Update
katherine25
I didn't realize it has been so long since I posted. Tomorrow marks 9 months in Tonga. It has gone by really fast. I never thought I would be so busy as a volunteer. One of my concerns when I applied was that I would get bored...that hasn't happened yet. Most of the volunteers here are teachers and they have a lot of free time. Working a 'real job', I work Monday through Friday 8-5. And their aren't many public holidays.

It's winter now. That means cool evenings and mornings, about 60 degrees, and 80-85 degrees around noon. It feels pretty chilly, I need a light jacket but during the day it is nice and warm.

Whale season has begun. A few of us took a boat trip for a Welcome the Whales Ceremony. It was a wonderful outing. We took a boat to Malinoa Island, an uninhabited island. It was beautiful. They showed us a traditional kava circle which is done for all important events, and how they used to call for the whales each year hundreds of years ago. Unfortunately, the water was too rough to go out looking for the whales, so we didn't get to see any whales. But we are planning another trip to go swimming with the whales. Tonga is the only country in the world where you can swim with the whales.

The last week of July is Heilala Week, a celebration of Tongan culture. Heilala is the national flower.

Shopping at the market...
katherine25

One thing that I am still getting used to is shopping at the market for food. When we first got here, pineapples were in season and they were fabulous. You could buy 3 pineapples for $5 pa’anga (about $3 USD). Then one day there were no more pineapples. When you can find the odd pineapple is about $6 pa’anga for one- not in the Peace Corps budget.

When you go to the market, you buy what they have. And if you really like what they have, you better enjoy it because it could be gone tomorrow. In America, we are use to getting everything all year. Here, there is no way to preserve it. So, you buy what’s in season.

Currently at the market, and therefore what my diet consists of, there are apples, star fruit, bananas, cucumbers, and cabbage. There are always root crops available but I hadn’t cooked root crop because I wasn’t sure what to do with it. This week I decided to get adventurous and I bought ‘mani’oki’. It is similar to a potato but with a different consistency. It has no flavor at all. So we cooked it with salt, pepper, onions, garlic and butter. It turned out really good. It tasted like potatoes cooked the same way but with a thicker consistency.

I normally buy wild rice but currently there seems to be a shortage of rice on the island. I have found a few bags of rice but it is not the good stuff. So I’m waiting and watching for another shipment of rice.

When we first arrived in Tonga, the volunteers told us that when we saw something we wanted, buy it because it may be gone tomorrow and you may or may not find it again. Now we are experiencing this for ourselves.



Work
katherine25

I haven’t said much about the work I am doing. So now I will.

 I work for a new organization aimed at supporting private sector business growth by providing training, business mentoring/ advice and information of government regulatory processes as well as information on financial institution.

 Currently, we are working on our training calendar for this year. We are looking to provide training based on the needs of the private sector. We have reviewed several studies and surveys done to determine what is needed. We do not provide the training ourselves, we find training providers to deliver the needed training. I will be doing a follow up with the participants of each training session so see how the training is being implemented and how it is affecting their business.

 We will also link businesses to available programs. For instance, there is a mentoring program where business mentors from New Zealand come to Tonga to work with businesses on a one-on-one basis. Then they do a follow-up in 6 months. We will help determine which program will be most beneficial for the business.

Many of you probably know that I came to Tonga as a teacher trainer, so you may be asking yourself how I ended up in the business world. Well, here’s that story.

 When you apply for the Peace Corps you are nominated for a position in a specific country. I was nominated for teacher trainer in Tonga. During the in country training, we had an interview to determine our sites. They want to try to match you to a site given what the site has asked for and what you preferences are, e.g. do you prefer to be by yourself or closer to other volunteers, do you prefer primary school or secondary. So during my interview I stressed that I prefer working with adults. There were 5 business volunteers in my group and 4 of them said they would like to teach primary school. That left an opening in the business sites. When they asked if I would be willing to work in the business sector I said absolutely. I finished my MBA in May before I joined Peace Corps so I was excited to be in the business world.

 

 



Peace Corps' 50th Anniversary!!!
katherine25

Today is Peace Corps’ 50th Anniversary. Today, 77 countries around the world with celebrate in their own unique way to observe this anniversary of Peace Corps. Peace Corps Tonga held a program to unveil a plaque to commemorate the anniversary. In attendance was the Deputy Prime Minister of Tonga, President of the Church of Tonga, High Commissioner of Australia, High Commissioner of New Zealand and the Chinese Ambassador. There were speeches given by our country director and a Peace Corps Washington staff member about the history of Peace Corps and Peace Corps Tonga. There were 3 Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) who had served in Tonga, one in the 1960’s, one in the 1980’s and one in 2000’s. It was interesting to hear what it was like to be a volunteer in Tonga at different times. The Deputy Prime Minister of Tonga talked about the volunteer who was in his village when he was a child and helped him with his math homework. At the end of the program, I danced the tradition tau’olunga, a dance performed by single women.

