A Tale of Two Flights

Just over 15 months ago, I was sitting in the Los Angeles Airport waiting to board my first flight to the Kingdom of Tonga.  Today, I'm in the same terminal getting ready to get on the same Air New Zealand flight after spending almost a month in the USA.

Sitting here brings back lots of memories of that first trip and the excitement that I and my fellow volunteers all felt as we started our Tonga Peace Corps adventures.   That night, as we sat and waited to board our flight we all wondered what Tonga would be like, what would we learn, where would we be living and how long would it be before we talked again with our families and friends.

Tonight I know the answers to those questions but I'm still excited.   I'm looking forward to seeing my friends and getting back to Vava'u.   I've missed being there.

That doesn't mean I haven't enjoyed my trip to the USA.   In fact, it's been a great trip and it was a lot of fun to catch up with my families and friends.   I didn't experience the huge culture shock I was expecting.  I think part of that is because I went to Australia in September so it hadn't been that long since I was out of Tonga.    A couple of things did hit me.  

I first flew to Virginia and when I arrived it was below freezing.  That's the coldest weather I've felt in two years.   At my sister's house, I walked into her kitchen and saw an open bag of chips on the counter.  My first thought was that I should close that immediately so the ants don't get in the bag.  Then I remembered, I was in Virginia, in the middle of winter and I didn't have to worry about the ants.  In Vava'u, you never leave food out because the ants will be all over it.

Arriving at my home in West Palm Beach was also a bit strange.  I was vacationing in my own home.   The house was just as I left it ,but it still seemed a bit foreign after being gone for 15 months and much different than my house in Vava'u.   One night I met some friends at  the Gansevoort, a South Florida club.  I went to the bar and ordered two drinks...just two regular vodka drinks.  The price was $30.00!   Talk about culture shock.  $15 dollars per drink and that didn't count the tip!    I can live in Vava'u for a week on what those drinks cost.   Today on the plane, there was a write up about the Gansevort in the in-flight magazine.  It failed to mention the price of the drinks.

My stay in Florida ended up being a week longer than expected.   I had to have a root canal done and after consulting with the Peace Corps Medical office, they agreed I should stay and have it done in the USA.   I was happy with that and got to enjoy an extra week of "sick leave" in South Florida during the best time of the year to be there.

As you might expect, I got a lot of questions from my family and friends about my Peace Corps experience.   The most common questions were "What are you going to do when you get done with Peace Corps?" and "Are you going to extend your stay in Tonga?" Others wanted to know details of the Tongan culture and more about my work and personal life in Tonga.   It was great to answer the questions and more than a few people told me that given the economy in the USA, I picked a great time to be in Peace Corps.

I couldn't agree more and as I get ready to get on my flight I know I'm ready to go back.   And unlike that first flight, I now know what to expect, I know where I'm living and I know I'm going to have an awesome second year.

My second year will begin, like my first year with training on the main island.  Because my group is at the mid-point of our service, we will all be gathering in the main city of Nuku'alofa for our MST or mid service training conference.   That means I'll be staying in Nuku'alofa until the end of next week before I finally get to fly "Home to Vava'u!".

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