Friday, December 26, 2008
At first it was really very surreal - seeing my little house, after 169 days of absence and so much water passing under the metaphorical bridge, was BIZARRE. But it very quickly became divine to be home. The dog, the chickens, the rabbit. The young natives that have all grown a few centimetres since I've been away, and my rose bushes and fruit trees which I'm sure have all doubled in size!
Most tremendous of all is being in this space with Clinton, who I am going to marry in a few months and who has been the most faithful of caretakers since I've been gone. I feel so soothed at the thought of starting our life together in the Ainslie house. Everything else may be up in the air (work, life after Tonga), but the old cliche of home is where the heart is feels very true to me. It is simply wonderful to be with him again, and to share the space we created together, though it's only for a few days.
Other things I'm loving are HOT showers, clean toilets, my Mum's cooking, the sounds of birds always in the background (not roosters!), and snuggling under a doona at night.
But being here also throws into sharp relief the many wonderful things about Tonga. First and foremost is the laid back lifestyle. People don't yell at you because they hate their jobs and they want to exercise the tiny modicum of power that they hold; no-one beeps at you if you're at a traffic light for.3 of a second after it turns green (though that's just speculation, because there are no traffic lights in Tonga!).
If the saying that Time is Money is true, then it follows that a culture that does not emphasize money as much as we do is also a bit more relaxed about time. Seriously, if you miss this traffic light, is sitting there for another 90 seconds really going to kill you?
Being in Australia I am reminded of how seriously people take themselves. Achievement of the individual is emphasised to the dertiment of the community. But in Tonga, no-one goes hungry at Christmas. This might sound like I'm romanticising this South Pacific island culture, but as far as I can see it's really the truth.
Anyway, I hope everyone out there is having a Merry Xmas. I know I certainly am, even if part of it has been realising exactly how much bullshit we (supposedly chilled-out and laid back Aussies) carry around as part of our everyday lives!
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
I only had fifty pa'anga on me, but I got so excited by the brown rice and Vita Weats that my groceries ended up costing more. Instead of telling me to buy only what I could afford or piss off, the very relaxed check-out girl told me that it was fine for me to take the stuff home and come back tomorrow to pay the remainder.
How awesome is that!
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Friday, November 28, 2008
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
First, I spend two awesome weeks in Tonga with Clinton, then leave behind my family, friends, and fiancee after a whirlwind 4 days in Australia (who's dumb-arse idea was it to go home for just 4 days??). I returned to Tonga feeling slightly sad, and seeing Clinton's imprint on everything. Even opening a packet of biscuits reminds me of him!
But I guess that wasn't enough, coz barely 2 days after I got back we got kicked out of our "home", and now I'm living alone and half-unpacked in temporary accommodation, while I think my "flatmate" is giving me the silent treatment, but I'm not sure because I haven't really seen her since we moved out because she and her Tongan boyfriend (who is not permitted in our house!) are staying elsewhere.
Oh yeah, and I found out today that my father, who had prostrate cancer last year, now has a few extra tumours on his organs and they're running more tests. Fucking AWESOME!
So this is the fifth month, right? Isn't everything supposed to be peachy-fantastic by now? Aren't we supposed to be settled into our accommodation and our new lives, happily changing the world through our capacity-building roles?
At this rate, I'll be homeless and hating everyone by Christmas! Let's hope things pick up, people, because I am in a pretty bad mood, and feeling a whole shitload of Sadness, wondering what I'm doing here and why I bother fronting up to work every day. Oh yes, that's right, it's so I can access the internet.
Right now, I wish I was less stubborn so I could just go home. But that's not me. Besides, logic, reason and past experience dictate that things are bound to get better - right???
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Dramas? You bet! It’s kind of a long story, suffice to say that our landlord has a chip on his shoulder about the fact that my flatmate is dating Tongan guy. They are now officially engaged, so it’s all above-board and legitimate, but he had a real problem with locals (ie Tongans) coming onto our property.
We thought this would all disappear as he left the country for three months to work overseas, but unfortunately our peace lasted all of 4 days (for only 2 of which I was actually in the bloody country!), and yesterday morning at 8:45 he rang to tell us that we were being kicked out, and should be off the property by the end of the day – otherwise, we were to watch out!
