Tuesday, August 12, 2014


My host family is so good to me. Tonight I needed to do some laundry, and I didn't know how to work their washing machine (it sounds pathetic, but you wouldn't be able to work it, either). I asked Cathy if, when she had a minute, she would help me work the washing machine. She asked me if I wanted her to do my laundry. Honestly, how many people are so quick to offer doing someone's laundry?

My host family always tells me to sit in the front seat of the car. If I start getting into the back seat, they just say, "Beth, get in front."

In class, it is interesting because the students will always answer if I ask them a question. It sounds obvious that they would, but it actually really does catch me off guard sometimes. For instance, when they first come into class, I ask, "How is everyone doing?" They all respond at the same time with, "Fine." Or even when I say, "Good morning!" Everyone responds with, "Good morning." Sometimes I'll ask, "Does that make sense?" and they'll just all say, "Yes." I especially noticed that they do this today when I demonstrated how to make an origami butterfly. I had them all gather in around a table to watch me fold the butterfly, and sometimes I would ask, "Can everyone see?" or "Do you see how it's a triangle?" And every time they would respond with, "Yes."

After school I was online for a while. I got to video chat with my parents and Jillian, so that was fun. It's always nice having a "face to face" conversation with people from home, even if it's just virtually. Last week my entire family joined a video call, and that was awesome. Today when I was talking with them, Moana's (Mo-onna) daughter, Siu (See-ew) came over and started talking to me, interested in what I was doing. She is fourteen, and she just hung around. I'd talk to her, then she'd say, "Oh, you can talk to your family!" But I let her say hello, and she loved it. She eventually just sat with me and talked with them, and she'd turn to me and say, "Your family misses you." She acted so concerned that they were sad I'm not home. She also loved Jillian's long, blonde hair. Mom asked Siu if I looked like Mom or Dad, and she said that I look more "like the mom." Then I asked if I look like Jillian at all. Siu said, "No offense, but I think that Jillian is prettier." If that doesn't just sum up my life, I don't know what does. Just kidding. But it was really funny. After we were done with the video call, I just chatted with Siu. She gave me a bracelet made out of little colorful rubber bands - she said, "Keep it as a friendship bracelet." So sweet.

This evening all of a sudden Manu and Christein started paying attention to me. Manu has always been mildly responsive to my questions, but Christein usually just stares at me when I say something to her. But tonight Christein suddenly attached herself to me, and just played with me. Then I played a game with them with some Tongan coins, hiding the coins in one of my hands and having them guess which ones the coins are in. They loved it and we played forever. Then I taught Manu how to catch a coin off of his elbow. He thought that was pretty cool. Then he came and sat with me on the couch for a while. Those kids are so cute. And even though Christein doesn't speak English quite yet, it's interesting to see how easily and willing she has been interacting with me. When she tried hiding the coins in one of her hands, she would tell me which hand to pick by pointing at her other arm, trying to trick me. Every time. It was hilarious.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Finally Teaching

On Sunday evening, Ana asked if I wanted to go with her and Christein to Ana's sister's house. So I drove with them for about 20 minutes to the other side of the island. We stayed for about an hour and a half, and probably after a half hour I was anxious to go back home. It was just interesting to realize that I was wanting so badly to go to my home stay. It was the first time since being here that I've really looked at it as my Home Sweet Home.

Yesterday was the first day of actually teaching an art class. I taught twice, and we just reviewed the elements of design. The students had fun, and they loved it when I goofed off and joked throughout the lesson to keep them focused. It was just really nice to finally be in front of the classroom.

During lunch yesterday, we met with all four of the Creative Technology teachers and discussed the rest of the term. This week is Creative Technology week (I'm still unsure what that actually means) and they asked me and Alexa if we would speak at this morning's assembly about art and why it is important to learn about.

