December 20, 2003 - Personal Web Site: Justin & Rebecca in Tonga

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Tonga: Peace Corps Tonga : The Peace Corps in Tonga: December 20, 2003 - Personal Web Site: Justin & Rebecca in Tonga

By Admin1 (admin) ( - on Sunday, December 21, 2003 - 11:21 am: Edit Post

Justin & Rebecca in Tonga

Justin & Rebecca in Tonga

Rebecca and Justin were among 16 volunteers who started training in Oct. 2002 for Peace Corps service in Tonga in the South Pacific. Following 10 weeks of training, including intensive language classes, staying with a Tongan family and shadowing an experienced Peace Corps volunteer, they were posted to Nomuka, an island of 350 residents that can only be reached by a lengthy boat ride. Justin is teaching computer skills and science to secondary school students and Rebecca is teaching primary school English. They have no internet connection. In fact, there is only one phone on the island and only the schools have electricity from generators. The mail comes in once a week by boat, and they love receiving letters and care packages:

Rebecca & Justin Freedman

Peace Corps, PO Box 147

Nuka 'Alofa, Tonga

South Pacific

Peace Corps training in Tonga

Rebecca and Justin were among 16 volunteers who started training in Oct. 2002 for the Peace Corps in Tonga that culminated on Dec. 12 with a swearing-in ceremony to formally begin their two years of service. They were posted to Nomuka, a small island far from Nuku'alofa (see map).

The following is excerpted from a speech given by John Parsell, the Volunteer Coordinator for the Peace Corps in Tonga, explaining the six weeks of training:

Pre-Service Training for Tonga Group 64 was held principally in Tongatapu and the Island Group of Ha'apai for ten weeks, beginning on October 5th when the Trainees arrived in the Kingdom and ending today, the 12 of December with 16 Trainees. The project was managed and executed by a training staff consisting of a Training Manager, two coordinators, one technical trainer, four Language Cultural Technical Facilitators, known as LCTFs, a training secretary, and one support staff.

The content was divided among four major subject areas: Language, Cross-Cultural, Technical and Health/Safety/Security. These components were developed throughout different phases of training with each phase designed to articulate specific content and focus areas.

PHASE ONE: Bridge to Training

Beginning on October 5th and ending on October 15th, the primary focus of this ten-day period was general orientation to the Peace Corps Tonga Post, its projects and operations, the Kingdom of Tonga with regards to Language and Culture, and to the goals, objectives and expectations of this Pre-Service Training.

PHASE TWO: Homestay, Center and School Observations

This phase of training was held in Ha'apai for five and a half weeks from October 16th to November 22nd . The main purpose was to provide the Trainees with general community experiences by living and interacting with Tongan families. In these families, the Trainees were exposed to Tongan family life in the villages of Pangai, Ha'ato'u, and Hihifo. The Homestay families helped the trainees in many ways: from sharing traditions, legends, and culturally appropriate behaviors for a variety of settings to blending them into daily routines and preparing local food for them.

During this time the four subject areas of this training were highlighted. Language classes were held at least once a day to provide a sound basis for understanding not only Tongan Language, but also the culture. Technical Education, Cross-Cultural and Health/Safety/Security sessions were held at the Ha'apai Youth Center once a week after an initial two-week half-day schedule. The Trainees designed, organized and facilitated a Community day in Pangai as an exercise in community involvement and activity. Trainees also participated in six-day school observation periods at primary and secondary schools throughout Ha'apai. At the conclusion of the Homestay Phase of Training, the Trainees demonstrated and presented aspects of Tongan Culture they had learned from their Homestay families for a celebration called 'Aho Faka Tonga ("Day of Tongan Way").

PHASE THREE: Attachment

From November 22nd until December 5th the Trainees were matched with Volunteers currently serving at sites in 'Eua, Tongatapu, Nomkua, Vava'u, Niuatoputapu and Niuafo'ou. The main purpose for this phase was to provide Trainees with an opportunity to experience Volunteer life firsthand. LCTFs traveled to each Island group and continued to provide language instruction.

PHASE FOUR: Bridge to service

After Attachment, the Trainees moved back to Nuku'alofa for the final phase of Pre-Service Training from December 6th to December 11th. These days were designed to prepare the Trainees for the transition from training to service. During this time, Trainees completed all training, administrative and medical requirements. On the final day of Bridge to Service, Trainees met with and facilitated a workshop with supervisors and counterparts from their sites. This workshop provided a valuable first connection for Volunteers and their supervisors or counterparts. Finally, they have made the decision and commitment to take the Peace Corps Oath to serve as volunteers in Tonga.


