Sunday, June 17, 2001
We met at the church parking lot to take a Super Shuttle this afternoon. Our driver turned out to be a pretty cool guy. When we said where we were going, he answered," Tongatapu? Oh, be careful not to drink too much kava." Given that most of my friends couldn't figure out what hemisphere Tonga was in, I think that's pretty impressive.
So far, a lot of my time has been taken up making sure that George and Kyle don't get lost, which, given how hyper they are, has been no easy task. On the plan to L.A., Kyle kept us busy with The Book of Questions, which Mike and I gave him for eighth grade graduation. We ate dinner in the middle of the airport food court, where we saw this huge crowd of football players. They wore red jerseys labelled "Wisconsin" with Australia patches on the shoulder. Kyle, George, and I bet a quarter on where they were from. The answer was Wisconsin (the state, not a city in Australia), so I used my winnings to buy all three of us a large hot fudge sundae. The boys were kind of mad because the football players pretended they really were from Australia, but we think they were just trying to scam on the Australian women's water polo team that we sat next to on the way to Los Angeles.
Wednesday, June 20, 2001
We're finally arrived in Tonga! We got here last night, after quite the long layover in Fiji, only to discover that all of our luggage had stayed in Fiji. I'm not really worried about it, but we had all of the computer stff with us, since that's what we're donating to the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga. Right now, our travel agent, Makaleta, has taken the bus back to the International Dateline Hotel to see if she can get us back on a flight to Vava'u. We were supposed to be on the 12:45 p.m. flight today, but we took so long filling out forms for our lost luggage at the Air Pacific office that they gave away our seats to people who were flying standby. Makaleta tried to emphasize what an important mistake this was to the people who work here at the airport, but they were not interested in listening (actually, they laughed). Now, she's going to appeal our case to the people at the Air Pacific office back in Nuku'alofa.
So far, the trip has involved a lot of sitting around waiting. One of my favorite moments so far was when Kyle, George, and I were all sitting around playing Egyptian Rat at the airport restaurant in Nadi, and Bernadette, Ginny, Marge, and Maggie all tried to learn and to slap into the game. Who knew that going to Tonga would be so similar to going to church camp, complete with card games and silly songs?
Thursday, June 21, 2001
Today was a pretty boring day, but it was good for group bonding. Bernadette, Kyle, Suliana, George and I all went shopping for new clothes (and most especially underwear) in the morning. I bought one Tongan outfit and a yellow flowered sundress from the Cook Islands. It's interesting to be in a country where I fit the extra-small clothes -- quite the opposite of travelling in Japan, really. The rest of the day, we just kicked it around the hotel, playing Egyptian Rat, learning how to play backgammon from Marge, getting massages (most of the women did), watching "Toy Story" and "X-Men," and eating a lot of good food. Some of us drank coconut milk right out of the shell. We also had fun making horse's hoof noises with the remaining coconut shell.
Staying at the International Dateline Hotel all day initially made me pretty stir-crazy, but it turned out not to be so bad after all. When we were in the airport yesterday, we wrote a song: "When something happens, just keep smiling, something good might come out of it." Jinny had diarrhea all day, which Mark got later in the afternoon. I played games all day, and Bernadette spent the day being righteously indignant, calling the American embassy in Fiji, trying to get them to add more flights and to get our luggage here. I'm really glad I wasn't here to see the traffic for the millennium -- if all of this is just from the church conference, I can't imagine what ti looked like when rich people descended on Tonga from all over the world. Man.
We still haven't rehearsed our song for the conference. Maggie and Jean managed to get to Vava'u yesterday, and they called the hotel to report that they had arrived safely, and had spent the first night at and "interesting" homestay. Anyway, now they're back at the conference, wearing lavalavas and ta'ovalas provided for them by Suliana's family.
Friday, June 22, 2001
Well, here we are in the airport again, hoping to get at least some of our party over to Vava'u. They added three flights today -- Dalyn and Jerry are on the 6 a.m. flight, Kyle and I are on the 9 a.m., and we're working on getting everybody on some flight out later today. All in all, I'm really delighted that I'm with the people I'm with -- somebody else would have burst several blood vessels, by now, given all that's gone wrong.
