I'll be home May 13th through May 31st for Josh's graduation. That is in just over 2 months. Get excited, people! I know I won't get to see everyone (sorry!), but don't worry, I'll be home only 6 or 7 months after that.
So lots of things have changed since I came to Tonga. I shall share them with you, because some of them are interesting.
I couldn't stand to be in the same room as a spider. Seriously. One time I slept in my basement for three nights because I saw a tiny one crawl across my bed.
I kill giant wall spiders with my flip flop. This isn't as badass as volunteers who live in countries with poisonous spiders, but still.... big step.
I was a vegetarian for five years.
I'm not. Just devoured some barbecue. It was delicious.
I washed my hair every day.
I wash it a couple times a week. Last week, I didn't wash it for 6 days. It still looked fine (courtesy of headbands from Ms. Hannah Webb. Also, clarification- I shower, just don't wash my hair.)
I rarely drank soda.
I drink significantly more soda. It's one of my treats. Bad habit, I know.
I had two tattoos.
I have three tattoos.
I know that there are more of these, because I write them in my head pretty frequently. But now that I'm trying to actually type them up, I can't think of them! Ah! I'll try to write them down as they come up and then do another post on these before and afters.
I got him in December when my friend John (johnoutsidethelines.blogspot.com), who had lived in Ha'apai and was finishing out his service, headed back to the US. Banjo and I had already had some bonding time when I visited Ha'apai, but I was still a bit nervous about him joining my household of toko taha pe (just one). I'm not a huge animal person. I like them, but I lack skills.
However, it's worked out fine. Banjo is a very smart dog and John trained him well, although he did spoil him a bit. Banjo sometimes stays in the house and sometimes outside. He barks at night but is learning not to as I discipline him in a kind but firm manner (hahaha). We are working on getting rid of his fleas with the medication I got from another volunteer. My neighbours like him (mostly) and the students at my school adore him because he is a kuli angalelei (nice dog) and they can pet him. He gets a little distracting during school sometimes but I think that will pass.
Overall, Banjo and I are having a great time together, although I know he misses John. Banjo pictures will be coming soon, probably on facebook! Not because I'm one of those people that likes to make facebook albums of their pets- seriously, no one wants to see those- but I promised John haha.
On behalf of KO's kind response to my most recent (if you use the term recent loosely) post, I shall provide more information on Camp GLOW and the unrelated glow worms of New Zealand.
First, Camp GLOW, from last September...
The counselors all got there on the Sunday to prepare for the arrival of the girls on Monday. We had posters to make and classrooms to set up. We were also bonding and getting pumped. We had 5 counselors and 6 junior counselors (campers from the previous year). Everyone was super excited.
The girls came on Monday morning. Check-in was a little crazy, as we ended up having 35 girls- which is great! We were holding the camp at one of the schools in an outer village, Nukunuku. We used three of the primary school classrooms to sleep in and then used the hall for sessions and meals. Camp GLOW is an interesting camp because it's not just fun and games and sports like most summer camps, although those things are certainly included. Because it's about empowering and educating girls, we have a lot of class-type sessions. The girls learned about building self-esteem, setting goals, responding to sexual harassment, and the negative impacts of alcohol and drugs. They had time to reflect in their journals at the end of the day, and to discuss what they had learned within small groups.
Some highlights of Camp GLOW:
Visit to Parliament- the girls were only the 2nd student group to get a tour of the inside of Tonga's Parliament building! The first group was the previous year's Camp GLOW.
Model Mamas- the girls got matched up with women working in the community and went to work with these women, kind of like 'take your daughter to work day.' They visited with women who worked at the bank, the Peace Corps office, the airlines, the Tongan handicraft store, and a bunch of other different locations
the Career Panel- a number of professional women came to the camp and described their jobs to the girls. The girls got to ask questions of the women, and the session ended up extending far beyond is allocated time because the girls were so eager to talk to the women! It provided the girls with a lot of inspiration in terms of future careers and it was also great because so many of the women had families as well.
the Beach Clean-Up/Bonfire- we went to a nearby beach one day and did a clean-up of the area. Afterwards, we had time for swimming, volleyball, and just hanging out at the beach. When it started to get dark, we were able to have a bonfire!
