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Justin & Rebecca’s journal of life on Nomuka
DECEMBER 2003, via email

Justin and Rebecca are in Vava'u for a Peace Corps conference so their class of volunteers can evaluate the first year of service. On Dec. 12 Justin emailed the account below of the last month. (In mid-December they'll be meeting Rebecca's parents, Lynne and John List, and her younger sister Deborah in the capital and bringing them back to Nomuka for a week. All five will then travel to New Zealand for an active vacation.)

November 3, 2003

It's been so long since we have written anything for our journal and it seems like a daunting task. That might explain why it has been so long. Sometimes I get inspired to write about something, but then the motivation to actually write fades and I put it off, until the inspiration that initially struck me fades too and I lose the details. It is November 3, 2003. We have been in Tonga for over a year. I can't believe that actually. We can look back at our arrival in Tonga and reminisce about things that happened here, over a year ago. A lot has happened though (not really to an outside eye in my opinion, but to us it has been a lot) and starting today I will work back and try and put it all down, more for my benefit than anyone else's.

This past weekend, we went camping on Nomuka Iki. We have been doing weekend stretches lately, or at least the last two trips. We left Friday afternoon, in moderately rough seas, after packing all morning. Actually I packed while Rebek was at school. I tried to pack essentials only, as we always bring so much stuff, especially by Tongan standards. Our friend Meki (pictured at left after catching a fish with a line and hook) was going through our 'uta (stuff) amazed at what we could possibly need from the large, organized piles. I had tried to account for what we could acquire there through fishing or foraging. It's part of my constant attempt at self sufficiency. I always try and imagine that we may end up like Tom Hanks in a Castaway type situation and wonder how well I could provide what we need for survival. I view these trips somewhere between practice for such an occasion and the luxurious resort type weekends I feel we deserve and need after weeks of teaching. I also have to factor in our space on the kayaks, made smaller by the dog.

The sea was not great or horrible. It is hard for us to judge, so we often ask people. Some people consistently say it is too rough. Some always say it is fine, even when I wouldn't dare try to make the crossing. It is a mile across, and our usual judging points are the speed of the water moving west through the channel and whether or not there are white caps on the swells in the middle. This time there were tiny white caps and the water was moving pretty fast. We were determined to get away though and so we went for it. It turned out to be a pretty calm ride. Finnerty was well behaved on the trip. He seemed really excited actually. He loves Nomuka Iki because there are no other dogs or people or pigs to get angry at. He rarely makes a sound: only an occasional yelp at a crab he is terrorizing. He is so quiet on the small island that we tend to forget to feed him. But he is content anyway and doesn't care whether he eats or not.

We had decided to try a new camp site, on the southwest end of the island. The island is really narrow there; you can see through to the other side. We like the south side because you can't see Nomuka. It is all open seas to the south and west and you can see the sunset. The wind was coming from the north all weekend and we were very sheltered. Our new spot turned out to be amazing. There are a lot of rocks that jut out from the beach and fish seem to congregate there. We have noticed these schools of tiny flying fish that move up and down the coast, very close to shore. The schools look like dense clouds under the water, sometimes small and black when the fish are moving close together, or sometimes longer and less dark. Sometimes there are larger fish or small reef sharks that circle through the schools. When this happens, it is easy to catch them by throwing a line only about 10 or 15 feet out. We use a spool of fishing line with octopus as bait.The Friday we arrived we didn't catch any fish, so we relied on our palangi food--beef stew from a can. It was awesome. At around ten or eleven, after a lot of wine, we decided to fish again, and I finally caught a fish. We listened to the rugby world cup, in Tongan, Amelika mo Filanise. Filanise won.

Saturday we woke up and it was very low tide, not very good for swimming. We decided to go look for papaya, which grows in the middle part of the island. We crossed to the north side and walked about half way to the east until we got to the site of the old prison. There, you can find an old path along which there are a lot of papaya and coconut trees. None were ripe, unfortunately, so we decided to walk on past where the path fizzles out into woods. We weren't planning on a big hike when we left, so we only had a little water and our good kitchen knife (not our bush knife), but as we walked on we got pretty lost. I try to keep track of where we are when we hike, knowing that Rebek's superior sense of direction will kick in when I need it. That day, she hadn't bothered to use it (she was following me). It is a small island though, so we walked on. Soon we reached a point where it was getting dense. I pointed us in the direction I thought the water was in to the north, towards Nomuka, and we started off. We got to a muddy section and after trudging through what was sort of a little stream of mud, we reached a clearing. In front of us was the "mountain," a sizable hill from which you can see in all directions.

