21 December 2009

Arrival in 'Eua

On Thursday we took the boat from Nuku'alofa on our two-and-a-half-hour trip to 'Eua, separated from Tongatapu by maybe 30 kilometers of open deep water. The boat ride is reputed to be one of the roughest rides in the Kingdom because it crosses three main currents coming off of the Tongan Trench (8000 meters deep 10 kilometers off of the East coast of 'Eua) and up the straight between 'Eua and Tongatapu, not to mention the large surface waves caused by storms in Antarctica coming up the South Pacific. Our boat, the MV Alaimoana, which is roughly 20 meters long and 6 meters wide, was loaded to the brim with a pickup truck with all of our luggage, as well as a number of enormous crates and the luggage of the 60 passengers. We were watching with a little apprehension as they loaded the boat, but it was entirely unfounded. Ever since the MV Princess Ashika sank a few months ago, Tongans have been very sensitive about boat safety on the ferries. And the rough passage turned out to be quite wavy, but nowhere near as bad as we had been told to expect because it was a clear and relatively calm day. It was quite packed on board the boat because of so many people trying to get back to 'Eua after being stranded in Tongatapu. Boat travel was suspended for a few days because of the cyclone warning as Cyclone Mick came down from Fiji. However, despite the crowds and the recently passed tropical storm, it was a fairly pleasant ride with lots of fresh air, very little spray in the passenger cabin, and some beautiful views of the coast of Tongatapu and 'Eua. As we rounded the Northeast point of Tongatapu, we saw the waves crashing into the barrier reef and blowholes spouting, and there was 'Eua out to sea in front of us. It is a much more hilly island than either Tongatapu or the Ha'apai Islands where we did our two months of training, and the land just drops off the north end of the island quite steeply. It is also a much greener island in general, and coming in from the ocean, you can see the tree plantations and rain forest stretch up to the ridge line in the middle of the island before it drops down the cliffs on the other side of the island. As we got closer, we started to see 'Ohonua, the capital of 'Eua, which is built on the side of a hill next to the ocean where the wharf is located.

When we pulled into the harbor, there were already at least 20 pickups and vans waiting for the boat and more arriving every moment. Everyone surged off the boat into the waiting crowd on the wharf and then we just sort of stood there hoping that someone would recognise the four white volunteers looking lost and surrounded by Tongans greeting family arriving from overseas for Christmas. In a short while, we were found by our various local counterparts and then waited as a seemingly endless number of crates were unloaded from the boat before the pickup could drive out. Elena's counterpart, Sione (John, whom we think the world of), loaded us into the school's lory and drove us back to the school, of which we had seen pictures, but they never quite prepare you for the real thing. We drove through the small village of Ta'anga which will be our community for the next two years, and then past the school which we could see through the windbreak of pine trees, and then across a cow pasture and right up in front of our house.
We have arrived at our home for the next two years, and are exceedingly excited to finally be here.

13 December 2009

We came with a tsunami warning, we end with a hurricane warning

A Hurricane!
Our country director interrupted our second-to-last training session today with a full-color weather map of the South Pacific and the surprising news that there's a hurricane on it's way! It might interfere with our official volunteer swearing-in ceremony in two days, but other than that, the whole Peace Corps training group is in just about the best place to be prepared for the wind and rain. We have a very securely constructed PC office here, and if the hurricane indeed comes our way, we will have to do nothing more than consolidate and sit tight for a couple days at the guest house.

Boring Moving-In Shopping Happens Everywhere
The last several days, we've been wrapping up our training with administrative sessions, and in our sparse free time, rushing around to find house supplies. Each volunteer will move into his or her own house at each site, and we're given a small stipend to supply it with kitchen utensils, appliances, cleaning supplies, etc. The stipend is theoretically designed to be enough to cover a similar style of living as our neighbors, so that although it might be enough to buy a fridge and several pots and pans, its definitely not enough to get an oven, microwave, washer/dryer, and cable television, for example, just in case anyone had those expectations when joining the Peace Corps in the first place. We're lucky though, because the house that we'll move in to is the faculty house for visiting New Zealand professors, so we'll already have a fridge and an oven when we move in.
The capital city is definitely the city of plenty, compared to the middle island group where we've been, but still, it's been a puzzle trying to figure out where everything is carried. We've gotten most of our little kitchen supplies at about 3 different places, in stores that might carry building supplies in the front, but then open up ecclectically in the back to large cases of frozen meat. The prevailing logic dictates to walk around the entire city, browsing at most of the four or five big stores in town, and look in the places we'd least expect.

