Peace Corps Videos

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Peace Corps Tonga Videos

Here are some videos about Peace Corps volunteers in Tonga.  I hope you enjoy watching them.

Tonga Development Bank Video

For the past several months, I’ve been working on a video for the Tonga Development Bank.  This video will air on television throughout the Kingdom and will also be shown at future bank workshops.  It is designed to promote the bank’s “Business Advisory Service”, which is the area where I work.  On Wednesday of this week, it was shown publicly for the first time at a bank workshop in Neiafu.  Tongans watching TDB Video in Neiafu

The project turned out to be a lot harder than I expected.  I produced the entire 10 minute video in Tongan.  In order to make the video work, I wrote down the questions in English and those were translated to Tongan.  Once the interviews were finished, I had someone translate the transcript of the interviews into English and from that I wrote the script.  The bank approved the final script in English, then it was translated for me back into Tongan.

Even though I worked in TV News for 23 years, video editing was never one of the things I did.  Since I’ve been in Tonga, I’ve taught myself the basics of editing on a computer.  But this project was even more complicated because I had to make sure the video matched the Tongan script.  Thankfully, I had a Tongan-English dictionary to help.

Once the video was finished, I then cut an English version of the video so that I could share it here online.   In every case, the Tongan script was longer than the English translation so the English version is not as tight as the Tongan version.  The English version will only be seen here so a lot more effort when into the Tongan version.  (The Tongan version can be seen at for those of you who are curious or for the very few of you reading this who might actually understand it.)

Here’s the English version. 

Direct Link:

Farewell Janis

This video I produced for my friend Janis, who has completed her Peace Corps service.  She took the video back to the USA to show her family and friends what she has been doing for the last two years.  Hopefully it will also provide an insight into our lives as volunteers here in Vava’u.

Direct Link: 

Team Teaching

My friend Saskia put together this video for Peace Corps.  It will be used to show the concept of team teaching to the future volunteers in Tonga who are currently in training.  (I shot some of the video, but not all of it).

Direct Link:

Science Fair

At the end of September, I shot and edited a science fair competition that was held between the five high schools here in Vava’u.  This program aired on the local Vava’u TV station.  I didn’t do much except cut it down to 30 minutes, but it might give you an idea of students and their studies here in Tonga.  It is all in English but the audio can be hard to understand at times.

Direct Link:

I’m also working on a video about my own service and one for my friend Shannon.  I will post those when they are finished. 

And in case you are a newer reader of this blog, you might be interested in a video my friend Scot and I put together last year for Peace Corps.  That video was sent by Peace Corps Washington to the people who are now training to become future volunteers in Tonga.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Tongan Drag Show

The Kingdom of Tonga is often described as a conservative and Christian country,  rich in tradition and culture.  That’s very true.  But some people who consider themselves conservative, Christian and traditional in the USA might be very surprised at one of the traditions in this island nation.

Traditionally in old Tongan culture, when a family did not have any young girls to do “women’s work”, they would raise a young boy to do that work.  This boy is called a “fakaleiti”, which literally translates as “Like a Lady”.  While this probably still happens, the fakaleiti of today are more often than not gay men who dress like women and often perform jobs that are traditionally done by women.

I should make it clear that not all fakaleiti are gay.  And not all gay Tongans are fakaleiti.  Some fakaleiti are married to women and have children of their own.  If you go to a restaurant or store in Tonga, it is not uncommon to be helped by a man who is wearing women’s attire.   You will also see these men walking around town just like anyone else except for the way they dress.   It is an accepted part of the culture here .Tongans watch the fakaleiti show

Every Wednesday night during the winter tourist season, some of the fakaleiti ham it up for the  tourists at a local Vava’u bar called Tonga Bob’s.  The “Fakaleiti Show” is a must see for many visitors to Vava’u and while the show is not a traditional Tongan event, it still brings out plenty of locals to watch.

A fakaleiti performsThe way the men dress during the show is NOT the same way they dress in town.  This show is for the audience and the guys go out of their way to entertain.

The tourist season is winding down and this week marked the final fakaleiti show of the year.  It was my second time to attend.  I went to the first show of the season last year and the last show this year.  It was a fun night and because many of the tourists are gone, a lot of Tongans squeezed into the bar to watch.

Tongans love to laugh and yes, they laugh at the fakaleiti.  But that’s the point to have a good time and not take it too seriously.

Also in the audience for the final show of the year were some members of the French navy who have a small boat docked here this week.   You will see some of them in this selection of video clips from the show.


Direct Link:

One other note.  Every year there is a fakaleiti festival on the main island of Tonga called the Miss Galaxy Festival.   It’s a huge mainstream event that features fakaleiti from all over Tonga and attracts major International sponsors like Air New Zealand and WestPac Bank.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Swimming with Whales – Absolutely Amazing!

How do you describe the experience of being just feet away from one of the largest mammals on the planet?

How do you describe the experience of watching a baby whale calf play under the watchful eye of its mother?