Even though there were a few glitches in the program throughout the week, everything went very well and the girls had a great time. They definitely learned a lot! Our counselors were fantastic and so inspirational for the girls. Our junior counselors really stepped up, especially two girls who acted incredibly mature and were real leaders among their peers. Overall the week was a great success and we're hoping to have that happen again this year. Just started planning for Camp GLOW 2012, so be prepared for lots of information (and begging and pleading for money) when that comes!
Unrelated glow worms (this is for you, KO!)...
SO COOL! We went on this cave tour at Waitomo while we were in New Zealand. There are a bunch of options for cave tours, but we decided to go with the smaller company which was definitely a great choice. There were only 5 of us on our tour- me and two friends as well as another couple. We went into the cave with our headlamps on but eventually turned them off so we could see the glow worms better.
Glow worms are little worms that feed off of little buggies in the river. So for the best glow worms, there needs to be a moving, fresh water river going through the cave. We got into a raft and our guide toured us up and down the river. It was so beautiful! Seeing the glow worms on the roof of the cave was like looking up at the stars, but being so close you could reach out and touch them (which we of course did not do). We were all completely silent and it was pitch black except for the worms. It was so, so amazing. I highly recommend this for anyone who happens to find themselves in New Zealand- and I recommend finding yourself there sometime soon!
Okay that's about it in terms of things the glow... hahaha.
So it's been about 5 months. Sorry about that! I got behind on everything and then kept getting intimidated by the prospect of catching up. But it's time to face my fears and deal with it, so I'm going to give you all a brief recap on the major things that have happened over the past 5 months. If there's something that catches your interest and you would like a blog post about it with more detail, feel free to comment and let me know. That way I won't write five million pages about things you aren't particularly interested in, haha.
insane preparations for both Camp GLOW and the Class 6 Secondary School Entrance Exam
my friend Marie's birthday- we went to a resort out on the east side and had a buffet with traditional Tongan food and a performance (in a cave!) filled with traditional Tongan and Polynesian dances. Some of my other Peace Corps friends performed the Tau'olunga (a traditional Tongan dance for single ladies) that they learned during training
Camp GLOWs Tongatapu, 'Eua, and Vava'u were all successful. It was a stressful week (and month in general) for all involved but the girls on each island had a blast and learned a lot despite a couple of unexpected twists in the plans. Yay GLOW!
Final preparations for the Class 6 exam.
My birthday! I'm 23 now. Cool.
Murder mystery dinner with some peeps. 8 of us dressed up as different characters from a murder mystery dinner game set and had soup night while trying to figure out who had killed our fictional host. Costumes were outrageously awesome and the whole dinner was a blast. Great food and great company. Possibly one of my favourite nights I've had here in Tongan.
More preparations for the Class 6 exam.
CLASS 6 EXAM! Two days, two subjects each day. Then Class 6 had two more days of testing along with Class 4 based solely on the curriculum and meant to assess the new curriculum. My involvement in these exams was sitting outside the school in our neighbouring village with another teacher, reading a book and waiting for our students to finish so we could go home, each, and come back for the next exam. It was a party.
Rugby World Cup action! This stretched throughout September as well but I'm including it in October because that's when the most exciting part happened: Tonga beating France! (France went on to play in the final game where they lost to New Zealand.) I did not do much watching of the Rugby World Cup because I still don't really understand rugby and have always had a hard time watching sports on TV. But I did wear my red on Fridays to support Tonga and we went to town after we beat France to eva with my neighbours. Town was crazy!! The streets were jammed with cars and people carrying Tongan flags and everyone was yelling and cheering. It was really fun! We left before it got toooo crazy though.
A much more relaxed approach to school once the exam finished.
The sense of dread creeping up on us Group 76 volunteers as we realized that Group 75 would be leaving very soon and no one new would be coming.
A beloved member of our Group 76 also left- Dan Dirks. He got a job working with Doctors Without Borders. While we're all really proud of Dan and know for certain that his wide array of skills will be better utilized in his new job, we miss him a lot. He was our go to guy for pretty much everything. I swear, that man can do it all. "Dan, my fridge is leaking." "Dan, I have rats in my house." "Dan, my tire needs air." He also had a wonderful treasure trove of experiences that he was more than willing to share. Seriously, love that guy.
Halloween! Multiple parties, some of which I did not attend as I was too lazy to leave my village. I did go to two, however. At one, I was Daisy Duck. At the other, I was a member of the Spice Girls- I was Pumpkin Spice. There were also Pepper, Sea Salt, Cinnamon, and Ginger. Aren't we clever?
