Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas with no snow

It's been a busy week!! A few days after moving into our house all our stuff came on the boat from tongatapu - appliances, kitchen stuff, etc. so it was really nice to unpack and settle in more. The bigger boats in Tonga are interesting, the one that carries most cargo and people between islands was from Austria/Germany and used to be a riverboat, it was never meant for ocean voyages! So it really rocks in the water, and they don't weigh and distribute the cargo right so it's leaning to one side while it was docked here. A volunteer from an outer island here, just north of us, came in for a few days to help us all sort through getting stuff off the boat and getting settled.

Then for Christmas we decided to go up to his island, Ha'ano, since he had keys and access to a fishing lodge/resort that's almost finished, still under construction a little. The guy who owns it went back to New Zealand for a few months and asked Grant, the volunteer, to look after it.

The first night, Christmas Eve, we stayed at Grant's place in his village. There were 5 of us altogether- us, Alicia, Sarah, and Grant. The three from our group on the farther outer islands couldn't make it in for Christmas. That night in Grant's village we went to a Christmas concert/pageant that was really cool to see. They started with a torch light parade, and gathered on the church's lawn with candle lanterns and balloons strung around for the concert. There were some familiar Christmas songs, all in Tongan, and they did the Christmas story with costumes. My favorite were the angels, the little girls had wings made like huge folded fans out of thick paper.

On Christmas we slept in, then went to a feast in the next part of the village a little walk from Grant's place. It was nice to have a big meal with a lot of people on Christmas, and they were all so happy we came. The floor was laid out with mats, and the food down a long row on the mats on the floor and we all sat around it on the floor like all big feasts here. They had 4 roasted pigs, sweet and sour chicken, fish (cooked whole), mutton, watermelon, banana, hard boiled eggs, sausages, packages of cookies and chips, cans of pop with straws, and lots more. They always have more food than can be eaten. And while we ate different people stood up and gave speeches thanking people, some mentioned Grant or the peace corps. The feast and christmas concert made it feel a little like Christmas, but mostly it just felt like vacation. There was no snow, family, or presents (but we did get some in the mail thanks parents, and the church in Ha'ano gave us bags of candy along with the little kids they gave it to! And in Pangai our neighbor gave us a huge watermelon.)

The next three nights we spent at the fishing lodge/resort, just outside of town on Ha'ano. It was gorgeous!!! And we had it all to ourselves, complete with a beach with great snorkeling! There was no electricity, and just sima vie water (rain water from tank), but it had toilets, kerosene lanterns, and a solar shower so it worked well. It was just so relaxing to spend time doing nothing but laying around on the beach or big porch overlooking the beach, snorkeling, and the only thing to think about was what to cook for dinner. And we ate very well there! We had pasta with a tomato, onion and garlic sauce, another night we had chicken and rice, and we had chicken, fish, pinneapple, onion and tomato kebabs roasted over a fire with the fish fresh caught by Grant spearfishing. In the mornings we had fresh fruit salad and coffee. The last night we had rice with a coconut/papaya curry. The two girls with us are vegetarian so we think of different kinds of meals to make, or make a couple things so we have more meat and they'll eat veggies and fish.

It got incredibly hot during Christmas, the hottest so far in Ha'apai, so we spent a lot of time in the water. The snorkeling was great, it's virtually untouched so the coral extends to right where you walk in from shore, unbroken! And there were some big walls with drop-offs, with lots of different coral and fish, little bright blue fish, parrot and rainbow fish, morray eel, angel fish, etc.

We just got back "home" to Pangai this morning, it was nice to finally have somewhere to come back to, and not just constantly traveling/moving and living out of a bag. We have a fridge of food, and unpacked clothes now to come home to! And two litters of puppies that were happy to see us! And lots of laundry to do, which is a chore when you have to fill buckets in the shower to dump into the washing machine, and the public water keeps going out, so we had to wait until it went off and on enough to fill the washing machine with enough water. We had dinner tonight with Alicia and Villiami (from peace corps) at her house. Villiami had to come up and help sort out her housing situation, hopefully it will all work out and she'll stay in the house she's at now.

It's almost New Year's now too, we're trying to figure out plans for that, we'll either be here in Pangai, or go to the island south of us to a guesthouse/resort.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Home sweet home in Ha'apai

We made it to our new home for the next two years, in Pangai, Ha'apai!!!

First we had a workshop/training with our counterparts all afternoon right after we landed, at the training center conference room - where I'll be working half of my time. Brett's principle was there, and someone from MAFF and the training center for me.

After that, we were able to walk to our new house and they drove all our luggage. It's very cute!! Blue with red trimming, wood house, with 2 bedrooms, the kitchen is to the left right when you walk in with dining area, and living room at the back left corner. The bathroom and shower are inside with a sink right outside those doors (but no faucets hooked up!). And right outside the back doorsteps is the ocean!!! You can see it from the living and dining room too. You walk out just a little and you're on a nice sandy beach, and right outside our house are a couple of huge twisted old trees so there's plenty of shade. The only thing is that it's pretty dirty in the house, they didn't really clean, so that's what we'll be doing today. And a few things need to be fixed. We also saw a huge spider last night and some roaches, but not many mosquitos at all or centipedes or anything. We met a few of the neighbors that seemed nice, and they each have four little kids that are a little loud - the houses are really close to eachother.

The outer island group got stuck here last night, I think because of weather, it rained a lot. So they were at the guesthouse right above the restaurant in town, we met for dinner there and had really good pizza!! And the other girl that was going to be in Pangai with us had a mix-up with her house, they're figuring it out today and if it doesn't work out she might be moving to a different island group, so I hope it works out! We also met a really fun couple from ireland/germany that used to run a scuba diving business and is gettting ready to start up a new scuba business on this island.

So today we'll be cleaning, tomorrow we'll find one of the churches to go to, and next week is christmas!! We might be going to a guesthouse/resort on another island here with some of the volunteers, or on new years we'll do that.

Our house, looking at the backside of it from the beach! The backyard is sand, and the front has grass and a few bushes/landscaping. Pigs, dogs and chickens roam all around, and puppies!

The first sunset at our beach, steps from our backsteps!!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

We're official Peace Corps volunteers!!

We had our swearing in ceremony last night at a resort on the western side of Tongatapu, we're now official peace corps volunteers and not trainees anymore!!! It feels so good to be done with training, and not having to go to any more sessions/classes, and being able to do what we want now with our time!

