Saturday, October 30, 2010

First Month in Tonga

Hi all. Don't get too excited, it's Kaitlin's mom here (at Kaitlin's request) to update a little on happenings of the past month, to the best of my ability to remember what she has told me. I borrowed the picture from one of the other group member's posting. It is at the airport upon their arrival in Tonga. Kaitlin especially wanted me to explain that she has limited internet access where she is now, so has been unable to be in touch with anyone, but she misses and loves all her friends & family and is hopeful that once she is back on the main island, internet access will be move available to her and she can be in better touch.
Anyway, they landed safely on the main island of Tongatapu, where they stayed in the capital Nuku'alofa for 3 or 4 days before flying over to the island group of Ha'apai for their 12 weeks or so of language and other training. Kaitlin made it through her overweight luggage problem thankfully without issue. Someday we WILL be better packers! She did not even get charged from L/A to Tonga for having one overweight, which was very nice. The group has been split up into different villages. They train with their village grouping Monday through Thursday, then come together as a bigger group on Fridays. Kaitlin loves her homestay family, there are some children and grandchildren in the home, but I don't remember their ages. Mondays through Fridays are really pretty much occupied with classes, currently a big focus is on language skills, which her homestay family helps with. Weekends are free thus far. She attends church on Sunday mornings with her family and then they gather for lunch.
Kaitlin was very happy this past week. They had interviews for their placements early in the week and were notified on Thursday of where they would be assigned. Kaitlin was thrilled to get her first choice. She will be heading back to the main island after training completes in early/mid December. She has been assigned to a Wesleyan Church School in a small village to teach 5 & 6th graders (9 to 11 age range) English. Also, the Wesleyan Church Schools are planning a transition to bilingual education, so she will be assisting the teachers there to put that in place, as well as assisting in the library. But more details of her assignment will become clear as time goes on. Tonga has two schools, government and the Wesleyan Church schools. Anyway, she is, as I said, thrilled to have this assignment. She doesn't think that there has been a Peace Corps placement in this village, or if there has, there has not been anyone there for a long time. And it is about 30 minutes outside of a larger town.
She has had some beach time and snorkeling time and has made some good friends in the group. I think some of them will be within close (relatively speaking) traveling distance once she is at her village. The food has been fine although she has not been able to be strictly vegetarian. There are a lot of root vegetables, yams, etc and chicken, pork & fish. She has not had any illnesses, but has a cold right now. It has been somewhat rainy since they arrived, and of course humid, but she doesn't seem to mind that greatly.
We don't have a handle on how long mail takes, but her address right now is
Kaitlin Tufts, PCT
Peace Corps
PO Box 147
Kingdom of Tonga
South Pacific
(You must include the South Pacific, otherwise it tends to end up in Africa)
She will have a different address once she is in her village, but any mail sent to the above address will eventually get to her. She will update her address once she knows it.
She does have a phone, but has not lately been able to buy more airtime for it due to difficulty in getting to the bank when it's open and then the store. There is no cost to her to receive calls and she is on a plan that allows her to call anyone in her group as well as the Peace Corps offices without charge, but she must of course pay for calling here. Her phone number is 011-676-77-85690. I use a calling card which puts it at .43 a minute. Although I haven't tried using Skype to call her cell phone, I checked the price on that and it is also .43 per minute.
From the East coast, there is currently a 17 hour time difference (they are ahead). But guess that will be 18 hours once we return to standard time. I am of course, not suggesting that anyone call her, just wanted to relay the calling situation. But if anyone wants to ever take the plunge, right now her weekends (beginning Friday afternoon into Saturday here) seem to work. She is in church usually until around noon on Sundays, and then lunch. Of course, any night owls out there have a few more options (that doesn't include me) :)!
Well, guess that's it for now. Hopefully Kaitlin will be able to take this blog up soon. She always has excellent information when she does it, and I would also like to see some pictures!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Los Angeles

Just a quick update! I've been meaning to write all week and didn't get around to it. Shocking, I know.

I'm in LA right now for staging. I got here yesterday and fly out tonight. We registered and turned in all our paperwork yesterday, and then had dinner with our country director. The country director is not usually at training but she was flying through and stopped to meet us. She gave us a lot of information about the country and the culture, and just really emphasized being open and soaking everything up. It was sort of overwhelming but I think that'll be the general feeling I have throughout the first few weeks, which is okay. Today we have an orientation of sorts all day and then our flight is at 1115 pm.

Speaking of flights, little concerned about the luggage. I was definitely significantly over the Peace Corps weight limit, oops. I packed a little last minute- and by that I mean when I packed, I failed completely so my mom and sister did it for me and managed to fit most everything in. Thank you! The real problem, though, was that one of my bags was over the highest weight limit for Air New Zealand, which is what we are flying to Tonga. So I spent some of yesterday at the hotel moving stuff between bags in an effort to make things more even. There are things I could take out and wouldn't mind doing so but I'm running out of time. I don't mind paying the overweight fee, as long as my bags make it on the plane! It really doesn't seem like I have that much stuff in relation to how long I'll be gone but I don't know. We shall see!

Little recap of before I left. Hannah threw me a surprise birthday/going away party on the 25th which was so nice of her! I was totally shocked. We had dinner at the Blue Elephant, went to Gypsy's for drinks and then O2 for dancing. Laura and Zack came up from school, Ally from Connecticut, Mike and Curtis were back for the weekend, Sam Lindauer came, and J and his girlfriend made an appearance as well. This was all on top of everyone who is in the area as of now (Hannah, Meg, Bria, Nicole, Ashlee, Allen, K-ris and gf, Craig, Chase, Max... If I forgot anyone I'm sorry!). It was really good to see everyone and I of course cried multiple times saying goodbye but I am so thankful to Hannah for planning it and everyone for coming, I can't even say. I have the most wonderful friends ever!

Then this weekend Justin and Bre came up so I spent some time with them. And Darian came home from school- we carved Tonga pumpkins which I have pictures of and will put up someday. They were pretty amazing if I do say so myself. Then we had a party on Sunday with the fam and friends. I saw pretty much everyone which was really nice! It was a good way to get to say goodbye. After that, the packing started. Yup, last minute. Typical me.

Also! Jeff got me the most amazing present ever. He got me a Nook, one of those electronic book readers where you can download a bunch of books and have them to read. AMAZING. And perfect for this, since I can't exactly bring a bunch of books with me (especially since I already have luggage issues, haha). I downloaded a ton of books to read and am so so excited. It was really thoughtful and generous of Jeff, so thanks again Jeff! I love it. And him!

Anyway, now all the preparation is done and the actual adventure starts! I'll try and get in touch when I can but if it is awhile just assume I made it safely!

Love everyone and will miss you tons!