Sunday, December 26, 2010

If I could turn back time...

[Note:  I wrote this over two months ago - it's as relevant now as it was then.  I will get caught up eventually.]

If I could turn back time...I wouldn't change a thing.

Twenty six intrepid Peace Corps trainees arrived in Nuku’alofa just a little over two weeks ago and I think I can say for all that our lives were transformed.

We are living with families who have given up their daily routine to take care of us, feed us and teach us the Tongan way of living.  The food we’ve had since then has been nothing short of startling at times, but I soon learned to say ifo ‘aupito because most of it is just that - (very delicious).  Lots of chicken, some beef and, if we are really lucky, some spit roasted pig.  I’m still not used to the boiled breadfruit, but the ota ika is nothing short of amazing and I was never one for a lot of raw fish.  And, I introduced my home-stay Mom, Kailua, to the Knapp family favorite banana bread and, in spite of no measuring cups/spoons, it was a huge hit.  We have standing orders for more from the family and Tongan Peace Corps staff.  

It’s actually very difficult to focus on any one thing right now – my mind is full and everything is swirling.  Throw in all the language, culture, medical and safety/security training we’ve been having, I’m not surprised it’s now 2:30 am and I can’t quiet my brain until I get some of this processed.  We have one house in the village with Internet and I am going to attempt and post this in a few hours.

I do want to take a minute and tell you about Panise.  This little powerhouse 5 year old has captured my heart and no matter where I go in the village, he and his bicycle seem to appear – “Tevita, Tevita…fefe hake?“ 

We speak most in sign language and mime motions right now, but my little friend has come to represent what I know so far of Tonga and it’s people – he’s self assured, confident, living life his way, in touch with certain parts of the ‘modern’ world but only using the parts that seem to make sense to him and he laughs with the biggest smile and brightest eyes you can never imagine.

In the end, isn’t that what life is all about? 

Friday, October 1, 2010

Moving and on the move...

Wednesday was moving day. My belongings now reside in a 10' x 15' storage locker and won't see the light of day for about 800 days. Quite amazing that 1500 sq ft collapses down to 150 sq ft - does that mean I lived with a lot of empty space in my life? I really thought it would be sad or nostalgic to see the house empty after living there for 8 years, and suppose that would be the case if I were being evicted or moving under some duress; luckily , it is not. The decision to move is mine and I happily own it. I've turned over keys to the new tenant and really couldn't be more comfortable to have this part of the adventure come to a conclusion.

It has been a lot of task management this past couple of months and I now get on to the next chapter, the main course, the real deal...and the reason for doing this blog. What is it like to be a Peace Corps volunteer living, teaching, laughing and learning in Tonga?

After a brief stop in LA, we'll begin to find out the answer to that.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Dear Tonga, Ready When You Are

I haven't posted in a month as it's been very busy and all about preparedness.  Nothing exciting or insightful. But, we are now down to 2 weeks before departure to LA and it's all about excitement, nerves and a great deal of anticipation for the journey.  I've been in contact with some of the current volunteers and THANK YOU for your very helpful information.  There are more questions I could ask but experiencing the unknown is what leads me to learning, memories and fireside tales.

Bags are packed (3 times at last count) and hopefully with some sense of organization.  Household is boxed except for those daily use items.  I have a very nice renter who is excited about moving in and I know she will take great care of my home.  Lola, The Calico Panther, otherwise known as the cat, has moved to her new home and I thought I was prepared for that event - yeah, right.  There's the obvious reason of not having her here, but the greater realization that all this is really, and finally, happening.  The next big event will be moving day and cleaning up - may the house Qi keep you happy, Sharon.

Countdown wouldn't be complete without some partying and enjoying time with extended family, friends, food and fun.  My twisted sisters from St. Croix and California are in Vegas this coming week, friends from No. Carolina are moving back to Vegas the following week and my neighbors are hosting a farewell party with Vegas buddies and other neighbors.  For a final out with the old, in with the new celebration, I'll be met in LA by my colleague, travel buddy, friend and mentor.  Thanks mijo!

Soon I'll walk through my front door, bags and backpack in tow.  Going far?  Nope, just across the street to stay with my neighbors for a few days on the road to LA - one stop at a time.

