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!
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.