Sunday, February 21, 2010

Australia, family in Tonga, MST, oh my!

"It's Tonga" Moment of the last three months:

I had just walked into my bathroom to have a shower when I saw two dark blobs on the floor. There is no light in my bathroom, so I grabbed my flashlight, and upon further inspection the turned out to be two tiny baby rats. I looked around, unsure of where they came from and if they were alone. No reasonable explanation presented itself; they didn't seem to be walking yet. Huh. I couldn't tell if they were even alive, so I decided to have my shower while I thought about what to do. I considered smacking them with my sandal, but that seemed messy. I was keeping an eye on them while in the shower, and about midway through, one of them became mobile. he started walking around the bathroom, and in a panic I ran and grabbed the first ting that came to mind. My machete, of course. Two minutes later I had a different problem on my hands. Four baby rat halves. It was a bit messy, but I scooped them onto a piece of cardboard, threw them out the door and re-showered. The next day two more appeared on my bathroom floor. Still no idea how they got there. I figured since I was already a killer, I might as well.....chop, chop.

Okay,'s been a while, and a lot has happened since my last update. I was sent to Australia to get my tonsils out and had to stay there for three weeks. I got back the day before my family got to Tonga, then a week after they left I was traveling again to my Mid-Service Conference on the main island of Tongatapu. I'm back in my village now; school has started and things are finally starting to settle down a bit again, but here's what I've been up to the last three months:

Australia was...interesting. It was my first time out of Tonga since arriving, and at first it was a bit overwhelming. I left 'Eua on a tiny, 10-seater "island-hopper" airplane, where I got to sit co-pilot in front of all the controls. I flew Air New Zealand to Australia, and let me tell you, it was a different experience. I sat down in my seat, which was all padded and comfortable, and get this: every person had a personal entertainment center in the back of the seat in front of them. You could watch the latest movies (I assume they were the latest; I had never heard of them), play video games, listen to the latest music (assumption again), watch TV shows, or listen to the radio. I was impressed. Before we took off, a movie came on everyone's screen; it was the pre-flight preparation telling you how to fasten your seatbelt and all that. I was watching, and I could tell that there was something just not quite right about it, but I couldn't put my finger on what it was. The lady in the seat next to me asked if I knew what was "off" about it, and then told me to take a close look at their uniforms. THEY WERE ALL NAKED!!! Their uniforms had been painted on, and you couldn't even tell unless you were looking for it. They all just were walking around with these strategically placed seat belts and life jackets and these sly little grins on their faces. I was shocked. Pleasantly. As if that wasn't enough, they gave us food, and it was good. I mean, my frame of reference may be a little skewed after living in Tonga for a year, but I ate salmon with a 7-bean salad on the side. The whole experience was so pleasant,I didn't want to land.

The day I got into Brisbane I decided to walk into town and have a look around. I passed a small grocery store and decided to do a little shopping since I had access to a full kitchen the place I was staying and thought I would save a little money by doing some cooking. I was not successful. I walked through the store for an hour and a half, picking things up for one meal, then putting them back and picking up a few ingredients for something different. I ended up having to leave quickly with a really upset stomach and checked out with the following:yogurt, seaweed, craisens, chick peas, seed mix, and muesli. Chalked that up as a failure.

Like I said, I had to stay in Australia three weeks for a fifteen-minute surgery, so I had a bit of free time on my hands. Luckily, there were a few towns withing walking distance, one huge street promenade, and a shopping mall. Also I learned how to use the public transportation after about a week, so that helped. The first week I kinda just did a lot of people-watching. I was fascinated at all the languages being spoken and the diversity of the people there. Needless to say, Tonga is not a very diverse country. I ended up getting pretty bored, not for lack of things to do, but I didn't know anyone there and so the only people I talked to were people in shops who were trying to sell me stuff. Having zero anonymity in Tonga can be extremely frustrating, but I missed walking down the road and people calling out to me by name. I tried to make friends, but people just weren't as friendly as they are in Tonga. Here's an excerpt from my journal:

"Clinical social retardation. Self-diagnosed. Prognosis: lifetime of awkwardness in social settings. 60% probability of owning four or more cats by age 30."

I ended up buying an ukulele and playing that because I was bored. I did actually end up making a few friends there, and they took me out and showed me a good time and showed me around a bit, but they also told me, "You can tell you've been living on a little island the last year. " Haha, ouch.