And how do you describe the feeling of being pushed by gentle turbulence as a giant humpback softly swings its tale creating a mini wave?

Words can’t describe it.  Swimming with whales is one of those rare things in life that must be experienced first hand to fully understand it, to appreciate it.

After a day swimming with whales, something that very few people ever get a chance to do, I feel truly humbled by these gentle giants and at a loss to find the appropriate adjectives to describe the experience.

The Humpback Whale Experience

IMG_3689I spent the day with Dolphin Pacific Diving.  The day started a bit slow and I started to wonder if we would actual encounter any whales.  It’s late in the season and many of the whales who have been here all winter have left.

I have been close to whales before but this was the first time that I had planned to dive with them.

We stopped for an early lunch break when one of the guys on the boat asked “is that a whale”?  I didn’t see it at first but it was.  We quickly made our way toward the whale and as we approached we saw a baby calf jump completely out of the water, spinning as it landed back in the water.  It was a terrific start to a great experience.

When we got in the water, we swam out.  The water was dark and then I noticed what at first I thought was a reef on the ocean bottom.  But as we got closer, I realized I was looking down at a giant humpback whale, directly below me.  This was NOT the baby we had seen jump out of the water, it was the mother, taking a rest.  And she wasn’t on the ocean floor, she was floating.

The first stop was short as the whales swam away, but on the next stop, the whales were in a playful mood IMG_3683especially the baby who seems to almost be chasing us.  At one point I felt like the calf was putting on a show just for the five of us who were in the water.

“Mama” had her eye on us and on her baby.  I looked her straight in the eye and wandered what I must look like to her.

On the last stop of the day, we probably spent 45 minutes in the water just watching the whales play.   I had been taking a lot of photos, but finally just shut off the camera and floated there, watching these two go about their lives.   It was peaceful, tranquil and they seemed to exert a calm in us like nothing I’ve experienced before. 

Whale Photos and Whale Videos

I’ve uploaded 11 still images to the online gallery and with the exception of some cropping, none of the photos have been retouched or altered in anyway.

I also have two videos.  This first video was taken with my Canon A710 still camera in video mode.  That camera doesn’t have the resolution as my other camera, but it is much easier to use underwater.

Direct Link:

This second video was shot on my Sony SR-11 video camera.  The camera quality is much better but it is almost impossible to see anything through the viewfinder underwater so I just point the camera in the general direction and hope it comes out.

Direct Link:

More Information about Swimming with Whales

If you want to read more about Vava’u and swimming with whales, the Fiji Island Business Magazine just published an article about the experience.  You can also contact Dolphin Pacific Diving.  I highly recommend them.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Scary Welcome to Tonga

The future Peace Corps volunteers who will replace the members of my group in Tonga are now here.   Tonga Group 75 arrived Thursday morning on the main island of Tongatapu to begin three months of training.

Within hours of landing at the airport, a tsunami warning was issued and all volunteers and the trainees were told by Peace Corps to stay away from coastal areas and to remain at their sites.   In the case of the trainees, they were all secured in a guest house until the warning passed.  What a welcome to Tonga.

As you might imagine, the warning on Thursday was taken a lot more seriously after a tsunami devastated Niuatoputapu 10 days ago.

In Vava’u, the schools immediately closed, most businesses closed and the streets were eerily empty.  The response from Peace Corps was also much swifter this time.  When the tsunami warning was issued 10 days ago, I never received a phone call from anyone at Peace Corps.  This time, I had multiple phone calls from both Peace Corps staff and fellow volunteers.

Of course, last time, I also felt the earthquake, something we didn’t feel in Vava’u this time.

Job Training

My friend Emily, who is a volunteer in Tongatapu has been visiting us here in Vava’u this week.  Emily works for the Ministry of Training, Employment, Youth and Sports.  (Yes, one ministry does all of those four things.)  Emily is here to teach Tongan youth how to apply for jobs and how to interview.    On Wednesday, she conducted a workshop for those interested in getting a job.

Emily teaching a workshop

Emily also went around to many of the businesses here interviewing them to find out what opportunities they have for Tongan Youth.

Fun Friday in Vava’u

Friday, my friend Scott and I went diving around a small island called Lotuma, which is located near the entrance to the main harbor in Vava’u.  Lotuma is the same island where we had a very fun July 4th celebration two years ago.


This dive, while not spectacular, was still pretty interesting because there are many giant clams along the reef.   I started playing a game to see how close I could get to the clams before they would close.  I was never able to get close enough to touch one before it closed.

After the dive, I joined my fellow volunteers for our monthly meeting and then we went out to a new restaurant that just opened here.  This place, called Laredo's, had just started advertising an “all you can eat ribs” dinner for TOP$30.00.  That’s more than we get in an entire day for food but is only about US$15.00.  However, we couldn’t pass up the chance to splurge.   When we got there, we found that after just two days of offering the special, they had increased the price to TOP$35.00.  We still decided to “pig out” and we did…joking that after the Peace Corps volunteers left, the restaurant would have to increase the price to TOP$40.00.   Three times the waitress came to take away my plate and each time I stopped her and told her I wanted more ribs.   They were really good and were grilled right in front of us on an open fire.

