31 October 2011

Hype and hope: breast cancer awareness in Tonga

A delightful pink attendee
at a fundraising lunch
I couldn't believe my eyes, but there they were: a a prominent national rugby and a very recognized political figure hula-hooping next to each other on stage to the crowd's wild delight. It was admittedly one of the funniest moments during the events of this past month: October as breast cancer awareness month.  Last year I had helped in a minor way with publicity, and this year, enjoyed being a bigger part of each of the events during the month.  Everyone got into the spirit: it was a month for community, fun, and altogether too much bright pink.

With all the dressing up, parading through town, and festooning everything in sight with pink ribbons, it only takes one survivor's story to remind everyone the real reason for all the hype. During a radio show last week, a woman called in to tell her story; she was obviously trying to hold back her tears. Her aunt, she said, had died of breast cancer, and none of the family had known of her struggles until it was too late. She had been diligently hiding it for years, ashamed to tell anyone, even her own family.

23 October 2011

The Peace Corps experience: Was Peace Corps worth it?

The design I made
for the post T-shirts
The best and worst part about it is not having to think.

Walking into the Peace Corps office several days ago, I met a fellow volunteer frowning at a computer screen. "How's it going?" I asked. "Oh just facing real life again," he said "I'm trying to decide what to do about health insurance next year." It was a topic with which I completely empathized, having just scowled the same scowl at the myriad health insurance options myself the day before. We hadn't made these kinds of decisions in over two years.

Imagine getting a letter in the mail, and for the next two years, you wouldn't have to worry about where you were going to live, what house you would choose, whether or not you could afford the rent, what job you would take, or how to get an employment visa. You wouldn't worry about getting laid off because of a bum economy, and all your medical care would be paid for, 100%, including medical evacuations to the best doctors out of country. The only logistics you'd think about for two years would be where to buy your holiday tickets: Fiji or New Zealand? Or when the irregular bus schedule goes in to town for the weekend. Or how to teach 30 students with no curriculum to refer to.


But also imagine not having control over any of those things either. If there is a problem at work, imagine someone else deciding that you were going to be finding a new job. Faced with a nasty medical problem, imagine being told you had to accept whatever care was approved by doctors half way around the world, no questions asked.

18 October 2011

8 reasons why we're staying in Tonga

Throughout the past two years, we've gone through culture shock, adjusted, gone through culture shock again, made friends, become comfortable with Tongan working patterns, and made ourselves at home in this little capital city on an island in the Pacific ocean. And we're not ready to leave it, not quite yet.
Some parts are definitely idyllic

Now, don't be mistaken that Tonga is a perfect place where everyone lazily hangs out on the beach drinking coconuts. There are huge busses that spout black smoke into dusty streets, white-collar criminals that get their sentences forgiven, and huge piles of nappies (diapers) collect in the forest like a plastic foul smelling mountain. In short, Tonga is filled with amazing beauty next to surprising ugliness, just like any other country. And yet it's not like any other country. Not at all.

We promised to update you faithful readers, family, and friends around the world, and now we can definitively (as definitive as anything is in life) say that we are staying in Tonga at least another year.

07 October 2011

Tongan beauty products: the all-in-one soap, exfoliant, and perfume


 The crushed tuitui for some reason
reminds me of pecan pie
One morning in 'Eua as I was strolling through town, I stopped to talk to some neighbours, who were sitting in the shade next to their house with a big pile of brown nuts in front of them. I saw them scooping out the center of each nut, and popping a handful into their mouths. After masticating it into a fine pulp, each woman carefully scooped the mash out, and deposited it in a bag next to her. "Try some! It's Tongan soap!" one neighbor said, depositing a gob on my arm and instructing me to spread it around.

This was my rather abrupt introduction to one of the best Tongan beauty products out there: tuitui, or in English, candlenut.

01 October 2011

Goodbye. Goodbye?

"Have you heard anything yet? How did the interview go? What are your plans for next year? Skype does make an awkward interview, doesn't it? What will you remember about this coworker? It's for our goodbye party on Friday. Yes, ok, just look into the camera and start speaking... now."

One well-known expat in Nuku'alofa slipped away without telling anyone exactly when she was leaving.
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