Friday, February 25, 2011

Over the past few weeks...

I haven’t been able to upload any blogs recently, since I either haven’t been to town or the internet was down. Here is a summary of things that are going on around Ha’ano/Ha’apai/Tonga, mostly related to me.

In January, there was a serious cyclone that hit Ha’apai. Peace Corps had me go to town to ride it out. Though it was much shorter (and fortunately so was the time we were consolidated), it was more destructive than last year’s Cyclone Rene. Walking around Pangai, we saw roofs that had been ripped offs, old buildings that had collapsed, and trees that had been uprooted. (PCV houses were all fine.) The long-term impact is that much off the breadfruit fell off the trees, plantain trees were overturned, and the stems and leaves of root crops were broken. In a few months there’ll be a shortage of staple foods in Ha’apai. The Ministry of Agriculture is trying to import potato seeds to grow quickly to make up for the gap.

Tongan friends have been hanging out at my house quite a lot. The biggest draw is my iPod and speakers for them to listen to music during the day (too bad it’s always the same mix of Akon, Celine Dion, Shania Twain, and Eminem) and, once the electricity comes on at night, I’ve got “Glee” on my harddrive. I like having people over, but it makes it difficult to relax or read a book when everyone’s jamming to some Pitbull song or skipping around episodes to find the songs.

A few days before school started, I still didn’t know who would be teaching at my school. As of last year, both of my teachers were transferred and only one new teacher was coming to Ha’ano. But, this is Tonga, and nothing is certain until it actually happens, so a week before school started, I was told that the one guy who was supposed to come to Ha’ano wouldn’t be coming. Up to a few days before school started, I still didn’t have any Tongan teachers at my school. Eventually, 24 hours before school started, one of my teachers from last year, Paula, and his new wife, Veiongo, were dropped off by the Ministry of Education. So far, school’s been going really well. I’m still teaching English, and with the new syllabus for primary schools, my hours teaching have been cut from 13 hrs/week to 6.5 hrs/week. I’ve offered to teach PE and Art classes when those come up in the schedule, but those classes always take a backseat to the core subjects, so I haven’t taught any yet.

Overheard in Ha'ano

People here talk. About everything. And nothing. Here are some things I’ve overheard Tongans saying about me. They aren’t taken out of context. There is no context.

“Hey, look, Pele has a wooden spoon!”
“Where? Oh! Look at that spoon!”
“Yeah! It’s wooden!”
- Two of my students, standing outside my kitchen watching me cook

“Pele’s taking a shower at night.”
“Really? At night?”
“Yeah, she’s showering right now.”
- My neighbor and her mom, at their house which is next to my shower

“Lile asked Pele to come over so Lile could ask her something, and Pele was like, ‘Oh, I have to go over there!’”
- A woman in my village, telling other passengers in the bed of the truck what I’d said an hour earlier

If the most mundane details of my life are comment-worthy, imagine if I did something interesting.

Universal Experiences

Volunteering in the Peace Corps, I hear that we PCVs all share certain experiences. Year of service, country of service, job title – despite differences in all these areas, PCVs often have the same feelings just by working in a developing country.

I recently read “Away from Home” by Lillian Carter, taken from the Ha’apai Peace Corps Office’s library. Though she served as a health volunteer in India 1966-1968, her collection of letters to her daughter could very well be something that we PCVs in Tonga say today.

“One thing I yearn for on my vacation – PRIVACY! I doubt that I’ll have that, because wherever I go, a crowd gathers.”

“How I wish you could see India through your own eyes. I know the sameness of my days must get boring, but I do have some experiences here that almost defy words.”

“I’m feeling so damned low and useless! I have been here exactly six months now, and I needed a MORALE booster, so I went out and bought four cans of pineapple juice!”

“We have to go to Bombay for another Peace Corps meeting on whether or not to continue the family planning program. Frankly, I couldn’t care less, and know we will just hear the same old B.S., but maybe they will serve dinner.”

“I’ve been barefoot all day – anyone can go barefoot any time here, outside or inside.”

“Gosh, how the time is flying! The closer the time comes, the more upset I get about coming home. Why? I don’t know but I am. ... How can I stand it, when I bawl at the very thought of leaving them – these wonderful people, for whom I’ve done so little, but who have done so much for me!”