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Just like always, it has been a while since we posted. Unfortunately this post is a sad one. Lara and I recently had to leave our Peace Corps service in Tonga due to financial concerns in the states. Although we we were doing good things and we had come to love the people in Tonga and our fellow Peace Corps volunteers, we had no choice but to resign our service. It was a decision that took us a very long time to make.
Tonga will always be a great memory for us. We will miss all the Tongans and Volunteers that we became so close with the last year and a half. We want to thank everyone who supported us through our little adventure by keeping in touch and sending care packages with the wonderful things that reminded us of home.
So, now we are back in Portland trying to figure out where to go from here. I don’t think there could be a worse time to come back to the states. Even though we are incredibly happy to be in a country without a Bush in office, the economy and unemployment is pretty terrible. Whether we stay in Portland or go back to Hawaii where the weather is more suited to our tastes remains to be seen.
So, I guess I just want to say good luck to all of the volunteers still serving in Tonga and around the world. I hope you are enjoying your service and know that people are thinking about you wherever you may be.
Here is a little article that my school wrote for their website about our leaving. http://www.tti.to/index.php/the-news/75-toni.html
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Amazing how long it takes us to get blog posts up. Well I feel we need to finish writing about Fiji before we move on to more current events that are shaping our lives. After spending two nights outside of Rakiraki, we had some planning to do and had left a couple days open for anything. I was really hoping to go to the island Ovalau where the original British government had been established. It is supposed to be quite historic, beautiful, quiet, and very inexpensive to stay. The harbor to get to the island was way off the beaten track, but was easily doable by bus, we just had to find out what the boat schedule was like. After living in Tonga for almost a year and a half, you never really know what is going on with the boats and if you can rely on them to be at a certain place at a certain time. In fact, sometimes there isn’t a boat to be found due to repairs, rough seas, etc… So, we finally got a phone book and started calling hotels on the island, as well as the shipping line that sent boats there. We finally got a hold of someone at a hotel who proceeded to tell us that it was Boxing Day and the boat wouldn’t be running, but would the next day…maybe. Boxing Day!!! I forgot that was even a holiday (Sorry Alan and Kathleen and our peaceful neighbors to the North). Well, that left us with only one night to go there, and with the knowledge that the boat may not be back to a regular schedule, we started looking elsewhere.
There was an island right off the North coast Nananu I Ra that we had researched prior to arriving in Fiji. It had several lodges on it, and after calling alost all of them, we finally reached the Safari Lodge. After inquiring about the rates, and thinking they were a little high for us, we finally asked them if they gave a Peace Corps discount. This becomes regular practice when you are a poor volunteer, and low and behold, they gave us a huge discount. Off to the wharf we went. After a short and beautiful boat ride with our trusty captain and who was soon to become our Fiji guide for the next couple of days, we arrived.
We decided to give this place a try for one night and if we liked it, we could stay two. When we arrived at the island, we realized hardly anyone was staying at the lodge. After hiking up a very steep track with switchbacks, we arrived at our destination. The view was breathtaking, and we had the place to ourselves. We instantly proceeded to inform them that we would be there for two nights. After the pushiness and all the tourists in Nadi, we had all the peace we could want. We also had a full kitchen, a huge deck with bar-b-q and a nice little double room.
The Safari Lodge was known as a surfing lodge, specifically a wind surfing lodge. They had tons of kite boards and wind surfing boards for use. Although we didn’t take advantage of this because we were too busy being lazy and enjoying our privacy, it was a nice addition to the lodge. Well, the two nights we stayed at Safari were wonderful to say the least. We could even see the beautiful view while we were taking a shower. The only problem was that the generator for the lodge was turned off around 10 pm and that meant the fan in our room stopped. Otherwise it was great.
The next day, we were off to meet back up with Karen and Scot in Pacific Harbor on the South side of the island to go river rafting on the upper Navua river. The bus ride from Rakiraki to Suva was supposed to be quite the bumpy and possibly long ride, but we were looking forward to it. Getting the bus schedule in Fiji on this occasion was much like finding out the boat schedule in Tonga. We were taken to the bus stop a little earlier than the bus was supposed to arrive and ending up waiting about an hour an a half. Fortunate for us we had entertainment. Across the street we noticed some people with a goat out in their yard. We were curious what they were doing and speculated that they may be selling it or going to eat it. Sure enough, a big knife came out and after a couple cuts and a big chop, goat curry!!! Surprisingly enough, Lara seemed to crave goat curry after this incident.