We had been there once when we first arrived in Nomuka and had come to Nomuka Iki for a picnic. There is no path to the mountain. Our first trip had been full of bushwhacking and bee stings, only to be pleasantly surprised by the beautiful view from the top. This time, we never made it. Without the bush knife, and walking on a moon-bounce-like growth of grass and vines with no shade in the strengthening morning sun, we had to turn back when we reached an impenetrable grove of trees. We headed back to what we thought was north and ended up finding the "lake," a mud puddle about 50 feet across. We walked through it (ankle deep in mud) and found our way out to the ocean, all the way on the west side.

That lake, and the big lake in Nomuka, are part of a legend about a fish called the 'ava that used to live in the big lake here in Nomuka. It was apparently very delicious, so delicious in fact that the big lake is called ano 'ava (lake 'ava). It was SO delicious in fact, that they were all eaten and none remain. All that remain are lapila, which are the size of goldfish and are eaten raw (though not by me). But the story of the 'ava is that a long time ago in Samoa, a couple looked up in this big tree of theirs and saw some birds diving in and out of a hole in the tree. They went to investigate and found some fish--the 'ava. They decided to find them a more suitable home. They started by going to various islands with lakes throughout Tonga, including Niua Fo'ou, Vavau and Tongatapu, before coming to Nomuka Iki. Their names were Nomu and Ika actually. They went to this lake, the very same lake were were lost in, and tried to put the fish there. But, like all the other lakes they tried, it had a problem of some sort (I am guessing this one was too small or muddy). Some spilled out into the sea and became some other species, called the sea 'ava. Finally, Nomu and Iki came to Nomuka and found the perfect lake for the fish. They presented one to the King to eat and asked for the island to live in. The King said that they could live there, but it was still his island, and he expected 'ava whenever he wanted. I can only guess the rest--they were overfished for generations and are all gone. I hear they were great though--very fatty.

So anyway, back to our trip. We made our way back to camp and fished all day. We caught five fish, all beautiful-looking greens, reds, silvers and blues. Rebek's was the biggest catch. We read and swam and ate fish and breadfruit for dinner. We listened to more rugby: Afilika Tonga (Tonga means South) and Hamoa, and Sikotilani and Fisi. I love the Tongan names for the countries, such as Ailani, Uelesi, Ingilani, Kanata. Sometimes even if there is a perfectly suitable Tongan word for something, they choose to just use a Tonganized English word, following the Tongan grammar rules (no two consonants in a row, every word ends in a vowel).

Tonglish Word Game: Matching

Match the Tongan word in Column A to its English meaning in Column B by writing the letter from Column B in the lines next to the number in Column A.

Column A
1. ___ ka
2. ___ komipiuta
3. ___ Lusia
4. ___ initaneti
5. ___ sea
6. ___ talausese
7. ___ pepe
8. ___ Lepeka
9. ___ pa
10. ___ Nusila 'Alapolaki

Column B
a. baby
b. chair
c. bar
d. car
e. New Zealand All Blacks
f. Rebecca
g. Russia
h. trousers
i. internet
j. computer

The only thing that bothered us all weekend were the mosquitoes at night. Sunday we read and swam and returned in the afternoon to "real life." The return is the tricky part to our weekend long trips. If we stay until Sunday, we have to break the Sabbath. In Tonga, nothing happens on Sundays. Church happens, and then the eating, but nothing like rowing, swimming or fishing. Us rowing back from our trip is tapu (taboo--one of few words we have taken from the Polynesian people). We do have our palangi status to make everything ok, but we don't like to rub our heathen behavior into people's faces. We planned our return to coincide with the afternoon church, but we missed our mark and a few people saw us dragging our kayaks from the beach to home (tapu) and Rebecca wearing shorts (tapu aupito!).

It's Monday now, and school is basically over. The Form 5 still have their big Tonga School Certificate exams starting this week. Bio is not until two weeks from now, so I have some time. School has been winding down for a while and we have been doing a lot. We have been hiking a lot to prepare for our trip to New Zealand, where we will be doing a lot of walking. Our hikes have been a lot of fun. We have seen most of the island, yet always find something new when we go. One day we went with our friend 'Ateliana and hiked the whole east side along the coast, which is rocky bluffs that remind me of Ireland's west coast if that was interspersed with occasional tropical-looking beaches. When we reached the northeast point, we saw a school of dolphins playing in a deep pool in the reef.

The week before that Rebek and I hiked a new path a few times and once we felt comfortable with our way, we ventured off the path to see what was behind a grove of trees. We whacked our way through and found the third lake. It isn't much of a lake anymore; more of a large dry bed with a few puddles in the middle where small fish jump around. It is surrounded by mangroves. It looked like the moon's surface or something, and we started walking out onto it. Rebek went first, in her eager way, and found that it was quicksand. Real quicksand. She sunk in to about her waist and pulled herself out with some dead coconut leaves lying on the surface. It was messy and stinky, but very cool, at least to me. I would have loved it when I was 10 years old. I guess I loved it then too.

