Monday, December 28, 2009

Palangi style holidays in Ha'apai

Well we're going on round two of holidays here in Tonga, we've had two Halloweens, Thanksgivings and now Christmases here. Only now we're the old volunteers - having been here longer in Tonga, but also in age compared to the new group. During one of our conversations over Christmas Brett and I mentioned Zubas (the popular zebra-striped baggy pants from the 80s), and the new volunteers all had blank stares and no idea what we were talking about. I guess most of them were born in the late 80s, we are getting old! I remember last Christmas was hard, the first big holiday away from home and having just moved into our site. Grant, the volunteer who had been here for a year, planned a Christmas get-away to his island which was really nice. So this year we planned a get-away to Uoleva island, to the nicest resort with all the new volunteers. It was great - snorkeling, laying on the beach, hanging out in hammocks, and we cooked some good meals - pasta and for Christmas a turkey dinner with stuffing and mashed potatoes. Brett and another volunteer, Todd, went spear fishing the first day and after they'd speared a couple of fish Brett saw his first shark! He said he just saw the white tip carving through the water, then saw the rest of the shark and said it was pretty big, maybe 5 or 6 feet. It was a white-tip reef shark, usually not dangerous, but then again Brett had a bag of fish with him! He watched the shark until it disapeared around the reef out of sight, then made a beeline for the shore with Todd. Lucky, our dog, came with us too to the resort and stuck by our side the whole time, she did better than I thought she would on her first boat ride. And all the other dogs survived while we were gone, none of them became dinner.
Overall I think this Christmas was easier than the last, because now we're settled into our home and community here. It didn't really even feel like a holiday until we skyped with our families back home. One of my uncles, cousin, and Brett all play guitar and usually play together over the holidays, so this year they all played guitar together over skype. Technology is amazing, it would be a very different experience here without the Internet. And there have been big changes now in the new group from when we first arrived - many of them now have Internet in their homes, some even wireless. And the connection has gotten better, we weren't able to use skype until about half-way through this year.

For New Years we're planning some kind of bonfire beach party, and will go to the east side of the island to be the first to watch the sunrise of the new year like we did last year. We still have time off from work, so we've just been hanging out. More new photos are posted in our picassa album. Thanks for the comments on our last few blog posts, we like hearing from people!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from Tonga! We'll be spending Christmas Eve and Christmas on Uoleva, the uninhabited island south of us, at Serenity Beaches resort. So most of our time there will be spent sun tanning on the beach, snorkeling or spear fishing, and just hanging out in the hammocks and little fales at the resort. We're going with the 5 new volunteers here and our japanese volunteer neighbor. We'll miss not having a white Christmas for the second year now, but are not missing the cold weather. It doesn't really feel as much like Christmas here - no commercialization of it at least with no big department stores here to decorate and to have Christmas sales, etc. But we have heard Christmas music on the radio, mixed with rap songs. And the Tongan barbeque restaurant has Christmas lights outside. And for some reason, all the kids are running around with fake toy guns now for Christmas, the chinese stores are selling them. For our trip to Uoleva I also did make a few Christmas cookies, with ingredients from a package from home.

A few random updates from this week - last night we had a real Japanese dinner at our neighbor Koichi's house who is a volunteer from Japan. He's going to teach us how to make a few dishes, and real teriyaki sauce. Over the weekend we had a bonfire on our beach with the new volunteers who just moved to Ha'apai last week, and friends in town. Lately we've just been hanging out, enjoying time off now for the holidays. Brett brought one of the new volunteers spear fishing today. More fruit is coming into season now with the hot weather - pineapples, passion fruit, and hopefully soon we'll have mangos, guava and avocado. We always have bananas, I don't think I'll ever be able to eat bananas again after being overloaded with them here. That's about all the updates for now, hope everyone has a Merry Christmas back home!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Tourism Festival in Tonga

