Thursday, September 6, 2012

Post Field 2

The second assignment for the same class:
The audience I hope to reach with my project is anyone unfamiliar with and curious about the culture of Tonga. This will probably include friends and family, but also people I don’t know very well who want to know what living in a place like Tonga is like. Some of this audience has never even heard of Tonga, some of them are Tongan themselves, and some may not really care about Tonga, they just feel like they should know what’s going on in my life.
Tonga is a small island group in the South Pacific, northeast of New Zealand, east of Fiji, and south of Samoa. Vava‘u, the island I stayed on, is a forty-minute plane ride north of the main island, Tongatapu. It is twelve kilometers at its broadest length and is dotted with small villages and farmland. It is a developing country, which meant that we did not have wifi, we showered with a bucket of water, and the roads were filled with potholes. I lived with a young family of six. The oldest girl was six years old, and the three boys were five, four, and two. Most of our days were spent volunteering at primary, kindergarten, and high schools to teach English, finding and making food, interviewing, learning from our host mom, and attending dances.
I want my audience to understand what life is like beyond what we are accustomed to here in western America. There are so many people who do not have what we have; it is difficult to keep this in perspective, but allow me to reiterate it throughout this paper and the ones I write in the future.
Another thing that has been impressed upon me after this trip is the importance of going abroad, something I want my audience to recognize. Keep in mind that I am not referring to going abroad for a two-week vacation—that can never be enough. To be completely immersed in the local people and their culture is something of eye-opening nature. The challenges I had in Tonga were so drastically different from the ones I experience here. In Tonga I worried about my next meal or dancing too many times with one boy. In Provo I worry about whether I’m wearing the right sweater, or if the paper due tomorrow will impress my teacher enough to scrape an A. Entertainment there was rugby or a handful of rocks, not bowling or Netflix. And all the time I was thinking, they have no idea. They have no idea what my life is like back home, or all of the other things and possibilities in the world. And I am lucky to be traveling and discovering what life is like in a different part of the world.
Finally, I hope to convince my audience of the resourcefulness of the Tongan people with regards to their plant use. Initially I believed that the people there were very clever: they used all sorts of plants for all sorts of activities. But I found that more often than not, as I asked more about different processes, they were nearly as unsure as I was about why they did certain things. For example, the old leaves form the Fiki plant, or fig tree, are used to heal those that are “sick with a bad spirit from old people” (My host mom, Uini). Initially this kind of took me off guard, but I accepted the words and asked more about it. How did it work? What made it different from the other plants growing around the yard? Uini was not sure—it was something she had learned from her mother and had not thought to question. So maybe everyone in Tonga learned things from their parents and were never quite sure why things worked out the way they did. And on such a small island, where everyone knows everyone, change is difficult and too noticeable.

Post Field 1

I wrote this for the post field writing class that I'm taking this Fall. I'll probably put some up every now and then because I think they help to clarify my experience, both myself and for you guys.

I know I have changed as a result of my experience because of the new and different way I look at the people around me. I think I recognize that everyone always has something they can teach me because of the different experiences they have had. It is not my education or even my accomplishments that make me what I am, but the way I leave from day to day. I remember writing in my journal that I felt like I was learning some new truth nearly everyday; things about my own life became clearer to me. For example, with so much free time to fill, I was forced to retrieve the discipline that I knew was in me, but never had to seek out because of the routines that are almost always placed for me by someone or something else.
The lessons from my experience I never want to forget are first that I need to remember how many people there are in the world. I think I get trapped in the small world of Provo and classes and papers and forget how many people there are who struggle to survive. In Tonga I became familiar with this struggle, and although the people there were confident in their lifestyle, it was obvious that they were lacking. I was initially shocked to have the blinders I have worn for so long ripped off. This shock is what pushed me to serve and consequently to love the people of Tonga with all my heart. I learned to observe people in a way that is nearly impossible to do here because I could not understand the language. Body language and minute gestures or sounds became signals that I had to pay attention to. I learned how to look for things that I can write about in my journal, and because of this, I learned to strive for at least one new experience each day.
I wish I could explain to my family and friends the way I felt there. The way I felt at church meetings with the most ambitious singers in the South Pacific. The way I felt when people around the village began to shout greetings at us as we walked past. And most importantly I want people to understand the way I felt when the idea that the small island of Vava’u was now my home. I was beginning to have a completely isolated life there. When I called my family or emailed my friends, I almost didn’t know what to say or talk about because the things that were going on in my life had become ordinary. Some of these things have also become so common place to me that I am almost surprised when people don’t know what a ta’ovala is. I’m afraid that the only way I can get people to understand the Tongan lifestyle is to buy them a plane ticket there. I want to convey the patience of the mothers with their children, the excitement of a single scoop ice cream cone, the amazement felt when someone offers you an Indian apple.
Now that I am home, the thing I want to do with this experience is to let everyone know how special the people of Tonga are. Their kingdom is small, but they have huge personalities and generally believe that they are the center of the world. The trip may not have changed me in any drastic way, but I feel more confident and more aware of myself and of others. I do not want to forget this experience, or even pretend it hasn’t happened because it seems so far away. I want everyday to be fresh in my mind, to remember the lessons I have learned, and to persuade others to take notice of the other people of the world.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

