It is difficult for me to explain what Tonga means to me.
It is a place that has become so immersed in my life and heart that it's a struggle for me to remember who I was without it. I was less well-rounded, that's for sure, and I seem to remember a time when my passport didn't have so many stamps in it.
But now it has a few more, plus a visa that I had to pay the Kingdom a full-month price for, even though I was only going to be there two days of that month. In addition to those, there are four other new stamps--entrance and exit records from Fiji, where I inadvertently spent two days. I know. Who does that, right? Well, let me tell you--it's Air Pacific's fault.
I left Maui the end of September, with plans to spend three and a half weeks in Tonga. I would be traveling to three island groups to do research, see friends, and spend time with family*. I had to fly to Honolulu the night before, so I spent a day exploring Waikiki, where I was lucky enough to stay in a huge, beautiful room right on the strip. (good thing I work for a hotel, eh?) I ate delicious local chicken, got my phone fixed at the Apple store, and gawked in awe and wonder at the beautiful world the Lord has created. Oahu is not *quite* as gorgeous as Maui, but I will admit that it is lovely enough on its own. :)
I left for the Honolulu airport at 4:00 in the morning to catch my flight. It was to take me to Samoa, Fiji, and then to my beloved Tonga. I settled into my window seat, tucked two airline blankets around myself (I always get cold in the air), and settled in to spend a relaxing day with a delightful book. Samoa passed without incident. I met a couple buying open-ended tickets around the world, napped a little, and tried to keep the excited butterflies out of my stomach as much as possible. We landed in Fiji and I was curious to see what it looks like. "Where do the cannibals live?" I wondered. "Where do they grow the eggplant?" I looked out the window and saw green as far as there was land in any direction. Green hills, green fields, green trees. Interspersed amongst the green were colorful houses. It was fun to be in the airport there--to think to myself, "wow, I'm in Fiji!" and to see so many cultures working around each other. A live band played and sang for us as we waited in line at customs before our next flight. We were only there 90 minutes or so, though, before it was back in line to go to Nuku'alofa. I found my seat on the new plane and giggled with happiness and the expectation of meeting my aunty* and her kids and being in Tonga in less than two hours.
Alas, 'twas not to be.
It was raining too hard in Tonga to land the plane, and after two attempts the pilot made an announcement that made my stomach sink: we were heading back to Fiji, and there were no answers as to when or if we'd get to Tonga.
Okay, pause here to explain something: Although I consider myself a fairly adventurous person, I do generally try to avoid getting myself into bad situations. Bad situation, as defined by me = white girl traveling alone in a foreign country where she doesn't speak the language, doesn't know anyone, and is a prime target for a plethora of criminal opportunities. [Not that I worry very much, in general, about my personal safety. My thoughts: If I'm doing what I feel directed by the Spirit to do, I will be protected]. Fiji wasn't in my plans, and I was unprepared for this "opportunity" to "see" a new country, financially, mentally, and emotionally. (not to mention MAJORLY disappointed that I wasn't going to make it to Tonga that night, especially after flying alllllllllllll day).
[aka I had a panic attack.]
But then something happened: I learned that I was sitting next to one of the three Nephites.
Okay, okay, he's not really from the scriptures, but in the course of the next two days, the man I was sharing an airplane aisle with, and his two companions, would become like angels in my life. (And since they're Samoan, and Samoans are descendants of the Nephites, I'm taking creative license and nicknaming them. K, thanks).
During the course of our two hour flight that was supposed to land us in Tonga, S. and I had become good acquaintances. He had been reading a Liahona magazine that I had asked to borrow after he was finished. He noticed my CTR ring and we struck up a conversation about the church and the church in the South Pacific, which he works with. After the pilot's terrible announcement, seeing the dissapointment and panic which must have been showing on my face despite how hard I was trying to remain calm, S. invited me to "stick with" him and his two companions. They would take care of me, he said, and it would all be okay.
And you know what? It was.
We spent two nights at a hotel in Nadi (not on the airline's dime--since it was weather related they said they couldn't take responsibility), attended church in a Fijian branch on Sunday (such nice people! and such a small world!--I knew several of the ward members/missionaries friends/family from BYU), sight-saw in Nadi and Nautoka, and two days later got back on a plane to Tonga. They didn't send my luggage till the day after (take the hint and never fly Air Pacific), but I had a spirit full of peace, gratitude, and humility at how well the Lord knows us and how He always takes care of us. I guess in the end I am willing to have sacrificed those three days in Tonga for the three new friends I made and the new experiences I had. BLESSED. LIFE.
|branch meetinghouse in nadi.|
|Fijian sugar cane fields.|
ANYWAY, that was Fiji. And then I got to where I was going in the first place: The Kingdom of Tonga.
