Friday, March 27, 2009

Land Ahoy

We're in the capital city on the main island of Tongatapu! When the plane was coming in for the landing I was amazed at the size of the island, and all the land everywhere. It's definately larger than our little island in Ha'apai. From the airport it takes half an hour driving to get to the guesthouse, there isn't anywhere in Ha'apai that you can drive for that long. It's a really weird feeling for Brett and I to be back here after being on our little island for 3 months now.

We were amazed by all the food choices, and restaurants on every street. Even getting off the plane there was a little restaurant with a sign for panini sandwhiches and pizza, real food! Yesterday when we got here we walked around, I got a vanilla latte smoothie and cheesecake at a little cafe, and we walked by the market and a few stores to see what they had. The market had so many vegetables and fruit that we don't get in Ha'apai this time of year - cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, pinneapple, avocado, etc. And I spent probably a little too long lingering through the aisles of a food supermarket looking at yoghurt, cereal, real cheese, and even the flour was packaged and not in little baggies like at our chinese stores. There's also so much car traffic here, in Ha'apai we normally just walk down the middle of the streets! I also noticed I slept really well last night - the first time we got here and stayed at the guesthouse it was so hard to sleep with all the roosters and noise, and now I'm just used to it.

I had a volunteer advisory meeting today, we have this weekend to hang out and then Brett has some teaching trainings early next week and the middle of the week we start more peace corps training. We're here until Wed. April 8th, then back to our beach house.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Palangi Saturday

This Saturday was one of the best in Ha'apai so far. We got away from the island, out on the sea in a boat, and wore swimsuits - we were able to just be palangis for a day and get away from Tonga while still being in Tonga at the same time.

We headed out in the morning with our friends who own the Fins 'n Flukes dive shop in town - all of us Peace Corps from the main island here and the three Japanese volunteers. One of the Japanese volunteers was doing part of his dive course, so we got to tag along for the boat ride and did some snorkeling and exploring. On the way out of the main island we noticed that Tofua, the active volcano about 30 miles west of us, was smoking a lot. So we'll probably have another earthquake soon. It took about an hour to get to Lu'ahoko island, it's a tiny uninhabited island just north-northwest of
us, near Ha'ano island. You can see it from our house, just a tiny clump of land. It was really pretty coming into the island, there's a big sandy beach on the south side, and Kao and Tofua volcanoes looked huge - a lot closer than from Lifuka. And the middle looked like it was clumped up higher with lots of trees and palm trees, and tons of birds were flying around and to the island. Birds are more rare in Tonga, you don't see a lot of them, so this island is known for the bird population and also reputed to have a lot of sea snakes.

Once we anchored a ways off-shore you could look down into the dark aqua water and see right to the bottom with all the coral and fish, it was probably about 20 or so feet deep, perfectly clear water! We jumped in and snorkeled around for awhile, there were lots of fish and coral. And Alicia, the one person who was terrified of sea snakes and was worried about Lu'ahoko's reputation, saw a sea snake in the water! None of the rest of us saw any. This was also the site that Sabine (from the dive shop) saw a large shark in about 1 meter of water snorkeling last week. Luckily we didn't see any. Brian (also from the dive shop) was hoping Brett would see one to get over his fear of sharks - mostly sharks are just as scared when they see humans in the water and they swim away. There are only two dive/snorkel companies in all of Ha'apai, so these reefs are really untouched, natural, and gorgeous. And not crowded like any tourist place, the locals only go to reefs to hunt/fish, and don't really come out all this way to uninhabitated islands to do so. Last week Brett and I were snorkeling on our reef outside our house, and some locals were there hunting huge octopus!

After snorkeling we swam up to the shore on Lu'ahoko and walked around the whole outside of the island, in about half an hour. The views of Kao and Tofua were amazing, and all the aqua water around the island. There was the one big sandy beach, then the rest of the way around the island there were rocky platforms. This is now the fifth island we've been to in the Ha'apai group, and the tenth island we've been to in all of Tonga.

On the way back we stopped at another reef to snorkel, Faka Osi, named so because it's the last reef out of the channel the boats go through. This reef was a lot deeper, and there was more of a current. We could still see a lot of coral, and tons of fish. Some areas dropped off from the reef to about 60 or 70 feet below us. But because it was so clear and we could see all the way to the bottom it didn't seem so deep.

We were out on the boat from early morning to late afternoon, it was so nice to get away for a day! And now this week we'll be leaving on Thursday for about two weeks down in the capital city, Nuku'alofa, for more Peace Corps training. I'm also the volunteer representative for our island group so we're going down a few days early for that meeting. We're both really excited to get away for a couple weeks, eat out at restaurants (they have chinese, italian, indian and more restaurants down there), do some shopping, and see everyone from our group again. Then right after that our friend Katie is coming to visit for a week from the US, so we're excited to have a visitor to show around!

