Peace Corps Videos

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Another Australian Adventure.

For the second September in a row, I ventured south from Tonga to Australia.  Last year it was Brisbane.  This year, I explored the southern coast of the only country that is also a continent visiting Melbourne, Adelaide and Kangaroo Island.

Kangaroo Island

Without a doubt, the highlight of my trip was a two day tour to the very appropriately named Kangaroo Island.  Kangaroo island is located east of Adelaide and is actually quite large.  At 4400 square kilometers, It is five times larger than the total land mass of every island in Tonga combined.

And yes, there are Kangaroos everywhere.

Kangaroo on Kangaroo Island

It was so amazing to see animals in the wild that I had either never seen before or had only seen in a zoo.  This Koala bear was high in a tree  and almost looks like a stuffed animal, but he was very real, munching away on Eucalyptus trees.

Koala Bear

This is an Australian Seal.   It is one of two types of seals on the island.  The other is the New Zealand fur sea which we also saw.  The fur seals actually swim from New Zealand to Australia and can live in the water for months at a time. Australian Seal I spent two days on the island as part of a tour with a company called Surf and Sun.  I was very impressed with this company and would highly recommend them to anyone planning a trip to Kangaroo Island.   

I was joined on the trip by a couple from Germany, five woman from Europe and a woman from Korea.   Surf and Sun Tour GroupThey were all in their 20’s except for the German guy who was 30.   At dinner the first night, I found myself surrounded by six single woman.  One of them said:  “So Steve, I guess you are not used to having dinner with so many girls”.  I responded by saying, “Well actually I am used to that.  Where I live I’m surrounded by woman all the time”.  And another said: “But I’m sure they are much older”.  To which I said, “Actually not, I spend a lot of of my time with single women in their 20’s”.   I then went on to explain that I was one of just three male Peace Corps volunteers on my island and that the rest are all woman.   (They thought that was interesting, but when I told my female friends in Vava’u that story, they all laughed).

I suspect that when I first got on tour bus, this group wasn’t sure what to make of me, this older guy who was on their trip.  But that quickly changed and I know the exact moment that it happened.

As part of the tour, we went to a place called “Little Sahara”.  It’s a huge sand dune that is not on the water, but inland.   We came there to sand board, something I had never done before.   I was the second one down the hill and it was fascinating to see how the attitudes of my group changed once they saw me get on that board.

Steve SandboardingOne other comment about the stay on Kangaroo Island.  We ate really well.  The Surf and Sun tour provided all the food and we took turns cooking and cleaning.

Wine Tasting

Jacobs Creek Winery

I’ve never been to a vineyard before.  When I went to New Zealand in April, I had planned to go, but never made it.  This time, I was determined not to let that happen and signed up for a tour of the Barossa Valley, outside Adelaide.

We visited five wineries and I sampled 30 different wines all in one day.   South Australia, where the region I visited is located, is the top producer of Australian wines.

We didn’t get to taste it, but I did get to smell a 100 year old port wine.   A taste of that would have cost me something like $50.00 Australian dollars (About $40.00 US).  And that wasn’t for a glass, that was just for a taste.

In addition to the wines, I ate kangaroo for lunch along with other assorted meats and salad.   I thought the kangaroo was delicious.  It had obviously been marinated and was quite tender, with a consistency closer to beef.  (I had expected it to taste more like deer.)

One stop that was pretty interesting was at what is called the Whispering Wall.   It’s actually not a wall, but a dam for a reservoir.  However, the acoustics are amazing.  I stood on one side of this dam and in a very low whisper was able to carry on a conversation with someone on the other side, who was also whispering.   It was pretty cool to see that sound could travel that far.

 Whispering Wall

I enjoyed the wine tasting and the visit to the Whispering Wall, but I can’t recommend the tour company that I used.  The firm, called Groovy Grape was an hour late picking us up.   At two of our stops, we were told that because we were so late, they had to cut short our time there.   And then the kicker was that we ended up getting back 20 minutes early. 