Later that afternoon
We met up with Maggie and Jean at the conference, where we attended the graduation ceremony for the local school. Fortunately, there was one speaker in English, a pastor from Australia who told a very moving story about his work in Africa. During the ceremony, the rest of our group arrived, so we're finally back together, and we're finally all here.
Saturday, June 23, 2001
We've now attended two days of the conference, and, except for Makaleta and Sunia, who are still with family, we have all made it to Vava'u. Bernadette and I have gone down to the pool, and we're watching Kyle, Siaosi, and Mark go for a swim. Unfortunately, none of the women can swim because our clothes are still in Fiji. The boys went dancing here at the hotel last night, where they hooked up with two Tongan teenagers, so it seems like people are starting to relax.
At lunch, we had to split up to several different tables because we were the last people to leave the church service. Everybody gave up their seats for us -- Jerry said she thought we were the second wave and that people had already finished the meal, but I'm not so sure. Anyway, the food, as always, was plentiful and delicious -- we had sparkling apple cider, yams, chicken stuffed with sausage, and these delicious flavored toffees for dessert. Meals here are interesting -- throughout the meal, important people make frilly speeches involving lots of religious language, which sometimes brings them (the speakers) to the point of tears. Everybody seemed to speak just quietly enough to have a conversation while maintaining the appearance of listening.
Anyway, at this particular lunch, Maggie got up and spoke. The noise level seemed to triple right around me -- maybe they didn't understand her speech very well. After all the ritual greetings, Maggie told a story about an eagle who had been cooped up for so long that he believed he was a chicken. I keep getting different versions of what the moral of the story was supposed to be, but it had something to do with adapting as a culture to a new situation while still remembering who you are. The second story was all about working in Nicaragua were they had one of their children get in trouble during the war. A major theme of the speech was taking care of our children in an increasingly violent society. I have seen a lot of gang tagging that matches some from the States, so I guess U.S. violence is starting to trickle in.
This evening, we attended a fundraiser dance for Vava'u College. They raised over 64,000 pa'anga (U.S. $32,000) over the course of three hours! Australia danced first, coming up with 10,000, then New Zealand generated 7000, later kicking in an extra 3000 when they found our the were being showed up by Australia. When the U.S. delegation got up, all of the American contributions from overseas totaled 20,000! We were asked, along with the rest of the American delegates, to dance about four different times. People actually came up and put money on my chest! Bernadette and I oiled ourselves up with sandalwood oil so that the money would stick to our bodies. The band must have played for three or four hours without stopping, and they did a little pep-band-style dance before they played for everybody else. We went wild -- Bernadette led us in the bunny hop. She told other Tongans , who mentioned that we had many different styles of dancing, that we had deliberately decided to represetnt the 'melting pot' nature of the United States that way. She and I were right up front, doing the grapevine. It was nice to dance, also, because it helped us wake up. Ten p.m. in Tonga is about 4 a.m. back home! There was a supper after the dance, which was prepared by Mapo's family, but most of us collapsed back at the hotel from exhaustion. Whew!
Sunday, June 24, 2001
We all went to church this morning at the conference. I sat outside in the rain (there's a horrible thunderstorm right now) with Suliana and Siaosi, and I read from the Book of Joshua, which I gathered was what they were preaching the morning. Magie says that she's known about half of the hymns they've sung -- this morning was "Wonderful Words of Life" -- but so far, all I've really known is the Doxology. From my work with Tongan choir in Palo Alto, I can also recognize the Lord's Prayer (Lotu a 'Eiki) and the Tongan National Anthem, but I have yet to learn the words.
