Lola & Toni in the Tonga

Rain, Rain, Rain, but no water?
March 26, 2008, 5:04 am
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Water in Tonga is an interesting thing.  There is a city water service if you live in an area where it is provided.  There are wells and pumps in rural areas, and there are what we call sima vais on most houses.  A sima vai is a rain water collection tank that you can get fresh drinking water from.  It is collected from the roof of most houses through the gutter and piped to the tank.  Since city water can be expensive, and it also tastes pretty bad, sima vais are the best way to go.  You get fresh, good tasting water for free.  Luckily, our house has a sima vai with a pump to provide pressure to the house.  Some houses you have to go fill up containers from the simas and bring it in the house to use.  The only thing we use city water for is the toilet.

Right now we are in the hot, rainy season in Tonga.  It rains here quite a bit, and when I say rain, I mean huge tropical downpours.  This is a wonderful because it fills our sima vais up for the dry season, where it still rains, just not as much.  Recently, it has been raining quite a bit, so we have not worried about our water supply.  In fact, we had a record rainfall day where more than 11 inches fell in about 8 hours.  It flooded many businesses, and took many days to dry up, but we were rolling in water, or so we thought.

So, one day last week I was taking a shower, and much to my surprise, the water pressure went way down.  I couldn’t understand what it might be until the neighbor mentioned that my sima must be dry.  No way, couldn’t be dry after all the rain we have had.  Sure enough, I climbed up on top and popped the lid open to find that it was in fact dry!!  How could this be, we were out of water.  Well, I climbed up to find that the pipe going into the sima had been blocked by leaves and debris, and all the rain we had actually rushed out of the gutter without going into the tank.  So, now what do we do?  The neighbor suggested filling up the sima with city water (there was a valve to do this), but we didn’t want to drink it, and it would cost way too much to fill it up.  She turned it on anyway thinking that was the best solution.  As soon as she left, I turned it off and climbed up to clean the gutters out.  Later, the neighbor came back to turn it off, and actually turned it back on.  I am not sure how long it was on, but I turned it off as soon as possible.  Well, at least we had enough for a shower or two now.  The rest of the day I sat waiting for rain.  In Tonga, everyone told us to pray, but that didn’t seem to be the solution to the problem.  It rains almost every day, except for this day.  Luckily we were about to go to the island group of Ha’apai to visit some other peace corps friends, and we were hoping it would rain while we were gone.

So, to make this a happy ending, the night before we left, it poured rain.  I guess it poured for the four days we were gone, and it continues to pour down.  So now, we are back to having our fresh water.  It really makes you think about what you take for granted when you live in a place where, even though there is plenty of water, it may not always be enough.  We are now trying to conserve our water so this doesn’t happen again.  Oh, I will also make sure that the gutters are clean.


Are we children? – Training Part 2
March 16, 2008, 2:48 am
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Ok, so this training thing was a while ago, and I have so many other things I want to write about, but I have to get this out of the way. 

After our first homestay in Fu’amotu, we boarded a boat to the island group of Vava’u, the location of our second homestay.  The boat ride was a story unto itself, an 18 hour journey in fairly rough seas.  I may talk about this later.

 As soon as we arrived in Nei’afu, Vava’u, it started raining.  When I say raining, it isn’t that really nice tropical rain you get in Hawaii that cools everything off.  The rain in Vava’u is something like I have never seen.  It started when we got off the boat and rained for about four days straight.  Just when you thought it couldn’t get any harder, it did.

We all arrived to our homestays incredibly tired and disgusting after rolling around on a ship deck for 18 hours.  Luckily Lara and I had our own little hurricane house that we were to stay in.  We got cleaned up at the main house which was a walk through the mud to the shower and back.  Not so good for keeping the feet clean.  We slept for almost a day.  The next day we had off to explore and went for a walk with a couple of the boys that hung around the house.  Whenever we wanted to go somewhere, there was always someone that went with us to make sure nothing bad happened.  I don’t know the last time I had a 17 year old boy babysitting me.  For some reason, they thought that a couple in their mid 30’s might get lost on an island.  Even when we went to town, we were accompanied by a young boy so nothing bad would happen to us in the big city.

