Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Home again, home again...

Well, as many of you already know, Matt and I returned home in June/July. We learned many things while we were away, and would recommened to anyone to visit a tropical island in their lifetime! It is amazing how many times I read something island related and have such a clearer understanding now.

Tokelau, being so isolated is only for the 'Hard Core', (a quote from a Fakaofo screen printed T-shirt that I saw while on the atoll!), for the less hard core I suggest a nice holiday in Rarotonga, or Fiji!!!

When doing a volunteer stint it is important to 'keep it real' and not go into things with too many expectations of changing or improving anything. What will be will be. If you manage to bring about positive change then well and good and if you don't, then at least you tried! 'God loves a trier!' Sometimes people just don't want change.

Those of us who are teachers know that at times, change means a lot more extra work, and that can definately put people off! Over time the extra work becomes second nature and the kids benefit tremendously.

I wish future VSA volunteers in Tokelau the best of luck, and make sure you pack more than the usual amount of 'hard core' in your luggage!

Over and out.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Photo Story: Our daily walk to school

Walking under the beautiful canopy towards the happy hum of the diesel generator...

Looking up to the nearly always blue sky; its like a botanical garden.

The paths that get swept every morning...

...its the never-ending job to keep the jungle caged.

These diesel drums were squashed by the digger
and buried under the road above.

The rubbish dump with the school behind.
Note the solar panels. They are a trial run for an
island wide sustainable power project.

This slightly worn path is now 'paved' with brilliantly white coral sand.

It never ceases to amaze me how easily the kids
run around on the coral gravel.

Time to bless the new digger that will start
work on the new school buildings.
Let's all give the kids a coke!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Long overdue!

So sorry that it has been so long since the last post. Half of it is my fault, the other several weeks of silence was due to the internet being out of action across Tokelau. So, what's news...?

We are into Week 8 next week of Term 2. Across the world this means only one thing to teachers... assessment! Here I'm blessed, and dismayed, that it simply means making up your own test on what you have taught, and then reocrding the percentage into a 'portfolio' that goes home to parents. No 'next learning steps', no work samples, no 'I can...' statements and no comments... The assessment and reporting seems so pointless, and at the end of the day its the kids that miss out. Maybe one day someone will be brave enough to suggest a better way, but I'm sorry to say that person is not going to be me. Baby steps is what it is all about here. Baby steps!

We've continued to work on the literacy professional development. Its coming along. Slowly. In fact, teaching in general has been a bit slow here recently, mainly due to the 'flu'. Not the 'Swine Flu', but the Atafu flu (I call it the Ataflu!).

A few months back the news of an influenza outbreak in Tokelau hits the headlines in NZ... thank goodness it was before anyone had heard of Swine Flu! The World Health Organisation turned up and carried out influenza immunisations and testing, which resulted in no one actually testing positive for influenza. I guess it turned out to be simply a very, very nasty cold.

Never being one to miss out on anything, Matt and I headed for Atafu on a teacher professional development seminar... and yes, I got the flu too! Yippee and 'hurrah!' (Anyone who has read 'War and Peace' will know what I'm talking about).

After returning to Fakaofo ready to start the term, I ended up having to take a week off school. The children and teachers and the rest of the island... including the doctor, also ended up with the nasty cold too. The doctor ordered all the children with a cough or a snotty nose to take the week off school. For a few days this meant there were 12 children at school, with 6 teachers and one teacher aide. My suggestion to make the most of it by taking turns to teach and the teachers taking part in a professional development workshop were sadly ignored. It resulted in a very boring week!

Now that Swine flu is out and about Tokelau has taken steps to protect itself from it reaching here. There is now a one week stand-down period in Samoa for anyone wanting to travel here. Luckily for us it is no longer two weeks. We are returning to NZ for holidays shortly, and two weeks in Samoa on our return back here isn't our idea of a good time. In fact, nor is one week, but it will give us a chance to go to Big Bear (Samoan equivalent of Briscoes) to buy some plastic buckets and so on.