After church, we got to eat lunch at the table hosted by the princess! The food was the best yet -- we ate, off beautiful fruit-patterned china, ham, fresh crab, hot coconut drink (served from china teacups), fish crepes with mushroom sauce, chicken fried steak, trifle for dessert, and bottled spring water with free refills. Then, after lunch, the hostess told us who had served us, so we waved and bowed to the princess, whose table we were facing. She came up afterward to speak to Maggie, asking us to pray for her Catholic neighbors, who had done all of the cooking for her (apparently, the Methodist neighbors were already pretty busy, cooking other parts of the feast). We were a little worried when Suliana started urging us to the front table, but apparently, she's of noble blood, and in the 'Euas, there's an island named for her family. Who knew? The evening concluded with a killer pillow fight with my roommate, Bernadette, after which we finally conked out for the night.
Monday, June 25, 2001
Anyway, most of the day was spent sitting around, talking to people. We were forced to have most of our meals at the hotel. Just about everybody has been hit by the diarrhea bug. We thought we were going to a prayer meeting at the princess's house tonight, but it turned out we had the time wrong, so everybody stayed in their fancy clothes and ate dinner together instead. We met this Tongan-American wrestler at dinner who was really friendly and who laughed when he found out that Maggie was our minister. Funny.
Tuesday, June 26, 2001
We were on a yacht for most of today, which took us around the islands of Vava'u. Siaosi had never been sailing before, so for the first hours, our captain, Soa, let the sail do all of the work. We motored the rest of the way. Feeling the breeze off the ocean was quite relaxing, although Jerry got seasick. We stopped for a picnic lunch at some guy's private island, where Jinny and Marge taught Siaosi to swim properly while Kyle, Mark and I just puttered around in the water. I didn't have my swimsuit with me (it was in my missing luggage), so I did what Tongan women do and just dove right into the water in my clothes. It created an interesting effect -- my skirt was so long that I felt like a mermaid and I could keep myself afloat pretty easily. I just closed my eyes, lay back, and let the ocean carry me along -- a real exercise in faith.
On the way back, we took a dinghy into Swallow's Cave, which was covered in these amazing stalagmites and which has lots of secret passageways that you couldn't really see in the dark. We came back and had dinner at the conference, after which I pretty much fell into bed with the beginnings of a bad cold. Bernadette left early yesterday morning, so I've got the room to myself now. She also managed to expedite the processing of our luggage -- it all arrived yesterday morning, except for Kyle's bags and one of Jean's. As Dalyn pointed out, the fourteen-year-old boy is probably best able to not change clothes for a few days, so I guess we're pretty lucky.
Wednesday, June 27, 2001
Today, we took a land tour of the island. We're now on an ecotourism beach in Vava'u. It's a bit cloudy and windy for my tastes, but most of the group is snorkelling around the reef, where Mark says he saw blue starfish and eels. I'm still not feeling that great, so I'm not sure if I'll get in all the way, although I did get in water up to my hips earlier. The water shoes worked great, but I'm not sure if I want to get much colder while I'm feeling crummy. Kyle describes the sea life as "flailing eels with severed heads," so maybe I'll pass.
We had lunch at the conference, which, like most other meals, was filled with dolorous, droning speeches. I could tell it was getting long-winded when the other Tongans around me started thanking the man repeatedly before he was finished!
Later that same day. . .
I keep thinking that nothing else could possibly go wrong. What a mistake. After the snorkeling trip, the driver took us to Makaleta's village, where her brother came and got us in a pickup truck. We decided, as Siaosi said, to take the "five womens" up the road first, so Dalyn climbed in the front seat and Jerry, Jinny, Marge and I piled into the flatbed. We were sprawled out on top of a straw mat next to two huge burlap bags filled with ice. Anyway, the road to the resort was a dirt toad that had been completely washed out, so after going through a few puddles that were halfway up the flatbed, the truck eventually started to smoke, and we stalled out. We thought it was pretty hilarious, and we started to take a bunch of pictures. Makaleta's brother left us there and walked up the rest of the road to get some men to push the truck and get it started again, which took about twenty minutes. After climbing out into the mud and letting them push, we got back in and rode the rest of the way up.
We met Makaleta's nieces and nephews, who only spoke Tongan -- Kalolina and Mosea were both six, and little Fatongi was only three, but we had a great time chasing them around the patio of their restaurant and pretending to scare them. We gave them all T-shirts from the church. Kalolina seemed pretty suspicious of the shirt that I tried to give her. I think maybe becuase only boys were wearing that shirt, but she had it on by the end of the night.