Then after school, Dr. Santos met with all of the Creative teachers and we all did some art activities to get some good ideas going for the classes. They seemed to enjoy it, and a lot of them were introduced to some art concepts for the first time. A lot of the art teachers were assigned to teach the Creative classes, even though they haven't been trained in that area. I was able to help Moana draw the basic proportions of a face, and that was a neat experience, since she had never learned any of those concepts. It's a new experience to be teaching teachers.

On Friday and yesterday, my host family didn't wake up until around 8:00, so we got to school late on each of those days. So I was not surprised when, even though I needed to be to school on time to speak in the assembly, everyone got a late start again. We also stopped so Suny could grab something from a shop, and then we dropped the little kids off at school. Even though I'm not a punctual person, it's kind of giving me grey hairs living on the Tongan timetable. I missed Alexa's speech, but Lusia still asked me to give mine. I just talked about why I decided to become an art teacher, and why it is valuable to learn about art.

Today was my second day of teaching. I was supposed to do a papercraft project to finish up the strand (section) the classes are in, so I taught them how to make an origami butterfly with paper they colored with markers and colored pencils. First I taught Form 1, and they caught on extremely fast. They loved it, and they all began making butterfly babies from the extra scrap papers when they were done. The Form 2 class, surprisingly, did not catch on as fast. I had to help a ton of the students on each step, but they still enjoyed it. Afterward, I made them all line up the desks neatly, and then the bell rang. The students just sat around, and then when they finally stood up they just stood around. I was kind of confused because they made it a half day today (not a surprise), so school was out, and they were excused to leave. Then at the same time, they all said, "Thank you, Bethany!" It was so cute. Then as everyone started filing out, some of the students began pushing the desks we just organized to the edges of the class. Turns out they were practicing an "item" (a dance) for tomorrow. I laughed, since it was a chore getting all the tables lined up and nobody told me what a waste of energy it was to do so.

The rest of the week is going to be extremely easy. Tomorrow there is no class, since it is a parent-teacher conference for the younger forms. I'll be at the school, but I don't have to teach. Then on Thursday, I only teach one class. Friday is the parent-teacher conferences for the older forms, so there is also no class. So I wonder if next week will kind of wind down to a normal schedule since the reports will be done and out of the way, but with my background knowledge thus far, I don't think so.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Church in Tongan

If I could re-pack my bags, I would bring:

  1. More sweaters. I know that in theory 70 degrees doesn't sound cold, but sometimes it is much more comfortable to be wearing long sleeves, especially with how windy it gets.
  2. More underwear. Doing laundry less often = an additional 5 years to my lifespan
  3. Aquafresh toothpaste. Colgate is just not cutting it for me, so I don't know what I was thinking when I brought it.
  4. Disinfectant wipes/more hand sanitizer. No explanation.
  5. Smell good spray or lotion. It just would have been nice not worrying if I smell like a wet dog.
  6. Long pants. I've been fine without any, especially because skirts are light and breathable, but sometimes I miss a normal pair of pants.
  7. A water bottle with a filter on it. No explanation.
  8. A hard copy of the pocket size scriptures. Sometimes I feel weird just having the scriptures on my phone, and it would be nice to know I have a Book of Mormon to give away if needs be.
  9. Earplugs. Roosters and dog fights all night, every night.

Things I am grateful I brought along:

  1. Spotify. Music at home was already always calming, so here it is even more so.
  2. Headphones. They have been my replacement for ear plugs.
  3. 2 towels. Less laundry when I go swimming in caves and when I go to the beach.
  4. My pillow. I think getting used to sleeping in a different bed has run much more smoothly because I brought my own pillow.
  5. My parents' Chromebook. I hadn't realized that my phone doesn't let me video chat at all, so having the laptop with a camera has been really nice. I would have been very sad without it.
  6. Three adapters instead of one. I can keep one in the wall, one in my bag, and an extra just in case.
  7. An open mind to trying fish and other food. I have tried fish twice since being here and I'veactually really liked it both times.
  8. Lotion. I thought I wouldn't need it, but I'm glad I packed a small bottle because I've needed to use it a few times.
  9. Starburst candy. My host family likes it, and it's fun pulling out a few pieces for them sometimes for a treat.