We had a quick rehersal, then got to the resort in the early evening. It was a really pretty location, right on the ocean with a balcony/bar overlooking it, and the restaurant area was decked out in flowers, plants, colored lights, etc. and you could see the ocean from the ceremony. We were all seated before the guest of honor arrived - the Prime Minister of Tonga was our guest of honor!! He was older, and had a few security guards with him, and was seated at the front facing us all along with the country director for the ceremony. There was an opening hymn and prayer, and speeches from the country director, training manager, and then the prime minister addressed us all and gave a speech and talked about his history with peace corps, it was really cool to see that he cared and he said his office and the government offices are open anytime to us if we need anything! We all had to raise our right hand and repeat an oath to the country director to be officially sworn in as volunteers, then we all got pins and a certificate handed to us one by one by the country director and the Prime Minister. After the swearing in, a few members of our group performed a ta'olanga dance. Then a little later we had a buffet dinner with tongan food, and the resort had some entertainment on stage - a live band that was really good, and traditional dancing. Our host family from Navutoka also came to the ceremony along with some of the other host families. It was nice that they took the time and drove all the way out there, it's a long ways from Navutoka. They gave us huge flower leis to wear! So it was a really fun night, we went out for awhile after we were driven back to the guest house.

Today Brett had emergency coordinator training most of the day (he's gonna be the back-up for the ha'apai group), and I shopped for more last minute stuff. We leave tomorrow for our new home in Ha'apai!!! And our all our stuff won't arrive until next Tuesday (hopefully) on the boat, so we've gotta get by without our oven/stove, supplies, etc. until then. And for anyone wondering, our address will stay the same.

New photos of the swearing in, I'll label them later, gotta go do more shopping now.

Our group with the prime minister in the middle, country director, and chinese ambassador

Sunday, December 14, 2008

New photos

There are new photos under the link to the left from thanksgiving and our navutoka homestay.

We're relaxing today, about to leave and go hang out at a hotel pool/bar area, and might watch flight of the conchords later tonight in the volunteer lounge here. It's so nice to be back in town and at sela's guest house! Last night we had a good time hanging out with a few current volunteers for dinner and drinks.

Osi Homestays!!

We're finally done with homestays, it's a huge relief!!! And we get one week here in the capital city, Nuku'alofa. On Monday we have our big language test, and Wednesday 12/17 is our swearing in ceremony. Then we leave to move into our house in Pangai, Ha'apai on Sat. a week from today!

We've already got a lot of our shopping done for things we need for the house, we bought an oven/stove, fridge, washing machine, dishes, material for curtains, surge protectors, fan, towels, mat for the floor, and a bunch of other stuff. And I'm buying a small bike from a current volunteer (all the ones for sale I've seen are too big, and we save money this way), and we still need to buy one for Brett. The peace corps mandates bike helmets and provides them, along with life jackets. We have so much stuff to sort through and box up, it will all be shipped up to ha'apai by boat and will be there by the time we arrive.

Tonight we're going out for dinner and drinks, and tomorrow if the weathers good we're going out to an island close to here with our group and some current volunteers for the afternoon.

We've already been in Tonga a couple of months now, hard to believe, but at the same time it seems so long ago that we were back in the US and working at our old jobs. Sometimes sitting at the beach I'll think about if we weren't in peace corps here I'd be sitting in a cubicle reading emails. And I'd much rather be here on the beach, with a more relaxed schedule and sense of time. Even with the parasites or other health issues you have in a country like this. And language/culture frustrations.

One more note, the two phone companies here are having a dispute, and the connection from anyone calling from the US is shut down right now. So we can call out to the US and others, but if you call us from the US you might not get thru right now.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Navutoka homestay, tongatapu

Well we're staying alive and surviving our last homestay in Navutoka, Tongatapu! We only have 2 more nights, and leave on Saturday back to Nuku'alofa the capital city and stay at a guest house for a week before leaving for our site in Ha'apai! On Wed. 12/17 we swear in officially as volunteers so think of us on 12/16 back home!

This homestay has been a lot different, for one thing it's only 2 weeks and you don't really get to know the village or family in that short amount of time. It's a bigger village than where we stayed in Vava'u, so it has a different feel to it, a little more urban but still no internet or large stores or anything. There's a lot of little falekoloas - stores that you walk up to and order through a window what products you want from the couple of shelves inside. This is the standard way of shopping in most places in Tonga. There are the tongan falekoloas and the chinese, the chinese have a lot more products and are open all the time. The tongan falekoloas aren't always open, but people just yell the shopkeeper's name (the stores are always right in front of the person's house), and they come out and open the store. There's a falekoloa in front of our homestay house in this village. You'll usually find chips, candy, water, noodles, flour, salt, ketchup, toothpaste, soap, kava, canned tuna and beef, and a few other things at these stores.

Our house at this homestay is huge (by tongan standards), 2-stories, lots of bedrooms, and a nice big wrap-around porch. But there are three families living in it - the mom and dad (Sia and Pauli) and their 5 kids, and their two older boys are married and have their own kids and also live in the house with their families. So it's a little confusing and chaotic at times. But this is a normal set-up in Tonga, once a young couple gets married they move in with the husband's family. One of the host sisters wove me a really pretty kiekie. And this time it was me that got really sick and not Brett, I think I'm over it now though, it was pretty bad earlier this week. It's definately not fun having a temp over 101 in the heat and humidity here! It was something probably from the food our group all ate, there were about 5 or 6 of us sick with the same thing. Not fun.

It was nice though that our village here is right on the ocean, with a little beach and benches lining the road along the ocean, it's a really pretty bright turquoise color and very shallow for a ways out. One day last week we went with Micah's host family out to one of the tiny islands you can see from shore. We thought it would just be a couple people from his family and us, but when we got to the water there was a tiny boatful of about a dozen tongans and Micah, it was already sitting really low in the water and Brett and I and Monica all squeezed in! This is how tongans normally travel, they squeeze as many people in as can fit, even sitting on laps at times on buses. It was fun, they made an umu so we all ate chicken and they had root crops too. They handed us sticks with roasted chicken, and a huge hunk of watermelon with a bush knife to cut it with. On the way there and back in the deep area between the island and main land the waves were huge like a roller coaster.

We've had more language classes here, and center days, soon to be done! Yesterday we had an interesting speaker from the center for abused women and children here in tonga and some of the statistics shocked us. In Tonga the land act/bill that is still being used was writen in 1875, and women have no right to own any land. Even if they're a widow, if they start a new relationship they then have to move off the land/house because they didn't stay true to their dead husband. (tonga's working on a new land bill now). And only first-born sons have a right to claim land. There's also a lot of domestic abuse, and they're just now starting public awareness on it, the only abuse center was just established in 2000 I believe. And for child abuse, they can't do anything about it if it's the parents. I think they're trying to get signed onto some UN child act, but don't have anything yet. In the local laws, there are none against child abuse or rape. Just some interesting facts on the topic here. We've also had more business and education sessions.

A couple more days and we'll be back in town, and will have more internet access again, and we have a lot of shopping to do for our house. I heard we might have to take the twelve hour boat ride to site in ha'apai, they're trying to work things out, so I hope it doesn't work and we can take the plane instead!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Beach house!!

So we had good news yesterday, after talking with some of the PC staff about our housing situation, we will get the house we wanted between the two houses that were open for us in Ha'apai!! We'll be living in a good sized house (2 bedrooms, indoor kitchen, bathroom and shower), and it's RIGHT on the ocean!! We'll be facing west in Pangai so we'll see lots of sunsets, and the cone-shaped volcanic islands are right on the horizon. Also, during the whale season in their winter (june-sept-ish), we heard you can see whales from the house swimming by! I'm excited about the location and the house sounds really nice too. Just pray that there won't be any big hurricanes or anything!

