Lola & Toni in the Tonga

Sick in Tonga
May 27, 2008, 9:24 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

One of the first things you read about when you think about joining the Peace Corps is all the different ways you can get sick..  There are intestinal issues, malaria, dengue fever, and a whole host of other things that can get you sick depending on what country you get posted to.  Fortunately for us, Tonga doesn’t have many of the diseases that countries in Central America or Africa may have, but you do expect to get sick from something.  Lara and I have made it thus far with no problems where other volunteers have had problems.  We can eat almost anything with no problem, and one of our Tongan friends said one time that we had veve kete (garbage stomachs), meaning we can eat just about anything.  So far so good.  Besides a few earaches early on, and a couple of bouts of minor strep throat for Lara, we have been happy and healthy.

There has also been quite severe outbreaks of Dengue fever here in Tonga, which isn’t life threatening, but can make your life hell for a couple of weeks.  About 7-8 of the volunteers in our group of the 29 who are left have contracted Dengue fever whether it be a severe or a mild case.  That seems like a huge percentage to me, but once again (knock on wood) we have escaped Dengue as well.

So, we are notified recently by our PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Officer) that everyone is required to have a flu shot.  It is mandatory unless you have had a severe reaction to it in the past.  I myself have never had one, and didn’t particularly want one, but it was mandatory and I didn’t want to give our PCMO any more grief than she already gets.  So, here I am, the first one to show up for this wonderful shot that the government has been so generous to force us to  have.  I get the shot, complain a little about how they are giving me influenza (in a joking way of course) and go on my happy way.  This was on a Thursday afternoon, or maybe it was Friday, it is all kind of hazy now.  Come Sunday, I have a fever, headache, bodyaches, and just plain felt crappy.  For the next 5-7 days, I lay around whining ( I am not good at being sick), cancel all of my classes and try to recover from the sickness that the PC so happily gave me.

All in all I am a little pissed that I didn’t have the option to take this shot like I would in the states, and keep thinking whether this flu shot is even effective in Tonga.  I guess it is effective in getting you sick, but does it actually fight any influenza viruses here?  I also have had time to think about how ironic it is that I have gone eight months in a different country without a problem until now.   Oh well, life goes on and I am pretty healthy again, but my sickness has deterred many other volunteers from going to get their shot because they don’t want to get sick.  The problem is, that it won’t be some grand story I can tell my nephews and friends about later in life how I fought some Tongan sickness, and isn’t it really all about the story?


Digicel in Tonga
May 23, 2008, 11:20 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I forgot to mention one thing in the last post.   Recently, a large International telecommunications company named Digicel purchased one of the existing companies in Tonga.  For a while now, Tonga has been preparing for Digicel’s arrival in the country.  They had been preparing for quite some time to enter the market, and we had a feeling it would be with a bang.  On the week of the opening and entrance into the market, Digical announced they would be bringing in Shaggy for a free concert.  I don’t know if it is my age, or musical taste, but I really didn’t know who Shaggy was until someone pointed out one of his songs on the radio.  I am not incredibly big on people who take older songs and put some funky mix to them and call it their song, but this was to be a huge event in Tonga.  The Thursday of the show, Nuku’alofa was just buzzing.  Businesses were closing due the evening concert, new Digicel stores were unveiled and opened, advertisements were up everywhere, and new digicel buses were driving up and down the street blaring music from Shaggy.  The concert was to start at 4:30 at the harbour, but like everything else in Tonga, it didn’t.  We went and positioned ourselves at a restaurant nearby to hear the music and check out the scene.  It was pretty amazing, to see the crowds.  Of the approximately 60,000 residents of Tongatapu, I think they estimated that about 25,000 attended the concert.  Traffic was blocked by the hordes of people walking down the road to and from the show, and the police and military were stationed all over the place to contain any problems.  Besides some technical problems (which is common in Tonga) and a very large downpour of rain, which is also common here, the show went on without a problem.

Digicel has continued to try and saturate the market here by offering huge promotions on phones and giveaways, and seems to be succeeding.  I even got into the spirit and bought a new phone for 40 pa’anga.  Now I am just waiting for their network to be reliable, but it is still odd to think that I even have a cell phone in the Peace Corps.  I guess times are a changing….

Other Things
May 23, 2008, 10:57 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

So, blogs are a funny thing. It seems like I am always writing about the past trying to catch up with the present, but I guess that is what a blog is all about. The problem is that I always know what I want to talk about when it is happening, but I don’t get to a computer to blog it for a couple of weeks most of the time.

