Friday, September 26, 2008

In Praise of Vava'u

So here I am in a true tropical island paradise – the island of Vava’u, capital of the Vava’u group of islands, about 300km north of Tongatapu.

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 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

On Saturday I moved house for the third time since arriving in Tonga two months ago. This time, I think it truly is a case of 'third time lucky', and possibly a bit of 'good things come to those who wait', along with any other cliches which ultimately mean - I think my domestic troubles are OVER!

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 08, 2008

Monday, September 01, 2008

The Tongan Spider Incident

The spider known as "Bruce", first seen on my front verandah a fortnight ago

Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about spiders. It's no secret - they make me shudder. Not so much the ones that hang in their webs, or even poisonous spiders. Redbacks don't phase me, and neither do the large, spindly Golden Orb Weavers. No, my pet arachnid hate is HUNTSMANS. Not only are they large, but they roam around freely, ready to shock me at any second by emerging from behind a picture hanging on the wall, or sitting placidly on my towel - ergh!

So the irony of having come to Tonga, land of Large Free-Ranging Spiders (I tried to google Spiders of Tonga to get a name, but no joy), has not been lost on me. You know, the spiders here are so big, they make a noise as they walk across walls?

I discovered this on Friday night at about 2am, as I lay in bed reading. I could hear a sort of scrabbling sound that I thought may have been a mouse, however when I sat up to look I saw a Rather Large Spider walking across the back of my door, going 'clickclickclick' every time it's Rather Large and pointy feet landed on the surface of my door!
So now I started to panic. It's 2am, I'm arachnophobic, and there's a ginormous spider on the back of my only means of escape. Oh yes, and for some reason I'd decided to lock my door that night, so there was no hope of rescue from without. Oh WONDERFUL!
I phoned my partner in Australia, whose suggestions were not very helpful - that is, he suggested I might approach and try to effect a capture of sorts - as if! I watched (and listened to)it as it wondered around the doorway of my room, and then headed to my cupboard, where it spread itself out and seemed to settle down.
I'm sure this was Bruce - note the missing eighth leg!
This was good - it meant I could make a dash for the door, which I did, unlocking and flinging it open. However, it didn't solve the issue of the spider. I do not believe 'out of sight, out of mind' for a second when it comes to spiders. It would only be a matter of time until it snuck into my musli bar box, or wandered into my wardbrobe and retired onto an item of clothing.
Which brought me to the next problem. The spider was now safely ensconced in a cupboard, making it a) impossible to shoo away with a broom, and b) impractical to spray without contaminating the food on the top shelf (there's no room in my kitchen cupboard, ok?!)
I realised that I was going to need assistance. So I went and woke up Sophie, who, to her eternal credit, didn't order me out of her room immediately and slam the door in my face, but humoured me by getting up to see what my problem was. Though it turns out Soph wasn't prepared to effect a capture either, so we sat on my bed and watched the spider together.
It was at this moment that my txt msg about this noisy spider reached A-Lee, and she offered to come and rescue me. Believe it or not, she was still up and about at 2:30am, and was happy to leave The Billfish nightclub where she'd been happily dancing away, in order to come and save me, her rather pathetic arachnophobic friend. This Night of Terror was fast becoming more a Comedy of Errors!
So A-Lee and a young Englishman named Barney came around, and the Rather Large Spider led A-Lee on rather a merry chase around my cupboard, through the wardrobe, and then across the wall...

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!