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!