20 'O 'Epeleli
I believe I have made the small but significant leap to embrace a Tongan practice shared by everyone; commoners, nobles, government ministers, and even the King, but nevertheless a practice I have studiously avoided: the wearing of cheap flip-flops. It’s been a source of wonder for me to observe people dressed to the nines, yet with nothing but flip-flops on their feet. Until now I have been wearing my trusty Chacos, strappy and sturdy, good support, molded to my feet. But I’ve made the switch, and I have my friend Mark to blame.
We spent a delightful, albeit rainy, Easter weekend (4 days!) on the beautiful island of ‘Eua with Mark & his wife Elena, a young couple also from Oregon, and the only other couple in our Peace Corps training group. ‘Eua is a relatively small island, populated mostly be Tongans who were relocated here in 1948 by order of Queen Salote from the far northern island of Niuafo’ou after the volcano that dominates it erupted. It’s the oldest island in the South Pacific, the one island in Tonga with a rain forest, and the Eastern side is dominated by cliffs. (See the Picasa link below for some photos). It’s starting to become noticed by those in the eco-tourism industry, although as of now there are only a few guest houses available to house tourists.
‘Eua has one main road running North and South, and our hosts live toward the Northern end on the grounds of an agricultural college where Elena teaches. Like most of the smaller islands in Tonga the roads are not well maintained, and as noted above it was rainy weekend. Meaning most of the considerable hiking we did was in mud. Of course my trusty Chacos were handy for some of the more rugged hiking we did, and Mark and Elena also had sturdier footwear for these adventures, but all the rest of the time everyone but me was walking around in flip-flops. In the mud and puddles and muck. After about the third time I tried to clean all the mud of my Chacos, I realized there might be something to this, as the flip-flops cleaned right up. If Mark was o.k. splashing around in these flimsy things, then I guess I could, too. My mother didn’t raise no dummies!
We have no lack of flip-flops at our house, thanks to Kathy’s sister Sheryl and our niece Alayna, who apparently has dozens of pairs, and Sheryl has been slipping a few pairs of the ones Alayna doesn’t wear anymore into the packages she has been sending us. So upon our return I selected a robin’s egg blue pair that seemed to fit, and for the last two weeks I’ve been wearing nothing but.
Since Easter we have had a lot of rain; apparently the rainy season which should have started a few months ago has arrived. On Sunday it rained so much our streets and front yards were completely flooded, and at least one of our PCV colleagues was flooded out of his house. Our house sits up a bit, but for a while Sunday evening we were an island in the Vaololoa sea. The access path to my library at ‘Atenisi (see photo gallery at Picasa link) is completely flooded, so I’ll be working from home today (Tuesday), a day I normally spend working there. The weather forecast indicates we’ll be having more of the same for the rest of the week. The flip-flops have been great for dealing with the continuing puddles, ponds, and mud.
We have become acutely aware that life in a developing country, and service as a volunteer, can be unpredictable in ways we have not experienced in our former lives. Our service is subject to change or interruption for any number of reasons, and good communication is often scarce. Five Tonga volunteers had to be relocated from outer islands when the ferries were berthed; three of those volunteers were beginning their second year of service and had created strong, positive working and personal relationships with their villages that were heart-wrenching to leave. Any significant medical issue usually requires a medical evacuation to Fiji or Australia. And there are the natural disasters, cyclones and tsunamis and earthquakes that occur without any warning. Coupled with the inherent difficulty of getting straight information from anyone, and especially government officials—no one wants to go out on a limb and state something as their superior could always overrule them—and you might get the picture that anything you might think you know today could be different tomorrow.
So as I continue this adventure venturing out each day in my flip-flops I do believe I am learning more about the importance of taking life as it comes, one flip flop at a time.
P.S. Mark & Elena's very interesting blog is linked below: "mk squared"