Tuesday, February 14, 2012

So this one time in Tonga.....

I WAS IN A HURRICANE!!! That's going to be a cool way to start a story right?? Really, nothing too terribly exciting happened.  I woke up to the sound glass shattering (not literally) wind and rain at 5:00 am, and couldn't go back to sleep.  But that's ok, because we wake up to do our family scripture study at 5:45.  So, we all went in the living room to start our study, but then the power went out.  So then we lit candles and were reading our scriptures by candle light, but then it was so noisy from all the wind that we couldn't hear ourselves reading, so we finally gave up.  I didn't realize it was more than just a rainstorm, but then everyone was saying "afa" which is hurricane...so then I realized it was hurricane.  Which, in case you are wondering, is very windy!!! I don't really know what I thought it was, but I think I was expecting more water or something.  We were just watching out the window (yes, it sounds unsafe, but I was so mesmerized i couldn't stop) when a big wind came and blew half of our front porch off and half of our roof!! It was crazy.  It was surprisingly not as scary as I imagined a hurricane being.  After it was over, everyone in the village was walking around looking at all the damage.  I was so surprised by how quickly all of the men got to work on cleaning it up, it only took like 7 men and  5 hours that afternoon before our roof was completely replaced. I was impressed!!

Other than the hurricane, not much exciting has happened.  I have been working hard at school. I'm teaching English and one Home Economics class. So it's pretty fun! the students are so funny! They are super shy to speak English to me most of the time, but when I'm walking away or when I'm not looking at them, they will always say something like "Good Morning" or "have a nice day."  It's funny.

We have been walking to a village called Mataika almost everyday. The kids go with me so that I can exercise, and then we go swimming at the beach.  There is a little swimming hole that the kids all love to jump off of the rocks into. It's very fun! The water is separated from the beach by a concrete block, and for some reason it's significantly colder than the water in the rest of the ocean. I haven't really figured out why yet.

I have had a lot of really cool spiritual experiences since I have been here in Vava'u.  The Kapeli family does scripture study and family prayer every morning and night.  And every Monday night they do Family Home Evening, which is just where they all get together and share their testimonies, say what they are grateful for, and apologize for anything they did that was bad that week.  It's so nice to be around a family that has such a deep love for Christ and for his gospel.  Reading the scriptures together everyday really brings the spirit into the home.  I have learned so much from them.  I know that I am supposed to be here in Tonga, and that the things that I'm learning here now are going to be great blessings to me for the rest of my life.

I recently found out that I received a nomination to be a Peace Corps Volunteer, which would mean two years in a foreign country (it could be anywhere in the world and I won't know until two months before I leave) teaching English.  I am really excited about the opportunity, but it's also kind of scary because it's so long and it's so far away.  I also just found out that I was officially accepted to an MSW program at the University of Alabama. Which is also very exciting.  So I'm currently deciding what  the next 2 years of my life is going to entail....Grad school or Peace Corps??? I'm thinking heavily towards Peace Corps, but it's a tough decision so I want to make sure that I make the choice carefully and prayerfully.  Anyways, it's exciting to have options even though it's stressful!! Hopefully I'll have more to report soon!!

Funny fact of the week:  When you hear a whistle blowing in the street, it means that someone is driving around in the car selling fish.  Apparently, it's the best fish available!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

I'm still alive...