Electricity!

The biggest news in town is the electricity. It was a big project funded by Australia to set up generators on four outer islands in the Ha'apai island group, including Nomuka. We were last on the list. A couple from New Zealand, Noel and Ginny, went to each island and set up the generators and hired local teams to lay wires and build the power stations. They are pretty amazing. They have worked in the islands for 30 years doing power projects and airports. We really enjoyed having them here as they provided us with lovely (as they would call it) dinners and cold beer on many Saturdays. They lived in the nicest house on the island (the one with the only other two couches on the islands) and set up 24 hour generators with a refrigerator and a breadmaker and many other appliances. They spent a few thousand dollars on the kitchen too, a gift to the owners of the house. It was a treat to go over there and eat meat and pudding and speak English for a few hours a week.

It is funny the differences between our positions, though. They are professional: very able and businesslike in their work, and they have a specific task with a deadline. They have very little patience for the Tongan way (stolen tools, shiftless employees) and complained endlessly. I could sympathize with all their grievances, yet I felt that I could understand the other side of the coin (not that stealing is ok, but why it happens). They complained that when they hired a barge to bring supplies and tractors to the island, people boarded the boat. But that is what island people do--when a boat comes, you get on. And they don't help by getting visibly angry. Anger, like pain or suffering, is extremely funny here in Tonga. The only thing funnier than a red-faced, screaming palangi old woman is when someone gets a serious wound. Virginia would scream and stomp, only to be laughed at to her face. I felt bad, but you would think after all this time they would learn. I certainly avoid showing anger in the classroom, although the kids, who are very observant, can tell if I am angry. They say my ears get red. When it happens, they point it out. They ask if I am angry. If I say I am not, they tell me I am lying because my ears are red. I say that my ears are always red. They usually keep it up until I am really angry. They love it.

They amazed me though, Noel and Gini. They set up a power station, trained a staff, and had the whole town dig their own ditch from their houses to the street to connect with the main lines. One hundred and ten houses in all. They were certainly ready to leave when they did. After they broke down their house and boxed up their stuff, they had dinner with us. We had two Peace Corps volunteers from Tongatapu with us and also a surprise guest, our Aussie friend Trever who owns a restaurant in Pangai (Trever is pictured above, with Rebecca and Finnerty in the water). It was a lot of fun--we tested out our new outdoor table (a large cable drum) and it felt like a palangi dinner party. Gini and Noel left us a microwave, a sandwich maker and many other useful things.

Back to the power. We now have electricity on Nomuka. Each home has a meter in the house which allows you to swipe a pre-paid card and receive electricity. When it runs out, you buy a new one. The official opening will be later this month when the King comes to cut the yellow ribbon, but we've been using it for a while. Each home got three lights, the vast majority of which went outside houses. We were the only home with all three inside. Crazy palangis.

There are problems I foresee with the electricity, but I suppose I'll wait until they happen to write about them.

November 5

Today was the first day of the Form 5 exams. It is a very big day because these tests decide whether or not someone passes on to Form 6. Some jobs depend on having passed the exams. Today's was English, the only compulsory exam. To start off the exams, the minister came and said a prayer and then at 9:00, he, the principal, a teacher and myself drank kava until the test was over at 12:30, when we had a feast. I was pretty drunk by then. After the feast, we drank some more kava, and now I am continuing my journal.

The lights run from 7:00 until 12:00 every night, except for Saturday and Sunday, when they stop at 11:00. On Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, they come on at about 4:45 am so people can get dressed for church. That always surprises us as we often fall asleep with our bedroom light on.

To run correctly (or not to destroy the generator), there has to be a certain load on the generator during running hours. As of now, there are a few freezers, a few video machines, and a few irons and washing machines. I suspect after Christmas, there will be a lot more as all of the hard-working Tongan hospital and nursing home janitors, landscapers and construction workers abroad send their money "home." When these gifts come from family overseas, the only thing to limit the hours of power usage will be people's ability to pre-pay for the cards. It should be fine as long as the remittances keep coming.

On the meters, you can see how much power is left. Everyone got $5 free to start, equaling 5 units. For some reason our meter had the wrong number, so as we got near the end and asked for a new card, we were told we had to wait for the boat with a new number before we could get a card. This started when we had $.50 on the meter. One week of waiting turned into two, and we were very cautious not to use too much power (no refrigerator, no sandwich maker) and to only use one light a time. In this way we were able to stay at $.30 for three days. It is funny to me how easily we adjusted to having no power when we moved here. We would even say things like "It's kind of romantic" or "It is great for us to live like people did in the olden days," even though when we entered a dark room we would still feel around for the switch. Now that we've gotten a taste of power, it would be hard to go back. The biggest bonus so far has just been lights. We have the wrong program to watch our DivX movies, and the refrigerator is pretty useless when it only runs for 5 hours, starting from warm. The sandwich maker would be great if we had access to bread. We don't know what to do with the microwave, which is still sitting in its box. And our Ipod is broken and in the States. So basically, we read with lights instead of reading with lamps.