The objectives that were set for the Trainees to be able to do by today are:

1) attain a comfortable level using survival and basic Tongan language skills, technical and cross cultural skills, and health and safety maintenance skills necessary to allow them to serve effectively,

2) model the following skills of proficient development workers-critical thinking, creative problem solving, information gathering and analysis, flexibility, patience and self-reliance,

3) describe Peace Corps/Tonga' development strategy,

4) acquire the skills and information to function effectively as a facilitator assisting organizations and communities in defining problems, identifying assets and finding solutions.

5) Establish a support network across borders and at all levels of Tongan society-individual, professional, organizational, community, district, and national.

6) identify strategies to build counterpart relationships,

7) effectively manage the communication process utilizing listening and questioning skills, giving/receiving feedback, and interpreting non-verbal communication,

8) manage loneliness, isolation and stress, utilizing an understanding of basic nutrition, hygiene, and personal health and safety skills in the context of the Tongan community,

9) familiarize themselves with their assignments and acquire the necessary skills to complete assignments successfully,

10) clarify their understanding of what is expected of them as a Volunteer in order to set professional and personal goals and to measure their progress,

11) incorporate their understanding of the PC's mission and the Post's specific mission into activities and projects.


Last week some youths got a hold of some hopi (homebrew) and were drinking. There were six of them. After they ran out, they went to find some more at an old man's house. The old man refused to give it to them, and two of the youths beat him up, twisting his neck and killing him. It was unintentional, and they didn't even know he was dead when they left to finish the man's hopi. A teacher from Rebecca's school, the adopted child of the man, found him. The police from the major island of Ha'apai were called in and everyone was in tears as the boys, all 18-21, were taken away.

One of the boys had recently been a member of the Form 5 at the college. He was older than most students, and was in his second or third trip through Form 5. Students have three tries to pass the exams after Form 5, deciding whether or not they can move on.

Tupouto'a College only goes up to Form 5, so students have to leave if they pass. This boy was just sick of school and didn't have any ambition to move on. This is the most common route, as you can live quite well in Nomuka fishing or farming like everyone else. And

while I often find the rules of the Free Wesleyan School a little confining, at least it keeps boys out of such trouble. I am sure that the college boys fear our principal more than the police.

But the youth, as any unmarried, out of school Tongan is called, are becoming a problem to the Kingdom, as they have very little skill or ambition, and their idleness and large numbers leads to drug and alcohol use. This (in our short experience) is very visable in Nuku'alofa and other larger towns, but not in Nomuka, where the youth have a tendency towards drinking kava, sleeping, and the occasional petty theft (two pairs of my boxer shorts and a bar of soap from us, and some clothes and such from Jonathan and Corey during their youth hosted going away party).

The major focus of the Peace Corps in Tonga is Youth programs, giving them a voice and opportunities to learn computers or other vocational skills. Jonathan was a Youth volunteer (where Rebecca, Corey and myself are Education volunteers). He had a really hard time getting the youth of Nomuka to do anything, even when it was incredibly relevant to their lives.

The first three months of our Nomuka experience have come and gone. We are now in the capital with time to reflect as we hit the nightlife and enjoy simple comforts (electric fans, toilets, showers, etc.). We spent a few days out on Fafa, a luxury resort off the main island, Tongatapu, when we first got to town. Fafa is beautiful -- probably the nicest place to stay in Tonga. We had our own fale (house) and much privacy. Most guests spent a lot of time on the beach. We spent most of ours enjoying the silence only found away from the campus of Tupouto'a College. The food was great -- real gourmet stuff, but it was a little difficult justifying paying $41 for lobster, which we eat so freely in Nomuka (granted, not served in a French sauce). But, of course, $41 Tongan is only about $20 US and we don't spend much on Nomuka and are able to save up.

Another note about Fafa is that, while we were dying to get away from Nomuka and be palangi for a while -- speaking English, wearing bikinis (Rebek at least) and drinking cold beer (our first in three months!), we ended up drinking kava and conversing in Tongan with the staff one night, often embarrassed to be associated with the other white guests' behavior and attitude towards the Tongans. It's funny how outlooks can change so fast. We definitely felt more Tongan than palangi.

