29 July 2010

Huge changes, stilt houses

Like an amnesiac patient who suddenly wakes up to a new life, here we are now living in the capital city!

We arrived with our crate of stuff last Saturday, and have been setting up and adjusting to our new life ever since. Our house this time, far from being in a cow pasture, is as high as the second-story windows around us- it's on stilts! We now live in the middle of the capital city, cow cries replaced by the neighborhood brass band that is right now practicing across the street.

It was very hard to leave 'Eua, it's people, gorgeous landscape, and pristine air, but we're pretty excited for the things that we'll be able to do in the city. The long and short of the story is that Peace Corps put me (Elena) at the agriculture school primarily to advise the small businesses of the school, something that after six months, I still had not been allowed to do. Although women in Tonga are well-respected and make up a huge part of the workforce, roles for women are still very well-defined, and men still hold the vast majority of the decision-making positions. Women usually don't specialize in business management, and especially young women usually don't have education higher than high school or a BA. Most of my own difficulty was due to these "norms", and perhaps the occasional bias that one can notice in any part of the world among a small few.

Peace Corps determined that the situation was not going to change, and that the best thing to do was to move us* to different jobs, which so far, is turning out to be a blessing in disguise. Mark is now working for the school board main office (the Free Wesleyan Education Office) as a computer tech consultant and trainer. As we've mentioned in previous posts, computers are just gaining huge ground here, and there is a high demand for people who know how to use and fix them. He's particularly excited to work with all of the schools in the system (making up about 30% of all schools in Tonga) doing a resource analysis of their computer facilities that will then help him and the office get all the schools to a baseline level. He's also working with the computer repair center at one of the technical colleges, helping them improve their workflow and will hold troubleshooting trainings through them with the school system. Next week, in fact, he'll be traveling to the northern island groups of Ha'apai and Vava'u with a small team of consultants, visiting schools to assess their computer needs.

I'm now working with Tonga Development Bank as a Business Advising Officer**, holding trainings for small business owners on record keeping, advising individual business people, and training internal loan staff on business principles all around Tonga. A major goal of TDB is to support business owners in Tonga with business support and fair lending at all scales, from microfinance to large established business loans, but Business Advising where I'm working focuses on the owners of smaller businesses and microenterprises. Along with the daily advising and training preparation, I'll also be working on a needs survey of businesses on this island, helping to redevelop their business training pamphlets (on business planning, record keeping, basic accounting, etc), and developing staff and client awareness on how to prevent and detect fraud. This is really exciting for me, because it is very close to what I want to do in the future in general, and I'm looking forward to being able to contribute something while I learn a lot along the way.

I'm also doing a secondary project with a very new women-in-business association called WISE Tonga, started because an International Finance Corporation report on gender and investment in Tonga (pdf) identified a need for some kind of womens' business association. I'll be helping them create a strategic plan, launch the official opening of the association, and organize business trainings for the association members. Unrelatedly, I'll also be helping Mark out at the school office, helping to develop a business plan for the church produce market and other things here and there.

So after several weeks of uncertainty, heartache, stress, and abrupt change^, we are here with a hugely positive outlook, noticing that overall this has turned out for the best for both of us. We've been four days now at our new jobs and in our new home, and have been very encouraged with the people we've met, the things we've learned, and the projects filling our plates.

* if you're wondering, we brought our little orange kitty, but our sandy colored dog now has a good home with another volunteer on the island
** in fact, the same Tonga Development Bank that former Peace Corps Steve worked for
^ the juicy details of which I will spare readers but which can be obtained by email request

11 July 2010

Exciting Times

Well, First of all, we apologise for not posting anything recently. There has certainly been enough going on to post about. The rough breakdown of where we have been and what we've been up to is as follows. a month ago, we were just finished with our school term/semester and preparing for Hango's big 40th Anniversary Extravaganza, a three day affair of feasts and presentations, for which students and staff were up at all hours of the day and night preparing food and events. Shortly after, we left to go on a short vacation/work trip to the main island. We got quite a bit done, were able to attend parts of the large annual Free Wesleyan Church Conference, and managed to squeeze in time to celebrate Elena's birthday on the 1st of July (it's still July, so if you haven't wished her a happy birthday yet, there's still time). And now, we're back in 'Eua possibly preparing for the beginning of the next semester/term.