Pause for commercial:
I will be doing the Peace Corps Correspondence Match program.  One teams up with a school class for a pen-pal arrangement to learn of my first hand experiences and the teacher receives teaching aids, curriculum,  etc. to reinforce the Peace Corps mission of Americans' understanding of other peoples and cultures.  I am excited to meet one of my classes next week @ Whitney School in Las Vegas.  Can't wait to hear what a class of 4th graders are curious about learning of Tonga. I'm also teaming up with a class of 1st and 2nd graders in Ann Arbor, MI.  Fortune was with me a couple of months ago and I made friends (again) with Tracey.  I say again, as I'm sure we have a previous life history and this time she is sharing her class at Ann Arbor Open @ Mack.  How cool to have a class in Ann Arbor where the Peace Corps was 'born' 50 years ago.  You just can't ignore those signals!  Thanks to both classes for the opportunity.  If you know a teacher, please spread the word.
We now return you to our regular programming.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


We often say that 'it's all in how you look at things' or 'perception is reality'.  Each of us define the framework of those thoughts with our DNA and life experience.  It's what makes the world go round and creates our global diversity.  Great stuff, right?  Could not agree more and it's core to every one's life and will be totally relevant to my PC experience.

I read a post from Vanuatu last night and have been processing it since.  It bothers me.  It makes me want to cry.  I know 'modernization' has happened and is happening the world over, but seeing familiar fast food logos on the streets of Lima or Leipzig, for example, has always bothered me.  When you travel to new places, you want to see 'different': you want to view local culture, local business and products and what that locale and citizens contribute to the global diversity.  

I do like technology and it will enable me to keep in touch during my service.  I don't eat Doritos and have no intention of searching them out in Tonga.  Thank you STEBLOG for making me aware and giving me warning. I have no answers to any of this.  Does all this culture pollination make a better world?  The man with diabetes probably doesn't think so.  To a child discovering the wonders of the internet, I'm sure there's joy.  All I know is that right now, I need a Kleenex.  I hope they don't have those in Tonga.

Maybe one can't change the world, but one can change someone's life.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The hardest Job I'll never love.

Going on a trip is fun.  Moving to a new environment is energizing.  Packing to get there just isn't fun.

I have never liked packing things up and cannot figure out how as beings with a brain we get into these situations.  How many times in the last couple of weeks have I exclaimed to self and the cat "I still have that?" or more accurately "Why do I still have that?"

I'm not a hoarder and would never qualify for a reality show on the subject.  I have donated a lot of unused clothing to Big Brothers and household items to the local women's shelter.  I thought I had things under control.  But, like dust bunnies under the bed, I keep finding articles that make me question if I was really looking at 'cleaning out' correctly.  My method was always to follow the HGTV advice that if you haven't used it in the past year, discard.  Clearly that hasn't worked.  Possibly because I lose track of the days in a year and I've also come to realize I only see the bigger items.  Now I'm talking gadgets, candles, old anti-virus discs, printer cables that haven't seen 'in to printer' in years.  You know what I'm saying?  I did recycle old computer equipment a few weeks ago and now have to see if they'll take the myriad of cables and hook ups that have been uncovered.  My methodology now is to ask "Do I want to see this same item in two years when I unpack everything?"  It makes the process somewhat easier and keeps the recycling and garbage collector guys wondering what the heck is going on.  It also has earned them some side money for some really significant trash.

I've been doing something every day, no matter how insignificant it seems and yes, I am making process.  Slow and steady like a tortoise perhaps, but I'm a Capricorn.  Not to be taken lightly - the old goat will get to the mountain top.

Yesterday was very productive so no time to stop...well, maybe just a brief interruption for a movie and pulled pork sandwich.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Tale of the Enchanted Postcard

Remember how in The Chronicles of Narnia the kids discovered the wardrobe, got inside and suddenly found themselves transported to Narnia?  They really were just being kids playing hide and seek and the next thing you know they were faced with the reality of their destiny. Great fun to read, fantasize about and rent on a DVD, but fiction, nevertheless, you say.  I always thought so myself, until...

I retired in 2004 and for a few years was like a kid playing hide and seek, enjoying my hard-earned and greatly-appreciated life of doing whatever I damn well pleased.   About two years ago, I knew this wasn't reality and I needed something to give a bit more meaning to my life.  You know, just one of those thoughts one has and then goes back to hide and seek.  On a 'nothing was special about it' kind of day I got the day's mail and had a postcard from the Peace Corps informing me of a recruiting meeting at a local library.  What struck me was the banner of "Life is calling.  How far will you go?"  Well, I didn't have far to go to get to the library on the appointed day.  I am now convinced that postcard was enchanted like a professor's wardrobe.  It had to have been embedded with some kind of powerful magic as now I find myself cleaning out drawers, closets and cabinets, trying to rent my sanctuary to strangers and packing duffels bags with heretofore unowned objects like a headlamp, cranking/solar powered radio/flashlight/USB charger combo device, travel hammock and microfiber towels.  I really am very fortunate.  The kids in the story had no time to prepare.  At least I have a packing list from the Peace Corps.  in about 6 weeks I leave for The Kingdom of Tonga and a rendezvous with my destiny.

 I'm so glad I heeded that enchanted postcard.  Check your mailbox daily.

Learn.  Grow.  Laugh.