I have been in Tonga for three weeks now, so I figure it’s probably about time for me to update my blog!! I am loving my time here in Tonga—to no one’s surprise, I am sure.  Coming back here was just like coming home.   I was so happy when I arrived at the airport in Tonga, I couldn’t stop smiling while I was waiting in line to get my visa.  I was a little nervous when I got to the airport because my flight got in an hour earlier than it was scheduled (which does not really fit into my schema of Polynesian time, so that threw me off a bit).  So I figured that the family that was supposed to pick me up wouldn’t be there for another hour, so I’d be waiting at the airport by myself and being annoyed by all the taxi drivers!  But one of the many benefits of being on a small island is that everyone sees when a plane is coming, so as soon as they saw the plane they jumped in their van to come get me! I was greeted at the airport by one of my best Tongan friends, Boyd, and his little sister and cousin! It was a very warm welcome and I was thrilled to see some familiar faces and wear the beautiful lei that they made for me!
I stayed with their family, the Ikas,  in a little village called Ha’akame in Tongatapu.  When I got to their house I was surprised to see they had built a Tongan house for me, a little hut made of the coconut tree leaves and branches!!  It was amazing!!!  I absolutely loved it! Not only was it really cute, but it was super breezy. The family has three sons, 19, 18, 16 and one daughter, 9.  They all worked together with their neighbor to make it for me, so that was very special to me.  It’s hard to describe what it was really like, so I’m going to try and post pictures of it soon.  The sides of the house are just layers of the leaves braided together, and one layer just lays on top of the other so if you lift it up you can put your arms in side.  It was really funny because one of the boys in the family was like, “oh we should tie up the sides of the house here or else somebody might try to come shopping in here,” because I had a little table with all of my stuff sitting against the wall.  Another kind of funny experience happened one night when it started raining really, really hard and the rain started pouring into the hut.  It just started at like two or three little holes, but after about a minute it was dripping through in like twenty different places.  The boys all went running outside to get a tarp to put on top of the house to keep the rain from coming in.  It kept the rain out in most of the places, and I thought it was perfect!
 Ha’akame is known in Tonga for cooking the best horse meat (and eating the most of it!).  So the first night I was there, they cooked a ton of horse, and other Tongan food, and had all of their extended family over for a little get together.  It was really neat because each of the brothers and sisters went around the room and said what was going on in their lives and talked about what their children were doing with their lives and in school, etc.  It was really a cool thing to be a part of!  Other than spending time with the family, we just went to the beach everyday because it was only like a ten minute walk.  It was really fun, because unlike the beaches in Vava’u, this one was just a little hole in the rocks with really big waves. There was one spot that was really deep and you could jump in, it was super fun!!  
My time in tongatapu was interesting because it really does have a few differences from Vava’u.  I was surprised by how much bigger the town Nuku’alofa is than Neiafu (the town in Vava’u).  There is a lot more to do there, more palangi food, actual places to shop, big buildings, etc.  It was cool.  Also, one of the kids I was talking to surprised me when he said that the kids in town think they are better than the kids in the villages far away from town because “they don’t have to work like we do.” I thought that was an interesting statement, and not something I had heard when I was in Vava’u. 
So I came to Vava’u last Monday and have been so happy to be back here! Besides a couple of new shops and a new road, everything is exactly the same!  I am staying with a wonderful family, the Kapelis, in the same village (Leimatu’a) as I stayed in last time.   It’s been so fun to spend time with them! They have 13 kids, but only 7 of them are living at home right now.  They have three teenage daughters, one is 18, so that’s really fun for me! They are really sweet.  They are super funny too because they always want to do everything for me, like get my water buckets for my shower and put all of my food on a plate for me to eat.  It’s super sweet! They are such a humble family, and even though they don’t have a lot of things, they are some of the happiest people I know!  They have so much love for each other, and for me, and they have done so much to make me feel like I’m a part of this family.  When I said I didn’t have any brothers or sisters, Suli, the mom, said, “yes you do. You have Kefi, and Luse, and Cici, and Sina, and Ane, and Melenai, and Elenoa, and Siope, and Mote, and Mone, and Feleti, and Una and Tali.”   It made me so happy to hear her say that. 
Unlike my time in Tongatapu that consisted of a lot of relaxation and hanging out, I have been working every day since I got here, from 8 to 4 at the LDS church high school, Saineha.  Last week was just a training week and the student’s first day is today, so I don’t have any interesting stories about that yet.  The family I’m living with doesn’t have a car, so we always catch a ride to town with someone else that is going that way.  We usually ride in the back of someone’s truck, which is my favorite way to travel because it’s not hot. And it’s kind of fun, too! Don’t worry mom, the cars don’t go fast enough for anything too bad to happen if we wrecked.  
Yesterday, we went to the sea in Toula and were kind of fishing.  I don’t know what the English word for it is, but basically we just used wrenches to hit the mussels off of the rocks in the sea.  It was actually really fun! I did a really bad job at the first couple, and ended up smashing the meat of the mussel instead of just the shell, but after that I got really good at getting them to come off the rocks.  I use the term “really good” loosely.  Anyways, it was fun and so beautiful because we were just in the middle of the beautiful shallow see, with nothing but ocean and trees surrounding us.  The beauty of this island never ceases to take my breath away! 
Random funny moment of the week:  One of the little girls asked, “Have you ever heard of a village in America called New York City?”  Yes, yes I have heard of that village before.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

