Friday, August 10, 2012

The End

It's funny that after so many times that I simply wanted to hop on a plane and go home I now miss Tonga. Overall it was an absolutely amazing experience and I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. Really. Tonga was my home for three months of my life, which in the long run doesn't amount to much, but it's still something.

Right before our plane left our host mom, Uini, took us to the ocean so that we could harvest sea cucumbers. A pretty awesome last activity to do while in Vava'u if I do say so myself. The sea cucumbers were absolutely nasty but then again I tend to freak out about wierd ocean things like that. It was just really great to wade through the ocean one last time with these Tongan women and pick up sea cucumbers and the like.

Elise and I like to joke that we came full circle in this trip, that the first few weeks were like the last few weeks and to some extent it's true. But in all honesty the last few weeks were different, because, although some days were still slow, we were more comfortable here. The first few weeks we were basically alone but the last few we had friends and were confident enough to meet the stares of people in town and on the street. The last few weeks went quickly, in fact the whole trip went quickly. But I'm glad it happened. I learned a lot, not all of it to do with old people (my basic project topic) but all useful nonetheless. I learned to love these people and maybe someday I will see them again.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The 6th of August

It's now the day before Elise and I leave Vava'u, and it in now way feels as though we are about to leave this country and reenter our own. I imagine it won't really hit me until I'm back in America.

The past few days have been filled with many farewells to and from the people here. Last Friday the primary school here in the village we live in put on a little farewell for us. All the students in the school (not just the classes we taught) we're sitting in an empty building sweetly singing upon out arrival for the farewell. All the boys were sitting on one side of the room and all the girls on the other. Elise and I sat together at the front of the room and listened while the principal gave a speech of thanks to us in english. Then we were handed a piece pf paper with our name written on it (mine was written as my Tongan name Vikatolia) and laden with necklaces and other Tongan jewelry. It was really sweet. After that we each said a few words of thanks and parting. Looking at all the little smiling faces from where I stood made me want to cry though, I really will miss all those kids. Then all the children sang "God be with you til we meet again" in tongan and it was beautiful. For the first time it really hit me that I'm leaving and will probably never see these people again. But I'm really appreciative of the time I had with them and all that I have learned from them.

Earlier today all the parents from the kindergarten we volunteer at held a feast for Elise and I and gave us more parting gifts. These Tongan people are very giving and kind. That is something I hope to take home with me from this experience.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

And So It Continues...

Time is an idea that constatnly boggles my mind. The rate at which it passes, the fact that it is always moving forward no matter what we choose to fill it with. Time is a guarantee, eventually it will pass. And all you're left with are the memories and learned experiences of what you once filled your time with.

I'm continuing to learn much on this field study in Tonga. My project is coming along, I've made friends and ultimately have the beginnings of a life here. People call out my name as I walk down the street and I don't feel nearly as out of place in social atmospheres as I once did.  It's almost like as soon as you really start to get settled in here it's time to leave. And it simply becomes that time I spent three months in Tonga. When I leave here, these people will continue to live their lives as they always have and I will return to mine. I haven't done anything exceptional or amazing here. I haven't changed anyone's life. I have simply observed and learned a little bit more about the world and the people in it.

The world is a big place with billions of people all leading thier own important lives. Vava'u is just one tiny island, admist many, in the middle of the South Pacific on the surface of this large world. What the people on this island do, how they live, think and act seems very insignificant when compared with the rest of the world. But it is significant in that there are people here. People with families and friends and lives. And I'm appreciative of having the opportunity of being a part of their lives for the last three months. It hasn't always been easy, but it's been worth it. I'll miss these people and this land, the beautiful sunsets, the friendly countenances and the gentle lull of the ocean. It is a very peaceful place indeed.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Healers and Doctors

At the start of my three months here in the field I began to develop some type of open sore on my chin. It stung and pussed and grew larger each day. It also began to spread to new places on my chin where new sores would then grow. It looked nasty and was very painful. My host parents, naturally feeling concern, took me to one of the local healers in our village, Leimatu'a. The Tongan healer, a man, rubbed some brwon colored Tongan medicine all over teh sores on my chin. It stung and burned like a hot flat iron blade being held against my face. Not to mention I looked like someone had caked mud all over my chin, how's that for a fashion statement?

Anyhow, the following day I went to the hospital, as is my habit being an active volunteer there. Naturally, the doctors (who consider me part of their 'family') were concerned by the strange sores on my face. They asked me about it and I told them I had been taken to see a Tongan healer. The reaction from the doctors was unexpected to say the least. The doctors, all Tongan by the way, started cracking up. They laughed for a good while and told me never to return to the healer, to tell my Tongan family that I'm not allowed to go back there. Then the head doctor, under her own name so that it wouldn't cost me money, prescribed me some antibiotics and hydrocortizone cream. When I returned home I told my host parents that the doctors gave me some medicine for my face, and that was that. We didn't return to the Tongan healer that day like we had been planning to.

Fast forward one week. My host parents notice that though my face was getting a little better it was still progressively getting worse in other places. So they concldued that the hospital medicine didnt' work and that I should return to the healer, that I should stick with the Tongan healer for at least five days. Except we had to go to a different healer this time because we apparently hurt the feelings of the first one by not returning and using the hospital medicine instead.