Today I went to a ward here. I went by myself, so I had no idea where to go or if I was there at the right time. I just stood out in the hallway for a few minutes, deciding if I should be bold and just walk in to where I thought Relief Society would be held. Finally a young man saw me standing there and showed me where to go.It was interesting being at church not knowing what was being said. Plus, I was the only palangi there. I have never experienced either of those things before, so it was definitely something really new for me. But after Relief Society, a girl named Charlene came up to me, introduced herself, and asked if I wanted to sit with her in class. She is probably in her mid twenties, so it was nice sitting with someone my age. Sometimes she would turn to me to explain why people were laughing (it sometimes felt I was the person who doesn't get jokes until someone explains them) or what was being discussed. She also introduced me to a girl named Mary. After church, I was introduced to some other young single adults in the ward, and one, Freddie, served his mission in Utah, so that was cool. They all said that sometime they would pick me up when there's a dance or activity, or just to hang out. That actually sounded really great - it would be awesome to have something like that to look forward to, especially just to have a change of scene sometimes.
It is sometimes frustrating talking with people because it can be really hard to understand their accent. Most of the time it seems easier for Tongans to understand me, rather than the other way around. I also feel like I might offend someone if I keep asking, "What?" too many times. Maybe this experience will just help me to become a better listener - you have to listen so closely to be sure you understand what the other person is saying to you.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Cave Swimming, Coconut Drinking

I'm getting better at sleeping through the night. I feel like an accomplished baby all of a sudden. I am more likely to wake up to the sound of fighting dogs than waking up to the sound of roosters. I think the dogs are just a bit more unnerving.

When I started getting my stuff together to shower, there was a lovely, huge beetle thing lying on its back in my room. I caught it in a soap box. I love Tonga.

Tonight we went swimming in a cave! It was fantastic. I was expecting the water to be freezing since it's inside the earth, and all. But I just jumped off some rocks and into the water, and it was similar to the temperature of a cooler swim pool. We swam around for a bit, and then people started jumping off from about a 15 foot ledge into the water. I turned to Jessica and said, "If you go, I'll go." And the weird thing is I wasn't even feeling scared. Normally just the thought of jumping off something that high (even the high dive at the swimming pool scares me) would make me shaky and scared. But I was feeling super brave, so we climbed up. The only thing I was nervous about was hitting some rocks below and getting paralyzed or something. So when it was my turn, I prepped myself for a minute as I made a plan to go into the water without smashing against a cliff on my way down. And I didn't even feel too afraid of the height. I was so
proud of myself. Then I jumped. Yolo. It feels good overcoming my fears. Fifteen feet isn't super high, but I felt more excited than scared of something that wasn't going to hurt me. And it's new to feel like that with something that's always made me nervous.
After swimming, we ate a little pig that Wes' host family brought for us, along with taro, which is like a mix between a potato and a yam. Then we watched one of the Tongan guys with us climb a coconut tree. It was SO bizarre that a human could do that with such ease. The tree was probably 40 feet tall, and he climbed about 3/4 of the way up, and then just scooted back down. Then he climbed into a mango tree, transferred over to a coconut tree that was right by it, climbed up to the top, and shook out a ton of coconuts. It was awesome. Then Mac, a Tongan staying with Wes' host family, used a machete to cut off the very top of the coconuts, and we drank the coconut water. It was very tasty, and the experience was just awesome. We're just in Tonga, drinking from a coconut. No big deal.

A cemetery by the ocean. There are cemeteries all over the place, along with Mormon churches.

The entrance to our cave swimming experience

That is a baby pig. Its live siblings are adorable.

