Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Fun, Fascinating Facts

1. I’ve been invited to join the netball team in Ha’ano. I’m looking forward to it, but after every practice/game that I’ve watched, I’ve seen several people with bloody knees or twisted ankles.

2. I’m my own handyman: I set up my stove by myself – EVEN the gas attachment. I haven’t blown my house up or even singed off my eyebrows.

3. The 4 new PVCs from Pangai, 2 old PVCs from Pangai, a JICA (the Japanese version of the PC), and I are going to Uoleva for Christmas. It’s an uninhabited island nearby. There’s a resort on it, but no electricity or cell-phone service. For New Year’s, I’ve invited that group to Ha’ano.

Breaking and Entering, Part II

My belongings arrived on the ferry, and I was setting up my house. Another gust of wind blew my bedroom door closed. Though I had my keys with me, none of them opened the door. I decided to handle this break-in myself instead of embarrassing myself in front of the town again. I pulled up the nails for the security wire in my bedroom, but rather than removing the whole window’s wire, I pulled up just enough that I could fit through. Or so I thought. I squeezed myself through about half way, but at that point, when I was dangling by my hips half in the room and half out, I got caught on the wire. I couldn’t move. I dangled helplessly with my butt out the window. Fortunately, a group of schoolkids came by, and they helped me untangle myself and wiggle through.

Good news: The kids are very helpful.

Bad news: The kids must think their teacher is an idiot.

Breaking and Entering, Part I

The first full day I was in Ha’ano, I wanted to go for a run to see the island. I stepped outside to toss away some garbage before heading off, and a gust of wind blew my door closed. My keys were locked inside! I went to the PTA president’s home to see if he would have a key, since he was the person who let me into my house in the first place. His wife gave me a janitor-style keychain and told me that one of these should work. No luck. I went back to tell her, and she came over to help me break into my house. Peace Corps has a policy that all female Volunteers’ homes must have security wire on the windows. Mine was put up just last week. Unfortunately, that was too soon. With a handful of neighbors looking on, we got a hammer and pried up all the nails to take off the wire, and I was able to reach in and turn the doorknob.

Good news: It’s difficult for an intruder to break into my house.

Bad news: It’s difficult for me to break into my house.

First Few Days in Ha'ano

My first few days have been, well, busy. My home was absolutely empty for the first four days, since all PCVs shipped their belongings on the ferry, and the ferry arrived several days after we arrived. Since I was unable to cook for myself, and since I was being “integrated into the community” (PC-talk), my neighbors took turns feeding me. Households would bring me food of I would go to their homes for almost all my meals: fried dough balls for breakfast and fried fish, fried chicken, kumala (a sweet root crop), corn, ‘otai (a sweet coconut and fruit drink), eggs, and lu (a traditional dish of meat and coconut cream wrapped in a spinach-like leaf and cooked in the underground oven, the umu) for lunch and dinner. I’ve been able to meet a number of people in my village that way, though I have trouble remembering everyone’s name.

Since church is such a big deal in Tonga, I’ll be going to church every Sunday, if not more frequently. There are four churches in my village: Free Church of Tonga, Church of Tonga, Wesleyan, and Mormon. I went with a woman in my village to the Free Church of Tonga, and, after church, I went to her house to eat with her family. There are about 15 people living in her home, and, despite asking how everyone is related, I’m not sure what all the connections are. (“This guy is the nephew of her mother’s sister’s husband’s grandmother, but he was adopted by his father’s eldest sister when he was young so he doesn’t live here; he’s just visiting.”)

When I eat at most homes, I’m shown the same kind of respect I was shown at the beginning of my homestay in Fangale’ounga. I am seated away from the rest of the family, sometimes in another room. Whereas the rest of the family’s food is presented as it comes out of the umu, mine is cut into bite sized pieces. I’m fed before everyone else, or others just watch me eat. I try to tell them I’d like to eat all together, but they insist on their way. Maybe after some time, they’ll feel more comfortable with me, and we’ll eat together, like in Fangale’ounga.

A Quick Update

It’s been so long since my last blog and so many things have happened, so here’s a quick update:

1. After living in Fangale’ounga for 2 months with my host family, I (and all other Peace Corps Trainees) spent a weekend with a current Peace Corps Volunteer to see what it’s “really” like to be a Volunteer. I went to another town on the island with two other PCTs, but rather than experiencing the true Peace Corps lifestyle, we just enjoyed eating palangi (foreigner/American) food (tortillas, brownies, chocolate chip cookies, pizza) and resting. We met up with the rest of the group in Nuku’alofa (the capital city) for about a week more of teacher training and language classes.

2. On December 16, the 25 of us swore in as official Peace Corps Volunteers. We said the whole “I do solemnly swear to protect and uphold the Constitution of the United States of America” bit, there were speeches by the Minister of Education in Tonga and a Tongan minister, I participated in a traditional Tongan dance, and some other newly-anointed Volunteers read hymns.

3. We left for our respective sites the next day. For me, that meant heading back to Ha’apai, the island group where we all had lived as PCTs. There are 4 new PCVs in Pangai (the main town in Ha’apai), and 3 new PCVs in outer islands of Ha’apai. I’m on the island of Kauvai in the town of Ha’ano. The 2 other PCVs in outer islands in Ha’apai are living so far away that they don’t even fly into the airport like we 5 do; they take the ferry from Nuku’alofa straight to Ha’afeva, then smaller boats to each of their islands. (If you want to look their islands up, the islands are Kotu and Matuku. Matuku’s not even labeled on some maps in Tonga. If you can’t find those islands, they’re 2 green dots in the ocean. After 2 years, those PCVs will have the best answers to the question, “What would you take if you were stranded on a desert island?”) The PTA president of my school came to pick me up, and after a drive to the wharf, we took a boat to Ha’ano, and I was home.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

House in Ha'ano

A couple of weeks ago, I went back to my future house in Ha'ano. I went with a Peace Corps staffer to do a security check of the house (Are there locks on all the doors? Is there a secondary escape route in case of a fire? Is the roof attached to the walls?), and this time I brought a camera.

We got a ride to the far town on the island of Foa, then my school's principal came on a boat to pick us up. The boat took about 45 minutes or an hour, but on a small boat with choppy water, it was not enjoyable. Coming back, the ride was faster and smoother, and here's a picture of my island, Kauvai, as we left.

My house is a 2-minute walk from the dock and right on the school compound. It used to be a classroom, but some time ago, they converted it to a house for a PCV. There has been a Volunteer for the past two years, so his things are still in the house, but here's a picture of the bedroom. There's not a closet or dresser, so he hung all his clothes on nails scattered around the room. Some people tell me that's the best method, because sweaty clothes will dry and not mildew that way.

I've got a big living area, bigger than most houses I've seen. There's some good cross ventilation between the front and back doors, so supposedly the house doesn't get unbearable in the summer months (February-ish).

Here's the kitchen. The last PCV had running water in the sink, but there wasn't a drain, so he had to collect the water in a bucket and dump it out outside. I, however, get a sweet sink with pipes and everything!

Perhaps the best part is the view off my porch. No need to explain why.

With more internet, I'll put up more pictures, but for now, there's my future home in Ha'ano!