coming home

I finally made it home after 20 hours of plane rides and airports. . . I'm missing Tonga like crazy, but it's nice to be able to talk to friends and family again. The last couple of weeks have been a blur.  We had a lot of fun before we left, with goodbye dinners and picnics at the beach!  it was really great.  Saying goodbye to everyone was one of the most painful things I have ever experienced, but I know I will see them again.  I really couldn't believe three months had already passed when I left, it seemed so short.  My project went really well and I'm glad that I got to learn so much about the Tongan culture, but I feel like there is always more to learn!  Basically Tongan families are centered around respect and love and have more love than I can comprehend for everyone in their community.  Everyone talked about how much they were going to miss us and how they were sorry they had nothing to give to us to show us their love.  That always made me cry because I knew that they had given me more than they could imagine by just showing my so much love and kindness.  They are the greatest examples of humility, strength, charity, and respect in the world (I might be biased, but I'm pretty sure I'm right).  

We spent 10 days in sydney and new zealand which was really fun, too! Basically we hiked around beautiful mountains, saw a lot of beautiful scenery and beaches, black water rafted through caves, walked on a 3 foot ledge around the tallest building in that hemisphere, cuddled with koala bears, saw kangaroos, and hung out with some cool people. It was a great time!  Nothing compares to the beautiful vava'u though!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Near Death Experiences. . .

So much has happened since my last blog post that I can’t possibly write it all in the fifteen minutes of my precious internet time I am dedicating to this. . . but I will give some highlights. 

I think I’ll begin with my most near death experience (breathe mom, of course I’m being dramatic!). . . but really though, I had an allergic reaction to some canned tuna (watch out for the expired labels from the Chinese stores!) and thought I was going to die.  It happened really fast, but basically my hands, feet, head and face were itching and burning really bad and were really red and tight so I decided to go to the hospital after the dance we were on our way to.  But by the time we got to the dance I was completely covered in red bumps and itchy from head to toe, so we dropped everyone at the dance and went to the hospital.  I could barely breathe by the time we got there but my best friend here in Tonga, kefilini, was super nice and stayed with me while I waited for the doctor.  Finally they gave me a shot that was like a miracle drug and I got better really fast.  It was crazy how fast it got so bad though! The hospital was funny because they just right everything on a piece of notebook paper and there is no formal check in. They didn’t charge for anything either, which I GREATLY appreciated.  The people were so friendly, even in the hall outside of the doctor’s office the other people waiting were asking my all questions, like what did I eat, and wash my clothes in, and if I showered in rain water or tap water. . . it was really sweet. 

So my next near death came at the dance . . . ok not really, but it was pretty scary.  My partner and I only messed up like twice, which was better than a lot of the other couples, but I was really nervous the whole time!  One of the funny things they do during the dances is come up and give people money while they are dancing.  Which sounds nice, but you aren’t supposed to stop and instead of handing it to you, they stuff it down your shirt. . . which is just funny to me.  I made six dollars though, so that was exciting!

And then my next near death experience came yesterday at our farewell picnic at the beach.  We went with like 20 of our Tongan friends and our host family to the most beautiful beach in vava’u for a picnic.  We were there all day so it was really fun. We cooked chicken, ufi, tarroh, and turtle in a fire and just played while we were waiting for the food and after we ate.  The Tongans are funny because they put sunscreen on but it doesn’t rub in like ours does, so their faces are just white.  They look like Geishas! The boys played rugby in the water and on the beach for hours and we all played chicken and marco polo.  It was a really fun day! At one point, us five palangi and two 19 year old tongan boys decided to swim to the island across from the one we were on.  We decided that it was somewhere between a ¼ and a ½ mile swim.  On the way over there,  me and michelle thought we were going to drown because we were so tired! Between the current and the long swim, it was very exhausting!  Luckily we made it and the swim back was much easier!  It was so beautiful though.  It’s just this little island with a white sandy beach and blue water.  It was funny because on the swim over there we couldn’t touch because it was so deep, but we could see everything because the water was so blue. It was incredible.   Later in the day, I got stung by five or six jelly fish, which stung but wasn’t as terrible as I anticipated. It was weird though to see all of them floating towards me and around me, I felt like Dory in Finding Nemo.  It was a really fun day and made me sad to think about how much I’m going to miss the beautiful beaches and all of the friends I have made here.  