After lights, what else would we want? Maybe an indoor toilet? Yes. And we now have that too! Local youths built it using supplies brought by the owner of the house (a long, long time ago) and paid for by either them or the school. Nobody seems to want to take credit. There is a toilet and shower, but no running water. We still need a tank and a pump to make everything work, although we use the toilet by pouring buckets of water in the back and use the shower space with our solar shower. It is a step up. Small, but still a step up. That is the way so many things are here. Almost good, or almost right. The floor of the shower is completely flat and the drain is slightly raised. Almost right.

Our latest home improvement is the 'Ovava Lounge. Under our big 'ovava tree we have built a big thatched coconut leaf structure. There are two big walls, covering two sides, maybe 25ft by 20ft. It gives us privacy from our neighbors and the school. Inside is the big cable drum we use for a table and some chairs. The floor is all cleared out and covered in a soft sand called patapata. We even put candle holders on some of the posts and a place to hang a lantern. It would rival any bar we've seen for atmosphere. I think we subconsciously missed going to bars and had to build one. And we do have a lot of time on our hands. We could fit another large table, a small table, and a bar under there too, but it would really be just for us.

November 6

Another test day. The kava hasn't started yet, so I am home. It's kind of rainy, so there is not much to do since I am stuck inside. We woke up at 6:30 for some reason. I guess the reason is the constant yelling outside that starts well before sunrise. Tongan women are so loud. Before breakfast I fixed our fence and did some gardening work, as well as feed the chickens (we have three now). Rebecca baked biscuits. Sometimes we feel like real farm folk. We have been reading so much. I feel like I have actually learned a lot, having read three or four books concerning the California Gold rush, or about ten concerning World War II, both novels and history books. Without any outside stimulus, you get wrapped up in the books and for a few days you feel like you are walking home from a bloody Civil War battle, or leading a cattle drive to Montana. Other books make you miss things. We both read a depressing book called Head Full of Blue, about an alcoholic, and came away only missing going out to bars. Some books make you want to get up and do something, which is frustrating as you can't really do very much from here.

November 7

I'm in the middle of a mini-crisis. I don't know where it came from, but I think it started as the school year has started to end and there are things I have had to get done. It is certainly harder to get things done here without the modern "necessities" I am used to at home: email, fax, computer access at all hours (especially business hours) and a telephone that is within a reasonable walk. Maybe it is harder for me having become dependent on such things to do my work. But what is the work I have been doing?

My first major deadline was the final aspect of my biology class' internal assessment, which was based on 10 laboratory projects of my choosing to be done over the course of the year. With very little equipment, I had a hard time finding 10 labs to do, especially towards the end as I was in a rush to finish my syllabus. I got them done, and finally handed my reports (mostly hand written as the printer was out of ink) to a teacher who was luckily going to Tonga the day before it was due. Overall, I felt it was poor work. My other major deadline is the school magazine. This has no particular deadline, and my principal has a strangely wavering opinion about it. After it was pretty clear to me and him that it was not going to be completed last week, he told me there was no rush and to not worry about it until the end of the month. This was a bit of a relief, as I am still waiting for some content.

November 25

I've had a very busy few weeks, which is great for me. Otherwise I would have just sat and dreamed of all the things I was going to do in New Zealand. Rebecca's parents and sister are coming in just 3 1/2 weeks! It will be so nice to see them and to show them our home. Not to mention to go to a first world country. Before that, in just 2 weeks, we will be in Vava'u for a PC conference. Vava'u is a very different type of island; very tourist driven. That will be nice as well.

 

King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV The King comes to Nomuka!

Three weeks ago was the visit of King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV. It was absolutely amazing to be here for such an event. It was probably one of the most important days in the history of the island. Not that most people could tell you anything else about the history of the island.

lakalaka danceThe preparations started weeks in advance. All of the schools worked out lakalaka. These are traditional dances that tell a story. The college did a lakalaka about the story of the 'ava (see above). There was dance practice every day. A man named Sione was the choreographer. He is about 50, short, spiky white hair, very athletic. It reminded me of a Best in Show type movie, seeing such a tough Tongan man pacing in front of a line of college boys, giving dancing instructions with a look of pained, artistic angst on his grizzled face. I tried to join in, but gave up, probably too quickly. The moves are at least familiar to all the boys, and before too long they were all proficient. The girls have their own part, which is very boring compared to the boys', which contains a lot of stomping, jumping, clapping, and slapping the ground. The Wesleyan primary school did a sitting dance called the ma'ululu and the GPS did a new lakalaka about the electricity project. They all worked equally as hard on theirs. Actually, the dances were slightly controversial, as the GPS initially proposed that all the schools do a combined lakalaka, the 'ava, and the college basically stole the idea and told the other schools to choose something else. I guess the college kind of rules the island.

