After a glorious month of reunions with family & friends [and of course, lots of delicious food and hot showers] in America, I’m now back in Tonga and starting my 2nd year as a Peace Corps volunteer. I’ve got to tell you…It’s a pretty surreal feeling. Being back in the States for Christmas felt so natural, I kept forgetting that I’d just made a 5,000 mile trek home. Thankfully, it also felt pretty natural to hop on the plane and come right back.
Every blog entry, I feel as though I’m waxing philosophical about how I can’t believe how fast time is flying, how long I’ve been here [15 months OH my!], etc., etc. My Peace Corps experience thus far has been a beautiful and ridiculous trip. There have been experiences that encompass just what I expected Peace Corps service to entail [i.e. making a fool of myself through various cultural faux pas and eating exotic new foods]. But the bits I’ve really loved have been the surprises. Who knew I’d come to this itty bitty country, separated from everywhere else by vast Pacific waters, and meet Tongans who speak Spanish, who’ve met the Pope, and who really love Celine Dion? Those were certainly not predictions I could’ve made about my Peace Corps journey, but the unexpected tidbits are what make this experience pretty phenomenal.
Since it has been QUITE a while since my last entry, I better make this one pretty beefy. In lieu of a verbal recap of my first year I thought I’d post a few iconic pictures of the journey.
October 2010: Mom & I taking a typical airport picture before I headed into the unknown! You can’t see it, but there should be a little thought bubble above my head thinking, ‘Holy moly, what have I gotten myself into?!’
October & November: Now… with my new Tongan family during 2 months of Pre-Service Training. I was incredibly lucky to stay with the Vakalahi family. They treated me as one of their own/a princess. I was the best fed Peace Corps in town!
October & November: This is my host Papa, 'Ofa [which means love in Tongan]. He is an expert diver and fisherman. He'd sometimes head out to sea for days at a time in a little fishing boat and return with LOTS of delicious fish and lobsters!
November 2010: No Barbie cars here….but old lawn mowers are a suitable substitute in Ha'apai.
November 2010: Great thing about Tonga? Totally acceptable to ride in the back of trucks! During training, a kind soul tried to pick up about 9 of us walking along the road to town. Promptly after we piled into his truck.... his two back tires went flat. woops!
December 2010: Training has come to an end and off goes the Vava’u Crew [minus a few who didn’t want to stop for our corny picture] to our next adventures.
December 2010: Welcome to Vava’u [my island]! Unreal views and lovely neighbors galore.
January 2011: It’s finally time for some real work to occur…meet the kiddies of GPS Tefisi!
June 2011: During a 2 week school break, I ventured to New Zealand with some Peace Corps friends. I have never been more thankful for cool weather & grocery stores!
Every day: My neighbor, Mele Lose, graces my front steps and tells me about life. Her specialties include predicting the weather, telling me when the next full moon will be, and giving massages [yep, massages].
September 2011: Need a reason to parade and dance in the streets? We have one….RUGBY! The Tonga Ikale Tahi [Sea Eagles] competed in the Rugby World Cup and invoked some serious national pride in Tongans all over the world.
September 2011: PCVs and Tongan counselors facilitated Camp GLOW, a pretty fantastic Leadership and Youth Development camp for young women! PCVs all over the world participate in Camp GLOW.
October 2011: My class 6 munchkins pose here after taking their High School Entrance Exam. Bless them all for being the guinea pigs during Nola’s first year teaching.
November 2011: School has unofficially ended, so I spent a lot of my time malolo-ing [relaxing] and making flower rings with the neighborhood kids.
December 2011: 'Osi mo ta'u e taha! [Finished with year one!] Ended the year with a phenomenal trip home to the states. THANKS Mom & Dad! :)
*sorry mom, I think you're behind the camera.
So, that about covers the first half of my Peace Corps journey. I count myself among some of the luckiest PCVs. I serve in a safe country with extremely kind and generous people, plenty of delicious food, and [of course] some unreal scenery. I have no idea what the next year will entail, but I'm pretty excited to find out. So, with that..... Cheers to a New Year!!!!