Today was the tourism festival here in Ha'apai, and since I now work for the tourism bureau I took lots of photos for them and for the new website. I also got roped into being a judge for the English speech competition on the importance of tourism here in Ha'apai. It was supposed to be a tourism week, but was cut down to only one day-long event of a float parade, arts and crafts display, speech competition, and lots of dances and singing competitions. It is a little odd that they have the tourism festival in December, when there are absolutely no tourists around in the off-season, but they do have more overseas Tongans back in Tonga for the holidays. Some of the highlights - one of the floats had actual running power tools on it (pretty sure that wouldn't be allowed in the US for safety reasons!), another had a live fire pit going that they were feeding with leaves from the bush, it was the float for the local restaurant and they were pretending to cook! I was really impressed with how decked out all the trucks and cars were for the parade, and how many there were for our small town - about 25! In attendence we had the Ambassador of China as guest of honor, Miss Tonga and Miss Tonga Tourism. Another highlight - judging the English speeches by high school kids, I realized one of the speeches I had actually helped edit and write - the Governor's office had asked for my help for a speech I'd assumed one of them was giving, but actually it was for this high school kids' speech competition! It was pretty obvious that other adults had written many of these speeches when the kids couldn't pronounce many of the words. And there were still many mispellings, my favorite was "scooper diving" instead of scuba diving. It seemed like a few of the kids had written their own speeches, so I tried to judge those with higher scores. I'm not sure who ended up winning, we left before the prize-giving since we'd already been there over 5 hours and just couldn't sit through anymore singing and dancing.
We also heard today that there's a cyclone category 2 in Fiji, heading our way maybe on Wednesday or so. We'll see what happens, the waves have been pretty big so we'll probably get some kind of storm here. I think we're pretty used to the natural disasters now so we're not too worried about this one.
*Update on Cyclone Mick, it's heading farther south now so will probably miss Tonga and we'll just get strong winds and rain here.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Weekend Update

Here are a few updates from this last week - Thursday was the last day of school for Brett's students. So they had a program with dancing, lots of long speeches, and class presentations. For each class, they called the students' names and had them stand in front of the whole school and all the parents that were watching. But they called the names in a certain order - starting with the worst student to the smartest student. So everyone could see the order and knew how each kid did in school. I can't imagine that happening in the US, those poor kids that didn't do so well! The class 6 students got their scores back from their big exam which determines what high school they will attend. Those scores are announced later this month on the radio for everyone to hear. Over half of Brett's class made it into the local government high school which is really good, the rest are able to attend church-run high schools. Below is a video of some of the dancing the kids did. The kid in the corner of the video was playing drums on a peice of tin roof. The guy laughing at the end is Brett's class 6 teacher. The second video shows some kids singing at the year-end celebration.

On Friday through the weekend we had a married couple, Kathy and Rob, from the new group stay with us for what Peace Corps calls attachment. The trainees all go and stay with current volunteers to see what real Peace Corps life is like. I think they were all pretty happy to be done with homestay and to have more freedom. On Friday we all went out to Mariner's for karoake, it was fun to have a new big group of people there and to get some new songs in instead of the same old songs that are usually done. Then on Saturday we all went to Uoleva island for a day trip. We went snorkeling and Brett speared a nice sized parrot fish. Brian also caught quite a few fish in deeper waters - the entire time he said a shark was following him. So I think the new volunteers saw a good part of life here in Ha'apai.

Now Brett's done with his job at the school - the school year here runs Feb - early Dec., but I'm still working. He's just been hanging around the house enjoying time off, and doing some paddle boarding with the foam surf board Phil left. At MAFF on Monday I helped with planting some flowers, they had a workshop on Tuesday with people from the main island so they were trying to get the place looking really nice before the meeting. I heard that they're expecting months without rain, a really dry rainy season this year. They've even been trying to conserve some of the city water by turning it off at night. But of course just as we were hanging our clothes out to dry after doing laundry today it did rain a little. We don't have much planned for the rest of this week. Next week on Monday is the Tourism Festival (it's not really for foreign tourists since it's the off-season, but for overseas Tongans that are returning for the holidays).