Thursday, April 30, 2009

Teaching adults computers

Well, I didn't think I'd be teaching computer classes in the Peace Corps, but here I am having just finished teaching my first community computer class today. It has been quite a struggle to get this computer/training center up and running, but finally we're seeing some success! It has had a long history of failing, for different reasons including the local counterparts not wanting to work and not carrying on the work being done once Peace Corps volunteers have left, I'm the third volunteer to work at this site.

Last week we had our first registration day for a class of introduction to computers and typing. We have 10 working computers, so 10 spots available for students. The one local radio station has been broken for over a month now, so we just posted up flyers all over town at the stores, post office and bank, advertising the class and registration time. It sounded like there was a lot of buzz and interest in the class, so it was disapointing when only 2 people came to register last week. But then everyday we'd find more and more people who wanted to sign up for the class. So I think it works better to be out in the community and at events where people can approach you about the class, and not have a formal registration. Just yesterday we completely filled up the class, and even had a couple people on a waiting list! This evening was the first class, I was a little nervous since I've never really taught a class before, but I have led meetings at my college's advertising club and have led work meetings before coming here. It's different also when I teach in English here and I'm not exactly sure how much they're understanding me. So it helps that I currently have two Tongan counterparts working with me. It ended up being only five students instead of ten that showed up, but I still think it's a huge success for here in Ha'apai. And we might have more students next week, it's a 5-class session over the next four weeks. They ranged in age from about 20 to 50 years old. Today I covered some basic computer concepts, and we started the typing program. It was really fun seeing how excited some of the Tongans were to be using a computer for the first time, and they were actively participating when I asked questions, which is hard to get participation like that sometimes here in Tonga.

After this first class is done we're going to probably offer the same class again as well as adding on more classes. And probably next week we're getting the Internet connected to start an Internet cafe. Most people in Tonga have relatives overseas, but they don't have Internet in their homes here and there are only a few places to check Internet, so it will be a really useful service to offer for keeping in touch with family and for school research, etc. I've also been doing computer tutorials two days a week now at the computer center, and still helping out at the Youth Congress, so it's been getting pretty busy for me here! Tomorrow is my day off - every Friday. Brett has been working mornings only now at the school, and getting the library set up and helping to get the class 6 kids ready for their big exam in Sept, it determines what secondary school they will attend.

Also, I have a new officer-in-charge (boss) at MAFF. This position was supposed to be filled in Feb. and they prepared for his coming for about a month, getting things ready, and he didn't end up coming. Then last week I saw people cleaning out the house next door and asked what was going on (the whole conversation this time was in Tongan), and found out the new officer-in-charge had just arrived that day and was moving in and starting work! So you never really know when things are going to happen here in Tonga. They just happen. I met with the new boss on Monday and he seems very nice and optimistic about getting things changed for the better at MAFF. He wants me to begin working mostly with the Women in Development and Youth division.

But enough about work. Other happenings here - the weather's been cooling off a little, we can really tell at night and in the mornings it's easier to sleep in a little later. This Sunday is "children's Sunday", something they celebrate in Tonga. There will be a feast of course. And the following Sunday the big church conference for the Church of Tonga begins, a lot of people from overseas and the outer islands are coming into Pangai for this conference, it will last for a week. Many families here will have relatives staying with them, and all the guesthouses in town will be full. The stores will probably run out of supplies and the bakery, so we're going to stalk up next week. There are already no eggs available. But there will be a lot of feasts and festivals/dances during the conference so I'm sure we'll get plenty of food there.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

First Aid and Internet

So we have had internet for about a week now and we have been using it to the fullest. I have been streaming old tv episodes that have aired since we have left in the effort to catch up on tv shows I appreciated the most. To mention a couple, The Office, Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Entourage. Besides Internet, this last week was a busy week. I worked a lot with the class 6 kids at my school on noticing corrections in a paragraph. We worked on noticing things that were incorrect in the paragraph and changing the incorrect word, tense, or punctuation to the correct form. Kate was busy as well with her computer center. She was able to get 6 people signed up for the class she is having next week. It will be a 5 week class, once a week where the students will learn computer basics and typing skills. I think once she has her first class the buzz will start and she will get more people wanting to participate in the class. We also attended a first aid conference this week put on by Red Cross at the local youth congress of Pangai. They had the Ha'apai Island Group Judge attend the conference as a special guest and in addtion to giving the thank you speech at the end of the meeting he address the group in English for about 5 minutes in respect for Kate and I since we were the only non Tongans attending the conference. The conference was put on to inform the local island communities about the importance of first aid and also to train the meeting attendies on first aid practices. The meeting had representatives from outer island as well from our island. The information and training they received will help them not only inform their community about first aid but also to help train and make aware of how first aid can be important in their daily lives. After the meeting ended Kate and I made our way over to Mariner's Cafe and met some other Peace Corps volunteers, JICA volunteers and some local non tongan business owners for a drink. Overall this week was interesting and surprising, just another week in Tonga.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ahh, technology

