Saturday, December 19, 2009

Farewell to Something Resembling Normality! ;)

I'm off tonight for my site! Only 9 hours to go until I finally leave the hostel I've been stuck in and board the boat that will take me to my island on the edge of the world. ;)

Here are the steps I have been taking/will take in the next day to finally reach my site!

1) Shopping: Before moving into the houses, all new volunteers are given a move in allowance. This amount allows us to buy the essentials to living in our site close to a local level. Since most volunteers will be living in the cities and working at secondary schools, they have electricity. Therefore, their shopping list contains things like refrigerators, washing machines, extension cords, water heaters, etc. My list however was quite different. I spent the majority of my shopping time rushing around to different stores looking for the cheapest buckets and large Tupperware containers. The best part however, was definitely the purchase of my new machete. Let's just say I felt pretty hard core walking around the store with it.... until I reached the cash register and was laughed at for being a girl buying a machete! :)

2) Swearing-in: A key step in reaching site. It wasn't until this ceremony that I became an official volunteer. I was dressed in the wrap skirt/outfit thing that was given to me by my host family. I think headed to a language instructor's house where she finished my outfit by wrapping a taouvala, (which is a fancy, woven mat,) around my waist. (Pictures to come someday... I promise!) The ceremony was great and the entire group 75 took the oath to defend the constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic and became official Peace Corps Volunteers.

3) Packing: After a lot of shopping, repacking everything proved to be quite difficult. Most things will be shipped up on the boat and therefore had to be packed well and left at the Peace Corps office. Conveniently, the boat that everything will be shipped on is the same boat I will be riding to site. (More on that in step 6.) The most difficult part however was packing all the books I took from the Peace Corps library. Since I am living on a ridiculously small island, I will be filling A LOT of time reading books. As many of you know, I go through books quickly when I'm busy so trying to pack for 3 months worth of reading proved nearly impossible. But after many tries and sharing books with my closest site mate (40 min boat ride away,) I managed to do it. (Still love getting books in the mail to offset this problem!!!)

4) Saying Goodbye to Other Volunteers: Group 75 has been together for quite some time. After meeting in LA at staging, traveling to Tonga and going through all of training together, we are now split up for the first time. Many new friends have headed off to various parts of Tonga and we will not see each other again until our training in April. Most volunteers are placed closer to a group on a main island but another PCV and I are headed out on our own to the outer, outer islands. WOO HOO!

5) Nofo pe: The Tongan term for "just staying." The original plan was for me to take the Pulupaki late Wednesday night after the swearing-in ceremony and arrive early Thursday morning. Unfortunately, a cyclone decided it was going to make a beeline for Tonga and therefore delayed any boat travel. While the cyclone eventually died down and was only a tropical depression by the time it hit us, the Pulupaki was still delayed by 4 days. So while the rest of my group has headed to site, us outer island girls are still here in the capital and "nofo pe" until 2am tonight/tomorrow morning when the boat leaves. Luckily this meant 4 days of per diem cash that buys us great meals and things like Dr. Pepper which I found at the American store here in the capital! While those treats have been fun, I am more than ready to get to my site and meet the people who will be my community for the next two years! Less than 9 hours now!

6) Ride the Pulupaki: There is only one boat in Tonga that travels between the different island groups. The Pulupaki is a barge type of boat that they use to ship freight and people. It is the only way to get to the small cluster of islands that I will be living in and it only travels once a week. I will be bringing a mat and sleeping bag since I am traveling in the middle of the night and there aren't chairs to sit in. Additionally, it has been recommended that I don't eat/drink anything prior to boarding the boat since the toilets are pretty shallow and the boat rocks a lot............ And this is my method of travel for the next two years! :)

7) Disembark from the Pulupaki: The "main island" in my island grouping is actually too small to have a wharf big enough and the Pulupaki can't actually pull all the way up to the island. Therefore, the method of disembarking supplies and people from the Pulupaki is to use a large number of small boats that go out and meet it in deeper water. The supplies are then thrown off the large boat and into the smaller ones. The people half jump, half climb off the Pulupaki into their designated small boat. Apparently it looks like a crazy circus as everyone is doing this at the same time. I will take pictures and share them next time I have internet! :)

8) Ride Smaller Boat: I will be picked up off the boat by my village and they will be assisting me with all of my things. The best part is that my program director has asked the youth boys in my village to come and assist me. For those of you have heard about the dating scene here... the boys will either flirt awkwardly or ignore me completely. All of this attention after riding for 7 hours in the boat and most likely being ridiculously motion sick. As the Tongan's say... Oiaue! (Pronounced... oy-ya-way)

Following all of those steps, I will be arriving in my community where I will spend the next two years of my life. I am so excited and super nervous about it and can't wait until I can share stories with you again. Keep sending those real letters as it may be quite some time before I hit the internet again. (February or March if I'm lucky but definitely in April!) Don't let me down... I hope my email inbox is so full of emails I won't know what to do!

'Ofa 'Aupito,

P.S. I may manage to send a letter to a friend in the capital and have them update my blog for me.... so this could be updated before I actually reach internet... we'll see how it works out.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Top 10... or maybe 11

So after large amounts of contemplation, I finally decided on a way to post a blog that would sum up my time here without boring you all. :) So here are my top ten (or maybe 11) things you should know when picturing me and my new life in Tonga.

