Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tongan Falemahiki: BYOTP

Oiaue, it's been an interesting week. Let me begin by saying that I was in the hospital, but I am absolutely fine and it wasn't anything serious. Okay, got that out of the way...

So it all began with a routine sinus infection (not uncommon for me), but of course everything gets amplified by about ten in Tonga, and pretty soon my throat was so swollen I couldn't swallow...anyways, having had recurring stomach problems since I've been here, I got dehydrated quickly and wound up taking a little visit to the local falemahiki (hospital; actually literally translates to: house of disease) That's when the real fun began.

My neighbor was gone and so I had to get a ride to the hospital from my counterpart, the principal at my school and the class 1/2 teacher, Sulia. Unfortunately the class 3/4 teacher was out that day so Sulia was teaching all four classes. Sulia couldn't be gone that long, so after some discussion between Sulia and the remaining 5/6 teacher, it was decided that we would all pile into her car, drive to town, where his car was, then he would drive me to the hospital and she would go back and attend to all six classes at once. Yes, this does mean that 40 kids were left completely unattended at school for 20 minutes. No, this is not unusual.

I got to the hospital, the doctor took one look at my throat and asked me if I'd like to stay the night. Thinking I actually had a choice in the matter, I naturally responded, "absolutely not." To which he replied, "Okay, so maybe a night." Why ask? So he sends me home to pack some overnight stuff. I pack the normal: a toothbrush, change of clothes, book, and I'm ready to go. This time it is determined that Sulia will take me back to the hospital and the 5/6 teacher will stay with all the classes. I tell her I'm ready to go. "Did you pack sheets?" She asks me. "" "How about food? And toilet paper? And water?" "No..." "Yeah, they don't have drinking water at the hospital, they are very poor you see" I am not sure I see, "Yeah...did you say toilet paper?" "Yes!" So I go repack and we're off.

When I get back to the hospital they put an IV in right away. The nurse tells me proudly that she's using a clean needle (really! No one used it before!), which does not inspire confidence. She gets my vein the first time, however, and gets it good. Blood squirted and dripped onto the floor, which she ignored and left for Sulia to clean up, using our own toilet paper, of course. Sulia leaves to get back to school, and I take a look around. The "in-patient" ward at the hospital is really an open-air room with seven (naked) beds and a banner over the doorway that reads "Merry Christmas" One of the previous PCV's had gotten the youth in her community together to paint the hospital, so the room is adorned with palm trees, flowers, and underwater scenes. Bless her soul, it makes the place almost bearable.

Lights went out at ten, and that's about the time I got dive-bombed by the first cockroach. I say the first because there were very, very many that night. I jumped, and all the other ladies in the room asked what was wrong. "Mongomonga" I gasped. The lights went back on, and a mongomonga hunt ensued. Everyone who wasn't hooked up to an IV (and one lady who was- she had her fluids bag in one hand and a flip flop in the other) grabbed a projectile to launch at this mongomonga. We got that one, but after that I was quieter when the cockroaches hit me. Cockroaches are awful fliers, they run into everything, I don't know why they don't learn to fly better. It was a long night of mosquitoes buzzing in my ears and biting me and more cockroaches, but I made it. I got so many mosquito bites that I was sure I would end up with dengue and have to stay in the hospital an additional two weeks.

When morning finally came I immediately packed my sheets, pillows, and of course, toilet paper. By the time the doctor came around I was ready to go, and I told him as much. He checked me out and said, "Maybe this evening." I was appalled. I didn't even think I needed to stay the night, and I felt much better, I was even thinking I could catch some of school that day. I convinced the nurse to take the IV out (she took it out, then put the needle on the leg of the sweatpants I was wearing) and I proceeded to inform them that I was healthy and leaving. I was finally granted permission. I started for home and made it about 100 yards before the nurses came running down the street after me. Apparently I could go home, but I couldn't WALK home (it was only about 2.5 miles). So I had to call Sulia out of school again to come get me.

All in all, I'm just glad that I wasn't so sick that I couldn't see the humor in all of this. It might have been pretty scary if I was really sick, but I wasn't, so it was funny. One cool thing that came out of this was the outpouring of love from my community. My neighbor came and brought me milk and juice. Some of the ladies from my church brought me food from a kaipoula (feast) which included the Tongan classic: canned spaghetti wrapped in a fried egg. Yum (uh, not really). One of the old guys from my village brought me bananas. And most of all, my counterpart, Sulia, was incredibly supportive. She drove me to and from the hospital, came back when school ended, and even stayed the night with me in the hospital. Several times during the night I awoke to her re-tucking me in; I think she slept less than I did.

