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.
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,
all the Tongan root crops but Mei (breadfruit),
lu (meat and coconut cream wrapped in taro leaves and cooked in the underground oven),
sweet and sour chicken,
hunks of beef,
irish corned beef soaked in butter,
potato salad or pasta salad,
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,
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.