Besides the dance practice, the preparations picked up in the few days before the visit. First, giant doorways were built over the newly plowed roads. The doorways had large signs welcoming the King, as well as leaves and flowers. Different groups took responsibility for each one. New trees were planted and "flags" were strung up everywhere. These flags were strings of triangular pieces of cloth run along the roads. Everyone cleaned, painted, and swept their yards, and a group walked around and surveyed the town, making sure everyone was taking part in the clean-up. People also gathered their animals and put together their best crops to present to the King. Everyone had to present their best ufi (yam), usually as long as your leg. The largest pig was found and put in a giant wooden cage. This required 10 boys and the agriculture teacher. They roped it, tied it, and dragged it into the box. It made a noise that I hope to never hear again.

The King was arriving a day before the big event, Nov. 11. Around 8:00 am, people started heading down to the beach to start waiting for the King. One Navy boat, which had docked the night before, moved out towards Nomuka Iki. The King's boat appeared, and the college started doing their lakalaka. As the King was transferred from one boat to another, everyone started singing and dancing. Some people were yelling 'tuituituituituitui", tui being the word for King. Old ladies were running into the water, dancing and yelling. Toyota 4RunnerThe boat arrived at the wharf (a pile of rocks jutting out into the sea) and the King, already in his Toyota 4Runner, drove to the house he would be staying in. Everyone followed, parade style, to the house. A group of teachers and church elders went into the house to do a prayer. Rebek went in, but I got stuck outside holding back Finnerty, who was used to that house because it was where Noel and Virginia had stayed and he wanted to go inside.

After that, the King rested. Everyone else kept up preparations. The day and night before the opening, everyone started cooking. Rebek baked 15 cakes. I was sick so I was excused. For our neighbor, who wanted 10 cakes, Rebek started baking chocolate cakes. After about five, the woman came over and started to eat them, saying that the first five would be just to eat that day and she would need to bake 10 more. Rebek wasn't very happy about that. Everyone was up all night all over the village. Our electricity, which we were all pretty used to at night, was not on, as to keep up the image that the King would actually be opening the power station.

Colin HillIn the morning, the Pulupaki, a large inter-island ferry, arrived with important guests, media, and onlookers. At the power station, a tent was set up and the police brass band played as guests arrived. We ran into some Aussie volunteers we knew, and sat under the tent with the other palangis, which felt a little strange. All the old ladies were out in the street dancing to the band's version of "Hey Jude". The college kids lined the street, and the King and some young princes arrived in the SUV. Clive EdwardsThe festivities started with a prayer and a hymn (like most events here) and many honored guests spoke, including the High Commisioner of Australia Colin Hill, the minister of police (and very controversial supporter of some of the governments worst policies) Clive Edwards, and the lead contractor of the project.

Finally, the King spoke. He started off slow, but after a while, he had everyone laughing at a story about another small island's misuse of a fish smoking device, an example of which he had someone display to make the joke more successful. After his speech, he sent in one of the portly young princes to start the generator. After the ceremony, everyone headed down to the school yard, where the feast was set up. There was more food that I have ever seen in one place in my life. All the people of Nomuka had made pola, which are 10-to-15-foot-long movable tables with covers which were placed all over the yard. There were too many to count. Each one was overflowing with pig, horse, root crops, fish, lobster and octopus, fruit, candy, chips, sodas, coconuts and more (see picture below). Most of Nomuka, however, did not eat (including me). We were preparing for the show. The King sat in his own little house with the High Commissioners of New Zealand and Australia. He was presented with the large pig in the cage.

Rebek and I had locked Finn in the house before the opening ceremony. We were told to, indirectly, by the town officer. I think he thought the many soldiers walking around might shoot him, especially after the day before when he had tried to go into the house where the King was. Locking him in had been a hassle. We shut every window and door and had to carry him inside after chasing him around the yard. He managed to get us both dirty. Once inside, he forced open a door and got out. I had to recapture the dog and secure the door before setting off. When we returned to take a break before the feast, we had a hard time getting him back in. When we headed back up to the school, someone told me I was playing in one of the numbers, so I had to once again go back inside, round up the dog, now hot and frightened, before going up to the school to tune up and learn the song. With 5 minutes before show time, someone broke a string, and once again I had to return and battle the poor puppy. But by this time, my repeated beatings had mellowed him out a little.

