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!


Monday, February 23, 2009

The General Fono

On Saturday we attended the first day of The General Fono. It was a very special day on Fakofo, because the Faipule, the Chief of Tokelau, is this year from Fakaofo. Everyone has been working like mad to prepare enough food for all of the visitors from Atufu and Nukunonu; not to mention all of the dancing and singing practices!

I will write a full description of the events and add photos during the weekend, but for now I have to get home to see if the roof is still up, and not on the floor of our living room!

Tonight there will be lots of singing and dancing competitions between the three atolls, so all going well the rain holds off so we can get over to Fale in the boat and stay dry!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Enough of the school stuff...

Our home is getting homelier and homelier every day and Matt has done and amazing job cleaning and organising our belongings. It’s the finishing touches that now make it not just a house, but a home!

On Friday night we had the new Fijian teacher, Kelemeni, around for dinner. It was a special dinner because it was fish from the inati last Sunday and homemade coconut cream.
The inati is held each Saturday over on Fale (say Hwa-lay), sharing out the fish among the nuku (village) from the men’s fishing trips. This week we got three medium sized fish and last night was the night to test one out.

After thawing it all night and all day in the fridge to keep the flies away from it, I was finally ready to fillet it. I have to admit I felt pretty sorry for the fish, with the undignified way I approached the filleting. I really should have paid more attention to ‘Gone Fishing’. Anyway, eventually I had a nice bowl of cubed fish bits. It went back into the fridge while I attacked a coconut with an enormous meat clever.

After much laughter from Kelemeni, he demonstrated how to sharpen a strong stick and stand it up in the ground to husk the coconut… at least that’s what he hoped to achieve. He couldn’t ram the stick into the hard coral ground and the stick ended up breaking instead of the coconut, which just goes to show how hard the coconut husk is. After a while we asked some kids walking by to husk it and they arrived back after just a few minutes.

Next I had to drain the coconut into a bowl and crack-open the nut. On our verandah, attached to a log that doubles as an ants’ nest, we have a metal coconut scraper. By scraping the coconut flesh into the bowl, rubbing it between your fingers and then squeezing it (the palangi way- through a chux-cloth) you end up with fresh coconut cream. Yum!

We have just had Andrew, another VSA based in Atafu arrive to stay with us at ‘Hotel VSA’. We proved that you can lose each other on Fenua Fala (Say Hwen-noola-Hwa-la); just as Andrew got dropped off on the beach next to our house, we walked down the stairs and off to meet him at the wharf. After 20 minutes waiting, a man nearby told us the palangi had been dropped off at our house. Upon returning Andrew was no-where to be seen.

Not being one to sit around for long, Andrew had headed off on a walk and got chatting to our friend Tapu who runs the diesel generator. Eventually he turned up home. Andrew is a technology teacher, and has been very busy helping to organise the workshops on each of the three islands. At the moment he is in an important meeting with the Taupelenga, the elders of the island.

In other news, we went snorkelling on Valentine’s Day, being brave and venturing out to the deep blue of the lagoon. We stood on the edge of the medium blue and looking down, were shocked to see how steep it descended and how far it went. We couldn’t see the bottom, but could see off in the distance some towering mountains of coral and some pretty big fish… no sharks at this stage thankfully, but we did see what we thought was a small moray eel! We didn’t stick around long to ask its name!

This Friday is the first General Fono of the year. Members of the other two islands come to Fakaofo for meetings and competitions such as dancing and singing. It is a particularly important one this time, because it is the year that Fakaofo is the lead island and it will be Foua’s inauguration as the ‘big cheese’ of Tokelau.

We are getting used to the heat. Last night was a bit chilly and when we checked the temperature is was a chilly 27 degrees Celsius. Today I even forgot to take my fan to school and I didn’t complain once that it was too hot! I must be getting used to this life! Having said that, a rain-storm has just kicked in! I love it when it rains!

School Stuff...

Well, we have come to the end of our first week of work. I couldn’t believe my luck when I heard that I only had to teach 9 Year 4’s! How hard could that be?! I arrived Monday morning and quickly I was given my Year 4’s with their desks, a teacher’s desk and a lockable cabinet. A library shelf was wheeled in, complete with a random array of English Sunshine books and three fans due to there being only one wall with windows. Then I was left to it.