I spent five days and four nights in Melbourne.  It’s a really cool and culturally diverse city.   But what is really fascinating about the place is the location of some of its coolest spots.

If you’ve ever worked in any business that depends on customers coming to your location, then you know how important it is to have the right location.  If customers can’t find you, you won’t IMG_3074survive very long.

Apparently someone forgot to tell the folks in Melbourne that.  Because there are tons of bars and restaurants that are located in places where most Americans wouldn’t venture….mainly down dead-end alleys.  This is a photo of one alley in Melbourne during the day.  However, the scene changes dramatically at night when it turns into an alley of thriving nightspots.   These alleys are all over Melbourne and the city is known for having successful businesses in spots that are not so easy to find.   The door on the left is the main entrance to a bar.   But there is not even a sign to tell you the name of the place.

IMG_3079At first glance, you might wander why I would post a photo of a crane next to a building under construction.  But this is one of my favorite photos from the trip.  If you look a little closer, you’ll see the name on the crane is “Tonga Excavations”.

So even 1500 miles away from Tonga, I had a reminder of where I had come from and where I would soon be returning.  

Cumulatively, I’ve now spent almost a month in Australia and I’m not done yet.  Once I complete my Peace Corps service, I’m heading to Cairns, to go diving on the Great Barrier Reef and then down to Sydney before heading back to the USA.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Together for the Last Time!

Almost two years ago, on October 2, 2007, I first met the people who would become known as “Peace Corps Tonga Group 73”.  These 33 strangers would soon become friends sharing the experience of serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tonga.

We spent a grueling three months together during training before becoming volunteers and heading out to our job assignments.   We reunited twice for Peace Corps conferences and along the way, many of our friends left Tonga, each having his or her own reason for leaving early.

Last week, for the last time, the members of my group got together on the main island for what in Peace Corps speak is called our “Close of Service Conference”.  Unlike past conferences which focused on our service, this one was really all about the volunteers and was designed to prepare us for our life after Peace Corps.  For the 19 of us who have remained in Tonga, it was also our last time together.IMG_3444 While we all arrived in Tonga on the same date, (See our arrival photo) most of us will be leaving on different dates. I’m officially leaving Tonga on November 23rd, exactly two months from today.  Many of our group will leave before then.  For those of us who don’t live on the main island, that means we will not see the volunteers who leave before us. 

We spent our last few days together as a group reminiscing about our service, talking about those who had left early and discussing our plans for the future.   There was also talk about a reunion once we all get back to the USA.

On our last night, Peace Corps provided us with a delicious feast and Tongan entertainment. 

Direct link to video:

It was a fun night.  At the end of the evening, we did a group dance, everyone coming up on the stage for one last dance together.

DSCN3121 And then one last group hug.

DSCN3122It’s certainly not the end of my Peace Corps experience, but a major milestone in my Peace Corps service.   I’m now back home in Vava’u and realize how many things I still want to do in my remaining two months.  

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Tongan Tradition I Don’t Like

I like most Tongan traditions. One of the really cool things about Tonga is how well its culture and traditions have been preserved. But there is one tradition I don’t like and that’s the way Tongans say their final goodbyes. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the importance of a funeral, either in Tonga or in the USA. I know how important it is for the friends and family to say good-bye to those they love but I also think it isn’t necessary for a family to spend one’s life savings to pay its final respects.

In Tonga, there is nothing modest or inexpensive about a funeral, which in Tongan is called a “putu”. A Tongan family feels enormous cultural pressure to throw a huge expensive funeral every time someone dies.

A Tongan funeral is not just a funeral ceremony. The family is expected to throw a big feast and feed everyone who shows up. While it is also customary for people to bring a gift to a funeral, the family responds by giving gifts to everyone who comes. The family of a loved one never comes out ahead. A typical putu can cost more than most Tongans make in a year.

