Sunday, December 27, 2009

Don't Worry Be HA'APAI!

Malo e lelei! A warm greeting from the Kingdom of Tonga. A lot of people have been wondering what I have been up to since I left Iowa almost three months ago for the Peace Corps. I am sorry it has taken me so long to write this. The intense Peace Corps training has literally taken up all my time and the internet in Ha’apai was impossible and was on another island far away from my little village. With that said I will do my best to get everyone up to date with my whereabouts.

Peace Corps Group 75 arrived in Nuko’alofa on October 8. We stayed in the capitol city for four days where we were introduced to the biggest and most “cosmopolitan” city in the country. In truth, the city lacks any character or significant attractions. Lonely Planet describes Nuko’alofa as the “ugliest capitol city in the South Pacific.” The book may have been a little too rough, but over 80% of the capitol was burnt down after civil unrest erupted in early 2006 after Tongans went to the streets to protest against the prime minister (not the monarchy). The aftermath led the destruction of the only movie theater in Tonga, almost all local businesses, and pretty much anything beautiful. It is important to remember that the Kingdom of Tonga is the only South Pacific country to retain its monarchy from European colonization. As a result, the King or tu’i is still very influential with social and political life in Tonga. I can keep writing about Tonga and its history, but anyone can Wikipedia all of this information (and I do not want to bore you).

Our pre-service training was located in the middle of the country in the Ha’apai island group. All the trainees were spread out throughout the small island of Foa. My group was located in the small village of Fangale’ounga and there were three other trainees with our language trainer Poli. My host family was super nice and accommodating to their palangi (foreigner) from America. My Tongan name is Feleti, which is a direct translation of Fred since the letter “r” does not exist in the Tongan alphabet so “Farfum” would be impossible for Tongans to pronounce. Anyway, I lived in a traditional Tongan home with a typical Tongan family. Nasipa and Feleti (senior) were my host parents. They have eight children and with me it made it nine. My Tongan home was almost always in an utter chaos with all the kids running around. Although it was sometimes stressful, I enjoyed interacting with everyone in my host family. The little ones were especially naughty and enjoyed rummaging through my things to see if I have anymore “lolis” (candy). I love M&Ms so if anyone wants to send me anything I have been rationing my secret stash of chocolates in my suitcase, but I will soon run out (hint hint lol).

My typical day in Tonga started around 7:00 AM when everyone was either crying or getting ready for school. I usually tafitafi (half bath) before I ate some breakfast. My breakfast had improved dramatically since my host mom returned from Australia. I typically ate crackers with jam, but later I indulged on eggs or the famous Tongan spaghetti sandwiches. These sandwiches were literally canned spaghetti in grilled cheese type sandwiches. They were not that bad actually, but definitely not common back in the states. Tongan dishes were very limited to what were sold in the falekoloas (little shops) and what they grew in the bush. Most items were imported and were very random. Tongans love to eat canned corned beef from New Zealand or Australia and it is prepared in a million ways! My personal favorite so far has been the corned beef with Ramen and vegetables. It is a lot better than the local delicacy of dog that they offered me one night. It was luckily one of the trainees birthday from the next town therefore I “saved” my appetite for her dinner party. Anyway, language classes began around 8:30 and lasted until 12:30. Overall, my language class could only be described as “intense.” We could not get enough Tongan lessons! As a result, Team Poli was one of the top language classes during PST and after the final language test.

After class, I typically made the long voyage back to my house and attempted to dodge the busy streets of Fangale’ounga. It was important to look out for all the pigs and dogs that crossed the street; otherwise, you might have gotten run over (JK). Lunch usually consisted of one of the plentiful root crops available around here such as kape, talo, or manioke. They all tasted the same to me and they got old very fast. I usually enjoyed this time of day because most of the kids were in school and I could actually hear myself at the house. It was also the hottest time of the day, so Tongans do what they do best…sleep. If I was not sleeping myself, I was making my way down to the Pangai’i to hope that the internet would work. The four people in my group generally hitched for a ride or suto in Tongan. It took about twenty minutes with a car or over an hour and half if we attempted to walk the whole way.

Dinner usually was served around five or six. Guess what was for dinner? Root crops! After dinner, we had our “optional” evening language class, but you were expected to come. By the time that was over it was almost 8:30 and everyone was already sleeping in my house. The kids generally all slept in the family room while I got one of the bedrooms. The random uncle who was here for a holiday was in the room next to me while my host parents slept in the other room with two of the kids. Basically there were clearly too many people in the little house. However, everyone was still happy and it was the “Tongan way.” Lastly, I had trouble sleeping at night because the youngest baby cried 24/7! Seriously, I never want to have more than two or three children.

After training, we all went off to attachment with current volunteers in Tonga. I was lucky enough to go back to Nuko’alofa. It was so nice to go back to civilization! Believe it or not, Nuko’alofa has more than one restaurant! We took advantage of all the cheap Chinese restaurants where you can buy a huge plate of noodles with vegetables or fried rice for only six pa’anga! It was very affordable with my Peace Corps budget. Anyway, I definitely took advantage of all the things that Nuko’alofa had to offer. We did a beach day at the nearby island of Pangai’imotu where I ate a delicious bacon cheeseburger and fries and spent the entire day snorkeling around a shipwreck. It was a long deserve break from the stressful life of a Peace Corps Trainee.

After one more week of training, we officially swore in as Peace Corps Volunteer on the 16th of December. We were fairly lucky we even swore in, due to the fact that a cyclone decided to swing by Tonga that same week. We were supposed to have this massive feast at a beautiful beach resort; instead we had semi-delicious half-sandwiches at Queen Salote College in Nuko’alofa. Weird, all of the guests of honors were late and we sat around for a couple of hours waiting for this “exciting” event to happen. With all of the adjustments made and the “flexibility” from everyone involved, it happened and we got sworn in. I expected it to be a great and festive event, but for me it was more of a photo opportunity for Peace Corps Tonga to have so they could send it up to DC. We left for Vava’u the following day via airplane after the ludicrous idea of taking the boat up (did a ship just not sink recently because it was not seaworthy?--I don’t know Peace Corps). As far as I am concerned, it does not comfort me when some Tongans are even hesitant on taking the boat. Well, this concludes PST and swearing-in as a volunteer. I am now officially a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tonga. GET EXCITED!!! :D

-XOXO Tonga Boy (Dominica is making me, I swear)

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