We're about to go grab lunch in town here, then we leave in the afternoon for our last 2-week homestay on the eastern side of tongatapu. Probably won't have much internet access during the homestay.

Thanks for the letters and packages we've been getting to those who've sent!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Tongan Thanksgiving feast

We had our first American holiday in Tonga! A bunch of us got together for a Thanksgiving meal, probably close to 20 of us at a current volunteers house. We had all the normal palangi food - turkey, mashed potatoes, salad, stuffing, bread, and watermelon, it was so good! Before we ate someone said a prayer and we all went around the room and said what we were thankful for - mine was being done with our first homestay and closer to being done with training! It was a lot of fun hanging out with current volunteers here, and there were 4 other trainees from our group.

It really has been like a vacation week this week staying with a current volunteer, eating normal food - we even had mac 'n cheese one night! And being able to do what we want when we want, not having a schedule. And more access to internet and stores in town. I just got three new kiekie's today from a volunteer that had a lot and was getting rid of some (thanks Karen!!)Now we just have to survive a 2-week homestay, then we're basically done with training! We're getting our housing figured out hopefully today, I think it's between two houses in Pangai.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone back home, enjoy the cold weather for us. Keep in touch - email, facebook or mail us stuff we love to hear from you all and keep up with what's going on with your lives!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Nuku'alofa, the big city

We made it back to the capital city of Nuku'alofa this morning, it's amazing how different it feels/looks this time to us! When we first flew in here it seemed so small, hot and humid. Now it feels like a big city compared to our training village in Vava'u. And where we're staying we're just down the road from the peace corps office and free internet!! And lots of stores and restaurants! We went and ate at the Friends cafe for lunch when we got here, the toasted sandwiches and iced vanilla latte were so good!

When we left Vava'u it was pouring sheets of rain out, they gave us umbrellas to walk to the plane and up the stairs to board. Brett and I, and the other volunteers were surprised at how hard it was to say goodbye to our host families. It was definatley a challenge living with them - not having the freedom we're used to, eating whatever they cook, and difficulty sometimes understanding eachother. But we were really touched by how much they really cared about us and all they did for us. Our family roasted a pig the last Sunday we were there, we think it might have been there little pet pig!! I hope not! And our host mom cried at our last dinner together, saying she was sad they won't see us anymore to say good morning and good night and look after us. She also made us kaloas - flower lei necklaces like she usually does for any big event. They were really pretty! The kids were pretty sad too. Our host brother asked us to name his new puppy something that would remind them of us, I think they'll name it "snow" for the minnesota winters. They all loved the little presents we gave them too. And we were given carved bone necklaces and woven fans, and I got shell earings and a woven purse. (yes I'm still collecting purses even here!)And if we don't have a woven mat at our house in Ha'apai our host mom said she'd make one and ship it to us. They came to the airport to see us off this morning.

So now it almost feels like a vacation week, we're staying with a current volunteer in town and shadowing current volunteers for a few days. We're all getting together, I think almost 20 of us in town here for Thanksgiving on Thursday.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Sad Days in Tonga

On Wednesday and Friday we had to say goodbye to our good friends Trent and Bronzie. They decided to leave Peace Corp service early for personal reasons which all of us here in Group 74 support. Trent was a great teacher who was planning on teaching high school computer in the city of Nuku'Nuku on the main island of Tongatapu, which he would have been great at. Trent was an inspiration in our home stay town of Tu' anekivale, he was always playing sports with the local kids and swimming at the local beach with them. Bronzie was planning on running a computer lab in Leimatu'a on the island of Vava'u and was going to try and increase computer usage throughout the village. Bronzie was always seen at kava and got along great with the local men, he might of not always understood the language at kava but he was always able to catch the jokes and throw them back when needed. All of us in Group 74 will miss them both.
It takes a lot to come to a place far from home and give of yourself, many people only think of doing something like this and never act on it. I give Trent and Bronzie a lot of respect for come here and trying Peace Corp, and even though they were only here for a month and a half they were both able to make a difference and do things they would not of been able to do if they had not come to Tonga. We wish them the best and hope they find their nitch in life after experiencing Peace Corp Tonga.

Good Luck Guys,

Here's our Tu'anikivale crew with our two teachers Paea in the front and Tasi in the back. The two guys that left are Trent in the gray wifebeater in front and Bronzie in the red shirt in back. This is the porch we had morning and afternoon tea at everyday in language class.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Site announcement, we'll be living in Pangai, Ha'apai!!

On Saturday they announced our permanent sites, where we'll all be living for the next two years! They had people draw names written with their sites out of a box one by one. We'll be in the main "city" Pangai, in the island group of Ha'apai which is the middle island group, of low coral islands and the best beaches/reefs in Tonga!! We're really excited, it was our first choice! It was surprising, our whole group of 24 trainees were all really happy and excited about their sites, and a lot of people got their first or second choice.

I'll be working at two different job sites, the main job is with the Ha'apai Training Center, where a current volunteer just left earlier this year. It's a computer lab and conference room, on third level of a building, the highest in Ha'apai. They want to start an internet cafe, and offer computer, internet and business classes to youth and the public. The secondary job of mine is working with MAFF, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and Forestry, it's government departments. They only have a couple of employees who can use computers and want to train the rest (about 20 total I think). They also want help restructuring their offices and they want to reach out to Ha'apai communities to help assess needs. Brett will be teaching at the government primary school (GPS) in Pangai, we've heard it's a really great school and good teachers. And the house we'll be in sounds nice too, a big living room and two bedrooms. There's an un-inhabited island just south of ours that you can walk to at low tide that people go camping on and snorkeling so that will be fun. We won't get to see Ha'apai before moving in, we'll be in Nuku'alofa next week for shadowing a current volunteer, then another homestay this time only 2 weeks, in a village in Tongatapu. In exactly one month we'll be sworn in now as volunteers and done with training!
The photo above is our group going to Ha'apai, in front of swallows cave on the boat. Other volunteers that are going to Ha'apai with us are Melanie and Eric, the couple from Fargo, Monica who's been in our training village and from CA, Alishia from DC, and Sarah. There are two current volunteers there that will be there another year - Grant and Phil. Phil and Alishia will be on the main island with us, and Sarah close by, the others are in outer islands some as far as a 5 hour boat ride!
After the site announcement on Sat. morning we all went out on a boat ride with some of the current Vava'u volunteers and PC staff. It was so great to get away from the villages and be out on the water for an afternoon, and be able to act like palangis and wear our bikinis without clothes over them!! We stopped at Mariner's cave first, the tide was high so they said it was harder to get in, you had to swim underwater down deep and through a tunnel into the dome-shaped cave. Brett went in, I wasn't brave enough to swim that long underwater. But our second stop was Swallows cave, and it was more open you could swim right in and it was really pretty! People were climbing up and jumping off cliffs on the walls. Then we stopped at Male island, it had a little resort, restaurant and nice beach area with some of the best reefs in Vava'u called japenese gardens. We had some really good pizza (at least it tasted really good after eating tongan food for so long!), then went out snorkeling on the reef. It was amazing, some of the best snorkeling I've done! There were millions of fish all around us, all different colors, some bright sparkly blue ones, and huge black starfish bigger than my head! And we saw a poisenous lion fish, no sharks. It was a perfect day in the islands here! And it looked like it was going to rain again, but cleared up and was nice and sunny.

