Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Family has Arrived!!

My parents and sister got here to Ha'apai, Tonga on Thursday, basically on their own private jet (they were on the smallest plane to Ha'apai, it was just them and the pilot and my dad got to sit co-pilot). We greeted them with flower leis, and have been relaxing, catching up and hanging out at our place, and at the island south of us at a really nice resort. Today we got them all dressed up in the Tongan styles for church, and tomorrow we're going out on a boat snorkeling. More to come later, we'll be leaving this week for a couple weeks vacation with them in New Zealand so we probably won't post again until after that trip.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Voyaging the South Pacific Seas

We never really know what our week will be like here, for example in the middle of this week we had a little oceanic adventure visiting some outer islands! It was our first longer trip on the ocean here, we went with a few Peace Corps staff that were going for a site visit to the outer islands here to see Monica, Eric and Melanie. It turned out to be three staff members, us and Alicia, and four kids/neice of some of the staff including two babies on the boat. The boat was the Catholic church's boat, it was a pretty good size. (yes most churches have their own boats here, the Morman church has the fastest boat). The trip started out fine, then between the Lifuka and Ha'afeva island groups, when there was mostly just open ocean, the waves got huge and we rolled over them in big up and down motions like a teeter-totter. I would've been fine if I hadn't gotten up during the trip so I was sick, and another lady was sick almost the whole time. And to make it worse, after I started feeling sick I couldn't get up or move around and happened to be sitting in the hot sun so I got pretty sunburned as well.

(photos - on the boat ride in to Tungua)

We thought we'd be going to both Tungua and Ha'afeva, but Eric and Melanie were on Monica's island, Tungua, for church drama practice so we were able to visit them all in one stop. The trip from our island to Tungua took four hours, I think I heard it's only about 20 or 30 miles, but the local boats are so slow. The scenery was a lot different around Tungua and Ha'afeva, from shore we could see about 10 other islands, some big, some tiny little clumps of coconut trees. And they were higher up, rockier than our flat little island. It was really pretty with the aqua water and reefs, and little islands dotting the sea. Kao and Tofua volcanoes are a lot closer to this island group, so they looked huge on the horizon compared to how we see them on Lifuka. When we got closer to Tungua you could see how shallow the water all around was, and this island doesn't have a wharf. So the captain called out to one of the small fishing boats close to shore to come pick us up, we all jumped between boats, then pulled up to land. Monica's house was really nice, it was an old army medical station, so it's pretty big and was kept up nice. She doesn't have any running water or electricity. Her house is probably the second closest to the ocean after ours, she has a grass lawn between the house and ocean with a bunch of horses roaming around on it. And there weren't really any roads, it's a tiny island, they just use footpaths between houses and buildings through the grassy fields. It was really nice to see Monica, Eric and Melanie, and was too bad that we had such a long boat ride and could only stay for a couple of hours. We had to leave by 3:00 to get back before it was pitch dark - the boats here don't have lights and nothing is lit up coming through the reefs or into the wharf. So travel really depends on the weather, tide and time of day.

(photos - inside Monica's house, and looking from the beach at Monica's house)

