The Outer Island Adventure

By Peace Corp's definition, the island of Vava'u where I live,  is an outer island.  That simply means that I don't live on the main island of Tongatapu.  We have electricity, running water and cell phone service.

But my "outer island" experience is much different than the volunteers and the Tongans who live in the small villages on the small really "outer" islands.   They have no electricity, they take bucket baths with water they haul from a tank filled by rain water and their choice of food is extremely limited.  All trips are by boat to go anywhere.

On Thursday, I had the chance to visit six villages on three different outer islands in the Vava'u group of islands.   The bank is hosting a workshop for outer islanders next week and my counterpart Kolokesa and I went to deliver invitation letters to participants.

The first stop was 'Otea, which is close enough to the main island that a good swimmer could probably swim across the channel.   It's close enough that you can still get cell phone service.  We arrived in 'Otea around 7:30am and I immediately called my fellow volunteer Amy, who lives on the island.  7:30am may seem early by American standards, but I knew Amy would have been up for hours.   It's a small village and when she answered the phone, all she had to do was look out her door and she saw us.   Amy, like most people who live on these islands, goes to bed when it gets dark and gets up when it gets light.  The only illumination they get in their homes at night is from kerosene lanterns or candles.  

While Kolokesa delivered the invitation letters, Amy showed me around her village and her house.   She has a big house by Tongan standards and we spent almost as much time looking at her house as we did seeing the village.  

After leaving Amy, we got back on the boat and headed to the village of Kapa.  It's on the same island as Amy but too far to walk.   Kapa is not on the water.  We hiked quite a ways up the hill to find this village which at first glance looks like it has been abandoned.    Actually even at second and third glance it still looked abandoned.  It reminds me of a "hollow" that you would find buried in the mountains of Appalachia.

Not only are there only a few people in this village, but they don't get many visitors.  It's just not that easy to find.   We finally found a person and asked him if there were any businesses here, like a small shop or a weaving hut.  The answer, not surprisingly was "No".   If you look at the picture above, the white stuff that you see on the ground that looks like snow is actually "Tongan cotton".  It grows in a seed on a tree and Tongans will use it to stuff pillows.

From Kapa, we head to another island and the village of Taunga.  This is an oceanfront village with big beautiful banyan trees along its beach.   It's pouring rain and we take refuge inside the house of a Tongan family.  There is a small boy there who keeps looking at me with wide eyes.  I'm guessing he doesn't see many white people and may never have seen one inside his home before.  I reach in my pocket and hand him a fresh mango that I had picked up earlier.  He devours it never taking his eyes off of me.

After waiting out the rain we head to our third island of the day and the village of Nuapapu.   This village is also a hike from the dock but you can see it from the water.  It sits on a cliff overlooking the water, but you have to follow a trail to get there.  It's beautiful walk and there are fresh mangos everywhere, both on the ground and in all the trees.   As we approach the village, there is a metal fence, obviously designed to keep the pigs in the village and out of the forest.   Once in the village you can tell they have lots of pigs.  I've never seen so much pig crap in all my life.  It's everywhere and to make matters worse, it's been raining so the pig crap is mixed in with the rain water and it's running over our sandals and mixed with the mud.  It was pretty gross.  As I'm walking around I'm thinking the village should be named Nui-Poop-poo.    

As soon as we got back to the water, I thoroughly washed my feet and shoes in the ocean before getting back in the boat.    We then head to Matamaka, which is on the same island.   This village is now more well known because there is a new beer being marketed in Tonga called Matamaka. 

Here there are no fences and the pigs wander right down to the water as you can see in this photo.   However, it's a much cleaner village and probably the most active of any place we have visited so far.

Our final stop of the day is in Falevai.  It's the other side of the island where 'Otea is located and it is where we will be holding our workshop on Wednesday.   As we walk through the village we hear the familiar Tongan cry of "Ha'u Kai" which simply means "Come Eat".  Tongans almost always have food to share and share it generously.   We go in and there is a Tongan man who pulls out two pans, one with root crops in it and the other with pork.   I look for a piece of meat first, but it's all just pork fat.  My counterpart is chowing down on the pork fat but noticing that I'm not eating, he finds me a piece with a little bit of meat on it which I eat.  I then reach into the pot of root crops and pick up a small piece of 'ufi, which is probably the most common of all Tongan foods.  As I'm putting it into my mouth I notice that there are teeth marks on this piece. That means someone ate part of it and put it back in the pot.   That's not unusual in Tonga.  Food is shared and generally eaten with fingers, just as we were doing.

We saw this little boy playing in the mud as we were heading back to the boat to make our way back to the main island.   Thankfully it has stopped raining by now and we were able to dry off a bit as we headed back to town on the boat.

Vava'u Youth Congress
That wasn't the end of my day.  Thursday evening I joined my fellow volunteers at a fundraising dinner for the Vava'u Youth Congress, an NGO for the local youth.   It was a charity auction and a Tongan feast.  Most of the people attending were tourists or non-Tongans who live in Vava'u.   The entire event was coordinated by my fellow volunteer Stan, who is the Peace Corps representative at the Youth Congress.

Stan did a great job coordinating everything. James and I even helped out a bit as guest auctioneers.  

The Welcome Back I missed!!
I mentioned in my last post the great welcome I got when I returned from Australia.   However, the welcome was almost even better.  My friends Trent and Lara just wrote about their attempt to welcome me back, which didn't go exactly as planned.   This would have been a complete surprise to me if it had worked out.

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