Thursday, November 19, 2009


18 ‘o Novema
I’m tired. It’s Wednesday evening, 8:30 p.m. of our first week of practice teaching, and I’ve just returned from my second Tongan language class of the day. Since 7 a.m. I have been either teaching, preparing a lesson plan for tomorrow, traveling to or from Pangai without necessarily having a clear idea of how I’m getting to or from there (an 8 mile trip each way), or studying the language.

And it’s starting to get hot. The rains we had a few weeks ago have not continued, and I’m starting to understand why Tongans try hard to stay out of the sun. In the sun it feels 20 degrees warmer than in the shade. Thank goodness we live on a relatively small island and we enjoy fairly consistent ocean breezes.

My practice teaching is at Pangai High School, the government school that is the best funded of the various high schools (there are three other church run high schools in Pangai) and that is able to attract the best students, i.e. those that get the best scores on the class 6 exam. It is fairly new, less than ten years old, and is in relatively good shape. Nevertheless, in the boys bathroom only one of the six urinals had a working water connection, and I wasn’t brave enough to look in a stall at any of the toilets. And the floor was filthy; there was no evidence that any cleaning had taken place in there in recent times. However, there is one drinking fountain that provides purified water which I was thankful to find since I forgot my usually ever present water bottle today. And a working computer lab that we can use after we finish teaching.

One great big hitch in our training schedule is that in the Tongan schools the end of the school year is just a week or two away. All of the classes have had their final exams, so there is little expectation for children (or teachers for that matter) to actually come to school this week. Those that are coming to school are practicing singing for the final school assembly or working on the schools bush plots. So we essentially have no good reason to be teaching anything. Our challenge, therefore, has been to create lesson plans that are basically review lessons. We are trying to use games as much as possible. I am working with a Form 4(essentially high school sophomore) Economics class and we are creating a Jeopardy! Game. I have challenged the students to help write the questions for the game, and tomorrow we are going to see how well they do. My class of anywhere from 6 to 9 students (6 or 8 girls plus one boy who showed up for the first time today) is going to challenge one of my Pisikoa colleagues Accounting class tomorrow.

Our other challenge this week has been getting to and from Pangai. Usually there is a “bus” that runs from our village of Faleloa (the end of the line) to Pangai every morning. It usually takes a bus load at 7 a.m. and then returns to take another bus load at 8 a.m. Now this is not a school bus, but most of its passengers are school kids as the schools do not transport. The fare is 50 seniti (about 30 cents) each way. So on Monday the four of us Faleloa Pisikoa who are teaching in Pangai planned to take the 8 a.m. bus, which would get us there in plenty of time for our 9 a.m. classes. But, because so few kids are actually going to school, the bus driver decided he did not need to make the return trip at 8. So here we were, suddenly reliant on the primary mode of transport here, hitchhiking. This usually involves walking along the road until we can flag down a minivan or one of the fairly common 1-ton flatbed trucks and then climb on or in with whoever else may be in the same boat as we are. Thankfully, this is a highly accepted mode of transportation and most everybody (with the noted exception of the Chinese delivery vans supplying all the little village shops) willingly stop to give rides. The main problem is there is just not very much traffic at all. On that day we luckily arrived at our destination just as classes were getting ready to start. Yesterday, after being assured by the bus driver that he would be returning for a second trip, the same thing happened again, and again we had to cope with hitching and a just-in-time arrival.

So today we got up early and rode the 7 a.m. bus, arriving 1 ½ hours early for our class. That gave us plenty of time to get ready and actually do a little language study before the few students who have been directed to attend our classes arrived.
I should interject here that despite these hassles I’m enjoying this week very much. After class today I was able to use the high school’s computer lab to catch up some internet business, then walk over to Mariner’s Café to enjoy some French press coffee and chat with my Pisikoa colleagues. Then a few of us decided to begin the journey back. After walking for maybe a half mile we got a short ride as far as the airport (about a third of the way home). Today we had to wait a few minutes for a plane to take off before continuing our walk on the road. The road crosses the airport’s only runway and has to be closed every time a plane lands or takes off, which probably only happens four or five times a day. We walked another mile or so, really feeling the heat as there is no shade at midday in the tropics, to the causeway connecting Lifuka and Foa islands and the welcome ocean breeze. During this stretch not one vehicle passed us going in our direction.

I should note here that when we left the bus driver this morning he told us he would not be making a return trip to Faleloa until later this afternoon. Well, at 11:45, as we were walking across the causeway that connects our island with Lifuka, guess what came up behind us? The bus was fairly full of mostly school kids; by fairly full I mean there were no empty seats and maybe only a dozen or so people standing in the aisle. Not a problem for us at all. In any event, I absolutely have given up trying to divine any kind of schedule for the bus, and have finally learned that even the bus driver has no clear idea when he will decide to make a run. We will be on the only known run, the 7 a.m. from Faleloa, once again tomorrow.

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