Other than the site announcement, we've been having more language and business training. We had a language test on Friday again, I heard I was at the intermediate-low level that they want you to be at before swearing in, and Brett just below me so we're doing pretty good. The business group went to an outer island, Otea, today where a current volunteer is to see what those businesses are like so that was fun to see. Even though we know now who's going to outer islands and who isn't.

Our host family is already saying how much they'll miss us and that we have to come back and visit and not forget about them! They're really nice people! It will be nice though to get to our own place. The kids in our host family are home random days now, school is pretty much wrapped up for the year and won't start again until late Jan. or early Feb. And some days there are a bunch of random people, friends or relatives, at our house pounding local medicines, cutting up food, or weaving and preparing the leaves. When we eat lunch or dinner, it's mostly the 13 or 14 year old girls that do the cooking for us, they help out with so many chores around the house! And the 16 year old boy is usually free to study or play rugby, but I think he does go out and help in the bush or with bigger chores like that. He's really smart and is trying to get a biology scholarship to go to school in Australia. When Brett was sick and we needed more fruit for him, Tofitau, the brother, went and climbed coconut trees to get some for Brett. And the 6 year old is really cute, she speaks such good english from being at the really good school in town that only speaks in english. She's always coming up and trying to talk to us, or play checkers with us or soccer, and watching the same movies over and over again sometimes right in a row - high school musical, bring it on 3 and 4, or others like that, they're all pirated. I'm amazed they can sit and watch the same music videos so much. Tofitou, the brother, just put together a home-made net ball (basketball) hoop for Ana, the 6 year old. Here only girls play basketball. Ailena, the mom, is usually around weaving or doing laundry and chores and talks to us a lot. And the dad is always working, some overnights as a policeman, and then after working sometimes goes straight to the bush to work more and harvest crops. And when we eat most meals, one of them might sit with us at the table, and the rest eat on the floor with plates all around them, with their hands. That's the way a lot of Tongans eat. And they don't waste anything - they'll eat everything off the chicken bones, and cook fish with all the bones and eat the heads, eyes and everything.

One more week in Vava'u, then we're back to the main island for about a month. More new images on picassa to the left!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Limited Internet

I only have 15 minutes right now to be online, before we have to meet back at a store nearby to go back to our villages. For business we just did presentations to the local businesses we visited in groups, mine was a really nice hotel with views of the ocean on both sides of the island and a store that caters to the yachties. We tried to hurry through the last one to get a few minutes for the internet cafe!

Things are going well, it's been hot and raining off and on lately. Tomorrow is site announcement, we'll find out where we'll be living the next two years. They did final interviews with us this week after handing out a sheet listing all the available sites, which they haven't done with groups before. So we were able to look through all the jobs and locations and rate our top three choices which was really nice! There are two sites that we'd both be happy with, one in Ha'apai and one in Tongatapu, both in the main cities on the island groups. We'll find out tomorrow at 9:00 am!! Then most of us are going on a boat ride (it got rescheduled, last saturday it rained all day!), we'll go to a few caves and a spot for snorkeling. We have a language test today right after lunch.

I hear it's cold and snowing back home in MN! Enjoy the cold weather, it's just getting hotter here! We're excited to be getting a little closer to the end of training, it will be nice to get to our site and be able to cook for ourselves using more flavor/spices, everything is really bland that they cook here. And to be able to do our own laundry, and figure out our own schedule.

Thanks for the comments on here, we'll post as soon as we can once we find out our site tomorrow!

Friday, November 7, 2008

another weekend!

We made it to town this afternoon, we only had a half-day of language class this morning under the mango tree like usual. We got a ride into town, and will probably taxi back. They have really good sandwiches we had for lunch here at the market and we're at the little internet cafe now with a few others from our village and the other villages.

We were so happy about the election results earlier this week, that Obama won! It was really cool watching it with the group of PC's here, everyone cheered and clapped when they announced he won and during his speech. Then a bunch of the PC's jumped into the harbour afterwards, I didn't want to get my clothes all wet.

Last night Brett played basketball again at the morman church with some other PC's in our village and the next village over that walked over. I walked up with Katie and Bronzie to Enieo beach and the overlook above the lagoon and open ocean that's really pretty. Our family always asks what we want for lunch and dinner, but we never know what to tell them really since we don't know what they have all the time. We had a soupy bowl again of some kind of meat and veggies last night, and salad - lettuce and tomatoes. And of course pinneaples. And last night we woke up to really loud pouring rain, it's starting to get more into the rainy season here.

We're excited for the boat ride and snorkeling tomorrow! Then next week I have a few days of business attachments to a store that caters to foreigners/yachties, and a hotel/restaurant that brings in a lot of foreigners and wants to improve their international marketing. And Brett will be going to an outer island for a day here in Vava'u to see what it's like at the school there. And on next Sat. they'll announce our site placements for the next two years!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election day in the south pacific

We're in town for once before the weekend! The current volunteers set up an election party at a bar/restaurant in town, so we only had language class half of today then got bused into town at noon to watch CNN news on the polls closing, we'll know in a few more hours hopefully the results! We're sitting watching the news in very hot, humid weather, right on the waterfront harbor area with sailboats docked outside.

Last night we went with our host family to another beach area in the next village over on an island and watched them put long strands of leaves in the ocean for weaving. They first cut and hang them in the yard, then bring strands of them to leave in the ocean weighted down with rocks for about a week, then they'll dry them out for weaving mats. It was at sunset, and we walked way out on the reef area, it was really pretty with pink, orange and purple colored sky. There were tons of skinny black starfish, little crabs, and sea slugs. Our host brother and sister walked barefoot, we weren't that brave!

This weekend will be fun and busy. On Friday we go out on the ocean for an ocean survival skills class, then on Sat. the current volunteers set up a boat cruise for the morning/afternoon! We'll go out around the island, to a beach and reef area to snorkel and hang out. I'm excited to see more of the island. And a week from this Sat. we'll know where our permanent site will be for the next two years!

Every morning and night we've been noticing how LOUD it is here in Tonga. At night we fall asleep to loud radio music (usually christmas songs mixed to dance beat music, or rap songs from back home a couple years ago), or the loud TV with local tongan news or a disney DVD of theirs. And they talk very loud all the time, it's hard sometimes to tell if they're having an argument or just talking, but most of the time just talking because they're also laughing loudly. Or when the music isn't playing, one of the family will be singing a christmas song loudly. I've decided I've had enough christmas songs for the rest of the season! And we wake up throughout the night to very loud cell phone rings, music, dog fights, crowing roosters starting at 4am. And around 4am the family wakes up for church about 3 times a week.

