Monday, May 10, 2010

Lucky dog

A quick update, Brett and I decided to have our dog Lucky shipped over last month from Tonga! It was a long and complicated process, but she made it here and is adjusting to American life - leashes, dog food, toys, being indoors at night, colder weather, lots of attention from people, etc. and she's loving it. Thanks to all our friends still in Tonga that helped us with getting Lucky here! She is still skittish around new people here after being in Tonga, but is getting used to it here. And we bought a house since being back, so we will soon have a yard and more space for our pets. It is still a process adjusting to life back in America, but we are both working and still enjoying all the good food, friends and family, activities here, and hot showers. I still have dreams often of being back on the beach in Tonga or swimming in the reefs. And I have been working more on the Tonga travel guidebook, with two contributing writers that were also peace corps volunteers with us. The web address for the book and publishing company is

Ofa Atu!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Writing a Travel Guidebook

Hello everyone, I wasn't going to keep updating this blog, but I've got some news relating to Tonga. I will be writing a travel guidebook on Tonga! There is a new publishing company that is putting out travel guidebooks written by Peace Corps volunteers since they have lived in the countries they will write about and have extensive knowledge on culture, things to see/do, places to stay, restaurants, etc. So I'm very excited about this project and to be able to share my knowledge of Tonga. It will help that I also worked with the tourism bureau there, and I'll be getting help with research from people still in Tonga, although I have a lot of information already.

The book will tentatively be done by October of this year. I'll post more information and a link to the publisher's website soon, so watch for that or let me know if you have any comments/questions.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Cyclone rene update

Just a quick update, we've talked with friends from our island group of Ha'apai and it seems they were very lucky and there is minimal damage to trees and buildings and no injuries or deaths as of yet. Amazingly they already have power back, we were able to skype with some friends tonight, and they're just waiting for water to be turned back on. Some of the bigger trees were knocked over, and a few tin roofs blown away. Altogether I think our peace corps friends waited out the storm in a small house for three nights or so. So we're thankful that everyone is safe and there was minimal damage. Now we know what it's like to be on this side of the world waiting out the storm to see what happens. We're still adjusting to life here, missing Tonga but thankful to be here with family and friends and figuring out job possibilities (Brett has started substitute teaching and I'm doing some freelance advertising work from home). So that's all, check our other PC Tonga friends' blogs for updates.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Cyclone Rene

Cyclone Rene, category 4, is headed to Tonga right now, and will pass right over our island group of Ha'apai and our town of Pangai. We have been out of Tonga for exactly one month now, so we are really watching this storm and thinking of all our friends there now - they are in a safe consolidation point. We had a couple of cyclones while we were there, but none this strong and with such a direct hit. There will most likely be a lot of damage from the strong winds, a lot of the buildings and houses are flimsy. The last big cyclone to hit the island was in '82, and most of the buildings were destroyed, livestock perished, and bush land destroyed. If this kind of storm was headed anywhere else - thailand, or the US coast etc., people would evacuate inland. But unfortunately on this small island nation that's not possible, people bunker down in the strong cement buildings and wait it out. And Tonga is such a small nation, this isn't even making much news around the world, and when it does it is focused on American Samoa or Samoa- even though there was hardly any damage there. The storm has picked up and become stronger as it heads directly to Tonga. If you look at the storm path below, it's amazing, it looks like the storm path curved to go right over the Tongan islands and right at the worst stage of the storm. The second image below is a satellite image of the storm right now over Tonga, the worst part is about to hit our island (the red dot on the image). We'll post more as we hear about the effects after the storm, but please keep Tonga in your thoughts and prayers as this storm passes over them.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A stranger in a strange land