The first two numbers were ta'ulunga dances, during which I played mandolin with some other guys. It felt pretty special to play for the King. After those dances, the schools did their lakalaka, which were done very well and where most of the community joined in, singing and dancing. The adults here love dancing and singing, often in a really funny, exaggerated manner. The shows were all big hits, and the food looked great (I did manage one lobster).

The school magazine

After the show, I had to rush as I was going to Tongatapu on the Pulupaki to finish our school magazine. I had to take the pictures from the shows and download them, add them to the file, and burn it all to a CD to take with me. I did all that, packed, and was on the boat. This boat is a "fast" boat -- only 5 hours. I hung out with the Aussies a little, and they were nice enough to let me crash with them when we arrived at midnight.

Being on the Pulupaki reminded me of over a year ago when we first took that boat to Ha'apai for training. It seems like a long time ago. We were all pretty frightened and the boat ride seemed horrible. If we only knew that that was the nice boat.

In Tongatapu I was pretty busy with the magazine. The magazine sucks. It was the worst thing I have done here. I don't know why I am in charge of it, but it has been the biggest pain in my ass. Everyone loves the magazine, but nobody will help with it. Nobody told me anything about the budget, the deadlines, etc. When I set deadlines, I got nothing on time. I had to round up reports the day before I left. One day I was told to not worry about it until next year. The next day I am being told it has to be done this week. A lot of reports never got to me, and the collecting of sponsors was a disaster, as nobody would do any work when they were in Tongatapu. So on this trip, I had to round up the last of the sponsors, make ads, put together the final product, get it to the printers, all the while enjoying the many wonders of the big city. I actually had very little time for fun, but I did complete the project (so I thought) by handing in the file and checking it with the computer expert at the printing office hours before catching the boat with four new PC trainees coming for attachment in Nomuka.

This trip to Tongatapu was interesting for me in the people I met, or hung out with. The sponsors for the magazine were some of the business leaders of Tonga, and were really fascinating to talk with. They are very willing to talk to palangis, and I think they will be good contacts later on. I saw Johnny a lot, the freaky, anorexic looking italian guy who was running the resort on Niuatoputapu when were up there (see below), and spoke to him a lot about the possibilities in Tonga. I also met a couple who had come to Nomuka on a yacht earlier in the year. They are writing a book about Tonga, which looks really nice. They had seen our movie [the video R&J produced for new Peace Corps trainees] when they were up in Niuatoputapu and liked it. They liked our new idea too, and gave me some editing software. I also met a Chinese Aussie consultant, who had a lot to say about Sino-Tongan relations.

Tongatapu always amazes me. There are so many palangis, so many cafes and bars. I was disturbed to see a pack of 14 year old prostitutes who have started working one of my favorite bars. It seems very un-Tongan to let young girls run around like that, without family to take care of them. I imagine when the government is wary about Western influence, this is the type of thing he is talking about.

But my overall feeling after this brief visit is that of opportunity. That we are here at a good time, and that there will be a lot of things we could do after our service, especially knowing the language and culture. Tonga could really grow as a market for tourism, especially if this Space Tourism project comes through.

November 26

Today is that last day of school. Tonight is a big awards ceremony, and then the kids are on vacation. I can't believe I made it a whole year teaching. I can't say it was fun (the teaching part) but I am proud, and think I can improve next year. Overall, I think my problem is that I internally rebel against the school. There is too much focus on prayer. Too much singing. Too much dictating the way to live, when to bathe, when to eat, when to work, when to pray. Fasting every Friday. There is too little focus on academics. I think the Wesleyan schools are trying to raise good Wesleyans, good donators to the church, instead of educated youths. They want to ensure their own pay in the future, create avid churchgoers. It is hard for me to jump in full force sometimes, especially when I think that the Wesleyan thoughts on Jews are not very positive or informed, and that this ignorance is passed to the kids. Not that they understand. They just know that they have to believe everything they are told by the ministers.

November 27

It's Thanksgiving! Last year this time was our first week in Nomuka. Two years ago, I think we were in Massachusetts, at Lisa and Diane's house. Before that, I think DC. Two in a row in Nomuka is a little depressing. It is hot and cloudless. There is no way to hear about football. I could use a nice autumn breeze, but there is nothing but tropical sea air filtering through the trees between the ocean and us.

School is over. It is very noticeable here at our house. A lot of children and some teachers already left on the boat to Tonga today. There is absolute silence really, except for the trees and an occasional boat in the background.

