there having a picnic so there were lots of Tongans around that ruined my chance of wearing my palangi swimsuit, but was still a lot of fun. We ate at the restaurant there, really good pizza and nice ocean view, and swam with the kids from Sarah's village. Before we got in the water, there was a big commotion, a young tongan girl was swept out by the current and had to be pulled in.

Earlier this morning Brett went with our neighbor to the bush and helped him pull out a few ufi and pele (yam and vegetable that's like lettuce). Tomorrow is Brett's birthday! There's not much to do in Tonga on Sundays, we'll probably go to church and then afterwards there's a feast again with the Weslyn church.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Gale Winds

Gale winds, yes thats what I said. The local weather has been very crazy over the last week. We have had a lot of rain and recently we had a gale winds advisory from the Fiji weather service. The winds were up to 50 knots at times. I was afraid if I walked outside I might get picked up and tossed over to Samoa or somthing like that. We have been inside most of this week since the weather has not been cooperating. Last night the winds were really high I th0ught at times that our house might blow away but it stayed strong. On the upside we figured out how to make homemade pizza, that really made our day. Here in tonga we do not always have the best of choices with food so when we figured out how to get ingredients for pizza and how to make it we were very excited, I feel a bit more American today because of that.

P.S. We caught the mouse.


Flooding from waves around the Fisheries office building, standing next to it is our neighbor Silosi.

Standing on the wharf with waves coming over the edge, looking towards Fisheries and the clump of trees is where our house is.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Little unwanted visitor

So, we have a mouse in our house!! We kept seeing it flash by, then yesterday it was out in the open and we tried to get it with a broom with no luck. So today we'll set traps. I think all the rain drove it inside maybe, it's raining again today after a mostly clear day yesterday.

Last night Alicia was over and we made really good pizza from scratch, and it was pretty easy too! I've just been going over online tutorials for word and typing skills to start getting classes ready for the training center. I won't be really starting at MAFF until the beginning of Feb. but I've been over there quite a bit helping with computer problems or questions already.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Kovi Tahi

(aka bad ocean!)... so the waves got so big the last couple of days they made it pretty close to the base of our house! And a couple of buildings by us that are closer to the sea- the Fisheries buildings, had some damage. The waves and ocean came up all around them, and boats had to be pulled out that were getting tossed around in the big waves. Our neighbor said he's never seen the waves come up this far before. They were even splashing up over the wharf, and pools of seaweed and garbage were floating all around. Sand has gotten piled up way higher than it's been before. But we stayed fine and dry at our place (except the living room which leaks a little). The wind was so strong that the rain on our windows looked like when you're driving a car down a freeway in the rain, it was just flying across the windows!

Our neighbors told us they'd have lunch for us again on Sunday! So we went to their church service, they even gave us a ride since it was raining so much. Then we found out it wasn't just a plate of food like the other Sunday, it was a feast they were referring to! So we went to a big feast for lunch yesterday, with a lot of meat, root crops, and speeches like any feast here. And we're starting to know more and more people now I realized after seeing how many people I knew at the feast.

And since it's been so rainy and windy, and I haven't worked much yet, I've actually been doing a lot of cooking! Anyone who knows me knows this is a pretty big deal, I rarely cook back home. So far I've made brownies, banana bread, mac 'n cheese, different pastas, and different kinds of root crops baked or fried, all from scratch. Still no eggs in sight at stores, the boats haven't been coming in with the weather lately, but it seems like it's clearing up now today. Brett's been doing more cleaning, he cleaned out all the gutters today and the opening to our sima vie (where we get our drinking rain water).

Friday, January 9, 2009

Lazy, rainy days

The last two days have been really rainy and windy. The puppies all moved to the side of our house where there's a little more shelter from the wind off the ocean. We lost one more of the littlest ones, so down to 10 puppies now.

And shopping lately has been hit or miss. We got bread, which isn't always available, and amazingly got pinneapples at the little market (a couple of long tables that sometimes have root crops or fruit on them). At the market they sell the root crops and fruit in piles. But we ran out of eggs, and heard there won't be more until next week. And it's funny the way you buy some things here. They get bulk shipments in, then divide them up into smaller portions to sell - like flour and sugar you buy in little plastic baggies that aren't marked at all. And once in awhile we can find ice cream. There's usually a bigger selection right after the boat comes in once a week or so. The Internet isn't always working here either, it's up most of the time but sometimes it will be down for half a day or so.

I kinda started working a little, at the ha'apai training center, not yet at MAFF (ministry of food, forestry and agriculture), the new officer in charge hasn't started there yet so I have to wait for him to be here. At the training center I just went in and checked on all the computers and did a few updates. The owner sent his nephews to help me, because his daughter - my counterpart for working there, has been sick. I'll probably be setting up and teaching some basic computer classes to adults/youth in the evenings, and maybe bringing in some classes from schools during the day for English programs on the computers. Brett won't start working until the end of the month, he's just been hanging out, watching movies.