That's it for now, we'll be back online sometime this weekend, more new photos are posted on picassa!!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A place you don't want to visit in Tonga...

This last week Brett got pretty sick - his stomach wasn't adjusting to the Tongan food (more on that later). We had the PC nurse bring some medicine, but that didn't work so on Mon. night we made our first trip to the hospital here in Nieafu. It definately is a place you don't want to visit while you're here if you can help it! It was like a horror movie!! Not sanitary at all - dogs, cats, bugs everywhere, open breezeways and no screens on the windows. It's kind eerie too, the nurses are in pink uniforms with the old fashioned white paper hats. And everything else looks like it's from the 50's too, all the equipment and beds. The patients even have to bring their own bedsheets and everything. So we got different medicine there, and the doctor even met us there right away. On the way to the hospital Brett got pelted by a mango through his open window as we were driving about 50 mph!! It was funny, the chances of that happening. And it was a little bitten so they said a bat probably ate it and dropped it, so a bat threw a mango at Brett! We ended up going back the next morning for an x-ray, then again later that night on Tues. for some pain meds, then he got better on Wed. So it was a long beginning to the week but we got through it.

Sorry to start on that note, but that was the main thing that happened this week! We did go to the putu (funeral) last Sat. morning, that was interesting. They had us all bring flowers, our host families put them together in arrangements and wreaths. They were so pretty, back home they would've been so expensive too with all the tropical flowers they used. We got to the funeral house and filed inside in a single line and dropped off our flowers by the dead body covered in mats. Then we all sat under a tent for a food, it was a weird time to eat a meal though at 10:30am. The night and day before a funeral here they have a lot of people in their village helping kill animals and make the umu (underground oven) with meat and root crops. Then they serve up pre-made servings to the guests that come through, bagged plates of food and mango juice.

We also went to Kietahi beach again on Sat. all afternoon with almost all the other peace corps trainees, it was so much fun! The ocean was really pretty and aqua during the day, blue/green, and you could see where all the reefs were the water was really clear. We set up camp under some trees, someone had their ipod with a speaker, and hung out reading, talking, swimming and snorkeling. My snorkel mask broke so I had to borrow someone's. The water was really clear snorkeling, and the current was perfect, it pulled you along parallel to shore so you could just float. We saw lots of bright blue starfish, little bright nean fish and corral.

And more on Tongan food we've been eating. It's a very different diet than back home, which is probably why Brett was sick. It's a LOT of carbs, and they really don't eat vegetables. And the locals portions they eat are huge. We've had some pretty good meals at our house - whole lobster, chicken, rice, and lots of pinneaple. The main issue we've had and we've tried to explain to our host family is that we can't eat food that's been sitting out, they don't have a fridge only a freezer. When we first got there they would make a meal and it would sit on the table under a mosquito net and cling wrapped plates from morning through lunch, dinner, and even into the next day sometimes. And it wasn't just fruit, it was chicken, meat, fish, etc. And they leave mayo out all the time, and ketchup, and everything. So now we have gotten them to make us each meal at each meal time. I think the worst we've had so far is the taro (they come in huge chunks and have no taste at all, and are really thick and hard to swallow). The other would be the tongan soup, the broth is really thick and tastes like some kind of meat. I took a spoonful and realized it was a fatty lump of mutton!! It was all fat, I couldn't chew it, and was gagging on the taste, so I quickly put a piece of bread in my mouth to soak up some of it, then when no one was looking spit it out!!

Yesterday we had a coconut/stranded on an island survival session, it was pretty informal. We went to the bush outside our village, the rest of the groups met us there. And they showed us how to shuck open a coconut, how to get the meat out, how to open the top to drink the juice, how to start a fire and gather the right kind of leaves/wood, etc. It's always fun to get the whole group together and see how others are doing. We also had a language test on Friday, it was harder than they said it would be with a written 6 page test and a verbal portion that was an interview about families, introducing ourselves, food and a few other things. Last night we got a ride into town from our family and picked up Katie, Chad and Saskia from the next village over, it's so hard to get into town usually! It was a couple current volunteer's birthdays so we hung out with a group of them at their houses (steve and james live right next door to eachother in town here). And then we got a ride again this morning to town, we're sitting in a little palangi (for foreigners mostly) internet cafe right on the water. After this we'll go walk through the market and maybe find something to eat before heading back and going to the beach.

Hope everyone back home is doing well, keep sending us comments, emails or messages here or hotmail/facebook, it's good to hear from people!! And happy halloween!


Friday, October 24, 2008

new photos!

Check them out under picassa photos to the left!

Village life, a Wedding and a Funeral

We finally made in back to the internet, our days have been so full with training sessions, and we have to depend on others for rides or figure out the bus (which only comes to neiafo once in the morning and returns once in the evening to tuaneki vale). So its hard not having internet!!

The wedding was amazing! We didnt know what was going on at all, we showed up at a relatives house with the girls in the family, and realized Brett was the only guy there and they were getting the 18 year old bride ready, putting makeup on, doing her hair, then wrapping her with lots of really intricate mats with lots of color and design to them. They kept wrapping lots of layers on her, added a beaded belt, then covered it with another mat, and a beaded necklace. Then they dressed her sister or someone close to her, then all of a sudden they pulled me up, saying "palangi" something or other (palangi means literally comes from the sky, but they use it to refer to any foreigners, mostly american). So they dressed me along with the wedding party! They wrapped a ta"ovla around my waist, a longer one, with lots of color and little mirrors on it, and a big beaded belt and necklace. It was kind of like they wanted to show off the palangis at their wedding, but also really nice that they included and welcomed us so nicely. After that we all walked in a procession down the hill to the church, sat through a regular service (the marriages all happen during the week, but become official after they attend church together), then they changed into even bigger matts about a foot out from their bodies, and walked to the feast. The feast was HUGE - layers and layers of food in plastic containers, fruit, and a baby pig every few inches. And lots of people stood up and said short speeches. We took a lot of photos for the family. Brett was sick that day and the next, dehydrated, so we left a little early and rested the rest of Sunday.

We"ve been learning a lot more Tongan now (trying to remember it all!), and had our first few business and education sessions. Brett visited a primary school one day. Some interesting things I"ve heard so far on business is that they keep it really close in the family, immediate family members might come and take whatever they want from the till or store. And the infrastructure is not set up well at all here, the ferries break down and all the crops might just rot at the docks not being able to be shipped anywhere. And tourists might get stuck in the capital and not get up to vava"u if the planes aren"t running. Plus they can"t own land. It will be interesting! We heard the married couples sites are - one in vava"u, one in hapa"ai, and one in tongatapu, but that could still change.

We also experienced our first earthquake!! Two actually! The first I felt, I was sitting in a chair and it was only for a few seconds, it was really weird and disorienting! Brett was standing and didn"t feel it. The second was a couple nights ago we both woke up in the middle of the night, it was swaying back and forth for a couple minutes, so a long time it felt like, but nothing too jerky or big.

