09 November 2011

Farewell to Tonga Development Bank

There were tears in my eyes for most of the morning. Mark and I sat at the head of the table in the Tonga Development Bank boardroom, festooned with fragrant loops of tropical flowers at the Bank's farewell gathering for me this morning. The table was laden with apple tarts, crust-less sandwiches, spice muffins, chocolate cake, and crystal bowls of red watermelon slices, and surrounded by all the TDB managers.

Next week will be my last one at TDB before I move on to the New Zealand High Commission, and I kept reminding my tear ducts that I was only moving practically across the block, not across the world yet. Never the less, the speeches, songs, and gifts "melted my heart" as my mom likes to say.

I had moved to TDB under rather unorthodox circumstances.
Simione, the Managing Director and
Leta, a Deputy Managing director
presented gifts to me 
Finding myself with a bit of extra time while we were working on the island of 'Eua almost two years ago, I had just started to talk to the Bank about volunteering business advising services at their branch on the island when Peace Corps decided to move us into the capital city. Without so much as a week's notice, TDB was suddenly asked whether they might want me as a full-time head office volunteer, and very luckily for me, they accepted. During that time, TDB staff were a steady presence during a very emotionally turbulent moving time for Mark and I. In the year and a half that I have continued to work for the Bank, the culture of value and acceptance that I first saw hasn't changed.

My farewell speech was an honest and insufficient attempt to summarize a year and a half of thank-yous:

Fakamalo ki he talekita pule, Simione Sefanaia, mo e kau tokoni talekita, Hasiloni, Leta, Seini, moe kau pule kotoa. (Thank you and acknowledgements to the Managing Director, Simione Sefanaia, and the deputy managing directors Hasiloni, Leta, Seni, and all the other managers here.) I can’t say enough how touched I am by the love and acceptance you have shown me throughout my year and a half at TDB.
One of the gifts was an engraved kali, or Tongan pillow,
made out of hardwood from 'Eua
My first impression of TDB was that everyone was always extremely early for everything! I remember the day I started at the bank, it was the first day of a management training, and I’d been told to come at 8:30. Wanting to give a good impression on my first day of work, I showed up what I thought was early, at 8:25, and to my horror, everyone was already seated and doing the opening prayer! "What about Tongan time!" I thought. I knew I was in the right place, though, when several people turned from the group, smiled, and motioned me to sit next to them.

I also felt immediately at home with the people I would work with for most of the coming year; Leta, Sina, and Folau. I couldn’t believe when Leta looked at my CV in our first meeting and discovered that she and I had gone to the same university and the same MBA program in the US. Here I was in a new place with people I didn’t know, and yet we already had a lot to talk about. Still today, we never run out of conversation topics! Throughout this past year, I’ve always looked forward to sharing stories with Sina, getting fruit at the market, trading baking ideas, along with all the work and trainings we planned together and all the things she’s taught me throughout my time here. Aside from running trainings with Folau, Mark and I have greatly enjoyed sharing our love of delicious food with Folau and Loisi, whether it’s Sunday ‘umu or fresh fish at a training in ‘Eua.
Another gift was a sculpture of rare golden coral.
(The only thing I won't miss from TDB
are these hot polyester uniforms!)
The life of anyone adjusting to a new place is always full of ups and downs as we encounter new styles of conversation, language, food, and all sorts of things that are unfamiliar to us. One of the things I will always remember from this past two years is when I was terribly sick with a nasty mataika infection that almost cost me my finger. I had already missed a week of work, and had done nothing but stay at home mostly alone, wishing I had family here while I was sick. I was feeling especially isolated and frustrated, and then one day, Leta, Sina, and Folau came by and dropped off a huge box of fresh fruits and vegetables, of every kind there was at the market, as well as a get-well card from the staff! This made a huge impression on me - It let me know I had family even here in Tonga.
I have felt so welcomed and accepted by everyone here at TDB, and have so enjoyed working alongside all of you. When other volunteers talk about difficulties they’ve had in their working environments, I think a lot of them want to tell me to be quiet after I talk about how good it has been to work at TDB!

When I was writing this short thank-you, I started crying, but then I realized this isn’t a sad day. Although I’m sad to be leaving TDB, Mark and I are so excited to be staying in Tonga! So this really isn’t a good bye, as I expect and hope to still see each of you frequently while we are still here. 
Thank you again for your acceptance, your patience, your teaching, and your love for me as I’ve worked here at TDB. I will really miss working with all of you.
Mark and I with Sina and Leta


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