We called our In-Country Manager (who’d been informed of pervious hiccups, and who’s sensible advice for a more harmonious relationship with him we followed), who tried to soothe things over, but to no avail. The only way the landlord would consider letting us stay on until 1 December (which, incidentally, is when we are paid up until!) was if our In-Country Manager personally signed a declaration guaranteeing the property against damage or theft. Well, this was from a man who had refused to give us a Rental Agreement, so his word is obviously worth nothing – as if we would trust him! Or put our ICM on the line! Oh yeah, and his other condition was that there were to be ABSOLUTELY NO TONGANS on the premises until we left.
I’m sorry, but doesn’t paying rent entitle me to have anyone I like on my property, as long as I maintain everything in the condition that it was given to me?? There are not enough expletives in my vocab to tell you what an asshole this guy is – and racist to boot! I mean, as if we’d come to Tonga as volunteers and then shun Tongan people – get real!
So we were all packed up, A-Lee heading to another volunteer’s house and me contemplating living in a tent for a few weeks (actually I was quite excited about the prospect of the tent!), when a neighbour, who was aware of the situation and who’d spoken to the landlord advising him NOT to kick us out (he’s also the landlord’s uncle!) showed up to express his regret at the situation. When he heard that we actually didn’t have anywhere else to go he immediately offered us a vacant house that he owned, just up the road, as a temporary solution while we look for somewhere else.
This was just so fortuitous! The place is secure, has running water and electricity, and is more than adequate while we look for something longer term. We are so grateful to whatever angels were looking out for us at that point!
This also means that I will have moved house at least 5 times before I leave Tonga – will I set some kind of new AYAD record I wonder?? Stay tuned to hear the latest on our domestic situation – and please keep your fingers crossed that we find somewhere awesome to live before Xmas, as Viliami needs his house back by then!
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Arriving at the airport - he was the first one out through Customs, and I didn't hold back!
Oh well, only 6 weeks until Christmas!
Thursday, October 23, 2008
This was my first swim in Tongan waters, and involved walking about 800m across a reef populated by squishy sea-cucumbers in knee-deep water, then floating precariously off the edge of the reef with the waves. The reward is enjoying the amazing array of fish and some colourful coral that exists so close to Tonga’s capital city.
9. My first exchange with a shopkeeper completely in Tongan
Yeah, this probably makes me sound better than I really am, but I was able to ask for 2 large bottles of water, and tell her that I came from Australia and had been here for 2 months. It’s pretty easy to get away with speaking English for the most part, so I like it when locals humour my attempts at giving the language a go!
OMG I still remember the utter satisfaction of that first coffee!
I am going to give Vava’u it’s own entry, otherwise the Top 10 would pretty much mostly be experiences I had there, but I figure that that first soy coffee, after 3 months of total abstinence, deserves its own place on the list!
I just love them! There’s something about the blue starfish that just makes my heart sing!
This encompasses the various farewell feasts I have enjoyed since working at the Tonga Visitor’s Bureau, from the numerous varieties of faikakai (a desert featuring coconut milk) to the delights of ota ika (raw fish salad). I really do love a lot of the Tongan cuisine, and my colleagues are always keen to encourage my enjoyment of this part of their culture - despite my weird food allergies and the fact that I’m a vegequarian!
4. Humpback whale and calf off Tongatapu
This occasion will stick in my memory for a long time – it was about 3 weeks into the whole Tonga thing, and I was having the first bout of really missing Clinton and feeling sorry for myself, when my boss called me and told me to bring my camera and go with him. When I asked where, he replied: “On a boat. To see a whale.” It was simply incredible, this whale calf breaching and diving and playing around, and we watched it for almost an hour. This was followed by my first trip to Pangaimotu Island and lunch on the Boss – cheered me right up, I can tell you!
3.Moving into the house at Longolongo
This makes the list because it was the first time I had that sense of feeling At Home since I’d arrived. The awesome kitchen has also been the site of some truly inspired cooking, I might add!
Outside the TVB Office in Vava'u
The incredible blue waters of Swallows Cave
Nuku Beach from the water
So this is an entire two weeks (well 12 days!) of bliss, incorporating the traditional stories of the island, the amazing Bruno (who runs the TVB office in Vava’u), the views from Mt Talau, days spent sailing, snorkelling and kayaking, and the beautiful Nuku Beach and Swallows Cave. It also includes having food I could eat at the Tropicana Cafe, walking, hills (and even walking UP hills!), the view from the Twin View Motel where we stayed, and the owner of the Twin View, who looked like the BFG. This time and place was truly extraordinary, and I can honestly say that I loved every minute of it.
