Thursday, May 27, 2010

It's a Zoo Around Here

I'm used to having all kind of animals making noises around me. Most common are dogs barking and fighting and the geckos chirping. Next most common would be pigs snorting and digging holes in their search for food. Less frequent, but still almost daily, I'll hear chickens, cats, and cows.

Then, last night, I was sitting in my house, reading my book, enjoying the silence of the night, when I heard a goat. It's not a goat off in the distance; it's a goat in my backyard.

My village doesn't have goats. There are goats in the village on the other end of the island, but not here in Ha'ano, and certainly not in the school compound.

Even so, there most certainly was a goat in my backyard. Who knows how it got there, or why.

It continued screaming for several hours. The goat didn't bleat. It screamed. It's voice was cracking from straining so hard. I think at one point it even said my name.

Then suddenly, it stopped. And the next morning, there was no sign of a goat.

So it goes.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Photos from Ha'ano

Here are pictures of the students, food, and Fakame - a Sunday in May for the children to present Bible passages in the church, and then eat a feast.

Ha'ano May 2010">

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Completely Foreign Concepts

On the Tongan radio, of which I am so fond, there is a new program – the morning traffic watch. Listeners are asked to call in and tell what they see on the road. The radio announcer encourages people to say anything about the “traffic” on the road, most of which turns out to be a chicken, a group of pigs, or nothing. Many mornings I think of what I would say for the Ha’ano traffic watch.

“None of the three trucks on the island is on the road, so dog and horse-and-cart traffic are flowing freely.”

“No need to take a detour, folks; the child walking on the road has gotten off the road.”

A few weeks ago, Radio Tonga One did a “New Zealand-style” traffic watch about the traffic on Tongatapu, the main island. It was similar to my Ha’ano traffic watch.
Even before the traffic watch program began on the radio, I’d thought of how I would explain, in Tongan, my brother’s job. Could Tongan’s grasp the idea that, in some places, there are so many cars on the road, that people go up in airplanes to look at how backed up everything is and find a solution?

Another non-Tongan, but highly-American, concept I’ve explained is babysitting. In a country where 2-year-olds wander around with minimal to no supervision and 5-year-olds bring machetes to school to sharpen their pencils, how do you explain that, in America, if the parents are busy, they’ll pay someone to watch their kids?

Tongan Exercise: Fakamalohisino Faka-Tonga

When I decide it’s not too hot to go running, I usually run through the bush to a village about a mile away called Pukotala. A few hours after school one day, I was sitting on my porch tying my laces when I heard a new phrase I just taught my class:

“Hi, Pele, what’s up?”

It was three of my students on their daily wanderings.

“Nothing much.” (the response I taught them) “Te u ‘alu ‘o fakamalohisino.” I’m going exercising.

“Oh, tau ‘alu ‘o fakamalohisino?” Oh, we’re going exercising?

I rolled my eyes at the thought of these kids – barefoot and in jean shorts – running down the semi-paved road with me. Though they were quite capable on Sports Day, I doubted they could run for a couple of miles. Even so, I said sure. “Tau ‘alu.” Let’s go.

Not 2 minutes outside the village gate they stopped.

“Kuava!” They pointed to a guava tree on the side of the road, and stopped to grab a snack. We had handfuls of guavas to eat as we carried on at a jog.

Less than 5 minutes later: “Tava!” I looked all around us, but I couldn’t find the tree they were talking about. They pointed. “Look!” I didn’t see. “Look!” They pointed more forcefully. After squinting in the direction they indicated, sure enough, I saw a tree bearing the little, lime-sized tava fruits. At first (and second) glance it was only a tree. How did these kids see the tava right away – while eating guavas and running, nonetheless?

We continued on to the Pukotala gate then turned around to get those tavas. The boys jumped into the brush and headed towards the tree. One boy climbed the tree as if it were a simple staircase.

A boy pointed to the road. “Pele, go there.”