Someone who works for the peace corps uncle died a few days ago, and the home village is close by here, so tomorrow morning all of us trainees are attending part of the funeral (putu) to see what its like. We have to wear all black and bring flowers, I think its only for an hour or so, and they"ll have the decessed in a relatives house for viewing. To show respect they actually kiss the body. Then there will be some kind of food from the underground oven, an umu. And Sunday we"ll have church, then another week of training.

That"s it for now, we will try to get online again soon! And hopefully figure out how to post more photos soon (on the left under picassa photos link).

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Tua'aneki Vale, Vava'u homestay

We're at our first homestay in Tua'aneki Vale, a little village in Vava'u. We were supposed to take a 22 - 24 hour ferry here, but the two ferries they have weren't in service so we got to fly on air new zealand! I think we got placed in the best village out of the three they put us all in, ours is on the ocean, there are a couple beaches within about a 10 - 15 minute walk from our house, they're really pretty!!!

Our homestay family is really nice, the mom is Ailine, dad is Paula, and four kids - tafitou, asina, ana, and peta, one boy that's 16 and three girls that are 14, 13, and 6 years old. The house is really nice, they even have a TV/DVD player, music, a new computer, microwave, and our room is really nice with a four post bed that we put our mosquito net on. It does take some getting used to though, living with a family you don't know and feeling like you have to ask when to do things, etc. The bathroom and shower are attached to the house but outside, and cool showers but it feels good with the heat and humidity here. They also have a pet pig, 5 cats, and chickens and baby chicks. I thought there would be a lot more bugs, but we really haven't seen many just a few small ones. 

The first afternoon they had a big feast at the town hall welcoming the 8 of us in our village (us, monica, cassie, bronzie, trent, micah, and regina), with each host mom bringing food and we ate on the floor on mats. A lot of them got up and said speeches thanking us, then each of us did the same in the little tongan we could use. It was really great seeing so happy they are to have us here. The one thing that scared me at the first meal was the taro - it was cut in huge chunks and at first I thought it was a huge hunk of some kind of meat! We've mostly been eating chicken, fish, taro, bread, and lots of fruit - mango, papaya, pinneapple. An annoying thing though is that everything is cooked really greasy and they don't use napkins!! So there's nowhere to wipe your hands, it's kinda funny.

The last couple days we've had language classes in groups of four, in a house. The first day was easier - reviewing what we know, then on Thursday we went into more grammar that's harder. But we can tell we're starting to learn more and more, our host family has been helping a lot quizzing us and telling us other words and phrases. The kids speak pretty good english. Yesterday on Friday was a center day - the three villages met together for some safety sessions and language testing on some basic phrases, numbers, days of the week, etc. It was like a mini reunion seeing everyone again, it feels like we've been here longer than we have! And the lunch was really good, we had some food that was like chinese noodles and sauces with the chicken. 

We've been getting up pretty early every morning because it gets too hot to sleep in, and we've noticed the family really doesn't sleep much! They go to sleep really late and get up really early - maybe one in the morning and get up around 5am! But then they nap during the day too.  And after classes around 3:30 or 4:00 we've been going to the beach, one is a lagoon and the other is more open ocean with rocky cliffs. And yesterday we went to an area where all the kids swim, jumping off the road/bridge into the water with lots of mangrove trees. And at the lagoon there's lots of bright blue starfish, sea urchins, and sea slugs. 

Today we're going to a relatives house that's getting married - they all go and give presents first, I think I heard something about giving a chicken or something like that. Then tomorrow is the wedding at the church and feast afterwards that we're going to, that will be really fun to see!

There's a lot more I could write about, but we're with our host family in town in Neaifu and I'm not sure how long we're staying here, I'm at an internet cafe. I'll try to load some photos here too. The town is pretty small, and has a really pretty harbor with lots of sailboats and yachts.

Toki Sio!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sunday aka rest, eat and go to church

It's Sunday today, so there's nothing to do but go to church, rest, and eat. We went to our first Tongan church service, it was very interesting! It was all in Tongan so we couldn't understand anything, but I was thinking it's so great to be placed in a christian country where they have the same beliefs. The singing was really pretty, and everyone was dressed up - men in tupanus (skirts) and women in skirts/dresses with keikis (straw things hanging around their waist). My spelling might not be right on these.

Something we noticed today, a common Tongan greeting is to shake your hand and they lean in like they're gonna kiss your cheek but instead sniff you! Very funny. We had a few people sniffing us today after church! I've also been noticing all the different flowers everywhere and so many colors.

Then we had a feast - pig, chicken, potatoes, fish, fruit, at the directors house and they had a quick session. An interesting thing I thought he said was that it's not a waste of time just sitting - sitting with people and talking. It's pretty relaxed here, I like it!

Tomorrow's a full day, then we fly out on Tuesday morning for Vava'u for our 6 week homestay!

Saturday, October 11, 2008


Here's a few photos of our arrival, check out the link on the side under photos!

We leave on Monday or Tues. for our homestay in Vava'u, and had ocean safety training at the Navy base here today, swimming around and jumping off ships. It rained today quite a bit, we got soaked walking back to the guest house.

We're in the Kingdom of Tonga!

We made it through a day of staging in LA, and are in Tonga, in Nuku'alofa!

The staging was fun, a lot of group activities and it was good to meet all the volunteers both in our group and going to Samoa, we had a lot of group activities.

Then we flew out late Mon. night, I watched as the US faded away, an island of neon lights in the darkness of the sky and ocean. We slept a lot on the flight, and had a layover in Samoa, then got to Nuku'alofa early Thurs. morning.

It was great when we arrived, we had a warm welcome from the staff and current volunteers and got flower lays. We're staying at a cute guest house, and had a session when we got there and some snacks. Then a welcome ceremony at the country director's house on the beach.

The scenery is beautiful here, blue ocean, lots of palm trees we saw when we flew in, fruit and flower trees, lots of pigs and dogs. And our group is a really friendly, fun group of trainees. It's also very hot and humid here.

We've had sessions/classes today and found out what village in Vava'u we'll be in, leaving either Mon. night or Tues. We're in an eastern village, we're broken up into groups of 8 in 3 villages, and will come together for some classes. And we might not have to take the long 22 hour boat ride, we'll find out soon!

Toki Sio!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Leaving tomorrow!

We leave tomorrow for LA, then on to Tonga! Brett's parents were in town all weekend, and we saw a lot of our friends, said all our goodbyes and are ready to go! And it looks like we will have some kind of internet access during all of training and while we're there, so friends and family please do keep in touch!

We're leaving at the perfect time, it's starting to get colder here, even down in the 40s at night. Brett made his first post, we'll try to sign our names so you know who's writing.

Nofo 'a USA!!


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Voting and Selling

So today we drove down to St. Paul and voted early since we will not be in the US on November 4th. It was quite an experience, we didn't have the correct address information to register and they were going to turn us away from voting but then I turned on my political charm and made sure they were aware that it is illegal to not allow someone to vote. Never the less we were able to vote and I was able to take part in my job as a citizen of this great country.