At the bank where I work, we have people come in immediately after a loved one has died seeking to take out a loan to pay for the funeral. In some cases, a family will go in debt for years just to pay for the funeral. Many turn to their relatives overseas to cough up the money so they can have a “great” funeral for their loved one.

Some families even hire bands to play at the funeral and to march with the body from the house to the cemetery.

This funeral procession passed in front of my house on a Saturday at 9am and then returned five hours later. (Video Clip)

I was out visiting bank clients one day when we happened to drive by a funeral. One of the bank’s employees asked me if I was hungry. I knew he meant that he wanted to stop and eat at the funeral. I asked him if he knew the person who died or the family. He said no, but it was okay, because at a funeral, you feed everyone who shows up. I told him I wasn’t hungry and suggested we go back to the bank. I didn’t feel right about sitting down and taking free food from someone who just had a relative die.

It seems to me the money spent on a funeral would be much better spent paying for the education of a family member than on a lavish feast and gifts.

A Tongan putu is not a quick event and can last for more than 24 hours. People will take an entire day off of from work to attend the putu. This means you might go to the grocery store and find it closed because the staff is attending a funeral that day.

There are many other ways that the family responds when someone dies. Depending on how close you are to the deceased it will determine how long you will wear black and the huge funeral mats you see everyone wearing.

Women at a Tongan Funeral

It’s also traditional for a woman’s hair to be cut in memory of their loved one. A higher ranking woman in the house will tell a less ranking woman to cut her hair. The hair is usually woven into a belt that can be worn to hold up one of the large funeral mats.

A Tongan GraveNow in all fairness, putting on a putu is a work of art. There are no funeral homes here so all of the work from preparing and dressing the body to the digging of the grave is done by friends and family. The preparations are lavish with many people helping to cook the food and set up tables so everyone has a place to eat. During the day, the men sit and drink kava while the women will sing. The kava drinking and singing will often last for days from the time the person dies until they are finally put into a grave decorated with quilts, flowers and plants.

When you attend a funeral it all goes like clockwork and it’s truly amazing to see the end result of so much work.

One more interesting topic about death in Tonga. If you ask a Tongan why someone died, they will usually say they were sick or they were old. There are no autopsies and the cause of death is rarely known.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Will You Buy This for Me?

It’s no secret that Tonga survives on the generosity of others. The country’s main source of income is from overseas remittances and foreign aid. But times are tough and people aren’t as SOPAC Marker in Matamaka generous. For the first six months of this year, the amount of money sent by Tongans overseas to their relatives in Tonga dropped by 14% and tourism is down 6%.

Foreign aid is also drying up. One of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers was just turned down by New Zealand Aid for a project because New Zealand has put all of its aid to Tonga on hold for the rest of the year. Other countries are doing the same.

This is a big adjustment for Tongans, many of who are very used to asking “Will you buy this for me? You can go almost anywhere in Tonga and you’ll see signs like this one that on a rainwater collection tank saying who provided the money for the project.

For years, the money has flowed freely and all kinds of projects have been funded. For example, early last year I heard about a school that had a shortage of textbooks and no computers, but instead of asking for money to get books, school supplies or computers to help the kids, they instead got the European Union to buy them a very expensive riding lawn mower. And the school doesn’t have a very big yard.

The island of Hunga just finished building a very expensive road from the waterfront up to their village. There is just one vehicle on the entire island, a truck that was also paid for with grant money. The road was built so that the truck could go down this road to pick up supplies from boats. The "Road to Nowhere" in Hunga The road is all poured concrete with a sidewalk on each side, but if you look closely, you’ll notice some obvious problems. There is no drainage, so all the water pours down the road into the harbor below. You can see where the mud has already started to collect. It’s also not straight and it is much more difficult to walk up the hill to the village than if they had build a set of stairs. I was initially told the project was funded by New Zealand, than was told it was paid for by India. You have to wonder if the money wouldn’t have been better spent installing electricity or running water on the island, of which it has neither.

