30 April 2011

You say sea grapes, I say limu

The limu is kept fresh inside
When I see a triangle-wrapped leaf package I know there's bound to be something good inside. At feasts, little leaf packages hold fai kakai, a delicious cassava sweet, dripping in caramely coconut sauce. During Sunday dinner, larger green parcels sometimes hold lu, our favourite special dish of taro leaves wrapped around meat and cooked in coconut milk. This week, it happened to be limu.

25 April 2011

How running a business workshop works

Workshop participants working on an exercise
Out in the beautiful island group of Vava'u where the clear water laps over teeming coral reef, for at least three days a week, I was inside by a wheezing copy machine, replacing page after page to copy, compiling folders of materials, and making sure for the umpteenth time that the projector worked with the laptop. The other two days were the reward: village business workshops run with my coworkers at Tonga Development Bank.

18 April 2011

Peace Corps visits the Navy

"Sometimes, it really pays to be Peace Corps," I thought, as I looked out the open helicopter door into an areal view of clear water filled with colourful reef. I looked back at the helicopter that Mark was in, circling above a spit of green land, in an azure blue sky filled with puffy clouds.

The other volunteers around me wore the same wide-eyed, open mouthed expression that was on my face, like the expression on a kid's face if you told her Willy Wonka's chocolate factory was real and she had an all-year pass to swim in the chocolate river.

03 April 2011

The Octopus and the Mouse

One day a very long time ago, a small, clever mouse was out on a fishing boat in the middle of the sea. It was a very small boat and a very small mouse, so when the boat tipped in a wave, the mouse found himself tossed out into the wide blue ocean, swimming for his life. The fishermen had gone far, far out on this trip, hunting for the fish that swam only in the deep dark parts of the water, and there was no land in sight.

The waves tossed the little mouse back and forth, and the mouse started to become very worried. He looked down at his swimming feet, and saw all the creatures swimming comfortably under the water. "If only I could swim like them!" the mouse thought to himself. 

He was a very clever mouse, but finally, it seemed as if all his crafty ways had deserted him, stranded now in the middle of the wide blue ocean. But the mouse didn't give up hope. Deep below him, he saw an octopus swimming in the dark depths. "Octopus!" he called, "Help me! I'm about to drown, and need to get to land!" 

The octopus surfaced and looked at the little wet mouse. "Why should I help you?" the octopus said. "The nearest island is a long way away, and I will be very tired taking you there," he complained, gesturing in the direction of the island. The clever mouse had an idea. "If you take me to land," the mouse said, "I will pay you handsomely for your troubles. I have many good things on the island there, if you will just take me. You won't regret it."

The octopus, wondering what treasures the mouse had hidden on land, agreed to take him, and told the mouse to hop up onto his head. The mouse was very tired, and gratefully climbed up on to the octopus's head as the octopus started swimming toward shore.

Now the island was a very long way away, and the mouse had had quite a fright. They went up and down waves, passed by sail fish and sea snakes, and skirted around large beds of seaweed until the sun was low in the sky. Finally, the mouse could see the shallow ocean bottom and the little puffy sea cucumbers that lived there, near the shore. They had come to his island! 

The octopus swam right up to the island, and the little mouse hopped off of his head and onto the warm sand. Saved, at last! The mouse looked back at the octopus from the safety of shore and laughed. "Thank you!" he said. 

"Where's my payment?" the octopus demanded. "Why, I've already left my payment for you," the mouse replied, "just look on your head!" 

The octopus reached up and felt three little mouse pellets left there, and the mouse ran away into the trees, laughing.

And that is why fishermen always use a mouse to catch the octopus from the deep blue ocean, because ever since, the octopus has been trying to catch the mouse that so insulted him.

- A Tongan story
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