Wednesday, September 5, 2012

First Impressions

The hardest thing about describing the whirlwind of the last few days is that they have been so defined by our team. These first three months will be much less about the preparation of us as a couple, and much more about the bonding, struggles, and collective growth of the 15 members of Peace Corps Tonga Group 77. This dynamic gives this time a blend of first-day-of-school and summer-camp-awkwardness, mixed with the intensity of a packed full training schedule, all topped off with the challenges of adjusting to an entirely new culture. However, what makes this more than crazy time great is that we have an exceptional team. It was a beautiful thing to realize that our journey will be accompanied by fellow people with hearts that beat so nearly to ours.

Thus, because it would take far too long to describe all wrapped up in the relationships and dynamics within our team, I'll try putting into words my first impressions of this marvelous country. If I had to pick one word to describe my thoughts towards Tonga so far, I would say that Tonga is a very simple country - a feeling that more than anything is already making me fall in love with this place and these people.

Upon arriving to Nuku'alofa, Tonga's capitol city, we stepped off the plane and were escorted into line where one single person checked the custom forms and passports of all international travelers. From there, we were loaded onto a bus, and took a 30 minute ride from the airport to the heart of the city - a trip that took us more than halfway across the entire island (which is by far the biggest island in the country). Along the way, the gorgeous countryside was mainly composed of vegetation and crop fields with an occasional small, concrete house sprinkled in here and there. Yet, every now and then, one of the current volunteers would point out a landmark to us.

After a single small house with a rusting roof was the main university of the country. After a small farm with pigs and chickens roaming free in the front yard was the Royal Palace of the Tongan King. The landscape was so unassuming. So rural. So simple.

Then, before we knew it, we were "in town." I don't have a huge amount of international experience, but I would say that every decently sized foreign city I've visited had a sort of "urban feel" to it - loud, crowded streets, big buildings, and the sights, sounds and smells of city life. Yet, even in the heart of this city, there are tiny, spread out houses next to a major bank. Chickens and pigs mill around across from an important government building. The streets sparsely filled with pedestrians and an occasional passing car. Simple. Unassuming. Life slowed down.

And in just a couple of days, we will move from our guesthouse in Nuku'alofa to the small, rural village of Fatumu on the eastern side of the island to live with a Tongan host family for 8 weeks of training. So, I'm sure that the simplicity we've experienced here is only a shade of what is to come.

'I 'Ofa,

Location:Nuku'alofa, Tonga

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