And then there are the grants which go for great projects but they end up being a waste of time.

The village of Falevai has a beautiful medical center. It’s the only place outside of the main island where people in Vava’u can go for medical issues.Falevai Medical CenterThe center was paid for with grant money. There is just one problem. There is no money to pay doctors and nurses to work there. So the building, which is actually nicer than the Vava’u hospital, sits empty. Villagers now use the fence around it as a clothes line to dry their laundry.

On the surface, all three of these projects probably sounded good on paper: a lawn mower to help a poor school, a road to improve the infrastructure of a village and who could argue with a modern medical center to help people who live on small outer islands. It just didn’t work out that way.

And in fairness to the countries that provided the grant money, they did so out of a desire to help the people of Tonga. It can be hard to say “no” when a friendly Tongan with a a big smile on his or her face comes up and says “Will you buy this for me?”.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

10 Questions (and Answers) about Peace Corps

I was recently asked by the Peace Corps Press office to answer 10 questions about my Peace Corps service. This is the information they will use to put together a news release to different news organizations about my service.

A couple of the questions prompted me to talk about some things that I’ve not mentioned on this blog before, while a couple of other answers may sound familiar to regular readers.

Here are the 10 questions and then the answers.

1) What one particular experience/moment highlights your Peace Corps service?

2) How have your values shifted, if at all?

3) What have you accomplished for the Tongan people?

4) Have you made local friends? Share a ‘friendship’ moment.

5) What local customs drive you crazy?

6) How does technology fit into your experience?

7) Why should more Americans apply for PC service?

8) Describe your village site….in detail: what is attractive/difficult about it?

9) When were you most frightened?

10) How will you move your service forward upon your return to the US?

1) What one particular experience/moment highlights your Peace Corps service?

I’ve helped more than 300 Tongans in both workshops and one-on-one learn new skills to help their business be more successful. In some cases, it was helping them learn how to start a business. In one case it was both. I worked with a Tongan business owner who had run up a TOP$20,000 (About $10,000 US) overdraft at a local bank and was on the verge of having to close his business. He kept no records and was giving away too much stuff from his store to friends and family and also for his own consumption. I went in, examined his records and made suggestions on ways to turn his business around. He immediately did everything I suggested including tracking what he was giving away. Once he realized how much he was giving, he was able to reduce that. He started paying down his overdraft and started keeping records for the first time.

He even started writing down all of the cigarettes that he was taking and smoking. He told me that once he saw on paper how many cigarettes he was smoking each day, it forced him to cut back on his smoking.

He has now paid his overdraft down, his business is doing much better and he has now started a new business…running a taxi cab service. His mother is sick and he has been able to afford to hire an employee to run the store so he can be with his sick mother. That employee continues to keep good business records for him.

When I think about success stories, this is the one that jumps out at me. All he needed was a little push and he did the rest on his own.

2) How have your values shifted, if at all?

I think that by putting yourself into a culture that is so completely different you can’t help but get a better understanding of the world. As a person, who spent most of his life in the news media and living in a multi-cultural place like South Florida, I always thought I had a pretty good “world view” of things, but coming to Tonga, I realize that I didn’t really have a clue. It’s not so much that I understand the world better, but I think I understand people better. Living in a foreign culture you really do learn that people are much more alike than they are different.

I’m not sure that any of my “core” values have changed, but hopefully I understand the world a little better now because of my Peace Corps experiences.

3) What have you accomplished for the Tongan people?

See answer #1 above…Hopefully some of the business people with whom I work now have the skills to do better and perhaps be successful.

4) Have you made local friends? Share a ‘friendship’ moment.

I went fishing one Saturday with two Tongan friends. Both have a lot more experience fishing than I have and I was keen to get out and enjoy the day. As it turns out, I caught the only fish of the day, a small grouper which I landed shortly after we threw our lines in the water.