The bus ride to Suva was beautiful and seemed to be going quite quickly. We didn’t understand what everyone had been talking about the road until we had gone about half way. Instantly the road turned to a bumpy, muddy mess. It beat my spine and bounced my bladder around until I thought I wouldn’t be able to last the whole ride. The road crossed over rivers every so often, and the bridges were made of wood with no sides and very questionable looking. The good thing was that this ride was very beautiful as well. It was incredibly tropical, like the windward side of Hawaii, and we passed through many cute little villages. It seemed a different world than that of busy Nadi and Lautoka. Surprisingly enough, the road was bad for only the middle third, and from what I gathered, we made pretty good time.
We arrived in Pacific Harbor unscathed and rested until the next morning early when we were to meet Scot and Karen for our rafting trip. I seem to ramble on about so many silly things when I blog that I don’t want to make this into a three part series, so I will try to be more brief. Needless to say, the rafting trip was one of the highlights of the trip. We have such a good time with S&K and the trip was incredible. There were some good rapids, tons of waterfalls that we went right under, and a good chunk of river where we all jumped in and just floated. Our guide was a Fijian guy from the local village who told stories the whole trip. He gave us some good info about the Fijian way of life, and we discussed the differences between his culture and the Tongan culture.
After a rafting, it was back on the road to Korotogo to meet up with our great friends Jarl and Nechele who were coming from the states to meet us. Seemed like we were moving non-stop now, but were incredibly excited to see Nechele and Jarl. They were staying at the luxurious Outrigger hotel which was out of our price range, so we ended staying at a place a few blocks away that S & K had recommended. Although it was no Outrigger, it was a great little place, and somewhere we could unpack and settle into for the next five nights.
You know when you haven’t seen someone in quite a while, but when you do, it is like it was just yesterday. That was how meeting up with J & N was. They are such good friends, that we were able to fall right back into the place we had left it at. Of course we all had stories to tell of what had happened in the last year and a half, but good friends are always good friends. We had a great time with them. We took them to the local market to show them how we shop and to some local Indian restaurants to try out the local cuisine. It was a little bit like giving them a little view on how we live in Tonga. Except there is so much more to offer in Fiji.
We went fishing on New Year’s Eve day, and what an incredible day it was. The water was like a lake, and the weather was incredible, or it started that way. Immediately out, we came across a pod of Pilot whales, and then proceeded to see flying fish and all sorts of marine life. It seemed to be teaming with life, and that was only the start. I don’t think I have ever been on a fishing charter as good as this one in my life. The captain and the first mate really knew there stuff. We trolled for big yellow fin, with no luck, and then we spotted them. There were huge schools of skip jack tuna, and we headed straight for them. It was amazing at how many where in the water, and how quick they could change direction and be gone. Every time we went through the school, both poles we had in hooked a fish. It was great fishing as we were now fishing with light tackle. After catching our fill of skip jack, they took us bottom fishing. Of course we had to jump in the water to cool off first, which later we would think was crazy. As soon as we started fishing, the captain starting talking about shark and how there was a big one down there. Needless to say, we lost many hook ups to something incredibly large, and Lara and Nechele even caught two smaller sharks. This is all within feet of where we jumped into the water to swim. After the shark scenario, we took off to fish right off the reef for trevally. Now I have to say this was probably my most notable fishing ever. I hooked a giant trevally about 35lbs on light gear. It took me about 15 minutes to get it in and was just amazing.
New Year’s we had a great dinner with Jarl and Nechele at their hotel, but everyone was so wiped from fishing, that no one felt in the mood to celebrate, even though wine and beer were free with the buffet. Oh well, it was a great day with great friends. After our five days of hanging with J & N by their pool, by our pool, by their fale, we were off to Nadi for our last two nights. Yeah, I am almost done with this story. It was sad to leave our friends, but we were so incredibly grateful that they chose to fly all the way and share that time with us. Thanks Nechele and Jarl!!!