 

It was a lovely program. Happy Anniversary to all the PCV’s and RPCV’s!



Cyclone Wilma
katherine25
Tonga had its first cyclone of the season. On January 25, Cyclone Wilma passes over Tonga. The island that I live on was barely touched by Wilma. The eye of the storm passed over the island of Ha’apai. This was my first cyclone and it wasn’t so bad. Windy, some rain and it passed pretty quickly. Let’s hope they are all this easy.
 
A quick meteorology lesson… What is the difference between a “cyclone”, a “typhoon” and a “hurricane”?
 
Answer… Nothing really, just people in different parts of the world call it different things. In the Atlantic Ocean and Eastern Pacific Ocean it is known as a hurricane. In the Southwest Pacific Ocean (where I currently reside) it is known as a cyclone. Typhoons are in the Northwest Pacific Ocean.
 
I have heard that the sky will turn yellow under the right circumstances before a cyclone. I would like to see that.
 

Joey saved my life...
katherine25

I got a kitten. He (I’m pretty sure it’s a he) is cute and playful and his name is Joey. I’m not a big cat person but he’s growing on me daily. I got him from a lady who owns a guesthouse and she told me the kittens were ready. I went to pick one out and they could barely walk. I told the man who showed me the kittens that they were not ready and I would be back in two weeks. Just shy of two weeks later, my friend called me and said you better come get a kitten because she put them outside. So I went to pick out my kitten and Joey came home with me. I wasn’t sure what to do with a kitten that little, but luckily a volunteer from last group had a similar experience and could guide me on what to feed him (canned fish and rice) and how to potty train him (a little dirt from outside in a box since we can’t go to the store and buy cat litter).

 

Everyday it seems he learns something new. He is getting braver and more curious everyday. He’s starting to jump and pounce and their isn’t a corner in my house that he hasn’t checked out. Which brings me to my story about him saving my life.

 

In Tonga, we cook with a stove/ oven that is connected to a propane tank. You turn the propane tank on, light your stove or oven and start cookin’. Well Joey found a way behind my stove and when he came out he was covered in soot. I cleaned him up, cleaned up the mess of black throughout my house and then he went behind the stove again. Repeat. A friend said he would come over and help me clean my oven and behind it.

 

So he came over and helped me clean and said that the reason there was so much soot was because the gas wasn’t getting enough oxygen or too much oxygen, not really sure. So he starts to examine the stove so that I won’t have soot. He discovers that when I turn my propane on to cook on the stove, it is leaking out in the oven. He said do you smell gas when you cook and I said yes, I thought that was normal. Apparently it’s not. With the propane leaking out, it is bad to inhale but it is also dangerous because it could explode. So, I’m talking to my landlady about what she wants to do to fix the problem and in the mean time I’m going to avoid cooking so that I don’t blow up the house. Hopefully we have a solution soon.

 

I’m grateful that my new kitten was covered in soot and tracked it all over my house so that my knowledgeable friend would come over to help me clean and know that there was a problem. If I had cleaned it myself, I wouldn’t have known that the propane was leaking.

 

So, lesson of the day…even though you are cooking with gas, you shouldn’t smell it.


Uike Lotu
katherine25

The first week of January is “uike lotu” or prayer week here in Tonga. Twice a day from January 1 through January 7 every church in Tonga has two services. One about 5am and one about 5pm. Yes, that’s twice a day, every day for the first seven days in January. And the majority of people attend. My coworker even requested that everyone was allowed to get off early this week so we could attend the evening prayer and her request was granted. Some churches have a prayer schedule that tells them what to pray for while other churches pray about anything. In the smaller villages, there is a feast after every service. In the capital, the churches typically have one feast toward the end of the week.

Last night, I went to church. There was singing, then a minister prayed, more singing, then everyone prayed out loud simultaneously, more singing and a final prayer. The whole service was about an hour.



Happy New Year!
katherine25

Happy New Year!

This was probably one of the most interesting New Year’s eves that I have experienced. Tonga is one of the first countries to see the New Year as it is located just west of the international dateline. I was expecting a big celebration which did not occur the way I anticipated. In Tonga, people typically celebrate by going to church from 10pm to midnight. Then they go home. A few of us went out about 11pm to see what kind of celebrations we could find. The capital city had very little movement. It felt like a ghost town. Everyone was in church. There were a couple restaurants/bars open but most of them were closing at 11.30pm, all were closed by 1am.