1. Here comes the heat! Summer is on its way and the sun likes to surprise us late morning by fighting off the clouds and relentlessly freckling my skin. The humidity then decides it can't be weaker than the sun and causes all Palangi's (white people technically but often used for all PC,) to feel gross and excessively sticky.

2. Related to heat, I was planning for school in my room the other day when I felt warm and walked into the rest of the house where there was a breeze. My family asked if I was OK, (as they do anytime I am not sleeping, eating or going to school.) I told them it was warm in my room so I was just taking a break. (Which I might add, I spoke entirely in Tongan.) Following my statement, a fury of rapidly spoken Tongan began way beyond my comprehension. My host sister began searching the house and when dissatisfied, disappeared for a few minutes. Upon her return, she had 3 of my little host cousins trailing her, the last of which was carrying a standing, oscillating fan tha twas ast all as he was. Now imagine a fan in America, add dirt and spider webs, remove the front cover, and add a loud clicking noise. :) It was very sweet and I will certainly not be telling them that my room is still hot! :) (Side note... I learned the next day that the word I used for hot also means "sweltering." oops!)

3. There's a mouse, (or perhaps many,) that hang out in my room. However every time I tell my family, it disappears. Pretty sure they think I'm crazy. They believed me when there was one in the toilet though!

4. You know you're adjusting when you like the moko's (little lizards that chirp like birds... seriously!) and large spiders hanging around because they eat the mosquitos and annoying insects.

5. While I'm on that subject, you can draw constellations on my legs. Enough said.

6. There is nothing like sitting on a beach with other trainee's around a bonfire, mixing drinks with fresh coconut milk and pineapple slices and then drining straight out of the coconut.

7. So I definitely thought I was leaving camp songs! When my family/neighbors learned I play guitar, they were insistant that I learn them a song for church. (Remember this is a very religious culture.) If I have to sing "Living Water" one more time.........
P.S. Would someone from camp please send me a song book?!?!

8. "Accidental Moa's." My term for the two boys in my village that somehow became my boyfriends. I think I clarified now that in America we can be just friends with boys but my Tongan isn't good enough to know for sure. (Further explanation probably necessary... let's just say the "dating scene" here is like being back in middle school.) Not going to lie though, when one of my "moa's" brought me a plate of crab, fish and lobster he caught the night before, I wasn't complaining!

9. Just because I can introduce myself, talk about food, family and where I am going does NOT mean I am fluent! Must you laugh every time I ask you to slow down...?

10. Technical training= 8 hours a day for 1 week sitting on a hard bench and learning teaching methodologies and how to plan a lesson. Didn't I do this once before? For 4 years perhaps....? Sudoku anyone?

11. The kids are way to cute and I feel like a rockstar when I walk into the school where I am practicing. I'm becoming very "faka-Tonga" (like a Tongan,) because my response t them all yelling my ame is the ever popular up-nod with a simultaneous eyebrow raise. It's a very common response that has nothing to do with hitting on people and isn't very natural for us Americans. (Try it, up-nod once and raise your eyebrows in one motion. :))

So there it is... the top 11 things that will help you picture my life in Tonga!

'Ofa Aupito,

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Malo e Lelei

Hello from Tonga! Sorry for removing the last post but this time I really will get this blog up and going. Although I have to tell you that by the sound of it, I'll have internet access only a couple times from now until December. I will attempt to share some of my first couple of days here but to be honest I am still processing the fact that I now live on an island in the South Pacific.

The first few days here have been great! I currently still have electricity, running water, and am in the capital city where every Tongan I have met speaks amazing English. I have been using the basic conversation words and thank you quite often but haven't needed anymore. Which is good considering language classes don't start until Tuesday.

I leave tomorrow for Ha'apai where we will spend 8 weeks with host families and have our training. This is when I feel the majority of culture shock will start. Nuku'alofa has a lot of western influence and the excitement of being here has prevented me from feeling too overwhelmed, even when watching, and then eating the freshly killed pig being roasted over a fire. It was really neat actually, as long as I didn't stare at its head for too long.

The reason for the pig was the huge feast that takes place every Sunday after church. Tonga is a very religious country so all of us trainees went to church with some of our Tongan staff this morning. I had no idea what was being said but the music was absolutely beautiful. It seems to be a rule that all Tongas have an amazing singing voice and they use it often! Afterwards we had a feast at the Peace Corps Directors house. The pig was one of the main dishes but also corned beef and coconut wrapped in taro leaves. The taro leaf dish is cooked in an 'uma which is the oven that is made from digging a hole in the ground, and having some sort of fire with rocks on top. It's basically an underground oven. The food was delicious and as it goes in Tongan culture, we ate a lot! After the Sunday feast, the expected activity is nap time! Talk about a lazy Sunday... I could get used to this! :)

Good news too... no malaria in Tonga! Thankfully my immunizations only included 3 shots and only one of them is still sore. What we have been told to look out for are these ridiculously large centipedes that are supposed to be "intensely painful" when they bite. One of the current volunteers described it as having a fork stabbed into your arm. So the mosquito netting will be tucked up underneath my mattress to prevent sharing my bed with any of those guys!

I hope you're all doing well in the states! Keep those emails, and hopefully letters, coming! The emails I received today were very energizing for me as I am still experiencing some jet lag!

Much love!