The past couple of weeks have been pretty exciting. Last week was Church Week or "'Uike Lotu" and is the Tongan holiday to kick off the start of the church year. On the first sunday of the year, we had our regular Sunday morning church service, which was then followed by a big feast prepared by one of the families here in Ta'anga. On a side note, we haven't quite figured out when the feasts are planned and coordinated, and we haven't yet seen the preparations for the feasts, but they certainly happen, and they aren't spontaneous. After we were leaving the feast laden with tasty leftovers, we were asked if we were coming to the Wesleyan church in 'Ohonua for the afternoon service as well? Well everyone else was going so we decided to go as well. After that service, everyone trooped downstairs and had a teatime feast of tarts and cakes and Milo, and we came back from that heavy-laden with leftovers as well. After splitting the bounty with another volunteer, we managed to whittle the food down to a manageable quantity to store in the fridge at home.
The next morning started 'Uike Lotu in earnest, and we trooped off in the dark to church for the first of the 5AM services for the week along with the rest of the village. And to our surprise, just about the whole village was there looking sleepy and singing hymns spontaneously started by this person or that. At 5:30, the service started with a devotional Bible reading, and a hymn. The structure was reading, hymn, kneel for prayer, the message, hymn, kneel for corporate prayer, final hymn, and then everyone filed out into the newly risen sunlight to sit around the road and church to talk. The men all gathered along one fence, or by the jasmine shrubs that line the whole road, while the women talked under the eves of the church, and the youth meandered home. Then the day started, but we went back home and took a nap before starting anything. At 5PM, we went back for the afternoon services, and the structure was identical with a different speaker. I should mention that 'Uike Lotu was one of two occasions I saw women in the pulpit, and women from our community were the speakers for the whole week. After the afternoon service finished, we all filed out of the church again, but this time, everyone was fully awake, and so we all spent the rest of the daylight out in front of the church talking to people. The men gathered by the jasmine and eventually moved into the village hall to drink kava and socialise, while the women sat in the grass or by the church talking. The younger men and youth all went over to the village volleyball court and we played king of the hill volleyball (winner keeps the court). The young women all gathered in the netball field and talked with each other, and eventually started playing netball (a sport popular in the British South Pacific/Australia). Finally when the sun went down, we all eventually went home. The rest of the week pretty much followed the same pattern with vary levels of participation, but it was a fantastic way to meet all kinds of people in the community we hadn't met the previous two weeks we've been here in 'Eua.
On Saturday after the last 'Uike Lotu service on Friday afternoon, we all went down to the beach just down the road from us for the end of week celebration. It seemed like every village on 'Eua was represented there, with at least 200 people in the water, and maybe 3 or 4 times that up on the beach. Occasionally a lorry absolutely full of people and kids sitting on the roof of the cab would go by with people singing at the top of their lungs as another village arrived. Everyone from Ta'anga spread out the mats they had brought, and some of men and boys promptly started barbecuing chicken and tuna. Some other men started playing cards, and guitars were brought out. The young kids scampered off to the water, and various groups of people started playing cards. We checked out the water, and as it turns out, it's a really nice beach. After being told that there are NO good beaches on 'Eua, this came as a very pleasant surprise; the beach is very long with soft, white sand, water deep enough to swim in, and a lot of live coral. Sometime when there aren't 200 kids and youth thrashing around in the water, we would like to explore it in more detail. But back to the story: after about an hour of drinking kava, playing cards, and playing in the ocean, the food started to come out of the fire, and this enormous plate of amazing BBQed chicken was set down in front of me; it wasn't immediately clear whether this was ALL for me or whether I was just supposed to take a couple of pieces, but after a little but of clarification, I was told to take a couple of pieces and then to go eat with the women. A little confused, I grabbed a couple delicious chicken legs, and retreated to eat with Elena and some of the women who live across the street from us, and then I figured out why. The women get all the delicacies and all the special dishes, while the men just eat chicken and root-crop. So everyone set to the task of gorging themselves with all the food, and the chocolate crazy cake that Elena had baked before-hand was much-appreciated and actually managed to go all around to everyone. Finally, around late afternoon, we decided it was probably time to head home as it had changed from a beautiful bright sunny day into a slightly drizzly day. All in all, it was a very pleasant day down at the beach, and we are looking forward to any chance for a repeat.
Sickness and Emergency Training
On Sunday, I came down with a high fever (39.1 C), body ache, sore throat, and queasy stomach. I spent the whole day in bed and Elena was wonderful and took care of me even though I didn't feel like eating or drinking. Coming up on Monday was my birthday (the 11th of January) and a Peace Corps Emergency Coordinator training session in Tongatapu (read US embassy warden for Peace Corps), so I was worried that the sickness, whatever it was, would taint the beginning of the week, and I might not be able to go to my training meeting. However, my fever thankfully broke in the evening, and I felt well enough to get out of bed. On Monday morning, after refueling the lory, Elena's counterpart dropped me off at the airstrip here in 'Eua with 10 minutes to spare before the plane arrived. After a beautiful, extremely short flight to Tongatapu, another volunteer and I get into the airport, and met up with the other volunteers coming in for the Emergency Coordinator training. After a good drive into Nuku'alofa catching up with other volunteers from our training group, I was told by the Peace Corps nurse that I had strep throat and that I should take it easy. So I walked around town for the rest of the day shopping for things that Elena and I need back in 'Eua. I picked up gardening equipment for our proposed garden behind the house, and as much fresh vegetables as I could carry, and regular and flea collars for our new dog, Oni. Dende' the new cat could probably use a flea collar, but there's nothing kitten-sized, so he's relegated to taking baths.
The Emergency Coordinator training went pretty well, and we learned quite a bit of interesting stuff about about various natural disasters and how to respond to them. We also training on how to take care of our fellow volunteers in the case of a emergency. All in all, it was an interesting and informative session, and a good excuse to get into Tongatapu to see other volunteers and stock up on necessities such as cheese.
After getting back to 'Eua on the morning of Wednesday, I went on a drive with Elena's counterpart to pick lu (taro leaves) before going back to Hango. Elena baked a bunch of tasty treats for me as soon as I walked in the door, and the birthday festivities started. We had a fun day, and then that evening we invited the other volunteers over for a bootlegged copy of the new movie "Avatar" that I bought in Nuku'alofa. Even in the middle of the South Pacific, there are some pleasant moments when you feel connected to the rest of the world.
This week, we're starting to get ready for the start of school either at the end of January, or beginning of February. Some of Elena's students are already at the school, and mine are in the process of registering for school. Everything is about to get a little bit busier than it has been over the past month, but probably will never get quite as busy as life back in the States (which we're grateful for).