30 July 2012

I can't believe I've only got a week left here. Time is passing so quickly, but so slowly!
Victoria and I always joke about how we're getting to experience the full Tongan lifestyle. We live in the same house with a young family. Laundry and meals are always together, if there is any food. Finding food, or even the money for food is a daily challenge. Crackers or bread for every meal is not uncommon. when the water stopped running 6 weeks ago, we all started using the outhouses and filling up buckets with rainwater to shower with. We go everywhere as a family, all of us in the van together with the music blasting, dancing crazy in our seats. The kids scream and cry and climb all over everything to sit on our laps with their heads out the window. We attend feast after feast and dance after dance, allowing our host mom to fix our hair or our outfits time and time again. Our host mom tries to help us understand what "Tongan boys like" so that we can have "lots of partners" at all the dances. Unfortunately all of our partners are either under the age of 16 or over the age of 65. Sometimes it's annoying to be treated like a 6 year old, but that's our life now. At feasts we make sure to bring home plenty of food for the family. We even accompany them to their grandma's house, where we're given banana bread (which we hated initially because it's fairly flavourless and the frosting tastes like butter, but now we love because we're always hungry) and Indian apples (the most delicious treat here). We happily and messily eat everything with our hands, sucking the juice off our fingers afterwards to try to get them clean. Sometimes we even get kuava, one of my favourite fruits here, despite how odd it is and how hard and small the seeds are.
We've become accustomed to an almost painfully slow lifestyle that is quite the opposite of things I experience at home. For example, if we are not able to get an interview in on a certain evening, I have nothing to fear because there are countless evenings ahead. Obviously that is coming to an end, but like I said before, time is so different here. For the Tongans, mornings begin around 5:30 am. You can hear music playing, roosters, dogs, children screaming or crying, breakfast being cooked, etc. The mornings are then filled with school, weaving, and going to the bush. The early to mid afternoons are the slowest times of day. Most people take naps if they can. The kids sleep whenever and wherever they can. Just last night all four of them fell asleep on a blanket on the floor of the living room and slept there the whole night. Other times they're up until 11. Any car ride longer than 20 minutes puts them all to sleep in the most uncomfortable positions I've ever seen. Manoa, the 2 year old, likes to stand on his seat next to his mom while she drives with his arm on her shoulder, and I swear to you I have seen him fall asleep in that position.
Probably the most interesting and problematic concept here is that when anyone has food, they are obligated to share it with whoever they are with. This is really hard for my American and capitalistic mind to embrace...Now I don't mind sharing the things I have, but when money and food are scarce anyway, and my stomach is grumbling, my mind snaps immediately to survival and hoarding food.
This last week Victoria and I performed our traditional Tongan dance, called a "tau'olunga." We performed it at an outdoor "concert" for the Tongan church to raise money. So we dressed up in our outfits, had beautiful leis tied around our necks, were rubbed up in oil, and went out to dance. I was really really excited. I messed up a few times, but people still came and stuck money on us, and an old man gave me a lei. We raised 124 pa'anga. I think people were surprised and even thought it was a little funny to see two palangi dancing and exclusively Tongan dance.
On Saturday we went to the hospital to meet the newly born baby of one of our good friends, Faaki. The little girl is named Lusia Victoria Elise. Can you believe it! Haha we thought it was a joke at first, but it's serious. She was so tiny, with skin the same color as mine and deep deep blue eyes. A beautiful baby. Babies make you think about life, you know?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