World Cup

First of all, the most recent event worth mention here at Hango is the World Cup. As we have mentioned in the past, a large part of the student body is from Vanuatu, and even though in general Tongans aren't terribly interested in soccer, Ni Vanuatu certainly are, and have worked hard to ensure that they are able to watch this go around. All of the male students from Vanuatu chipped in to get a digital receiver for TV here so that we can watch, and even though there were some hiccups watching opening two matches of the tournament, we have been able to enjoy a good number of them. The only downside is that we're in the middle of the Pacific, and the matches have been on at 0:30, 3:30, and 7:30 in the morning. As you can imagine, the better part of the matches we have caught have been in the last time slot, and we're thanking God that the final few games have been at 7:30. During our last two weeks in Nuku'alofa, there was a cafe owner who very kindly opened his store up for us Peace Corps volunteers to watch the games in the morning...and did I mention he has a huge flat screen TV. It has certainly been luxurious after 9 of us huddling around a 15" TV in the middle of a cement floor of the boys dormitory. Anyhow, tomorrow we'll draw the tournament to a close when we go to watch the Final game with Elena's students. Possibly the most exciting World Cup in my memory.

Free Wesleyan Church Conference

This event was enormous! Of the things I regret since I've been in Tonga, I regret not taking pictures at the conference. This is an event that people talk about, prepare for, and look forward to all year long. It is where most of the decisions about where ministers, teachers, and staff will work the next year are made, and it is an opportunity for the whole church to come together and discuss matters that affect the whole denomination. It is also an opportunity for a lot of Tongans who live abroad to come back and visit friends and family. The final thing that makes the feast both famous and infamous is the feasts. This is where Tongans pull out all the stops preparing food, and eating it. This year, health workers were posted around the feasts because last year some people literally ate themselves to death.

The conference is held at the Free Wesleyan church headquarters, the Centenary Church, and Queen Salote College in downtown Nuku'alofa, and a few thousand people attend on any given day (4-5% of the entire population of Tonga). While the meetings and church services and choir nights, the feasts seem to be the primary feature that everyone talks about, and suggests that you go to. There is a morning feast at 10AM, a midday meal at 1 or 2PM, an evening meal at 4:30 or 5:30, and then supper at 10PM or 12AM. At each feast, there are at least 1500 people eating at one time, and more come and sit after the first people have finished. There are at least 24 huge tables that everyone crowds into, and then a head table with a few subtables for lesser dignitaries. The King Mother and Princess Pilolevu were there for a number of the feasts, and for one of the evening meals, we were actually seated up front with the nobles (probably because they had a few extra seats and I knew the guy who seated us).

The food is basically the same general stuff as what you normally see at feasts, but more, grander, and more carefully prepared. There were:
at least 5 pigs at each table at each feast,
sometimes lobster,
all the Tongan root crops but Mei (breadfruit),
lu (meat and coconut cream wrapped in taro leaves and cooked in the underground oven),
chop suey,
sweet and sour chicken,
hunks of beef,
irish corned beef soaked in butter,
potato salad or pasta salad,
crab salad,
chicken curry,
sea cucumber,
custard cakes,
Manioke tama (manioc dough boiled in sugar syrup),
Ice Cream (if you were at the right table).

Then there are gift baskets spaced out all along the tables with various goodies inside. We have seen:
chips of all sorts,
bags of candy,
fruit juice,
Cadburry chocolate,
packaged cookies

At the head table, the one time we were seated there, we were served a green salad with caviar and cream cheese on imitation crab, followed by steak with mushroom sauce, mashed potatoes, cauliflower, and broccoli, served with our choice of wine and the option of having dainty slices of roast pig and 'ufi (Tongan yams). To finish the meal, we were served rich chocolate cake with tea or coffee. It was delicious, and we were shocked at the westerness of the meal.

These feasts were so overwhelming with both the quantity of food and the number of people crowded in that Elena and I only went to a handful.

More to come on work while we were in town.

Related Posts with Thumbnails