My next near death experience came when we went whale watching! We took this tiny boat, it was just the five of us, 2 asian women, and our 2 guides, into the deep DEEP ocean! On the way out there me, michelle, and Daniel sat on the top of the boat, which only has a two inch rail around it.  When we got to the parts not surrounded by islands it was super choppy and we were going so fast, that we almost fell off the boat a couple of times.  One time I was actually pretty sure that I was a gonner, but I didn’t fall! We finally spotted some whales swimming and chased them down. It was the most amazing thing I have ever seen! They were so big!  We were maybe 15 or 20 ft away from them, so LIKE REALLY REALLY CLOSE!  There were three that were swimming right beside us for a while, it was cool just to see their bodies and we even saw one of their faces once.  Whales are amazing. We got into the water once with them, but they swam away so we couldn’t see them.  I can’t describe how cool it was to see them just from the boat though.   We also went snorkeling by a really cool reef and in a cave.  Google mariners cave! Maybe you can see some cool  pics, and swallows cave too! Anyways, snorkeling was really fun! The water is so blue and light from the sun that we could see like all the way to bottom of the ocean floor. The reef has so many beautiful fish! A lot of them were really big and super colorful! It was awesome!  Mariners cave is cool because you can’t see it from outside, you have to swim under the cliff/rocks to get into it.  I was a little nervous just because you have to swim through to the other side and I didn’t know how far it would be, but it was good.  On the inside it’s really cool because it has all the steam coming off of the water and we snorkeled in there too! It was a really good day!

I’m really running out of time so this is probably not making much sense any more, but one last thing I have to mention! We went to one of our friends families for turtle (which is surprisingly delicious!) and a cookout there.  They made lots of food and we played volleyball and went to the beach that day too. They were so nice to us and it was just fun to be with a family and hang out with them. We went to this “resort beach” that we didn’t pay for because our friend knows the owner. It was truly like one of the resorts you see in the movies. The water is of course like aqua blue and the sand is perfect white, but it was really beautiful because of all the palm trees and wooden lawn chairs and hammocks and wooden tables just sitting every where on the sand by the shore.  I took a few pics, but I don’t know if it will really show how pretty it was. 

My project is pretty much done, I’m just trying to learn as much as possible before I leave, but I’m done interviewing!  I’m really sad to say bye to my students tomorrow, but I’m happy that I’m not actually leaving until next Wednesday.  I can’t  believe I only have one week here left, I am getting so sad to say goodbye.  I’m really looking forward to our 10 days in New Zealand and Australia though and hoping that will make leaving a little less hard.  I think that’s all of the really big/exciting things that we have done, pretty much everything else has been hanging out with the kids or with kefilini or working on school stuff or dance practice. . . living in Tonga has really made me realize how much I enjoy the simple life! 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Prayers needed now more than ever. . . .

So I don't have much news to share this week. . . nothing too exciting or out of the ordinary.  My project is really coming along. I am pretty much done with my interviews, so now I just need to compile everything and put it together in some sort of organized paper. . . this should be fun!!  That's what I have been doing with most of my time lately.  It's really interesting how much I have learned about families here. Basically what I am finding is that the term family here refers to more than just father, mother, and children.  There is so much love for everyone in the community and everyone kind of works together to help each other. It's really amazing to me. I'm still making a lot of observations and learning a lot, but basically I'm realizing how natural it is for many Tongan's to share and help each other because that's what they learn from birth. 
So the only other exciting thing I have been doing is practicing for a dance I'm going to be in on Friday.  This is where the prayers come in! Anyone who knows me knows that I have the coordination and grace of a four year old, so I'm sure you can see why this is so challenging for me!  There are like ten couples and we are doing three dances (kind of like line dances, with a lot of kicking, spinning, and feet movements).  My partner is really nice and it is really fun, but I'm starting to freak out a little bit for the actual dance, especially the part where we have to do it in front of so many people! So please pray that it will go well and I won't look like too much of a fool.  It's just me and one other palangi, so we are already going to be the object of everyone's attention, add that to my lack of dance skills. . . clearly I wasn't thinking when I said yes! But I'm excited, and it's fun, so hopefully it will be good!

