Lola & Toni in the Tonga


Vava’u and Obama
November 12, 2008, 12:03 am
Filed under: Uncategorized
Lola and Kasa

Lola and Kasa

Toni and James

Toni and James

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.

Watching the election returns in Vava'u

Watching the election returns in Vava

At Mango, counting the states for Obama!!

At Mango, counting the states for Obama!!

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.