New Address (Permanent for the next 2 years)
If the cyclone doesn't delay plans too much, we're going to have our official swearing in ceremony on Wednesday, and take a 3 hour ferry ride to 'Eua on Thursday at 1pm.
The old address posted on this blog will still work, but our direct address is now:
Mark and Elena Noyes
Peace Corps Office
PO Box 24
'Ohonua
'Eua
Kingdom of Tonga
South Pacific
Mail is slow, but it's much more reliable than the official guide will have you believe, and for the first 6 months (until this July), we pay no import duty on anything sent to us.

06 December 2009

'Eua, the island of intrigue

Our Ha'apai (the middle island group) stint is over. Not too long after we posted last, the internet at the only internet cafe in town stopped working, which made it very hard to get online for the rest of our time- so we apologize for the long lack of any word. It is so refreshing to be back with semi-regular internet communication again, such a luxury when the only news we would get regularly in our community was which young person went to play volleyball at the Mormon court in town, or what another Peace Corps volunteer at another house liked or did not like to eat.

The most exciting news we have from the past 8 weeks is that we are going to work in 'Eua for the next two years! 'Eua is a beautiful, mountinous island southeast of the main island of Tongatapu, and is actually geologically and ecologically separate from the entire rest of Tonga. There are species of birds and other animals there that don't exist anywhere else in Tonga, and it is generally several degrees cooler all year round. 'Eua also has the largest national park in Tonga, and has amazing hiking, camping, and cave systems to explore. I (Elena) will be teaching small business management and development at an agricultural college, and Mark will be teaching English and computer classes at a highschool not too far away. We are both very excited about our work, and also excited that since we will be living in a house on the agro school's grounds, we'll get a near constant supply fresh produce, milk, and eggs (theoretically). Also, our house apparently is larger than most, and so we'll have an extra room to host visitors who might want to come, hint hint.

Right now, we are visiting the northern island group, Vava'u, for several days before returning to the capital to get sworn in as official volunteers this coming week. We have to do a final interview, take a language proficiency test, and then there will be much pomp and ceremony as this year's group starts their official 2 years service. Everyone in our training group is excited to move in to their new homes and jobs.

More stories and descriptions to come later, we are still time-restricted right now because of having to use the Peace Corps office computer, and it's time to sign off. More soon!

- Elena

14 October 2009

We're in Tonga!

We have arrived! It has been a week of training and travelling, resulting in us sitting at an internet cafe in the Ha'apai islands after having hitched the 20 minute ride to town on the back of a cell phone promotion truck. We are staying in a little community that has maybe 200 people, with a very nice and very patient host family, who has helped us immensely with everything related to the Tongan language. Every day, we walk around to the other trainee's houses, picking them up one by one, until we arrive at our "school" room for language training. Every day has been filled mainly with language training, punctuated by the occasional safety, medical, cultural, or Peace Corps admin training. The first four days were spent in the capital city of Nuku'alofa, and now, for the next 8 weeks, we are in Ha'apai. We were very lucky to be able to stop at this internet cafe, because there are no computers or internet within miles of where any of the trainees are- so, we will be incommunicado for a while after this unless we get lucky again.

Yesterday, there was a big community feast for the elementary school students as a celebration for having finished the exam to get into high school, and our host parents brought us back tasty plates of fish, boiled taro (like sweet potato), chop suey, sweet potato, chicken curry, fried breadfruit with salt that tasted a little like french fries, and our favorite so far, octopus cooked in an underground oven with a spicy coconut milk sauce. We sleep in a little room off of the main house with bright orange and yellow curtains, and wake up every morning to the sound of roosters crowing. Our host dad is the town officer, but also cultivates fields of taro, banana, and other crops to supplement the family's dinners. Typical to almost any rural town, everyone keeps tabs on us, takes care of us, and sends us trainees to school supplied with packages of cookes, water, Fanta soda, and bananas. As we already knew, family can be found everywhere.

02 October 2009

Big Waves and Small Parcels


Tsunami

Suddenly, Tonga is in the news! Everyone has been asking us what we have heard about the tsunami near Samoa in the past couple of days, and although we are sad that there is so much destruction in Western Samoa, American Samoa, and Indonesia, Tonga has largely been left untouched. According to the news and two of the in-country volunteer blogs we read, (Two Coconuts and Steve's Adventure) most of the damage was in Niuatoputapu, an extreme northern island near Samoa. Both blogs have very interesting descriptions of the events. The other islands, if they felt anything at all, only saw a rise in water level for a number of minutes, and then everything went back to normal. In fact, Ha'apai, where we will be spending the next two months, apparently didn't feel any effects at all.

