Tuesday night we all headed to the airport with a crazy amount of luggage! Luckily my bags were within the weight limits. From L.A., it was a little over 10 hours to Apia, the capital of Samoa. The craziest part of the trip was that it was Wednesday morning in Samoa when we arrived, then after an hour flight we arrived in Tonga Thursday morning. Silly International Date Line.
Thursday was our first day of Pre-Service training. First, we were given an overview of our assignment, the Tonga Expanded Community Education Project. After that, we were formally welcomed to Tonga with a traditional kava ceremony. Kava is a drink in South Pacific that acts as a muscle relaxer and is served at important events and social gatherings. We only had a small amount, so I didn’t feel any of the effects. I personally thought it tasted like dirty, gritty water. However, it was a really awesome to participate. After the kava ceremony, we saw some traditional Tonga dance and had a BBQ.
Friday was a long day with a lot of sessions. We covered health and medical policies, security tips, intro to the Tongan language, and met some current volunteers. It was a lot to take in, but things that will be very helpful in the future. I also got a dog chaser, which is a fantastic little device that emits sonic waves to scare away dogs. My fear of being attacked by dogs is now greatly alleviated!
Today we started our morning with a fashion show of appropriate Tongan dress. For work and church, I will be wearing long skirts and shirts with sleeves. I will also wear a kiekie, a belt with woven strips. For casual wear, women still dress conservatively. Capris are sometimes acceptable, but usually women cover up capris and shorts with a lavalava (sarong) when they are in public. Bascially, the more conservative, the better!
The next part of our day was water safety training. It was cold and rainy, which wasn’t the best day for water training, but we made the best of it. Water training brought back bad memories of swimming lessons back in the day, but it wasn’t as terrible as I thought. We got to wear a life vest the entire time for one. Also we learned a lot of cool techniques for groups to work together in an emergency. Awesome team bonding!
After water training, some of us went out into town. We are staying in Nuku’alofa, the capital, so it has a fairly big market and some shops. At a shop I bought some fabric for a lavalava, and at the market I bought a fresh coconut. Although I’m not a huge fan of the coconut meat, I really like the coconut milk!
Tomorrow is Sunday, so we will be attending church, which is an extremely important aspect of Tongan life. I can’t wait to hear a Tongan choir, I hear they are fantastic! It is illegal to do most anything on Sunday, so tomorrow afternoon and evening will most likely be spent practicing some Tongan and relaxing with other trainees. Monday and Tuesday we will be visiting sites in Nuku’alofa. I know I am going to a bank in Tonga with the other volunteers and a few other places. Wednesday is our last day in the city. We leave for Ha’apai, a smaller island group north of Tongatapu. Apparently life is much different in Ha’apai, since is it much more remote and much smaller. Wednesday I will also meet my host family and start getting to know the people in my village.
Overall, I am sooooo excited to finally be here! The friendly islands seem like a wonderful place. Please send me letters and emails because I miss everyone at home. Check the tab at the top for my address! Hopefully next week I can post some more updates!