Just a few minutes ago we got the Internet connected and working at our house!!!! It was an exciting moment, seeing the google page load here at our dining room table. The Fisheries office that I work for next door just got money to get wireless Internet connected in their office, but the signal was too weak to reach our house. So we ran a new cable over to the office (there was an old broken one) and connected it to their router and now we have access to the Internet here! It's very slow right now, we'll see how it runs in the next few days. But it's really nice to have it here and not have to go to the office (even though that's practically next door).

(view from our computer at home)

And I just pulled cookies out of the oven, it's been a good evening. But don't think we're spoiled here now with Internet, we still have freezing cold showers, hard jobs sometimes, and have to cook everything from scratch, etc. Last night we made pizza with the last of our green peppers, and tonight we're making a tomato sauce pasta.

Also today and yesterday my first computer classes with the employees from MAFF (ministry of agriculture, forestery, and fisheries) were successful. I had over half of the employees turn up and on time, a few didn't make it because of a funeral which is expected. I have two classes on Mondays and three on Tuesdays, each with 2 or 3 students. I was able to show them some basics on the computer, a lot of them had never touched a computer before in their lives. I also have a typing program I'm starting with some of the students. It was cool to see how excited some of them looked using a computer for the first time, something you never really see back home. And I did all the classes on the one working computer in the lab, the others aren't working because the power is off in most of the computer lab, hopefully that will be fixed for next week. Tomorrow I'm working on getting the community classes set up with the computer training center, so I'm getting busier now with my work schedule. Brett has been teaching at the school, mornings only when they have English classes. But it takes time in the afternoons and evenings for him to prepare lessons for the next day.

Keep in touch, we'll most likely be online more often now!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Over-turned sea turtles and fiery sunsets

Last night was a pretty sunset, the sun's path has been moving pretty quickly lately. For a long time the sun set more to the south by the wharf, now it's setting just about behind Kao, the volcanic cone-shaped island straight out from our back door. And it's setting earlier, around 6:30 instead of 7:00pm. It only changes by about an hour the whole year.

Our American dinner party was successful after a near-disaster of the propane tank running out that powers our oven/stove! We had just prepared all the food, it was raw and ready to be cooked, and the burners just fizzled out. This was the first time it's run out for us. Luckily the guy was still at the propane tanks by the wharf and Brett was able to bring our tank over to be filled. So we finished all the food for the 11 of us eating, it was a good time.

Yesterday Brett's school had a konsetti (concert), a dance concert with all the kids performing for parents and the PTA to raise money for the school for new supplies, like a really expensive copy machine. They had spent all week rehearsing, Eric, Brett and I went to watch the show Friday morning. It was quite a big deal, with all the moms and some younger siblings and others watching, the moms dressing up their school kids in all sorts of traditional costumes - colorful flower clothes wrapped around the boys as skirts and girls as full dresses, grass skirts on the boys and some girls, grass anklet bracelets, lots of flowers both real and fake, and some tapa/woven clothes wrapped around girls doing the ta'alunga dance. They had a tent and sound system rented out as well. When the dancing started we moved up closer, the youngest kids stood there and moved their feet a little, as people went up and gave them money for the flower bouqets they were holding. As the kids performing got older they were better dancers, some were pretty amazing with the accuracy and detailed movements of their hands and feet. The boys move the most in tongan dances, stomping around and twirling, the girls mostly stay in one place and use a lot of pretty hand movements.

Eric and Melanie left today on the boat to go back to their little island, we saw them off at the wharf. Amoung all the luggage and crates of pigs getting loaded onto the boat there was an over-turned huge sea turtle that was still alive. At first it looked dead, but you could see it breathing, then once it awhile it freaked out and tried moving it's flippers all around. They are stuck upside down and can't flip back over. I felt really bad for him, I would've turned him over and pushed him into the harbour if there hadn't been so many people around and I'm sure they're worth a lot of money. The way they were shipping him was just that they'd written the name and city of the person recieving the turtle on the main island on the under side of the turtle's shell.
So now we're back to an empty house without any guests, it's always fun having friends visit us!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A visit from the real world

We've been busy these last couple of weeks! First it was our training in Nuku'alofa for about 2 weeks, we ate a ton of good food at the restaurants there - chinese, italian, sandwiches, burgers, etc. It was good to see the rest of our group and catch up with people and compare experiences.