Before coming to Tonga, I don't think I ever realized that coconuts are in an additional outer shell. Or that there is so much liquid inside. Very yummy!

Banana leaf.

Friday, August 8, 2014

A Schedule, etc.

This morning we finally got Alexa's and my schedules figured out. I am so glad that Dr. Santos, my Art Ed professor, was able to come to Tonga during the first week and a half we are in the school. Even though we still have had an extremely hard time getting a grip on how things work here and trying to get everything organized, she has really been a big help getting things moving. This morning Alexa and I went to each Creative Technology teacher to get their schedules written down, then we went to the staff room (as usual) to figure out the best way to organize our timetables. I will be helping in Ofa's, Moana's (two of her classes), and Lucia's classrooms, teaching three form 1 classes and one form 2 class. Form 1 is twelve year-olds and form 2 is thirteen year-olds. I am interested to see how everything plays out.

Today we went to get pizza. I let Cathy decide what kind we should get, and she went with bacon and eggs. I didn't know that was even a kind of pizza, but it definitely is. It didn't have tomato sauce, but it had cheese, little pieces of bacon, and eggs cracked right on top. It was interesting, but I ate three pieces of it.

 The biggest challenge for me right now is managing my introversion. I'm not antisocial, but I am definitely not a social butterfly by any means. I am envious of people who easily engage people in conversation and who can keep conversation moving easily in any situation. I can do that to a point, but when I hit that point, I am reserved. I am okay with silence in conversation, but I worry that others think I am rude when there is a lot of silence. I love my host family a lot, but I hope that they don't think that I dislike them at all since I am not extremely talkative. Along with that, I have been getting tired early on in the evening and I usually go to bed early, so I really hope they don't take offense to this.

Christein (Christine) is 5 years old and does not speak English. She understands some things, but she mostly just stares at me or ignores me when I tell her things or ask her things. It is a really different experience interacting with a child who doesn't understand me and who I don't understand. Usually Christein acts shy around me and chooses not to interact a whole lot with me, but tonight as I wrote, she came in and hung out in my room. I think easing her in by sometimes giving everyone American candy has helped.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Tonga High

Yesterday Dr. Santos met with the Principal and the Creative Technology teachers to get Alexa's and my schedules sorted out. Before Dr. Santos met with the teachers, I was extremely confused about where I was supposed to be during class and what I was supposed to be doing. Nobody seemed to have any expectations for me, and it was driving me crazy - I needed some direction. I had never realized how much I depend on organization. After talking with Dr. Santos yesterday, I felt really good about how things would play out. I would finally have some classes to teach. Then today rolled around, and I was again confused about what was expected of us. The class schedules were different from what we thought they would be, and we began to realize that there were some flaws in how we expected the schedules to run. It also seemed like there were some miscommunications about expectations, so the stress started to come back. I observed one classroom, and then I went upstairs to the staff room, not knowing where to go or what I was supposed to do. I had emailed Dr. Santos to let her know about the confusion, and so she came in the afternoon. We spent a couple hours looking at the schedule, dissecting options of how we could handle the schedule, and even looked at the official schedule to try to figure things out - but  we soon found that what was written on the official schedule was not completely accurate. After a long day of confusion, I'd love to say that our problems were solved. However, we have some more solving to do in the morning.

I don't know how to describe the school other than inconsistent. I don't mean that in a bad way, just that it's completely different from what I'm used to in the states. Yesterday there was a staff meeting, so the students just waited under the pavilion until they could go to their classes. When the meeting ended, they were informed that it would be a half day and that they were only to attend the first three of their five classes. Yesterday when the Creative Technology teachers went to meet with Dr. Santos, they simply left the students to work on their classwork. It's all so different, but it just works for them.

