Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Photos of Tongan Food (and a Sunset)

Tongan Food

Tongan Language - Lea Faka-Tonga

Not surprisingly, the Tongan language is very different than any language I’ve studied before. Granted, that limits me to English, German, and Spanish, but I think most any language I had the opportunity to study would still be distinct from Tongan.

Here are some big highlights: Tongan lets the subject go any number of places in the sentence. It can go in the beginning or in the middle. You can use a third kind of construction if you want when using subject pronouns. Verbs aren’t conjugated, but instead there is a tense marker for the four tenses: past, present, future, and present perfect-ish. There’s no straightforward translation of “to be,” but rather a number of different constructions and words to choose from depending if the “to be” denotes location, characteristics, or other information.

Words often have more than one meaning. Like fua, has 14 definitions in the dictionary, ranging from “to bear the burden of” to “to gather from the sea” and “to bear fruit” to “to be afflicted with elephantitis.”

On the other hand, there are many Tongan words that are used for one very specific instance and for nothing else. For instance, punopuna means ”to jump along, or to proceed by jumps or short flights,” and it’s derived from puna, meaning “to jump or fly.”

Sometimes word tricks make Tongan easier to learn. Some words can be very simple, like counting in Tongan. Taha is one, and ua is two. And taha ua is twelve, and ua taha is twenty-one. Manu is animal, and puna is to fly, so a manupuna is a flying animal, or a bird.

Furthermore, the prefix faka means denotes likeness or causation. So, using the word fua and the definition “to bear fruit," fakafua means “to cause to bear fruit, to make fruitful.” Thus, with some words, it’s possible to guess the meaning, and with the prefix faka, that’s very important. In my Tongan-English dictionary, almost one-fifth of the pages dedicated to the Tongan words are pages that include the prefix faka. That’s 111 pages of words all beginning with faka.

(Here’s another example of a word that has a very specific meaning beginning with faka: fakatoutaakalo. “To keep on showing oneself and then dodging away when looked at.” Yes, I look up ridiculous definitions in my dictionary. I live on an outer island. What do you want me to be doing with my time?)

So here’s an example of a Tongan sentence, which would be surely corrected by anyone who actually speaks Tongan:

‘Oku’ ou maa, ko ia ai te’ u fakatoutaakalo. I am shy, therefore I’ll keep showing myself and then dodging away when looked at.

Or here’s another one, with a difference construction:

‘Oku ‘ikai ke feti ‘a Paula. ‘Oku’ ne fua. Paula’s not fat. He’s afflicted with elephantitis.

And I thought those two definitions would be absurd to learn. Seems they come in handy.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

To the newly invited Peace Corps Tonga Group 76

A friend and I were talking, and we realized that it was in April of last year that we learned we would be going to Tonga for the Peace Corps. For anyone who hasn’t applied, the process was long and arduous, so to hear a set location and finally be able to somewhat visualize your life for two years was a relief. In this visualization attempt, we read every Peace Corps Tonga blog we could find. So, in case anyone reading this is a newly accepted PC Tonga Group 76-er, welcome, and here’s a list of what Peace Corps Tonga is (speaking for no one but myself):

Peace Corps Tonga is an amazing experience with great fellow PCVs and Tongan citizens.

It’s trying to learn a new language and culture. And in attempt to apply the language, it’s telling someone you want to “develop severe diarrhea and give instructions,” when you really want to say “organize.”

It’s realizing that what grossed you out in America (staph infections, cockroaches, boils, not washing your hands) can’t gross you out anymore or you would go out of your mind.

It’s everyone asking you when you’re going to cook and eat your dog. (Never, Papi! Don’t worry!)

It’s sitting on your porch just watching the sunset, when someone who just went spear fishing hands you a couple (or five) fresh fish for dinner.

It’s swimming in the ocean with some kids on a rainy day. Or a sunny day. Or a cloudy day.

