Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My First Week at my Site!

So, despite a hurricane warning, we were able to swear in and become official volunteers last Wednesday! We did have a change of venue though, just in case there was bad weather- instead of the resort that we were supposed to have it at, we had it indoors at Queen Salote College (an all-girl high school). I think it ended up being significantly less fancy than is was supposed to have been, but I was just happy that it still happened. I was starting to feel pretty stir-crazy at Sela’s!
It was really cool, because on the morning of swearing-in, my school secretary, Naite, called me and asked if they could dress me up for the ceremony. Naite and her sister picked me up and drove me to my house, where they dressed me in a white puletaha (a long blouse and matching skirt) and taovala (a woven mat worn around the waist). They also gave me a flower thing to wear around my waist and a flower necklace made with tiny red flowers called heilala. Apparently this type of flower is hard to find and is worn for very special occasions, so it was really nice of them to make it for me. They have an interesting, kind of beer-like smell.
After I was dressed, they took me to the hall at Queen Salote. Our guests of honor (because every event in Tonga has to have a guest of honor) were the Minister of Education, the New Zealand High Commissioner, and the Japanese Ambassador. We all took the oath as a group and then they called us one by one to receive a certificate and a pin. I thought the certificate would say something about us being volunteers, but it was actually just a paper that said our language test score, which was sort of odd. The pin is kind of nice- I put it on my fridge as a magnet. We also had a really good slideshow of pictures from PST, (which my friend Farfum spent a long time making, but which ended up being impossible to see) and some of the new volunteers did a dance performance. All in all, it was nice, and I was really glad to finally be a volunteer and be done with training. We will be done with our service exactly two years from that date: December 16, 2011!
I was originally supposed to have moved into my house Wednesday afternoon, but again, as a result of the hurricane warning the Peace Corps office had everyone stay an extra night at Sela’s, even the people on Tongatapu. It actually ended up working out well, because we all went out to dinner on Wednesday night and it was really nice. We went to this place called Little Italy, which had awesome Italian food. Some people also went out to a club afterward, called the Billfish. It’s one of the few clubs in Nuku’alofa and it’s popular with the volunteers and other “palangis”. I decided to skip that one, as I had gone there last weekend. It’s pretty much like a typical club in the states- loud, smoky, expensive drinks and plenty of creepy guys. It was pretty fun, since it was the first time I had really gone out in months and a bunch of the trainees went, but I think I can wait until we’re all together again for our in-service training in April to go there again!
So on Thursday my school came and picked me up from Sela’s. I was surprised to see they brought the school truck and several of the students to help lift things. We took my suitcases from Sela’s and then stopped by the Peace Corps office for some things I had bought, and then got Scooby from Poli’s house. Then they dropped me off and I just put my stuff away. It was nice to be in my own place, but I was kind of bored by the end of the day! On Friday Naite took me shopping for some household stuff and groceries, and I got almost everything I needed. I had dinner at Rob and Kathy’s house that evening, which was awesome, and then on Saturday I went to the market with them and Louis. We saw a sign for “Old Tonga: an Ancient Cultural Village” and ended up going on a long bike ride to this swampy area west of town to try to get to it. Turns out, it is just this place you can rent out for events, and nobody was there! The road was really rocky, and by the time I headed back to town, my bike was making this weird clicking noise and the pedals felt like they were getting loose. I ended up going straight to the bike repair guy, who told me to come back for my bike at 5:00 (it was like 1:00!) so I killed time at the Peace Corps office for awhile on the internet, and decided to check on the bike at 3:00 and thankfully it was already fixed. I went home and gave Scooby a flea bath, which she did not appreciate, but she definitely needed! It’s been nice having a dog, but I really need to train her! She gets really jumpy and she likes to bite my hands and stuff. I found a book in the school library today though called “I Just Got a Puppy, Now What Do I Do?” which hopefully can help me out! Also I need to find out where the vet is so I can get her spayed asap!
I decided to go to the Anglican Church on Sunday in the interest of making a good impression, since St. Andrews is an Anglican school. I went with Naite’s daughter Kulaea, who is also a teacher at the school. Everything was going fine until the priest guy introduced me and then suggested that I could help with the English Sunday School, which I will definitely not be doing! I also took communion for the first time in my life- I felt weird about that, since I think you have to be baptized or something to partake in all that, but Kulaea told me to so I just did it. After the service, I was told to get on this bus, which took us to somebody’s wedding brunch. This seems to be a recurring theme for me in Tonga so far: crashing strangers’ parties and weddings. I feel extra awkward because I’m a palangi and I don’t blend in, and I know everyone is really wondering who the hell I am!
Monday and Tuesday Naite invited me to go around with the school band. They are doing a lot of performances for feasts and parties and stuff, and they also do Christmas caroling at people’s houses around town. So they all drive around like a big convoy with the school truck and some other cars, get off and play some songs, and then load it all up again and drive on. I think this is sort of a fundraiser, because people usually give them a little donation every time they play. Their band is only a couple years old but it has a reputation as being really good. I think Tongans in general are really into brass bands, because they have them perform for a lot of occasions, and even the police have a band. So that was kind of fun, and I think it was a good way to meet people, and I got to eat some delicious food at the New Zealand High Commission’s party, which was definitely the highlight of the day. They had seared ahi and quiche, and this delicious banana cake. I’m making myself hungry just remembering it.
Anyway, today (Thursday) is Christmas Eve. A bunch of us volunteers in Tongatapu are getting together tonight with some Aussie volunteers and having a dinner. It should be fun. I’m making chocolate chip cookies (mostly just because I want to eat them). Anyway, I hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Back in Tongatapu!

