08 January 2011

A day in the life of a Peace Corps volunteer

It's raining heavily outside, and the wind is gusting horizontally through our house, blowing the basil pots on the balcony and spraying occasionally through the open door. It's exciting cyclone season in Tonga! The past week has been a wonderful, lazy break - everyone in Mark's school office has been away for the summer holidays, and things are slow in the business advising department as the new year starts.

It's been a contrast from our daily schedules.

We often get asked what our every day life looks like, so here is one typical day for each of us:

I wake up early; it's already light, and as I get up, I hear the last bits of singing floating in from the early morning service at the church across the street. I make a cup of black tea - our powdered milk has recently been reacting badly with my stomach - and read a bit of a New Yorker in the diminishing stack sent to us by Mark's aunt. About three or four days a week, I bike down to the waterfront, and take a short jog along the water, passing the King's palace and the house where Queen Salote grew up along the way. By the time I'm back, Mark's usually up. We have breakfast together- oatmeal, leftovers, bananas, or bread. Sometimes we can find muesli (granola) and yoghurt, and we eat it every day until it runs out - and I'm out the door by 8:20, to bike in my uniform down the road to work.

When I come in to work, my two coworkers are already there, sitting behind their desks in our three-person section of the bank's main office. We talk about yesterday, plan for today, and chat about the latest news; the new Parliamentarians, an event coming up, a recent story about a coworker. If we have a training to run, it will usually be in the morning- early before the bank opens at 9 if it's for the staff - and so that fills the first part of the day. Sometimes, we pool our money and I run out to the market next door and get keke (Tongan doughnuts) for our tea time at 10AM.
During the day, I work on the latest project - planning for an upcoming training, writing a business advice article, making a cash flow statement, analyzing our business needs survey data. Sometimes a client will get referred to us, and we'll visit their business, help them create records, or create a business plan with them. On slow days, I'll read business blogs, read art blogs, check email, and read Tongan news.
Right around mid day, I bike home and make lunch to have with Mark - a typical meal would be sauteed eggplant in soy sauce and leftover quiche. I bike back an hour later and resume work.   
In the middle of the afternoon, I knock off (leave work), and stop by Langafonua, the handicraft shop, on the way back, to chat and talk about any projects that have been done or need doing. On weeks we have meetings, I'll spend an hour with the WISE board, planning the next step for the association.

Mark and I come home around the same time, after he's done all this:

I wake up, and some time after Elena gets back from exercising, I join her with a cup of black tea with lots of milk and sugar, and eat whatever breakfast we have that week. After Elena leaves for work in the morning, I get ready for work choosing a ta'ovala and tupenu, but also which shorts I'll bike in because high bars are not terribly conducive to wearing skirts. I'll be out of the door a little after she leaves, and head over to either the Wesleyan Education Office or Tupou Tertiary Institute (TTI), the two places I do most of my work.

If I go to the Education Office, I spend time talking to the various other Education Officers I work with, and then try to work out any technical problems that have come up since I last saw them, and then if I'm still around by tea time, we sit down for 15 minutes to half an hour for tea and sandwiches. Then I might update my supervisor on what I've been doing recently and then head back to TTI.

At TTI, if I go there first, I usually get in right before chapel lets out and before the rest of the guys in my office, but after the administrative staff who open everything up. We discuss what has to be done that day, whether or not a particular school has any technical issues, or if some equipment at the school is down, and then people split up and go off to their assignments.

Around noon, half the staff disappear for lunch and the other half eats in. On Fridays, the staff eats lunch together (sometimes BBQ and sometimes fluffy white bread and pats of butter with coffee or tea). On the other days, I sometimes go three blocks back home to have lunch with Elena.

Right after a trip to the market
Busy afternoons are filled with running from place to place on technical calls or meetings discussing appropriate technology for the Wesleyan schools, or whatever the matter up for discussion. However, the more common afternoon finds us chatting with each other around the office while a few take care of the last little bits of work, and others play games like Rugby 08.

After work, I pick up whatever we need that day around town. I do most of our day to day shopping because Elena has a more rigid schedule, so I'll visit the main market or the multitude of small stores in town before heading back home.

After that, Elena's day and mine become the same.

On Mondays or Tuesdays or both, we go to Tongan language class, which mainly consists of chatting with our teacher while frequently stopping to ask her questions. Midweek I (Elena) go to dance practice in the evening, usually preceded by a game of ultimate frisbee with friends and random small children in a rugby field.

Our cat's very tolerant. He just gives a sleepy blink when we swoop him up after coming home.

When both of us are back home from work, we play with the cat, read a little, watch part of a movie, paint, or finish up work projects until starting to cook. If we run out of something, Mark runs around the corner to one of the Chinese or Tongan shops and asks the woman behind the grille for whatever he needs. I don't like going out alone after dark because very, very few women walk alone at night and its a sure way to get hassled. So Mark gets the emergency groceries. We make dinner from the supplies we usually have on hand: flour, eggs, rice, butter, pasta, eggplant, cabbage, cucumber, chicken, onion, garlic, and an assortment of spices people send us in care packages. I grow big leaf basil, thai basil, and lemongrass, and an herb called kaloni in Tongan that tastes like oregano. Sometimes we have people over for dinner, sometimes we don't. We feed our little ginger kitty (leftovers), and have ginger tea, which helps digestion. Recently we've been going for an evening walk around the block, which also helps digestion, a thing of great importance to me recently.

If we're not going anywhere after dinner, we're lazy and decide to watch a movie or play boggle or cards until bed time at around 9:30 or 10.

And the next day, we wake up and do pretty much the same thing. Except on days we don't, which could be any day - when there's an event, a fair, a funeral, a holiday, a special evening show, visitors from out of town, a Peace Corps training, an event related to one of our projects, an invitation somewhere, or any of the other random things we've learned to be prepared for and enjoy.

Thanks to Beverly ... and, well, everyone who asked ...  for the inspiration for this post.

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