Thursday, December 18, 2008

I'm official!

This week Group 74 of the Peace Corps in the Kingdom of Tonga had our official Swearing- In ceremonty, which is to say that we celebrated our survival of traing. To commemorate the experience I have compiled some of my personal training highlights. (Viewer discretion: some context not appropriate for children but I will try to keep it PG) *Our arrival in Nuku'alofa closely followed by my first illegal activity in Tonga: buying bottled water on a Sunday. It was a back door purchase instigated by an Aussie (or maybe he was a Kiwi... I'm not sure but apparently "It's kinda shady, eh?") *Vava'u, the heat, kapapulu and spegetti-o pizza, and the naked children *Basketball Jones: Daily basketball games on the Mormon court. Tongans vs. Palangis. And finally being a major baller, quite possibly the one of the best female ballers in the nation at that moment. *A new definition of clean. I was sitting on the porch of my first homestay playing around with One and Sifa while Va'inga washed sheets in a large barrel of the edge of the porch. He left the wash for a minute. I hear a tinkel and to my dismay, see Sifa leaning off the edge of the porch and peeing into the open barrel of wash with a big 'ole grin on his face. *Fevers, boils, parasites and fakalele (which means "like running") * "In da Bush" * Watching the monumental moment that was Election Day on a foreign island and our celebratory dip in the harbor. *A Pornographic Experience: My host family borrowed a t.v. and dvd player from a neighbor and was so excited to have a "sio vitio" night with me. My host dad presented me with their selection of dvds. Both he and my host mother stood over me watching as I flipped through the titles. I stumbled upon a couple "Barely Legals","Almost Legals" and a few I should not mention (I will let your imaginations fill in the blanks). I tried not to gasp or react in an obvious manner but glanced up at my host parents. They were nodding in approval and complete absence of recognition on their faces. "sio vitio?" I forgot to mention that pornography is illegal in the Kingdom. *Anga faka-palangi: the boat trip, the beauty and the drama *Quickly discovering what they mean by "The Tongan Sneak Around" and just how sneaky they can be... These last two months have been a ride. Now the real life part begins.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Giving Thanks in ‘Eua

As part of training, we are assigned to spend a week with a current volunteer to get a sense of what our life might be like for the next two years. The idea is to be placed with a volunteer who currently works and lives in the area you are assigned. I was placed with a volunteer on an island that I have now deemed “my vacation home”. ‘Eua is the only island with notable elevation so there are fantastic hiking trails, cliffs and banyan trees, oh, and a rainforest with a waterfall. I am getting ahead of myself. Let me start from the beginning. I traveled to ‘Eua from Nuku’alofa (if you have been following, you may note that this is where I will be living) on a three- hour boat ride. Being a land mammal, I was pretty sure my sea-legs were underdeveloped. I, Ashley (another trainee) and a current volunteer, sent to show us the ropes quite literally in a few different ways, climbed up from the deck to the top of the boat with the crew. We stood grasping the crates tied to the top and ducking to avoid the waves that swept over the vessel. I arrived in ‘Eua with my breakfast still in my stomach and wearing a fresh skin of dried sea salt. The adventures continued the following day with a hike through most of what the island has to offer inland. The banyan trees’ tangled roots and branches reached deep down into eroded caves and stretched above the rest of the trees to make an interesting skyline. (Matt, if you read this, these are the trees you dream of climbing.) The paths cut through field of palms and coconut trees that juxtaposed groves of pine trees. (The pine trees were sent to the island as part of New Zealand Aid as a source of lumber; yet, nothing is really built out of wood…) There was a lookout above the rainforest where we could over hear a parrot’s conversation and caught a glimpse of one in flight. Yet the highlight was without a doubt, Rat’s Cave. While the name dauntingly seems to come from an Indiana Jones flick, it is quite possibly one of the most beautiful places on earth. We shimmied through a hole in the forest floor and dropped onto the floor of a shallow cave gouged in the face of a cliff over looking the South Pacific Ocean. Looking out, the wind whipped and all that could be seen was sea kissing sky. It was like sitting on the edge of the world. You could image the water simply tumbling off the edge of the horizon and falling to the abyss. And then there was Thanksgiving. Eight Americans from various states gathered in a Tongan guest house with a turkey shipped from the States and a collection of other delicacies, like apple pie baked from scratch and mashed kape (a starchy root crop that is so dense that it attempted to cement the wine bottled we used to mash it in its thickness), inviting a German guest and a handful of Tongan children to join us. It wasn’t holiday with the Oswald’s and there were no peanut butter balls but that turkey was good and so was the company.