For your information, if you ever come to Tokelau to stay for a while, make sure you bring buckets with lids! No one told us this vital information. When buying flour and rice they are vital to try and keep the weavils and other creepy crawlies out. At the shop the only way to buy a bucket is to buy a massive tub of crackers... then you have to eat them all before you can use the bucket. I like to use them for my maths lessons and then let the kids eat them!!! I never want another cracker so long as I live!!

Matt and I, weeks later, still have a pesky cough. We think it is because of the dampness and termites that infest the walls of our house... yes, lovely! We hope that we won't be held up too long at Auckland Airport suspected of Swine Flu!

Anyway, I hope this is enough for now! We'll be back in chilly ol' NZ at the end of the month. For any of you in Chch or Blenheim we'll try and make sure to see you!!!

Take care, over and out!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Hmm, it seems to have been a little while since our last entry, the main reason being that to use the internet we have to go to the high school office after school. It is usually really hot and there’s usually a squadron of vampire mosquitoes ready to sink their vicious fangs into us. We’ve learned that (unfortunately) Deet repellent works better than the natural stuff you can buy, but we do prefer the mild burning sensation on our skin over the mossies.

Today is Saturday and for us that means our only sleep in of the week (unless we choose to skip church for the week), and invariably a day of house work: giving the kitchen a good ‘Pino’-clean, reorganising the living room and doing mountains of hand-washing. We really have to try and keep on top of our house work here, as the ants, mites and cockroaches will have a lovely time otherwise, not to mention the mildew that erupts everywhere. Yes, I am gradually coming to terms with my phobias… although the magotty-rotting potatoes, bought in a 20kg sack from the shop, were beyond what I could cope with! Luckily Matt is a bit stronger in the stomach than I am with such matters.

Matt’s found it pretty hard work recently. He’s working with a team building parts of the school, and the language barrier is proving to be a bit of a challenge. They’re working really long hours to get the building done s they can start on the main school building. Matt has also been given the keys to the little island truck and is in charge of the driving on Fenua Fala.

My Tokelau is coming a long slowly, although Andrew kindly sent us a copy of a Tokelau Language course book that is proving to be a great help. Although the kids in my class understand all classroom instructions, I have typed myself up a chart so I can learn to say them in Tokelau. I now take great pleasure in asking the kids to stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down, and to see that they understand me… although sometimes I get confused and probably tell them to stand down and sit up! I can also tell them, “Ko au ka fano ki te fale,” which means I am going to my house. I can probably change that to other places, but I’m not usually going anywhere other than my house, to the school or to the high school.

We’re still getting used to the food situation here. It’s pretty hard there not being much in the way of fresh fruit or veges, and as you can probably tell from the potatoes, even the fruit and veges that we do get aren’t what you’d call fresh. It is like a throw back to the old days, with us having Weetbix for breakfast, and a hot dinner consisting of either fish, chicken, sausages or mutton chops, with mashed potatoes and frozen mixed veges. Last nights dinner was inspired by baked beans, mixed with a can of corned beef (hmmm!), some onions and a sprinkling of sun dried tomatoes… a treat sent over by mum (Dianne). All I can say about last nights dinner was that desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures, and when you haven’t eaten all day hunger is the best sauce!

Last Saturday night we went to Bradey’s house for dinner. Brady, his wife Sena, and his 4 year old daughter are from New Zealand. They moved here six months ago, to a house that is in Sena’s family. Sena left Tokelau when she was 12 years old, and hadn’t been back for 30 years. They’ve done the little house on Fale up beautifully, and it was so lovely to go out for dinner and chat the hours away. It is not the custom in Tokelau to go to each other’s houses for dinner, so we felt a bit of a novelty walking down to the jetty with our plate of sushi and peach-rollups on our way to their house! Since then we’ve traded dvds, which is a bit of a treat in itself!

This week I had a short-lived career as the Fakaofo Netball Team’s manager. Sadly the tournament between the atolls has been cancelled due to Nukunonu and Atafu not wanting to take part. It seems such a shame, as training had started and I was looking forward to it being a good opportunity to keep fit. There’s talk of an atoll competition if we can scrape together enough teams, but it may be tricky getting anyone to commit themselves… it was hard enough getting the teams to practice at 4pm, with most turning up at 5.20pm. Admittedly, it is a bit cooler by then and half of the court is in the shade, but the bell for prayer time goes anytime between 5.45 and 6pm, which meant that training was pretty short by the time the warm-ups had happened.