However the trip was a great Tongan experience. My two friends, like most Tongans don't have rods and reels. They have fishing line, some fish hooks and some weights. My weight was a small piece of rebar with the hook tied about 12 inches above it. We used pieces of smaller fish as bait.

I felt a tug on my line, but didn't really think I had a fish, but when I pulled it up, there was a fish. Six hours later and it was still the only fish we had caught but we did do a great job of feeding the fish underneath us because they kept eating the bait.

The fish weren't the only ones eating. When we first got out on the water, my friends pulled out a big container of sandwiches, probably 20 sandwiches for the three of us. Then once we got to the spot where we dropped anchor, out came more food. A big can of fatty meat and a huge bowl of root crops. Tongans love to eat and even when fishing, we had more food than the three of us could eat.

As we headed back to shore, we ran out of gas. We were near the shore, but still a good distance from where the car was parked. We ended up spending more than an hour swimming the boat back.

5) What local customs drive you crazy?

Probably funerals. The Tongan word is putu. When someone dies, the family is expected to throw a big feast and feed everyone who shows up. While it is also customary for people to bring a gift to a funeral, the family responds by giving gifts to everyone who comes. The family of a loved one never comes out ahead. At the bank where I work, we have people come in immediately after a loved one has died seeking to take out a loan to pay for the funeral. In some cases, a family will go in debt for years just to pay for the funeral.

This all seems crazy to me. It is certainly important to pay your respects to your loved ones, but not to this extent.

I was out visiting bank clients one day when we happened to drive by a funeral. One of the bank’s employees asked me if I was hungry. I knew he meant that he wanted to stop and eat at the funeral. I asked him if he knew the person who died or the family. He said no, but it was okay, because at a funeral, you feed everyone who shows up. I told him I wasn’t hungry and suggested we go back to the bank. I didn’t feel right about sitting down and taking free food from someone who just had a relative die.

It seems to me the money spent on a funeral would be much better spent paying for the school fees of a family member than on a lavish feast and gifts.

Because there is often free food, when someone dies, people will take an entire day off of from work to attend the putu. Certainly that is fine for family members but is it necessary for an entire village. This means you might go to the grocery store and find it closed because the staff is all attending a funeral that day.

6) How does technology fit into your experience?

On my second day as a volunteer in Vava’u, I introduced myself to the manager of ANZ bank here. As we were talking, she asked me if I knew how to program a cash register. I had never done that before, but I figured I would be able to do it, so I told her that I could. Within a week, I was programming a cash register for that business and training the staff how to use it. Next I did the same for a bar. A month later, another business called and wanted me to help with their cash register and train their staff and then a month later, a restaurant that was under new ownership called asking for the same assistance. In all four cases, these were businesses that had a cash register, but didn't know how to use it. Not only are the businesses now using the cash register, but it is helping them improve their record keeping.

The same thing has happened with computers. Once I was able to help one person with their computer, then another would call. Then I helped a computer lab, and then I built a website and then another website. Once the word got around that I could help, I started getting lots of calls. When possible I try to show people how they can do some of the things themselves, but often the people I help barely know how to use a computer so it’s hard to teach them how to repair one.

In the case of the websites I’ve built, I’ve tried to design them so that the Tongan staff can easily update them without the help of a web person. All of the sites are for tourism related businesses. Hopefully that will help them attract more customers from overseas.

The funny part of technology has been helping Tongans with their digital cameras. Many now have either cell phones that take photos or digital camera but they have no idea how to use them. It’s amazing to see their faces when they take a picture for the first time and then get to see it right away.

7) Why should more Americans apply for PC service?

I think all Americans should have a chance to live in a foreign culture. Whether it is Peace Corps or some other program

If more Americans had the chance to be exposed to different cultures, I think we would be a much more accepting society. When you remove yourself from all the things we consider normal, your realize what an “American centric” view we have of the world.

