Peace Corps Videos

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Preparing for the Coronation of King George Tupou V

This week, Tonga is crowning a King. He’s not a new King. In fact, he’s been the King for almost two years, but is just now having the official coronation ceremony. Some newspaper accounts have estimated that 4000-5000 people may come to the country for the coronation. If that happens, it would be the most people ever to visit the Kingdom of Tonga at the same time.

The activities are already underway throughout the Kingdom with most of the activity centered in the capital city of Nuku’alofa. The actual coronation takes place on Friday.

Millions of dollars have been spent on a new throne for the King, a coronation robe and all of the preparations. However, the government says the money is worth it because of the boost it is giving the Tongan economy.

The Tonga Prime Minister's Office is also now promoting the 60 year old bachelor King as an architect of change who wants to make the Tongan Government more open.

After the coronation, the King will be visiting all of the island groups and each island has its own plans to welcome the King. Here in Vava’u, there will be a huge Kava ceremony and many of the villages will be performing traditional Tongan dances for his Majesty King George Tupou V.

In Leimatu’a, which is the second largest village in Vava’u, the town officer's son has written a 10 minute song. The men of the village have spent just about every day rehearsing the dance to that song. The women will also do their own dance. My fellow Peace Corps volunteer Sarah lives in Leimatu’a and will be one of those dancing for the King when he comes to Vava'u in mid-August.

There are many rumors about who will be attending the coronation…everyone from Elton John to President George Bush. However, neither of those is listed on the official coronation website as attending. The New York Times has an interesting story about the ballet that will be performed as part of the festivities.

I leave tomorrow (Wednesday) to fly to Nuku’alofa. Peace Corps has given outer island volunteers permission to attend the events without taking vacation time. I’m looking forward to attending. In my former career in TV News I covered many events but never a coronation. This will be a first for me. I look forward to sharing my experiences with you after it is over.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Vava'u Happenings

Here are some of the things that have been happening in Vava'u in the past few days.

Murder in Vava'u

For the most part, Tonga and especially Vava'u is a pretty safe place, but we are not immune to crime. This past weekend a Tongan man was killed on the waterfront. I don't know all the details, but apparently he got into a fight and ended up losing his life. A murder is very rare here.

Tonga Shark Attack on TV

The story of Tessa Horan, a Peace Corps volunteer who was killed by a shark two years ago will be profiled on the Discovery Channel. Horan, who was living in Vava'u was killed February 1, 2006. All the members of her group have now left Vava'u but there is a library here that is named after her.

The segment on her will be featured as part of "Shark Week" on the Discovery Channel on Monday July 28, 2008.

Tonga Peace Corps Group 74

The invitations are now going out to the next group of future Peace Corps Volunteers in Tonga. We are starting to get e-mails from them and some have posted comments on a web site we built for them . That also means that we will soon be saying good-bye to many of the volunteers who are currently serving here. The members of Group 71 will start leaving next month followed by the members of Group 72 who will start leaving in December.

That will leave just my group, Group 73 and Group 74. Group 74 is scheduled to start training on October 9th and swear in as volunteers in mid-December.

The story of Tavi

During my time in Vava'u, I've also heard from several former Tonga Peace Corps volunteers who used to serve here. Recently, I exchanged e-mails with a guy named David, who went by the Tongan name of "Tavi" instead of the more common Tongan name for David, which is "Tevita". It turns out that the original "Tavi" was a pretty interesting guy. "Tavi", the former volunteer shared this story with me while admitting he has little in common with the original "Tavi".

Camping at Port Maurelle, Vava'u

This past weekend I joined a group of my fellow volunteers in a combination camping and sailing trip. We left Friday afternoon aboard Manu-o-ku, a really great boat, and headed to a place called Port Maurelle. Once there we pitched our tents along the beach and camped for the night.

The next morning, we snorkeled then spent the a good part of the day sailing before heading back to Neiafu.

Swallows Cave

On the way back to Neiafu, we stopped at Swallows Cave. I had previously visited the cave, but never with fins and my camera. Inside you can see the bottom of the cave, some 80 feet below you. Here are a few photos from inside the cave. The first is Jessie swimming into the cave, the second is me in the cave and the third is a photo of the roof of the cave.

There are more photos from our trip which you can see by clicking on the "Current Photos" link at the top of the page.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Poor Customer Service from TCC

There are not a lot of businesses in Vava’u with big telecommunication needs. Most businesses have a phone line or two and perhaps an Internet connection. And while I don’t have any hard data to support it, I believe that the Tonga Development Bank where I work is probably one of the larger customers of TCC, the local phone company. We spend more than a thousand dollars a month with TCC for our data and voice services.

I recently put together a proposal to save the branch about $600 dollars a month on its telecommunication costs by eliminating the expensive data lines and instead start using a secured Internet connection for data transfers. The proposal was approved by the head office in Nuku’alofa and last week I went with one of the bank employees to sign up for Internet service.