More photos from this weekend are posted in the link to the right.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Underwater Volcanic Explosion and 7.7 Earthquake

Yesterday there was an underwater volcanic explosion about 6 miles southwest of the main island of Tongatapu, a new volcano/island is forming there. I guess there are 36 underwater volcanoes in that area. We could see plumes of smoke on the horizon that evening, and a small trail of smoke coming up from the volcanic island of Tofua just west of us. So a lot of activity is going on here! And when there is volcanic activity there are earthquakes.

There have been quite a few earthquakes in the last few days, I think I heard there were 14 earthquakes. This morning was a big one, measured at 7.7 by the Pacific and 7.9 by the US measurements. And we haven't felt a single one of these earthquakes, slept right through the one this morning. Because of the measurement of this last earthquake there was a tsunami warning until around noon today, it was just cancelled. But we did hear on CNN that it was reported a "small tsunami" was in the water, but with no big destructive waves.
So we're safe and fine here in Ha'apai! We're even planning on going out in a boat snorkeling tomorrow with our friends that own the scuba diving shop here, should be fun.
Here's a link to an article about the volcanic explosion if you're interested, I guess it made a lot of news around the world today/yesterday.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

St.Patty's Day

Happy St. Patty's Day! Hope you had as much fun as we did - below are photos from our crazy-hats party at mariner's.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Internet Issues

So for about the last week we haven't had Internet in our Peace Corps office here. I thought there was just something wrong with the password or modem, but it turned out that the bill hadn't been paid since last August!! And, typical of Tonga, no warnings were sent out, nothing was done for a long time. I got on the phone to talk to our financial person at Peace Corps, and instead somehow got through to the country director! He's always nice to talk to and was very interested to hear how things were going for me at the computer training center (I'll be posting about my jobs soon). And it turns out that the company here had been sending the bills to the Ha'apai office - there is no administrative office or staff here. So within 15 minutes it was taken care of and paid, and the Internet employees here even turned it back on right away. I was totally amazed at how fast it all worked out compared to how things normally go. So it just goes to show that you never really know. But we still have issues with our phone line, hopefully it will also get sorted out soon.

Tomorrow is St. Patty's day and we're having a crazy hats party at Mariners restaurant.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Couples in Tonga

Married couples are treated a lot different than single volunteers are in Tonga. Here it's unheard of to live alone, or be alone anytime - Tongans do everything together and if they're not married they live with their parents. Even when they get married they move in with the guy's parents. So they think the single volunteers are faka ofa (sad), especially that they live alone. Because of this they'll very often bring over food or invite the single volunteers to dinner or other events, generally they check in on them a lot more. For married couples they see that we already have our family unit and leave us alone for the most part. Instead of inviting us to a dinner they'll just drop off a plate of food. This has it's benefits and downfalls - we get more much-needed privacy but it's harder to fit into the tongan community around us, we have to try harder to be involved. We also heard that married couples get asked a lot if they have children and if not, why don't they? We have had this question asked a few times. In Tonga the womens' job is to get married, have lots of children, and do the household chores/make food. This is even written out in school classrooms - dividing the mens' and womens' chores and responsiblities. Boys do the yard work and harvest/plant in the bush plots, women do the indoor sweeping/cleaning and cooking. Even down to sports - boys play volleyball or rugby and girls play netball (sort of like a slow version of basketball, boring). If a boy plays netball he's a fakaleite (like a girl) and is made fun of. This role-dividing drives me crazy, I'll be happy if I can change some girls' minds on these matters.

Our friend Alicia lives in a smaller village and has been experiencing a lot of this - tongans getting very involved in her life. Her neighbors recently told her one day when she got home that they had two surprises for her - they'd made her a bookshelf, and they neutered her dog!! They didn't even know if she wanted him neutered, they just did it! They also share a lot of things - she eats dinner with them every night and they share food, and her neighbors don't have their own bathroom at their house and the one at the school is in horrible condition, so they even share her bathroom, taking turns buying toilet paper! People in her village also share a lot with each other, for example there were three broken washing machines so they put them together to make one working machine and now it rotates between families in the village. Another friend, Sarah, lives in a small village here and they have her on a rotating feeding schedule for having dinner at all her students' homes! And her neighbors do her laundry for her.