November 28

Rebek and I rowed around the whole island this morning. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be. I did it once before with Jonathan, but it seemed like a bigger deal back then. That time we camped halfway. This time, it took only about 3 hours and a half. Nomuka looks so different from a distance: very rugged and wild. You only get a sense people live here when you are on the side facing town. We didn't want to take the dog, and left without him, but he made a heroic effort to catch us; swimming half a mile, then running along the shore until he spotted us again and swimming out.

The trip was about 11 miles total. There is another island, Mango, that we might try to row to next time. It is only 6½ miles away, but over open seas. I think we'll try it though. You can see it the whole way. If we can make it there, there is another island we can make it to from there. If we bring a tent, we could island hop for a while. We just read in National Geographic Explorer about a kayak trip run out of Pangai, where you hop from island to island. Those islands, a little north of here, are more suited to that kind of trip. But they are charging something like $1600 US for that trip. We could work out our own trip starting here in Nomuka.

Last night I drank kava. It was a tau pale, where people make polas, or feasts, and teams drink kava and periodically dig into their pockets to bid towards the best pola. This particular fund-raiser was for Tungua, another small island near by. I don't know why smaller islands think Nomuka should fund their ventures, but many do. I think they should go on to bigger islands, like Tonga or Lifuka, but I guess the word is out that the people of Nomuka don't like money. After the church donations and the King's visit, this is that last thing people need, especially with a new expense: electricity. But it is very faka-tonga. Give give give. Do the right thing. And when you are drunk on kava, and the mood is right, and the MC is doing his job, it is hard to say no.

Last night wasn't particularly fun for me, although I played some music. Sometimes I regret the fact that I don't have a lot of guy friends here. There are people I talk to, but I don't have so much to talk to them about, and I don't feel any kind of similarities with any of them, except some that really seem into music. I could drink kava more, I suppose, or play rugby more often, but I never feel like forcing myself to do those things. I could go to the bush with guys I guess too, and help with the farming. But then again I don't really know what I am doing. Fishing is always good. But I just don't think I can ever be faka-tonga enough to really fit in. Women can joke with me, and the kids like me. Maybe that is enough.

Last week we had four attachments here. These are fresh-off-the-plane new trainees. Three were almost straight out of school, and the fourth was about 30. They were fun to have around, and it was interesting to see things through their eyes. We wanted to show them a good time: to represent the outer islands. They had seen our movie, and some our website, so they probably had an idea about what we would be like and what our island is like, but they all said that they still didn't realize how remote it was. We had two kai-tunu, or picnics where you catch fish and throw them on the fire. One of them, on Nomuka Iki was great -- we caught a lot of fish and even saw some very large sharks very close to shore. We went out fishing on a boat one day and caught a lot of fish. We also did an umu in the yard on Sunday. I think we showed them a good time, but they all still want to be on large islands. I can't say I blame them, as they are all single.

I have been feeling pretty useless lately. School is over, and I have nothing to do. But we have started two projects, and I think they will be fun. One is our new documentary idea, which is about the first year of lights on Nomuka. The other is a screenplay about a PC couple like us who live on an island like this, but the guy goes insane and disappears, hopping on a yacht. The woman finds his journal, realizes he has gone crazy, and tries to find him.

December 2

It's December! Christmas shopping, snow, and quality family time for you all. For us, it is summer break. Rebecca is done with school tomorrow after her awards ceremony. Mine was last week. Students get called out in rank with their average to jeers or cheers depending on their placement. Students win prizes for cleanest appearance, best improvement and church attendance. Action songs are performed with wide smiles.

Action songs are the most ridiculous thing in Tonga, if you ask me. They are usually Christian songs sung by the children with choreographed dance moves. Like Tongan traditional dances, the movements are subtle. But unlike traditional Tongan dances, they do not seem poetic or graceful. It is more like Janet Jackson's dancers on heroin. (I chose Janet because I just heard "Black Cat" on the radio). For every three lines of song, whether about being born again, or killing Jews, there will be a simple clap, or the raising of a hand. You get the impression that the whole movement scheme could be performed in about 30 seconds yet it is dragged out for many minutes. And the teachers, men and women, who design these complex pieces and coach them with a ferocity out of a Fame episode, may get so angry at the blasé movement of one student, while to me it seems that the whole thing is being done on morphine and underwater.

While this rant probably doesn't seem very culturally sensitive (one of the three main tenets of PC life), I don't feel like these have anything to do with Tongan culture. But then again I have an overall problem with what is and is not Tongan culture. Action songs are a big part of this culture, just as Christianity is. Tongan people seem to relate to action songs (which contain dancing and singing, which they love and do well) more than things I would consider traditional. But that's me, with my romanticized view of South Pacific life. Who am I to say what one's culture should be?