I can't think of anything else to share today, life is good! I'm sad to leave.  The people are amazing and I am really grateful for the opportunity to learn from them and to see how much love they have for everyone. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Every little thing, is gonna be alright. . .

We recently switched the cd from the one with justin beiber and chris brown on it, to bob marley! It was a very nice change, it feels very islandery. A million things have happened since my last blog post. . .

We made tapa cloth, you should google it to see it. Basically, we went into the bush, chopped down several thin mulberry trees, stripped them of their bark, pulled out the middle, smashed it until it was paper thin, and then beat it with another one to make the two come together so it's bigger, and then let it dry. It was very hard work! We all had blisters the next day from all of the beating with the big beating thing.  It was really fun though, it made me feel like a tongan. One of the professors from byu was here for the last couple of weeks, he left yesterday, so we did some cool things with him.  We took a tour of vava'u, the whole island! We just drove in the car for four hours and saw almost everything.  There were so many incredible views, that the whole thing was just amazing.  We stopped at a beach and made lunch there (ramen noodles with corned beef, papaya, bread, and coconuts for drink).  The water is amazing here, it's just so blue everywhere, it never gets old. That night we went out to dinner at a tongan buffett (we never eat out here so that was very exciting!) and  saw a show. The dancing was really pretty, it was mostly kids, but it was really nice.

I drove the van! It's weird driving on the wrong side of the road, and the van is huge and backwards, so I was really bad.  Uini was cracking up the whole time, and the two guys in the backseat were scared for their lives. I never actually hit anything, but I did get amazing close five or twenty times.  She kept saying slow down and get in the middle of the road, but she was laughing so hard I could barely understand her. It was a good experience, but I dont' feel like I'll be driving much any more.

We went on a hike up to the tallest mountain in vava'u, it was only ten or fifteen minutes long, but it was basically straight up.  They have ropes to hold on to though and help pull you up, so that was good. We could see everything from the top. Not to be redundant, but the ocean is truly amazing. The water is so many different shades of blue, my personal favorite is the aqua, that I can't begin to describe how pretty it is.  It was a fun hike!  After the hike, we went to our normal beach to swim and make lunch. We spent the whole day there, so we got nice tans! We cooked some really tasty chicken on a fire that Ofa made on the beach, just out of rocks and twigs.  The tide was really low, so we went all the way out to the reef again, and this time walked down to an area we hadn't seen before.  There was this perfect place to jump in that was so blue and not too rocky, so me and michelle jumped in! It was probably one of the more terrifying things that I have ever done, but it was so worth it! We could see so far down, but it was so deep we were just treading water in the ocean.  It was so far away from the shore and covered by the reef, so it was like we were in the ocean alone.  It was crazy!

Speaking of crazy, we went on a boat ride this weekend for four or five hours on sunday.  Boats are fun alone becuase it's the ocean so it's choppy and wavy, but it was really amazing to just see so much of the ocean.  It's so open and endless. Once again, the water was so blue. It would be dark blue in the really deep parts and then next to the rocks (baby islands) it would be like an aqua or turquoise blue, it's just so breathtaking. After an hour or so on the boat, we pulled into this cave in a big rock of an island.  It was probably 100 ft long and 100 ft wide, so once we got through the small opening, it was pretty big.  We could see everything to the bottom, even though it was pretty dark and super deep.  I jumped in first, so I was pretty much scared to death.  It was so deep and there could have been anything in there, mostly I was afraid of sharks, but I never saw one. It was so fun to just swim and then climb the rocks and jump into the water. Swimming in a deserted cave in the middle of the south pacific ocean, definitely one of my new favorite things!  After that, we got back on the boat a went to this deserted island, no sign of life except for one random chicken.  The sand was so white and it was like walking on cotton balls or flour.  It looked so much cooler than in the postcards or movies, I couldn't capture it in a picture.  The water was so clear that I could see every detail on my legs and feet. If I had to pick the most beautiful place in the world, it would absolutely be there. So that was a fun day.