22 July 2012

My concept of time has changed drastically while being here. I am now able to spend hours sitting, doing nothing, listening to Tongan and letting my mind wander. Other times we're busy writing or making leis, and before I know it a week has gone by. At the same time, I count the days and the weeks and hours closely. It makes me realize what I want to spend my time doing when I get home because I can be with the people I love most. Time is so curious, as I'm sure you already know. It is not the times that we are doing nothing that pass slowly in our memory, but the times that we are busiest and most enthralled with what we are doing. I think I got that idea from Steinbeck. I would not trade the three months I've spent here for anything. I've learned a lot about the people and a lot about myself and a lot about my stomach.
I'm sad to be leaving here so soon. I have only two weeks left on this beautiful island. You would not believe the sunrises or sunsets I've seen. Or maybe you would, who can say. I'd like to say I've met incredible people, and certainly I have. Most of them are under the age of ten, and the others have their personalities masked by this vicious and interesting wall called language. Just the same, I love walking down the street and smiling and waving and saying hi to all of the staring faces. Everyone smiles back. Everyone. I've never been greeted so many times with a "Good morning!" as when I walk towards Saineha High School. And I'll never forget walking through a crowd of children with their faces upturned, each of them grinning and touching my arms or my hands. Or one time when we were driving slowly away from a house, and a little boy ran alongside the van, holding my hand out the window the entire way out. Or hearing, "Palangi, eh?" from yards away and responding "Yo!" I think these people are unaware of how intimate their connections are. They are quite lucky, and I pity myself because I can never be a part of it, no matter how long I live here. I definitely hope to return here someday, to visit the people I've met and to feel at home with them again.
On a different note, as my project regarding plants progresses, I've decided that I want to focus more on the idea that Tongans are (or perhaps are not) resourceful people. Naturally this includes the plants that they use, not only for medicine, but for brooms, food, tools, etc. So I will be focusing on several plants, what they are used for, and the innovative nature of the people, or lack there of.
I suppose that's all I have to say for now. More in a week I hope.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

9 July 2012

Yes, I'm still here.
Tonga is amazing. Recently I've been thinking about how much like babies Victoria and I are. We don't understand the language, our host parents are relatively strict, we can't really feed ourselves, etc. But of course we're learning as fast as we can. I just wish sometimes that the people here had more patience with how slow we are to understand. But more and more I have been feeling comfortable here. We know a good amount of people on the island because it is so small, and even if we don't know them, they probably know us because we're white and have been on the island for a good amount of time.
I think just a few weeks ago, the idea that "This is my life now" finally clicked for me. I've gotten used to riding in a beat up van with the steering wheel on the wrong side and four kids jumping up and down on my lap. The music is always blaring, the windows are always open, someones constantly dancing and laughing, and the scenery is amazing. I could probably spend a lot more time here and be perfectly content. The only unfortunate thing is that the people I love most in the world are not here to share it with me. But it just feels like I moved to a new place--it was hard to adjust at first, but now that I have, I'm perfectly happy. I have found myself worried that I'll miss this place very dearly, and consequently deciding that I will certainly return in the future.
This week we went to a feast nearly everyday because it is the Saineha alumni reunion. Saineha is the local LDS high school, I'm not sure if I already mentioned that or not. Anyway, we performed our two dances again for the governor this time. The governor's wife put a pa'anga on both Victoria and me, which is apparently very exciting. We also went to lot of dances, which have become more fun because of the people we know. There were parades and lots of money and candy thrown everywhere.
Today marked the end of teh two week break for schools however, so we are going back to our old schedule of school in the mornings and busying ourselves with our projects in the afternoons. It's kind of sad, but I think the weeks should pass quickly enough.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