Anyway, like I had said in the last post, many things happened over the course of IST and since. I think we have mentioned that Lara and I work with a local youth group here in Tonga. It is the To’utupu ‘i Kolomotu’a and it is ran by our Tongan language teacher from our days in Pre-Service training. The funny thing about youth in Tonga is that you are considered youth until you get married. So some of the youth group are actually in their mid to late 20’s. Kind of an odd thing to grasp being from America where we considered ourselves adults at 18 whether or not we have stepped into the bliss of marriage. Well, I have been working on a project with another volunteer to bring in a shipment of computers for different organizations, including the youth, and we are going to build a computer lab in their village for use by the youth and possible an income generating project for the future. So, the problem with getting computers is the lack of money that the group has currently, but not to fear, they had a plan. One big way of raising money in Tonga is to hold a concieti (concert) where there is dancing and skits performed and the audience gives money. So, the concert was scheduled on a Friday night at the local Kalapu (kava hall). Unfortunately the same night a good friend and volunteer was celebrating his birthday at a local club called the Billfish. We were planning on meeting up with them later if the concert didn’t last too long. The concert was scheduled to start at 7 and go until 11, which in Tongan time means it will probably start at 8 and go until they thought they had received all the money they think they could get out of the audience. We all arrived at the Kalapu where a stage had been set up outside along the roadside. The audio equipment was set up, which in Tonga never works correctly, but doesn’t seem to bother anyone. The concert like all events was to start with a lotu (prayer) from a minister who also happened to be my boss and the president of the Weslyan school system. Then a welcoming speech to be given by none other than myself. It was almost 8 o’clock by the time the minister gave his welcome speech to absolutely no one except the guys drinking kava in the hall behind us. I of course was nervous about my welcome speech, but was somewhat relieved that no one was there. Although I was giving it through a microphone so the whole neighborhood could hear. At this point, I didn’t think the youth would make any money because there was no one there, but I was wrong. By the time the second dance started, people started showing across the street. By the time we finished, there was a huge crowd lining the road giving there money to the youth for every dance. It is so Tongan that no one shows up until after the event starts, but they show up nonetheless. I guess it is like being fashionably late to a party in the states. Generally concerts consist of Tongan dances and funny skits, but this group did Hawaiian, Tahitian, and some salsa dancing. At the end of the evening, Lara who was in charge of counting the money figured we had raised about 1400 pa’anga (approximately $750) in less than four hours. It was a great event that we really enjoyed, and now we are one step closer to getting the computers for the youth. We also made it to the Billfish to celebrate Poki’s birhtday!!

On a down note, two of our fellow volunteers ET’d (early terminated) their service and went back to the states. One of the volunteers from our group and the source of much interesting information to the volunteers, John decided to part for personal reasons. Another volunteer from the previous group left due to family situations in the states. It is hard to lose any volunteers, but sometimes it happens. We were now down from 33 who started with our group to, 28. But…just a couple days later we found out great news. One of the volunteers who left due for medical reasons and had to go back to the states to deal with his injury was coming back. He had taken care of his medical situation and was reinstated and planning to return to service. He is now back and the energy he brings with him is a great rush to those of us who have remained and continued our service. So, back up to 29. The funny thing is, while serving in the Peace Corps, you no that many people will leave, and they do, but they rarely come back.

Ok, I am getting long winded again, but I still haven’t caught up to the present. Remember when I mentioned that I was running to be a representative for VAC (Volunteer Advisory Committee)? Well, I am not only on VAC, but now am president. On another note, Lara is now EC (Emergency Coordinator) as well. When John, the one who ET’d from our group left, Lara being the backup EC inherited his position. She will work with Peace Corps in the case of any emergency (cyclone, earthquake, civil unrest) to notify all volunteers on what their next steps should be. There is much more to the position than that, but I don’t know all of the details. Funny thing is that with our jobs, secondary projects, and new assignments with the PC office, we stay pretty busy as volunteers. Much busier than I had envisioned, but It is good to have more than less to do.