There was always the last-minute scramble to find a ball as well; training is a bit tricky without a ball, however, it seems that anyone who has access to the sports equipment whether it be for the high school, or the sports club, is away in Samoa and no one knows where the keys are.
Matt and I have begun to hatch a plan to set up a mixed social netball tournament, but whether or not the idea will be a winner or not will remain to be seen.

This week has been an interesting week at school due to the fact that instead of starting at 8.30 each day, we’ve been starting at 9am… could this be something to do with the fact that the deputy is away? I’ve found it a bit frustrating, as I always find it a bit of a squeeze to get everything fitted in anyway, and half and hour off my morning program really makes an impact. Anyway, its just the way it is and I hope that over time things will get back to routine.
We had what I felt was a really successful Literacy Team Meeting this week. I shared my writing programme and they seem quite keen to adopt it themselves. They liked my shared writing book and the way I publish the children’s stories of the children to illustrate and read. I’ve seen amazing progress in the writing of my students over the past few weeks, and it is so clear to see when looking at their published storybooks. It is very satisfying.

This week I will spend sometime doing running records to assess y students reading progress. I hope to push them along quickly, as there are not many readers in the magenta-yellow range, as they are shared between Years 2-5 at the moment. Each week I struggle to find a set of four books. A week or two ago I collected in all of the rainbow readers and spent a good few hours putting them away and finding many books in the wring boxes. I have to admit, I found it strangely satisfying to re-unite sets of books, and it was difficult to stop!

I hope that I am able to impart as much to the other teachers as I am learning myself. Never having run a junior programme before, I am learning so much about the best ways to do things; figuring out the best ways to teach consonant blends and rhyming words, and activities for the students to do while I’m working with a different group. Training the students to actually complete the independent activities is another thing altogether, but they’re getting there.
I’m enjoying teaching maths, as the students are responding really well to the ANP programme I’m running. Not many of my Year 4’s can instantly remember their number bonds to ten yet, but then not many of the Year 6’s can either! One of the Year 6’s yesterday had a real break-through moment when after school, at netball practice’, I explained to him about place-value and using it to calculate problems like 10+8. Before that he had still been using his fingers! He was so proud of how fast he was to calculate the problems.

I also taught him that when adding on his fingers he was always getting the wrong answer because he was double counting the first number, eg. 5+3 as ‘5-6-7, instead of, ‘6-7-8’. He was amazed and said that he had always got the wrong answers! I hope that in six months time when I help them implement a maths program, that the students will benefit greatly from being taught in groups rather than the old ‘copy and complete’, ‘one size fits all’ maths approach.

Well, Matt and I have completed the cleaning for the day, apart from the washing, but I’m ignoring that. I might rebel and do it tomorrow…. Sunday. Strictly speaking no one is meant to work on Sundays. But, if doing your washing on a Sunday makes me a rebel, then let it be.
I’ve finally organised my jewellery table and now I just have to sort out a gas bottle. We cook with gas, but the bottles are huge. I tried to attach the gas torch today, but the bottle sounded like it was letting out gas. Perhaps the seal wasn’t tight enough (anyone got any ideas on this one?). I’m trying to track down a small gas bottle. I have seen one at the high school with VSA written on it, but it is a case of getting it put on the boat to Samoa to get it filled. We also have to get our two large gas bottles on the boat, as they have also run out of gas and we are currently borrowing someone else’s.

Matt’s just headed out fishing on the reef with our Kiribati friend, Andrew.

Better tootle. Tofa ni!

(PS There is an influenza epidemic here at the moment, but I don't thinks its anything too mucj to worry about... kids with snotty noses is something I see everyday!

In the past two weeks there's also been a 7.9 earthquake in Tonga and a tsunami warning put out and then retraced...


Thursday, March 12, 2009

BBQ'a and Turtles... not at the same time... YET!