Here are some things I really appreciated about Australia:

-Hot showers!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
-Good sushi
-Good hospital :)
-Good public transportation
-Good nightlife
- I remember waking up in the middle of the night one night and being pleasantly surprised that I couldn't feel a single bug crawling on me. How novel.

The day after I got back from Australia I met my family in Tongatapu and we all headed out to 'Eua to spend Christmas. My Mom wrote the previous blog about their trip, so I won't go into too much detail about it. I'm really thankful that they got to come out to 'Eua and see my house, village, neighbors, my Tongan family, and just my life here. It was also great to see family, people who have known me and I've known longer than a year. I think they had a good time too, although the spiders take a bit longer to get used to than they had. I'm not sure how long, I'm not quite there yet myself.

The week after my family left, I was back in Tongatapu for our Mid-Service Training conference. It was really cool to see how far everyone had come in a year, and what we all had been up to at our sites. One thing that shocked me was how small our group had become. There were a few people out of the country at the time, but our group was down to I think 15 from 24! we haven't seen each other in ten months, but we kinda all picked up where we left off and I feel like we have a really tight-knit group. One of my favorite memories from the conference was of most of the group, gathered in the lounge pouring over some recent celebrity gossip magazines someone had received in the mail. Some people on the main island groups were more informed than others, and the following is an approximation of the conversation that ensued:

"Dang, I don't know half the people in this magazine!"
"Yeah, really! Who is this Jon Gosserlin that's all over?!"
"Isn't he the guy that knocked up the octomom?"
"Yeah, that's right"
"Holy shit, who are all these kids with Brad and Angelina?!"
"They have like six kids now, and they're from like seven different countries"
"Is that legal?"
"What the heck is Twitter?"
"Oh, my friend explained this to me, they're like facebook, but just status updates. They're called twits."
"Well, now let's not get rude, I'm sure they're perfectly nice."
"Who is this Adam Lambert? He's wearing more makeup in this picture than I've worn in the past year."
"Oh! I know, he won America's Got Talent, he beat out that homely-looking Susan lady with the great voice."
"Huh. Never heard of her, and that doesn't explain all the eye-shadow."

We then fell into a thoughtful silence.

School has begun, and our grant to build a library at the school has been approved! We lost a teacher from last year, she moved to Tongatapu and wasn't replaced, so we're down to three teachers this year (including me), which means two things: I get more responsibility and I get my own classroom! Both good things. I've found having my own classroom allows me to do more preparation work because I can write on the board before class and I don't have to lug all my supplies back and forth between school and my house. Also I see the kids more each day which I'm excited about. The class 4/5/6 teacher has been reluctant to hand over any responsibility or class time to me, but I'm working on him. The kids who took the class 6 exam last year did really great, and their English scores improved a lot from the previous years.

The kids here never cease to amaze me with their attitudes, energy, and excitement to learn. They come over after school to play soccer and rugby and just run around until they collapse, and they always want to help me clean my yard, fetch water, or organize the classroom. The high school girls come in the evenings to get help with their homework, and they're usually a lot of fun too. Between that and working on getting the library grant finalized, I've been keeping pretty busy!

Just got an e-mail, looks like a cyclone is heading our way right now, so wish my fale Tonga luck!!!*

I wrote this blog about a week and a half ago, but was unable to publish it at the time because of internet connection problems. A few days afterward we were hit by a category 4 cyclone, Rene. The PCV's here "consolidated" to the most well-built structure on the island, so we were pretty safe, but ended up having to stay there in a tiny room much longer than any of us expected. Walking back into my village after the cyclone passed I was able to observe the damage. One house had completely blown down (six of my kids lived there) and a few other outdoor kitchens and bathrooms had blown down, as well as lots of trees and power lines. No one was hurt, and the village has gathered around the family whose house feel down and they are being well-taken care of. We lost power for a week. My house fared pretty well, it flooded, but I expected that and had prepared for it. Things are finally starting to dry out now. And the faleTonga did great, I had to reattach some palm fronds, and it got pretty wet, but it held up really well. I found it a bit strange that my neighbors' house collapsed, and my faleTonga had barely any damage, but I think my real house protected the faleTonga from a lot of the wind/ flying debris. Hopefully that'll be the last cyclone we see this season!

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