I fell asleep on the way back, woke up an hour into the trip and realized we were moving pretty slow. They said there was something wrong with the engine, so we had to turn back to Ha'afeva. Luckily we were really close to Ha'afeva when this happened, if it had been between island groups we could've ended up drifting! So they pulled the boat in close to the wharf, then we sat there for over an hour and a half bobbing in the waves, waiting for the tide to come in so the water would be deep enough for our boat to pull up to the little wharf. I'm sure it was quite a spectacle seeing three palangis (us and Alicia), and the others getting stranded there. Eric and Melanie's school principle recognized us from a training he'd come to, and brought us all to the catholic house on the island to wait for Eric and Melanie to get back. The younger girl that was one of the staff's neice suggested we do a prayer, and she sang a really pretty song. Then one of the Peace Corps staff did a prayer, and got pretty emotional. It was probably scary for them breaking down at sea with the little kids on board. It's not often, but once in awhile people end up drifting at sea - engine problems or more often they forget to bring enough petrol for the trip. I can't imagine going out to the open sea and not remembering to bring enough gas, but I guess it happens.
(photo - Ha'afeva island, Eric and Melanie's white house on the left)
It turned out good though, we got to see Ha'afeva and Eric and Melanie's house and spend more time with them- us and Alicia spent the night at their house. Their house is really cute, they say it's like a dollhouse and it is, with the pink trim and it's set up really nice. And they have a cute little puppy they named America, almost all of us here have puppies now! We sat and talked, and had pancakes for dinner. The next morning the staff had told us to meet at the wharf at 5:00am. We were pretty doubtful the boat would be fixed and everyone would be ready to leave that early, but we set an alarm and a couple people went and checked a little after 5:00am. And of course, it was pitch dark, the boat was still anchored far out, and no one was there. So they went to check with the staff, and they were all still sleeping! Tongans don't have the same concept of time as we do, they just tell you a time to meet but it probably won't be true, things happen when they happen here and I think it's foreign to them that we always want to know times - when things will begin or end etc. So the staff said they'd check with the boat captain, we heard we wouldn't leave until 8:00 am so went back to sleep. Then one of the kids came to the house at 7:00 am saying we need to leave now. We knew it would probably still be awhile, so went to see Eric and Melanie's school and classroom, and walked around town a little. Their village is set up really nice- everyone has fenced in, well-kept yards and there are two main streets. We got down to the wharf, and the others still weren't there but this time the boat was, we ended up leaving around 8:00. The three hour ride back was incredibly rocky, but this time I didn't get up or move around at all so I was fine.
It was an eventful, but really fun trip to get to see our friends out there and the islands and villages they live in! I was happy to get back to our place here, and to be on land again. Luckily we got back in time so I was able to prepare and teach my community computer class again, this time to two students - the church conference is taking priority over everything else for most people. At this time next week my parents and sister will be here for a week, then we're all off to New Zealand for two weeks!

Monday, May 11, 2009


A perfect sunday - yachting in the south pacific to a deserted island with perfect sandy beaches, and two volcanoes on the horizon. That's how we spent our mother's day sunday here in Tonga, Happy Mother's Day back home today! The couple that owns Mariner's restaurant here has this yacht, before coming to Tonga they sailed the world from Africa to the Caribbean to the south pacific. Pretty amazing, it's great sailboat but I can't imagine spending over 40 days crossing an ocean without ever seeing land! Brett and I and Grant got an invitation for this yachting trip late on Sat. night, you never know here what will come up the next day! For lunch on Uoleva we had really delicious red snapper fish, and hung out on the beach with some coconut drinks before heading back with Brian and Sabine who had dropped off some tourists on their boat at a resort there. Most of the puppies that were there in April are gone now, probably given away to people. Our friends took home one of the last puppies, really cute and easy-going.
On Saturday we had a few people over and grilled fish and potatoes over a bonfire on the beach, it's nice now with the weather a little cooler. The Church of Tongan conference has also begun, music started blasting on Friday from their big tent and church hall. It seriously went all day Friday and Saturday from early morning to evening, and I'm surprised we can hear it as loud as we can at our house since the church is half-way across town. We went and watched some dance competitions at their church tent on Saturday morning, they were all decked out in flower leis and fancy ta'ovalas. And there have been tons of people around town, yesterday they ran out of bread at the bakery really early but luckily our friends had already picked us up a loaf, which we later ended up splitting with our neighbors since they hadn't gotten any bread. It's amazing how much we end up sharing and receiving things from our neighbors.
We've been busy with work this last week. But this time for my computer class only three students showed up instead of the original five, and we'd even had five new students sign up the day before so there should have been ten. I really don't understand why Tongans sign up for something if they're not even planning on attending. They know the date and time, they signed up the day before the class. For the next class in June we'll have to figure out how to do some things differently. I was happy that three students were there and really happy to be learning about computers, one even showed up with a broken hand, for a typing class! And two showed up early to practice before class started. But my counterparts didn't show up, it was just me for the entire class so I'll have to make sure that doesn't happen again which might be hard this week with the church conference going on. Brett has been helping his school set up a new computer and printer, and set up report cards with photos of each student.
Locals have been fishing more now for things other than fish - turtles and sharks. Our friend Grant told us they've been catching a lot of sharks lately on his island so he's been eating shark. And our neighbors recently had a turtle umu - cooking it underground whole in it's shell. Almost everyday we can see people fishing out from our beach - usually snorkeling with a net or spears. And vegetables will be coming back into season soon, tomatoes are growing right now at the high school's garden and we just got some cabbage from them. There was an art fair there over the weekend, with really cheap handicrafts and some produce.
At the end of next week my parents and sister will be here for a week, then we all head to New Zealand for a couple of weeks!
New photos will be posted on the link to the left.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Wahoo = really big fish