As soon as I was out from under the tree, the boy in the tree shook a limb. Down poured tavas, not unlike the Skittles: Taste the Rainbow commercials. They scooped tavas into their shirts, and I pushed them into my pockets. When we had enough, we started ambling down the road, eating as we went.

“Pele, ko e ha e lea-faka-Palangi ki ‘vao’?” Pele, what’s the English word for “forest?”

“Ki ‘kuava’?” For guava?

“Ki e? Ki eni?” For that? For this?

These kids were enthusiastic about learning English! Though they didn’t seem to always pay attention or be interested in class, they were excited to learn out here!

They weren’t the only ones. I asked them everything: who that person was on the road, how to tell if a guava is ripe, what the Tongan word is for “pocket.” And they were more than happy to tell me all those answers – even mixing some English words in with their Tongan.

I might be shy with groups of Tongan youth or adults – too embarrassed at the possibility of making mistakes in Tongan – but with these kids, it was easy to talk and joke. Though I didn’t get my heartrate up during that run, it was one of my favorite workouts in a long time.

PCVs Visit Ha'ano

A few weeks ago, John and Juleigh, PCVs in Pangai, came up to Ha’ano for the three-day weekend. (It was ANZAC day, but if you ask any Tongan what “ANZAC” stands for – much less what the holiday is about – you’d get an answer along the lines of, “Australia/New Zealand Something Something.”)

I love PCVs coming to visit me. Of course, I’d love any chance to see them, but they also bring good food to give me a break from my root crop existence. When these two came, they brought real palangi food. We ate very well. (That’s a typical “hey, howya doin’” type question in Tonga: Did you eat well?)

Over the course of their trip, we had:

- Tacos compete with ground beef, homemade tortillas, real cheese, and salsa
- Chocolate chip cookies (I finally made them, Mom!)
- Macaroni and cheese with sausage
- Garlic pasta
- Fish curry
- Pancakes, sausage, and scrambled eggs
- Breakfast burritos
- Popcorn
- Thin Mint-like cookies
- Cookies we have lovingly dubbed “crack cookies” because they’re so addictive (Lil’ Dutch Maid is imported from Abilene, Texas, for anyone venturing to try them.)
- Watermelon
- One “large” green pepper brought all the way from Tongatapu by Juleigh. Most peppers in Ha’apai are smaller than a baby’s fist, so to see one that would maybe make it to an American grocery store (only to be passed over because it’s a weird shape) is impressive.

But one thing that really got me excited that isn’t exciting to many others: bread. We had sandwiches! We made grilled cheese! The possibilities were endless… until it molded.

It rained most of the weekend. My yard is more flooded than I’ve ever seen it; there are parts where the water was up to my ankles. We spent most of the time just hanging around, reading, and sleeping. (Minus the reading part, we sound like Tongans.) There were some activity highlights though:

- A number of fellows around town had been asking me about Juleigh. Since her last visit, she had attracted some of the youths’ attentions. One of them asked if she would tou’a at kava while she was here, and Juleigh said ok, so long as I went too. Though that’s not generally ok to have more than one tou’a, they made an exception. So, on Friday night, the palangis invaded the kava kalapu. Here’s more on that kava experience. There were two kava circles that night – something I hadn’t seen before. I was planning on joining one circle with Juleigh at the other, but, lo and behold, there was a Tongan tou’a already there! I’d never before seen a Tongan tou’a! I thought everyone on the island was related to each other and thus not allowed to tou’a, but this girl from Fakakakai (a town down the island) apparently fit the bill for an acceptable tou’a – and she even wanted to!

Not only was this girl interesting, but the men at the circles were interesting. Juleigh pointed out one gent to me. He was sitting on the other side of the room, drinking from a milk box and wearing a woman’s lace jacket-like thing. Upon his standing up, we realized this was not just a jacket-like thing, but rather a floor-length negligee. No Tongan at the circle gave him a second glance. Ah, this country.