When I was in the staff room after school waiting for my host mom to be done with writing reports, a woman came in and talked to me. Her name is Alieta. She was so friendly and told methat I should come stay at her house someday when Ana is busy. Later on, she came back to the staff room and asked if I wanted to go for a drive and to see her home. Only in Tonga is this acceptable. She told me that Ana said it was okay, because she still had a lot of reports to write. Alieta was so excited for me to come with her, and she said how excited Angel, her daughter, would be to meet me. Her daughter is 8 years old. She also has two sons, Collin and Pioneer. They don't live at home, so it's just Alieta, her husband, and Angel. They rent their home from the government, and it is very clean. Alieta kept telling me that I was welcome to their home - that anytime Ana is busy, I need to come stay with them. We talked about teaching, and it was interesting to hear her perspective on teaching in Tonga. 

When we drove back to the school, the administration had a BBQ going, since so many teachers had to stay late working on reports. I left my sweater at home this morning, and the weather was very cool today. Alieta was about to go back home, but noticed that I wasn't wearing a sweater. She said, "I'll just leave you with my scarf [more like a shawl]." I told her I was okay, but she insisted. So I gave in, telling her that I would return it to her tomorrow. Then she said, "No, don't return it; I am giving it to you." She literally gave me the clothes off her back. I tried saying that I couldn't take it from her, but she insisted. I cannot explain the attitude of generosity and happiness that is so present on this island. I don't think I have ever really understood the phrase "money can't buy happiness" until coming to Tonga. Everyone here is happy and are willing to give whatever they can for the sake of being nice to someone else.

My new, poetic replacement for a sweater

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Little Details

In Tonga nobody uses a dryer.
At first I thought that clothes would take nineteen years to actually dry considering that it's really humid here, but actually it's just the opposite. I was first expecting the humidity to be overwhelming, even though the temperature stays around 70-75 degrees every day. But I have only noticed the humidity when my hair is drying or sometimes when I'm inside it feels a bit muggy. Nothing too bad, though. The wind is constantly blowing. Literally, constantly. There have only been a couple times when I've realized that the wind is closer to a breeze than wind.

When I first got here the first thing I thought was, "I definitely should have brought more sweaters." It sounds pathetic, but honestly I felt really cold the first few days. Now I'm making myself not wear a sweater, but I'm not outside as much as I was before I came to the school.

The windows are always open here. I don't even think that any windows I've seen can completely be shut. The glass is similar to how some of our blinds in the states are - they are divided up into sections and can be opened wide or closed off a little more. I don't know if that makes sense, but regardless, the windows don't shut.

I haven't seen any 6" poisonous centipedes yet, thank goodness. I have seen an extremely large spider, and my family has a cat that likes to sit on my suitcases when I'm not looking. So I don't know if those can fit in the same category, but there you go.

I guess the cat is a little bit cute.

There are dogs everywhere and they are better pedestrians than I am. They are very aware of traffic and I don't think I've seen any dog roadkill yet.

If anything kills me when I'm here, it will be the sound of a rooster. The roosters like to call to other neighbor roosters all night, and I'm just like, "Hey, could you expand your vocabulary because I'm getting sick of the same "cockledoodledoo" my whole life". But maybe I'll get so used to the chorus of roosters that I'll buy a flock when I come back to the states.

White people are like a novelty here. They call us "palangi" (pah lahn gee), and it's almost like a title. People stare at us and smile/wave/say hi or bye as they walk by. Everyone is really friendly. When I'm at school and groups of students are walking to class, it gets confusing because so many people are saying hi. Sometimes kids will say "bye" or "hi" and then turn to their friends and giggle. Sometimes in class people will start speaking in Tongan, and all of a sudden you'll hear "palangi" in the conversation and everyone will turn to look back and they'll laugh or smile. It's kind of weird having people be so aware of me, but it's adorable how respectful the students are. Today I went to the canteen to buy some water, and the girls in front of us looked back and immediately moved to let us go ahead of them in line. Students will give up their seats, and they love it when I choose to sit next to them in class.

