Friday, October 23, 2009

Highs and Lows

Ready to go!

There's a pool table in 'Eua!

Back by popular demand- It's Tonga Moments:

- I was riding in a van with my neighbor, Tevita and his sister. It was dark. We could see something ahead on the road, but couldn't quite make out what it was, we thought maybe it was a loose cow or something. We were all kinda joking about it, but as we got closer, it became clear. It was two very large pigs trying to make baby pigs. The female pig's eyes were about to pop out of her head. I laughed, but quickly realized I was the only one laughing. In Tonga there is this brother/sister stigma and anything remotely sexual in the presence of siblings is EXTREMELY uncomfortable and inappropriate. Once boys reach puberty they may no longer sleep under the same roof as their sisters. If a boy is at a dance club or party and his sister comes in he has to leave. If a guy starts dating the sister of one of his buddies, they can no longer be buddies, and the brother will avoid his sister's boyfriend at all costs and will even give him dirty looks. Anyway, it's something that is deeply rooted in the culture, and there's more to it than even I understand. But the rest of that car ride was spent in really awkward silence.

- So as you may have read in my last blog, all my students were convinced I was going to die when I went out scuba diving. The last day of my certification course we were doing two open water dives. It was the Saturday before the class 6 exam, so class 5/6 had school. As I was heading out that morning, they were all waiting around for class to begin when I left. They ran out of the classroom and asked me where I was going (typical Tongan greeting). I told them I was going diving, and once again they tried to convince me not to go. When I made it clear again that I WAS going, we said our goodbye's:
Pita: Bye Jennifer!
'Ana H: See you manana!
Hingano: See you later!
'Ana L: See you in Heaven!
Lopeti: Bye Jennifer!

Me: Bye guys...Hey! 'Ana, the closest I will be to heaven this weekend will be in church tomorrow, I will see you there.

'Ana L: (looking skeptical)

Scuba diving was amazing, and I can't wait to do more. It's something I have always wanted to do, but the amount of equipment and planning involved was kind of a turn off. It's not something you can go out and do on a whim, but I've concluded that it's worth the preparation. Also I think the diving here is probably among the best in the world, the water is relatively warm , crystal clear, the fish are is a world apart under there. And one of the coolest things is that here it's relatively untouched. Scuba diving in 'Eua began just a few months ago except on special dive trips out to the island, so it's not a place that gets a lot of human traffic. OH! One of the coolest parts? We could hear the humpback whales singing. They were quite far away, but it was neat to hear them. I finished the dive course and made it back safely to go to church on Sunday, much to the surprise of my students.

Two weeks later I get a call from Arisa, the dive instructor on the island, saying hey if you want to go out and swim with whales this week we can go Monday or Tuesday. Um...yes, please. There are only three places in the world where it's still legal to swim with Humpback whales, and Tonga is one of them. This fact did make me stop and think for a bit about WHY there's only three places in the world left where it's legal to swim with these whales...but it was an opportunity I wasn't going to pass up. We went out Tuesday afternoon- it was a beautiful day and the water was exceptionally calm. Within twenty minutes we had spotted whales breaching in the distance. We caught up to them and realized there were at least seven or eight all swimming together, which is unusual. They were spy-hopping, breaching, and really it looked like they were just playing and having a little whale party. We slipped in the water. At first I was a little apprehensive- they're just so big!- but as soon as I got in the water and saw them underwater I immediately felt at ease. Any trepidation I had was gone; there is just something supremely calming about being in the water with these giants. From the underwater viewpoint we counted at least nine of them. They were moving through at a leisurely pace, and at times it seemed almost as if they were showing off for us. At one point I was pretty close to this whale and I dove down and was swimming eye-to-eye with him for as long as I could hold my breath (we were snorkeling). It sounds cheesy, but looking into the eyes of a humpback whale, you get the feeling they hold all the answers to the world. It was a profoundly moving experience, and probably the coolest thing I've ever done. I know we hit a really good day, because Arisa was super excited about it and she does this every day. I had in fact been putting off writing this blog because I knew how difficult it would be to do this experience justice with words, and I knew I wasn't nearly talented enough. But there it is.