Christmas Adventure

So…back to Nomuka. We arrived at the end of December for about a week and a half before going on our Christmas adventure. We basically had just enough time to set up our house and such and then left for the main island of Ha'apai to see our friends and home stay family for Christmas. After finding out the boat (the Siupeli - see pictures in web site - the boat looks like a refugee boat) was not in fact going to Ha'apai after all (for no particular reason), we conferred with Elders Gilkey and Stodard, the two Mormon missionaries (more on them later) who had been staying on Nomuka, and were told that they were headed to Ha'afeva in the boat and would catch a ride from there in the Mormon boat (smaller, but MUCH faster than the aforementioned Siupeli). We took the chance and made it to Ha'afeva. The Mormons were happy to take us, we found out, but not until the next day. This gave us the opportunity to spend Christmas Eve with Don, the lone PCV in Ha'afeva. Don was shocked yet happy to see us. He busted out his finest box of Australian red, and we made a pasta dinner. It was a great opportunity to get to hang out with Don and get to know him better, as well as to see Ha'afeva. The next day, Christmas, we hopped on the Mormon boat and headed towards Ha'apai. The seas were a little rough, but the boat was fast. So we headed off, on a boat with 15 or so Mormon missionaries wearing white shirts, ties and name badges -- half are Tongan, half are Utahan (or Idahoan or Californian) -- on Christmas, barreling through the tropical seas, singing carol after carol and passing around candy.

When we arrived, we saw our PC friends for a while and then went to the beach with our home stay family. On the way, we stopped at a few falekoloa (bodega) to find some Bounty to celebrate our arrival. Bounty is Fijian rum that our group (and apparently our home stay family) discovered during our attachment. It smells a bit like paint thinner. We were not alone on our mission, and soon found ourselves in a caravan of cars looking for one open shop selling Bounty during Christmas. We finally scored, only to find that nobody had Cokes for sale to mix it with. Oh well. The beach was beautiful, as was the rest of our time in Ha'apai. We had a Christmas party later on with the other PCVs, who were thoughtful enough to make us stockings and stuff them with gifts. The rest of the week was spent catching up with our family and partying with our friends.

Due once again to the whims of the Siupeli, Rebecca and I found ourselves having to travel past Nomuka to the capital in a larger boat in order to get home within a reasonable time. We actually saw Nomuka from the boat, and really wanted to get home to our new house. As it worked out, we spent New Years in Nuku'alofa (surprisingly un-special despite being the first city to see the New Year and all) and headed home.

The boat ride to Nomuka (on the Siupeli of course) was fine except for the lack of space. Those tricky Tongans: if we tried to lay down before the boat started they would call us fakapikopiko (lazy), but as soon as we got moving it was a free for all, with us losing all space to lay down. It was a pretty miserable 10 hours. We arrived in the middle of the night, and after scrambling to find our kerosene lamps, inspected the place and went to bed.


We arrived just in time for 'Uike Lotu (prayer week). The first week of January gives everyone (at least the Wesleyans) a chance to make up for the sins of the past with a week of tri-daily church services. We managed to go a good four times that week (pretty impressive for a Jewish couple, I think) and hit a few feasts. It is a nice time of year because there are events, feasts and lots of people around. We were always seated at the place of honor at the feasts, which made us uncomfortable at first. We would sit near the ministers and high-ranking people and get the best food and feel a little out of place. There is usually pig (whole), lobsters, chickens, fish, noodle dishes, curries, lu (chicken, sheep, or canned beef placed in taro leaves with coconut milk and cooked in the underground oven), all the root crops, and so much fruit. At the high end sections sometimes, there are even little bags of Bongos -- Tongan cheese puffs. The way the feasts work is that the food is spread on the floor or ground and there are mats (or coconut leaves if you are outside) along both sides. The seating is arranged so that the important guests start from one end in order of importance and it moves down from there. Palangi (white folk) seem to get a lot of high end seating, along with the Town Officer, the Faifekau (ministers), and other people of assorted importance. In larger places, nobles and chiefs would hold those places. After an initial prayer, everyone digs in (literally) with their fingers and they just eat their way through the food in front of them. No plates, no silverware. You just dig into the pig (next to the spine is the best), or grab a whole plate of fish and start eating, putting it down for others when you are done. We were very respectful at first, only eating what was directly in front of us. Now, we hunt around, finding the lobster, the fish, the octopus, the pineapple and melon, the good palangi chicken and so on. We had some turtle the other day and that was great. Horse is a once-in-a-while treat, too.