Well, I thought it was about time I updated the blog. I know its been a while and people are beginning to get edgy! Today I am home sick from school… don’t panic! It’s just a bit of a cold, but it is not something I wanted to have to deal with in a hot tropical classroom with 9 ESOL kiddies! So I figured it was best to stay at home and nip it in the bud!

I wonder what my class will make of it all. I mean, they’ve had to learn a whole new way of learning in my class; differentiated maths and reading groups, and actually being taught how to write a story. Today they will be back to the whole class teaching, copying off the board, and rote learning. On the other hand, they will be able to understand all that is said by the teacher. I hope they are happy to see me tomorrow!

Hmmm… it’s been a while, so what do I need to let you know? Last week there was a BBQ outside our house on the path below, so we wondered on down and discovered the Fenua Fala sports club having their opening season dance. By the amount of food I suspect they were expecting more people than who came, but never-the-less, a good time was had by those who did.

The BBQ was made out of an old washing machine tub, with a bit of chicken wire spread over the top, and a sheet of corrugated iron underneath to protect the path. Loads of marinated chicken wings and drumsticks were on the menu, and I have to say, they looked quite exotic in the coconut frond baskets that were whipped together.

The beers and fizzy drinks were handed out, along with a drink of ‘milk’ that later turned out to be a vodka drink. Never being one to party too hard on a school night, I headed home pretty early, but Matt (always the party animal) stayed on.

After I departed there was a dance. The boys had to ask the girls to dance, and vice-versa. There was an elder who every now and then would give a speech between songs, and who eventually announced that there would be three more songs, and then it would be time for bed! I suspect that even by that time, enough drinks would have been consumed for there to be some sore heads at work the next day.


The breaking news is that there is currently a temporary classroom being built about 30m away, in front of our house. Watching the men work is a bit like watching ants zipping back and forth and all over the place… well, they looked like ants on my time lapse filming anyway. What is a slower form of an ant? Anyway, I don’t blame them for the odd bit of standing around, it is so hot outside and they’re actually putting the building up very fast. They started yesterday, and the roof should be going on today. It is interesting that they pour the concrete floor in last, after the whole building has been built. I figure that it is in case of the inevitable rain!

Matt is helping with the building and spent a lot of yesterday digging piles. He didn’t have a hammer, so most of his work in the afternoon consisted of holding up the beams straight while someone else hammered. Today someone is bringing him a hammer. I can’t see him, so I suspect they have him hammering the prefab somewhere else. The men seem to be stopping for a drink… there’s a guy up the coconut tree knocking down a load of green coconuts. They’re the best for drinking, especially if you get one that is a bit fizzy.


We have a bit of a moral dilemma at the moment, and I suspect it will last for our entire time in Tokelau. On Saturday night our friend Kelemeni came round for a visit. Among the many interesting conversations (including one of Mel Gibson’s island in Fiji and some bizarre religious cult practices there), he told us about the pet turtles they have here in Tokelau and other parts of the Pacific. Now, my class had told me they all have turtles, but I hadn’t seen any. Kele told us of the big one in a tub near the high school.

Now, the high school is only a stone’s through away from our house, so we wondered how we could possibly have missed seeing the turtle. So, on Sunday, when you are not supposed to do anything remotely related to work (including playing music etc…) we ventured out in the scorching sun to find this mysterious turtle.

After a bit of searching we found it. The poor thing was not a small turtle. It would be 40cm long, by 30cm. It is beautifully patterned and looks so gentle and peaceful. Sadly, it is kept in a black polythene tub, only about 1m in diameter and 1m high. It is in stinky, stagnant sea-water that gets changed occasionally by the students at the high school, and cannot do anything but swim to keep itself up out of the water to breathe. It has to wait for humans to feed it, which I suspect on Sundays is not at all.

We so wanted to free it, but it simply seems too obvious that it would be us! We simply had to hang our heads and walk back to our home in silence.

My class each have baby turtles. They are just small ones. About two months ago one family released their big turtle, and it has just returned back to Fale! I think this also has happened with turtles released from Kelly Tarlton’s in Auckland too.

