Thursday, October 1, 2009

Tsunamis, swim lessons, and scuba certifications (how's that for some alliteration?)

Tevita juggling
Class 5/6 one night after poako
I was cleaning my house and found a molokau, which Tevita captured, then proceeded to de-fang and play with (must be a guy thing?)
I was cleaning my house and got distracted and decided to practice juggling...

I've received a lot of e-mails, facebook posts, and even a few phone calls inquiring as to my safety after the earthquake and ensuing tsunami. I want to let everyone know that I am all right, my island was basically unaffected by the tsunami. Also I live on the highest coral island in the South Pacific, so I feel pretty safe here in terms of tsunamis.

I spent the last week in Tongatapu (a main island) for a week of training on how the incoming group of Peace Corps Trainees should be trained. A few days before I got there I was contacted with an opportunity to teach swim lessons while there to women who don't know how to swim. Many Tongans, despite their inevitable proximity to the ocean, have never learned to swim. This was an issue that was thrust into national attention after the Princess Ashika boat tragedy in which every woman aboard perished. Last I heard it was illegal to talk about in public- so enough of that, eh? Okay, one more thing, it has been interesting to note the different approaches that the governement has taken in dealing with the Princess Ashika tragedy and the recent tsunami which killed 9 people in Niua Toputapu. They seem a lot more sympathetic and proactive towards the tsunami situation, whereas with the boat sinking they seemed to spend more time and effort denying any responsibility or even trying to avoid the subject all together. Okay, that's it, really.

When I got into Tongatapu on Friday, I met with a representative from the Red Cross to solidify the plans for lessons the next week. As it turns out, not many plans had been made. We didn't have a place to do the lessons, and when I asked what her goals for the lessons were, she explained to me that she wanted to teach the women life-saving techniques, and how they can help other people who are in trouble in the water. "Huh. It was my understanding that these women don't know how to swim...?" I asked. "Oh, no, they don't." She replied, matter-of-factly. " you think that might be our first step...?" I suggested. She thought about it, then agreed that we probably ought to teach these women to swim before we teach them to save others in the water. With that cleared up we set about figuring out where we were going to hold these swim lessons. There is one swimming pool in Tonga that we had contacted, but they wanted to charge us $50 a day to use it. We decided on trying the Navy base, even though it is a deep wharf, but it is protected and close by. Well, come Monday morning we still hadn't confirmed that we would be able to swim at the navy base, but at about 10:30 it came through that they would allow us use of the wharf area. That was a relief, but I still wasn't sure anyone was going to show up.

As it turns out, we had plenty of people show up- they were all fifteen minutes late (which was difficult because I was trying to fit the lessons in during the lunch break of our training sessions), but we had 14 women show up. I introduced myself, and talked a little about what we wanted to accomplish that week. The women all seemed on board...until it was time to get in the water. Apparantly they hadn't been expecting to have to get in the water, and that was a deal-breaker for some. As it turns out, the lady from the Red Cross had made all the Red Cross workers come, and most really didn't want to be there. As it was, we got nine in the water that first day, and we actually ahd a really good first lesson. I was optimistic about the week. Tuesday rolls around and at the lunch break I rush to the Navy base...and no one showed up. Not one person! We called the Red Cross, and they said since it had rained at 9am that morning they couldn't make it. Another lady had a stomachache. Wednesday I had three: Lavinia (a Peace Corps program manager) a doctor from an outer island and her daughter. Lavinia and the doctor didn't know how to swim at all, they started out in their life jackets, while the daughter (she was about my age) was already a pretty proficient swimmer. By the end of Wednesday, the doctor had a breakthrough and swam across the entire wharf without her life jacket. She was pretty athletic and once she had the confidence she took off. By Friday, Lavinia was also swimming without her life jacket and able to float and tread water. So it turned out t be successful, at least for those two, and we had a good time with it. I think it's a really important skill to have, especially in Tonga, and hopefully I can do it again and plan a little better next time.

A scuba dive business just came out to 'Eua, and they run scuba dive certification course, so a few of the other PCV's and I decided that this would be a great opportunity to get scuba certified. Our certification course starts on Saturday, and we're all pretty excited about it. We received our books last week and were instructed to read them and answer the questions at the end of the chapter. One night I was sitting on my steps reading my manual when my class 5/6 kids came for night school. They saw a new book in my hands and their eyes lit up. I let them look at it and explained that I would be diving on Saturday. When they heard this a few of them started frowning, then one boy blurted out, "But you're going to die!" The rest quickly agreed, that yes, I would defnitely die if I tried to do that. One boy suggested I would be eaten by a whale. (I've been seeing whales on a daily basis the past month) They went as far as to tell me not to go. I assured them that I was NOT going to die, and that I had already paid for the course and was definitely going. They looked at each other, then one boy turned to me and said, "Well, can I have Tahi (my dog)?" They proceeded to argue amongst themselves about who would get what when I died as I sat there staring, mouth agape. Finally I said, "I AM NOT GOING TO DIE! Time to start class, let's go."

After night school that night my neighbor Elizabeth came over to get help with her homework and saw my dive manual sitting on the table. As she flipped through it I told her I was going to do that this weekend. She looked at me, then back at the book, then up at me and said, "But you're going to die!" "I AM NOT GOING TO DIE!!!" I replied, as calmly as possible, which was not very. She was quiet for a while, then said, "Well, when your family comes in December I'll make sure to take them to the place where you died so they can see where you died." I assured her again that I really, really wasn't going to die. She remained unconvinced. So, if I DO die this weekend while scuba diving all these kids are going to look pretty prophetic, eh?

I have a little problem that I don't know if anyone can help me with. It's about my dog. The neighbor's dog had puppies, and several times now I have seen Tahi drinking this other dog's milk. Is that normal? Should I try to stop this, or just let nature run it's course? In my defense, I am feeding Tahi plenty, he's probably the fattest dog on the island (not saying much).

As far as day-to-day things, school is almost finished, the class six exam is next week. School doesn't ACTUALLY let out until December, but after the class 6 exam, things wind down pretty quickly. By that I mean, the kids come to school and play cards all day. After the class 6 exam there will be no more poako (night school), so I'm kinda looking forward to that. It's warming up here, which I'm really excited about, but that also means probably a return of the rats in force. There've only been one or two a night lately :) The new training group arrives in less than a week, and I will be heading to Ha'apai to help with their technical training. I'm pretty excited about that, Ha'apai is pretty much a perfect opposite of 'Eua. Whereas 'Eua is covered by rainforest and perfect for hiking and exploring, Ha'apai is the place to go for pristine beaches and snorkeling. I'm hoping to get out scuba diving while I'm there (If I don't die first). So a few things to look forward to :)

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