One of the funny things I've noticed in Tonga is that whenever you get sick, Tongans will blame it on something you're doing that they don't necessarily approve of. For example, this last time when I was sick, the people from my village told me it was because I swim too much. (2-3 times a week, for an hour) Others suggested that it was because I walk down the road too much when the sun is out. When I was sick during homestay my host mom suggested it was because I put butter on my toast in the morning. She told me this while eating pineapple-slathered in butter.

Also if you go to the hospital, I found it must be custom for people to give you a carton of milk and a carton of juice. Sulia got me milk and juice. My neighbor brought me milk and juice. I looked around the room, and everyone had milk and juice, a carton of each, at their bedside. I think it must be like flowers in the US.

Just a little sidenote on the milk here. I don't know what it is. It comes in a carton, doesn't need to be refrigerated, and has a six month shelf-life. I guess it tastes like milk, maybe I don't remember what milk should taste like though. A little worrisome, but I'm intrigued.

So, that was the hospital. It was an experience, and God-willing, I'll never go back.

In other news, I have recently killed my fifth rat in my house, the latest was one that had been terrorizing me every night for more than a week, so I was particularly excited to get him. Unfortunately, I didn't get him as well as I had hoped, he somehow got out of the trap in the middle of the night and started flopping around my kitchen. I turned my flashlight on him, and saw that he was pretty severely crippled, so I figured he wasn't going anywhere and went back to sleep. In the morning he was gone. I looked everywhere and finally found him under a bench across the house, seemingly dead. I realized he had to go right under my hammock to get there. Gross. But I get a plastic bag and get ready to dispose of him. As soon as I touch his tail, he comes alive- and chases me. So what if he has no use of his two front legs, he rolls after me with surprising quickness. I leap onto my bench and assume the fetal position, where I call out the window to one of my class six boys to come get rid of the rat. He comes in and grabs it by the tail, and of course, because he's a 12 year-old boy, chases all the girls with it. Five rats down, countless to go...

So I went on a boat trip with the PCV's on 'Eua yesterday. It was a little treacherous, but overall fun. We were set to leave at six am, so when the guy that was taking us wasn't there at 6:15 we called him and ended up getting him out of bed, he had forgotten he was taking us. Our plan was to go all the way around the island. The guy who owns the boat, Keiko, got to the wharf, and spent twenty minutes pounding on the boat with a hammer (fixing the holes presumably) and we were off. Now this boat didn't exactly look like an open ocean-capable vessel (It was maybe 15 ft. long, powered by a single outboard motor) but I assumed it was all right. About two hours later I am bailing water out of the bottom of the boat as no less than four of my friends are losing their breakfasts over the side. The sea had gotten pretty rough and the waves were crashing over the sides of the boat. We were all looking at Keiko nervously; we have learned in these situations to look at the locals and see if they're freaked out to really assess our danger. He looked petrified too. Dang. No one said it at the time, but we talked about it later, and we were all thinking about what we were going to when the boat sank. We were at a particular spot where we could probably all swim to shore, but unfortunately the waves were crashing into a sheer rock cliff, making getting onto land impossible. My plan included untying a length of rope from the bow of the sinking boat and tying everyone together and trying to swim around the point of the island until we were at a place where we could safely get out, then living off the land for ten days catching fish and eating coconut until we were found and rescued. I even though about what I would say when I was interviewed for the Reader's Digest story. Something along the cliched lines of, "It was scary, but I knew we'd make it" I have an active imagination. In these situations I also tend to think of the dirty dishes I left in the sink that my Mother would find if I died right then. Morbid, but motivating.

We made it through and five hours after getting onto the boat we stepped back onto slid land, where I promptly vowed to name my firstborn after our "captain." I don't think he understood me, so I don't feel too obligated to stick to that. Although Keiko's not a bad name...maybe I'll name a dog after him...Four out of the seven of us that went ended up puking, although afterwards everyone agreed that it was pretty cool to see the island from the sea. We saw a few beaches that we didn't know about that we're going to go try to find, so that was neat. Overall it was a cool experience, but not one that I'm eager to have again anytime soon.


Mom said...

Life in the U.S. will be very boring after you get home (I hope). Really I think you should write a book about your adventures in Tonga. We had an uneventful trip to Alyeska by comparison:-) The ski slopes were awesome and I only had a few crashes on the hill. Jeff snowboarded and was on his butt a lot but I think that's what snowboarders do! We stayed in a cozy little cabin with a woodstove and loft that was really cool. It was lots of fun - I still am a slow skiier but managed to keep up with Larry and Jeff. Take your vitamins and get rid of all those rats before I get there!

Michele Hernandez said...

Tonga seems to be treating you well! i like that even though a PCV's life isn't always fun and games, we can still make it seem like it is!
ps your mom is going there?! cool!