So, back on the bus. We had chosen to stay at a nice place the last couple of nights. The Vale Ni Tadra or “House of Dreams” was our destination. It was a homestay, something we had yet to experience in our travels. It is staying in someone’s luxury home and enjoying all the ammeneties of a house with none of the hotel feel. It was a beautiful house with a beautiful pool and nice lanais where you could just kick back and relax. The owner would cook dinner every night, and if you wanted to eat, you just had to let her know. We were very happy with our selection. The first night we went into Fiji to meet up with Scot and Karen and also to meet a couple other volunteers who were in Fiji. We had a lovely Indian dinner, and then went to a couple of terrible clubs. At least that is what Scot and I thought. Places you couldn’t hear yourself think, let alone have a conversation. Anyway, it was a good night, and we were hoping to come back to Suva the next day to stock up on some stuff to bring back to Tonga with us. The next day came, and we couldn’t pull our selves away from the side of the pool. We just relaxed by the pool, had some cold drinks, and finished the day off with an amazing crab curry and some great company. Next day it was back to Tonga. Ok, I think I am finished finally, I hope you have enough patience to get this far in the post. Next post will hopefully feature more current information. Bula!!!!
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So, it has been sometime since our last post, and quite a bit has past since Obama become president-elect and that swim in the Neiafu harbor. At this point I am at a loss of where to start, but I guess I will start back before Thanksgiving.
The month was November in the year of 2008….ha ha. Every year the Peace Corps staff provides turkeys to the volunteers for Thanksgiving. Last year, a good majority of the volunteers and our group who were still in training were in Vava’u and had a big celebration with all the volunteers, trainees and PC staff. This year was a little different. The trainees were divided up and sent to different island groups to attach to a current volunteer to get that “day in the life” feel of a Peace Corps volunteer. So, the PC administration sent turkeys to all the different island groups as well as a box of parts??….because turkeys are very expensive here in Tonga. So, here in Tongatapu we had about 20+ people for Thanksgiving and just didn’t think one turkey would be enough, so we ended up chipping in and buying another. The problem was that there was nowhere to hold the feast, and the country director was leaving for the holiday.. In the end, Lara and I decided that our house was the best place to hold the holiday feast. Unfortunately, we don’t have an oven, and I had two 15 lb turkeys to prepare and cook. There are two ovens at the PC office, so I decided to cook them there the morning of Thanksgiving while Lara was at work preparing for a conference in Fiji that she would be attending the next week. All the trainees and Tongatapu volunteers showed up with side dishes, drinks and even ice cream for dinner, but none of the Tongan staff we had invited showed up. That is very odd because Tongans don’t usually pass up an invitation to eat. Anyway, all the food was prepared, and Poki our faithful Unitarian Universalist led us in a very Unitarian prayer which included everyone stating what they were thankful for. To make a potentially long story short, I think everyone got enough to eat, including leftovers, and all in all a successful Thanksgiving. We definitely missed spending the holidays with family and friends back home though.
The week after Thanksgiving, Lara and her co-worker from the Ministry of Lands and Survey went to Suva for the annual SOPAC conference. SOPAC is the regional geo-spatial organization in the South Pacific. Her and her co-worker were to present on projects that the Ministry was working on here in Tonga. I think it went very well from what Lara told me, and she had a great time in Suva. Lara hung out with the Tongan community in Suva, but it took a while for them to figure out why Lara spent so much time with a 6 ft + Tongan woman and spoke in Tongan all the time. Once they figured things out, they took very good care of her. The funny thing was that we were to return to Fiji two weeks from the day she returned from there. Anyways, she was able to scout out some good restaurants and bars in Suva for when we returned.
The highlight of the holiday season for Lara and I had to be our vacation in Fiji. We were headed there on the 20th of December with another PC couple, Scot and Karen. Although we flew in with them and were planning the first three nights with them, we had different itineraries for our vacation. We also flew in with Phil, a volunteer in the Ha’apai group who had a 26 hour layover and then was off to Hawaii to visit his son and take a much needed break. Of course the week before we left dragged on and on, and I was trying to finish up the last of my grading so I could relax on vacation. It was quite an unbearable week.
Our first three nights were spent in Nadi. We were to find out soon that Nadi was one of the most touristy cities in Fiji and that Fiji had much more to offer. Regardless, we were very happy to be somewhere else and excited to travel a new country. We stayed in a small backpacker place which was affiliated with a larger nicer resort next to it. Although our rooms were pretty basic, they had air conditioning that we blasted the whole time we were there. So nice to be able to come out of the humidity into a nice cool room, something I hadn’t experienced in sometime. The first night we had dinner with Scot, Karen and Phil at a little quiet place down the street from the hotel. It was incredible food compared to what we were used to, or maybe it was just different. Nonetheless we enjoyed our first meal and cold Fiji Bitters in Fiji. The next day, Lara, Phil and I took a long walk on the beach to check out the surroundings. It in no way compared with the wonderful beaches we were accustomed to in Hawaii, but the views of the outer islands was definitely beautiful. After our walk, and for the next few days we hung out by the beach or pool of the neighboring hotel. The only way I could describe it would be “over stimulation”. There were all these young people running around in either small bikinis or surf shorts with no shirts drinking beer. We felt very old for one thing, and after coming from a conservative society like Tonga, we felt everyone else was very under dressed. Also, in Nadi town, we were harassed by craft salesman and followed by people trying to get us to come into stores or restaurants. It was overwhelming. We did get to see the Hindu temple in Nadi, which is very beautiful and had some pretty good food. It was an interesting introduction for our holiday.