It's a strange feeling to come home after living overseas for almost a year and a half. We watched out the plane window as our little green palm-dotted islands disapeared, and coming into our first landing back in America we watched row after row of cement, buildings, and houses come into view in LA, with hardly anything green. After living abroad you come back with a different perspective, it definately changes you. Have you ever thought about how weird some things are in our own country, or what some foreigners must think? For example, coming from a tiny Pacific island to a main-land and flying for 4 hours over nothing but land was a different feeling. Hot showers are amazing. The first shower after Tonga the feeling of the water was like air it felt so much lighter than the water we had. And food, you never realize how many different flavors there are, and it's like tasting it for the first time after going so long without certain foods. But I have to say, the pineapple is disapointing here, we're spoiled now after the fresh, sweet pineapple we had in Tonga. And water, we don't have to wake up every morning and haul our drinking water in from a water tank outside, and we don't have to boil water and wait for it to cool. In LA we had a layover for a night, and in the hotel Brett walked down the hall and came back with bottled water, forgetting that we could drink the tap water again. The most amazing feeling right after leaving Tonga was just having clean feet and clean fingernails. The whole time over there your feet are just black. We'd clean our feet often, but no matter what they just turn black with dirt and sand and whatever. Wearing flip-flops the whole time your feet just get dirty. And we'd clean the floors in our house often, but they'd just get dirty so fast from living on the beach and having dogs. And I don't know what happens at night, but you go to sleep clean and wake up with dirt under your fingernails. I don't know. So it's nice to see that our feet are actually pink again (but we do still have calouses on our ankles from sitting on the floor mats so often). And after sleeping under a mosquito net for so long, we felt exposed at first sleeping without one here. But it's nice going to sleep now in sheets that aren't damp from humidity. And driving again is weird - to be on the right side of the road and not the left. And on our island we really were rarely in cars and when we were it was very slow going over the roads we had, and short distances so I noticed now I get a little car sick here.
So those were some of the basic differences we noticed right away coming back. But we also had some reverse culture-shock. Some people say the culture-shock is worse coming back to your own country after living abroad. I think it's better though when you expect it, we didn't expect to come back and things to just be normal again, we knew there'd be an adjustment. One of the first things we noticed was how connected people are now to the Internet, everyone has fancy phones they're constantly typing on, it's a little annoying. It was nice to be somewhat detached from that overseas. People here are becoming more detached from real conversations and interactions when they're just using facebook or things online to communicate. And it's very easy here to go days without having real interactions with people- you can sit at home online or shop around malls or places and not really talk to anyone, and the neighborhoods are more isolated - you can't walk down the street and be in town. In Tonga if you left your house you were greeted by every person you saw in town just blocks away, and even if you didn't leave the house the neighbors would come over to chat. You just had no option of isolating yourself. And commercialization, what can I say. In Tonga, you wore whatever clothes you had, no matter if they didn't match or were stained. You couldn't even buy clothes on our island, unless they had them at the market on Saturdays and then they were used old clothes that probably wouldn't fit. People didn't buy decorative vases, pictures, pillows, etc. for their houses. They just had the basics that were needed, sometimes not even that. Most of the time you sat on the floor and that was perfectly fine. We didn't have many options for shopping on our island because it was so hard to get stuff to our island. We already know what the stores are like here, but still knew it would be a little bit of a shock. At first we avoided going shopping. Then we went to the mall with Brett's family, I started converting prices to Tongan and things are so expensive here! We went to the Mac store, and I was overwhelmed by all the things they had, knowing that on our island computers are so old and constantly breaking down. Later Brett and I went to Target, and that was the biggest culture-shock I had coming back - just seeing row after row of all these products and things that we couldn't get on our island, but here they had a whole row of selection. For example body wash, which we couldn't get in Ha'apai, but here there was a whole row and it all looked the same - moisturizing, deep moisturizing, hydrating, sensitive skin, exfoliating, etc. I had to stop and breathe, and just grab one after looking at them all for 5 minutes or so. Walking around I glanced over at the food section, saw a huge row of different spices, and had to look away again. Brett said he had the same overwhelming feeling when we were shopping at a department store. I kept handing him dress shirts I was finding, and it was all so much and he said he was just thinking he didn't want any of them - he just wanted to wear scrubby t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops like in Tonga where fashion didn't matter. Here we have to dress up again.

So that's a little description of how we've been dealing with coming home to America. Thanks again to all our friends and family, it's been great seeing people again and sharing stories about life in Tonga. And we are missing the hot weather now, as we sit in about 4 degrees fahrenheit weather here, and we miss all our friends back there. We also turned our cell phones back on (our old cell phones look ancient compared to the new technology now), and we bought a cheap vehical to get around in. I have had a few job interviews scheduled already, so we'll see how things go.

A little update we just heard from Tonga - they suspended travel for volunteers on the only ferry because it's under investigation for safety issues. It actually left port and headed to the outer islands when it wasn't supposed to just recently. So it might be hard to get supplies now in Ha'apai if the ferry has to stop. And they might be moving volunteers off the outer islands in Ha'apai, since the ferry is the only mode of transportation to get to those islands. Good luck to everyone that's still there, hopefully they will get a new ferry soon.