As everyone eats, people will stand up and give fakamalo (thank you speeches). During the speeches, nobody really talks except to say 'io (yes) or malo (thank you) or mo'oni (truth, or maybe something like 'word up' from the rap culture of not long ago). Many people will give speeches and, finally, when everyone is done eating, the highest guest will speak. Then, after another prayer, it is time to go…but only after the wash bin is passed. This is the best reason to accept sitting at the high end - the bowl of water passed around can get pretty nasty even after the first few people.

So far I have attempted three fakamalo. The first was very simple and short. The second was a little better. And the third was longer and, while choppy, was pretty cohesive for a spur of the moment Tongan thank you speech. I intentionally started off badly so that I could impress over the next few years with my improvement.


During this first week, I also hit a few kava circles. The volunteer before me had the misfortune of finding out he was allergic to kava after arriving in the place where the only social activity for males is to drink it, so I think the men were interested to see how I reacted. Kava is a root, which is mashed up and dissolved in water. Most people buy little bags of kava for about $3. The kava is mixed in big buckets and then poured into the kava bowl. A to'a will serve the kava by ladling the kava into the cups, which are half coconut shells filed down and smoothed. The men on both sides pass the cups around in each direction, starting with the person at the far end of the circle, who is usually the most important. The kava cups seem to be only handled with one hand and chugged, and then the cup is tossed back to the front. In Nomuka, where everyone is related to everyone, there are rarely female to'a, even though a female to'a is a prized thing. It seems like a few girls on the island can do it, and any visitor is pressured to to'a, which Rebek's cousin Nora can attest to.

The kavas during prayer week were called faikava, which is a more formal type thing in the church hall. A kalapu is a kava group, which usually has a name and clubhouse (such as the kalapu kutufisi, or the flea group, so named for the other inhabitants of their clubhouse). Kalapu collect money and actually do good things around the island and church. Faikava seem to happen for other events, like feasts or festivals…or before and after church.

The best thing in the kava circles is the music. Many people are talented at ta me'a (direct translation, hit thing…real meaning, play any stringed instrument). Within the room there might be five or six kava circles, and two or three of these may have a small group of musicians. A typical group has a regular tuned guitar, a slack-key type tuned guitar, and a ukulele or two. Some have a few of each. Once in a while you see a banjo (there is one on Nomuka). Now, when I go, there is a mandolin too. The mandolin (or pandolingi, as they call it) is a big hit (thanks Josh and Miriah!) The groups will trade off songs, all sung out of homemade books of songs collected over the years. Everyone in the circle will sing, too. It is really beautiful to hear. Luckily, all the songs follow simple patterns of three chords with some minor variations -- so I can follow along. The slack key guitarist usually plays the lead. With the mandolin, I usually get called to the biggest circle with the best musicians, which is a nice in.

Besides the music, the typical kava circle conversation has nothing over a typical high school keg party conversation. Jokes center on everything from masturbation to the superiority of kava palangi (liquor). This is not the case with pre-and post-church kavas, as well as more formal kavas.

The kava buzz is different than any other I know. It starts with a numbing of the mouth and throat. Later, you start to feel a little lethargic and lazy. You need to urinate after a while (you are drinking a lot of liquid) and, after you break the seal, it comes fast and furious. You never feel quite empty of liquid, even when you pee before bed. While I usually leave before the end (after a few hours you have seen it all), it can go until 3am or later. Most people cite an inability to get up the next day - although, with the heat, I can't really imagine staying in bed later than 10. Another common side effect often talked about either sends the guys back to their wives or back to "husk the coconut" (see common joke material above). If you are really kona (drunk) you actually feel a little wobbly on your feet and slur. There is a lot of smoking involved and candy or sugar cane eating (the taste is not fantastic and your mouth gets dry). Look out for a package coming to NYC...

Church and Basketball

Obviously church is a big part of prayer week, as well as every week. A typical week at the Wesleyan church has four early morning services (Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday). These start at 5am, but the bells start at about 4:30. Sunday also has the 10am and the 5pm services. There are other afternoon services too, but I lose track.

