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!