Thursday, February 24, 2011

Climbing Trees


I tried to climb a coconut tree this week with one of my PC friends. In our Emergency packet, they tell us that if a tsunami is coming, climbing up a really tall coconut tree is a potential means of staying safe. I don’t think anyone on Peace Corps staff has ever actually tried to climb a coconut tree. It’s pretty damn hard. You can only do it barefoot. I can’t get more than five feet off the ground. I encourage all my friends who live anywhere near palm trees to try it. That means you, Jamie and Daniela.

I’m not giving up, though. My plan is to work on my upper body strength and try again some other time. Unfortunately, I think what is holding me back most is my fear of all things incredibly steep. That includes trees which go straight up and have no branches to climb on. I would never even climb the tree to the zip line at camp because it was steep, and that had notches and you were attached with a rope. (Don’t tell my campers that, though- I always told them that it was because I wanted everyone else to have a turn. I didn’t want to make them scared. So shhhhh.)

Sorry Peace Corps. If there’s a tsunami, there’s no way I’m getting up a coconut tree. Especially not in 20 minutes.

(Don’t worry, Mom and Dad. There won’t be a tsunami. I’m safe.)


Faka'ofa :(


So I had a really sad experience this week. My neighbour’s dog had puppies. I have been deliberately avoiding adopting any animals because I know I will get too attached and not be able to leave it when I finish Peace Corps. But since I don’t know what I’m doing/where I’m going after PC I can’t truly commit to bringing a pet back with me. So I had been really successful with this even though I could hear the puppies, because I hadn’t yet seen them. But then they all came out of hiding. Long story short I fell in love with the runt of the litter, who was half the size of all the other puppies and black and just so cute.

I decided Tuesday that I was going to adopt him. But I went to another village Tuesday night to have dinner with a friend so I left the puppy outside with all the other puppies which is how he’d been living anyway so I thought it’d be fine. Well on Wednesday I couldn’t find him anywhere. I was so sad all day. Then my principal found him behind their house, where the puppies had been born. I was sooooooo excited! I jumped up and down and said thank you over and over again. I’m sure they thought I was crazy but oh well. So then I brought my puppy- named Tisikou, or Disco- inside and discovered that he couldn’t stand up. Whenever he tried he would stumble a little bit and then fall over. I gave him a bath and I tried to feed him some bread and water but he wouldn’t eat it. So I went to the store and got tinfish (fish in a can) and milk. I tried to feed him that and he wouldn’t eat it. So I put some milk in a honey bottle, pried his mouth open and fed him that. He drank a little bit of milk. By this time I had figured out that he was dying. A similar thing had happened with my friend Cecilia’s puppy a few weeks ago.

I was obviously really upset because even though he had only been my puppy for a day and a half, I loved him a lot. The only reason I decided to get a puppy at all was because I loved that specific puppy. I kept trying to feed him milk but he wouldn’t eat it anymore. So I just let him lie on the mat and hoped he was comfortable. He was making really pathetic squeaking noises whenever he breathed and his breathing was getting shallower and shallower. I put him in my lap and pet him until he died, around 10:30 that night. I was crying and crying and crying, it was so sad. My neighbours came home and they said they would bury my puppy for me the next day. I tried not to cry in front of them but for anyone who knows me well, you realize that obviously failed miserably. They were really nice about it though.

It was generally a pretty traumatizing experience and it still makes me really sad. Maybe that is stupid but it’s easy to get attached to animals! Haha. My neighbours kept trying to give me another of the puppies and I kept trying to say no but I think he might be mine anyway. We’re kind of just sharing the last two dogs, one is a girl and belongs to the kids over there. That dog is named Pretty. The other one is a boy and is kind of mine I think but I’m not really sure. It’s kind of confusing. But his name is Spoon, or Sepuni. I named that one, haha. I’ll keep you updated on whether or not he actually becomes mine. I really liked the name Disco and am kind of bummed I can never use it for a puppy again but my dying little puppy deserved a name and that is the best one I could give him. But I like Spoon, too. Maybe he will come to America and you will meet him someday. Or maybe not. That’s a ways away.


Yup, More School Stuff....


School since the first week has been a bit disorganized at times but generally much better. I’ve learned how to say a few important classroom phrases in Tongan, but mostly I just speak to the kids in English as if they understand me. Sometimes the Tongan teachers will help me if the kids don’t understand, but you’d be amazed at how well these kids pick up instructions based on my gestures and actions. It’s not that I don’t want to use Tongan with them, or that I’m being lazy. It’s that listening to English from a native speaker is not something they usually get to do and just having that practice is a lot of the reason I’m here. Not to mention that even though my understanding of Tongan has gotten a lot better, my speaking is still pretty slow/broken so sometimes chances of the kids understanding my English are better than them understanding my Tongan, hahahaha. How sad.

