I have been thinking a lot lately about my social skills. Mainly, how life in Tonga has changed them, how to remedy my own awkwardness, and how long post-peace corps I will remain socially awkward.
Mark and I are significantly more removed than the average volunteer working in Tonga. We aren't an easy walk, or bike ride, or taxi ride into town. Our cell phones don't work on our island, except for maybe a random text here or there. Our options for conversing with people are pretty much limited to Tongans in our community, or each other. While both of our Tongan has improved these last few months, differences in culture and frameworks of viewing life, as well as language challenges, keeps most of our Tongan conversations short and shallow.
This means that I have Mark, and Mark has me when it comes to talking about the "meat" of life. Here's a fun fact for those who might not know. I am an external processor. This means that things like my journal, my every conversation, and even this blog, to an extent, are my tools for understanding and forming my ideas and thoughts about life and my place in it. Now my husband, he is not an external processor. In fact, he thinks and rethinks and mulls over every little thing before he chooses to share it. Another fun fact, he is also not the best listener. I love love love Mark, and he is so willing to support me emotionally in ways so many guys are unwilling to do. But, as I am used to rehashing my every thought to at least Mark, my mother, and three other friends....we have noticed an often maddening and hilarious difference in my need to talk, and Marks ability to listen. (at one point, me mid-sentence, mark picked up a book and started reading....this really happened....)
What all of that means, is after a week and a half, or two weeks on our island, we are lonely. We are desperate. We have spent hours upon hours mulling over the ants, the sound of the wind, re-planning our first meal in America, talking about our lists (seriously, a weeks worth of hours talking about what we will buy in town, how we will spend our Internet time, what few precious things we will google, whether or not we will have a coke or a beer for our first cold thing to drink....hours. I write it all down. Then we talk about times-what time the boat said it will leave, what time we think it will really leave, which boat we are going on and which one has what motor so we know how long it will take to get there, how long we will have in town, where we should shop first in town to maximize our time and minimize the amount of time we have to carry all of our heavy groceries. It is pointless, endless plans, endless lists.)
Desperate. Desperate for a new perspective, information from the rest of the world (or at least the rest of Vava'u), for a new ear to listen, for new stories, deeper conversations, for friends. Man, desperate to hear from friends.
And usually, we have 5 hours, 5 little measly hours, in town. After we (literally) run and get our groceries, and at least download new email, we're down to two hours. So for two hours we will sit over diet cokes and bacon cheeseburgers (meat! Yay!), and talk as fast as we can to our fellow volunteers, our friends. And always, mid-sentence of one persons story, another person cuts in, and then I interrupt them, and then we circle back to the first story. It is chaotic, endless chatting. Sometimes about funny stories, sometimes about challenges, sometimes people are laughing and sometimes they are crying (okay, thats usually me!), and sometimes both things are happening at the same time. It is good, and I'm so thankful for those precious lunch dates, but man, it sure is overwhelming.
This last week we had another training in Tongatapu. The first night all 15 of us met up for dinner. And....I was lost. So much talking, so much stimulation, so many palangis, so much English. I just had to sit back for awhile and adjust. (the same thing happened when we arrived to Tongatapu- the "city". There were so many cars and big buildings, and people and restaurants and stores. It's strange to remember that when we first saw Nuka'alofa we marveled at how quaint it was. I think I'll be scared when we visit America, it's all just too much.)
Then after the rush of a two hour conversation, or even the barrage of conversations/information after a week of training in the city, we head back to our island. Where, time literally slows at an exponential level. A "city" minute is like an island day. The readjustment is harder the longer you've been gone. You have to slow the very beating of your heart to mesh back in. Over the next few weeks on the island, we'll retell the stories we heard. Rehash the lives of our friends. We'll wonder what they did about such and such thing, we'll talk through possible scenarios of PST for group 78, etc etc. Then it starts all over again. The arrival to town, the onslaught of communication, being overwhelmed, return to the island head spinning and heart racing, and then the gradual slowing as we settle into island life.
I'm telling you, my social life is making me weird!