Thursday, October 8, 2009

One year

Exactly one year ago today we arrived in the Kingdom of Tonga, fresh Peace Corps trainees. The air felt so thick and heavy in the heat, the smells were all foreign - animals, dust, burning garbage, heavy perfume; the language was unintelligible, we had no idea what we were getting into. We were surprised at seeing pigs and chickens in the streets, and Nuku'alofa seemed like a shanty-town. The outfits seemed hilarious - men in skirts and woven mats and strings tied around womens' waists. We were scared of eating the local food, thinking we'd get sick, and we were scared to hold the children or get close to any animals for fear of lice/parasites.

(one year ago at the Tongatapu international airport)

Now Tonga is our second home. We've acclimated to the heat (although it is still very hot in the summer!). We contribute to the smell of burning garbage and speak/understand some of the language, Brett better than I. We often chase pigs away from our house, just part of our normal routines. And now Nuku'alofa is the big city- the place where you can get haircuts, eat at italian, chinese, and korean restaurants, and shop at a grocery store with real food. The traffic there seems fast-paced and busy to us. And now we were these silly Tongan clothes - ta'ovala and kiekie. We eat almost anything brought to us by our neighbors, and most of the time end up just fine with no sickness. We've learned how to cook a lot of things from scratch and can husk open coconuts. Now we move along with the slow island pace here.

It's interesting to look back at how we first were compared to how we are now in our community in Ha'apai. When we first moved to our island in Ha'apai we kept space to ourselves and enjoyed our own independence and not interdependence in the community. We had our own space in our house, wanted peace and quiet in our yard, had our own food, etc. We would keep the neighbor kids at a distance outside our door, we didn't understand why everyone shared our sima vie (water tank), we debated about sharing tools, food, etc. with the neighbors. It was just stressful to fight the Tongan culture at work and at home, not having privacy and sharing everything. But now it's become a part of us. Now the neighbor kids run in and out of our house freely, swinging in our hammock (as long as they have pants on, that's our one rule) and playing with whatever's on our bookshelf. Ana and Sailosi, our neighbors stop in whenever to use the Internet, talk or sometimes just to have a nap on our floor. The dogs also nap inside now, we're not so worried about fleas or things anymore. If the neighbors ask to borrow anything we give without hesitation. Because we know they do the same for us. There is still a lot of Tongan culture that we don't understand or agree with, but we've found a good blend of incorporating some Tongan ways into our own culture here. And of course it helps that we have great neighbors and friends here.

A few updates, it was recently Tonga's Teacher appreciation day. The kids all gave presents to the teachers, and Brett got a little black purse, a bottle of perfume, and 3 bars of soap! It's the class 6 exam next Tues. and Wed., this determines what high school the kids will attend so it's a huge deal. I just started computer classes with the class 6 students from the Wesleyn church school. It went a lot better than I would have guessed, the students were all great and fast learners. We did some computer basics and some English games. And the Tongan teacher was really helpful too. I'm going to expand these classes to more primary schools once the exam is finished. Animal news - the pigs once again got into our water, this time our city water pipes. They completely bit through it so we have no water in the house until it gets fixed, hopefully soon. Ha'apai is also out of propane gas now for cooking, thankfully we still have some in our tank. Since the Princess Ashika tragedy, they're stricter on boat regulations and won't allow propane gas to be shipped along with passengers on the boat. We're not sure how we'll get gas here now, but heard rumors that they'll start bringing another ferry for cargo only.

Brett and I are heading out on an island trip tomorrow to Ha'afeva for a week. The ministry of education is taking a boat around to all the islands to transfer teachers to different schools on all the inhabitated islands in Ha'apai, they don't want the teachers giving their kids the exam so they all have to move around. So we decided to go on this trip and visit some of the Peace Corps volunteers that live out there. Unfortunately we'll miss the arrival of the new group of Peace Corps volunteers, they're getting here to Ha'apai on Monday to start their homestays and training but will be here until the beginning of December so we'll have plenty of time to see them. New trainees - training is the hardest part of Peace Corps just remember that during your homestays. We'll be back in a week with stories from the outer islands!


blee2541 said...

Hey Kate:

I just asked Kelly Roberts about you this morning, and it turns out it's your one year anniversary in Tonga. Weird. Hope you're doing well!

Bill Lee

Kate and Brett said...

Hey, thanks for the message Bill! Hope everyone's doing well at CL! It seems like a long time ago that I was there, and the work I'm doing now is so different - very slow compared to the fast paced projects at the agency.


Anonymous said...

i like that brett got a purse and perfume :)