 Well, the second leg of training was a little more centered on language than culture.  We spent three out of five days of the week in our local village, and two days in the center village where everyone would show up.  Like I said previously, the volunteers were broke into three groups of 11 and placed in different villages.  Lara and I were placed with most of the older volunteers in a village named Ta’anea.  We had the most mellow village of all.  We spent our time learning language, drinking kava with the local men, and hanging out with the host family when we had a chance. 

After a while, our schedule seemed a little repetitive, we started to feel like little school kids.  Our host families would bring us something to eat for breakfast, we would go to school, and then we would have some time to study and eat some more.  As the weeks passed by, I was dying for a cold drink, but it wasn’t appropriate, and we always had someone tagging along with us.  If someone in our village found out that we had drank something, the rumor that we were drunk would be in the village before we got back.  This also impacted our host family, so we stayed pretty good most of the time.

The one time we let a little loose was during Thanksgiving, where the current Vava’u volunteers cooked a traditional American Thanksgiving meal for us.  It was a great treat after eating Tongan food (which is pretty good) all the time.  It was also at a bar, and after many weeks of not drinking, I decided to let loose a little.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t seem to drink as many beers as usual.  So, I got a little drunk, but I did find out one important thing……I speak great Tongan after I have been drinking.  Lara may not agree, but I was talking and talking like people understood.  Lara had to drag me away from our host family when we returned so I wouldn’t embarrass us more. 

Anyway, outside of language and culture, we finally were able to participate in some business workshops.  This is the stuff we actually came to do.  Through the Vava’u Peace Corps office and the Vava’u Youth Congress, we provided a small business training.  We also were broke into groups where we did different projects with the youth.  I and some other volunteers ran an interview and business skills workshop at Vava’u high school, while Lara and some other volunteers did a computer training workshop at the school.  It was a great experience that gave us a good idea of what we were up against here in Tonga.

Another part of training was that we were to participate in a cultural day.  This day would be called “Aho Faka-Tonga” or Tongan day.  Every village was to make Tongan food dishes, a craft and come  up with skits and dances to perform in front of all our host families and villages.  In my mind, Peace Corps puts way too much emphasis on this day, but it was fun all the same.  We all looked silly  in our Tongan dress and performing our Tongan skits.  I will upload some pictures of Aho Faka Tonga day soon.  You will know, because Lara and I are dressed the same.

 Anyway, I am getting too long winded.  Training was very long and busy, and we felt like children.  We were all very burnt out, and needed a little freedom from the families we stayed with.  After six weeks, we all boarded airplanes to Tongatapu to finish our training and swear in as volunteers.  Training, like I said, was very hard, but it was an invaluable experience that made us all much more aware of the culture around us.  We learned the culture, how to behave and dress appropriately and made some great family and friends in the process.   We also had the chance to see a good part of Vava’u, which is a beautiful island group.  We also went out on a boat with the rest of the trainees and some volunteers for a day.  We spent some time snorkeling at a little island which was incredible, and then we swam into a bird cave.  I will download pictures of this beautiful island.

 We were glad it was over though, so we could move on with our assignments.  We were both placed in Nuku’alofa, Tongatapu, the capital city of Tonga.   I am sorry, but I left many things out about training.  If we hadn’t procrastinated getting this blog started until after we arrived, we would have been much more specific about things.  If anyone has any questions, I would be happy to answer those. 


The Beginning — Training Part 1
March 10, 2008, 1:49 am
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So I guess  I should start from the beginning of our adventure, even though we have been here for some time.  Pre-Service Training seems like a long time ago, but it is an event I will never forget.