Fast forward three weeks. My face was still no better from the Tongan medicine. In fact I think the medicine had only made it worse. But my host parents were convinced otherwise. At one point I got sick of the Tongan medicine, the pain it caused, and the fact that it absolutely wasn't helping to heal my face. So I started putting the cream from the hospital on my sores again. One time my host mom saw me applying the hospital cream and ended chastising me about it with the help of my host dad. They told me I was messing up the Tongan medicine and that I shouldn't use the hospital medicine anymore because it didn't work before. They wanted me to only use Tongan medicine until it got better. I wanted to scream "but it's been weeks and it's not healing from your healers!" Don't worry though, I restrained myself. Instead I attempted to explain that the doctors didn't want me using the tongan healer anymore. They could have cared less so I continued to stick with the tongan healer. At this point my chin had been covered in open sores for about a month. That's a long time and basically no matter what I did to make it better I would be offending someone.

I started applying an antibiotic cream that Elise brought, in secret of course, and lo and behold my face healed right up. The three weeks I spent going to a Tongan healer everyday could have been avoided if I'd only used Elise's cream earlier.

Now another two months have passed and it's been interesting to see the differences between doctors and healers here. And my face, well, it has a large pink scar across my chin. Something that I hope will fade with time. And if it doesn't it will certainly forever remind me of this field study.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Things I Eat

Vava'u is beautiful. It amazes me sometimes that I am here in this place where everything is breathtaking. I love the sunsets and the sunrises. I love the ocean, I'm learning to love the people. It's easy to forget how amazing something is if you are in it day in and day out. But I'm doing my best not to get complacent with it all.

I want to talk a bit about the 'things I eat' although this may not take long because the majority of the things are bread. Bread, rolls, buns, crackers. My diet is amazing. I learned working at the hospital a few weeks ago that Tonga is one of the top ten countries in the world for diabetes. In fact one of out every three people is diabetic and approximately three out of every four are overweight. It's easy to see why, so many people suffer from poverty and don't necessarily have the means to purchase healthier foods. You buy what you can eat and you eat lots when you have food. Combine that with a much less active lifestyle and you get a lot of people here in Tonga. I have however observed for myself that as the vast majority of middle aged Tongan women are overweight, the vast majority of Tongan men remain healthier well into their middle age. It's really interesting to see that gender difference.

Today I had the opportunity to watch some legit Tongan rugby games. It was a 7's tournament with all of the villages here. Our host Dad Ofa played and so that was really cool. I'm surprised they don't get injured more often with how brutal they can get. We were sitting the whole time in a sort of dug out with a few dozen Tongan men, Elise and I being the only white people and the only girls. I definitely felt out of place. But that happens a lot here so I'm learning just to accept it, the situation is probably only that uncomfortable for me. Anyhow I am running out of time on the internet so I'll end here.

In Tonga

I have thus far had difficulty maintaining my blog during this field study experience because of internet inavailability for the most part. However I hope to right now make up for lost time. I have officially been in Tonga for six weeks as of yesterday and I can't believe how fast it's gone. Although I suppose it also feels like I have been here for forever so maybe I can believe it. I am living on the island Vava'u in a village called Leimatu'a. The family I live with is LDS and has four kids all under the age of six, they are very nice people. The first few weeks really took a lot of getting used to, things here are very different from back home, the culture, the people, the way of life. But I'm learning to appreciate it and the people. At first it was a big shock, and I definitely have been going through some culture shock.

Getting my project up and going was much more difficult than I originally anticipated that it would be but I've been working on it. It feels as though I am having a culture experience with a project as almost secondary to it which may be part of the goal. Anyhow, it has great days and not so great days but I am able to appreciate how cool it all is.

Right now I divide my time between the hospital, I volunteer and observe there, the local primary school, and our family. Starting next week I am going to be conducting the interviews that I have spent so much time preparing and building rapport for. I'm excited both because I feel like I know have learned enough to make better decisions about the questions to ask and which people to interview. I also have observed a lot of their culture and can come to some basic conclusions for myself and my project although I recognize that three months really isn't that long. Even if it feels like a lifetime some days.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Learning Journal 33

Two more days of class, the final due date for the proposal, and the final exam. These are the remaining things for the IAS prep class for going to Tonga. Hard to believe it is almost over and the real field study experience is just around the corner.

Last Friday I had the opportunity to present my proposal/project to a few peers. It was a really good learning experience because, as I was presenting, I was able to see what was fuzzy and was really clear in terms of my project. When you have to really explain something out loud to other people, you learn the most. Hearing myself discuss my project aloud, and thoroughly explaining all aspects of it helped me realize that I think I am decently ready. I do believe that my ideas came across clear and organized, and it hit me that this is really happening. I am going to Tonga to conduct a research project of my own making. I am going to live with a host family and become immersed in another culture for three months, learning about them and about myself.

The project that I have created is only one aspect of the whole field studies experience, and I know that when I feel lost I can always turn to completing one piece of that project for direction. I recognize that this project is not going to change lives or impact the world in any way. But it will impact me, it will help me see the world through different eyes for three months, and with that I can bring awareness into other people's lives. This I am excited for.