1. Swimming with singing Humpback whales
Even though this is technically part of the total Vava’u experience, like the soy coffee it deserves its own entry for sheer mind-blowingness. I will surely remember this occasion for the rest of my life – watching a singing whale rising up from the deep below me was something so magical that words cannot even begin to describe it.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
This inspires me to give you a run-down of all the health issues I have enjoyed since arriving here fourteen and a half weeks ago!
1. Bronchial chest infection
2. Urinary Tract Infection
3. Eye infection
4. Chronic allergic reactions - hayfever and eczema
5. Secondary skin infection.
But my story has another happy result - I actually returned to the good old Village Mission Pharmacy and Clinic, as I heard they had a replacement doctor. The new bloke has been in Tonga for a good while now, so I doubt much will phase him. This is good, because he seems sensible, and like he's in it for the long haul. Having a decent doctor is half the battle here!
So three cheers for the health issues looking a bit more promising now!
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
One thing about living in a developing country is the issue of health. And I’m not talking about the exotic diseases you might catch, or the traveller’s diarrhoea, which let’s face it, is just a matter of time. No, I’m talking about the regular little things that if you were back home would be easy to manage, however in the tropical paradise that is Tonga become overblown and have AHI recommending your return to Australia.
I’m talking here about allergies. The smoke and pollution of Nuku’alofa have wreaked havoc with my eyes, hayfever and eczema. Over the past 2 months I have experienced waking up EVERY day with red gross eyes, the worst hayfever ever, and the grossest case of eczema I’ve yet to live through.
Most Tongans don’t get the concept of allergies. There’s certainly no Tongan word for it, and explaining the concept (especially when they’ve just grasped the food allergy idea only to have me come in with irritated eyes from the smoke in the air) has been...challenging. To the people in my office who bear bemused witness to my many ailments and absences I am just a sickly Palangi, whose maladies are probably exacerbated by my strange insistence on vegetarianism.
As my allergies have gone from the irritating to the incapacitating, I have contacted the designated health insurance medical advisors of the AYAD program to see if there was anything further I could do. Sadly, all they could suggest was going home. This is not something I’m prepared to consider – yet.
Oh yeah, and this is completely besides the other viruses I’ve enjoyed since being here, that is a tasty bronchial infection in my first few weeks, and recently some kind of glandular extravaganza. My flatmate, the intrepid A-Lee, has been laid up for the past week with some kind of flu from hell. Seriously, the tropical diseases are the least of our problems, it’s the everyday stuff that’s the killer!
Getting suitable medical treatment is also somewhat challenging. The last time I went to the Villiage Mission Pharmacy I had the doctor take my temperature and look in my ears, only to later see the little ‘disposable’ covers for the ear-gadgets being washed for re-use. Now, something that gets stuck in my ears, fine, whatever, reuse and recycle, no problem. However, I am not keen to get any kind of blood test here, in case the same principle applies to syringes and needles. And with what we were told in PDT, that is quite likely...
When I next rang the Village Mission Pharmacy to make an appointment, I found out that the Palangi doctor who I’d seen only the week before had fled the country after just 2 weeks in the job! Perhaps it was because she couldn’t handle the washing and reusing of supposedly sterile earpieces...?
Thursday, October 02, 2008
Friday, September 26, 2008
So far I am hard pressed to think of ANY way in which Tongatapu is better than Vava’u. I have half a mind to ask to be transferred here, for at least 3 months of my project...to get a better idea of the heritage and culture of Vava’u...or something!
Here, the breezes blow gently (and sometimes not so gently) over the hills, the heroes of legend are brought to life through the place names, and the history lives strongly in the minds of local village Chiefs and Town Officers, guardians or local heritage. Also, there is soy coffee at the Tropicana cafe. It might be a backpacker establishment which I would ordinarily shun, but seriously, for a soy coffee and a dairy-free Muesli slice I’m anyone’s!
So far our adventures (I am here with the intrepid A-Lee, fellow AYAD and flatmate extraordinaire) have been confined to land, however this has been no second-rate experience, as Bruno, my host at the Vava’u branch of the TVB, has been a font of knowledge and assistance. He has arranged encounters with important community leaders, who retain the myths and knowledge of the past associated with heritage sites many palangi don’t bother with, their interest being confined to the sea. This is a shame, as Vava’u has a lot to offer in land-based tourism for those willing to spend a little time exploring.