Then our friend Katie came to visit from Minnesota for a week, it was a lot of fun to see someone from back home and to show her around our island and village. We met her at the airport here in Ha'apai and had a flower lei for her, and fresh tropical fruit back at our house. The next day we showed her around town and to the other side of the island. Then on Sat. to Easter Sunday we went with a big group down to Uoleva island and camped out there at Captain Cook's resort (after camping there and at Dianna's we decided Dianna's is better for just camping). There were a lot of us Peace Corps - us, Eric and Melanie took the plane up here after training and have been here for about a week, Grant was in town from his island north of us, Phil and Sarah, and Jason was visiting from Eua. We also had one of the japanese volunteers, and our friends at the dive shop came and brought us all there and back on their boat. It was funny unloading all our backpacks and gear, it was high tide so they had to anchor the boat and throw another rope to shore and then in between big waves some of us had to swim up to the boat and grab some of the luggage, or the people on the boat would toss it to us to catch. Once on land we had the usual coconut rum drinks out of real coconuts with the coconut milk, and hung out on the beach and swam in the clear aqua water. Melanie and I went snorkeling, couldn't find the right place to enter so had Grant come guide us. The coral was amazing at the reefs in Uoleva, huge fan coral, brain coral, and lots of fish. Brett and some of the guys went spear fishing at another reef, and Brett shot two fish!! His first fish he's killed spear fishing here. Phil cooked them up over a fire for us for appetizers before dinner. Then that night we were all invited down to Patty's resort at the tip of the island to help out by being in some promotional photos Jason was taking for her website. And they wanted to shoot some photos of the common/dining area so we all got to eat dinner there too - huge lobsters! So we might end up in a few photos on their website - serenity beaches. Her place was amazing, by far the best I've seen in Ha'apai, really cute fales (guest houses) with tik wood from indonesia and open walls with bamboo mats that pull down, cool showers connected in trees behind the fale and bathroom area, nice paths through the bush with lanterns but really natural looking. And hammocks everywhere, and little huts with pillows for hanging out and reading. After that we walked back on the beach under almost a full moon, and had a campfire with the other guests at Captain Cooks, they were from different countries in Europe. I think we counted about 7 countries that were represented that night. The next day it rained pretty hard off and on, luckily it didn't rain through the night since some of our group was sleeping on mats outside! During the night some of our group realized their food had been stolen out of their backpacks or up in trees, so it wasn't animals. Then the next day the owner of the resort wanted us to buy a late lunch - umu food cooked underground and a roasted baby pig. Some of the group did it, then it started pouring in the afternoon and the food took awhile to be ready. The boat ride back was cold and wet, we didn't get back until evening time.

The next day was also rainy, we hung out around the house with Katie and caught up on things back home or here which was fun. Then ate dinner at our one restaurant, Mariner's. I'd heard rumors of a dance/festival going on that night so we wandered to look for it, but nothing was going on except church choir practices. On Tuesday Brett, Katie and I biked up to Foa to the beach at Matafonua resort. It was incredibly windy, with a few sprinkles, but once we got there it cleared up and was gorgeous, we had lunch at the restaurant there and swam at the beach. The bike ride back was also hard with the wind, we had to walk our bikes across the land bridge between islands where the wind was barrelling through. That night Brian and Sabine invited everyone over for a mexican dinner night, it was amazing, really good salsa, chips and tortillas, and salsa/mexican music. Wednesday we saw Katie off at the airport, it was hard saying goodbye knowing we probably won't see more friends from back home for awhile now. In about a month my parents and sister will be here visiting though.

Last night Aki, one of the Japanese volunteers, invited everyone over for Japanese food at her house - tofu, fish, rice, and other dishes that were really good. So after two nights of themed really good meals we decided we needed an American dinner night, we're having that tonight at our house with Brett and I and Eric and Melanie cooking, and Sarah's coming down to help cook too. The menu is home-made mac 'n cheese, hot pocket-like fried sandwhiches with bacon, cheese, onion and green pepper, onion rings, and for desert a chocolate lush cake. Grant even decided to stay for this dinner, he'd planned on going back today. I tried working today for the first time in about three weeks, but my counterpart messaged this morning that she was sick, and I found out the power is still not on at the computer center. We'll see next week if I can get anything done. We did find out that the Fisheries office, right next to our house, got wireless internet! The signal's not strong enough to reach our house, so Brett's trying to set up some cable from the office to hopefully get us Internet at our house!

New photos are posted on the link to the left.