It’s everyone telling you what to do. Especially with eating. “Eat till you’re full.” “Eat till you’re satisfied.” “Eat till the food’s gone.” “Eat till you’re fat.” It’s being told where to sit, where to stand, to go lie down and rest, and every other command.

It’s finding a good way to ignore doing all of those things.

It’s being the center of attention simply because you’re a palangi, a foreigner. Sometimes you’re like a mark of honor for the community, and sometimes you’re like a fun accessory. Sitting at the head table of every feast is the former, and having Tongans loooove to fix palangi hair is the latter.

It’s every Tongan going out of her way to make sure you’re happy and never acting like that anything a PCV asks for is a burden.

It’s getting excited to see lettuce. (Seriously, I’ve seen it once in six months.)

It’s nodding along in a conversation, agreeing with whatever the other person is saying, until they ask you more than a “yes” or “no” question, and you have to admit you’re lost.

It’s people in the village bringing you a bunch of perhaps 25 bananas, and trying to use them all in breakfast, lunch, dinner, and banana bread for the neighbors before they go bad.

It’s clearing out the fruit fly infestation that came with the bananas.

It’s changing your social life to make Mormon dances the hot thing to do on a Friday night.

It’s your students coming over to your house and being wowed by your ability to shuffle a deck of cards. And entranced by Cascada’s “Everytime We Touch” on your iPod.

It’s going to a kava circle, everyone singing some song just for you, and, at the end, you realized, oh, that was in English.

It’s being asked if you’re looking for a boyfriend/girlfriend in Tonga and, no matter the answer, being set up with someone.

It’s everyone on the entire island knowing who you are and calling out your name as you pass them on a run.

And it’s so much more! We’re so excited to have ya’ll!

Tongan Culture

Being on an outer island has afforded me many opportunities to see “traditional” Tongan. There are only a few families in the village – everyone is related somehow to almost everyone else. Everyone is very close, and thus they know everyone else’s business. But they also have a great sense of “what’s mine is yours” that, I think, might me lost in bigger towns where everyone doesn’t know everyone else. It’s a great experience to be around such giving people.

For instance, my neighbors bring me food almost every day. They’ll share whatever they cook for themselves, usually fish and cassava, bringing it over for lunch or dinner. I’ve accumulated many of their plates and bowls this way, and, one day, when my neighbor and school principal was over, I said, “Oh, here’s your plate!” She corrected me, “It’s ok; it’s our plate.”

I want to learn how to weave one of the traditional belts that Tongan women wear, and this neighbor told me she would teach me how, if I found some fao – the kind of material used for the weaving. I asked her how to go about finding it, and she said, “Just go ask anyone. If they have some, they’ll give it to you. They know you can’t grow your own, so they’ll help you.”

This kind of giving without any expectations of reciprocity has been one of the more outstanding characteristics of my village. The PTA has organized families to feed me three days a week, and they most often bring me a huge shopping basket with chicken, root crops, lobster, and fish. Of course, they know I’m not going to eat all that, and they expect me to give some to the neighbors, to make sure they eat well too.

Families always tell me, if I need anything, just ask. Do I need some yams? How about some hopa? I’ve felt bored, lonely, sick, and anti-social here, but I’ve never felt unwelcome.

Good Days

As most, if not all, Volunteers in the Peace Corps do, I have my ups and downs. Some days I think, “Ugh, nothing’s going right. I can’t speak Tongan. I have no true friends here. My students aren’t learning anything. What am I doing here?” And so on. (Note: I’ve found the best way to combat those days is to go for a run. As I go along the road, everyone says hi to me, and people two villages call my name even though I don’t know who they are. I live in Tongan Mayberry.)

Other days, I think, “This is amazing. I learned so much today! I practiced Tongan a lot, and I hung out with neighbors. I live a stone’s throw from the ocean. This is great.” This past month has included a number of those good days.

