Sunday, November 16, 2008

"Tonga is like a perpetual screensaver" -Regina

Sepi and I on our way to schoolMe getting ready to take the plunge...
Our boat
Getting ready to head out on the boat

I officially found out Saturday that I will be spending the next two years on a small island South of Tongatapu called 'Eua in a village of 162 people. I will be teaching English to Classes 3,4,5, and 6, which for all I know may be one big class put together. I don't know much about 'Eua, except that the temperature tends to be a little cooler because it's further South and it is supposed to be the most beautiful island in Tonga! I hear that there are not many beaches (although I think my village is right on a few) but it is covered in rainforest and has amazing hiking all over the island. It is also supposed to be pretty conducive to camping and other various outdoor adventure, which sounds up my alley. I'm pretty thrilled about it. I think I will have electricity, although running water is still up in the air. I will swear in with the Peace Corps December 17th and head to 'Eua shortly after that.

Saturday turned out to be quite the eventful day; after finding out our site placements, we loaded in a boat and headed out for a day trip which had been canceled the week before due to strong winds. Spirits were high after finding out our site placements and everyone was excited to hang out together after being separated into our villages for five weeks. The first stop we made was at this cave where you had to swim through an underwater tunnel to reach it. Of course I had to be the first one to try it (along with a guy named Scott) , and I didn't realize, but I timed it pretty poorly and went while water was coming out of the tunnel. I was swimming against the current for what seemed like forever, and when you're down there its so dark that you can't tell when you're actually in the cave so you don't know if when you come up you're going to hit air or if the water is still to the top of the tunnel. Oh, and the other factor? It was close to high tide. Needless to say, it was a little scary, and also needless to say, I made it. Only a few of us actually went in the cave, but once you made it inside it was incredible. It was the size of maybe a movie theater, and water would come in and crash against the back wall and the entire cave would get so misty you couldn't see your hand in front of you. Then, seconds later it would clear up and you could see clear across the cave no problem. It felt like the cave was breathing and we were in its stomach, it was a highlight of the trip.

After that we went to another cave that was much more accessible. In fact, the boat drove right into the mouth of this cave. It was also pretty neat, we were able to climb the walls and jump off these stalagmites (or are they stalactites? The ones that grow up.) So that was neat. We spent some time there then moved on to this beach with a small resort on it. We spent the rest of the day playing frisbee on the beach, snorkeling, and drinking a cold beer at the resort. I know, I know, this Peace Corps stuff sounds really tough, right? Haha. It was a pretty amazing day.

Last Friday I had a day that I feel really epitomizes my experience here in Tonga so far. We had just topped off the busiest, most stressful week ever with a language test that I was sure I had bombed (I actually found out today that I didn't do too bad at all) and so a few of us from my village decided to try to walk into town. (About an hour and a half walk) Less than five minutes out of our village, a flatbed truck pulled over and the driver leaned out the window and asked "Alu ki fe?" (Where are you going?) We told him in our broken Tongan the we were heading into town, and he told us to hop in the back. As we climbed in the back we realized there was a hole in the bed of the truck absolutely big enough to fall through. But it was behind the back axel, so if we fell through we wouldn't be run over also. We steered clear of the hole and found a place to sit among the people already in the back of the truck and made it safely to town.

Once there we all decided we definitely needed some ice cream, so we went down to the one place we know sells ice cream. She was standing outside of her falekaloa (shop) locking it up, but when she saw us coming she asked what we wanted. We must have sounded pretty desperate, because she opened everything up and got us all neopolitan ice cream cones. Ice cream has never tasted so good. Then I had to run by the bank to pick up my debit card that was waiting there for me. As we were walking up to the bank, we saw that they too were locking up for the evening (it was 4:10 pm) I started running because the next day was our boat trip and I needed my debit card to pull some money out for that. The bank lady saw me running, and she had to think about it for a second, but she opened up for me and let me get my debit card and some money. I just thought of how many times I have gone somewhere in California ten minutes BEFORE its supposed to close and caught someone locking up and refusing to consider even the smallest request.

We spent a few more hours in town, and by the time we all got back together and ready to go it was getting late and we were quickly losing daylight. As we started walking the first vehicle that passed us pulled over and asked us where we were headed. We told the couple the name of our village, and they said they weren't heading there, but they could take us to where the road parted and they were heading the opposite direction. We happily accepted; that would take us about halfway home. We piled into a minivan this time, the wife got out and opened the sliding door by sticking her hand through the window and banging on the door while jerking on the outside handle. We piled into a minivan that had one bench seat leaning up against one side of the van. I ended up sitting on the metal wheel well, leaning my hand against the back hatch door. Soon after we started moving I realized that the back hatch door didn't latch and leaning against it was a little treacherous. As we were driving we started talking to the couple and told them we were new Peace Corps volunteers (in Tonga the word for volunteer is either Pisi Koa for peace corps or ngaue ofa, meaning work of love.) Pretty soon the wife was slicing up a watermelon in the front seat and passes us back a huge chunk of juicy watermelon with a butcher knife sticking out of it. We drove along the pot-hole filled Tongan road cutting off hunks of watermelon that were delectable. As we got to the pace where the road parts, the couple called back that they wanted to take us all the way to our village, it was their way of ngaue ofa. They took us all the way back to our bus stop, where the wife got out, banged the door open and thanked us for riding with them and wished us God Bless.

This afternoon was so typical of our experience with Tongan people, we all kind of looked at each other and said, "Well, it doesn't get much more Tongan than that." Peace Corps has been in Tonga for forty years, and it is easy to tell how well-represented we've been by previous Peace Corps Volunteers. Everyone here has had some experience with a Peace Corps Volunteer, whether they were taught by one or had one as a homestay brother or sister or just had one in their village, and their experiences have been overwhelmingly positive. This means we get treated exceptionally well, but also that we are responsible for carrying on that tradition. I can't wait.

Well, I'd love to hear updates from everyone, I hope all is well. If anyone wants to write me or send me anything, that would be so awesome and so appreciated. My address here is:

Jennifer Danielson
PO Box 147
Kingdom of Tonga
South Pacific

Ideas of what to send include, but are not limited to: letters and updates! pictures! Crystal Light single serving drink packets, Quaker oatmeal On the Go bars, magazines, stickers (I found out that Tongan student will do just about anything for a sticker), or anything else you can think of. Thank you!!!


Cathy Green said...

Hi Jenny: So happy to hear that you're safe and happy. I'd love to put a holiday care package together for you. Can you tell us what your living arrangements are like, maybe even take a picture or two and describe what kind of kitchen facilities you have access to. And, will you be staying at the address you provided until 12/17/08?
I noticed a boat with "Moorings" in your photo. That's the company that I've been oogling for a barefoot vacation in the Tahiti region...I may have to change my focus now. I look forward to seeing more snorkeling photos to help in decisions/ideas. Their website has a great description of the area and a good map of the Kingdom of Tonga...check it out...the 2nd page.
Take good care, have fun when you can, and be safe!
p.s. Maybe it would be allowable to go snorkeling on your free days.

Mommy said...

How exciting! I look forward to reading more of your adventures!