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Archive for December, 2008

Vava’u Fire

Well part of Vava’u burned yesterday. It destroyed a number of buildings downtown, but luckily no one was reported being hurt. It’s a real bummer. We haven’t heard how the fire started.



Why oh why can I not escape politics?! This post is a candid reflection, which may be a tad controversial. But I am nothing if not opinionated, so here goes… Did you know that Tonga was a member of the “Coalition of the Willing?” Yes, it is true. In June 2004, a group of Tongan marines joined U.S. forces in Anbar province, the most dangerous of Iraq’s regions at the time. Yet four years later, Dec. 5, 2008, the 55 member Tongan delegation left Iraq. The goodbye ceremony (in Iraq) was complete with the performance of the sipi tau, a legendary Tongan war dance. I always felt a little uneasy, knowing that Tongan soldiers fought in what I recognize as an unjust war. It was hard enough to reconcile why U.S. forces were put in harm’s way in the immensely complicated region. We all know the “weapons of mass destruction” argument was a complete farce. Political analysts and experts all agree that Iraq had nothing to do with the September 11th attacks. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed, thousands of brave and noble American soldiers suffered and died. Why on earth would Tonga, an isolated Polynesian cluster of islands, send their soldiers on such a dangerous mission?! The average American cannot even find Tonga on a map! Well, last night we attended the swearing-in ceremony of Group 74. As the glorious sun set over the Pacific, we listened to a passionate speech delivered by the guest of honor, Tonga’s Prime Minister. He talked about Peace Corps’ 40 year history in Tonga, and how thankful the nation was for the 1400 Peace Corps Volunteers who have served in Tonga. And then he explained that Tonga felt like they must “repay the favor.” Because Peace Corps had been so helpful, when the U.S.A. asked for their troops in Iraq, the Tongan government felt obliged to return the goodwill. So in exchange for a Peace Corps post (as well as defending the Pacific in World War II and liberal immigration policies), they joined “The Coalition of the Willing” as military allies. Ugh. This agreement is very hard for us to accept. I feel like a pawn of the Bush administration. It makes me question the entire mission of the Peace Corps. A look at its sordid past is disconcerting.. In the late 1970s, CIA operatives disguised themselves as Peace Corps Volunteers in Bolivia, for example. Yet I had blithely convinced myself that the institution had since been reformed into a benevolent mission of goodwill. 15 months into our service, I no longer choose to be so naive. I am glad that the Tongan troops are home safe, and hope that American soldiers will soon have the same fate.

C Band and P waves

By Scot.  Well as my time here is progressing along, I am getting into more and more interesting things.  As many of you know I am currently working for a Ministry office, which is like working for the Department of … in the States.  I am mainly doing IT work, but now various things are changing and I am taking on differing responsibilities for different parts of the Ministry.

So the latest of these opportunities is getting to work with the Geology department of Tonga.  Their responsibilities consist of various areas like hydrology, mineral, oil, and gas exploration, and maybe most importantly monitoring seismic activity.  I say this because this is probably one of the most seismically active places on the planet.  There are several earthquakes that I feel each week and several more that I don’t feel because I am doing something else that takes my mind off of my surroundings.  There was a 7.1 magnitude quake here about a month ago and if that doesn’t mean anything to you, then think about the quake in San Francisco in 1987 which was a 7.1. Now obviously that quake was much more shallow and on a transverse fault boundary, but still it’s kinda cool to sit through a 7.1 quake.  Just imagine yourself sitting on a boat, but you are sitting on the floor in your house.  There was a 8.? in 2006 here in Tonga with the epicenter was in Ha’apai, which is the next island group north of Tongatapu and Eua.  It is said that the island group dropped by nearly 18 inches after this quake.

So why doesn’t anyone hear about these enormous earthquakes?  It’s simple: no one gets hurt.  There are no large buildings here to be destroyed, the earthquakes are deep within the earth, and to anyone’s recent memory they don’t typically cause tsunamis (although it could and it would devastate Tonga if one rolled through).  But at any rate, it is of great interest to the region to keep track of these activities and to share information between seismically active island nations in the region.  The JICA and Japanese scientists are funding seismic stations here in Tonga and in Fiji to encourage dissemination of information and it is probably the first step in developing a Tsunami early warning system in the region.

