Six Months Remaining in Tonga

Exactly six months from today I will officially finish my Peace Corps service in Tonga. For my group,Tonga Group 73, it means the end of our time together as volunteers. We became volunteers on December 12, 2007 after completing 2 1/2 months of training. Our official end date is December 12, 2009. However, many of us may actually start leaving in November. According to the Peace Corps rules, any volunteer can leave 30 days early with the permission of the Country Director. That permission is almost always given and especially in the case of our group since we close out our service so close to the holidays.

My group started with 33 people. As of today, we have lost exactly 1/3 of the volunteers who started with me through either early terminations (ET in Peace Corps speak) or medical separations. This week two more of my friends, a married couple decided to leave. They were one of five married couples in my group and they are the 4th to leave early. In raw numbers, 8 married people and 3 single people have left early for a total of 11 departures.

Three months from now, in mid September, the remaining volunteers in my group will get together for the last time at what is called our “COS” or Close of Service Conference. While we will certainly still see the people who live in our island groups, it will be the last time we see some of our fellow volunteers. It will be held on the main island of Tongatapu.

I’m looking forward to my last six months here. The time has really gone by quickly and I’m happy that I am still happy being here. It’s been a great experience and I expect the last six months will be as well..

The 3rd Annual Lu Cook-off

One of the most traditional foods in Tonga is called Lu. The leaves of taro plants are filled with meat, coconut cream and onions then roasted in an outdoor oven. I eat Lu almost every Sunday and the types of meat range from canned beef to chicken to sipi, which is also known as mutton chops.

For the past three years, the volunteers in Vava’u have hosted a Lu Cook-off to see who can make the best and most creative Lu. This year the event was held at my house and I won….but not without a bit of controversy.

The rules for the cook-off state that you must use either coconut cream or onions or both in your Lu. I decided to make a dish called “Apple Lu-icious” as in delicious. I planned to take apples, cinnamon, sugar, butter and coconut cream and wrap them in taro leaves. The key word here is planned. I asked my landlord if he would husk a coconut for me and make the coconut cream. He said he would.

Friday afternoon as we were getting ready for our feast, I saw my landlord get in his car and leave never to return that night. He forgot to make the coconut cream so instead of following the rules, I left it out. The judge (a local restaurant owner) decided I still had the best tasting Lu and I got the trophy.

It was a pretty fun night. We drank wine and pigged out on each other’s creations. We had Thai Lu, Stuffed Pepper Lu, Lu Dolmades and Lemon Custard Lu.

They were all delicious and here are a few photos of us hanging out at my house while the Lu was cooking.

Emma waits for the verdict Steve and Chad drinking wine Katie, Shannon, Amy, Saskia and Emma hanging out Chad shows Katie the trophy they want to win Saskia is all smiles after being told her Lu smells great Shannon wants to appeal the decision

In case you are wondering why there are no pictures of the Lu…no one took any. We were all too hungry and forgot about it until it was all gone.

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