After three nights in Nadi, Lara and I were separating from Scot and Karen. We were going North, and there were heading along the South coast for more beach. Our first stop was Lautoka, the second largest city in Fiji. Although we only stayed one night in Lautoka, we both really enjoyed Lautoka. There was plenty of shopping, a great marketplace, and some of the best Indian food I have ever had in my life. Lara kept suggesting vegetarian Indian food, and I usually prefer a little meat in my food, so I wasn’t completely convinced. After that first meal, I was sold. It was so delicious and spicy that I craved it for the rest of the trip. The hotel we stayed in was described as “a fine aged beer”, and I was sold on staying. It ended up having quite a bit of character, as well as a big front lanai we could sit on and watch the town go by. That night we met a Fijian woman who worked on one of the resort islands and was waiting for some guests. After hanging out with her, she had somehow convinced Lara to go to a local nightclub. I was not interested, and Mr. Bean was on TV! Mr. Bean I say, why would I want to leave that after not having TV for a year and a half? After poking and prodding, I broke down and went. Lara of course has a different opinion of the club, but I thought it painful to say the least. It was dark, incredibly loud, and a little uncomfortable. I sulked over a couple of beers and eventually convinced Lara that we should get going, especially after our new found Fijian friend had left. The next day, Christmas Eve in fact, we were headed up to the Northern most point of Viti Levu, the main island we were traveling on to a village called Rakiraki. By the way, everywhere we went, we went by bus. Fiji has a pretty incredible bus system. Unfortunately, only sometimes do they run on a schedule. Being that it was Christmas Eve, they weren’t leaving until the bus was full, and I mean full. Although, the bus was full, and a large Fijian woman decided to fall asleep on my shoulder, it was a beautiful ride. Fiji is very mountainous and very green, much like Hawaii. Also, Lara kept me entertained with all the interesting Indian snacks she bought at the cart in the bus station. After 3.5 hours, we arrived at Rakiraki, which was supposed to be a village. This so called village had almost as much to offer as the capital city of Tonga that we live in. It was pretty amazing, that people referred to this as a village. We stayed in a hotel outside of town about 8 kilometers (yes kilometers). Christmas was a quiet affair for us this year. None of the exchanging of gifts, Christmas trees, or mom’s ham and cheese croissants. We did visit the beach on Christmas, and although it was raining when we arrived, it turned out to be quite a pleasant day. Once again I will say that Fiji is an incredibly beautiful place, and it was much less touristy after we left Nadi.
Well, I have to cut this short since this is only part 1. Yes, I do know that we are out of date on what is going on with us, but we have honestly be pretty busy or distracted lately (even though we are volunteers) I will finish the second part soon and get on to more current events. Also, we have posted some new photos on the Picasa account. There is a link at the bottom left side of our blog that says “other photos” or something like that.