Meanwhile, Matt and I are dreading the day a turtle is seen on the beach. If you see one you are meant to tell the Taupelega (the elders). It will be killed and eaten; apparently it tastes like steak. Fortunately for the young turtles, they only eat the really big, old turtles; the ones that are probably over 80 years old. They also eat turtle eggs.

It seems to me that reading ‘The Smallest Turtle’ when I was learning to read in Year 1 (J1), has given me a major soft-spot for the plight of the turtle!


Random News In Brief

We saw a reef shark while snorkelling the other day, so turned and went back the way we had come pretty quickly!

We have both seen several mean looking eels hiding under rocks while out snorkelling. We have been warned not to get too close!

The chicken on Fale must now be kept in cages, not left free to roam among the houses. Those that are left roaming will be free for anyone who wants them! I guess this is a measure put in place by the Ministry of Health to reduce the likelihood of Avian Bird Flu.

We are awaiting the arrival of the boat so the shop can be restocked… things are looking pretty desperate right now after all the rice, flour, sugar, tinned goods and meat were given out at a recent inati to say thank you to everyone for the hard work during the recent General Fono. (It is amazing what Matt can whip-up for dinner out of an apparent nothing!)

I’m not holding my breath that the box from Mum will be on the boat, carrying my new pair of jandals after the last one was lost in the sea (sob, sob!). But are still looking forward to receiving it hopefully sometime within the next two years!

It rained lots last night. The rain is always so refreshing and worth a mention!

The leak in our roof is to be fixed soon. The ladder is currently leaning against the house. The mosquito nets will also be fixed. Yippee! We’re running seriously low on insect repellent!

The pantry and kitchen shelves have been cleaned out and ‘anti-cockroached‘ with the super Mortein: Surface Spray!

Yesterday while Matt was swimming a set of massive waves broke over the reef. Five minutes later he was body surfing! Big waves are quite the excitement, I tell you!

We were given a massive Barracuda steak to have for our dinner this morning by our generous neighbour.

The two baby geckos that each live next to our lamps (thanks Briscoes!) are still alive and have not been eaten by the big geckos that live in the windows nearby.

Coconuts continue to fall off the trees next to our house at alarming rates!

On Saturday Matt managed to douse the fire that reignited itself when the afternoon winds whipped up.

Here's some chickens running. They are pretty typical of what roams around our house. I put it in just for the cute factor!

Here's me making some coconut cream to have with the Barracuda Steak. Hmmm Penang Curry!

Saturday, February 28, 2009


Special mention: Hi Jake, you are wise beyond your years! Read the comment I left next to your comment!

Yippee! You are very lucky to be reading this at the same time as I have seen the men (the ‘Samoan Team’… I’ll explain that in another blog) return from fishing. Matt is with them (I hope), and has been out since 7am this morning... 8 ½ hours ago! I was expecting him back around lunch-time, so I guess I’m lucky to only have been concerned about him for the last 4 hours! The librarian at school a few days ago told me that her husband hadn’t returned home from fishing the night before. I asked her if she was worried and she replied, ‘No, he’ll be on an island on the other side of the atoll. He knows what to do”… well, at this stage I don’t have that much faith that Matt would know what to do, and I’m not sure that I trust these young men here with Matt yet!

Here is a photo hot off the press of Matt and Andrew cleaning their fish. Apparently they caught so many they were able to share them with not only the ‘Samoan Team’, but also the ‘New Zealand’ team. This morning they went over to the other side of the atoll, and then had to wait for the tide to be right before starting their fishing… I think someone should have checked the tide times on the internet, then I might have got my sleep-in instead of getting up at 6.30am!

