I promise I haven’t forgotten about you. It’s taken me so long to be able to log onto my blog. The internet in Tonga is S.L.O.W…. most websites just won’t load, my blog included. But we’re here!!!! And starting to settle into life.
For the first two weeks, I had in country orientation with the AYAD program; a crazy busy time full of language lessons, country briefings, meetings with various agencies, trips to the bank, the motor registry, learning where to do our shopping, a homestay with a Tongan family, a trip to a banana plantation and running around trying to find houses to rent.
I had been sick off and on, fell into the swimming pool, discovered I couldn’t transfer money to my Tongan bank account, nor did my Tongan phone number work internationally. Other discoveries included why my bike has the nickname “precious”… it needs love to hold the bike together. More rust than bike going on but its one redeeming factor is that it has a (slightly broken) bike basket.
We moved into our home and started work last Monday.
Our house is a three bedroom rental (one bedroom is pretty small) with a fairly large kitchen but smallish combined dining and lounge. It has a new washing machine (amazing for Tonga) but no hot water. Not so amazing. Cold showers each day and when I want to wash my hair, I have to boil the kettle and tip a bucket over my head.
It’s about a 10-15 min bike ride into town and to the church office. We are by the lagoon. It’s a gorgeous lagoon. To look at. No swimming. Quite polluted. Our house is in a compound which means that our landlady lives in a house at the front, another japanese volunteer lives in a granny flat at the side and we are at the back. Being in a compound makes its safer as housebreaking is the number one crime in Tonga. Mostly because the population is fairly poor. I read somewhere that the average wage was $120TOP per week. Which is around $80AUD.
It’s weird to work in the same place as my husband! My desk is about 20 seconds walk from his. We see a lot of each other… which is lovely now but may get frustrating later.
There are so many cultural differences I don’t know where to begin. One thing I learnt just yesterday was when someone leans into, what I thought was a peck on the cheek, they are actually pressing their cheek against yours and taking a big sniff!
Shopping here is an adventure. You have to go to literally 8-10 stores to get your weekly groceries. Bread from one, veggies from the market, one shop for spices, one shop for staples etc. The veggies are amazing! All organic and locally grown and so ridiculously cheap. I got 5 massive eggplants last week for around $2 AUD.
Nuku’alofa reminds me a lot of the Philippines actually. Everything is very “all over the place” and random. Its a funny little town. With potholes everywhere. There are no road maps, or street signs or even street names really. So when you navigate you have to explain by “turn at the big mango tree, go past the third corner store, left at the road with the crazy dog etc.”
I get excited when I accomplish little things, like remembering where our house is and figuring out where to buy meat. I have never been so excited to buy mince!!!!!
I’ve made my first friend (remember your first day at school where you don’t know anyone and you are desperately hoping that someone talks to you? It’s like that.) Elisabeth. She is half Tongan, half NZ and she comes to the English speaking church service. Every Tuesday we have bible study at her parent’s house.
In work news: Tongans don’t really work from a strengths based perspective, they need training in basic casework skills, they need to stop trying to marry off their clients (“if the women could just find husbands, their problems would be fixed) and I keep being sent home from work at about 2:30 in the afternoon. And that’s after being forced to take an hour and a half for lunch.
I’m currently working on a three day training program for next week in conflict resolution and peace building. I’ve never trained anyone in this area and I’m frantically searching through notes from second year Uni, to find appropriate material. My boss wants the work specific to the Tongan context… but I’ve only been in the country for three weeks and have yet to figure out what that is.