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Recently, Lara and I just spent a week and a half on the island of Vava’u, North of Tongatapu. We went up there to assist with the training of the new group of Peace Corps Trainees as well as a little bit of a holiday. We were going to stay with our friend Steve, a volunteer up in Vava’u for our time there. We arrived Saturday, and as soon as we got to Steve’s house, we were off to the wharf where we were to catch a boat for a day of sailing with the other volunteers who live and serve in Vava’u. Vava’u is a huge sailing destination for the yachty crowd since The Port of Refuge is one of the safest harbors in the South Pacific. Because of this, many of the volunteers have become friendly with many of the yachtys and are able to charter boats for a pretty reasonable rate. So, off we went in the sailboat with about 14 volunteers, 5 JICA (Japanese) volunteers and 1 Australian Youth Ambassador. Surprisingly enough, the captain of the boat was from Hawaii and had relocated for a slower pace of life in Tonga. It was nice to have another haole from Hawaii on the boat with us. This was a huge treat for us as we haven’t been on a sailboat in some time and we haven’t seen many of the Vava’u volunteers for some time either. We had to cruise around with the engine on for a while because there was no wind, but once we left the harbor, the wind picked up and our able bodied captain rose the sails to harness the wind. We sailed for a while until we arrived at Port Maurelle, off the island of Otea and set anchor. For the next few hours we swam, snorkeled, and just floated around in the water enjoying the beautiful day. I must say that Peace Corps service in the South Pacific can be very stressful at times like these….ha ha…
After a wonderful day of sailing with good friends, we had to prepare for our training sessions the following week. Lara and I, along with some other volunteers were helping the medical staff with a nutrition session. We discussed the availability of different foods on all of the different islands, what we generally ate, and ended it up with some demonstrations on how to prepare and use locally grown food crops. It was a good session and the trainees seemed to have quite a few questions, especially for Grant, who lives on an outer island in Ha’apai whose diet consists mainly of fish and root crops. The differences in the diets from those of us who serve on Tongatapu and those who serve on outer islands is vastly different, due to the availability of fresh produce and foreign products sold in the stores in Nuku’alofa and Neiafu in Vava’u. Lara also presented in a business session having to do with successful projects and project planning. Later, I did a session on business concepts in the Tongan context with several other current volunteers. All in all, I think the sessions were successful, and we were able to shed a little light on serving as PCVs in the Kingdom. It was also quite an honor to be asked to participate in the training of the new group, it also got us up to Vava’u for a little bit of fun with the other volunteers.
After the sailing and training, we were looking forward to watching the election returns on CNN International at a Mango bar and restaurant, a local watering spot right on the water in Neiafu. Our friends Steve and James had arranged the training to be re-scheduled so that all of the new trainees, volunteers as well as the Tongan training staff could watch this history making election. It was great to share this day with all of the Peace Corps volunteers as well as many other Americans in Tonga who showed up to watch the results. The restaurant even hung an American flag and had American specials for the day, including hot dogs, of course.. Everyone (except a few republicans) were clapping and cheering everytime a state returned for Obama, and when he was announced the new president, the place went crazy. During the McCain speech, the whole place went silent, you could hear a pin drop. Most of the crowd was satisfied with his speech, but for some, it left a bad taste in their mouth. Either way, the good thing was that he was not going to become our new president. During the Obama speech, it was quiet besides the occasional cheer for Obama. Immediately following Obama’s speech, the crowd of Peace Corps starting plunging off the dock into the harbor fully clothed to celebrate the win. It was an incredible day that made many of us, once again, very happy to be Americans.. The day ended with the waitresses moving the tables, turning up the music and everyone started dancing…… Let’s hope the next four to eight years are just as happy for us as Americans.
Well, our trip was only half over by this time, and the volunteers had arranged a camping trip and a day of cruising around in a boat the next day with the new trainees. Last year the volunteers had arranged a day of swimming, snorkeling and site-seeing in the islands and it was wonderful. They wanted to do the same for the new trainees this year. So, on Friday, Steve, Stan, Lara, Sarah, Scott, Grant, and myself got a ride out to the island of Lotuma for a night of camping before the boat trip on Saturday. Lotuma is an old Navy base that isn’t used anymore, and a place the Vava’u volunteers had camped before. Before we left, we checked the weather and realized that it was forecast to rain. No big deal, it often rains in the South Pacific, and it was only 30% chance. So, after some swimming and some dinner by the campfire, it started to sprinkle a little bit. No big deal, we moved under the shelter of an old defunct Navy building until the rain started getting really heavy. We all jumped in our tents and were hammered by wind, rain, lightning and thunder for the next 6-8 hours. Unfortunately, all of us but Scot were using cheap tents that eventually started leaking. I think all but Scot slept in water for a good portion of the night. I guess the good thing was that we live in the South Pacific, and even with all the rain and wind, it still wasn’t very cold. The bad thing was that the boat trip for Saturday, which was also our ride back to the main island was canceled by Peace Corps due to the weather and high seas. So, with no ride back and everyone soaked to the bone, we were stranded on a deserted island. Fortunately, the volunteers knew many people with boats and were able to secure a ride back to the main island with someone who ran one of the dive shops in Neiafu. The weather didn’t stop for another 24 hours and we were all happy to be back in the safety of Steve’s house.
On Monday, we returned to Tongatapu to get back to our regular volunteer life. It was a great trip and a needed holiday for Lara and I. We can’t wait to get back up there to see all the volunteers we rarely see and to get back out sailing again. Thanks to Steve who had to put up with us the whole time, we appreciate it!! There are some pictures of our sailing trip and visit to Vava’u on the Picassa site.
