In these last few months in Tonga, I am starting to think about transitioning back into the States. Like any adventure, Peace Corps service is hard to sum up into a paragraph. A wise fellow PCV said at our close of service conference that “the way you describe your service to people will be the way you remember it.” I don’t want to dwell on negatives but for every success there seem to be 14 failures. It’s like anything else, with expected ups and downs. I remember when my parents came to visit one year in that at one point my dad asked if I loved it. Well no, I don’t love it. I am thankful for the experience, but it really has been “The toughest job you’ll ever love.” There are plenty of successes and failures to talk about, here’s just a few as I prepare to head home and describe my experience:
I never signed up to be a teacher and that having been my primary job, I stuck through it. We read Island of the Blue Dolphins, Heidi, The Call of the Wild and a million short stories. We learned about sexual education, how to fill out forms, what to do at the bank, how to make a budget, how to build a suspension bridge, how to start a small business, profit & loss statements and Tongan history. My students are why I get up in the morning. We have come a long way since January 2010. I did it, for two years, I did it.
Failure: Small Business Advising
Another PCV and I searched for businesses that wanted help. Ha’apai just doesn’t have many small businesses. We started with a woman’s group who wanted to market and sell their mats overseas. We showed up to meetings and they didn’t. As a group we organized the business model but when it came time to producing, the women didn’t show up. In a country where your three main needs are provided for, income generation (when you don’t “need” the funds right then) seems to hold little importance.
Success: Government Ministries
Last year, much of my time went into teaching and finding/writing new curriculum. This year, I decided I needed something more in my day, so with my program manager at PC, we were able to find me a new house off of the school campus and an afternoon job with various departments of the government. I wrote annual reports, did some project advising, and fixed a ton of computers, and now I sit next to the Secretary of the Governor learning the ins and outs of governing in Ha’apai. We have written over 10 grant proposals and won 7 of them. We have brought in over $60,000 TOP (about $45,000USD) for the upgrading of tourist acoomodations and the creation of a “cultural show” and Tourist Center with computers and wireless internet.
John and I started an aerobics class for the students and teachers at our schools. One week we would hold the class at my school, the next week at John’s. We could not for the life of us get our teachers or students to literally cross the street to the other school on the off weeks. We let it run for a few months but gave up in frustration. To this day, we don’t know why the teacher’s wouldn’t exercise together.
Success: Camp Glow Ha’apai 2010 & 2011
Another PCV brought the Camp Glow program from another PC country. When I heard about it, it sounded next to impossible. But, we pulled it off, both years in Ha’apai. Alicia, a PCV in the group before me pulled off the first one and laid the ground work for Blair and I this year. We were able to raise the money both locally and internationally, plan the camp, get the speakers and fill the camp with eager form 3 girls! Honestly, as I look back, Camp Glow is a shiny spot in my service.
Failure: Living in a convent (enough said)
By far, the best part of my Peace Corps service has been my relationships with Tongans and fellow PCVs. These are the people that made it worthwhile. We have had crazy nights at the wharf, killer lessons, adventures on outer islands, American/Tongan fusion meals (ex. pasta with tomato sauce and coconut milk…..), all nighters making floats, “dates”, drinks out of beakers, curry nights, found a new love of boxed wine (thanks Mr. & Mrs. O’Malley!), eaten crazy seafood, scary boat rides, whale swimming and the phrase “this is it.” One thing about leaving Tonga is that Todd won’t be around the corner, John won’t be down the street and Blair won’t be a couple islands over. We are spread out all over the US, I will miss them.
Failure: Ha’apai, you fail at providing us fresh vegetables and fruits. (Note: this actually became a success, I became very good at coaxing anyone who was coming through Ha’apai on a boat or a plane into brining veggies and cheese….boom)
Success: Living and working in a foreign country
This is why I joined Peace Corps. While I will do things differently when I move to my next country, Peace Corps gave me the priceless opportunity to see if cross-culture service is truly what I want to do. I lived at the level of my co-workers, became part of a Tongan family and was “successful” at my work. I learned that I can live fully and work abroad and I will.
As I am writing this, I am finding that I have more positives to talk about than I thought. As I count down the days, I am thankful for the past two years and its lessons, but I can’t wait to set foot on California soil after two years, 1 month and 2 weeks of being away.