- We also went swimming. Tongans don’t go swimming when it’s hot. They say that it’s too hot to go swimming; they prefer to swim when it’s cool. So, following the Tongans’ lead, we went swimming during the downpour on Monday.

John brought his puppy, Banjo, and Banjo and Papi play like maniacs the whole weekend. They would run and crash into walls and buildings. Papi was exhausted after his new friend left.

Last time John, Juleigh, and Todd were in Ha’ano, there was a tsunami warning brought on by the earthquake in Chile. Though there were no tsunamis we know of, there were a couple of earthquakes one night. Juleigh, the earthquake expert – being from California, brought the first one to my attention. I thought it was just a strong wind rattling things in the house.

John and Juleigh were supposed to stay until Monday, and then go back that afternoon with the schoolkids who had come back to Ha’ano for the long weekend. Instead, they were told on Monday afternoon that the boat would leave on Tuesday in the early morning. We, of course, didn’t know what time that meant, so we woke up at 5:30am, packed in the dark (since there’s no electricity and the sun hadn’t come up), and went to the porch by the dock to wait.

Eventually they sailed off, and it was back to the routine on my little island.

The Hatchings

Most evenings, after the sun has set, the only sound I hear is the waves crashing against the shore. But about a month ago, the general silence was broken by an incessant tinging sound – the sound of bugs throwing themselves on my fluorescent light bulb. I looked at the ceiling. It was covered with little bugs. It was covered like an anthill just before it gets kicked by some kid. Even the gecko-like lizards didn’t go to eat them – there were too many, and it was, well, gross.

I grabbed my bug spray. I sprayed all over the ceiling with little consideration for the things on the ground that the moribund bugs would soon be writhing on top of. For the next hour there was a consistent pit-pit-pit sound of bugs falling to the floor. They continued falling, though with less gusto, until the morning. I then swept out the thousands of little carcasses from my house.

Another PCV later suggested that it was a hatching; he had had similar issues with another kind of bug in his house.

More recently, there has been another hatching. There’s a new moth that just appeared. Its body is the size of my pinky finger, and its wings beat so fast that there’s a low hum whenever it’s near.

I first encountered this moth when I was lying in bed. There was some excessive thudding on the other side of the room, and I thought it must be a big cockroach slowly dying. I shined a light over to see, and, of course, it was this monstrous moth.

I’ve since been “attacked” in the shower. One flew into the shower building, attracted to the light, and it kept dive-bombing my partition of the building. I eventually sprayed it with my trusted bug spray, only to have a second evil hummingbird-like insect enter. I was so disgusted, I nearly ran out of the shower, though good thing I didn’t because it opens onto my neighbors backyard.

Readers may be scoffing that I am grossed out by large moths, but, dear readers, remember that it has taken me almost 7 months to get to the point where I don’t run screaming out of the bathroom when I see a cockroach in there. (Didn’t you note how blasé I was about the possibility there was a large roach in my room?)

My island of Kauvai is unique in many ways but in one great way in particular: no molokaus. Molokaus are centipedes that are aggressive and difficult to kill. They creep and lurk in the worst places, and their bite is apparently more painful than a beesting. One PCV moved a pillow on his bed only to find he was about to lie down on a molokau. Another found one crawling out of her sink. And so on with molokau horror stories. But there aren’t any on my island, so, phew.

The Toketaa’s In: Tongan/Palangi MedicineThe Toketaa’s In: Tongan/Palangi Medicine

One of the first things Peace Corps medical staff tells Peace Corps Trainess is, “Don’t use Tongan medicine.”

- Got a stomach ache? Here’s a bitter fruit-thing from a tree.

- Got a boil? Wrap this old, torn shirt that says “Ruck Fules” around your arm, foot, head, etc.

- Got a sore back/sprained ankle? I’m going to twist and punch the affected area.

- Got a cut? Let’s boil some leaves together and mush it around in the wound.

All these have been personally witnessed. The PC staff doesn’t mean that those methods don’t work, but antibiotics and pills might be better.

