November 4, 2009
As recently as Sunday I was wondering when the rainy season was going to begin. Well, it started Monday, and it’s been raining most of the time since then. I would guess our total rainfall over the last three days is four or five inches. The rain water cisterns and barrels are overflowing, it’s cool, there are puddles everywhere, and we can’t walk anywhere without getting our feet wet. Going sockless does have its advantages!
This week (week 4) is our last full week of language training, and we end this phase of training with a practice language exam on Friday morning. On December 11 we have to take a language exam at the conclusion of training, and they want to make sure we have at least a rudimentary grasp, enough to get around and have our basic needs met. We’re told that no one actually flunks this test, that if you do poorly it means a prescription for more ongoing language training. Those that do well on the test may be required to only continue studying on their own; those that do poorly will be required to take two or three ongoing classes a week with a language tutor. I believe that I will definitely be in the latter group, which is just fine by me. Both Kathy and I are at the point where sorting everything out, especially the grammar, is very trying. Probably the hardest part for me is actually processing what a Tongan speaker is saying since the language is still unfamiliar.
This afternoon we had a session with our Country Director (CD), Kelly, on Safety & Security. She is our “acting” CD, and her regular job is head of safety and security for the Peace Corps, so she really knows what she is talking about. All things considered Tonga appears to be a relatively safe country to work in; the primary issues confronting volunteers here are burglaries, with a low rate of person crimes. Two PCVs have died while here; one back in the 70s was murdered by a fellow volunteer, some kind of love triangle that apparently has been the subject of a “48 hours” story and a book. Three years ago another volunteer died as a result of a shark attack, a very unusual occurrence in Tonga. She also gave us an overview of the Emergency Action Plan, which looks to be a very well crafted set of procedures to deal with various emergencies. We mostly worry about natural events, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc., but there is also civil strife to be concerned about. As there was rioting in the streets of Nuku’alofa in 2006 which resulted in much of the main downtown being burned, this is a real issue. A year from now the country will have elections to expand the role of Parliament and increase the number of representatives elected by the people. Since this continuing transfer of authority from the King to the people is not a universally accepted idea there could be trouble. So you can expect to hear more from me on this subject later on.
A few weeks ago we talked with our family about our Hallowe’en traditions with the idea of having a bit of a Hallowe’en party. Since this conflicted with all the hoopla around the Misinale (see previous post) this turned out to be impossible. However, Makalase somehow acquired a small green pumpkin shaped squash. On Sunday we carved our little pumpkin with input from our little “sisters,” put a candle inside and after dark Kathy took each member of the family outside to show them how to “trick or treat.” This resulted in a great deal of laughter and a wonder filled evening. We left the jack-o-lantern outside overnight with its candle burning (we actually forgot about it), and the next morning as parishioners made their way to the 5 a.m. prayer service, they were greeted by this strange smiling visage. Our “mom” had quite a bit of explaining to do, and considering her level of understanding about what this was all about it left people laughing about the strange ways of these crazy palangis living in their midst.