Lola & Toni in the Tonga


Group 74, Atata, and the big earthquake
October 19, 2008, 10:36 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

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.

Group 74 arrival at the airport

Group 74 arrival at the airport

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.

Royal Sunset Resort -Atata

Royal Sunset Resort -Atata

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 In
October 5, 2008, 8:24 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

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!



Eva Pe
October 1, 2008, 10:55 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

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.

Captain Cook's landing place and the "Eva Pe" Crew

Captain Cook

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.

  • Terraced Royal tombsTerraced Royal tombs
  • 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.

    Trilithon

    Trilithon

    Dancing on the trilithon

    Dancing on the trilithon

    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.

    Blowholes

    Blowholes

    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