The youth group in Ha’ano was preparing for another night of singing. We met about 3 times a week in the evening to practice. One day, we went to the far part of the village to practice. As we were walking back, the bright moon silhouetted the coconut trees. There aren’t streetlights on this part of the road, but we could see the overgrown path in the moonlight. One girl put a Bollywood song on her phone, but we muffled that sound as we were all singing one of the songs we had just learned. It was a great moment when I felt like a true part of the community – I could even sing along in Tongan!

The night continued with more great times. All Mormon churches in Ha’apai were preparing to gather in Pangai for a showcase of different styles of dancing. The Mormon church in Ha’ano chose… square dancing. I thought they were joking when they told me, but sure enough, at practice, we were do-si-do-ing as if we were at a dancehall. Well, not exactly like we were at a dancehall; they were playing reggae and hip-hop songs to dance to. I was so excited about my bit of Texicana that I told a couple of people that square dancing is popular where I’m from. Their response: “Would you like to teach the dance?” I politely declined.

Radio Tonga One: The One and Only

…Radio station, that is. Radio in Tonga is the source of entertainment. Every house has the radio on almost all day. When I walk along the road, I’ll hear an entire song as I go, since every house is playing the radio. And it makes sense why: radios are cheap and they don’t need to be plugged in.

Radios are so ubiquitous that if the Peace Corps has something important to share with Volunteers, they might broadcast it on the radio and ask Tongans to tell a local PCV about the news. Sure enough, the first day I was in Tonga, there was a tsunami warning, and the PC broadcast that all Volunteers were required to do such and such. A PCV received a handful of phone calls from Tongans letting her know what they had heard on the radio.

Radios are a big part of education too. For an hour every morning, there are three 20-minute segments of radio-led instruction. For instance, at 9am, there might be a program for class 2 about Tongan, 9:20, class 6 about math, and 9:40, class 4 about English. On Fridays, there’s an hour-long radio program for all teachers, and we sit and listen to the radio. Or, they sit and listen to the radio while I plan lessons or work on a project.

Radio-led programs begin like this:

Radio: Good morning, class 4.

Class 4: [robotically] Good morning, Lisia.

R: How are you?

C: We are fine, thank you. How are you?

R: I’m doing very well too, thank you.

They continue, at least for the English lessons, with a story. The students hear some vocabulary for the story, which I write on the board, and perhaps a definition. Often the definitions are harder to understand than the actual word. (“Wisdom. Wisdom means the state of being sensible.”) We then listen to the story. I try to act out the story or draw things on the board, but mostly the students are lost.

Hopefully I’ll find a way to make the radio programs more productive. Or maybe I’ll be the only person on the island to turn it off.

Schoolhouse Rock

There are two primary schools on Kauvia; my primary school serves the two towns at this end of the island, and there’s a second primary school at the other end of the island for those two towns. There are 25 students in my entire school, classes 1-6. Since classes are so small (class 4 has only 2 students!), they are combined: classes 1-3 together and classes 4-6 together. There are 3 teachers, myself included. I teach English to classes 4-6 for about 2 hours each morning. English instruction isn’t on the syllabus for classes 1-3, but I hope to incorporate some English instruction for them, maybe through extracurriculars.

My class consists of 9 students in 3 grades, but 6 different levels of English. Teaching one grade is difficult enough, but for me the objectives for each class differ widely, making lesson planning a difficult endeavor. I have to consider the student who has almost no English but also the students who are preparing for a test that expects them to recognize “gather” and “distribute” as antonyms. To top it all off, there’s not a syllabus that the Ministry of Education has given. There are “modules,” vague descriptions of what students should know. But, “ability to communicate in English” is not a very concrete goal, so for the most part, I have created/have to create my own year-long plan.

It’s difficult to determine how much English each class knows. A student in class 6 might not be able to use the correct conjugation of a verb in a simple sentence, but he knows what a spotlight is. In preparing for what I see as a very difficult test for students with only three years of regular English instruction, finding how to challenge without getting discouraged is difficult.