Happy New Year to everyone from Matamaka, Vava’u. I have been very busy trying to figure out my new lifestyle at my outer island community. A lot has happened since my last blog entry, but I will try to sum up of all the highlights!
This last past week throughout Tonga has been dedicated to uike lotu. This literally means week of prayer. Basically every church (except the Mormons) in Tonga celebrates by going to pray twice a day everyday for a week. It has been an excellent opportunity for me to meet everyone in my community, because church is huge deal down here in the Kingdom. Unfortunately, the morning church service begins at 5 AM with some churches even starting at 4 AM. It is then followed up by an afternoon service at 5 PM.
Due to the central location of my house in Matamaka, my bedroom is exactly across the street to the Wesleyan church bell. Unfortunately, it is the loudest bell in the entire village! The bell rings three times before the actual church service begins. I went to more church services in Matamaka in a week than I have in my entire life (in a week). The bell woke me up at 4 AM everyday and if that did not wake me up, the friendly church leader or faifakau would be so kind enough to personally invite me to their church service. Of course I could never say no, so I definitely got my church hours for the week. On the plus side, after every evening church service there would be a feast or kaipola. As the new Peace Corps Volunteer, I was always seated at the head of the table next to all the important people. If you know me, there is nothing else I love to do than eat so I got to eat a ton of delicious food all week. In the end, I was invited to a kaipola everyday for the last ten days! What am I going to do after all the feasts are over?
Time seems to stands still in Matamaka. I get up around 8 AM or when the chickens have annoyed the crap out of with their cock-a-doodle-doodles. Next is usually my morning tea with some fresh Nescafe with powdered milk. It has been excruciatingly hot up here in Vava’u and it does not help when my island does not have electricity which means no electric fans whatsoever. With that said, I have been spending a lot of time at the beach with some of the local kids swimming. The wharf has been the “it” spot where we all run up and down the thing to jump off into the fresh cool waters around the island of Nuapapu. Honestly, some of these follow me everywhere I go, I mean everywhere. I sometime give them some lollipops to send them home, but generally I think they are really excited for school to start so they can “hangout” with the palangi. I have to keep reminding them that I am here to help improve their English and not just hangout all day!
Generally, I have been spending most of time just relaxing and “integrating” with my community and by what I mean by “integrating” with my community consists of me talking and meeting everyone. It really has not been too difficult considering the fact that there are only what 120 people in the entire village? To make it even more difficult, this number is extraordinarily high because a lot of the people are only here for the holiday and will be leaving soon to go back to Tongatapu to work or continue with their studies. Other than relaxing, I spend most of my time catching up on all the fun reading that I have been missing out the last four years in college. Between reading and kava, that pretty much sums out my very typical day in my motu (island).
Anyway, there are a lot of hidden beaches around my village and I have been busy trying to scope out how to get to most of them so that when people visit they will have a good time exploring the island. One day I found this amazing beach on the most eastern side of the island. It was absolutely beautiful! I decided to go for a swim without my shirt which is a big no-no according to Peace Corps PST, so I freaked out when a boat came! I quickly swam back in so I do not “disrespect” the Tongan culture. In the process of running back to the “bush” I somehow got lost! I could not find the path that I had taken and was walking aimlessly around trying to find my way back to the village. It took two hours until I finally found my way back! I got tangled up with all of bushes and had to find a way around all the barbed wire fencing. Note to self for the future: stay within the path.
What is kava? It is water mixed with kava (some kind of root crop) that most Pacific Island nation drinks that tastes and looks like muddy water. It essentially is a natural tranquilizer that makes you stoned and then passes you out. Men usually drink kava in “special” occasion, but when you have nothing else to do, you drink it every day. I personally do not care for kava, but I drink it anyway to show respect for the culture. In addition, drinking kava gives you an excellent opportunity to meet all the men in the village (especially the important ones such as: the town officer, village chief, faifakau’s etc.). Well to no big surprise, I have been attending the local kava circle at the island. I feel that the men of my village find it very amusing every time I drink more and more kava. I generally request for a “low tai” which means “just a little.” In the end, after two or three hours of drinking kava and hanging out with the men, I generally can no longer feel my legs anymore (after sitting cross-legged style for so long) and just want to sleep. I plan on going to kava on a regular basis in the future, but definitely limiting it to one or two times a week. Kava is usually served before every church service, which is more ideal because it usually just last up to one hour. Otherwise, the evening kava can sometimes last up to the wee hours of the morning. Trust me, not into kava too much and probably limiting it to two to three hours of drinking for the evening gatherings.
Cooking meals on the island has been really tricky. It is a completely different ball game with food preparation when any fresh ingredients only last three to four days. I found this out the hard way when I had purchased some fresh vegetables from the Neiafu market to take to my island. I could not cook them all in time before they all got rotten. Even the loaves of bread that I had purchased only lasted five days before the all the moisture turned it moldy. What a hassle! Life would be so much easier with a refrigerator, but that is okay. I will just have to get use to it and find out different and more efficient ways to cook healthy meals on the island. On a positive note, it has been really exciting to just prepare food that I enjoy to eat! It is so nice to eat rice (haha). It is a nice break from the everyday ritual of eating root crops throughout Tonga. Hmmm, I am afraid I am going to have to embrace canned food for at least the next two years, because they have a longer shelf life than fresh food.
I do not know what it is with Tonga, but I am having a hard time maintain my weight. I know people back in America are probably wondering what my secret is, but I honestly am eating a lot down here yet I am still losing weight. It will hopefully flat line soon, but for real do not worry about me. I get full so easily from all the starchy foods. I also do not get enough exercise in as much as I would like, considering the fact that I cannot even go for a very long run in and around my village. I am going to look into swimming laps around my beach, but other than that maybe I will look into hiking or working in the bush for some other modes of exercise? On the other hand, it is a very different story for all of the women here in Peace Corps. The food unfortunately plumps them up (sorry ladies). It is from all the carbohydrates I am telling you!
I hope everyone in Group 75 is doing well! I have not heard a lot from anyone let alone people from Vava’u itself. Life in the outer island can be so isolated when your mode of communications are very limited. My mobile died a couple of days into my stay at the island. My solar charger was working for a while, but turns out it had to rain while I was at church and it broke the darn thing. I guess I have my SAT phone, but that is only to call out for emergency use only. This concerns me because basically if there are tsunami warnings or anything emergency related only the Radio Tonga can save my life. People really cannot get a hold of me. As soon as the solar panels at the school are in operational, I can finally charge my phone on a daily basis island at the motu. Until then, I will be saving my batteries so that I may be able to call out in case of emergency or just to check-up with people that I am still alive.
That is all for now. Toki sio!
'Ofa atu from Matamaka!