Anyway, after dinner, we all headed back to the Paradise Hotel for a final night's stay. We were wondering what it would have been like if we had gone with the original plan to stay at the Royal Mahina the entire time. Needless to say, after seeing that road, we were all grateful for the Paradise Hotel's proximity to the conference. Makaleta had packed a box of food and some pandarus mats for Maggie, so when we got off the bus, we all danced them in singing the "Party Song" which made Maggie laugh pretty hard. We then settled our bills with the hotel and went to bed.
Thursday, June 28, 2001
We got up at 6:30 this morning, planning to catch a bus to the airport for our 9:15 flight. Both Maggie and Mark had read that, in Tonga, you need to be at the airport at least 75 minutes ahead of time to ensure a spot on the plane. After splitting up among three different buses, we got to the airport and tried to check in, only to discover that getting there early had done us exactly zero good -- they'd already divided up our names into several different lots of who was going on what plane. We had called earlier that morning to confirm our reservations, and they pretty much guaranteed our spots on the plane. Fortunately, Maggie had gotten the name of 'Ana during the whole baggage fiasco, so she found 'Ana, who managed to get most of us onto the 11:30 flight. Mark, Kyle, Mapo and Sunia are still at the airport in Vava'u, but we're hoping they'll join us soon.
Speaking of luggage, I mentioned earlier that Kyle and Jean were still waiting for a few of their bags. It turns out that they had been at the travel office in Vava'u for a couple of days, and it was only when Jean bothered to ask the airport personnel directly that anybody bothered to tell us. Oh well. At least everybody has their luggage now.
I've been trying to get photos out the air plane window. Because of all the coral reefs, the water is all these beautiful variegated shades of blue and the islands stand out in contrast. It's a little like flying over a really big globe. We just flew over a small island with a giant lake in the middle -- I wonder where it was.
In other news, it turns out that the week before the king's birthday (July 4) is the Heilala Festival, and that Makaleta has booked us to attend the Miss Heilala beauty pageant at the International Dateline tomorrow night. Tonight, we're scheduled to attend a feast with Suliana's family at the Tongan Cultural Center.
Friday, June 29, 2001
The Miss Heilala festival is going on downstairs, which exactly none of us is attending (although we did take some photos earlier with Miss International Dateline). Maggie just ran up to tell me and Dalyn that they had a crossdresser singing "O Solo Mio," who happened to be the same Air Pacific travel agent that helped us with our luggage and with changing our money at the airport.
Saturday, June 30, 2001
Well, just when we thought nothing else could possibly go wrong, Maggie and Jean got a call at 11:45 p.m. last night, asking them what time we were checking out. This was somewhat of a puzzlement, considering that we had planned on staying at the Dateline for one more night. Anyhow, we got bumped, so our tour guide Douglas spent the morning scrounging us a place to stay. He is also in charge of finding Suliana, who has no idea how to contact us. When I tried to check out, not only did I have to wait in line behind the entire Samoan rugby team, but they tried to charge me personally for seven people's dinners, for which we had already paid. Sigh.
Sunday, July 1, 2001
This being the Sabbath in a Christian country, there wasn't a whole lot going on outside of church. We got up early, had a quick breakfast of toast and stale cornflakes, and then we piled all the luggage on the van for yet another hotel transfer from the Hotel Nukualofa to the Pacific Royale. We changed into our white shirts and black pants to go to Centennary Chuch with Suliana. I got a chance to wear the new ta'ovala that I bought at the market, but I was sad to discover that it's a little too big.