We also sold our car yesterday and the people who bought it are stopping by tomorrow to get the title and pay us. The couple is buying this $7,000 car for their 16 year old daughter.....spoiled I think, my first car was a gift from my parents and it was probally worth $500 at the most. Anyways, we got the car sold and that makes 2 cars sold now and we have gotten rid of everything we need to in order to not have anything sitting around while we are gone.

We will be leaving from LA in 3 days and it is getting close, we are both nervious and excited and can't wait to start our adventure over in Tonga.

The first week we arrive in Tonga we will be in the capital city and will have good internet access for email and skype, but after that we will be on an outer island for 6 weeks with possibly no access to internet, so if you email us during the first 2 months and don't hear from us, were not avoiding you, we just don't have access to our email. But please feel free to email and let us know what is going on in the US and whats new with you.


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Going-away gathering

We just had our going-away party on Friday, it was a lot of fun! I think there were about 70 - 80 people here throughout the night, the house was packed. It was so great to see everyone, some of them drove a long ways to get here for the party. Thanks to everyone who made it here, it meant a lot to us, we were glad to be able to see so many people before we leave!

Here's a few quotes about goodbyes/traveling/inspiration I found online that seemed fitting:

Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes. ~Henry David Thoreau

Be the change you wish to see in the world. - Gandhi

Only in the agony of parting do we look into the depths of love. ~George Eliot

Man's feelings are always purest and most glowing in the hour of meeting and of farewell. ~Jean Paul Richter

Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail - Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Not all those who wander are lost.” - J. R. R. Tolkien

“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” - G. K. Chesterton

Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile. - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


We leave in less than two weeks now! It's starting to feel more real, and I'm realizing we have to say bye to so many people it will be hard! We're having a going-away get together on Friday so we'll see a lot of family and friends then.

How do you pack for two years in a foreign country? There's a lot of suggested packing lists we've been looking at and advice from people that are already in Tonga.

Here's a few things we've gotten so far:
batteries and battery charger
digital camera
lap top (should be here tomorrow in the mail!)
lots of extra supplies - shampoo, contact solution, etc.
small tent for camping
2 small sleeping bags
kool aid - to make the water taste better
jolly ranchers/granola bars
2 rolling duffle bags to check
guitar for Brett
Clothes - I have a lot of long skirts, button up shirts, and t-shirts. Brett has shorts and t-shirts. And we'll each bring a rain jacket and a couple of warmer sweatshirts/pants.

We'll have to try packing everything soon and weighing it. I've been sleeping in almost everyday, we were in duluth for my grandma's 80th birthday this last weekend, and my sister's been in town for the last week and all of this week.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Our staging materials came in the mail yesterday, and we found out we lost a day - we leave a day earlier than we thought.

We just booked our flight to LA on Oct. 6th, we stay over one night and have orientation all day on the 7th, then fly out around eleven at night to leave for Tonga!

We've been going over the introductory Tongan we got in the mail, here's a few of my favorite phrases so far:

Fakamolemole - sorry
Faka 'ofa - oh how sad
Pulelulu - Wednesday
Malo lelei - hi

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Jobless & Homeless

We're now homeless and jobless, just waiting to leave on Oct. 7th! Last Wed. was my last day at CL, and Brett was done on Tuesday, and we're all moved into my parents house. It just feels like we have a lot of time now after being used to a busy work schedule. And most of our stuff is in boxes so it's hard to find anything, I hope it stays warmer out this month so I don't have to dig for winter clothes!

We've started to think about packing, we bought a really cheap, small tent at Target and some more clothes. We still need to get a laptop to bring with us.

And today we recieved a small packet from peace corps - an introduction to the Tongan language, it came with a CD so now we'll get to hear how Tongan sounds! And our orientation/staging is in LA like we thought, we'll get our staging packet 2-3 weeks before we leave.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Satellite Images

It's a slow Friday at work, so I downloaded some images from Google Earth of Tonga. The first shows the location if you're geographically challenged like most people are on islands in the South Pacific. The next is a view of one of the islands in the Ha'apai group, and the last is of Vava'u. It sounds like group 74 to Tonga (our group) will be on a lot of the more remote outer islands so we could be in one of these two island groups.

Only 2 more days left of work for me now, and Brett's actually working from home for 2 days next week. He can't get into St. Paul because he's not on "the list" of people allowed in for work, they're having the Republican party convention in St. Paul next week and security's gonna be really tight.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Official Peace Corps invite

We're going to Tonga in the south pacific!!!

After work on Monday there was a fedex slip to pick up our invite at 7:30, but the fedex location they listed closed at 7:30. So we got take-out vietnamese food and ate it in the parking lot at fedex waiting for the truck to get in with our envelope. It was a huge relief after a year-long application process, finally knowing where and when we're going.

We leave on Oct. 7th for 2 days of staging (probably in LA), then leave Oct. 9th and are in training until Dec. 17th in Tonga! Brett will be a community educator, teaching in a school and I will be a business advisor/educator either working with the government, a non-profit, or a school.

We're so excited! We both gave notice at work on Tues, we'll be done at the beginning of Sept.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

We're Invited!!!

It's been a long week and weekend!

Camping was a lot of fun, we were able to see Brett's family and spend time hanging out at the campground, biking and boating at Itasca.

Then on Tues. morning we called our placement officer to find out what's going on. She told Brett the program we were nominated for is full, and she'd look for a new program for us but the earliest would be Jan. 09!! I was shocked, we'd been planning on leaving in Oct. since the beginning of the year, and waiting to hear!

On Wed. I called again to let her know we wanted to leave sooner rather than later, and she still said our program was full but she couldn't rule out Oct. yet and she'd look at our file in the next couple of days.

And yesterday I got a message on my phone saying we were very lucky and she was able to get us into the south pacific islands leaving in Oct!!!! And we should have the invite in a few days! I'm really excited, it all worked out for us! But not without days of agonizing waiting and thinking we could end up anywhere in the world, I'm really excited it's still the south pacific. We'll find out the country and job assignments when we get the invite in the mail.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

To Tonga or Not to Tonga...

That is the question. We just heard from a current volunteer's blog that because of budget reasons, they're cutting the number of volunteers being sent to Tonga from 35 to 24, that's a huge cut!!! And that's the place we thought we'd most likely end up. There will be 10 business volunteers and 14 education. We still have a chance, but it's much more competitive.

Brett called our assistant PO, and finally found out who our actual placement officer is, so maybe that means they're reviewing our files now, I hope. She's out of the office though until Tues. It's going to be a looooong weekend until we can figure out what's going on, and we're camping with Brett's parents at Itasca until Tues. so this will ruin the vacation mode for me, I'll just be thinking about what's going on with our invite!

On top of this, today was a sad morning - I ran out of my Cafe Dumond coffee that I got from Holly in New Orleans, so now it's just the coffee from work for me which is more bland.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Around the world

After we're done with peace corps, me and Brett are planning on traveling for about half a year. So we're saving as much as we can now to do this.