I’ve been having some problems with my eye – it gets red and watery a lot – and some people ask me if I want some Tongan medicine for it. My principal jumps in, “No, the Peace Corps doesn’t allow them to use Tongan medicine.” Phew. Who knows where that might have ended up.

As another PCV has said, one great thing about being a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tonga is it automatically makes you qualified to do many things you would never be qualified to do in the States. Teach English, for one. But also, lead exercise classes, fix computers (or at least they assume you are whiz at fixing computers), and be a doctor.

A couple of years ago, the PCV at my site before me, Grant, had a kid come to his house for Grant to bandage him up. That’s not uncommon. I’ve doctored up some pretty bad cuts on these kids, at least by my standards. But Grant’s experience pales mine: the kid was whacked in the leg with a machete by accident. Not important enough to rush to the hospital right away, but surely the Pisikoa would be able to fix the boy, right?

My experiences have been mostly washing cuts, giving out bandaids, and giving simple hygiene instructions. I’m, of course, happy to help anyone who comes to me, and I hope after hearing it enough times, they’ll realize how to doctor themselves. (My newest first-aid tip that I’m pushing: If you have a cut on your foot, you must wear shoes. One kid’s foot had a huge gash on the sole, and he had walked the kilometer to school barefooted anyway.)

Note: All the medical supplies (Harry Potter glow-in-the-dark bandaids, ointments, gauze, etc.) all came from the US Navy. (Despite all the things they gave us, they didn’t include tape, so I’m getting creative in doctoring up these wounds.) A year or two ago, a US naval ship came to Ha’apai on a humanitarian mission to a number of different islands and countries in the Pacific. They checked out medical conditions that doctors might not have been able to help with Tongan resources. The vet saw animals all over the country, and PCVs often got their pets spayed or neutered. (Can’t you guys come back and neuter Papi?)

Note Two: For such a religious country, Tonga also has a strong history of old spirituality – namely a genuine fear of the devil. Someone could curse you or the devil could catch you in the dark, and you’d then be puke tevolo, you’d have the devil sickness. A girl in the community was possessed a few years back. She writhed and screamed all night but eventually was exorcised. What a relief.

The Tongan All-Blacks: Funerals and Mourning

When I was packing to come to Tonga, I clung to the Peace Corps suggested packing list. Among other things that made me raise my eyebrows was “several black outfits.” In case the king died, the Peace Corps wanted to be sure that we could immediately mourn like Tongans in a culturally appropriate way – by wearing all black for a year. I scoffed, thinking about the slim chance that we step out of the airport and the king keels over. (Upon looking at pictures from earlier Peace Corp groups’ arrivals, it seems one group was told to wear all black off the airplane, since the king had died within the year prior. Maybe Peace Corps was right.) Still, I dutifully brought a black shirt, skirt, and sweater, just in case tragedy struck the Kingdom. (It didn’t.)

I’m now learning more about the Tongan traditions about death, since a community member passed away a few weeks ago.

After I returned from Nuku’alofa, a friend came over. I was surprised when I saw her; hair was cut short – just below the ears. This was very unusual, since most Tongan women let their hair grow long and always wear it in braids or a ponytail. She was also wearing all black and an enormous ta’ovala – the traditional Tongan mat worn around the waist for formal occasions.

I knew her adoptive father (her real grandfather) was sick. He had gone to the hospital, but there was nothing the doctors could do, so he returned to Ha’ano. After seeing Mele – what she was wearing and her hair, I knew her father had died.

Americans traditionally wear black to the funeral, but here in Tonga the length of time “in mourning” (and thus marked by all-black attire) is dictated by the importance of the person who died. Since this is Mele’s father (by adoption and thus she sees him as her father), she will wear black all year. She will also wear the large, presumably uncomfortable, mat. (Imagine wearing a mat that is as thick as the sports section and reaches from your calves to your armpits and is bound with a rope.) For parents, the women in the family pull their hair into a ponytail and cut it off. (Furthermore, Mele and her family aren’t able to work, besides cooking, for a month.)

