Friday, January 28, 2011

Cyclone Wilma

              The internet just came back after we got with a cyclone on Monday (Sunday in America).  We were told that a cyclone was on its way and the weather maps looked a bit concerning but it was only suppose to be category 2 (the scale goes to 5 I think).  The wind was only supposed to be about 30-40 knots.  Whenever an emergency occurs such as a bad cyclone, Peace Corps will order some or all of the volunteers in the country to go to a safe house.  This is called consolidation.  We were told on Sunday evening that since it wasn’t going to be a bad storm, consolidating was going to be optional.  I opted to stay in my house.  I got woken up around 7am by Todd (our emergency coordinator in Ha’apai saying that we were consolidating because the cyclone is stronger than predicted.  However since they left it late and I and the other volunteer would have had to cross the land bridge to get to the consolidation point (Todd’s house), we had a choice to stay in our villages and hang out at the Mormon Church or head to the next island over and consolidate.  If I stayed I would have had to go to the Mormon Church because they are easily the soundest structures on our island since they were funded and built by the Mormons in America.  I didn’t feel much like hanging out at the Mormon Church through the whole storm and since the storm hadn’t hit yet I opted to head to Pangai and consolidate with the other volunteers. 
                I got my neighbor and principle, Saia, to give me a lift.  There were 4 of us at Todd’s house.  Shortly after we got there the power and water went out.  We think that they were probably turned off to minimize damage because we lost them before the storm really hit.  We nailed tarps over Todd’s windows to try and keep the water out and moved most of his things away from the windows.  The storm hit Ha’apai pretty hard. At one point, Todd and I had to go outside to re-nail the tarps to the house because the wind was ripping them off.  You could actually feel yourself being moved by the wind.  Some water got in but because the house was pretty well prepared, not too much water got in and the water that did, was quickly mopped up.  Around 3pm (I think) the cyclone had passed.  We took a walk around to see the damage to Pangai.  Power lines were down everywhere.  Two old and large buildings were completely demolished.  Many of the Chinese stores had had their awnings ripped off and a few roofs were lost.  One of the schools where a volunteer works at had recently built a brand new school building.  The roof was ripped off most of it and the building was flooded.  It was a shame because the brand new building was pretty much destroyed with wind and water damage.  I had to stay in Pangai until Tuesday because we were still supposed to stay consolidated until the next morning. 
                Luckily, there was no damage to my house or my school back in Faleloa.  There was a lot of damage on the island though.  Many power lines were down and the water was out.  In my village there were two houses that were practically destroyed with one having half the house completely collapsing.  The resort down at the end of end of the island, Matafonua, was hit the hardest.  It was hit with huge waves which washed away to of the fales (small houses) where the guest stay were completely swept away by huge waves and two other ones had substantial water damage.  The power was restored to whole island today, 3 days after the cyclone.  I was told to expect the power to be out for at least a week so it was a nice surprise when the power came back on today. 
                I have heard that the cyclone ended up being a category 4 (I’ve heard it was only a 3 too) but the winds were over 100 knots per hour.  Good thing we still have 2 more months until the cyclone season is over…

One of the houses in my village which had its roof blown off

Another house in my village which had half of the house collapse

Remnants of 2 of the guest fales at Matafonua

Matafonua. The concrete platform was where a new walk in freezer use to stand

Thats where the freezer ended up.  Destroyed

In the distance you can see the reef which is where waves usually break.  The waves that hit Matafonua travelled across the reef and all the way to the land.

Here is a video of the waves hitting Matafonua during the cyclone

Cyclone Wilma Ha'apai tonga from Liquid image Productions on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Come on...