On Monday night there was a dancing and singing ‘competition’ by the three atolls. It is hard to say who was the ‘best’, but I definitely thought that Nukunonu put on a great show, turning up first and singing for a good half hour longer than the other two atolls, and wearing beautiful green lava lavas and hair pieces. Atafu arrived next. They had the best male dancers, dressed in great looking grass skirts and they put on the best dances, using decorative paddles. Fakaofo arrived later, in what I have to say were dribs and drabs; they must have been tired from acting as the hosts! They put up some pretty good singing though. And, of course, all the kids at school the next day thought that Fakaofo was the best… hmmm, could they be a little biased?!
I had to agree with the administrator when he said that he was pressed to think of a time in NZ when anyone celebrates they way they did that night, and that it was exhausting just to watch them for the 3-4 hours that it went on! That night we experienced our first trip across the lagoon in the pitch-black night, guided only by the stars… and the occasional flash of a torch! Madness…

On Tuesday after school Matt saw a massive water-spout just off the reef, about 1-2km away. It lasted for about 10 minutes, sucking water up out of the sea into a massive cloud, which then rained it out the other side.

That night Foua put on drinks for the village, or so we thought. It turned out to be mostly the elders, the important Samoan and New Zealander’s and a few extra palangi who were on the island doing various jobs: the solar panel installer, the school architect and us. We didn’t stay late, as we were relying on our friend Tapu to give us a lift home in his boat, and the night before had been a long night!

On Wednesday morning our house was broken into. We suspect it was teenagers, as they only took a couple of bottles of beer out of the fridge and Matt’s nearly finished bottle of whisky. For future reference, if you want to break into a house, look for one with broken mosquito nets, pull out a couple of the window slats and climb on in! Everyone on the island is very shocked, apparently it doesn’t happen here much and everyone is convinced they will get caught; it’s a small village, “and people talk.” I’m not convinced.

On Thursday night while swimming, my beautiful aqua, size 7, right foot jandal popped off my foot and floated away. Despite looking for an hour with my trusty maglite, I could not find it. I am still coming to terms with the tragedy. Matt bought me some new jandals from the shop for $6. I ordered blue, size 38’s, but sadly they only had yellow, size 41. I now have room on the back of my jandals for a hitch-hiker.

Friday night, ‘Movie Night!’. We treated ourselves to a dvd… ‘Pieces of April’, a movie about how important family is… gulp!

Today, Saturday, was a great day for the fishermen. Using a stick-bashing and herding method out on the reef, they caught the biggest haul of fish for years. It was celebrated by a procession round the village of the locals slowly following the fish-laden truck, singing and calling out for the whole village to come and collect their inati.

On Monday there is a public holiday to commemorate the 1987 hurricane that severely affected the region. I hear rumour of a kilikiti match.
Well, the time surrounding the General Fono was generally a hectic time for most people; preparing the food, making shell necklaces, fans and bags to decorate the meeting house, and finding accommodation for all of the visitors and special guests. It was a quiet time for us; we didn’t hear a peep from anyone for a week or so, and on Saturday it all came clear why.
Saturday was a long day for many!

The main celebrations kicked off at about 11.30am, with a church service, plenty of singing, and many speeches… don’t ask me what they were about! The only one I could understand was from the NZ Administrator of Tokelau, David Bateman.
He and his entourage of Government Advisors arrived on the boat from Samoa that morning. I felt so sorry for them, having to endure that 30hr boat trip and then having to sit in the heat and endure the long day… that was until I heard that on their boat they each had a cabin with air conditioning and proper beds!

Throughout the next several hours, choir and dance groups from the three atolls presented musical items and gifts to the new Faipule, Foua. It was interesting to see that each atoll presented him with $NZ attached to a large wreath. He and his wife, Logo, also each received what I assume was a large polished clam shell and along with grass skirts.

Then, because Foua has a seat on the Samoan Government, Samoa presented both he and each of the elders with enormous ceremonial mats, a large box of corned beef and the very raw looking hind legs of a cow… I knew it was a cow because of the hooves! I’m not sure which was the most impressive of the gifts actually; I just hoped the NZ Administrator of Tokelau shared his corned beef with his advisors!

After the ceremony there was a shared dinner for everyone. It was a good chance for Matt and I to get a feel for Tokelau cuisine. There were a couple of bowls of coleslaw, but the majority of the food was meat: pork, pork fat, chicken drum sticks, fatty corned beef and delicious raw marinated tuna, by far my favourite! We were very pleased when the lashings of ice cream came around!