Monday, November 23, 2009


This is Thanksgiving week, and we are planning a big Thanksgiving Dinner with all the trainees, our training staff, and the current PCVs here on Ha’apai, a group of about 50. Peace Corps Tonga is supplying the turkeys, and the volunteers and trainees are providing everything else. Kathy was intent on having pumpkin pie, and by golly it looks like she’s going to be able to do it.

There are green Japanese pumpkins available on Tongatapu, and our host mother arranged for one of her relatives to buy some and ship them to us here. We had one for Hallowe’en (see our previous post) and knew that they would work, as they have the same orange flesh and flavor as our USA varieties. The primary problem turns out to be having the right kind of milk and spices, since they don’t have any regular evaporated milk in Tonga, only the sweetened condensed stuff that’s great for making butterscotch but not much else. So on Saturday Kathy bought some regular milk, borrowed some precious cinnamon from the PCV working here in Faleloa, and experimented with a recipe. We had to cook it at the house where some of the training staff our staying, one of the few working ovens in this village, and it actually turned out pretty good. So Kathy will bake a couple more on Wednesday and we’ll be good to go.

This is our second week of practice teaching. I had a great time with my little class (10 students, nine girls, one boy) today, and I’m looking forward to the next few days as well. We created a “market” in class and they really got into it. We’re learning that if you can get these kids up and doing it seems to work. Their typical class involves copying lessons down from the blackboard and then memorizing various concepts and definitions, but with little involvement in learning what this all means in daily life. So most of us trainees are working to create more student centered activities.

Today there was an actual morning assembly at my school. This is the usual procedure at a Tongan high school. The students assemble in the big assembly hall, sing a song or two, have a scripture reading and daily prayer (even at the government schools), and announcements from the principal. There were no such assemblies last week, as the only students that were coming to class were the ones in the classes we Pisikoas were teaching. But today most of the Form 5 & 6 (essentially Juniors and Seniors) returned to begin practicing for the end of term festivities and graduation ceremonies next week. We were led in by the Deputy Principal and then introduced to the students as part of the Principal’s announcements. After the announcements we and the few other teachers who actually showed up today then filed out before the students were dismissed. The students were then dismissed and our classes could begin.

This training program has been intense. Now as we near the end all of us are quite ready to move on, to move on from the home stay experience (as illuminating as this has been to the daily life and culture of Tonga), first to our “attachment” sites (living with a current volunteer for 4 or 5 days to gain some firsthand experience with the day-to-day life of a PCV), and then back to Nuku’alofa to complete training. This culminates in our swearing in ceremony on December 16, and presumably we will then be moving in to the home that will be “ours.” If everything goes as planned Kathy and I will be living in the SW part of Nuku’alofa, quite close to my school, and about a 20 minute walk to Kathy’s.

I spend a fair amount of time every day walking around, getting to and from various places or just doing some eva pe (wandering around). I particularly like to walk the 300 yards or so from my house to the Faleloa wharf and watch the sunset. Lately my thoughts on these walks have been about what a tremendous privilege it is to be here, to be a Peace Corps Volunteer, and how lucky I am to have the health and the heart to be doing this. I am thankful for my fellow trainees, a great bunch of people, some of whom are truly talented teachers. Some have never taught before or had any education classes, but they are working hard and most seem to be getting the hang of it. I am thankful that they all look like they are going to make it through training and be committed volunteers. And I am thankful for the staff we’ve been working with here, a very supportive group. Peace Corps Tonga is in transition; a new country director will be hired before too long and there are new people in some key posts. And we are the first batch of volunteers hired under the new Tonga Expanded Community Education Program, so it is going to be an interesting year. I am very much looking forward to it.

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