Tentatively, here's where we'd want to go, leaving from the south pacific assuming we get an invite there.

- New Zealand, both islands (either during service or after)
- Australia - sydney, melbourne, brisbane/sunshine coast, cairns/barrier reef
- Kuala Lumpar/Singapore
- Thailand - beaches, bangkok
- Cambodia - angkor wat
- Laos - river areas
- Vietnam - halong bay, saigon
- (maybe Nepal himilaya mountains, depending on time/money)
- Turkey - Istanbul
- (maybe Israel, Egypt depending on political situation, money/time)
- Greece - islands, athens
- Eastern Europe - bulgaria, croatia, hungary, czech republic
- Fly home from Amsterdam

We'll try to stick to the cheaper areas for longer - southeast Asia, and eastern Europe. And we'll do it all with one medium-sized backpack each, with about a weeks worth of clothes, traveling light.

We found out the Tonga departure date is Oct 7th, so we're about 9 weeks out from that, getting close to within the 6 weeks they have to give you notice. I think there might still be departures for Samoa in Oct. but no one I've seen has gotten invites yet.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Boundary Waters

Last weekend we only worked Monday and Tues., then went up north with my parents to the boundary waters. I didn't realize how far north it is, we stayed with my grandparents in Esko for one night, then it's another 3 hours or so past that, up by the Canadian border.

The Boundary Waters is a reserve/park area, no motorized boats or anything, and you canoe in with all your packs and stuff. I thought I'd be more sore from paddling but I guess I must have some arm muscle. We found a great camping site after passing a lot that were full already. Ours had a private sandy beach, and there weren't many bugs at all which is very unusual for the boundary waters. The lake we were on was huge, with lots of little islands and rocks. Some of the area was burned up from last year's fire, but a lot was still green and covered with fores. It was relaxing, we hung out, hiked around and paddled around the lake, floated out on our beach on our air mattress, and my dad and Brett caught a few fish. It was a very Minnesot-an weekend.

We called the placement office again, and heard it will be another 2 - 3 weeks (from 7/28).

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

another month

So we've waited another month, emailed the assistant placement officer again, and heard that they're prioritizing Aug. and Sept. invites right now and we should hear in about 4 - 6 weeks. I guess I wasn't that surprised, we've been waiting this long what's another month.

But it will be nice to know where we'll be living so we can start getting ready! Hopefully by the end of July we'll know. Everyone keeps asking, so it will be nice to finally have an answer.

We've actually been doing a lot so far this summer, every weekend this whole summer we'll be in a different city! Here's how our summer goes - Mankato, Jay Cook state park, South Dakota, Red Wing, Detroit Lakes cabin, Aspen CO, home, boundary waters canoeing, Moorhead, Itasca state park, Avon/St. Cloud, then home again. Wow, we're busy seeing family and with weddings!

Friday, June 6, 2008

A new placement officer?!?

So we waited a whole month with no news from our placement officer, and on Monday 6/2 we emailed her a quick update and I was shocked to get an auto-reply email back saying that as of 5/2 she was no longer working in the placement office!!! So for the whole last month our file was probably just shuffled off to someone else and just sitting there! I wish they would've told us that she had quit.

We emailed the couple of people listed in her email, and heard back on 6/3 that they wanted an updated resume and any other new experience updates, and that they would then do a final assessment of our legal, technical and suitability and should hear in 2 - 3 weeks from their office - which we've heard before from our first placement officer!! So it feels like the whole placement process is just started all over again, when we've been waiting since 4/14!! I guess that's government agencies though, very slow. Hopefully we'll hear from them by the end of June.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Legally cleared

Well we're both officially legally cleared, so all we have left is to wait for the invite! We checked the online toolkit and there was a checkmark next to legal. I hope this means they're now actually in the process of reviewing our applications and figuring out our placement.

My work weeks are dragging by with this waiting game now, and I think I'm spending more time researching info on the south pacific and other PC blogs than actually working at my job. And Brett's to the point of wanting to give his two weeks notice at work. I think it will get better though once we know where we're going and can start getting ready.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Where will we end up?

I don't really want to guess where we'll get placed in case it ends up to be something totally different, but with all the waiting it's hard not to. So with all my searching online here's what I've gathered.

For October and with our nominations for education/business it looks like it would be either Samoa or Tonga.

If it slides up to Sept, there's a departure to Vanuatu for these programs.

Based on the PC website, I don't think it would be any of the other islands, they don't have both of our programs. There were summer departures for Fiji (May), Samoa (June), Vanuatu (June-ish I think), and Micronesia (June).

Here's some paraphrased ideas/info on the islands it could be that I've gathered:

Vanuatu - in between Fiji/Soloman islands, very stretched out and some isolated islands. They speak some French/English and Bislama is the common language, but there are also sixty-some languages across the islands. Port Vila is the capital. The natives are called Ni-Vanuatu. There are active volcanoes, earthquakes, and usually at least one cyclone a year. It's hot and humid. The landscape looks very pretty, with lush green mountains/jungle and pretty ocean and beaches. Depending on where you're placed, you might not have electricity or running water and could live in a village.

Samoa - Next to Fiji, north of Tonga. It's divided to Western Samoa, where they send volunteers, and American Samoa. It's a smaller area, with 2 main islands so easier to get around. The capital is Apia. It's very hot and humid. Most of the villages line the coastal areas, and there are buses between them and the capital. It sounds like a lot of people get bikes. There is no malaria, and fewer cyclones hit. With the culture, everyone is in everyone else's business and is nosy. It's close-nit communities, and everyone attends church on Sundays. There are a lot of stray dogs that can be mean and attack.

Tonga - Below Samoa, smaller islands that are spread out. It's still a kingdom with a King. Very hot and humid, fewer cyclones hit and there's no malaria. Everyone attends church on Sundays.

Hopefully we'll know which country we'll be placed in soon!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Waiting phase

So this is my first blog ever, hard to believe since I'm in the world of advertising and it's all about new media.

But I'll soon leave that behind for a far-away island nation, possibly. We're waiting right now for our official invitation to the Peace Corps. Brett and I are both medically cleared (not a fun process), and nominated for programs in the South Pacific Islands leaving in Oct. 2008. It was a bit of a shock at first, since we had put eastern europe as our first choice and south america as second. But after the initial shock it was just excitement, and wondering what it would be like to live in a village hut wearing lava-lavas (skirts). We even read up on suggested books from friends about the south pacific (sex lives of cannibals and getting stoned with savages). I was nominated for business advising, and Brett secondary english teaching.

And now it's waiting....waiting....waiting. And wasting time - minutes, hours at work searching everywhere I can online for current peace corps blogs and groups to find out as much as I can.

Our timeline so far for the peace corps process has been this:
End of Aug. 2007 - went to a local peace corps info meeting
Sept - worked on our applications
Oct 31, '07 - interview with our peace corps recruiter
Feb. 14, '08 - nominated
April 14, '08 - medically cleared
Invite - soon!!