I’ve never been to a Tongan funeral, but I’ve heard from many other PCVs who have. There are many parts that differ from American funerals, but one particularly stands out. It’s tradition that everyone kiss the deceased on the cheek. Tongan “kisses” are more like slight sniffs on the cheek, so many PCVs cringed as they were urged to go sniff a corpse. (Or, as another PCV put it, “It was the first time I kissed a girl in 5 months.”)

Death in Tonga isn’t approached the same way as in the US. Tongans, though saddened by the loss of a loved one, don’t treat it like in America. I tried to be sensitive to my friend about the death of her father, but she seemed relatively unphased by his passing. I’ve heard from other palangis that this might be for a couple of reasons:

1. Tongans believe God takes everyone when it’s his or her time. Though this is also often the mentality in America, in Tonga, there’s absolutely no questioning God. Overall, to me, Tongans are far more submissive to a higher power. Why be sad when this is what the Almighty says?

2. For someone with an illness, there’s a limit to medicine in Tonga. Sometimes, after a certain point, doctors and traditional Tongan medicine can’t help, so Tongans might preempt the expectation that a patient will recover by assuming the worst, and, when that happens, they aren’t surprised. Tongan hospitals aren’t equipped to deal with many serious illnesses, like cancers, and, as Tongans can’t afford treatment in New Zealand or Fiji, many are left to let the illness take over at home.

Though I hope everyone in my community remains healthy, over the next two years, I expect to attend at least one funeral. Or, since it’s often an honor to have a palangi at an important event, I may be invited to one at another community. Either way, I imagine I’ll learn more about the traditional funeral and grieving in Tonga.

PC Tonga Packing List

As I prepared to come to Tonga, I scoured Volunteers’ blogs for packing lists. I found a couple, packed, and came over. Of course, everyone’s opinion is different, but there are some things I wish I knew about packing. Here are my suggestions for incoming PCVs to Tonga, with notes.

- Though the Peace Corps documents you get may say they’ll only cover 80 lbs or weight or something, you can actually take more than that if the airline has a higher baggage allowance. It’s probably 100 lbs. And you should probably take advantage of all that weight. Don’t pack light.

- Even if you utilize all your baggage allowances, there are sure to be things you realize you wish you had once you get here. PCTs/PCVs have around 6 months without customs fees for packages, so if you have ever-so-wonderful family like I do, see if they can send you things.

- When I planned my Tongan wardrobe, I figured I’d take minimal clothes with me and buy clothes in Tonga. There were several flaws with my reasoning. One, there’s very little time to do shopping in any place that has worthwhile shopping. Where Group 76 will probably have their training is pretty remote, and clothing options are few and far between. Two, what options do exist (in both the remote areas and the capital) are mostly for larger-sized people. Based on the size of the PCVs here, the average clothing size wouldn’t fit anyone. The same goes for shoes. It’s not impossible to find clothes in my size, indeed I just went on a shopping spree, but I relied primarily on a handful of shirts and skirts for the first 6 months.

- Tongans get more dressed up than I expected. The women and girls my age wear makeup, high heels, and relatively trendy clothes.

- You can find (almost) anything at a price in Nuku’alofa. After training, you’ll have time to shop for it, but be prepared to go to PST with one suitcase of things from America.

- For work, I wear a jersey skirt and probably a button-up short-sleeved shirt and flip flops. I think my school’s dress code is pretty relaxed, since I’m in an outer-island primary school. Other PCVs wear more formal clothes, for instance a nicer skirt. A new staple I’ve added to my wardrobe is a tupenu: a piece of somewhat-shiny black material (enough to start at one hip, go all the way around and come back to my other hip) with ties. Women’s tupenus are usually homemade. Guys wear the traditional Tongan tupenu (theirs have pockets!) and a button-up shirt.

- Forget about bringing anything leather. It will mold. Everything you bring will probably mold a little bit, but you can probably wash those things. (Even my passport has begun to mold, fyi.)