The Wesleyan Church is the biggest in Tonga, as well as in Nomuka. The other denominations found in Nomuka are Catholic, Church of Tonga, Free Church of Tonga, and Mormon. The Catholic Church is tiny and has no chairs, but seems to have a nice community feel to it. We have been only once, with Corry and Jonathan, as it is their church (here and at home). The service was short and sweet as the priest only comes in one week out of six from Ha'apai -- but there was an awful lot of calling out of Jews in the service. Such lines as "and Jesus cracked his whip to disperse the money lenders from the temple" turned me off a bit.

The Church of Tonga was an offshoot of the Wesleyan Church, which was the first church in Tonga. The Wesleyan missionaries got the jump on the Tongans before anyone else. I am not sure of the differences in doctrine or belief between the two, but it apparently wasn't enough for some folks, who then started the New Church of Tonga. We have not been to either of these, but will try to at some point. The Church of Tonga has beautiful churches with great colors and spires and such. There seems to be a sizable Church of Tonga group in Nomuka. The New Church of Tonga is pretty small.

There is currently some work being done to build a new church, yet another offshoot of the Wesleyans. I am not sure of the name, but it appears from my inquiries that the name is all that differs.

The Mormon Church in Nomuka, as in all of Tonga, is the nicest, newest, safest structure on the island. They even have a basketball court, which is sometimes used for dances, volleyball, or tennis. Certainly NOBODY in Nomuka would use it for basketball -- as basketball is a girls sport. And they play on grass (see netball later). I have no idea why it is even there, but when we arrived there were two Mormon missionaries from the States in Nomuka (see above). Elder Gilkey is from Sacramento. He is 21 and, as of today, is leaving Tonga after two years of service. He is 6'5" and played junior college ball before coming on his mission. He is fast, has great ball handling and shooting, and can dunk like Kobe Bryant. He will probably go and play somewhere next year. Elder Stoddard is 18 and just arrived before coming to Nomuka. He came from Salt Lake and is 6'7". If Gilkey is Kobe Bryant, Stoddard is Greg Ostertag's cousin. Big, slow and not a lot of 'ups'. He has a decent six-footer though. And shooting over him is like shooting over an oak tree.

Jonathan and I had played some two-on-two with them during our attachment in December. It was a friendly game, but with some undertones (which is the way to victory, the sinful way of the PCV vs. the righteous lifestyle of the Missionary?). We managed to take the last of six games after falling exhausted on the court.

In Jonathan's absence, the three of us played a lot of 21 (an every-man-for-himself game). I tried to make up for my lack of height (and skill) with pure hustle (think back to last summer, Josh and Jed). I found a strategy in which I would hustle the ball down, as long as it was nowhere near Gilkey, use Stoddard as a screen and drive. I would also distract them with remarks under my breath (like Jesus Christ or God damn it). Either way, I lost every game the first few days, usually falling exhausted after two games of pure hustle, unused to the heat and exercise. On the last day the boys were on Nomuka, I managed to stay close late into one game by hitting five foul shots. I got myself to 19 points, a foul shot away from victory, only to brick off the back of the rim. I never played again.

The Wesleyan Church on Nomuka itself is quite a structure. It has a round dome supported with giant curved wooden beams. It has pews and stained glass. The services last about two hours -- well longer than any other on the island - but, as my school is Wesleyan and there is no synagogue anywhere to be found, it seemed like the church to attend. There is a minister, but mostly other people do the malanga, or speaking. My principal, Tupou, often leads the service and is very good - loud, with lots of hand gestures and he even sheds a timely tear. You can hear it from our house when Tupou speaks. The services start with a hymn (which we sing along with using our very own Wesleyan Tongan hymn book!), followed by a prayer and a bible reading. Then another hymn followed with the sermon. Finally there's some announcement and then another hymn. The hymns are the best part, as they mark the time (church has started, church is half over, or church is over!) and because the Tongans are amazing singers. From the little babies to the old ladies, everyone is belting out the gospel at full lung capacity and feeling it deep in their souls.

There is a saying in Tonga. First, the white missionaries came to Tonga and told them to put on their clothes. Now, the white people come to Tonga and are told to put on their clothes. It's quite a shame really. It is way too hot for all these clothes.

Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

Story Source: Personal Web Site

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Tonga; PCVs in the Field - Tonga



By joyc charlotte cocker ( on Monday, October 27, 2008 - 3:05 pm: Edit Post

well hello i just bob in to see nomuka is my mom comes from nomuka so to i well it been long tyme since i came to nomuka but yeah i drop by just tis yrs to see my grannys funeral i better head out now wen i get to see my island again i will take pictures and email it to u ok

Add a Message

This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.