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In the last couple of weeks since our last post, some significant things have happened here in Tonga. First of all, the arrival of the new training group, group 74 arrived. This seems like a big milestone for our service here in Tonga, since it has been a little over a year since we arrived. It also feels a little like we are passing the torch to the new trainees. Just like we did, the new group has brought all sorts of energy as well as questions and concerns. We have since settled into our sites and are living our everyday volunteers lives, and it is nice to see the energy they bring with them. The arrival of the group was anticipated for many months, and communication between current volunteers and the new training group was fairly extensive. Unlike Lara and I, many of the new trainees contacted current volunteers to ask questions about Tonga and what to prepare and pack. A large group of current volunteers met the new group at the airport with signs and banners, and provided kahoas (Tongan leis) when they exited the terminal. We remember the welcome we received at the airport as a great experience after such a long flight, and wanted to provide the same for them. After a week in Nuku’alofa, the group headed up to Vava’u to continue their training while staying with their first homestay family. Many of us will participate with training over the next ten weeks.
In other news, Lara and I with a group of friends recently went to a resort on one of the outer islands that we have not visited yet. It is called the Royal Sunset Island Resort on the island of Atata. It is about an hour boat ride from the wharf in Nuku’alofa. It is also very expensive, and as a volunteer, we were only able to afford a day trip (including lunch) to the island. It is a little different than the other islands that have resorts on them, as it actually contains a Tongan village rather than just the resort. In fact, the Peace Corps has placed volunteers in the village on the island at different times.
Anyway, our good friends Scot and Karen, and Joe and Cory came to enjoy the day with us. I should also note that this was kind of to celebrate my birthday, but I was more interested in spending a day with good friends checking out something new than I was in celebrating another birthday. The island was incredibly beautiful as well as extremely quiet. The service was very good at the bar/restaurant and the food was so-so. It would be a wonderful way to spend a weekend if we could afford it, but maybe another time when we are rich and famous, and happen to be in Tonga. We all got way too much sun and I am regretting my sunblock decisions or lack of now. You would think after a year in the South Pacific we would all have a nice brown S. Pacific tan, but because the society is so conservative, it is tough to go out and enjoy the sun and water in typical American swimwear.
Last but not least on the memorable things that have happened to us in the last couple of weeks. While enjoying our usual relaxing Sunday of eating, watching movies or videos, napping, all the good things you can do on Sunday here in Tonga, we were hit by an earthquake. The earthquake registered about 7.0 on the richter scale, which is huge by most standards. Fortunately, the quake was centered about 95 miles to the east of us, and quite a few miles below ground. It gave us some pretty good rocking and rolling in our house though. As soon as I felt the quake, I figured the best thing to do was go outside, especially since our house doesn’t live up to the standards of a typical American house, and was worried that if it got worse, it would collapse. As a Peace Corps volunteer, you are supposed to keep an emergency bag packed in case of an emergency (like an earthquake) and you have to leave your house immediately. After going outside, I realized that we didn’t have a bag like that, and all we were wearing were t-shirts and lava-lavas (sarongs). If this would have been a big disastrous earthquake, that would have destroyed our house, we would have been screwed. So, after the quake stopped, we threw together a small emergency bag together just in case of any big aftershocks, or future earthquakes. It is almost cyclone season here as well, so not a bad idea to keep one packed anyway.
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A year ago Saturday we arrived in the Kingdom of Tonga to start our Peace Corps adventure. It really doesn’t seem like a year has passed since we walked off that plane at the grand Fua’amotu International Airport, but it really has. So far, Tonga has been really good to us. Lara is still really enjoying her job, her work mates and continuing her career in the Pacific. I have grown accustomed to teaching at a Tertiary level and have started to get close to my work mates. Life continues to be good for the both of us. We have made some friends here that we consider life long friends, even though we have only known them for a year, and some our located on distant islands. It seems that being in the Peace Corps draws you closer to the people you are sharing the experience with. We have also met many wonderful people including some Australians, Kiwis (New Zealanders), and definitely some great Tongans we consider good friends.
As I said, it really doesn’t seem like a year has passed here in Tonga, but when I think back, alot has actually happened since we left the US. We have visited almost all the island groups, taken a holiday to New Zealand, seen and participated in many cultural events, and saw a new King be coronated. I guess it doesn’t feel quite as signifiacnt when you are living in a country and it is happening around you, but I guess it really is.