Tevita Puloka, who used to work at our church in Palo Alto, was there, as was the president (bishop?) of the church, who told me afterward that he liked my ta'ovala. We got to take communion --bread cubes and mini juice cups -- while kneeling, which was nice because we could participate in what was going on, even though we didn't understand the language. Tevita even made an appeal in English for visitors to take the bread and cup. The children all ran up to the railing to take communion, but we noticed that most of them only received a blessing. Jinny sat closer to the boys, and noticed that a few of them had taken off their ta'ovalas, crumpled them up into little balls, and thrown them up to the kneeler, leaving only enough line to reel them back in again. The whole service lasted almost two and a half hours. Siaosi was there in a beautiful ta'ovala with a brand new gold tooth. Suliana mentioned that a lot of Tongans who live abroad will come home to have their dental work done because it's so much cheaper here.
Monday, July 2, 2001
Nobody really slept very well, but we got to the Air Pacific office at 8 a.m. to try to confirm our tickets home. It wasn't open (of course), so we all went by the Friends Cafe to grab a bite for breakfast. it was by far the best food we've had so far, although the eggs were still a little runny. I had a yummy hot chocolate and a scone, and other people had lattes where they shaped the cream into palm trees. I may go back for lunch. Anyway, Kyle and I ran by the Cybercafe to e-mail Mike about picking us up from the airport. Others have gone shopping.
We were supposed to go on a tour and beach picnic at eleven, but Douglas told us they postponed it till dinner because of the rain. Sione called this morning to say that he was coming to pick up the computers we donated to the church. I told him that we thought they were at the Dateline, but if not, to check the airport. Suliana sewed some shirts out of Tongan fabric for Mark and Kyle, calling them "princes of Tonga." They looked great! I'd kind of like to get some more Tongan clothes, but I am plumb out of money. I am ready to go home.
Tuesday, July 3, 2001
Well, barring any other disasters, we are finally on the plane to Los Angeles. They tried to have Kyle, Mapo, and Sunia fly standby, which would have been interesting to explain to Kyle's mother, especially since I think the next flight out to the States is not until Saturday. They even tried to put 2-year-old Viliami in a seat way in the front by himself. Anyway, we managed to cause a delay for the entire plane. Getting through customs was like a mob scene -- there were two employees trying to process 250 people in less than an hour. Some good came of it, though -- Sunia is up in first class, and Kyle is flying on the upstairs part of the double decker plane.
Yesterday evening, before we left to have dinner with Douglas, Mapo called and asked if I wanted to have dinner with Pelikani and Ana. Mapo's daughter came and picked me up, and we had a great meal of 'ota ika (raw fish salad), chicken, yams, ilimu (seaweed), raw bananas, cooked bananas, and fried fish. It was the best cooking I've tasted on the trip. Afterward, the women sat around the kitchen, talking and laughing, while Pelikani, Sunia and I (?!) retired to the living room for coffee and cakes. Pelikani gave us a tour of the house, which he designed and modeled after the house of a General Nicholson, who won the Battle of Britain and who Pelikani kept calling "a grand old man," much like Pelikani himself. He reminded me that last year's group promised to get him these Mozart CDs, so I'll try to find them when I get back home.
In the afternoon, Kyle and I swung by the Friends Cafe for a drink and a fancy brownie. Afterward, we went for a long walk along the very windy wharf before meeting our group back at the Pacific Royale. While we were waiting for the airport shuttle, Kyle and Mark discovered a piano, and much diddling around and merry songmaking ensued.
Douglas drove us to the airport, where we met up with Siaosi-with-a-new-haircut, Suliana, Mapo, who presented us all with T-shirts and lavalavas, and Sione Fonua, who picked up all the computer equipment from the Dateline this morning. He presented us via Jerry, who we designated to represent church leadership, with plates with the royal seal of Tonga on them. When we went inside, we met up with Makaleta, at long last. I gave her my two hotel receipts for four nights of hotel stays, totaling $800 U.S. Hopefully, I'll get paid back soon.
I sat by an Australian teacher at lunch. He had been here about two years, and I asked him what he thought of Tonga. He said that when he went home for Christmas holidays after teaching in Tonga for three months, he thought he understood everything about the place, but now that he was getting ready to leave, he felt that he understood less and less the longer he stayed. That about sums up our trip. As Jean would say, the past three weeks have been nothing if not full of TONGAN MYSTERIES.