Ok, first things first: Obama. We did it! I can finally say I'm proud to be an American again. Alright, this is somewhat of an exaggeration. Tons of the goods here are labeled "All-American Fresh New Brand" or something of those lines, which makes them sell here, somewhat like "all-natural" or "no trans fat" does back home, so that gives you some indicator of how highly America is viewed in Tonga. So I am proud to be an American here, but I think you know what I mean.
I waited out the election results in a dockside restaurant that has satellite TV in Vava'u's capital, Neiafu, with the other Vava'u PCVs and the new PC trainees. It was good to be with so many Americans and felt even better to share tears of joy and amazement with them. After the happy event, many directly catapulted into the sea to celebrate. I'm getting over ear infections in both ears so I declined, but got to do my second favorite activity, when soon after all the restaurant staff pushed aside the tables turned on the tunes and joined us in a glorious only-could-happen-in-Tonga staff party as the sun set over the harbor. What a day!
I've been in town for much more than my usual few hours this week, running sessions for the Community Education trainees. Yes, training is currently going on for the new group of soon-to-be PCVs, which means that I've been in Tonga for over a year! That was me last year! As of October 4th, I've been a resident of the great but tiny, wacky but proud Kingdom of Tonga for a full year. Seeing the trainees with their eagerness and their naivete, their confusion and their stress, helps me realize just how much I have learned in a year. I know Tongans now. I know their culture and why they act they way they do. I understand their language and their customs. I know their legends and beliefs. I fish their waters and run on their beaches. I walk in their bush and wear their flowers behind my ears. I cry with them, belly laugh with them and I am their family. I could add mostly to all of the above sentences but I still am an 'Otea girl even if I'll never get all of their jokes.
This 'Otea girl is coming to the end of the school year, which means summer and holiday break! Class 6 (the highest grade in the primary school) took their secondary school entrance exams at the beginning of October, which was a big milestone for all of us. In December, it'll be announced on the radio who passed the exams and can go on to high school. And so the anticipation remains, if not all the hard work and pressure. The teachers don't get any benefits or get paid extra for it, but every day in September and most of August we had extra lessons with Class 6 for an hour and a half before school started and another segment of equal length when it was over in the afternoon. We had quite a few repeaters this year, meaning that they've taken the exams in previous years and failed, so here's hoping they're all able to go on next year.
This coming week all of the grades will be taken final exams in all subjects and then the focus will switch to performances. In fact, we've already started. We're gearing up for the very last day of the school year when the students are given their final grades for the year. On that day, they'll perform several Tongan traditional dances and hopefully several skits and songs in English as well.
I made my own pillow this month! There's a tree here that produces pods containing what looks like compacted cotton. I forget the English work for the tree, but in Tongan it's vavae. My neighbors helped me pick a bunch of the pods. Once I'd husked them and put the fluffy insides into a bucket, Fipe fashioned two sticks into an upside-down Y, which I twisted back and forth between my hands amidst the cotton to make its seeds drop down to the bottom. It took several days but seen I had enough separated, seedless, fluffy vavae to fill a whole pillowcase. And it smells like a mellow cinnamon. Lovely dreams.
Launoa, whom I got as a puppy in January, now has her own puppies! Five of them! I am now the proud owner of eight animals. Luckily, Fipe and Isi have long ago assumed the role of feeding all of them. Animals are so important to my well-being, especially here. My best friend is my male dog Papi (Tongan for puppy) who adopted me more than vice versa. He used to belong to some yachties but they abandoned him on an outer island and the old principal at my school adopted him. He loves palangis (non-Pacific foreigners) and therefore has attached himself to me. He sleeps outside my door every night, barks at everyone who's not me (keeps the kids down to a manageable visitation level) and loves me harder than any human ever could.
Well, I'm back to my little island. I've had enough of town with its bright streetlamps, heck the paved streets even, the noisy cars and the people who are surprised I can speak their language. It's time to go home. Papi, here I come!