2007.02.08: February 8, 2007: Headlines: COS - Tonga: Asian American Issues: Blogs - Tonga: Early Termination: Personal Web Site: Peace Corps Volunteer Wiliam writes: Back so soon?

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Peace Corps Volunteer Wiliam writes: Back so soon?

Peace Corps Volunteer Wiliam writes:  Back so soon?

Iím back in the capital of Nukuíalofa again. When I arrived, I spoke with the staff about my decision to Early Terminate. I was expecting a quick exit interview, to sign a few papers, and then catch a Saturday flight out. To my surprise, they held a meeting to discuss if there were any other job possibilities. Quite frankly, I didnít know other job possibilities were possible. For some reason, I thought once you were done with your placement, that was it. Do I regret the whole Peace Corps experience? No. If I could go through it all again, I would do it all again and pick Haíapai still. However, I would have made more of an effort to integrate into the community, to announce my work publicly to dispel some misconceptions, and to go to kava to get to know people better.

Peace Corps Volunteer Wiliam writes: Back so soon?

Back so soon?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Iím back in the capital of Nukuíalofa again. When I arrived, I spoke with the staff about my decision to Early Terminate. I was expecting a quick exit interview, to sign a few papers, and then catch a Saturday flight out. To my surprise, they held a meeting to discuss if there were any other job possibilities. Quite frankly, I didnít know other job possibilities were possible. For some reason, I thought once you were done with your placement, that was it.

Now that they asked, I think thereís one way that I would stay. I came up with the idea of an interpreter to help bridge the Chinese community with the Tongan community, an idea that only sprung to life this morning when I woke up. Since the Chinese hold the majority of the businesses, it seems like a good road to open. I know itís a slim chance of succeeding, but if it were possible, I think it would be something I would stay for.

The decision to leave my previous job is difficult to explain. If this blog didnít have the possibility of being monitored while I was a volunteer, it would have been a tad more opinionated to say the very least. Since at this point Iím all packed and ready to leave with an early termination, Iíll post a bit more openly.

I gave people in Haíapai various excuses for leaving, from the usual homesickness to wanting to work at another job back in the States, the excuse changed depending on whom I was speaking to and what I thought would make the decision unarguable. I lied to make things easier for myself.

Truth be told though, as much as I love my family, Iím not really homesick enough to go home early. As much as I want to go back to the States, I donít want to get an office job just yet. I could have explained the situation to everyone, but I donít think I can explain it fully and people would probably not understand.

The whole situation at my previous job was just a string of coincidences that took me a while to understand that certain people were falsely interpreting who I was and what were my motives for being there. Now that I look back with perfect hindsight, I see how people might have gotten the wrong idea. (For some reason, understanding why it happened makes me calmer and gives me a sense of peace of mind)

My work consisted of setting up and teaching at a computer center so that the local people and organizations could be trained in information technology. When I got to site, there was nothing to work with. There were no computers, network, books or chairs. I didnít even have a key to enter my workplace, which proved quite interesting since my official counterpart (who had the only set of keys) was in Australia. Later I received a copy of the key, but still my official counterpart was never there.

At that moment, I didnít mind the lack of a counterpart or anyone else to work with. I knew how to setup a computer center by my lonesome and my iPod was decent enough company, despite it dominating most of our conversations. The only problem that I foresaw was making Category-5 cables because of my colorblindness (which btw thank you to the PCVís in Haíapai for your help). The last thing I expected was for people to think that the computer center was mine and that I was there to make a profit. I'm definitely selfish, I'm just not greedy for money.

Only because I was trying to make the project sustainable, I went through a few handpicked counterparts, none of which really worked out. Iíve had an individual that lost interest in a couple weeks and never showed up again, and a few that kept promising to show up, yet never did with any consistency. In the end I had a consistent class of 5, but without a counterpart I worked by myself most of the time.


I worked in the third floor of a building owned by a person named X. X was also my supervisor, a person who did a remarkable job of assisting me with getting equipment for the center. I simply couldnít have asked for a better supervisor. As soon as I arrived, he gave me full reign over the center, which was a lot of responsibility for a then 21 year old fairly fresh out of college.

X worked in Nukuíalofa and Iíve seen him in town once, or at most twice. His help was done in the shadows; he worked in the background of the computer center operation. Now that I think about it, his humbleness might have been a little too low key, but I donít blame him. Iím the same in that I hate the attention. With two quiet people, it was no wonder that some people didnít know who owned the center.

It also happened to be that X rented out the first floor of the building to the Chinese shopkeepers. At first, I thought it was ironic that I would end up working in the same building with the Chinese. I even openly joked about it with friends. Again, I later found that it was just another step into giving the wrong impression. Instead of people thinking that I worked for X, they probably thought I rented from X, just like the other Chinese.

Despite numerous attempts at informing people that I am part of the Peace Corps, the idea didnít quite sink into everyoneís heads. I was still often referred to as the Japanese volunteer or the Chinese, though the later reference was usually when I was alone. I think itís just the racial ignorance that comes from living only on an island (See: A Chinese perspective on Tonga).

During the week of the riots, the computer center charged a thousand paíanga for a two-week class for TCC. I taught the classes, not quite understanding what was happening in Nukuíalofa. Whatever it was, I saw Haíapai as invulnerable to the situation simply because it was located so far away from everything. However, if you look at some of my older posts, I started worrying about the political situation as I received more information. I did what any sane person would do and I stopped charging for classes. No one is stupid enough to complain about free, good quality work thatís in high demand.

The money from my TCC lecture is finally gone and I was instructed by my supervisor to have the center start charging again. I decided on a nominal charge of three paíanga per two-hour session. It was a fair price that allowed us to continue running and the slim profits would go straight back into the center. As long as the center was sustaining itself, I was happy. (My money came only from the U.S. Government.) I worked on a Macromedia Captivate tutorial for the first lesson and we made announcements on the radio that the first class was coming up.

Getting flipped off by kids or mocked by adults for being Chinese was one thing. Kids will be kids and I wrote off being mocked by adults as a form of Ďcreative playfulnessí. Getting flipped off by an adult stranger after announcements of charged classes was certainly another realm. It made me realize that something was wrong that I didnít quite yet see. I had encountered bits of racism before, but this time was different. I had a feeling that it was tied to charging for classes and a skewed perspective.

I wish I had thicker skin for things like this, but I donít. I may be paranoid, but I had to leave. I tried and planned to stay for a while so that I could at least use my vacation to visit New Zealand, I thought maybe it would give me some more perspective, but ultimately I ditched that route and left before everything was even packed. (I'm sorry to the volunteers that had to pick up after my mess - I'll find a way to make it up to you guys)

Do I regret the whole Peace Corps experience? No. If I could go through it all again, I would do it all again and pick Haíapai still. However, I would have made more of an effort to integrate into the community, to announce my work publicly to dispel some misconceptions, and to go to kava to get to know people better.

Haíapai is still in my opinion, the best place in all of Tonga to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer. There were beautiful beaches, work was minimal, I had access to a free gym that was normally unused by others, and it had the perfect blend of outer island life with normal palangi life. I canít see myself serving out the rest of service in any other part of Tonga. Maybe that's the way it should be.

Sorry again to everyone having to put up with my indecisiveness.

Links to Related Topics (Tags):

Headlines: February, 2007; Peace Corps Tonga; Directory of Tonga RPCVs; Messages and Announcements for Tonga RPCVs; Asian American Issues; Blogs - Tonga; Early Termination; Peace Corps Library; Peace Corps Countries of Service; Peace Corps History; Bulletin Board; Recent Peace Corps News

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