On Saturday the rugby tournaments in Ha'apai began, the season runs until sometime in July with games in Pangai every Saturday and teams from all the different villages and some of the closer outer islands - Lofanga, Ha'ano Foa, and Uiha. Our peace corps friend Grant is on his island's team so we went to watch that game. It was a pretty big deal, with lots of spectators, a tent for all the officials/game board, a dj with music during half-time, announcers, and a marching band.

That night our dive shop friends from Fins 'n Flukes called to say they had caught some fish and to see if we wanted to host a dinner party with it. I'd expected the normal couple of reef fish, but when they got to our place they had a huge bowl full of already cut up fish slabs, and the fish they'd caught were two wahoos about 3 feet long each!! They had brought out a german tourist who caught the fish so he came to enjoy the feast as well, we had about 9 people total for dinner. The fish fillets were huge, Brian, Brett and Phil prepared them fried on the stove top, some sashimi raw fish, and some ota ika - raw fish in coconut cream with lime juice, onions and tomatoes. We also had a fire out on the beach and roasted potatoes out there, some of our neighbor kids were out there too singing different Tongan songs, most to the tune of fera jacques. One song was head and shoulders to that tune in Tongan, another was "where is jesus, he's not here, he's risen" to that same tune. We'll have to have more bonfires on the beach now that the weather is cooling off a little.

On Sunday it was a Tongan holiday - Faka me (children's day). Many of the Tongans were up all night preparing food for the feasts and mats to wear or flower leis. We were invited up to Alicia's village along with Phil to go to their church service and feast, and planned on going to our neighbor's weslyn church in the afternoon and evening for their feast. All the kids and youth were dressed in all white, with really intricate, fancy ta'ovalas (mats) wrapped around them, and flower leis. The church service was full of mostly just the kids and youth, and some of the men - most of the women were still preparing food for the feast. During the service the kids went up front at different times and recited bible verses or song verses. Instead of talking in a normal voice most shouted very loudly in their little kid voices, it was pretty funny. Alicia's dog kept sneaking into the church during the service as well. Aftewards we all went to the church hall next door for the feast, the tables were covered in layers of food - whole roasted pigs, plates of hot dogs, chicken and fish, noodles, potato salad, watermelon, cake with custard pudding, cans of pop, and baskets full of bags of chips, candy, apples, pears, and more pop. And as usual at these events, there were no napkins, only a spoon for silverware, and no plate settings - you just started eating out of any of the plates heaped in front of you on the table. There were speeches as normal during the whole event, Phil stood up and gave a short speech in Tongan on behalf of all of us peace corps there, thanking them for having us. When we got back home our neighbors called us over and handed us a huge plate of leftover food, they said they had thought the feast would be in the evening but after the morning service all the kids wanted to have the feast for lunch so they did. We still went to the 3:00 service to see the kids recite some bible verses, sing, and act out some skits, but left early since it was still not even close to being done at 4:00. It was a busy day, full of food and church activities.

Today we woke up, opened our back door and saw Tofua, the volcanic island, smoking more than I've seen it smoke before. We could see a big white cloud of smoke coming up from the volcano. That means there could be an earthquake soon. Most of the earthquakes are so small we don't feel them, we didn't even feel the last big earthquake!
Brett is swinging in the hammock in our living room like a little kid right now, we just had fish and onion rings for dinner and stopped up at Mariner's earlier to meet some friends. We walked into Mariner's expecting to just see the usual crew but found a lot of other palangis as well - the yachties are just starting to arrive, the first yacht came in this afternoon! So it's the very beginning of the tourist season, and there are also already more people in town for the church of Tonga conference that's happening next week. It's always fun meeting and talking to new people, usually at Mariner's since it's the one restaurant in town. Most of them have been traveling for a long time through many countries and it's interesting to hear some of their stories, and they're usually curious about hearing what we do here as well.