A preview of the next two years...

[Written on December 14, 2002]

We swore in as official volunteers on Dec. 12, meaning we finished our 10 weeks of training. Life here is good. It was a long 10 weeks but we made it through in style. Most of our time thus far was spent living with a family on the main island of the Ha'apai group. Our family was wonderful -- a couple our age who have 3 young kids. They helped us a lot with our language and learning how to be faka Tonga. They are the equivalent of a yuppie family -- both had jobs and owned their house, but there is very little money in general here and our Peace Corps salary would probably be more than most people make, and it is not much. Some highlights of our time on Ha'apai were bonfires on the beach, "catholic" dances at an old hotel held on Fridays (probably the most debaucherous thing we have seen here), singing and playing church songs with our family and having all the children on the island calling "Lepeka, Lepeka" when we walked down the street. It was hard living with a family for so long, but its purpose was well served and we may go back in a week or so to celebrate Christmas with them.

This past week in the capital has been all about getting sworn in and getting ready for our site. We have the hardest, most remote site of all, and while it is everything we had planned on in coming to Tonga, it is a little frightening. It is also strange that some of our group of 16 new volunteers will be having hot showers and Internet hookups in their homes while we have a pit toilet, bucket bath and no electricity.

It makes us feel good that the training staff thinks
we can handle this, language and culture wise as well
as perseverance wise. Our island is called Nomuka, and it is in the Ha'apai group as well. It is not the furthest from the capital, but it is the only site not accessed by plane. It is only 7km square, and over half of the island is a lake. The people of the town (350 of them) live in a small patch of land between the lake and sea. Most of the island is bush land - where people could go and work if they were so inclined.

Most are not, though, as even if there was money to be
made, there is absolutely nothing to spend it on and
there is always more than enough food to go around. Some people do farm, though, and the crops are mostly
root crops such as yam, sweet potato and cassava.
Also, there are pineapples, breadfruits, mangoes and
more coconuts than you could imagine. We have a mango tree and a breadfruit tree in our yard. There are
three small stores on the island, and they only sell the basics -- soap, flour, etc. It will be nice to be in a place that does not revolve around money and material things.

Our house is pretty nice -- three bedrooms, a nice living room, and a room that will be a kitchen as soon as we build a counter. Our bathroom is an outhouse at the opposite side of our yard and our bath house is close by. All our water will come from our rain water tank next to the house.


Rebecca will teach English at the government primary school, across town (about 7 minutes away). There is a phone on the island, but it is up the only hill and hard to get to in the mud. And there is a lot of mud. When someone calls, they will pick a time for the person to call back and then they come get us. The island is accessible by boat only. Our first two trips have been the two worst experiences so far -- 12 hours and 24 hours. The boats are small cargo boats with nowhere to sit and they rock so much that you have to lie down anyway. We are not excited about this aspect of living on Nomuka. To get ourselves and our supplies from the boat, smaller fishing boats come up and things are thrown into the smaller boats and then brought close to shore to be carried through the water to shore. Hopefully the one island van will be there to bring our stuff to the house.

We are very close to the beach, and plan to be in the water a lot. We have bought one kayak and plan on getting another for small trips to other islands. We have built a chicken coop and chickens to get our eggs, and plan to have a vegetable garden. We also plan to fish every day. Nomuka is very beautiful -- there are a lot of white sandy beaches, good snorkeling and one side of the island is covered with rolling green hills and bluffs down to the water. The people all seem wonderful too.

We will be the only non-Tongans living on the island. Little to no English is spoken. The biggest building on Nomuka is an old movie theater started by a German who has since passed away. The theater is AMAZING...it is a big and has a beautiful balcony and as a secondary project there we are going to try to bring it back to life. I am hoping to get some old projector and reels donated and use a generate to run movies once a week.

Here is where we make our plea...we have no real contact once we are on Nomuka with anything so we LIVE FOR MAIL. Getting the letters that are sent from the capitol once a week are truly one of the biggest events, so please let us know how you are all doing. Sports pages and updates would be greatly appreciated. Care packages of American food, pictures, magazines, liquor, ANYTHING is ALWAYS welcome. [Mail packages at a post office because you need to fill out a customs form listing its contents.]