- If you’re considering bringing electrical items, know that almost every PCV has daily access to electricity. Chances are very good that you’ll be able to use your items. Also, I didn’t expect Tongans to have some ubiquitous electronics. Everyone here has a cell phone. A couple of people have iPhones (or a knock-off). A few people have things that act like iPod shuffles. A couple of people have laptops (but mostly use it to watch movies and upload pictures).

- Tonga has a conservative culture, so women don’t show their knees or shoulders. I’ve seen some women wear long shorts to exercise, and I wear basketball shorts that hit just above my knees when I run. The exception to this is the younger generations in Nuku’alofa, the capital, but even so, Peace Corps Volunteers there like to show respect for the older generations by wearing the conservative clothes too.

- Despite the conservative attire outside the house, PCVs wear whatever they want in their own place. I often wear shorts and sometimes a tank top, but I’m always ready with a wrap to cover up in case someone comes over.


- Shirts. T-shirts and dressier shirts. They wear out fast from hand-washing and bleaching the sun. And from getting caught in barbed wire, torn climbing a coconut tree, etc.

- Skirts. Calf-length and ankle length, but be sure you can sit on the floor comfortably and sit down and get up without being “scandalous.”

- Shoes. I live in my flip flops and wish I had brought a better pair with me. I also would have brought dressier sandals. I also brought my running shoes, and I brought another close-toed pair that I haven’t used since arriving. The best shoes are ones that don’t take much to take off every time you go in someone’s house.

- Capris. I wear them all the time at my house or going to the store.

- Pants. Jeans are a whole lot of fun to wear when we go to Nuku’alofa and go to the one bar in the country. Many girls my age wear jeans too, but I don’t, since I want to be respectful of the traditional attire.

- Sweaters/sweatshirts/vest. During the summer I’ve been cool enough to wear a sweater or long-sleeved shirt at night. Or, if you plan on traveling outside the country (New Zealand round trip tickets were just purchased for about $350 USD – in peak season), consider that.

- Exercise stuff. I wear a t-shirt and basketball shorts.

- Sarong. Called a lavalava here, everyone wears them when lounging about the house or covering up when guests arrive. You can definitely find one here, but if you have one you’re partial to, bring it.

- Hat/visor. Save yourself from wearing the ladies church hats like Tongans (men too!) wear.

- Sunglasses. I haven’t found good-quality ones here, and 2/3 that I brought broke already.

- Swimsuit. Tongans swim fully-clothed, but those times you’re on a palangi beach, it’s nice to dress however you want.

Personal Items

- Glasses/Contacts. I wear contacts because I believe I am able to get my hands/cases clean enough with things that I brought/Tongan water. I brought antibacterial handsoap and a large supply of contact solution. Here, turns out, the solution costs and arm and a leg.

- Tampons. If you use them, bring them.

- Medicine. The Peace Corps Medical Office has medical products for whatever ails you, but they’re usually generic. (I took the PC vitamins for a few months, but since I really don’t have access to a variety of foods, I asked my parents to send more complete multi-vitamins.)

- Soaps/Shampoos/Etc. Tonga has all these things. It’s important for Tongans to smell good, so these are all available in a variety of brands.

- Perfume/Cologne. Along the smelling-good line, Tongans love perfume, though it all seems to have the same smell. I don’t have any with me, but for important events, a neighbor is sure to spritz me.

- Jewelry. Don’t bring expensive stuff, but Tongans wear jewelry for church, dances, and other important events.


- Computer. Every PCV from my group brought one, and, I think, for the most part, everyone is glad he/she did. For slow days or frustrating days, it’s fun to get a bit of Americana in a tv show or movie. Tongans also love movies, so it’s a good way to get to know people as you invite them to see a movie. (They also love Filipino or Mexican soap operas, in case you have a stash). It’s great for me on an outer island to prepare blogs (such as this) from afar and pass it off on a zip drive to a PCV who visits to post. If you don’t bring one, that’s no problem from a PC perspective, but they can give you a lot of files for projects and things, so a computer can be nice for that too.

