Male e Lei Lei

Hello from the Kingdom of Tonga. I'm finally here and have been so impressed with this island Kingdom so far. We got in Thursday Morning and were greeted at the airport by cheering Peace Corps workers and volunteers. As we cleared customs, we were each presented with a flower lei and given a great welcome.

After flying all night, I thought I would be exhausted, but found that after a cold shower (that's the only kind here) I was ready to set out and explore some of the island. I didn't get to see much but was amazed at how friendly the people were to us as my room-mate and I walked the streets. Almost everyone said hello to us and school children waved as we walked by. It is fascinating to see a place where culture is still so important and that is most obvious by observing the dress of the native people. Very much in line with what the Peace Corps had predicted.

This afternoon we had a welcoming Kava ceremony from our Country Director, who is the head person in charge of the Peace Corps in Tonga. Kava is a drink made the root of the kava plant, ground and mixed with water. Before we had our first taste of Tongan Kava, we were treated to the story of how Kava came to be such a tradition in the local culture. (I'm afraid I won't get the details right if I try to relate the story here).

I've seen Kava described many ways, ranging from Gross to Tasty. I would have to say that I found it to taste about what you would expect a root ground up in water to taste like. I only had a small cup and did not feel any of the effects. (A feeling described as relaxed motor skills in our training). As a welcome gift, the Country Director presented us with our own Kava cup to use during our tenure here in Tonga.

As the CD (Country Director) was welcoming us in his opening presentation, I felt a tap on my shoulder. One of the Peace Corps staff asked if I could step away and give an interview to Tongan Television. I didn't really want to stand-up and walk away but she said they were getting ready to leave and needed to interview someone. The Interview was pretty simple. The reporter, who was also the photographer, asked me to say something about Tonga. I wasn't really sure what to say and was really expecting a question. I started talking and then he told me he hadn't turned on the camera. I quickly gave an answer about how impressed I had been with Tonga so far and how I was really looking forward to seeing more of the Island and meet more of the people. His second and final question was "Do you have anything else to say?". I responded that I was glad to be a part of the Peace Corps and was looking forward to working in Tonga, or something similar. That was it. He thanked me and I went back to the welcome ceremony. He also interviewed a woman from our group. I have no idea if anything I said will actually end up on TV, but one of the current volunteers here told me that I shouldn't be surprised if someone comes up to me and tells me they saw me on TV.

Several of my fellow trainees got a laugh out of the fact that I was selected to be interviewed since they all know from training that I spent my career in TV News. Of course most of it was on the "other" side of the camera.

Our flight to get here stopped in Samoa and I wrote the following while we were waiting to get back on the plane to continue our voyage to Tonga.

Wednesday October 2, 2007

It's 5:30am and our group of Peace Corps volunteers is sitting in a transit area in Apia, Samoa.

It's been an intense couple of days since arriving in Los Angeles for our staging. Our group is pretty diverse. There are 33 of us. In that group are 5 married couples, 12 single women and 11 single men. There are three volunteers who are older than me. Most are in their 20's and 30's. I was pretty impressed about everything the people in our group have already done. Many have been active in volunteer work for work and quite a few have lived in another country before. We have two groups, Business and Education volunteers.

I keep thinking about the opening line to MTV's Real World: "What happens when you put 33 strangers together?" Actually quite a bit. Overall I was pretty impressed with the staging process. No surprises but it gave us a good overview of what we could expect once we arrive in Tonga. The training was more specific to overall Peace Corps practices.

While I've known this group for probably just 48 hours, I know all their names and am pretty sure I know where they are from.

Once we finished our staging, we are sent to the airport and on to Tonga without an escort from the Peace Corps. We appointed four group leaders, one for the hotel, one for the bus, one for the sky-caps at the airport and one for the airport and travel. That's the job I got. It didn't seem like a big deal to hand out the passports and tickets to everyone at the airport, but we got a bit of hassle at the airline counter. They would not allow us to board the plane since we did not have a return ticket from Tonga. Even after I showed the letter provided by the Peace Corps from the Kingdom of Tonga with our names, they still told us we had to have Visas or a return ticket before they would check us in. I finally got a supervisor who copied our travel documents and handed them out to all of the other gate agents and told them to check us in. But that wasn't the end of the problems. One of the gate agents didn't get the message and held up two of the people in our group and I had to come back with the paperwork so he could make another copy of it, just for him. As it turns out the paperwork was sitting on the counter in front of him the entire time.

Now on the TSA. One of the baggage screening machines at LAX was broken, so the 33 of us with LOTS of luggage had to wait in a line that wrapped out to the street just to check our bags. (Oh and I did not have to pay a luggage surcharge even though I was over the limit when I checked in.) It probably took an hour for us to get everyone checked in, if not longer. Those of us at the front of the line spent the time hanging out in from of LAX.

Once we got past the issue with the gate staff we had a pretty pleasant flight.

NOTE: It is Friday at almost 1pm as I'm posting this. This is the first time I've been able to get online since getting here. I have 53 e-mails and don't know if I'll have time to answer them before I get back to class. I don't expect to have Internet access at all for the next 18 days as we are going to a remote village this afternoon.

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  1. Hey, I'm a friend of one of your fellow volunteers... Thanks for your insights on how everything is going so far! Good luck!

  2. sounds like a great start to your adventure.. looking forward to following your journey over the next couple of years... I'll keep you updated on the "eers!!!" through the rest of the football season... have fun!!!

  3. Hi Steve! What a treat to read your entries now that you've arrived! I'm sure you'll make some great progress on the language learning during your homestays. You're at the beginning of what will no doubt be THE most valuable learning experience of your life. You'll learn so much about yourself and your new surroundings, I'm really looking forward to tagging along. Thanks again for making that possible! Take care!