Our address here is:
Rebecca and Justin Freedman
Peace Corps
PO Box 147
Nuka 'Alofa, Tonga
South Pacific

Note: Nomuka does not have internet access   

Q & A on everyday life

Q: If the village where you're going to be placed doesn't have electricity, does that mean there is NONE on the island...or is there power available at least part-time in a few buildings because of generators?

A: There are 2 generators on the island, one very
close to us at my (Justin's) school. They run a few
hours a day and we can charge our camcorder and Ipod. We actually made a videotape for our homestay family for a gift. To jump ahead, the five computers in the lab are run off that generator and I will be teaching computer skills to the students, as well as biology. Rebecca will be teaching primary school English. We also have some exciting secondary projects planned, some involving an empty movie house that we found (the only two story building on the island! It is a beautiful old theater with a balcony that I guess a German opened some years ago and since he passed away the building has just been shut up.) If we can get a projector and some old reels we are really hoping to bring that back to life! Another project may be community garden/environmental club, etc.

Q: Without power, does everyone go to bed when it gets dark? Or, do you have a scene like Abe Lincoln studying by candlelight?

A: We will be using kerosene lanterns for light and most likely going to bed rather early. We may set up a tiny solar panel that can charge a car battery and then power a small light for a few hours a night. Supposedly there will be power on the island by February, so faka tonga (that means sometime in June or probably the following year).

Q: How are the accommodations?

A: We'll live in a one-story wood house with several rooms. Running water is not an option, so we will be using a pit latrine and getting water from a water tank for dishes, cooking, bucket baths and laundry. Basically we put the clothes in a bucket with water and detergent and plunge them with a piece of PVC pipe, scrubbing some by hand.

Q: FOOD! How much of it will you catch (as in fish and crustaceans) or raise (as in veggies and eggs)...versus buying it and cooking it (and then cooking it on what...on a propane stove)?

A: We will garden, try to fish and I am going to build a chicken coop and we will have eggs daily. The couple that is there now lives solely on food sent from home. We are scared about the situation due to the fact that there is very little to buy there and it is hard to get off the island so I will be blunt -- SEND FOOD!!! rice, beans, olive oil, vinegar, etc. Tongan food is full of root crops -- cassava, yam, sweet potato, etc, and also fatty mutton and canned meat. There is no bread on the island. But we are hoping to bake a lot because the Peace Corps does supply an oven. A popular dish is lu, which is some meat and coconut milk in taro leaves, baked underground in an umu. Other popular foods on Nomuka are octopus, dog and horse (but only on special occasions).



Q: Once you begin your assignment, will you have a less hectic schedule? With all that language and other training, it sounds as if you haven't had a moment to enjoy the tropics.

A: There is very little to do for fun on Nomuka. We
have ideas to remedy that (like the movie house or a youth center). As far as other places, we have had a lot of fun snorkeling, exploring, and hanging out with our group. There are a few fun bars and restaurants in Nuku'alofa. In fact, the city takes on a whole new perspective when you come from Nomuka instead of coming from the states - it seems like a thriving metropolis now. We play a lot of cards here. Nomuka is a very beautiful island and has some wonderful beaches on which to play and escape. Most of the island is bush land so you can hike around a lot and there are some really pretty patches of rolling green and bluffs down to the ocean. We are also buying 2 sea kayaks from volunteers that are finishing up here and plan to do a lot of exploring around Nomuka. Nomukaiki is a small island right off Nomuka (approx 45 min by kayak) and is deserted and wonderful (we had a large picnic when we were at our attachment in Nomuka, a bunch of the teachers we will be working with rented a small fishing boat and we rode over there and had a feast...cooked up some pigs, dove for oysters, ate manioke, it was great.

Q: What do the islanders know about the United States? What do they think about America (especially after a poll just made the news here showing that, in every country surveyed except Russia and Uzbekistan, the assessment of America has gone down in the past year or two)?

A: People think of the states as the promised land.
To them, we are all rich. Many have relatives in the
states that send the money that helps them survive.
Many have been deported from the states for armed
assault and murder. The kids ask if we saw "Osama." They all love J Lo and Celine Dion (yes, she is Canadian). There are a lot of NFL and NBA jerseys. To greet us palangis, they all say "bye" instead of "hello" due to the fact that in Tongan you greet passerby with the equivalent of good-bye. The cool thing is that there are many of these depending on how many passerby there are and who they are. Our language skills are improving significantly. We are both at about an intermediate high level.

[from Justin — December 2002]


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