22 June 2012

What a week I've had! It started out seemingly slow. Monday was good because we got to go to town and I called my family. This Thursday (yesterday) marked the HALFWAY POINT! I can't wait to be going home, but there is still so much to do here. On Tuesday the ward joined in an all day fast because Sunday is our ward conference. We fasted until 6 that evening; I don't think I've ever done that before. We were so starving and made egg salad sandwiches and ginger chicken. I got really frustrated with our host parents mostly because I was hungry, but also because we had to pay for the food and they didn't seem happy with it. Our relationship with them is getting more complicated.. I'll get into it more a little bit later.
Anyway, the fast went well besides that and we happily broke it. On Wednesday night there was supposed to be a Family History activity, but the computer was broken and almost no one showed up. It turned out that there was a practice for a hula dance that will be taking place next week for the Saineha alumni reunion. Our host mom encouraged us to join in, so now guess what? Victoria and I will be in two dances next Thursday, one of which is a hula. Needless to say, we are terrible, but I'm very excited to learn how to dance like the natives. Things like this are a lot easier for them, but I think I could be good with practice and instruction. The thing about Tongans, though, is that they aren't very good with instruction. You have to watch and observe in order to learn, rather than have the steps taught to you one by one. It's really odd and it makes things a lot harder to do. They also said that because we're palangi we don't need to do everything perfectly, so they aren't going to spend as much time with us working on the steps and hand motions. That annoyed me a little bit. But we'll still practice a lot in our free time and I'll film the dance so you all can see it.
Yesterday was Thursday. Victoria and I went to kindergarten in the morning and met some white people from America who came to help out. They were older, with kids and kept saying "Malo, Sisu (Thank you, Jesus)." They're here on a church thing I think. One guy was actually from Vallejo, California, which is like five minutes from where I live. We talked to them for a little bit, and they invited us to dinner, so hopefully we'll go there sometime and eat some lu sipi (my favorite dish). That afternoon Victoria and I got some rolls and popsicles and walked to a nearby cemetery with a great view to eat them. It was nice and humid, but cloudy. Things like that help me to appreciate being here because I am reminded of how beautiful the island and the people are. That night we went to a dance. Our host mom seems to be ashamed of how we look sometimes. We don't want to embarrass her, but she always wants to give us her clothes to wear (which happen to be 10 sizes too large) and she wants to do our hair. But I'm not always comfortable with her sense of style and its difficult to tell her so. Hopefully we'll find some way to meet her halfway. There's a retarded kid here who always asks either me and Victoria to dance, and after a while we just had to say no because he wouldn't stop asking us. And he'd keep asking even if we said no, and get really frustrated when we wouldn't stand up with him. Sometimes our host dad would dance with him. Ha.
We've been eating to much bread lately. Yesterday breakfast was a slice of bread, lunch was these small donut type of things, dinner was candy, and after the dance was more bread. This morning we woke up at 6 to go to another hula practice and got rolls to eat for breakfast afterwards. We're in town today for a rugby tournament that our host dad is in. It's really exciting because I've never even seen rugby before, and it's much rougher than I imagined. We spotted this guy who was really thickly built and had big crazy braided hair and so we called him "The Warrior." I finally got a picture with him and he picked me up! I was so pleasantly surprised. Mostly because it makes a good story, but also because I thought we would kill me if I tried to talk to him because of how tough he looked. Other than that, things are pretty bland because school is beginning its two week break, so we'll be finding other ways to spend our time.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

June 18th

It is very hard to sit down and write a blog post. Especially because I want to keep my time on the internet short while still responding to emails and messages and figuring out tuition and other things for the fall semester. Very time consuming and sometimes frustrating when the internet is slow.

Meanwhile, Tonga has been very good to me! Victoria and I bought fabric to make traditional Tongan attire out of, and we now have some outfits so that we look presentable at church and other affairs. I've been writing in my field journal religiously because it is sort of a relief to sit down and write out everthing I'm thinking or seeing or feeling. I really miss American things a lot of the time, but like some people have pointed out, it's more important to focus on the Tongan things that are good, rather than the American things that are missing. And a lot of the time I just look around me and think, "am I really here? Am I really doing this?" Like the other day we woke up at 5:30 to get to the market early. We got there at like 6:30 and I slept in the car for a bit. When I woke up, I was like, look at me in some tongan lady's van at 6 in the morning on a small island in the middle of the Pacific. The sun was rising and everything was pink and purple and the water was calm. It was lovely and I felt happy. And other times I just get to spend time with the kids playing games or teaching them things or just falling asleep with them. And I feel like I love this family I'm with. They're special to me--they have their differences, which are sometimes overwhelmingly annoying, and there is definitely a language barrier, but they are doing their best to make us happy and I'm grateful for that.