When we arrived at the TCC office, we filled out the forms and handed them in. We came armed with a signed purchase order and a request to have the Internet installed that afternoon. But when we turned in the paperwork, we were told that because we were an existing customer, they would have to do a credit check on us. They also said they don’t do credit checks on new clients. This seemed completely backwards to me. We then asked what was involved in the credit check and were told it was to see if we were paying our bills. I asked if they couldn’t just pull up our account and see if the bills were current. Yes, they could do that, but their head office in Nuku’alofa is the one that does the credit checks. They refused to take our purchase order.

I then asked to speak to someone else and ended up talking with the head person with the Internet. He said it was no problem to take our purchase order and he would be happy to come install the service later that afternoon. I thought we were done at this point.

Then a lady comes walking out of an office and says sorry, but no, they will not accept our payment and order until approved by their head office. We left and went back to the bank.

At the bank, we told the branch manager what had happened and he immediately asked if we could go to Digicel, their competitor and get the service installed. I said, yes, they could do it, but I suggested that the Branch Manager first call the TCC Branch Manager to see if he could help. He did this and in less than five minutes we were on our way back to TCC to order our Internet Service and schedule the installation. We were told it would be done later than afternoon.

The next morning, after no one from TCC showed up, we went back to TCC. They told us that no one had shown up because we had not given them a check. Even though both TCC and TDB are government owned organizations, TCC wouldn’t accept a purchase order and no one had told us that the day before. I did ask if we could just get our Internet charges added to our current bill and was told that would be no problem.

Finally, a few hours later, TCC showed up to install the Internet. Since the Internet here is from a WiMax system, all that is involved is putting up a receiver outside our office and running the wire inside. Because our internal network at the bank is wide open, I told the TCC guy not to install the Internet into our network, but instead to plug it into my laptop, which does have some security. When he plugged the cable he had made into my laptop, there was no signal. I jiggled the connectors and I could see the cable had a short and suggested he make another cable. Nope, instead he went out to his car, got his laptop and plugged the cable into it, jiggled the wires and it worked. He then proceeded to tell me that the problem was with the connection on my laptop. I didn’t feel like arguing with him, so I let him set up the Internet. Once he left, I put the cable into my laptop, jiggled the connector and it started working.

However, just when you might think this story is over, that is one more “gotcha”. I ran a speed test on the connection to make sure we were getting the bandwidth for which we paid. Turns out, we are getting about 1/3 of what we were supposed to get.

Two months ago, I wrote about how Digicel launched in Tonga with a big fanfare and improved customer service. At that time, I said that TCC acted like it didn’t know what had hit them. You would think that by now, someone would have convinced TCC they needed to change its ways. Apparently that hasn’t happened. Perhaps a Peace Corps volunteer with a lot of sales and marketing experience should be assigned to their corporate office. Otherwise, I suspect that TCC will end up losing its customers, like it almost lost the business of the bank here in Vava’u.

The other possibility is that a company will buy out TCC and change it. Just this week, Westpac Bank acquired the assets of the Bank of Tonga from the government. They already owned a portion of the bank and now they own all of it. TCC would seem like the next likey government entity to get sold and already they are offering to sell a small portion of stock to interested buyers.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Deep Sea Fishing in Tonga

I remember the first fish I ever caught. It’s one of those life experiences you have as a young boy that you will always remember. In my case, I snagged my first fish when I was about eight years old while fishing with my father.

Since that first fishing experience I have done some more fishing over the years. Most of it has been in lakes, bridges or just standing on the beach. And while I’ve been deep sea fishing in the Atlantic, I just got my first experience going deep sea fishing in the Pacific.

Stan and I are the guests of Joe and his father-in-law John, who are visiting Vava’u this week. Joe and his wife Cory are both members of my group and live on the main island of Tongatapu. Cory and her Mom stay behind at the Reef Resort where they are staying, while we head out to the open waters of the South Pacific.
While I’ve done a bit of sailing since I’ve been in Vava’u, this is the first time I’ve left the protected waters of the Vava’u Island group where the ocean is always calm. As we motor out, the waves get rougher and soon we are holding on to keep from falling. Our captain puts four lines in the water and we are off. The further we get from land, the rougher the seas.

It’s early in the morning and the first thing we see are some whales on the horizon. They are too far away to capture with my camera, but you can see the distinctive tails jumping back into the water. We spend the next two hours in the open water without so much as a nibble. Finally John catches the first fish of the day and a while later catches the second fish, a barracuda. Stan then catches another barracuda and I reel in the last two fish of the day, also barracudas.

We are on the water with lines out for almost seven hours and all we have to show for it are five fish. We decide to call it a day and head back to drop John and Joe off at the Reef Resort while Stan and I head back to Neiafu.