So how do I fit into this?  Well it just so happens that I have been asked to start assisting with mapping the seismic data for visualization of seismic events over time.  The Japanese have come to to teach how to install and maintain remote (I mean really remote in some cases) seismic stations and the Tongans asked me to join in.  It’s pretty cool and I may get to travel a bit to help with this maintenance.  I have past satellite installation experience so it seems like it might come in handy.

I’ll keep you updated.

A random night…

I thought I’d write a blog post about a random evening here.  It isn’t anything particularly exciting, but I thought that maybe some of you would find it interesting!  Last Friday I finally felt well enough to leave the house, after being sick for two weeks.  We decided to go eat dinner at one of our favorite Chinese restaurants in town.  We wandered into a video store in Nuku’alofa, and marveled over the fact that every single film was both pirated and illegal.  Copyright laws are laughably unenforced here.  Upon leaving, an Australian family wandered up to us.  They asked us what we were doing in Tonga, and we explained that we lived and worked here.  Each of them had this shell-shocked, confused look in their eyes.  They were here on vacation, but it didn’t seem to be panning out in the way they expected.  They incredulously explained that there was a power outage at the guest house, and the toilet wasn’t working.  After living here for over a year, it is hard to summon up the reaction they surely anticipated.  We kind of mumbled, “Uhmm, yeah.  Things like that happen here.  A lot.”  The father then went on, in a befuddled manner, to tell us that they had just witnessed someone pee in the street.  Gasp.  Once again we replied, “Yeah, that happens too.”  We wished them luck on their vacation, and went on our way to the Chinese restaurant.

Honestly, there aren’t that many great restaurants around here.  But there is a nice little Chinese spot that we enjoy.  It is connected to a Chinese Guest House.  Our waitress was probably about 17 or 18.  She was absolutely adorable and spoke zero English.  We asked her how long she had been in Tonga, and she spelled out the word w-e-e-k.  The interesting thing was that she had on a totally see-through shirt and a ridiculously short and transparent skirt.  It was clearly obvious that she had on a black bra and panties.  Huh.  We weren’t sure what to make to make of that, especially considering that Tonga is such an incredibly conservative county.  Women exposing shoulders and knees is viewed as scandalous.

After dinner, we stepped outside the restaurant and heard Indian music coming from a nearby hall.  Tonga has a very small Indian population, many of whom are Indo-Fijian and left Fiji after the coup in the late 1990s.  We wandered over and saw that it was a Hindu kirtan or satsang!  I became familiar with these types of gatherings through the yoga community in the United States.  I LOVE traditional Hindu devotional songs, and routinely listen to them on my ipod.  They invited us inside and we joined the event.  A live band played the tablas and various traditional instruments.  The singing was beautiful.  I immediately joined in; knowing most of the words.

Om Namah Shiva

Shree ram, ja ram, jai jai ram.

Om shanti, shanti, shanti

Durge, Durge, Durge, Jai Jai Ma

A few people looked really surprised that I sang along, and someone asked me if I was Hindu.  The event was actually a birthday celebration for their guru, Bhgwam Sri Sai Baba.  We loved the music, and stayed afterward for some delicious Indian desserts.  It was such an unexpected twist to the evening, one that we both treasured.

So all is well in Tonga, except that I feel like our house is potentially turning into a horror movie, “Attack of the Killer Ants.”  There are literally thousands of them, streaming in through cracks and crevices.  And they sting and bite.  Totally gross and annoying.  We are trying to fend them off with Mortein, which is a suspiciously lethal insecticide.  I just hope it is not as dangerous to us…  Hope all is well with you all and that you are enjoying this holiday season!

Our thoughts are with the people of both Mumbai, India and Thailand and the PCVs and Americans abroad living there through this difficult time.