Other than those things, we went to a couple of dances, which were fun. I have been giving english lessons after school still, so that takes up some of the time. 
My students came to my house one morning at 8:10 to wake me up because I was supposed to be at school and I had overslept. It was funny just because there were 15 of the 40 kids in my class at the gate screaming for me. It was cute.

Couple of funny things: The kids said I killed the puppy (which I definitely didn't, and I'm pretty sure they did).  They told Uini in tongan that I choked the puppy (they did the choking sign and everything) and there were four of them saying I did. We all that it was pretty funny, sad of course that he died, but funny they blamed it on me.  I asked Uini how we say "be nice to the puppies" in Tongan, and she replied, "punch their heads." That's the preferred parenting style here.  The kids chant about the red worms, calling them "jesus's bugs."  And isileli found a straw and came up with the creative idea to put one end in his mouth and the other in his armpit and run around in circles blowing it, for the record it makes a farting noise, so it's funny.  He thinks it's the funniest thing. The kids also think it's funny to run naked in the rain, so they do that a lot.  And the most popular song the Tongan children sing is "happy birthday." You hear a lot of neighborhood kids screaming it on a daily basis, even though it's no ones birthday. That's the most english any of them know.

Life lesson of the week:  Don't worry. Be happy. Every little thing, is gonna be alright.

Even if you have nothing, you can still be happy. You can always be happy.                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Time is flying by. . .

I'm already feeling really sad just thinking about how I have to leave in just under two months! It feels like we just got here yesterday! The kids at my school have won me over and have me wrapped around all of their little fingers. They are truly precious, and if it wasn't for my friends and family, I think I would stay here forever with them.  Nothing too crazy has happened in the past two weeks. . .

I went on a walk towards the shoreline with two of the people in my group, but they gave up and didn't want to trapse through the bush to find the water. I, on the other hand, am always up for the adventure! So, they turned around and I walked towards the bush.  They thought I would follow them (they don't know how crazy I am yet!), but instead I found a little boy (13 years old) who spoke a little english.  I asked which way to the water, and he showed me a path. He took me down this SUPER steep, muddy trail that led to this swampy marsh. I fell down about 26 or 97 times in the mud, but it was just really funny and I only got a few scrapes and minor cuts. When we got to the swamp I asked if it led to the ocean and he said it did, so we kept walking. The marsh was covered by a ton of rooty trees and you couldn't see anything except the trees above you.  There were a lot of crabs and fish in the water, which was cool.  Finally, we made it to the open ocean. It wasn't like a beach, it was just magical, still, bright, blue water. All around you could just see water and green trees and hills.  it was crazy, beautiful! Truly, life changing! Anyways, he's my new friend. On the way up, he helped me up the hill. At one point he was pushing me up the hill because it was so muddy! Very funny picture, I know! We have been back there a couple of times since then. 

I have been giving english lessons to a couple of the kids from my class after school, they seem to enjoy it. I'm not sure if it's because I'm a palangi girl and they are boys or if they just really want to learn english. But they are my new best buds, so I keep them around.  ONe of them wants to move to America to become a doctor and the other wants to move to america and be a teacher.  I love listening to them talk. 

Nothing else exciting is coming to my mind. . . just a lot of laundry, bugs, walks, beautiful sights, amazing water, OH! ONe more story. . .

The other morning I woke up to the sound of a dog barking like it wanted to kill someone, and a pig squealing like it was dying, and children screaming.  So, I went outside at 6:30 am to see what was going on. Still in my pjs, glasses, and hair in a lopsided pony with half of it falling out, of course.  I go out to the fence and see a tiny, baby pig stuck between a banana tree and the fence, with Sally (the dog we named) attacking the pig. So I kick the dog away and pick up the pig. The gate was still locked and there were three little neighbor girls (who the pig belonged to) on the other side. The oldest was maybe six years old. There were also three dogs on the other side of the gate trying to jump and get the pig out of my hands.  the girls were throwing rocks at them and kicking them, while I'm holding the pig up in the air (like in the lion king when rafiki holds up simba). After a few minutes, another neighbor girl comes over gets the pig from me and puts it under her house safe from the dogs. it was a funny picture.  That's all for this week. . . more to come soon!