We hope everyone is happy, healthy, and thinking about us as much as we think about you. Ofa ‘atu Toni mo Lola

May 11, 2008, 10:56 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

So, quite a bit has happened since our last post.  One of the main things is IST (In-Service-Training).  The Peace Corps does trainings throughout our service, and IST is usually done at 3-4 months after you have been at post.  The great thing about IST is that everyone from our groups comes to Tongatapu where we live and stays for a little over a week, sometimes more.  This is also where our Tongan counterparts come and do cross-cultural and technical training with us as well.  The first weekend prior to starting our training, our friends from Ha’apai that we stayed with over Easter, and one of our friends from Vava’u came to stay with us until they were able to check into the arranged housing for training.  We had a great feast at our house the first night with some Thai curry and soup that a friend had brought us from New Zealand recently.  It was very nice to get together with some old friends that we don’t get to see very often.  We were looking forward to the rest of the group arriving the following Monday where we would all stay in Sela’s guest house for a few nights.

The funny thing about PC IST is that we expected it to be technical, cultural and language training for the volunteers.  Instead, many volunteers were asked to give the training rather than an outsider training us.  I (Trenton) was asked to give a presentation on E-marketing since I had a background in Hawaii in E-marketing.  The funny thing is that even though there are computers and Internet in Tonga, there isn’t much use for E-marketing or the concepts.   I had a very hard time trying to figure out how to make this concept relevant to the Tongan audience.  It was a little dissapointing that we  had to spend the personal time we had available to visit with our fellow PCVs preparing for our presentations.  There was also many last minute changes and details that were not given to us before hand.  It was a little unorganized at first, but eventually got rolling.  All in all it was a pretty good training for our Tongan counterparts, but more of a chance for the PCVs to catch up on email and eat lots of free food provided by the PC office. 

After the technical part of the training was over, we were to move to a different guest house and continue our training with Tongan language.  The place we went was Papiloa’s Friendly Islander Motel.  Generally this is a nice place to stay, and study language.  We as a couple had our own little fale with an AC, TV, Fridge, and nice double bed.  We were in heaven with this place and planned to camp out all night in the coolness of our room and watch the Chinese news channel (any tv is pretty amazing right now).  Staying at Papiloa’s is usually a little treat that Peace Corps does for us volunteers for training.  Besides the nice accomodations, there is a pool, bar, restaurant and sattelite tv.  We were all pretty stoked for the ammenities we were getting that we hadn’t had in sometime.  Like I said, Lara and I were planning on hanging out in our wonderful fale all night, since IST had been somewhat of a party up til then.  We got some snacks, a few cold beers and kicked back to watch some tube.  In a short time, Lara and I were both sleeping peacefully by 9:30 pm and loving it.  Other people decided to go out and eat at some of the restaurants and bars located near this establishment.  Unknown to us, at about 10 pm, some of the volunteers returned to find that their rooms had been broken into and their stuff stolen.  Two people in particular had all of their electronics, including laptop, phones, cameras, external hard drives, etc… taken.  This really sucked for them, and for everyone else who realized that people knew we were there and had stuff to steal.  The word went around the compound fast, and the PC Safety and Security officer had to leave a putu to get there and inspect everything and speak with the police.  Apparently, some friends tried to wake us up to tell us, but we were somewhere in dreamland and didn’t hear them over the humming AC.   Everyone was upset over this, especially when they found out from the police that this particular room that was broken into, was broken into quite often.  All the PCVs wanted to move back to Sela’s guest house where they felt safe, but PC decided to keep us there for the night, sai pe ia (no problem).  Everyone figured that with all the action with the police and people around, they were safe from anything else happening,……but that wasn’t it for the night.  At about 5:00 am, a man cut out the screen from a room where five male volunteers were sleeping and snuck in with a pretty large knife.  While in the room, he started grabbing valuables, while some of his buddies were stealing clothes off the line outside the room.  One of the guys woke up while this was happening and scared the man out the window where he proceeded to break a water pipe.  This was the last draw and Peace Corps moved all the volunteers back to the original guest house we stayed at the first few nights.   If you are reading this and are thinking about visiting in Tonga, I would advise against staying at Papiloa’s Friendly Islander.  Besides being a dangerous place to stay, the proprietor lied to everyone regarding their safety, not to mention that she was very unfriendly from the beginning. I also didn’t mention the signs that hung in the room regarding how your valuables were not safe in your room, even if you were sleeping. 

Unfortunately, after this event and the moving around, the motivation for language training was gone.   We struggled through two and a half days of language and were cut loose from training.  The good thing about language training is that apparently I have moved up a notch in my language skills.

After training, we had several more house guests for about 4-5 nights.  Two different Ha’apai and one Vava’u volunteer stayed with us waiting to get out on a plane or boat back to their respective islands.  It was great to be able to spend some more time with other volunteers before they returned.  It will be about 7 more months before we get to see them again. 

Anyway, there is so much more to tell, but so little time right now…..more later