Tag Archives: Peace Corps

When Life Hands You Lemons, Bring on the Lemonade

Sūsana and I spent this spring and summer preparing for 27 months of Peace Corps service in Tonga. We shopped for luggage, clothes and supplies. It consumed our thoughts and actions most days. We tied up loose ends as we looked forward to making a difference in a beautiful part of the world.

I retired from American Airlines in March, the same day Sūsana returned from eight months of Peace Corps Response service in El Salvador. I picked her up in Miami after working my last shift and we celebrated with steak, grilled asparagus and chocolate cake at a favorite restaurant.

Susana teaching butterfly biology in El Salvador during her service with Peace Corps Response. Click on this photo to read about her experience.

Susana teaching butterfly biology in El Salvador during her service with Peace Corps Response. Click on this photo to read about her experience.

Renting a car in Salt Lake City in April, we traveled 6,000 miles through eight western states, taking two months to visit family and friends, many of whom we had not seen in decades.

In June, we sorted through personal belongings and consolidated everything into 75 square feet of climate-controlled storage.

By July, we had traveled to Spain, one of our favorite destinations, to participate in a week of Pueblo Inglés, a total-immersion English program for Spaniards with intermediate and advanced language skills.

Hotel Doña Teresa in La Alberca, Spain, our favorite Pueblo Inglés venue.

Hotel Doña Teresa in La Alberca, Spain, our favorite Pueblo Inglés venue. Click on this photo to read about volunteer opportunities at Pueblo Inglés • Credit: Diverbo

Later that month found us house-sitting in Costa Rica on a lush 26-acre estate in the Orosi Valley, taking care of four parrots, chasing blue morpho butterflies along the cascading Rio Negro and enjoying the ¡Pura vida! lifestyle.

Then our Peace Corps plans crashed and burned. Word from Washington arrived the last day of July that I was not medically cleared for Peace Corps service. I appealed and lost.

Over the next six weeks, I continued to importune Peace Corps to allow me to accompany Sūsana to Tonga. Multiple positive medical opinions from my long-time physician failed to change their minds. By mid-September, with our Peace Corps group already two weeks into pre-service training, it became clear that Peace Corps service wasn’t going to happen.

What do you do when life hands you lemons? You squeeze them, add a little sugar and make lemonade, of course. That’s just what we did.

We bought tickets to Tonga to create our own adventure. We arrived in early October and have spent the past month falling in love with this place.

Turquoise Wave at Blow Holes

A turquoise wave crashing ashore at Tonga’s Blow Holes near Houma on the main island of Tongatapu.

Tonga is tranquil. Tonga is peaceful. Tonga is the epitome of relaxation with tropical breezes and Polynesian sunsets, a different masterpiece in pastels each evening with the melodious call of wattled honeyeaters in the bush as twilight falls on the kingdom.

Tonga is its people. They’re friendly. They’re polite. They laugh heartily. They sing into the night in multi-part harmonies.

Tongan landlady and her granddaughter

Our Tongan landlady and her granddaughter dressed in Sunday best.

There’s a church across an open field from our house, perhaps a quarter-mile away. We hear the choir practicing every Saturday night as we play cards on our front porch. They sing Sunday mornings and during Sunday afternoon services. Most Wednesday evenings they are back at it, filling our world with angelic praises.

Two doors down from us, a group of Tongan visitors from New Zealand laughed and sang into the early morning hours as we fell asleep a few nights ago. Far from being disturbed by their merry-making, we were lulled once again by the rhythms of Tongan life.

Our future in Tonga is starting to take shape. Last week, Sūsana was appointed senior information and communications technology (ICT) teacher at Ocean of Light International Schools. She starts her two-year contract in January.

Ocean of Light International Schools

Ocean of Light International Schools in Nuku‘alofa, Tonga. Click on this photo to read more about the school. • Credit: Ocean of Light International Schools

Ocean of Light is the premier K-12 school in Tonga and the only one in the kingdom with an international curriculum. Plantations of coconut, papaya and breadfruit surround the peaceful campus three kilometers (1.9 miles) west of Nuku‘alofa, Tonga’s capital. I’ve signed an agreement to volunteer at the school on a regular basis. We’ve applied for employment visas in Tonga to make our residency official.

So, we’re creating our own Peace Corps-like adventure in Tonga. We will still make a difference in this beautiful part of the world. Had we come here with Peace Corps, we would have been assigned a site and told where to live. We would have been restricted in our movements and transportation options. We would have had pages of rules to follow. For us, it’s better this way.

Life’s lemons are indeed a gift. Squeeze vigorously. Sugar abundantly. Sip, savor and smile.

“I’m delighted to invite you to serve …”

TWO EMAILS ARRIVED this afternoon on a tropical breeze and splashed down softly in our lagoon, rippling the surface. Mine read,

“Dear David,

“Congratulations! On behalf of the entire Peace Corps family, I’m delighted to invite you to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tonga. You’ve been selected to serve as a Primary Education English Teacher, departing August 31, 2015.”

My wife, Suzanne, received a similar invitation to serve in Tonga as a Primary Education Teacher Trainer.

After brief instructions on how to accept the call, the message concluded,

“Again, congratulations!
Carrie Hessler-Radelet
Peace Corps Director”

Logo of the U.S. Peace Corps

Suzanne and I were in El Salvador when the news arrived. She’s completing a short-term assignment for Peace Corps Response as the resident lepidopterist at a touristic butterfly zoo. I happened to be visiting her during a few days off work in Miami.

Within mere seconds, our ship set a new course toward the South Pacific. As a following wind filled the main sail, we grabbed each other’s hands and jumped up and down chanting, “We’re going to Tonga! We’re going to Tonga!”

What began as ripples of excitement roared ashore in a crash of seawater, foam and salt spray. It’s what we wanted. It’s what we hoped for. We’re ecstatic and look forward to the challenge of learning a new language, the delight of meeting new people and the pleasure of serving together in a place we’ve never seen except through photographs, others’ writings and in our own imaginations.

Islands of Ha‘apai Group, Tonga

Tatafa Islet in front of ‘Uiha Island, Ha‘apai Group, Tonga

Bookmark this journal titled with our Tongan names, Tēvita and Sūsana, and join us on our South Seas adventure for 27 months. It should be quite a voyage!