Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The ants come marching one by one... US Navy has arrived!!

It's been a busy couple of days here in Ha'apai, the US Navy has arrived for their humanitarian Pacific aid mission. There are about 200 of them, US, Australian and New Zealand navy, and some civilians they recruited as doctors or different specialists. They are doing construction on some of the government schools in Ha'apai, doing medical, dental, and optometry clinics and giving away hundreds of eyeglasses and toothebrushes, doing clinics on first aid, CPR, nutrition, food sanitation, and they also have a team of veterinarians. So it's crazy with all these things going on here, and they're here for two whole weeks in Ha'apai! They also have smaller teams going out to three of the outer islands.They came on Monday, it was storming and rainy out and they just unloaded equipment. Then yesterday we had the big opening ceremony at the high school, with the commadore of the US Navy as the special guest along with one other navy official, and a few Tongans on stage in chairs covered in tapa cloths. It was reallly well decorated with lots of mats and tapa cloths covering the stage and floor, and chairs set up on the sides, the middle was covered in mats for the school kids to sit on. They had some opening speeches, the commadore spoke about their pacific aid mission, and two schools did ta'alunga dances with Sara and Alicia, peace corps volunteers. At the end they had the navy band playing and all the kids were dancing around with them.

For these next couple of weeks the navy is here I'm going to mostly be helping out at MAFFF (ministry of agriculture, forestry, food and fisheries) where I work. The navy is holding clinics there for the veterinarians and for food sanitation and nutrition with the local farmers and women's groups in different villages. I'll help with any cultural information and a little translation if needed. I had to explain some things to the navy this morning - they had all our Tongan staff together and asked for their input and what they wanted to learn right away. And of course, in group settings and with foreigners Tongans are shy to speak up on their opinions and defer to the eldest or person of the highest level. So they were all quiet and deffered to the officer in charge of MAFFF. We'll also get our dog Lucky fixed so she won't have puppies, she followed me there this morning to the informational meeting and the US navy people loved her and were playing with her and Simba (neighbor's dog).

After my meeting at MAFFF today I went to Brett's school, the navy was doing their first visit to his school today so they had a whole program planned to welcome them and thank them for doing construction on the school - a new roof and walls, basically a new building! They had flower leis for all the navy people who were there, and tents set up in the rugby field, and a dj/music system. There were some speeches - including Brett giving a thank you speech, tongan music and dancing, and the US Navy band. When the band played all the kids got up and started dancing, then were joined by a lot of the navy so it turned into a big dance party! Then the navy had a helicopter land on the rugby field, and the kids all got to take turns getting into the helicopter and looking around in it! They loved it.

The other huge news is that we've opened the Internet cafe at the Ha'apai Training Center I've been working at!! It's amazing that we got this accomplished, and the Internet's running fast. Today was the first day we put up a big painted sign and opened, we've had about ten customers already and a lot of the navy wants to use it. We also have wireless so people can bring in laptops, which is what I'm doing.

So it has been a busy couple of days, and will be busy until the end of next week!! But it's really exciting seeing all the work being done and being able to be a part of it all helping out where we can. It's really crazy seeing so many palangis - foreign people in our little town of Pangai. Our local restaurant/bar was packed last night with uniformed navy men and a few women.

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