My friend Sandy came and stayed at my house a couple nights. One night, there was an explosion of cockroaches! Sandy turned on the sink to wash dishes and they just swarmed everywhere. This had never happened before! So we ran away. Then I Morteined the place to kill them. Then a molokau (vicious carniverous terrifying painful centipede) came out. We screamed more. I dropped my computer- don't worry Mom, it's okay- and Sandy killed the molokau. No one seemed interested in why were screaming, since none of my neighbours came to check on us. The next day my neighbours all said "Oh, we heard you guys playing last night." Playing? PLAYING? We were screaming bloody murder! Although I guess there was some laughter thrown in there, it wasn't all that reassuring to know that was the reaction my neighbours had, haha.
Lots of socialness as members of Group 75 departed at various times. The socialness was fun, if a bit wearing eventually. However, we're definitely missing all the wonderful people who are living it up back in America.
The end of school! We did a little end of the year ceremony where students got awards and did performances. Biggest part- the entire school acted out the Nativity story in English! It was pretty impressive. I didn't have that much to do with it other than writing the script but the students did a really amazing job with their lines, even the ones who usually struggle a bit with English. I videotaped the whole thing so maybe someday I'll be able to get that up on YouTube for all y'all to watch.
I left for New Zealand! Yay!
New Zealand! It was really fun. We hit up Auckland, Rotorua, Waitomo, Taupo, and Tongariro National Park. Saw glow worms in caves and thermal activity, luged down a mountain (on a wheeled cart thing), went in hot springs, did the Tongariro National Alpine Crossing (during which I almost died because I'm so out of shape), and saw lots and lots of beautiful scenery. I also got to see my friend Claire who was my first and absolutely amazing co-counselor at Camp Kennybrook. Claire is from England but just moved to New Zealand for the year so that was super super wonderful. Hopefully she'll come to Tonga sometime soon!
More Christmas youth performances a la last year. That was really really fun.
Found out that out of my 8 students, 4 passed to the schools they were hoping to attend. Two will be going to Toloa, the all boys Wesleyan boarding school. One will be going to Queen Salote, the all girls Wesleyan boarding school. And one will be going to Apifo'ou, the Catholic school. The other 4 will be going to the nearby Weslyan middle school for forms 1 and 2 and then will move on to secondary schools. Yay for my students! I'm very very proud of them.
Went to my first Tongan wedding. A man from my church got married and Vao, my Tongan 'mom' and the Class 1 teacher at my school, brought me with her. It was a very palangi-like wedding with bridesmaids and the same kinds of vows and stuff, which was interesting and not necessarily traditional but a choice of the bride and groom. It was fun though. There was a big feast after with lots of eating and dancing and speeches.
Christmas! Talked to my lovely family on the phone while they were at my grandparents house for Christmas Eve, which was nice. Went to a feast, again for the couple that had just gotten married. That was awkward because I STILL had to sit at the head table even though I barely know them and it was one of the longest feasts I've ever been too. But it was very kind of them to invite me and I enjoyed spending time with some people in my community who I don't necessarily see as much as some others.
Went to a resort with my friend Kimberly. She came over from 'Eua for New Years and we spent four days at Vakaloa on the West Side of the island. Beaching it everyday fakapalangi, which means we got to wear our bathing suits and dress however we wanted instead of having to swim in clothes and be completely covered all the time. Kimberly is wonderful company so I really enjoyed spending that time with her.
New Years continued at Vakaloa.
My camera broke :( It somehow got water in it even though it's supposed to be waterproof. Working on sorting that stuff out.
'Uike Lotu. Prayer week. Missed part of it because of Vakaloa. Last year I went to every service at 5 am and 5 pm each day because I was new. This year I stuck with the 5 pm services and bailed on the 5 am ones. I felt kind of bad but my community didn't really mind so it was okay. 5 am is really early to go to a church service for a religion of which you aren't actually technically a part, especially when you are not fluent in the language.
Beach day with the youth in my village. We only went for a couple hours but it was really fun. Sadly, that was when my camera broke.
Mid Service Training, also known as MST. That was this past week. Had lots of sessions. some were good, some were not, but on the whole it was really nice to be together as a group again and get to see everyone from the other islands. They all headed back today.
Next things coming up: training week starts the 23rd, then school begins the week after that.
That's about it! Sorry this post is so long, but I'll try to be better in the future (she says yet again). Let me know if you want anything to be elaborated upon.