Friday, October 17, 2008

Departure, arrival, first week in Tonga

Okay, I know it took a little time, I meant to set this up before I got to Tonga, but life got a little hectic in the days and week before I left, so I apologize to all of you who have been wondering whatever happened to me...I made it to Tonga!

Before I left I was lucky enough to travel around Alaska a bunch, blueberry picking in Denali National Park, kayaking the Kenai River, going 4-wheeling with my brother (who, I'm pretty sure, tried to kill us both) and rockclimbing in a little piece of heaven called Cooper Landing. I also got to help coach the Lathrop High School swim team, so if any of you are reading this, tell everyone hi, and good luck at regionals and state!

I have been in Tonga a little over a week, but we have been so busy and learned so much that it seems as though I have been here a month! The culture is very unique and the people are amazing. I have never met more genuine, kind people in my life. They are extremely family and community oriented, and not at all interesting in accumulating THINGS which to me makes this culture so refreshingly different from America. They find joy not in possessions, but rather in each other, in the personal relationships and bonds they form, and in helping each other.

We spent almost a week in the capital of Tonga, Nuku'alofa, where we were greeted out first day with a pig roast and a traditional kava ceremony. Kava is a traditional tongan drink made from the root of the kava plant. It tastes like dirty water, not bad, but not particularly strong one way or the other. You don't get drunk off of it, but it is a mild narcotic. It numbs your mouth a little and makes you relaxed...we didn't have enough of it to notice anything. We spent the week training pretty intensively in safety, health, culture and the language. On the third day we had our water safety training, which involved jumping off a navy ship and swimming around in a small bay. It was awesome; the water felt great, and I felt in my element for the first time since being here. On Monday we were supposed to take a 25-30 hour boat ride to Vava'u, but the boats were both broken down, so we got very lucky and hopped on a 45-minute plane ride instead. This is where we will be spending the next six weeks, living with host families and getting intensive language training. The language is completely phonetic, so once you understand the sounds all the letters make, it is pretty easy to learn. My favorite word so far is Oiaue! (Oy-ya-way: an expression of grief, excitement, or concern) It's pretty fun to say, and you can say it for just about any situation.

My host family consists of my "mom" Kaloni, my sisters Sepi (9 yrs old) and Nani (1.5 yrs old) and my brother Tevita (30?). The are kind and open, and have been wonderful about including me in their family and helping me with the Tongan language. I especially enjoy hanging out with Sepi. The first day I was there, she taught me how to juggle, (or at least she tried to teach me, we're still working on it. She's really good!) I brought out a deck of cards, and she proceeded to beat me handily in everything we played, especially memory! She is a very bright girl. I taught her how to play speed, and I'm sure she will be beating me at that soon as well. I was thinking it was going to be six weeks full of juggling and playing cards when, after dinner that night, Sepi busted out a gamecube! We played Need for Speed Underground (she beat me at that), then she came out with NFL Blitz. I was thinking that this was a game I finally might win since I love football and they don't even have football in Tonga. Well, she beat me at that too. It wasn't even close. Oiaue. Alas, a good time was had by all.

So far things have been going great, I love the new culture and people and am excited to continue to learn the language! I hope this finds everyone well back home!

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