So I haven’t been able to put up a blog in a while. Its been a busy few weeks. We’re back on Tongatapu -we flew back on Friday. Now we’re staying at the same guesthouse in Nuku’alofa that we stayed in at the beginning of training. We’ll be there until we swear in next Wednesday and move to our sites.

Anyway, to backtrack, the last couple weeks in Ha’apai were good, but we were all getting really tired of home stay by that point and were ready to move on. We had a great going-away party that our families got together to put on. They had a sound system and everything. My host mom, Petelina, loves to dance and she was very excited about that aspect of the party. We were also asked to do a bible reading at the Free Wesleyan church, which is interesting because none of us went there. Petelina, insisted upon dressing me up in one of her “church outfits,” which wasn’t the most flattering thing I’ve worn. It went pretty well, even though it was in Tongan and I had no idea what I was saying. The local Catholic church also threw a little party for us, because Feleti and our health officer Jacinta went to church there regularly. It ended up being pretty sweet for them because they were presented with gifts of a large tapa cloth and a mat, both of which are very valuable.

I was also, after a great deal of hassle, able to get my dog, “Scooby” (I realize that is a boy name - she was already named) to Nuku’alofa with me. She belonged to Poli’s neighbor and all of us would always pet her and play with her when we went to class. She is exceptionally friendly for a Tongan dog and will always greet people by running up to them and then rolling over in hopes of getting her belly scratched. Lani, Poli’s neighbor, told me that I could have her, so I thought I would give it a try, being that she is such a good dog. To make a long story short, turns out bringing a dog on plane is a huge hassle, involving apathetic airport staff, endless phone calls to a variety of government agencies, wrong email addresses, people not sending emails until the last minute, fruitless searches for nails, and washing an unhappy dog. But in then end I was able to get her here! She is currently living at Poli’s house, where she will stay until I move into my place.

Once we arrived back in Tongatapu, me and another trainee, Ashley, stayed with a volunteer, Carole, at her house in Pea, a village about 20 minutes from Nuku’alofa. She made is spagetti, which I was very excited about after my diet during homestay. They fed me very well, but Tongan food is in general, pretty bland and most of it is either fried or boiled, which gets old fast! On Saturday morning she took us to the flea market and the regular market, which was fun. They have lots of really cool Tongan handicrafts that I think I might blow my budget on! I just bought a couple pairs of earrings though. 

Later that day, I was really happy because I was able to see my school and my house! The school secretary, Naite, and her two daughters, one of which is a teacher at the school, picked me up from the Peace Corps office, and drove me to the campus. It’s actually really nice- they have an awesome library and computer lab, which has wireless internet (yay!). They also have a Home Ec. Department, so I’m really hoping I can use one of the sewing machines to make some clothes. The house itself is nice too, it’s pretty small, but not too small. It has a kitchen, living room, bathroom, and bedroom, with a lot of furniture and appliances already in it! I was so excited to discover that it already has a (large) refrigerator and stove, as well as a bunch of kitchen utensils. There is a big table and chairs in the living room as well as a small couch, which I was really hoping to have but didn’t think I could afford! The bedroom has two beds, which will be great for having guests over, and they already have mattresses on them! Another great perk is that there are screens on all the windows and a screen door, which should be a big help in cutting down the bug problem. The one drawback is the bathroom, because the shower is really small and doesn’t have any space to put toiletries, and there isn’t a bathroom sink, so I’ll have to use the kitchen sink to wash my face and hands, but that’s ok. There is also a storage room that I can keep my bike in, which I’m glad about, because bike theft can be a problem here. Naite said she would take me shopping for more household stuff next Friday too!

On Saturday (the 5th) night, Carole took us to a concert called “Carols by the Sea.” It was outdoors on the palace grounds right by the ocean and they had a bunch of different Christmas carols performed by different people. The King and his sisters came too and sat in a special tent, and nobody could sit between the King’s tent and the stage. I was excited because I got to see St. Andrew’s band perform. They had a cute thing where this boy played the trombone with his foot.

Sunday was really nice too…no church! Instead we went to a beach resort on an island close to Nuku’alofa- about a 10 minute boat ride away, called Pangaimotu. It had a bar and restaurant and shaded tables, and a sunken boat nearby that people could snorkel around. It had some really cool fish near it, but the water was kind of murky so I was getting nervous! Anyway, it was a nice way to spend a Sunday, and I was glad to know about, especially for when I have visitors!

We checked into Sela’s Guesthouse again on Tuesday, and the rest of the week has been more training sessions. Today (Friday) we had our OPI (final Tongan language test). I’m relieved that it’s finally over, and I scored as “intermediate,” which was my goal! Now I can just relax for the next few days before swear-in!