After that we headed out to a couple of nightspots before calling it a night.  

It was a fun Friday and a nice break to have some time with my fellow Americans here in Vava’u.  I have just 40 days left here.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

First Hand Account of the Tongan Tsunami

As I mentioned in my last post, the only person I know in the part of Tonga hit by the tsunami is Mafi, the manager of the Tonga Development Bank office in Niuatoputapu.

She and the rest of the bank staff up there are all fine.

Below is her account of what happened when the tsunami struck Tonga. Part of this was originally written in Tongan and I’ve translated it as best I could.

Here is her story:
Some one called out that fateful morning the ocean is coming ashore.

So the first thing I thought of was to get to the Bank which is 2 minutes from my house in order to check on our things. I got my elderly mother-in-law and daughter into the van and we drove towards the Bank.

Half way down I saw the big wave coming towards us,
It was moving across the bank and I saw it being destroyed. All I could do was to go into reverse gear flooring the gas.

I picked up all the people running on the road and headed towards the high ground. The wave was about 10 meters (30 feet) behind us. I just kept praying and asked God to live and I am thinking I just have to to keep the van in control.

I left the people in a safe high place and came down again to see if I could help some people in the lower ground, but the wave had gone back and all I could see was ruin.

We kept the people on the mountain all night in case another wave will come back. People were so frightened and scared and we tried to calm them.

We picked up all the food and staff from the store and that's what the people ate that day and night.

Hika (woman’s name) was able to survive because she managed to swim with the wave without hitting anything.

All the Bank's building are all gone including the strong room with everything in it. 'There is no equipment remaining from the Bank. Everything is destroyed.

The Bank has an emergency plan and they have already sent supplies and people up to Niuatoputapu to assist with the recovery.

We have had several more earthquakes since this one, but none have been major. I thought I felt one yesterday, but it wasn't very strong and I thought perhaps I was imagining it. But when I checked the USGS Earthquake website, it turns out, it really was another one. They also list some other Tonga earthquakes that I didn't feel.

It will take a long time for Niuatoputapu to recover, but for the rest of the country it is pretty much business as normal. There is no impact at all here in Vava’u (or the other parts of Tonga) and everything is open and running.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Photos from the Tsunami in Tonga

The islands of Niuatoputapu and Niuafo’oa in Tonga have been devastated by a tsunami that hit  the region Wednesday morning just before 8am local time following an earthquake.

This is the same tsunami that did so much damage in Samoa and American Samoa.   (Samoa is on the other side of the dateline so it hit there on Tuesday.) 

Unlike Samoa, these Tongan islands, which are commonly known as the “Niua’s” are pretty remote.  A boat takes supplies to those islands just once a month and there is not regular plane service.

The Tongan Development Bank, where I work,  has an office on each of the islands.  Its office in Niuatoputapu was one of many buildings destroyed.

This is a photo of the damage.  You will have to click on it to read the captions.  You will see where Mafi’s house was located.  Mafi is the branch manager in the Niua’s and the only person I know up there.

Hihifo, Niuatoputapu after Tsanumi

This is a wider view of Hihifo showing the damage.

Hihifo, Niuatoputapu after Tsanumi This map shows the epicenter of the quake.   You can see how close Hihifo is to the epicenter and you can also see Apia, Samoa, where most of the damage occurred.  (I’m in Neiafu, which is in the lower left corner.)


And this is a photo of the staff and office in Niuatoputapu, taken on September 21st, just 10 days ago.  Mafi, who I mentioned above, is the woman in the middle.

photo of the staff TDB office in Niuatoputapu Earthquakes are not uncommon in Tonga.  There are active volcanoes throughout the South Pacific including here in the Island Kingdom.   However, they are rare enough that you still notice when they happen.  That was the case Wednesday morning, just before 7am.  I was awake, but still in bed when the shaking started.  It lasted a long time and I knew immediately it was the strongest earthquake I had felt since moving to Tonga two years ago.   I also didn’t think the quake was strong enough to do any damage here.  

At no point was anyone in Neiafu really worried.  Vava’u is very hilly and the harbor is one of the most protected harbors in the South Pacific.  Yacht owners will often leave their boats here during cyclone season because it is so well protected and after the warning was issued many of the boats that were out on the water returned to dock.

My friend Scott, who is a Peace Corps volunteer on Ovaka, one of the outer islands of Vava’u is the only person I know in the Vava’u region who actually saw any impact from the Tsunami.  I spoke with him on the phone and he says the water went over the wharf on his island, something he had never seen before, and then went down to sea level.  He said this lasted for about 30 minutes.  He described it to me as “More interesting than scary.”

This is the second major disaster to hit Tonga in the past 60 days.  The ferry Ashika sank in August killing more than 70 people.