The kids can mostly speak English, with the exception of maybe one, and another who can understand some, but who is very reluctant to speak it. As for the others, well, they’re pretty good at spoken English but are very nervous to write. They can recite the alphabet, but cannot put sounds to letters. And while they’re Year 4, it is going to be more like teaching five year olds to write. As for their skills writing in Tokelau… I have no idea! I suspect I will end up spending more time teaching myself how to teach juniors and ESOL that spending too much time training the other teachers!

After a while I managed to track down a box of crayons stashed away in the back of one of the teacher’s cabinets; they were my saviour! I set the kids off drawing a picture of themselves to be laminated onto the back of their essential English words list. The kids are all very likeable but a few can be a bit too cheeky at times and getting them to finish their work quickly was an up-hill battle at times.

By Wednesday I was exhausted. The classroom was a heat trap and I don’t think I have ever sweated so much in my life! The kids were noisy and off-task most of the time and time felt so slow! While the kids were driving me crazy I did feel really sorry for them! Imagine, at 8 years old, being thrown in with a foreign language teacher, who runs different routines and in stiflingly hot weather! The poor kids were probably exhausted too.

Anyway, it was nothing that a stern word from the deputy principal couldn’t sort out on Thursday! Matt came along to class to help for the day too, which took the pressure off me a lot. I’ve begun to develop some routines so the children know what to expect each day and at home in the evenings I have become well aquainted with my trusty laminator making lots of basic classroom resources. So far: Monitor chart, Essential Word lists 1 and 2 flash cards, board games for lists 1-3, maths bingo cards (a real hit!) tens frames, number flash cards, number fans and “Today is/tomorrow is/yesterday was” poster, days of the week cards and some consonant blend cards, number charts, bubble puzzles, four sets of ‘loopy’ and a family of facts game, ‘Beans’.

Eventually I hope to have so many games and activities that the children can do a lot independently while I work with small groups of three at a time for maths and reading. At the moment they are very reliant on me and I must hear a hundred times a day, “Teacher! Teacher!”.
It was a nice way for the week to end when Timu arrived in with two coconuts and a massive yellow-finned tuna for us! With there being no freezer at school I sent it home with another child to give to Matt who was in a meeting at the high school with the principal!

Matt is currently the PE teacher and part time Year 4 teacher aide! He’s trying to avoid teaching English and Music! Every second Friday he is in charge of teaching the whole high school PE and Health, and he has a Year 11 class on Monday mornings.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Settling in

We have had a quiet first few days, acclimatising and getting to know a few locals on Fenua Fala. We have met a lovely family from Kiribati, the grandfather is a teacher at the high school, his son-n-law is the baker and his daughter, Manuia, is in my Year 4 class. This morning she arrived at our doorstep with a loaf of fresh bread and with a promise of fish this evening and then took me to school.
I was the first to arrive at school at 8am. Eventually the school boat arrived at the teachers and students wandered into the leafy, tropical school grounds. I met Livi, the Deputy Principal and he showed me around the school. I was introduced to the children and we started getting some furniture into the classroom.
It will be interesting, my journey of becoming a Year 4 teacher, especially since all of the students are English as a second language, but it will be made easier with the fact I only have nine students! My first problem was how to group the desks… I know how to group 30, I know how to group 24, I could even manage 12, but how do you group just 9?!!!
I survived the first day, the children leaving to catch the school boat at 1.20pm, and the teachers leaving at 2.20pm. Hmmm… I could get used to this! I know have the key to the school, as the Deputy knew that tomorrow I would be the first there to open up.
Matt’s been busy at home and out and about on Fale today; going to the bank, and shopping for cleaning product to scrub the VSA house.
We have had the choice of two houses on Fenua Fala. The palangi-style VSA house, next to the breezy lagoon, or a more traditional house, further back from the lagoon. The VSA house is in a shambolic state, but is a much cooler option with fewer mosquitoes. The traditional home is very clean and tidy, with a bigger water tank, but is in a heat trap and has far more mosquitoes. After much toil we’ve chosen the breezy, cockroach ridden, mildewy mess.

The boat trip

...I'll write about this when I can bear to think about it!

Monday, February 2, 2009

The boat...

Here's the boat, MV Tokelau... 36m, that we leave on tomorrow morning at 9am. 30 hours... Wish us luck!