Friday, July 8, 2011

Weekend of HELL

Photo: So if I ride a canoe on the main road, do I still need to wear my life jacket PC?

Once upon a time in an outer-island village in Vava'u a Peace Corps Volunteer endured four days of terrential rain, an enormous boil, and an accidental house arrest. Oh wait, all of these things did happen, but to who? Oh wait, me.

It all started on a "normal" Friday morning. The bright sunshine promised another beautiful day in the South Pacific. By 8 AM, all of the Tongan teaching staff had already boarded the last boat bound for the main city of Neaifu, while I was getting ready for school. This has been going on for awhile since, putu or funeral clearly takes precedent over the average Tongan day job. I am not required to "man" the school by myself, however the children are very eager to have English class and literally wait infront of my doorstep for me to wake up. As a result, I have a half day--which is better than no school.
PHOTO: Rain washes the contents of this pit toilet (one of many) throughout the village.

It all started with a sharp pain on the back of my left leg. At first, I thought it was a cut or a possible bruise. Ahh! It evolved into a ridiculous boil by the time morning school was over! FML. Boils are nothing, but a pain in the ass. It is technically an infected hair folicle. This would have been my second or third (I lost count) boil during my service. Medical services at my site is non-existent unless I risk it with a local Tongan herb woman. As a result, I just have to "ride it out."

PHOTO: The boil on my left leg. One of many great souvenirs I will have from Tonga.

Still staying positve, I decided to do laundry. Laundry in Tonga is a workout. It consists of hours of strenuous handwashing and pumping of pipe tube inside a plastic tin. This doesn't include hauling water back and forth to rinse the washed clothing since I have no running water. Regardless, I finished all of my wash in record time of three and half hours! Great, eh? As soon as I hung the last of my clean clothes on the laundry line in front of my house, the clouds started to turn gray. Then it all started to go down hill...

PHOTO: All the random tins and pans on one side of my house.

The rain did not stop for a solid four days. Kid you not, four days of non-stop torrential downpour. My house on average leaks at two different spots. By the fourth day, I had run out of tins and pans to cover all the leaks and my boil made walking unbearable. On the final evening, I was woken up by one of the men in the village. My cellphone was out of battery since my solar panel had been down due to the lack of sun for multiple days. "Feleti, 'oku ke i'ai vai i loto?"--"Feleti, is there water inside?" I am thinking to myself, why in God's name would you ask if I have water in my house at 3:30 in the morning!

By the time I got up, I walked around my house and realized there was something incredibly wrong. All the insects had infested entire house! "What the hell is going on?" I though to myself. I took my headlamp and try to see what was going on outside. All I saw was water! My house has become an island. All the insects in the area have taken refuge inside my house! Coastal flooding has flooded half of the village.
PHOTOS: The Wesleyan church at Matamaka after flood water retreated to the sea and my neighbors house. There house was underwater for a couple of days. Sad.

My house is elevated about a foot and a half and the water was literally a half of an inch before spilling inside. I tried to open my door, but it was blocked because the man that had woke me up decided it was best to put his lawn mower on my step even though it was already submerged (the logic there--I will never know). As a result, I was stuck in my house. "This is not happening," I told myself as I hobbled around my house with a boil making a makeshift levy out of towels. By the time I finished placing all my significant belongings on chairs and my bed, it was almost six o'clock in the morning. I realized I left my camera at the school, but there was no way I could get there or walking in this water.
PHOTO: My sima vai or water tank. You can see how high the water went. I had to use buckets to remove the water fro the valve. My neighbors says its not contaminated, but I highly doubt that. Oh boy...

The water finally began to recede around nine am. The villagers had dug out at trench to help drain the water to the sea, since the flood had no end at sight. A neighbor women came and helped me to unblock my door and I was set free. At the time, I had been dying to use the bathroom, so I hiked to the school and also grabbed my camera to document what the storm left. It had flooded churches, the town hall, and several homes. I was lucky the village drained the water in time, because my house would have been next. A lot of pit toilets spilled over (including my own), so the village reeked. It also flooded my water storage, which I had to manually drain out the water. By the time it stopped raining, everyone was out and about either playing in the water (eeks!) or cleaning out their flooded homes. What a mess!

PHOTOS: The trench dug up for the water to drain to the sea. PROS: drained the water from the homes. CONS: Contaminated the water with rubbish and human waste, soil erosion, and marine/coral destruction. Sad, just sad. For the first time, there was a "stream" in Matamaka.

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