A Dutch internet service provider, XS4ALL, donated the clock that hangs on the front of the post office. There was a performance of traditional dances and fire dances in front of the post office that could be viewed in the Netherlands through this company’s website. We discovered this while we were walking around at 11.30pm. We watched the performance and at midnight said “Happy New Year!” to each other. I would estimate that there was probably less than 100 people watching. There was no count down or ball drop. There was no organized fireworks show, but everyone seemed to have their own.

And that was how I welcomed in the New Year. Not what I had imagined but interesting in its own right.



Mice Problems
katherine25
Bugs and other creatures:

There are lots of spiders but none are poisonous. There are small ones and ones bigger than my hand. I don’t like spiders but I can deal with them. The cockroaches are huge, the biggest I’ve ever seen. Apparently, they can live for 9 days after you cut off their head. I haven’t had to deal with too many of those. Centipedes don’t really bother me, they are not poisonous. Millipedes are poisonous and you have to be careful. I have only seen one baby millipede. I watch for them but they don’t seem to be a problem around my house. Geckos are everywhere. They eat other bugs so I let them roam free in my house, like I have a choice. My biggest problem since moving in my house has been mice.

I hate mice. I think they are dirty and carry diseases and I just don’t like them. So the first night in my house I see a mouse. When I stopped screaming and wondering what I was thinking moving to a Pacific island where there could be mice in my house, I started thinking of a plan to get rid of them. The traps available to me are the old snap trap, a sticky trap and poison. I didn’t want to get the snap trap because when I got the mouse, I would have to get really close to dispose of it. That’s out. There are cats roaming my neighborhood and I didn’t want to poison the mouse and then a cat catch the mouse and die from the poison. So, that left me with the sticky trap. My landlord told me that the mouse sticks to the trap and I just throw it away. So she bought me three sticky traps. And my adventure really begins.

I set out the traps one morning and went to work. I came home at lunch and nothing. When I got home after work there is a mouse on one of the traps. I really wanted to call my dad to dispose of the mouse but that was not an option. I told myself that I was a grown woman who joined the Peace Corps and was living on an island by herself. I could handle this. So I didn’t call anyone, I took care of it myself. I opened the back door for a quick exit, got a plastic bag and headed toward the mouse. That’s about the time I realized that the mouse was still alive. Let me take a moment to say how inhumane the sticky trap is. The mouse is stuck but not dead. So it either starved to death or suffocated because I put it in a plastic bag. I don’t want to torture the mice; I just want them out of my house. Anyway, I put the trap with the mouse on it in the bag and outside in the trashcan. I look at the other traps and one has little mouse footprints and the cake I used as bait was gone. I knew I had at least two mice. That meant one mouse didn’t stick to the trap. I left them up for two days but the mouse avoided it or at least didn’t get stuck. So, plan B.

As soon as I saw a mouse, I asked three people to be on the lookout for a cat. My friend found someone whose cat just had kittens but I can’t get one until mid-January. I bought some poison, said a prayer for the cats in my neighborhood and put the poison out for the mouse or mice; I’m not sure how many I have. Then last night, about 48 hours after I put out the poison, I go into the bathroom to brush my teeth before bed and beside the toilet is a dead mouse. I had a stare down with the dead mouse because I wasn’t sure it was dead. Again, I just wanted to call my dad to deal with it. Again, not an option. I started to plan how to get rid of the mouse corpse. I got a broom and dustpan from outside (not the one I use to clean my house) and swept the mouse into the dustpan. Then, I pushed the dustpan outside with the broom and put the mouse in the garden.

I hope that is the end of my war with the mice. I hope that I can get my kitten in two weeks and it will take care of any future mice problems.

I am slightly less concerned with mice after my experience over the last two weeks. I still hate the mice but now I feel I handle it more maturely should I have a similar experience in the future.

We’ll see what happens the next time I come face to face with a live mouse.



I am a volunteer!
katherine25
I made it through training and was sworn in on December 15, 2010. So now I'm officially a volunteer.

I am getting settled in to my house. It feels great to be in my house. I moved seven time in eleven weeks which, needless to say, was exhausting. My house is very nice for Peace Corps standards. I have electricity and indoor plumbing.

I am working at the Chamber of Commerce for a new program called Tonga Business Enterprise Center (TBEC). I will be assisting in organizing training for established businesses as well as mentoring or advising. I am a week and a half in so I'm not sure exactly what I will be doing and my job will probably change as we find out what works and what doesn't. TBEC started November 1, 2010 so we are all starting together.

Now that I am back on Tongatapu, I will have better access to the internet so I will be able to blog more frequently.

Hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season.

Happy New Year!

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