So those have been the highs, now for a few lows...
I currently have tonsillitis for the third time since being at site, and am now in Tongatapu being treated. But getting here was not easy. Yesterday I woke up and my tonsils were a little swollen and painful and I maybe had a little fever, but I went to my teachers meeting, and after that I went hiking with another PCV (Ashley), my neighbor Tevita, a couchsurfer, and Arisa, the dive instructor. I almost didn't go, but it was a beautiful day, I hadn't been on this hike in a while, and I love showing new people around the island. Ashley and I were the only ones who had been on this hike before, and it's about an eight-mile loop that would take us to two caves, two lookout points over the rain forest, and a giant banyan tree. It was a great day, a great hike in great company even though I wasn't feeling one-hundred percent. When we finished, we were on the opposite side of the island from my house, and I had planned on staying at Ashley's house last night so I didn't have to walk the additional two and a half miles home. Ashley was tou'a-ing (serving kava) that night in another village, so she just left me with her house keys. I took a nice bucket bath and started watching a movie on Ashley's computer. Almost immediately I started feeling crummy. I called the PC medical officer who told me to come in to Tongatapu today to see a doctor. Okay, that was good. But I started feeling worse and worse, I was feverish, I couldn't eat and could barely drink because my throat was so swollen. I decided I needed to go home, especially so I could get my house ready to leave today and get packed up. So I called my neighbor, Lupe, and she sent Tevita to come get me in her van. Ashley was still gone. Her door to her house is funny in that you cannot open or close it without a key from the inside or the outside. She had left me with the spare key, but when I went to open the door to get out, it didn't work. I slid the key under the door for Tevita to try it from the outside. Didn't work. Dang. By this time I was feeling REALLY crummy AND tired. After trying the key for ten minutes we concluded that it really just didn't work. At which point I pulled out my leatherman from my backpack and dismantled the doorknob. It worked. I was finally free from the house. Tevita and I reassembled the doorknob...and then were face with the problem of how to close the door. It won't close without a key. And I wasn't going to leave it unlocked. I had been trying to get a hold of Ashley, but predictably was unable to reach her (it's bad form to have your cell on while tou'a-ing) and you usually tou'a until one or two in the morning. I just wanted to get home. I was in tears by this point, which I mostly blame on the fever. I ended up calling another PCV on the island who has another spare key to her house, running to his house to get it, then coming back and locking up Ashley's house. I felt a wave of relief as I climbed back into the van to head home. Tevita turned the key. It wouldn't start. The engine was barely turning over. Cue more tears. Tevita gathered five Tongan boys to push the van until it was going fast enough that somehow it started. Okay, finally on my way home, we passed the wharf I realized, with much despair, that all the flights off the island had been cancelled for today. I would have to take the boat, which leaves around five in the morning. I would have to be at the wharf around 4am. And the last seven boat rides I've taken between 'Eua and Tongatapu have found me hanging over the railing retching. Cue more tears. I wasn't even sure how I was going to be able to throw up considering my throat was nearly swollen shut. Does it get backed up? Would my head explode? No doubt it would be painful. By the time I made it home it was nearly midnight, I would have to be on the boat in four hours. I wasn't packed. My house was a disaster. I collapsed in my bed, thinking I would wake up early to pack and get my house ready, when I heard a knock at my door. It was my neighbor Lupe. She came in, sat on my bed, and rubbed baby oil on my throat for an hour and a half. Her sixteen-year-old son, Viliami got out of bed and came and washed my dishes and cleaned up my table. Tevita stayed up and fixed Lupe's van so that I could get to the wharf in the morning and catch the boat. I tried to tell Viliami that he didn't have to wash my dishes, but it was no use. Finally I just relaxed and closed my eyes and let Lupe rub my throat. It felt really really nice.

I woke up this morning not feeling any better and not having slept much or well. Luckily, the boat ride in was as smooth as it's ever been when I've been on it, and I was actually able to sleep a little. I did not throw up. The PC medical officer saw me, got me some medicine and went and got me some soup (on her day off). She is also putting in the paperwork to DC (again) to get my tonsils removed. I'm crossing my fingers they approve this time, because being sick here really stinks.
Once again I have been overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and support from the Tongans surrounding me. They don't have much in terms of material things, but whatever they have they share. Even more than that, however, is how giving they are of themselves and their time. They're never too busy, too tired, or too self-involved to help someone, and that doesn't just go for me, it goes for anyone who needs help with anything, ever.

On a different note, class 5/6 took their exams two weeks ago, which means no more night school (And early morning school and Saturday school)! It also means from here on out school winds down pretty quickly. After their exams every day the village had a feast for the kids, and I gave my first impromptu fakamalo (thank-you speech) in front of the whole village. Everyone kinda smiled and nodded, and I thought it went pretty well, then the lady that went after me stood up and explained to everyone what I had been TRYING to say. Haha, oh well, they seemed to appreciate that I tried.

The weather's warming up finally, and the village and island seem to be coming to life again; the youth are more active, people are out of their houses more, and there's just more going on. I decided that I wanted to build a fale-Tonga (Tongan hut) and so the past two weeks I have been working on that with the help of my neighbors. It is nearly finished, the only thing left to do is weave all the coconut fronds for the roof and sides. When the new group of trainees goes through attachment, I will have three of them come stay at my house, which is too small for four people, so I will sleep in the fale. Also when my family comes I will sleep in the fale because (like I mentioned above) culturally it's not appropriate for me to sleep under the same roof as my brother. Also, now that it's warming up, it'll be a nice place to hang out and read a book as it will be cooler than my house.

Speaking of books, I've read a couple really good ones recently: Ishmael and Papillion. Ishmael I think should be required reading for human beings; it makes you look at things from an entirely different perspective. It's a little abstract, and I had to read it slowly to process it, but it was well worth it. Papillion, on the other hand, is a terrific story terrifically told. It's a true story of a guy who unjustly got sentenced to life in prison and how he finally escaped after many failed attempts. I highly recommend both books if anyone is looking for something to read next.

1 comment:

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Pablo from Argentina