I am on break now, and have been since last week. This means there is very little to do. Yesterday, for example, I did a lot, relatively. First, I sat in a hammock and read. Currently I am reading War and Peace. People stopped by. Some came with a pineapple, which we ate. A little while later, I went to the telephone with Rebecca. That on its own would have been a full day. But I wasn't ready to submit to an early cocktail hour yet. We went to 'Ahau, a beach across the island, and had a kai tunu (caught fish and cooked them on a fire and ate them). To get there, we hitched a ride from some kids who were riding their horses out to the bush. We ate two fish, almost caught an octopus, and walked home.

On Sunday, my lack of things to do inspired a brainstorm. We have all these tomatoes, why not make tomato juice? It turned out great, and we had bloody marys for Sunday brunch. Food preparation has been a major hobby of ours lately. Our Thanksgiving dinner was amazing (thanks to the PC sending us our turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce). We were totally kai po (eating on the sly), not because we didn't want to share the food, but because we wanted to have palangi time. The next day, we had turkey sandwiches on homemade oatmeal bread with mayo and cranberry sauce. This was literally the first time in Tonga we had turkey sandwiches, something we both ate at least a few times a week at home.

If we are learning anything here, it is to appreciate things. A turkey sandwich or bloody mary at home can be really good. But here, they were a cherished experience. I can't really say why. Maybe because it had been so long, but also it might have to do with lack of outside stimulus like TV or advertising, or maybe because they are not so available. In New York, you can probably get a bloody mary or a turkey sandwich every 30 yards. Here, you really have to work at it. Does that make it taste better? Right now, I would say yes.

Everyone is town right now is down at the beach watching the boats unload. Kids who study in Tongatapu are returning for break, and other people are coming for the upcoming opening of the new church, Maama Fo'ou, or New Light. This should be a big deal, and we are missing it because we will be in Tonga waiting for Rebecca's family. It would have been a great thing for them to be able to see, but at the same time, it isn't typical Nomuka. People say it will be on par with the King's visit - feasts and shows and up to 500 visitors. I am not too upset about missing it. I am really looking forward to New Zealand, not more feasts.

I don't really feel like going down to the beach today, though. I want it to rain, and to stay inside. Tomorrow we want to go camping, and today I just want rain. We need it. Our tomato plants are in rough shape, as well as our water tank. The small lake in town is now a puddle, and the pigs have nowhere to wallow. It looks like it might rain, but I can't be too optimistic. It often looks like it will rain and doesn't.

The school magazine is on the boat. I think it is at least. This magazine was the biggest pain in my ass. I have been putting off writing about it, because I have nothing good to say about it except that it is over. Almost at least. Today, if it comes like it supposed to, late anyway, I am sure I will hear all about how last year's was better. Maybe I will be fired as the editor (really I can only hope).

For some reason, the PC volunteer is always in charge of the magazine (or yearbook to us Americans). I should have had Rebek do it, as she did attend yearbook camp as a kid. I didn't know they had such a thing, but she went. But I was told I was in charge and not much more. Looking back, this was one of those things we are told about as trainees: differences in work styles, communication, etc. Corey even told me about how bad it was, and took the trouble to write me a very in-depth to-do sheet to keep me on track.

I can't even write too much about it, as it was just such a bad experience. I will just write, only to vent here as opposed to telling the people who complain that last year's was better that nobody helped me at all. Nobody gave me their reports on time, or at all for some. None of the English teachers had the children write their stories and reports. Nobody helped me collect sponsors while they were in Tonga. Nobody bothered to see it before I took it to Tonga to print. Nothing. And when the printer called two weeks ago and told me that there was a problem with the pictures and it would be late, everyone had something to say, even though I was never told it had to be there for the awards ceremony and was even told a few weeks before that it could even be handed out next year. But I still got it together, and sent down new picture files, and guilted the printers to do a lot of extra work to replace all the picture files that I sent down with one of the new trainees when they went back to Tonga (we did look at the completed PDF file together, hours before I got on the boat back to Nomuka, and they told me it was fine) and it is only a few days late. Let's just hope that there are no other problems.

Finnerty has been crazy the last two days. Crazy in love. The dog across the street is in heat, and Finnerty, as well as other dogs in the neighborhood, have been fighting to get at her. Whenever we want to keep Finnerty in the yard, like when we go to church, he just jumps over and follows us to church. But when we are inside, and he wants to get out of the gate, he just paws it frantically. He'll do this for hours, barking and howling, and it is really infuriating.

December 5

It's Friday. We're both on vacation, and a little bored. We've wanted to go camping since Wednesday, but it's been windy with showers. We've done a lot of house work, like planting flowers in our big tree, doing our washing, etc. We went on a picnic yesterday, which was fun, but we are both a little tired of children.

There are a lot of people on the island now. Many kids have returned from studying at other schools in Tongatapu. Other people are here for the opening of the new church. A boat is coming later with people for the funeral.