The first week of school is a bit different here in Tonga than it is back home. For instance at home, the first day of school starts off with a bang and a ton of stuff planned for it. Here, not so much. Our first day consisted of attendance being taken with the new class 1 students being signed up by their parents. Then the class 1 students went home because they weren’t expected to help much with the cleaning of the school, which was to follow.
The boys and girls were all assigned different tasks demonstrating Tongan cultural views towards gender. For instance the boys were in charge of the one push mower to cut the grass around the buildings, to clear off any debris still left over from the cyclone, and to move all the heavy wood desks to their prospective classes because they had all been stacked in one room during the summer break. The girls were assigned to cleaning out the classrooms and bathrooms which mostly consisted of sweeping and throwing out trash.
I had just received the syllabus for the first time so I started to outline them so that I could start planning lessons, which I was told would start the following Monday. Yesterday and today went along much the same way. Not only were the school buildings cleaned and tidied up, but every building on the school compound had its grass cut too, this included my humble abode. So between yesterday and today my house has never looked more maintained. The grass has been cut for the first time since I’ve been here, all the banana trees around my house which were knocked down during the cyclone are gone, and it’s been thoroughly weeded. I felt a bit guilty about having these 7-10 year olds cut my grass and everything when I probably should have taken care of that stuff myself. But I felt better when I set my speakers up outside and played some Rap for them so they could all dance while they worked. It was pretty fun hanging out with them and I didn’t just sit and watch the whole time. I gave them a hand most of the time.
The most enjoyable group to watch working was the class 1 students who joined in on the work today. They were led by Vesita (Saia’s wife and my neighbor) who is their teacher. A tractor had come a couple of days ago, from the next island over, and mowed the big playing field in front of the school and my house. But it left all the clippings on the field which needed to be removed. Most of the girls were in charge of sweeping the grass into big piles and removing them. They used brooms and their hands to do it. The Class 1’s helped with this. They would all be lined up and when Saia or Vesita said “Go!” they would all start furiously swiping at the dead grass as if they were digging a hole in the sand. They would move about 5 feet and then stop for a rest. They were actually surprisingly effective and each one of them took it as a challenge to be the first each time to reach the stopping point. They worked furiously. They also required some sort of game to be played with them every 30-40 minutes so they wouldn’t lose their tension span and start to wander off.
The kids are great and I can’t wait to start teaching them on Monday.
The big playing field in front of the school and my house after it was cut a couple of days ago.
These guys are some of the older boys who did most of the work around my house.
Some of the girls sweeping the grass into piles.
The Class 1 kids at work.
A timely break for Class 1. They played a sort of standing duck, duck, goose.