Yesterday we went to a wedding. It was Catholic, so in the morning we went to Catholic mass, something I haven't even experienced in English, which is unfortunate. It was quite different from anything I've done before. There was lots of kneeling then standing then sitting then kneeling then standing again. And singing and walking around. Then finally we left and walked to the bride's house, where everyone sat down to a feast of whole roast pigs, horse, chicken, eggs, hot dogs, sausages, crab salad, potato salad, soda, chips. Anything you can think of except fruits and vegetables, which I crave everyday. Then as soon as you were full, everone filled up plastic bags and boxes with as much food as they could to take home. They gave us a lot because we're palangi, and it was heavy to carry home.

We also made french toast the other day, which our family loved and we were really excited about. We interviewed the police chief, who was very kind and gave us lots of advice about dressing modestly and not being out after dark. We interviewed the principal of Saineha, the local LDS high school. We also interviewed the assistant to the governor (because the governor was sick) to learn about how the government is organized. Almost none of the governmental positions are filled through elections. I was nearly bewildered by that, but I suppose it's how most countries are run.

Most of my days are occupied by volunteering at primary schools and kindergartens, finding food, reading books, writing in my journal, playing with the kids, attending choir practice (which I love), and sleeping.
Last Saturday I think I ate some bad chicken and was sick all Sunday. then Monday I ate a big meal because we came to town and I was hungry, but Monday night I threw that up. Then all week I've had a sore throat.. It's awful being sick somewhere unfamiliar. The days become more dull and you have no energy to even want to try new things. I'm kind of secretly hoping that I'll feel sick enough to go to the Tongan healer, because I'll want to know what they can do for me, and I think it would also be useful for my project.

I really do love it here sometimes. I'm feeling more like I belong and that I understand the people. It makes me think that I could never go anywhere for a short visit, like two or three weeks, it will always have to be longer. And I can never live in a hotel or a lodge, I'll hvae to live in the villages with the people becasue that is the only way to truly understand them. And that makes me very very grateful for this opportunity. It's hard, and sometimes I'm hungry and hot and sticky, but I get to meet so many people who are fascinated by me and by who I am and how I speak. Initially I was annoyed at all the people who stare or laugh at me, but now I stare or laugh back. The tongan people are quite fascinating; very different. I'll write more about them when I get the chance.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

First post in Tonga

 I've been on this island for almost 3 weeks, and away from home for 4. Internet costs money and also renews my homesickness, so I've kind of been trying to stay away. I miss you all soo much and I miss America probably a little bit more. This place is very third worldish, soemthing that I think I may not have been completely prepared for. Most days we eat bread for breakfast, crackers for lunch, and crackers for dinner (or bread). Often it is accompanied by hot chocolate, which is weird in such a warm environment, but we've gotten used to it. There is also the occasional ramen noodle meal. Then on Sundays we feast. We've had this really good ginger chicken, a recipe that I'll probably bring home. And a dish called lu sipi. It's lamb meat with coconut milk wrapped in taro leaves, then foill, and put in the oven. It is soo yummy, especially with a little salt. We've also eaten raw fish a few times, which I'm getting used to, adn horse, which kind of freaked me out to think about. It's very tough and gamy, but the taste is fine. Also I eat like a total savagee now. There is never knapkins and almsot never silverware, plus eating is usually a lot of picking meat out of bones. So my hands are always greasy and there is lots of slurping. the people here stuff their mouths full and chew with their mouths open and talk at the same time. I was really taken aback by it at first, but I've gotten ove it. Even the kids just go to town. We think it's because when they have food, they have to eat a lot of it because they won't get soem for a while afterthat. And you have to get all the mat you can off the bones because it costs money. And there's no such things as leftovers becasue things won't lastm ore than a day unless it's crackers or bread. 

We had the horse at a funeral I went to. At the funeral they put teh dead guy on a bed inside the house and people sing and wail for hours. It started at about 7 in the morning, we went to get the body from the hospital and joined a big procession of cars to go back to the house. they pu tthe body in the house and then everyone sits and sings and mourns until like 1. They fed us though, so that was good.  Alot of meat. We went in and saw the dead guy. You could only see his face, but he definitely looked dead. Then the next night I had weird dreams about eating weird meat and seeing that guy rot. I didn't think I was affected, but I guess I was.