What does come into the topic of conversation almost daily though is what is happening back in the old US of A. The bubble finally broke and the economy is in the toilet. I am not sure how this is affecting all of our friends and family back home, but it seems to us in the Pacific that the US is falling apart. Then there is the election that is coming up. I guess it would be considered the biggest election ever, at least in our lifetimes. After 8 years of George Bush, you would think the US would be ready for a big change, but it seems that there are still many people who refuse to acknowledge the fact that the US has really gone the wrong way, starting with the Iraq war. You tend to look at these things differently when you are living in more of an International setting. People all over the world follow the economy and the politics of the US, maybe more than a good percentage of Americans. What happens in the US definitely has an impact on people all over the world.
So, the election. I have a friend who is so into this election that it will decide what she and her husband do after they get out of the Peace Corps. In fact, I think there are many people who state that they will not return to the US if John McCain and his clearly under qualified VP candidate get elected. I think if family and friends of Peace Corps volunteers want to see their loved ones return to the states, they really need to make a decision on what is best for the US, more of George Bush policies and unjustified wars, or a change in the way the US is viewed on an International scale. I would bet that if the elections were held in the International community, Barack Obama would win by a landslide. People around the world want to view the US as the great place it once was, not as the greedy warmongering country it has become. Ok, so I may not be the most informed on what the situation is in the US, or the views of Americans on the election, but I still have opinions about the situation that were beginning to form way before we left for Tonga.
OK, that is about all I have to say about the politcal situation except, go Obama!
Anyway, for our year celebration, we went one of the most Palangi (white, touristy) restaurants in Nuku’alofa with our good friends Scot and Karen. We had a great dinner, although overpriced for volunteers, and some great conversation and reflection on the past year and the year to come. Then Sunday, Lara and I went with a group of Australians, Kiwis, and some Tongans on a kayak trip. I think the total distance may have ended up being about 20 kilometers. We stopped at three different islands that sit off the coast of Nuku’alofa and had a bbq on Pangaimotu. the resort island that sits just off the coast. We brought our camera, but like usual, the batteries were dead and we were unable to get any pictures. Hopefully someone else will forward us theirs. It was a great end to a great year!! OK, so I need to state that we have been in Tonga for a year, but only 10 months into our service. We are scheduled to complete our service in December of 2009. Even though, it was still a date that needed celebrating. On Thursday of this week, 25 new Peace Corps trainees arrive in country to start where we did a year ago. The excitement over the new group has been building for several months now, and we are all looking forward to the energy a new group brings to the community.
We hope all of our friends and family our doing well back home. We miss and think about you all very often. Keep in touch!
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So, we haven’t been posting lately probably due to the fact that we are lazy!! ha ha. I know we haven’t posted about the coronation and events preceding it yet, and I am pretty sure that we won’t get to it. I will mention a little here though. There was about a week and a half full of events prior to the coronation which is called Heilala week. Heilala is actually the week celebrating the King’s birthday (the former king). Fortunately, to make all the events fall around the same time, the new king changed his birthday. A little odd, but he is king, so he can do whatever he likes. Heilala consisted of many cultural performances, sporting events, a block party, a beauty contest and many many other things. There was something going on all the time. For Peace Corps volunteers there was the International volunteers day, where all the volunteers set up booths about their organization and did cultural performances either reflecting Tonga or their home country. Those that attended were the JICA (Japanese Volunteers), Australia, and of course the Peace Corps. There was also the parade where the Peace Corps put together a float as well as many volunteers riding their bikes. Both events were great fun. Then of course, the coronation happened (I left many events out) which was the main event. It happened in the church right next to our old house. We moved recently, but that is another story. We were able to just walk out the door and watch the king drive by on his way to the church. Anyway, we posted some pictures (at Picasa) that haven’t been organized or anything yet. I also have some good pics from friends that I haven’t put on their yet either.
As far as recent events…..Many of the group 71 volunteers have finished up their service and headed back to the states. Recently, we had Justin, the last volunteer from group 71 who was posted in Vava’u come through. Since he hadn’t seen much of Tongatapu and had now finished his service, he was legal to drive again. So, we all went in together to rent a car and go eva pe. Eva pe is a phrased often used in Tonga to explain that you are just going, as in nowhere particular. If you are taking a walk and someone should ask you “alu ki fe” you would reply “eva pe”. Very vague, but it does the trick. So, Tuesday afternoon, we all bagged out of work (what, were volunteers!), stopped by the store for snacks and liquid refreshments and were on the road. Being that Tonga is so small, there are not that many things to see, and they can all be seen in a day (or part of). We had somewhat of an itinerary of what we wanted to see and just started cruising. It was odd being in a car with a bunch of other volunteers driving. You get so used to walking or riding your bike that being in a car is somewhat of a novelty.