Joining Peace Corps is also a chance to do something rewarding. I don’t think many volunteers get to “save the world” or do huge major projects, but I think most, if not all, make at least a small difference in the lives of the people in their host country.

I will say the Peace Corps is NOT for everyone. If someone is thinking about joining, they should research it thoroughly and make sure it really is right for them. It’s pretty easy to find the contact information for many volunteers online. Find some volunteers who seem to be similar to you and start up an e-mail exchange with them. Ask questions and get a lot of different opinions. I think most volunteers will be happy to tell you about their experiences and some have had bad experiences while others, like me, have had a great experience.

8) Describe your village site….in detail: what is attractive/difficult about it?

I actually live in the town of Neiafu and it’s not really what you would imagine as a typical village. I live on the property of my landlord, Kepu Tupou and his family. In addition to Kepu’s house, there is the house where I live and right next to it, is another house where James Barbour, an education volunteer lives. James and I live 10 feet from each other, but each has our own house. Our situation is unique in Peace Corps Tonga because no other volunteer lives that close to another anywhere in the country. For some volunteers they have to take a boat to see another volunteer.

I like my living situation a lot. Kepu and his family are great and they feed me Tongan food almost every Sunday. That’s a big part of the culture here, not only sharing food, but having a big meal on Sunday after Church. It’s also nice to have another American so close and I’m thankful to have a person like James right next door.

I’m also very close to work. It’s a 10 minute walk down the hill to my job at the Tonga Development Bank. That walk home isn’t quite as nice as I have to climb back up the hill and it is a steep walk. However, the road offers a great view of the harbor so the view helps make up for the steep climb.

9) When were you most frightened?

Only once was I really frightened. The story is a bit long and it happened just one month after becoming a volunteer. One Thursday, my friend and fellow volunteer Craig and I had lunch together at the Catholic Basilica in Nuku’alofa. They have a small restaurant in the basement of the Church and I had eaten there a few times previously. I usually order the special and on this day it was fried tuna. I would have preferred to have it lightly seared, but was just happy to get tuna, as it is one of my favorite meals. Craig did not order the fish and ate something else which I don’t remember. When I got back to work, I wasn’t feeling great and told my supervisor at the bank I was going home. I told Craig that lunch didn’t sit well with me. He was surprised that I was feeling bad so quickly after we ate, even mentioning that normally food poisoning takes a while to be noticed after you eat.

I went home and stayed in bed the rest of the day and called in sick on Friday. I did not eat anything at all either Thursday night or all day Friday. I never vomited but just felt bad. Not really nauseous. I think queasy would be the best way to describe it.

I woke up early Saturday morning, reached for my water bottle and discovered I did not have the strength to pick it up. My first thought was that I was weak from not eating, but I quickly realized this was much more serious. I couldn’t lift anything with my left hand and I couldn’t even raise my arm and hand over my head. For all practical purposes, I had lost use of my left arm and hand.

This terrified me as you can imagine. Clearly this was not the result of something I ate. It was a much more serious problem. I called the Peace Corps medical office and the Assistant Peace Corps Medical Director came over. She checked my blood pressure and pulse, which were both normal. She asked if I was in pain to which I replied no. I had numbness in the fingers on both hands and also had numbness on my tongue but I wasn’t uncomfortable. She told me that she would get me to a doctor first thing on Monday, but there wasn’t much she could do for me on a Saturday unless things got worse.

On Monday when we got to the doctors office, I was unable to write or sign my name. (I write left-handed). Jacinta Tonga, the nurse who is the Peace Corps Medical Officer had to fill it out for me. Once I got into the exam room, the doctor diagnosed that I had just 1/5 of my normal strength in my arm. In other words, I had lost 80% use of my hand and arm. The doctor thought I might have had a stroke but thought it could also be something muscular. She even checked me for diabetes. I really didn’t believe I had suffered a stroke.