The school day generally goes something like this:
8:00- most of the kids start showing up for school
8:20- the bell rings and the students start to clean up the school grounds, picking up trash, pulling out
weeds, etc.
8:25- line up by class, some days have their finger and toe nails checked for cleanliness and length, have
one of the teachers tell them if there’s anything they need to know or that is different about the
day, and say a prayer
8:30- if it is Monday, have assembly where the principal does some Bible stuff with them and does roll
call for the whole school. That goes until 9ish. If it is Friday, the Faifekau (minister) comes and does
some churchy stuff with them. If it’s Tuesday-Thursday, class starts.
10:30- break time, during which the kids eat and play outside
10:45- the kids get the toothbrushes they keep at school and everyone brushes their teeth together
11:00- class resumes
12:30- lunch break, during which pretty much everyone goes home to eat
1:30- school starts again
3:20- school ends

I work Monday through Thursday. I start every morning with Class 1 for half an hour. Mondays and Wednesdays I am with Class 2 for half an hour, Tuesdays and Wednesdays with Class 3 for half an hour, Tuesdays and Thursdays with Kindy for 15 minutes to half an hour. When exactly I go to those classes and how long I stay varies depending on what the teacher is doing with them and how long I decide I want to stay. Usually it ends up being longer- I was only supposed to be with Classes 2 and 3 for 20 minutes, but I can’t do much in that time so I extended it to half an hour. Then every day from 11:30 to 12:30 I am with Class 6. That’s in the morning. In the afternoon on Mondays I am with Class 6 for another hour. Then on Tuesdays and Thursdays I am with Classes 4 & 5 (who are combined) for half an hour in the afternoon. The rest of the time I spend lesson planning and working on the “library.” Right now it is just a room filled with books, a computer, a printer, and a photocopier. The books are never used and it’s kind of messy. My job is to organize it and create a functioning library in the time that I’m here. I haven’t gotten all that far yet but I just went and visited the library of another Peace Corps in my group and she gave me a lot of great ideas so hopefully I’ll be able to get a little more done soon.

The kids at my school are really great, as are the teachers. Granted sometimes I still have no idea what is going or what exactly I should be doing but I consider myself really lucky. The principal and teachers are all very supportive, and the kids are enthusiastic and smart. For the most part they listen to me. Some classes are better about that than others but I can’t blame them too much because I know it’s hard to focus when someone is speaking in a language you only partially understand- I totally drift in and out when I listen to something that’s entirely in Tongan. But they really do try and they pick things up pretty quickly. So we’ll see how it goes!


Beginning of School Adventures


Hey team! Sorry, it’s been awhile. Things have been a little crazy with school starting up.

I guess that’s what I’ll start with- school! After two weeks of planning (and I use that term very loosely), school started on the 31st of January. The first week was just half-days and I did not have my schedule yet, so I spent the time helping the Class 1 teacher, Vao (who is my principal’s wife/my neighbor/my mom in my village). I spent most of the week having no idea what was going on or what I should be doing. Fortunately Vao is a great teacher and really energetic/enthusiastic. She uses a lot of English with her students anyway, so I got a pretty good idea of what I should be doing when I work with Class 1.

However, there were also some interesting situations that first week. Best example is that Wednesday. Every day school starts at 8:30, and goes until they have a short recess at 10:30. Well, during recess on the first Wednesday one student managed to get a giant gash right below one of his eyebrows. As we were getting ready to start class again, Vao came back and told me that she had to take this student to the hospital and could I please do class for the rest of the day (only until 12:30, fortunately). Of course I said yes because what else was I going to do? The kid had a huge cut right by his eye. Class 1 and Kindy were combined at the time, so it was me and the Kindy teacher, Seini. This was challenging enough because for a lot of the kids it was their first time in school so there was a lot of chasing kids, bringing them back to the classroom, taking them off the tables, etc. After all, Kindy is 4 years old and Class 1 is 5, so they are pretty young.

I did the best I could in terms of some simple activities and Seini handled all the Tongan speaking. At one point we decided it would be good to go outside because we were doing basic verbs with the kids- walking, running, hopping and so forth. I thought we were all going outside. But when I started to take Class 1 outside, Seini said “okay so we will stay in here for a little bit and then join you!” I just kind of stared at her and she asked if I wanted her and the Kindy to come out, too. Of course that would have been ideal but I totally understood the need for them to be separated for a little bit. Thus, I said “oh, no, it’s okay, we’re fine!” Well, silly me. My Tongan is not even remotely good enough to control nearly 20 5-year-old Tongan children while running around outside. The best I could manage was “Fakalonglongo!” (quiet!), “Fanongo!” (listen!), “Tuku ia!” (stop it!), and “Kapau oku ikai te mou fanongo, oku ikai te mau va’inga!” (a very butchered attempt to say, “if you don’t listen we are not playing!”) Unfortunately it took me so long to say the last one that by the time I got to the “we are not playing” part they had stopped paying attention to me.

Basically, just picture me standing in a field with 20 small Tongan children running around crazily as I tried to get them to listen to me using a mixture of broken Tongan and English. Pretty ridiculous, exhausting, and hilarious. But Seini and the kindy kids came out after a little bit and we attempted some other games with them (which failed) and eventually just resorted to letting them run around anyway. I learned after that someone important from some education office- possibly the Weslyan office, maybe the government? I don’t know- was visiting at the time to meet with my principal. I’m sure I looked quite professional. Ooops….