We haven't heard anything from our training staff about this, so we are assuming that since the effect was little on most of the islands, everything will proceed as planned.


Contact Information and Packages

We have also gotten a lot of questions about how to reach us in-country and where to send packages. The best way to contact us in general is is via email, which will stay the same as always (eb.noyes and markanoyes both at gmail addresses).

Since our last post, we have been running around and alternately really enjoying seeing people for the last time before we go, and being very sad at having to actually say good bye. It has been a whirlwind of fun conversations, fantastic dinners, and tedious cleaning, packing, and legal paperwork. Our next post will be from Tonga!

- Elena

04 September 2009

Details

Training:
On October 6th, we will meet a handful of our fellow volunteer trainees in LA for one day of "staging." We are guessing that this is just to get all the volunteers in the same place, hand out the official Peace Corps passports that we just applied for, and get any last paperwork done before actually flying out.

On October 7th, we'll board the plane for Tonga, to start 10 weeks of intensive language, culture, technical, and vocational training in the capital city, Nuku'alofa. Having not had much teaching experience in the past, we are both especially glad that the training will probably include quite a bit of experiential student teaching as well as covering various teaching methods. We'll have to prove sufficient competency in these areas before we are sworn in officially as volunteers in December, with big fanfare and ceremony. After that ceremony, we'll start another three months or so of on the job training at our specific location.

During that training time, we'll also be given our final job placements; which island we'll be on, the school(s) in which we'll be teaching, and who we'll be reporting to. The Peace Corps does not give the final details until after most of the training, because a lot of the specific details depend on their observation of each volunteer during training, as well as input from the volunteers themselves once we have had a chance to get our bearings in-country.

Our Jobs:
(Taken from our "Assignment Descriptions")
Elena: Business Advising/Educator
  • Teach basic economics and accounting as per an established Ministry of Education curriculum 
  • Design an additional school-based curriculum that will introduce specific business skills courses that address business issues relevant to Tonga
  • Design instructional materials for the classroom, expand extra-curricular activities and educational resources related to business
  • Work with local community groups to organize, design, and implement a variety of educational and professional skills development activities
Mark: English Teacher
  • Teach alone and team-teach English
  • Improve ESL instruction and informal classroom assessment
  • Expand extra-curricular activities and educational resources
  • Facilitate educational outreach and community development activities by working with students and community groups to organize, design, and implement a variety of school-based educational or professional/life skills development activities
  • As needed, possibility of teaching technical skills, mathematics, and science

Housing:
Just like volunteers have to apply for a Peace Corps position, host country organizations have to apply for volunteers. Along with demonstrating a job need, in our case, the schools have to provide sufficient housing that meets safety requirements and is a certain distance from the job; this could range in quality from a traditional structure with no electricity, to living with a host family for the two years, to a cement block house with its own internet connection. Our orientation materials say that most volunteers live in their own house with electricity and running water, and close to their place of work, so we are guessing that our accommodations will be similar.

24 August 2009

Tonga

We're off to Tonga on October 6th for staging, October 8th to the country itself!

Here is the Kingdom of Tonga: (thanks to the CIA World Fact Book: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/tn.html)
 
Other useful information about Tonga: (thanks to Ann and Bruce Borquist)
http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/16092.htm
http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1042.html
http://www.traveldocs.com/to/
https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/tn.html
http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/tonga.aspx

Knowing that the the average time between receiving an (or remembering someone to) email would make us more suited to live in a time when mail was carried on horseback, a blog presented itself as the ideal positioning of generation Y efficiency, even though it took 4 hours to figure out how to set everything up.

Peace Corps seems to be one of the many organizations that has been transformed by the internet. It seems a common thing to do for potential volunteers is to actively stalk the range of blogs that might have something to do with where he or she may be posted. We had a several-day window between knowing that an offer was in the mail, and actually receiving that offer, and during that time we must have single-handedly caused the hit rate on other volunteer's blogs to go up by several hundred! Its amazing what kinds of cultural insight, funny stories, and useful tips exist on the virtual community of current volunteers' blogs.

In our opinion, the best blog out there about Tonga by a current Peace Corps Volunteer:
http://blog.stevesadventure.com/
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