So experiences even on the same island can be very different just based on if it's a married couple or single volunteer, and experiences in different island groups are even more different. Here in Ha'apai it's like an outer island, with not much available and all depending on the boat schedules, in the capitol city they can get just about anything - mac 'n cheese, candy bars, lots of restaurants, etc. but it also doesn't have the same feel as a village or smaller island.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Day in the Life

Here's an example of how my weekdays lately have been going:

Wake up a couple of times from the neighbor kids crying/screaming and the hot sun beating into our room on the east side of the house. Get out of bed around 8:00, Brett's already up and almost ready to go to school. Make coffee for breakfast and either fruit or weetbix (a New Zealand cereal, it's fiber bars that turn to mush with milk, but the only good source of fiber here). Then sit at our mini coffee table with the back door open, eat and stare at the ocean, and kick out the neighbor's cat about 10 times - he never learns. Say hi to the puppies Lucky and Simba. Get water from our sima vie outside and boil it so it's cool by lunch time. Get ready for work, I either go into the Fisheries or MAFF office around 9:00 for a couple of hours or until lunch time. At Fisheries I update data entry type stuff to help them catch up for now, at MAFF I prepare tutorials to teach the two ladies there on Word or Excel. Both offices are only a minute walk away, I can see both from our house. Then come home for lunch, Brett's usually already home from school, we have whatever leftovers from the night before, sandwiches or instant noodles. Hang around for an hour or hour and a half (lunch hour here is 12:30 - 1:30), try to cool off - our house is a lot cooler than other places since it's right on the ocean and has huge trees shading it. Then figure out what to do in the afternoon - either go into the other office I hadn't been to yet, help out at the Youth Congress, or just take time off and check internet or hang out at the house, I never played computer games at home but lately am addicted to spider solitare. Then we figure out any food we need to buy for the dinner and the next day, and what to make for dinner. Start cooking a little before sunset, 7:00ish, and watch the sunset if it's not too cloudy. Eat dinner, light mosquito coils, and usually watch a DVD, sometimes Brett tutors the neighbor kids in English before dinner or I'll walk around on the beach. Then listen to the neighbor kids cry/scream some more at night, and the dogs barking off and on, and sometimes pigs squeeling really loud, and fall asleep. There's almost always some kind of odd happenings as well - dogs dying, neighbor kids throwing stuff in our trees or clothes lines, people knocking on the door early in the morning (once even a jehova's witness!), funerals, boats coming in and tons of activity in town, etc. And once in awhile we go out to Mariner's restaurant/bar during the week, and we recently found a DVD store by our house that has tons of pirated movies so we've been seeing really recent movies now!

By the end of each day I've probably drank tons of mosquito larva in our water, said "malo e lelei" twenty or so times as well as answered "alu ki fe?" many times (where are you going?), boiled water about 3 times, lit 2 or 3 mosquito coils and applied tons of mosquito spray, kicked out the puppies and cat many times from our house, and checked the market and stores for anything new and exciting. Some of these things are just really repetitive everyday here.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Social life in Ha'apai

This last weekend we decided to invite everyone over to our house for dinner, we made a couple of pizzas with green peppers, pineapple from the market, onions, and also made pasta with a seasoned butter sauce and bruschetta. There were 9 of us altogether, it’s fun to get together with people here since there’s not much else to do. Grant from the outer island was in for the weekend so he stayed at our place, and Alicia and Sarah made it into town for the dinner. The hardest part about having a lot of people over is the glass beer bottles, you can't burn them! So we just rinse them out and store them under the sink for now, they're really hard to get rid of here. On the main island there's a recycling program for glass, but not here in Ha'apai.

The next day me and Alicia went snorkeling on the beach right outside our house. I’d heard there was a lot of dead coral from all the boat traffic, we weren’t seeing much and it even started to rain on us. But then it cleared up and once we got out to the edge of the reef where it dropped off to about 15 or 20 feet it was a lot better than we’d expected! There were tons of little colorful fish, the bright blue ones that shimmer in the sun and swim in big groups, angel fish, and some bigger fish as well. And there was a lot of new brightly colored coral growing on top of the old dead coral, with lots of little passageways and tunnels. We went at low tide, so actually had to walk way out, it was too shallow to swim. It’s really cool that all this is right out our back door at our beach here! Brian from the scuba shop that we know and Phil went out spear fishing that day as well, so they brought over a bunch of fish we cooked up that night. Brett got the spear made for his spear gun so this week or weekend he might try going fishing on the reef. The spear gun is made like a sling shot with a piece of wood and rubber, and then there’s a long metal pole that has a point carved on the end that gets shot out. It takes a lot of practice to start getting fish.

We’ve almost been at site now in Ha’apai for 3 months now, mid-march!! Some changes I’ve noticed in us adjusting to life here now - we’re not scared to walk around barefoot in our sandy yard that’s covered in broken glass anymore, I don’t flinch anymore from the huge bees that fly in and out of places all the time, we’re used to cold showers, we have a routine for getting water from our sima vie outside, and we can cook quite a lot with the few ingredients available here.