No one got sick and thankfully even without taking any Dramamine I made it. (The last time I went deep sea fishing, which was in Florida, the water was a lot calmer and I did get sick). The boat captain keeps the fish but we head home having fully enjoyed our day deep sea fishing on the rough South Pacific.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Independence Day in Tonga

On July 4, 1776, The United States declared its independence from England. The U.S. did this by proclaiming the country free of foreign rule, chasing the foreign military out of the country and raising the American flag.

On July 4, 2008, exactly 232 years later, half way around the world, a group of 10 Americans chose the island of Lotumu in Vava’u, Tonga to follow in the footsteps of their forefathers.

Arriving on the island of Lotumu, once the home of the Tonga Military, we scouted the island for soldiers. Finding only abandoned barracks and a watch tower, we proclaimed the island “The 51st State” and proudly raised the American flag while listening to the sounds of “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America”.

Protected by two dogs and a fishing spear we moved in, setting up camp and building a fire to let everyone know that America was here.

We proudly cooked hamburgers and freedom fries over an open fire while drinking American Beer. We topped off our dinner with Potato Salad, Pasta Salad and Chips. As the sun set over the blue Pacific Ocean, we listened to the sounds of the bars in nearby Neiafu where the patrons had no idea that one of their Vava’u islands, had just been conquered.

The next morning, we secured the dock where Tongan navy ships had once docked and snorkeled around the bottom observing the many tropical fish who now protect the coral below.

As the afternoon sun started to dip into the horizon, we basked in the realization that we were the first foreign power to ever rule an island in the Kingdom of Tonga. But then, we decided that it was time to give the island back to the Tongans. We sadly lowered the flag, picked up our litter and left, leaving no signs of our 24 hour invasion. However, we left with the memory of a great July 4th spent with fellow Americans.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Some Great PCV's (Peace Corps Volunteers)

Perhaps it is only natural that when you have a small group of Americans living so far away from home that strong bonds and friendships will develop. However, I think there is more to these relationships than just geography. There are some pretty amazing volunteers here; people who you know have their hearts (and their heads) in the right place.

I'm a bit prejudiced, but I think some of the best volunteers we have in Tonga are right here in Vava'u. I'm sure part of that is because I'm around these folks more than the other volunteers, but we've got a great bunch of 14 volunteers in Vava'u ranging in age from 23 to 59.

I think one of the things I like best about my fellow volunteers is the way they watch out for each other and help each other when necessary. This is not just dealing with the usual issues like sickness, homesickness or relationships. It slips into work and every other part of our lives as Peace Corps volunteers.

Just recently, I had to be out of town when two important events took place at the Bank where I work. The Bank sent me to Ha'apai to do workshops and training there, but the week I was gone, two groups wanted some help on how to start a business. We found out about these groups from Shannon, one of my fellow volunteers who knew that I worked with business people here in Vava'u. She is a teacher in the village of Tefisi. I spoke with the Bank's Branch Manager and we agreed we should not make these people wait until I get back from Ha'apai. So Shannon set up the meeting with the people from her village and James, who is also an education volunteer and not a business volunteer, offered to go with the bank employees to assist with the training. Eight people showed up and hopefully one or more of them will be starting their own business very soon.

Then last week we were scheduled to have a workshop on Tuesday in the main town of Neiafu. At the last minute we had to move it to Wednesday. Unfortunately, I had an appointment with the US Embassy that day in Tongatapu and would not be able to attend. I went over to the Vava'u Youth Congress where Stan works and he quickly agreed to help out with the workshop in my place. Stan is a business volunteer like me and also happens to have the same model of laptop as me which includes a remote control for doing PowerPoint presentations. Stan helped set up the workshop, took pictures and assisted the bank staff during the session. Twenty four people attended the workshop.

These are just two small examples of the kind of supportive atmosphere we have in Vava'u, but it not only extends to our fellow volunteers but also to the Tongans we work with every day.

And the volunteers not just here in Vava'u, but from all of the islands are already reaching out to the next group of Peace Corps volunteers who will be arriving in Tonga in October. We've built a web site for them at The web site grew out of a desire by Justin, one of the Vava'u volunteers, to provide the new volunteers with a suggested packing list as the one that is currently provided by Peace Corps is out of date. However the web page has a lot more than that on it now. It features a way for the members of Tonga Peace Corps Group 74 to contact each other and to get their questions answered about what they can expect during their training and once they become volunteers.. And part of what they can expect will be getting to know some of the amazing volunteers who are already serving here.

New Look for Steve's Adventure

You've probably already noticed that there is a big change in the look of the Steve's Adventure web site. However, for those of you who subscribe via e-mail or read this on Facebook, you won't notice the change unless you surf to the site .

Hopefully you like the new site design and will find it cleaner and easier to read. As always your comments and e-mails are always appreciated.