So, we arrive in country thinking there may be a little time to relax, get organized and check out Tonga.  Not really, after an initial welcoming ceremony, we are thrust into a 10 week ordeal that will open our eyes to much of the Tongan culture.  Just let me say, the Peace Corps empoyees (mostly Tongan) did an incredible job with the logistics of training, especially since there were 33 of us.  Like I said, we had an initial welcome ceremony, and the next day we show up in a small village for our first homestay experience.  Every one is broken up into pairs for the first three weeks…….an easier transition I am assuming, and we meet the people we will be spending a good part of our time with, our Homestay families.  For some of us, this we be a wonderful experience, for others a nightmare. 

Our homestay village was Fu’amotu at the Southern part of the main island of Tongatapu.  Luckily, a beautiful beach was only blocks away,…..great!!  Well, as soon as we arrived, we were lucky enough to have someone who spoke pretty good english, our homestay sister, Ivoni.  Another interesting point was that our homestay father, Laume, was the village Matapule or talking chief.  He was the highest ranking person in the village, and the only person allowed to speak to the king (if that situation should arise) from the village.  We were told the correct way to dress and act immediately as we were now representing this family.  Were were the Laume palangis (palangi means white person).  Many people in the village now had palangis since there was 33 of us.  It was, in fact, a palangi invasion, and apparently a competition on who had the best palangis. 

So, training starts soon after we arrive.  We start class at 8:30 and go until about 5 every day.  I thought I joined Peace Corps to get away from the 40-50 hour work week?  The training was comprised of culture, language, health and first aid, and technical training.  They really tried to cover everything in the time alloted.  After 5, we were allowed to go get something to eat, go to the beach, or study…..whatever we wanted, for about two hours.  We would then return to class to study language for another hour and a half in the evening.  Ok, now we are getting way past a full time job here. 

Usually we had weedends off to relax at the beach, go check out some of the sites if our homestay families would take us, or study.   There wasn’t the option to go over to the pub for a cold beer, at least in our case, because it was not culturally appropriate to drink beer in Tonga.  There also weren’t any bars or pubs anywhere near the village.  The only place you could buy it was at the Chinese falekaloa.  The problem about buying alcohol in the village is that as soon as you do it, everyone in the village knows.  I will discuss the coconut wireless later.  We also weren’t given much money during the PST period, about 8 pa’anga a day.  That would translate to about $4 US.  Also, since cigarettes cost about 5.5 pa’anga a pack, I was going through most of my stipend just to keep myself in cigarettes.  Good thing we bought some booze at duty free before entering the country.  Ok, I am getting off the topic a little.  So, when I said we had the weekends to do whatever we liked, I meant Saturday.  Sunday was a day of worship, food, and rest.  This may sound good to many people, but the fact is, there isn’t anything else to do.  All businesses are closed on Sundays (except for bakeries) and it is against the law to play.  I mean, you can’t go to the beach, you are not to play sports or anything really.

Church became the place where you would meet the other people in the village, even though they already knew who you were.  On Sundays, there were three services.  One at 6 am, 10 am, and 4 pm.  We were generally lucky to get away with going to the 10 am service, have a huge meal, and then sleep for many hours after.  Not everyone was so lucky, and depending on the denomination of the family you were staying with, you could be in church all day. 

Church is a big part of the Tongan culture, and going to church is a way to show your respect to the community.  They were honored to have you be a part of what consumed a good part of their lives. 

After three weeks were up, we prepared to leave Fu’amotu for the next leg of PST.  We were to pack our stuff up, go to Nuku’alofa (the capital city), arrange enough stuff for 6 weeks on the island of Vava’u and get on a boat.  It was kind of a sad farewell since we had grown quite close to our homestay family and didn’t know if/when we would see them again.  We didn’t know what island we would be assigned to, and therefore may not have any interaction with them again.  Luckily for us, we are still close to our homestay family and spend time with them when we can.  Anyway, the second leg in Vava’u was a little different.  We would all be split into three groups and placed in three different villages.  We also would be staying by ourselves without a Peace Corps roommate (except for us married couples).  The boat ride was a 18-20 hour trip overnight to the city of Nei’afu, the main city of Vava’u.   More about the Vava’u leg later, and more pictures to come.

Fu'amotu Homestay family