The doctor was an Australian Doctor, probably in her late 50’s. After examining me, she suggested acupuncture to see if that would help my arm. While Jacinta, the Peace Corps Medical Officer who accompanied me to the doctor was skeptical and wasn’t sure I should have it, I agreed to give it a try. I figured it certainly wouldn’t do any harm.

At the clinic, there is only one exam room, so the doctor moved me into the clinic pharmacy which opens onto the waiting room and has a big open window between the rooms. She stuck six needles in me, one in my head, the rest in my hand, arm and shoulder. I asked for a glass of water and was left alone in the pharmacy. After about five minutes, I started to feel faint. I screamed for help and a stampede of people came rushing in, including other patients who were waiting to see the doctor. They grabbed me before I fell and put me on the floor. I spent the next 20 minutes lying on the floor of the pharmacy with these needles sticking out of me. I can only imagine what would have happened if I had fallen on top of one and jammed it into my body. Afterwards the doctor told me that about 1 out of every 50 people get faint when they get acupuncture. It’s hard for me to imagine that those little needles could cause that.

Peace Corps was now making plans to send me to Brisbane, Australia for a full exam and an MRI. Jacinta told me: “Steve, I know you really love Peace Corps, but if you have to be sent home, it’s because you need to take care of your arm. That is what is really important.” Of course she was right, but just hearing someone say out loud that I could be sent home and medically discharged from the Peace Corps was pretty scary. I went home and spent the rest of that day and night wondering what I would do back in the US, especially with no use of my left arm and hand. I couldn’t even type or use the computer easily. However, the practical side soon kicked in and I decided I would go back to the US and find to the very best doctor and hospital for treatment of problems like I had. It didn’t matter to me where it was in the United States, just that I would go to the best place possible. Peace Corps would be paying for my treatment and I figured I could easily absorb the costs of living somewhere until I got better. And there was always the chance that the hospital was near my home in Florida or near my family in Virginia.

On Tuesday, my arm was better. Not normal, but I had more use of it and could almost bend my elbow into a right angle. I called Jacinta who told me she still did not have an appointment for me in Australia, but that she was happy to hear I was doing better. She told me I was to stay home for the rest of the week and didn’t even want me to go out of my house.

Two days later, my arm and hand were doing much better and Jacinta called and said “You were poisoned”. That was the official verdict from the Peace Corps Medical office in Washington, DC after reviewing my case. I was skeptical at first. I couldn’t believe that everything that had happened was the result of eating fish. But after reading the Peace Corps medical handbook and looking online, I came to believe that it probably was a proper diagnosis. I was probably suffering from Ciguatera Fish poisoning, Paralytic Shellfish poisoning or Scombroid Fish Poisoning. And it probably was not anyone’s fault that I got sick. All three of the poisons mentioned above are impossible to detect and the fish comes out of the water that way.

Because I was getting better everyday, I no longer had to take a trip to Brisbane, Australia and I had no need for any further medical attention. I went back to work the following week and two weeks after I had first eaten the poisoned fish, I decided my arm was 100%. However, it does still scare me to think how much poison I had ingested to have that kind of impact on me. It also changed my perspective and made me appreciate the fact that I was still in Peace Corps.

10) How will you move your service forward upon your return to the US?

As I mentioned early, I think I have a better view of the World, or at least people because of my Peace Corps experience. Ideally, I would like to continue with Peace Corps in some capacity. I’m pretty passionate about helping small businesses and would love to find an opportunity where I could so that within the Peace Corps organization.

I’m also fully prepared to talk about my Peace Corps service with anyone who is interested. I’ve been writing a weekly blog about my experiences since I applied to join the Peace Corps and I’ve been amazed by how many people read it each week. Since I’ve started the blog and through July 8, 2009, I’ve had 32,621 page views and 18,152 visits from all 50 US States and 132 Countries and Territories. While I plan to stop writing my blog once I return to the USA, I intend to leave it online for anyone who is interested in learning more about Peace Corps and Tonga. (The blog is at