- External hard drive. Awesome for sharing among PCVs.

- iPod. Love it. Glad I brought it. It’s another great integration tool. In my village, since there’s no electricity during the day, Tongans only listen to the radio. But they love my iPod, and they love to DJ. Akon and Rihanna are big hits.

- Speakers for computer/iPod.

- Hair products. Don’t scoff. After living without running water for 3 months, I wanted to fix my hair just once. While in Nuku’alofa I bought a hairdryer for $7.50 USD. I used it, and although my hair bounced back to wavy after 30 minutes in the humidity, I relished those 30 minutes. Moral of the story, it’s probably sufficient to buy what you want here, especially since you wouldn’t want to blow your Chi up because of the voltage switch.

- Intensive Course in Tonga, Eric Shumway. Though I didn’t use it much before arriving, it has since become essential in my Tongan learning. PC didn’t buy it for us, so, unless they’re changing that policy, if you actually want to learn Tongan, I recommend bringing it. (On that note, don’t fret if you didn’t study before arriving. Some people were using flashcards on the airplane, but don’t feel like you need to. If you commit to learning Tongan, the Peace Corps language instructors will help you far more than a handful of flashcards on a 14-hour flight.)

- Hammock. Mine broke after about a month, so I wish I had brought a better quality. Maybe it was the quality, or maybe it was the 22 schoolkids who loved to swing on it. All at once.

- Tent.

- Sleeping bag. Great as an extra cushion in case you get a foam mattress pad instead of a spring mattress. Or if you plan on camping. A number of people brought Therma-Rests, too.

- Mask and snorkel. I brought mine from the States, but, as it was purchased for $10, it’s not the best quality. Even so, it’s better than the one another PCV bought in Tonga that made her see double for an hour after using it.

- Duct tape. It’s like the Force: light on one side, dark on the other, and it holds the universe together.

- Jump rope/exercise band. I brought both, and I’ve used them both to secretly exercise in my house on Sundays. Or just to change up my routine which is usually running on the one road on the island.

- Hobby. Bring what you love to do. Got a travel-sized instrument (or not, depending on your devotion to playing) you love? Tongans love music, and it would be a great way to get involved and share with them. (I brought a harmonica with the greatest intentions of learning to play it while here. Bob Dylan I am not.) Or knitting. There’s a kind of weaving/crocheting thing the women do here, too. If you want to keep practicing another language/pick up another one, bring a book, the Rosetta Stone, whatever. You’ll certainly have time to pursue all of your interests.

- Books. The Peace Corps office libraries in every island group are pretty well-stocked, but of course feel free to bring new books, read them, then contribute and let us enjoy them too!


-I love the non-stick saucepan/lid that I brought with me. I’ve since acquired from others/purchased non-non-stick pans and things in Nuku’alofa.

- Lots of spices and seasonings are available in Nuku’alofa, but anything you can’t live without you might want to bring. (If you know where to look, there’s taco seasoning and good Indian seasoning.)

- Recipes. If there are things you love to make in the States (baking especially), and the ingredients are relatively simple (or you bring the complicated stuff), it would be a great way to share American culture with people in your community. Or just for yourself.

- Coffee/Tea. I brought some tea with me, but Tonga does have Twinnings in Nuku’alofa. (And Bell elsewhere.) I had a French-press coffee maker sent to me, and, though I get mine sent to me, coffee grounds are sold here.

- Yeast packets. There is yeast here, but I’ve had mixed success with it. Also, on an outer island, I can’t refrigerate unused yeast, and the Tongan bags are about the size of a bundle of flour.

Best item I brought: A coffee mug I smuggled out of a previous house. It’s a good thing I did; all the mugs here are too small or too big. This one’s just right. And my laptop/iPod.

Item I should have left at home: The second pair of close-toed shoes. I use my running shoes all the time, but outside of them, I wear flip flops all the time.