They Call This Cheating in the USA!

Monday night, just after 10pm, I’m laying in bed. The doors are closed and the lights are out. I’ve just finished watching a movie and I am going to sleep. The phone rings. I look at the caller-ID and I don’t recognize the number. However, I quickly think it might be a friend who just got a new phone number, so I answer it.

“Hi Steve, I’m a teacher at the side school and I need your help” (The side school is the all-English speaking school where my neighbor James works)

“What kind of help?”

“I have to write an essay and I want you to help me. I’m outside your house right now”

I quickly have several thoughts before I answer. Why is this woman outside my house at 10pm, why is she calling me instead of James, how did she get my number and why does a teacher need help to write an essay? I tell her that I’ve gone to bed and ask if we can meet in the morning. I suggest she come to the bank at 9:30am and I’ll try to help. She says okay and we hang up. I then hear the sound of a car engine starting, I see headlights come on and hear a car drive away. Yep, she really was outside my house.

Now, before I go further with this story, let me explain that when a Tongan wants something, they usually just show up at your door. That’s more common than a phone call. Someone showing up, even complete strangers, has happened often and if my doors are open, I’m usually glad to help but not after I’m in bed unless it’s an emergency. This was not!

The next morning, just after walking out the door of my house at 8:30am , a car pulls up with a woman inside. She tells me she is the woman who called last night. In the USA, I might feel like I’m being stalked, but in Tonga I actually don’t think much about it. The woman, who doesn’t tell me her name, gives me a little more details about the essay she has to write. She says her cousin is a student at Vava’u High School and he has an assignment to write an essay about the over-population of Tonga. He wants her to write the essay and now she wants me to write it.

I politely tell her that I can’t do someone’s homework for them, but that I’ll be glad to help him write it. I suggest he come by the bank or by my house this evening and I’ll work with him to get it done.

“Oh no” she says. “I told him I would write it and I need you to help me”.

I then tell her that I’m not going to write the essay for her, but that I will help her write it. I don’t see any point in me writing a high school assignment for someone when they are not going to learn from it.

“OK but how about if I give you the information and you can just write down the important points and then I’ll write it from that”.

She hands me a notebook.

Clearly she is not going to give up so I take the notebook and tell her I’ll make some notes for her and that she can pick it up later at the bank.

I walk to work and then open the notebook. It’s filled with questionnaires that have been filled out by other Tongans concerning over-population. Clearly this is not just a simple essay, it is an exercise in analyzing data and writing about it. (By the way, one of the people who answered the survey said the solution to over-population was sterilization for everyone.)

So what did I do? I did as I said I would do and wrote some notes. But the notes are about how to analyze the data and compare people’s opinions to the facts. She will still have work to do to complete the assignment. I doubt her cousin, the student, will learn anything from this assignment. I also assume she will take the notes I’ve written and give them to someone else to write the essay.

As it turns out, that is exactly what happened. I left my notes and her notebook at the bank for her to pick up. When I got home, I went over to James' house and guess what? The notebook and my notes had now been given to James.

That's just the way things tend to happen in Tonga.

A Big Bank Robbery in Tonga

On Friday someone left the door to the vault open at the head office of the Tonga Development Bank in Nuku’alofa. That by itself isn’t actually that unusual. I worked there for two months when I first became a Peace Corps volunteer and I remember noticing the door was often open. However, on Friday someone walked in and helped themselves to a half million Tonga Pa’anga, which is about US$250,000. That’s pretty much everything that was inside the vault. On Monday the staff here at the bank branch in Vava’u were all buzzing about this and most believe it was probably someone at the bank who took the money.

From TV to Tonga

I was surprised and humbled this weekend by a story called “From TV to Tonga” on the website of WCPO-TV in Cincinnati. It was written by Larry Handley who is a meteorologist at the station. As he mentions in the story, which I’ve pasted below, he and I used to work together. I didn’t even know Larry was reading this blog which made it even more of a surprise.

Thursday, July 2, 2009
From TV To Tonga...

It was a beautiful March day in 1989 when I arrived at TV20 in Gainesville, Florida (at my own expense) to interview for a weather anchor position that I heard was open at that station. Steve Hunsicker, the station's News Director, greeted me warmly and proceeded to politely listen to me blather on about why someone with no credentials or real weather experience should be given a chance. For reasons I still can't explain he hired me and the rest, as they say, is history. Despite his apparent lack of sound judgment some 20 years ago his recent decisions are much more impressive.

About a year and a half ago Steve resigned his position as a big-time television group executive to join the Peace Corps. He left his nice home in South Florida, his powerful and high-paying job and all the comforts of America to help businesses in the Kingdom of Tonga succeed. His blog is a favorite bookmark on my computer and I always look forward to his newest entry. I must admit that I'm living vicariously through his adventures on the other side of the world. He tells tales of beautiful geography, people and traditions. He shares adventures that could only be experienced in that setting. He had to learn a new language in just a few months and he lives on nearly nothing. He chose to do all of this in his upper 40s and he seems genuinely happy and content.

His two year commitment to the Peace Corps ends later this year and he has no idea what he will do when it's over. However, he seems totally unconcerned and relaxed. I believe that's the way it works. The more you give of yourself - freely and honestly - the less you worry. Maybe helping to solve other people's problems and making their lives better increases your own faith that things will work out. Thanks to Steve things worked out for me 20 years ago when I was desperate for a job like they are working out now for the people of Tonga. And there's no doubt in my mind that things will work out for Steve as he transitions back to life in America.
Follow the last several months of Steve's Peace Corps adventure at

Thanks Larry for such kind words.

Independence Day in Tonga

On Saturday July 4th I celebrated the USA’s independence by eating hotdogs, hamburgers and drinking beer while sitting on the ocean. While it was a lot different than the way I spent last July 4th, it probably wasn’t that different than the way many Americans spent the day. But there were a couple of differences…I was eating hot dogs from China, beef from New Zealand and drinking beer from Germany. I wasn’t in the USA, I was in Tonga. And the ocean? It was the beautiful blue South Pacific.

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  1. Steve, I've never left the USA, but BELIEVE me when I tell you, this is called "helping" here, too! Especially by salesmen, managers and even MORE so by EXECUTIVES! Happens everyday. Just ask the assistants, secretaries and even clerks! Trust me!