This weekend we might bike up to Foa to check out the beaches by the resorts there. And next week the couple from one of the outer islands is coming in to Pangai and hanging out for a week.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Church, lu and ufi

We went to the church of tonga today, it was pretty good, really loud singing. Then our neighbor came over with a plate of lu sipi and ufi for us, which was really nice of them! Lu sipi is mutton cooked in a big taro leaf underground in an umu oven. And ufi is a big hunk of yam. We mashed up the ufi and added butter and garlic salt and it wasn't bad. The tongans just eat the huge hunks of root crops with no seasoning or anything. All the stores are closed today since it's Sunday, except for the bakery so we'll go buy bread later today.

Yesterday we did more cleaning and sewed four new curtains for our living room area with fabric we had from Nuku'alofa. A couple of the little neighbor boys were playing in the yard area with the puppies, the youngest neighbor boy is almost always naked! They don't speak much if any English, and come right up to our stairs just watching us, or they bring the puppies to us. We also watched new episodes of The Office from back home, thanks mom and dad for sending that DVD! On Monday I think I'm meeting with my two workplaces to figure out my schedule, I'm confused on what I'm supposed to be doing so hopefully it will be clearer tomorrow.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The first to welcome the New Year

In Tonga, we’re the very first country to welcome the New Year. The International Dateline curves around Tonga to include it in the first time zone, along with Fiji, New Zealand and some others. But Tonga is the closest to the dateline, so we're the first to celebrate, and the first to see the first sunrise of 2009. Possibly the very first people to see the sunrise of 2009, because Ha'apai is the farthest islands to the east and there aren't many people here who would get up to see the sunrise.

For New Years we went with a group to the island just south of us, Uoleva. It was us, Alicia, Sarah, Grant, and his brother that just got to Tonga visiting from the US. Uoleva’s close enough that you can walk between our island and it at low tide. So we looked it up online and at low tide, around 2:30 on New Year’s Eve we made the trek across on the reef, it’s about half an hour walk with rushing water and rip tides. It’s supposed to only be about waist deep, but at this time of the year they get higher tides called King Tides, so even at low-tide it’s a little higher than normal. There was a section that was about up to my chest, and I lost my grip on the reef and started to get pushed out just a little. Brett and Alicia got to me quick and we all made it across the reef and sections of water between sand bars. It was really pretty!

After the crossing between islands, we had about a 45 minute walk along a very pretty, natural sandy beach to where we camped at Diana’s place, a rustic little guest house area that also allows people to camp along the beach. It was really cheap, and gave us access to a gorgeous sandy swimming beach, a kersone lantern and chairs/table and campsite.

We swam after the long, hot walk, and had coconut rum. And by coconut rum I mean REAL coconut. We gathered a bunch of green coconuts and sliced the tops with a bush knife. Then to the natural coconut water/milk we added a little rum and drank right out of the coconuts. It’s a really heavy drink to hold onto, and next time we’ll bring straws. We were also swimming with them and trying to figure out an invention like a blown-up donut to get them to float next to us.
It was a great New Years hanging out with our Ha’apai group, talking around our kersone lantern with lots of stars above us and darkness. Around midnight there was lightning on the horizon, and we saw a couple fireworks displays far away on the horizon on different islands, which looked really cool seeing bursts of color in the otherwise blackness. Then we sat for awhile with the Tongan owner of the guesthouse resort on the beach, he had a bonfire going. He told us some Tongan legends (with Grant translating). One that I liked the best was about a devil shark who got a devil blowfish stuck inside him and was dying. He asked for help from a man from Mu’unga’ane island, and in return agreed that no sharks would ever attack people from that island. So to this day people from that island aren’t scared of sharks, they think they’re exempt from being attacked. People are very religious here, but also still superstitious.

On New Year's day we got up around 5:15 am to see the sunrise on the other side of the island at 6:20 am. We were quite possibly the very first people to see the new year 2009!! It was really pretty, worth getting up that early. Later in the day we swam more and hung out, then went on a bush walk with the Tongan guesthouse owner to see some ancient site where nobles used to play games catching and releasing pigeons from these big mounds.

We walked back to the crossing at low tide in the later afternoon, and this crossing was definately memorable. The first three people across the deeper area missed the shallow crossing by a few feet, and it was a lot deeper. They had to start swimming, and one of them got swept far out past the breakers by the rip tide and current. One tried to get to her but couldn't and got stuck herself, and another swam to the person stuck out farther at sea. The three of us left on the sandbar were getting worried about them all, and luckily two tongans were coming through the crossing on horses, so they helped us! They got the closer person back in, and the other two were too far out, struggling for awhile. Finally they also got back in and we were all safe! And our neighbor was going to pick us up, but we lost his number so had to start walking back to town down the bush road. But since we didn't call our neighbor and it was getting later he drove out looking for us so we got a ride back, it was really nice of him, I'm glad we have such nice neighbors that are looking out for us!

Also, the day we left we had another surprise - a new litter of puppies!!! So now there are a total of 12 puppies just outside our back door. They kept getting stuck under our foundation in the sand so we packed sand and rocks in so we don't have to keep rescuing them from under our house.

Below is a link to a satellite photo from google maps, our house is the one in the center, next to the four smaller houses with red roofs, ours has a silver roof, running parallel to the ocean, closest to the ocean. At the bottom of the image, the whiteness sticking out in the water is the main wharf.,-174.350678&spn=0.002342,0.004828&t=h&z=18

New photos on the link to the left of new years!