For example – the Kilikilitefua Wall. The name comes from kilikili – the smooth black pebbles used on graves – and tefua, meaning a cluster, in particular reference to people. So it’s a cluster of stones, but also referring to people. This is because, in an ancient from of census, every time a baby was born a stone was added to the pile. The pile has diminished somewhat, as the coral rock was put to more practical purposes by generations who had more modern methods of recording births – things like computers and birth certificates. But for around 300 years, the births on all of Vava’u (and it is speculated that possibly all of Tonga) were recorded here, in a site which is unique in the South Pacific.
I have also been privileged to hear many traditional myths and legends. It is wonderful to be doing things the traditional Tongan way, hearing stories directly from their custodians (and translated by Bruno), rather than reading them in books as I’ve been doing in Nuku’alofa. This feels like the real Tonga, despite the prevalence of tourists who swarm the main streets of Neiafu, the capital. Once you get away from the waterfront though the tourists vanish, and the palm trees and fields of kava again assert their presence.
I feel a tremendous love for this place and its people, who are so willing to share their history and their traditions with me. I am so glad to have spent this past week soaking up the culture rather than the sun, though of course I also look forward to getting out onto the water and experiencing the other side of Vava’u!
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
It hasn't been easy. We were expected by our In-Country Manager to have formed into ‘house groups’ the day after we arrived here. By the day after that, we'd all pretty much signed up for particular houses. So, having known each other for 3 days (I'm discounting PDT of course!), we were now committed to living together for the next 12 months.
Luckily Tongan leases are easier to squeeze out of than your average pair of tight jeans, because three days after moving into the first house, one of my flatmates told me flatly that she no longer wanted to live with me. Now, I've been through a fair few sharehouses in my time, and I have to say, that was a first for me! Mind you, the flatmate in question was a lot younger, and didn't have a lot of experience in sharehousing, so I just chalked it up to a personality difference and moved on.
Two weeks later I was in my second house, with a girl I got along with quite well, but in a house I couldn't stand! The place itself has seen a fair few AYADs, having been a faithful volunteer house for quite some time now, but it just didn't feel right for me. I'm a big believer in 'vibes', and this place just felt unwelcoming. Not to mention the fact that my room got no natural light and the neighbours were noisy (yes I know this is Tonga, but I'd take the dogs, pigs and roosters over a neighbour vomiting outside my bedroom window at 2am anytime!). Add to that the stories I heard about unquiet spirits appearing at séances held in the house, and I couldn’t wait to get out of there!
So it has come to pass that my former flatmate from the first house (obviously not the one who didn’t want to live with me!) and I have moved into a sweet little place recently vacated by a couple of VIDAs. The place even has a spare room, so we are able to accommodate guests without having to resort to bed-sharing. It is light and airy, my room has TWO windows, and the kitchen is just the sort of place that inspires me to cook up a storm. In short, I love it!
Having reached the two-month mark of my time as an AYAD I am bearing in mind what we were told at PDT – that is, the first 3 months are the hardest, and there’ll be an inevitable slump in our spirits as we get adjusted. By and large, I think I’m doing alright. Week 6 and 7 were slightly more unsettled, and I took a couple of Mental Health Days off work for some time out. I told myself that moving to the new place wasn’t going to solve all my problems, and it wasn’t a cure-all for missing Clinton or feeling frustrated at work.
But sitting in my new kitchen on Saturday afternoon, having a cup of tea before unpacking the rest of my gear, I suddenly realised that I felt AT HOME. For the first time since coming to Tonga, I felt at home. I didn’t even realise I’d lost that feeling – or perhaps I just didn’t expect to find it here. But there it is, and for the first time in two months I have that feeling of comfort that you get when it all fits right. And for that I am glad!
Monday, September 01, 2008
where it was finally captured, much to my relief! It was then released across the road into the cemetary. Hopefully it's not a homing spider, as I do not know how much more of this my heart can take. It has been suggested that I call this the Tongan Spider Crisis, however I prefer the more sedate Tongan Spider INCIDENT. A Crisis would surely involve more than ONE spider...
Luckily I'll be moving in with A-Lee, my Hero and Saviour, next weekend, so I'll have a Live-In Spider Catcher should anything untoward like this occur in the future!