Sunday, October 11, 2009

Tongatapu, October 8

So here we are. After a completely uneventful 13 hour flight, we arrive safe and sound to a beautiful morning in Tongatapu, Tonga. We did stop in Apia, Samoa on the way and dropped off our Samoa colleagues and witnessed a beautiful, breezy tropical island dawn as we reboarded the plane for the last leg. After touching down in Tonga and working our way through the customs and baggage claim process (also uneventful and relatively fast) we received an enthusiastic greeting from the Tonga Peace Corps staff, complete with leis (kahoe), a truck for our bags, and a school bus to take us to Sela’s Guest House, our home for the next few days while we receive our basic orientation to Peace Corps Tonga. The warmth continued after we found our rooms and gathered around for more welcome, included a song from three of the staff in three part harmony. Our first witnessing of the Tongan singing we have read so much about.

And then: we’re told everything is on hold and we must stay put here at Sela’s because a tsunami warning has been issued as a result of some big earthquakes in Vanuatu and the Cook Islands. After all the drama associated with the big Tsunami that hit Samoa just last week, with all the questions we received about whether our service would be affected, and all the uncertainty of associated with serving in dynamic seismic area, this news was a tad bit sobering. But everyone took it in stride, some games came out, and we passed the time until the warning was lifted.
So off to the Peace Corps office for our formal welcome. Such ceremonies in Tonga invariably involve a Kava ceremony. One of the Tongan Program Managers, Viliami Mafi, told us the fable associated with the Kava ceremony, and then described the process of preparing the kava. Then the kava is served to us one by one, and is the custom this task was performed by young women or girls, in this case current PCVs. After kava, some traditional dancing performed by two PCVs (three if you count Poki’s comic performance behind them), then a feast prepared by the staff where we all ate outside on the lawn amongst the palms.

I ate with Carol, currently the oldest Volunteer at age 67, who teaches computer classes at a village middle school in a village on Tongatapu about 10 miles from here. Since I thought for sure that I would be the oldest volunteer in Tonga this was great news. She’s enthusiastic and open and seems unfazed about living in a smallish village by herself. Kathy made her initial connection with Sune, a volunteer finishing her third year who has been working to develop early childhood education teacher training.

Nuku’alofa reminds us a lot of the Mexican villages we visited last December, only somewhat cleaner. Most residential streets are dirt and potholed, but the main streets have pavement in reasonably good repair. We wandered along a portion of the waterfront and through the main part of downtown, and there is only a block or two that any kind of urban feel to it. A major wharf area is undergoing massive reconstruction, there’s a park area along the waterfront, and a nice internet cafĂ©/coffee bar/restaurant (“Friends”) that will undoubtedly become a favorite place if this is where we end up being placed.

All in all, a pretty good day.

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