                So yesterday I was suppose to travel to the capital, Nuku’alofa, for a meeting.  I’m one of the two volunteers in Ha’apai who are on the VAC (Volunteer Advisory Committee).  The purpose for VAC is to discuss policies, any complaints or opinions from the volunteers, and to talk about how Peace Corps Tonga can better support the volunteers here (I think that’s what we do, this was my first VAC meeting).
                Peace Corps had told me earlier in the week that my flight would take off at 5:10 PM on Thursday.  I would arrive in Nuku’alofa around 6:30ish and the meeting would be the next morning.  Then I would fly back to Ha’apai Saturday morning. 
                I had been looking forward to this very much.  I knew I would be coming back to the capital after a month so when we were sworn in, I held off on buying some supplies for my house because I knew I would be coming back and that I would have more money in a month’s time to buy them. Also I wanted to buy some food and cooking supplies because we have a terrible selection of food and cooking supplies here in Ha’apai. On top of this I was looking forward to the meeting too.  However the thing I was looking forward to the most was being able to hang out with all the other volunteers and go out in Nuku’alofa.  All the volunteers from group 75 (last year’s group) were in Nuku’alofa all week for their Mid-Service Training. 
                So Thursday rolls around and it’s raining again like it has been doing all week.  I pack up my clothes and other random things I was bringing and put them in plastic bags so the rain doesn’t get at them.  I rode my bike into town (about a 50 minute ride) because I needed to get money out of the bank, go to the post office, and do some other quick errands.  As I’m riding into town I had to stop at the airport runway which you cross on your way to town because a plane was taking off.  I stood there for 15 minutes or so and watched.  I assumed the plane was heading to Vava’u since I don’t think usually more than one flight goes to Tongatapu per day.  This was about 1:30ish.  I went to town and did what I had to do and ate some lunch.  At 4 I hitched a ride to the airport.  I got there and the place was literally empty.  The two gates were shut using copper wire twisted into knots to hold them shut.  I opened a gate and went in.  The terminal was empty and not a soul could be seen.  Literally nobody at all.  No baggage guys, no other passengers, no air plane, nobody.  I didn’t initially give up complete hope that my flight was cancelled because I still had an hour to take off and it’s Tonga so I wouldn’t be surprised if people showed up late.  I call Peace Corps and tell them nobody is here.  They told me that that I would be called back after they looked into it.  About 10 minutes later I got a call back saying that the airline (the only one in the country) had changed the flight without notifying them and that there was no flight today. 
                Remember the plane that I watched take off earlier in the day?  That was my goddamn flight.  I could have easily made it.  Anyway they tell me that they were going to try and get me on the 9:30 flight the next morning so I can still make the meeting. I think fair enough, this sucks but whatever, at least I’ll be there tomorrow.  I head back to town to crash at another volunteers house in Pangai because it would be a bitch to have to go all the way back to my village and then come out again the next morning.  It was still raining and I had left my bike in Pangai.  The airport is only a couple miles from Pangai, if that. 
                So I get back into town and I get another call from Peace Corps.  They decided that since it was going to be cutting it close to making the meeting and since it might rain the next day and the flight might get delayed, they weren’t going to fly me in.  So there I was in Pangai, soaking wet, with my packed bag, and I had to head home.  Needless to say I was pretty pissed.  I ended up getting home around 7pm, about 7 hours after I left.  Also it lightly drizzled today for a little bit.  It was a beautiful day.
                I find it pretty suspect that the airline would just change the flight and not notify Peace Corps.  Especially since, as I previously said, I was literally the only person at the airport when I showed up.  Not a single other passenger was not notified.  How was I the only one to not know?  Is it not somebody’s job to check these things???

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Contact Info

Some People were asking for my contact information so here it is.

To call/text my cell phone dial 0116767785683

My mailing address is:

Connor Moore, PCV
General Post Office
Pangai, Ha'apai
Kingdom of Tonga
South Pacific

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year's Weekend

     This Past weekend Tonga was the first country in the world to welcome in the New Year.  To celebrate, 13 of us, went to Uoleva island.  Uoleva is two islands over from my island and has the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen.  I've heard that it also has the most beautiful beaches in Tonga.  It is about a 45 minute boat ride from the island next to mine.  There were 3 Peace Corps volunteers from Ha'apai (including myself), 5 Peace Corps volunteers from other island groups, and 4 Japanese volunteers.  We went with a huge cooler we borrowed from the fishery and filled it with alcohol, hot dogs, and ice.  We also brought bread, peanut butter and jelly, some soups, gasoline, music, tents, and 2 spear guns. 
     We spent the days lounging about on the beach, fishing (we caught about 14 fish), reading, and doing a whole lot of nothing.  At night we made a fire and cooked hot dogs and the fish we had caught.  It was completely stress free and awesome.  We stayed for 4 days and 3 nights.  We had originally planned on getting there on New Year's Eve and only staying 2 nights but we realized that would have meant we would have been returning on Sunday and nobody would give us a ride on the  Sabbath so we had to stay for an extra day.  We stayed next to a Tonga "resort."  They let us use their bathroom and shower for a small fee.  I think it was 10 pa'angas per night for everyone which is like $5 per night for the whole group.  As you can see in the pictures below, it's not much of a resort.  It is basically one house with about 5 or 6 bungalows.  But we had everything we needed for a comfortable stay.
     It had been arranged with the fisherman who had given us a ride that he would pick us up at noon on Monday to bring us back to Pangai.  None of us had much faith that he would show up on time and in typical Tongan fashion he showed up over 2 hours late.  The greatest thing about this is that not one of us were fazed by this.  Its amazing how laid back and relaxed you become about things like that in Tonga.  If I were back home and my ride had shown up hours late, I would be at the very least pissed and stressed about it.  Here its part of life.  That's not saying it can drive you nuts sometimes.  Like when my Internet was installed in my house over a week after they were suppose to come and install it but you get use to it and start to realize how useless it is to get upset by small things like that.  Plus we were on a beautiful tropical island beach so none of us were in a rush to leave anyway lol. 

This is the view looking towards Lifuka.  That's the island where Pangai is. (Lifuka is all the way to left in the distance)

View looking the other way.  You can't see it in this pic but when you look this way on a clear day like this you can usually see Tofua island which is a volcano.

The resorts boat.  We took a boat similar to this one from Pangai.

Frying some fish for lunch.

Sandy and Juliegh.  Juliegh is one of the other volunteers here in Ha'apai.

Roasting some hot dogs.

Lounging waiting for the boat to pick us up.

Our campsite.  you can see the red house where the kitchen is and one of the orange bungalows to the right.

One of the sunsets