Our first stop was Captain Cook’s landing site. Actually, I think it was his third landing site in Tonga, but nonetheless he landed there. The site was known for a large banyan tree that he and his men sat underneath when they came ashore. Funny thing, the banyan tree was gone, and in its place was a memorial to commemorate the tree. I have a feeling that it was chopped down piece by piece over the years for firewood, but not sure. Conveniently, another car showed up while we were there and it just happened to be relatives of our first host family. We thought we were getting away from anyone we might know and figured we could act like tourists, but Tonga is too small for that. Next on the list was the terraced Royal Tombs about 2 kilometers up the road. We stopped here for a drink and bathroom break. It was interesting as the tombs and the stairway up to it were falling apart. Not much maintenance for a royal tomb, but the bathrooms were clean and had all the amenities, including TP.
The main event of the day was the Maui Ha’amonga Trilithon. This was Tongan’s version of Stonehenge but much more on the scale of a small South Pacific Island. We had heard that it wasn’t as big as it looked in the pictures, so we weren’t expecting anything too exciting, but it was pretty cool. The blocks weighed anywhere from 40- 50 tons, and were put together pretty well. Funny thing is that it is a national historical site, and they let us climb all over it. No where else in the world would they let someone climb on a national historical site like they did there. There was also another rock at this site that seemed, by the description on the sign, to be a placed where the King would sit. I am not sure why he would sit there, but if anyone came close, he would hit them with a stick. I posted a pic of the sign and you may be able to enlarge it and read it. I just thought it was funny that the king would sit there and hit people with a stick if they came to close. From the ocean near this site, we were able to see the island of Eua’iki, or the birthplace of Kava in the Tongan islands.
After heading to the very Northeast side of the island, we were going to head down the East coast and hit the remaining sites on our way to the very West end where we were planning a sunset drink at a little resort on the beach. On the way down, we stopped at a cave which for some reason I can’t remember it’s name. The cave has a freshwater pool that you can swim in, but it has to be lit with a generator so you can see where you are going. The problem was that it wasn’t such a nice day and a swim didn’t sound that good, and the fact that it cost 10 Pa’anga to enter. Remember that we are volunteers, and 10 Pa’anga is roughly half of what we make in a day. So, we went in to the cave to see a little, but no swimming on this day. Maybe next time we will take a nice dip when the weather is warm and we have Pa’anga lahi. At least we can say we have been there, but not necessarily done that.
Off we went rounding the South shore of the island and heading back up to the Northwest. On the Southwest side of the islands are the blowholes. It stretches for about 5 kilometers (yeah, Kilometers!) up the beach and is pretty spectacular. There are all these table like rocks that spew water up to 30 meters in the air when the tide is right. It was pretty amazing to see, even if it wasn’t at its most spectacular on this day.
The sun was setting, and we needed to get up to the Northwest to have a sunset beer. So, off we went, headed for Liku’alofa resort. Recently, Lara and some friends of ours rode our bikes out there to camp overnight. It is quite beautiful and has a great little bar/restaurant overlooking the ocean. We had picked up another volunteer on the way there to join us in our road trip and to see sunset. We arrived at Liku’alofa and wathced the colors of another beautiful Tongan sunset and relaxed for a while.
During the whole day, we had two main objectives at the end. One was to go pick up our friend Steve who was returning from Australia after a medical visit to Brisbane, and to drop Justin off at the wharf so he could catch his boat back to Vava’u and get ready to leave Tonga. Steve was arriving at 8 pm, and before we knew it, the time was 7:30 and it was about an hour drive to the airport. Generally in Tonga, you can’t really count on domestic flights arriving on time, they get there when they get there (sometimes the next day), but International flights are generally pretty dependable. So, we figured by the time we got there, Steve would be through customs and just exiting the airport and we would be there to greet him. Well, no such luck tonight, the plane was delayed by three hours, and we had to get Justin to the boat. So, after dropping Justin off at the wharf and considering going back to the airport, we all crashed instead. It had been a long day, but a great experience with some great friends. We can finally say that we have seen almost all of the island we live on. Check out some of the pictures we uploaded to picassa. we still need to organize them, and there are more to add, but they are finally up.
Ofa ‘atu, Lola mo Toni