The house we live in is tiny. There is almost nowehre to put our stuff, but I gess thats good because I don't have much anyway. There are always ants. Everywhere. In our beds, on the walls, on the kitchen table, in the kitchen. We've seen a couple rats too. One of them was in our room and I stood on my bed for an hour, kind of freaking out. Hahah we tried to swat at it with a broom, but we couldn't hear it moving anymore so we went to sleep. There are also these longish centipede thigns that are really nasty.. Showering consists of filling up a bucket with water and trying to rinse yourself. So I shower for real like once a week, the other days I just put water over me. We wash our hair about every three or four days.. But nobody cares what we look like because we're palangi (white people).

church is rough because i'ts all in Tongan-- ends up being very boring, even with our host mom translating for us. tongan is a very backwards language, but we're learning a few phrases and sometimes we can pick up on small bits of conversation. The island is only about 12 km across its longest length. Gas is at least 10 dollars a gallon, but our family still insists on driving lots of places. Like the rugby field about 4 blocks away, chuurch (3 blocks away), a grocery store (4 blocks away), etc. Rugby here is really popular, my roommate plays with some people some afternoons and they make fun of her b/c only boys play rugby in Tonga. But she's a really good sport about it, plus it's exercise and we certainly need that.

The kids here are brutal. The wrestle each other, hit each other, throw sharp sticks at each other. The parents, for discipline, smack kids in teh head a lot so they'll listen. I have to say that I've hit a kid or two when they go into our room and steal candy, or seomthing along those lines. And tehy aren't afraid to hit back. I'm starting to think it's almost a form of affection. These poor kids. I just want to take them home and take them to a dentist. Almost all of them have rotting teeth. Then you remember that it's just their baby teeth, but I'm certain that they're brushing habits don't change when they get the next set. If they even had brushing habits. I didn't bring mouthwash because I thought it would be too heavy, and I'm really missing it. The kids also almost always have open wounds from playing so hard. And everyone here is always barefoot. They have really tough feet. I have a hard time decided whether I want my kids to be as rough or not.. sometimes it seems liek a good thing because they learn a lot on their onw, but I don't want them to be sick all the time. Hahah.

I've really been missing home, but things have gotten better as I've become accustomed to the place and the people. Everyone stares at us because we ride around in a van with a brown family. And we're very very white. And people are too shy to speak English, so only the brave ones say hi or ask us our names. But then I think everyone already knows our names because white people in a small tongan village is sort of exciting. And I think they all mean to be nice, even if they laugh at us a lot.

Almost every friday night we go to a church activity, which is just a dance. But in order to dance, you have to have a partner for even the slow songs. So the boys (of all ages. like 10-60) come and bow to you and then you don't have a choice, you have to follow them to the dance floor. Then dancing is like, no eye contact, stand 3 or 4 feet away from each other, and don't talk. It's really weird, but we're getting used to that too. 

We've been volunteering at a primary school to help with English. We thought we'd just be helping the teachers with a few things, but we have to go with a lesson prepared for a half hour in each of the three classes. It's sort of annoying, but when we find something that works well, it feels good. then on thursday mornings we go help at the "kindergarten" which is mnore like a preschool. That's more fun because it doesn't matter that we can't speak Tongan and the kids are adorable and like to throw things at us. We color and sing. I now know the Tongan alphabet and a few other tongan songs. This place is really great. The people just seem to value different things. Like it's really important to be clean and welld ressed when you go to churhc or some meeting, but the other days you can wear whatever you want and get as dirty as you want and no one gives is a second thought. But everyone is able to LOOk clean, much cleaner than us. We always look pretty shabby. But it's been less humid here and kind of rainy, which sucks because then you can't go out at all. I've read a lot of books since I've been here too, becasue there's a little library and a lot of free time, so that's nice. And I have to say it is kind of nice to not be on facebook all the time.. It's different, but nice. And no phone isn't so bad either, I've gotten used to it and to finding other ways to pass the time.

I have yet to begin learning about plants, but that should occur in the next few weeks.