15 October 2010

A modern artist in Tonga: Meet Mele

Mele with a hair comb
Last year, Mele saw an old, grainy picture of a women's dance costume from the 1800s and was inspired. No one today makes the fine woven comb that was in the dancer's hair, instead preferring simple bundles of flowers tied onto palm sticks for performances. She went home to experiment, and returned to her craft co-operative several days later with a traditional Tongan comb, crafted using modern kebab sticks she found at the grocery store. Upon seeing it, everyone laughed! What business did she have making an old, obsolete costume piece nowadays, and on top of it all, out of a package of sticks you could find for a dollar? Barely a week later, an American scout from The Field Museum in Chicago, IL, USA came by the downtown craft shop and immediately bought her piece. "Now it's on display in a museum." Mele says with a smile.

Care for some cement water in your tea?

In Tonga, drinking water comes from the sky. The tropical thundering Pacific rains pound down on tin Tongan roofs, flow through PVC pipe channels in to huge round cement water tanks, called sima vai, literally translated, "cement water".
A sima vai- the pipe from the house is at the right in the picture

In a Tongan household, the smallest able-bodied kid is regularly sent to the sima vai armed with a large pitcher, or perhaps a bucket, to run out, turn on a brass-colored tap at the bottom of the huge cement catchment tank, and squat waiting as the container fills up. The water is made into juice for special occasions, tea for regular occasions, or used in soups and cooking. If the sima vai hasn't been cleaned in a while, and suspect particles float in the pitcher, it is promptly boiled in an electric water kettle and drunk as tea.

The particles are usually bits of mold or plant matter floating around in the catchment tank, and as gross as it can be some times, it's far from being the most dangerous thing in the water.

11 October 2010

Business in Tonga: as seen by the new Peace Corps Tonga Group 76!

To the great jubilation of all, this year's Peace Corps volunteers arrived five days ago from the US, stylish and sharp and "smelling of dryer sheets," as one of our speakers yesterday joked.
The business trainees with Angus, manager of the Church of Tonga businesses

Understanding business in Tonga is like uprooting a plant: as soon as you think you have most of it uncovered, you discover another root stretching out from the stalk.

The 5 new business trainees were having an overview of business in Tonga I have been organizing, as part of a group of volunteers managing an orientation for all of the trainees. We got to talk to some really excellent leaders in Tongan business, and it took two days and more than seven interviews to even get a basic feeling of the subject.

Church Donations, Church Business, and Good Food
Our first exploratory trip...

02 October 2010

The Invasion of Downtown Nuku'alofa

New Pictures 485
The Cavalcade through Downtown
Today we woke up early and joined one of the occasional bike rides put on by an organisation called Pasikala Nuku'alofa. It is an organisation promoting bike-riding here in Tonga as a way to combat climate change and to develop a healthy lifestyle, and today the focus was to raise awareness about fitness being a method to combat breast cancer (which is quite prevalent in Tonga). 

Both Elena and I love bike-riding, and in ‘Eua we were not able to ride together because Elena didn’t have a bike there. However, since we moved to Nuku’alofa,
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