In some classes, the teachers let me introduce myself and let the class ask me questions. When I tell them I am learning to be an art teacher, everyone sighs and thinks that's so cool. Once I was asked my age, and they thought that was equally as cool. When someone asked if I was married, they all giggled when I said no. It's cute how interested they are in the tiny details about my life.

Monday, August 4, 2014

First Day Home Stay

Today I went to Tonga High to be assigned to my classroom. Since we were expecting that Alexa and I were to create an art program on our own, we planned out what we would teach during the eight weeks of being here last night, and we brought along some of the art supplies that our instructors brought for us. We got to the school, and since it was Monday, it was a school-wide assembly outside under a pavilion, of sorts. They opened with the school hymn (which was really intriguingly beautiful) and prayers and spiritual thoughts. A student would read the lyrics of a verse, the students would sing it, and then that same student would read the words of the next verse, and so on. There is a woman pastor who is at the school who spoke, and there was a specific man who prayed twice in the assembly. After that, the vice principal assigned us to teachers. Alexa and I were assigned to Creative Technology teachers. I didn't know exactly what that entailed, but I came to learn that it is similar to an art course, teaching drawing, printmaking, carving, etc. My teacher is very quiet and, like it is with most Tongans, it is hard for me to understand her accent sometimes. Her name is Ofa.

Instead of an A and B day block schedule like in Utah, Tonga High divides the schedule into 6 different days. Day 1 has 5 periods, Day 2 has five other periods, etc. But the kids aren't taking 25 different classes - they kind of shuffle the schedules around.

Ofa teaches Math and Science courses. In science, the students came in as Ofa wrote down notes on the board for the students to copy down. That day's lesson was on friction. So she copied down what was in the book, writing about what friction does and what would happen if we didn't have friction. It was a few paragraphs of writing that the students were to copy down. Ofa then came to the back of the class and talked to me as the students were left to write the notes. That was their science class.

In between math and science, Ofa went to get a science book. Some students were chatting, and there was one girl who was standing outside of the classroom talking through the window. She caught my glance and asked me, "Can I talk to her?" referring to a girl in the room. I walked over and said that I am not the teacher, so I don't know - that I'm not the person to ask. Then she responded with, "I was just showing you respect." That caught me off guard because she knew I wasn't a teacher, but she recognized that there was authority there. So I asked her if she should be going to class right now, and so she ran off to class.

Another little girl, Ramona, came up to me and asked where I am living. I told her that I will be meeting the family I will be living with today. She asked enthusiastically, "Do you want to meet MY family??" I said that yes, I would, someday. Ramona got so excited and asked, "Really??" and I realized that she'd probably meant that she wanted me to meet and live with her family. She was really sweet.

At the end of the day, we were finally able to meet our home stay families. Ana is the mom, who greeted me with a hug and and maternal enthusiasm. Her daughter is 18 and in Form 7, and her name is Cathy. Her two youngest kids are Manu, 7, and Christine, 5, who doesn't speak English. Later on I met Ana's husband, Suni. He is a member of Parliament, and he works on a nearby island every day. Later on I met another son, Lolo, who is in Form 5 and he is 17. There is also a 22 year old son and a 21 year old daughter who don't live here on this island.

Because the husband is a member of parliament, the family seems pretty well off. However, they live in a very humble home/a "normal" home, as Ana put it. There is also hot water, and internet when we need it, so that is extremely wonderful since I wasn't expecting either of those. I have my own room and Ana contiually tells me to make myself at home and to eat whatever I want. The dad said that if I don't like what they cook me, that they should buy me food that I like.

Tonight was the first real night of being homesick. I kind of felt homesick other times, but tonight I cried a little bit. The whole day was kind of emotional, so it caught up to me when I turned in at 8:45. I think the emotions combined with catching up jet lag wasn't the best combination, but it's fine. It's nice to finally be settled in somewhere with people who are caring and willing to help make me comfortable.