The other day a fellow volunteer had a question to ask me, so she called and asked where I was so as not to interrupt anything. “At home” I answered and we went on with the conversation. A period of time went by and the significance of my answer hit me. I didn’t just say “at my house”. I was “at home”. I realized I have settled in to my new environment. I am very comfortable with the location and the physical home is small, solidly built, clean and, except for a few cracks allowing spiders to share my bathroom, it has the basic necessities. It’s centrally located so I can walk most any place I need to go for my daily needs. I am only five minutes from work, another ten minutes or so to the Peace Corps office and several other volunteer homes, and the same distance to the marketplace and major retail shops. I haven’t given up the idea of a bike to go longer distances faster, but am not in a hurry to spend the money for a new bike, and am waiting for the great used bike bargain that will be behind door #2 one of these days. The walking is great, it gives me my only real exercise, and it affords the opportunity to really see what is around and to dodge, or indulge in, humungous rain bullets that sometimes occur without notice. But, I digress.
So, to reference the question above, what has happened? The Peace Corps vernacular is integration into the community. I think there is merit to that. I know my neighbors on almost all sides. I have a veteran cop on one side, the town officer in front and a church president and his family on the other side. In the back are chickens and pigs. There is a family back there someplace but it’s the animals I see and hear most. Who knew roosters don’t just greet the morning with their rancor? Seems to go on all day, with the action starting around 2:11 p.m. I guess I am “at home” because I don’t even hear them anymore at 2:30 a.m. On Saturday, I enjoy listening to the cop’s son rasp the coconuts for fresh cream, as I get ready to do Saturday shopping. Every morning I hear Fusi from the front house raking the leaves from the driveway with her Tongan ‘brake’ – It’s a broom, it’s a rake…now you too can have the original all in one Tongan broom. Buy yours at your favorite market stall…only 10 pa’anga!
Oh, laundry. I could do my laundry, hang it outside and because of the frequent rain this time of year, it might dry in 3 or 4 days. I’m blessed to have a laundry service a half block away that does a great wash and fold service. I wasn’t born yesterday, so guess what option I chose? I pay my 5 Tongan pa’anga per kilo of laundry, enjoy same day service and I’m back “at home” with clean clothes.
I hear the church bells go off several days a week at 4:30 am to announce services in 30 minutes. On Sunday, they are really clanging, as there are services several times a day and I have a Catholic church and the Church of Tonga both announcing to the local community. I go to the Church of Tonga and used to sit in the back with the other senior citizens and late comers, but have moved up to the middle pews as it’s better to hear the numbers of the hymns when they are called out. I feel “at home” when I enter the church and more and more of the people nod and smile. Some I recognize as customers where I work; or they have come next door on church business or to help or pay respect to the church president. Others just nod and smile because they are Tongan. Their smiles let me know they acknowledge my participation in their culture.
I am working Mon – Friday from 9 a.m. to about 3 p.m. This will likely change as I get involved in some secondary/community projects. I am in love with the people at work – they could not be more dedicated and joyous. For the most part, they gave up careers at a major bank to answer a call from the church to start up a money transfer business. In two years, this business has become a backbone of the church’s desire to become self-sufficient from its business ventures. They help me with my Tongan and suffer through my questioning of the what/how/why of their work. They feed me daily – today’s menu was beautifully fried turkey tails and the daily staple of manioke. Yes, I even ate some pepe tails! I don’t usually eat much no matter what they serve; and they take it all in stride when I say “oku ou makona” (I’m stuffed), as they continue with their second huge helping. They all are English speaking to varying degrees but Tongan is the office language. Just hearing them banter all day, smiles and laughter abundant, I relish sitting there and taking it all in. One of the ladies sneezed today and I automatically said, “Bless You.” She gave me a blank look, so I explained. She explained the Tongans say “pula” when a child sneezes and it’s used in a jocular sense (my dictionary’s word for it). Later, she sneezed again and I heard her say to herself “bless me”. I smiled to myself and figured I had success with two of the Peace Corps goals dealing with learning Tongan culture and sharing American culture.
I’ve had questions about my daily routine. It’s hard to believe it has been nearly four months into my Tongan experience. Long enough to know two years is going to fly by and short enough that I don’t think I can say my daily routine is this and this and that. Each day I seem to learn something new that influences how I go through the day, so it’s a work in progress. The little routines of living are the same here in Nuku’alofa as in the U.S. even if my work clothes call for a skirt instead of pants.
I’m now at home writing this at the kitchen table, front door open for what breeze there may be, as well as to attract all manner of flying insects - all the better to feed the little geckos that share the space with me. There’s one overhead light that’s bright enough to read by and I’ve got food and water in the fridge.
Back to work in progress…when I get my front porch screened in….anything is possible when one is at home.