Hoi. I love Tonga. Stepping off the plane was a thrill. I hadn't been there in three years! My aunty and her kids met me at the airport and took me home. They live in a village just outside of the main city on Tongatapu, and although I was too tired to see anything that night, I woke up the next morning FULL of joy at being there and being with them and all the things I could look forward to in the next month. I loved eating the food, walking the roads, driving on the left side of the street, and going to church dances. I LOVED playing with my little cousins, having spontaneous dance parties in the living room, and relishing the time I had to relax, learn, and expand my heart a little more.
|my aunty-guys live in such a nice house. just fyi, most Tongan homes do not look like this.|
And then there was Ha'apai. Ha'apai remains the island closest to my heart because of the people there. I have adopted family in Pangai, and it was a joy-beyond-joy to hang out with them, play rugby with my bro, build a raft with my cousins, dive from the wharf, eat my mom's cakes, and do my laundry in a bucket there. I was actually supposed to stay only four days there, but by the time my trip was supposed to be over, I still wasn't ready to leave so I extended. BLESSING. I would never trade any amount of money I would have been able to make in those two weeks for the additional time I was able to spend there. The people I love and was able to see was the number one best part of the trip.
Like this kid, my brother in Ha'apai. I love this guy MUCH-O.
And this lady. My other mom. There is no one else like her.
Here are some of my new friends. Goofs, all of them. Love them a lot.
|plantation near Tokomololo. I think that's 'ufi.....|
|the blowholes. so cool!|
|Hufangalupe. a natural coral arch that the ocean pours into. you can see the size by how tiny my aunty and her son are up there on top.|
These are some new places I saw. The Lord created such a beautiful world!
At this point I feel like I should clarify and say, though, that Tonga is not really a tourist destination, and it's definitely not for the unacustomed-to-the-reality-of-life-faint-of-heart. Sometimes people who hear me talk about it say, "Ooooooh it sounds so nice! I want to go!" But to be honest, I don't really recommend it for most people. It is beautiful, yes, but there are a lot more beautiful places that are a lot easier to get to, so if that's what you'd go for, I don't think it's a good enough reason. A lot of people are surprised when I tell them that they won't have hot water--you shower in the cold, there is a law against taking your shirt off in public--even for the males, even when you're swimming, and if you're not a big meat and starch lover/eater, you're probably not going to like the food. Food is actually the number one thing I struggle with, because I HAVE to have vegetables. If I lived there I would grow my own garden, but when I visit, the marketplace is good enough. I just feel like I have to give a caution, after I express my love to someone about Tonga, that yes, I love it, but it does take getting used to. For most of you reading this, it is a very different culture. Wonderful, in many aspects, but different.
|More people I love--Pisope Vimahi and some of his kids in Pangai.|
|yay for aunties!|
|love and miss these guys a lot.|
|lupe. mami. love her.|
So, that was Tonga, and now, two and a half weeks later, I'm back to my "real", regular life. For those of you who are interested and keep asking me, I have come up with my next year in plans though, written below.
Maui till the end of May.
Mainland till the end of August.
End of August=big move across the Pacific and official induction into Kiwi-land.
You're still welcome to come visit me. :)
LIFE is a great reason to rejoice!
To end this post, although it is supremely personal and highly sentimental-sounding, I have decided to include a poem that I wrote a couple of years ago when I was extremely "homesick" for Tonga. Those of you who have traveled and left a part of your heart somewhere far away can probably relate.
(ps, yes I was an English major, but I am not a poet so don't judge my doggerel, okay? thanks).
I need you:
Under my feet.
Around my shoulders.
Before my eyes.
Inside my heart.
Please wait for me.
I picture us together.
My hand in yours,
Watching the sun set on the reef in Pangai.
I know you see it every night,
But me, only in my dreams.
Please save a place for me on the sand beside you.
Where the little crabs will
Crawl over my toes
When I bury them
In your soft folds.
Please don't forget your promise of beautiful fish
And fruit and tea and flowers.
And the shouted "Ma'lei!"s and "Sai pe?"s of the villagers.
Remind the children that
I will bring them lole
When I come
And teach them the English words
For "goat" and "cow" and "sheep"
If they will smile at me
And let me play with them.
Please tell your people
That I love them.
And though I'm white and
Have blue eyes,
In my heart I dance the lakalaka
And delight to serve and
Love them too.
Ask them to please accept me
And let me clean the coconuts
And do the laundry and
Climb the tree to
It's true Tonga, you're not rich,
And neither am I.
But I know that we will be happy together
Even if I have to sleep on the floor,
And shower from a bucket.
I don't mind
As long as I'm with you.
There are just a few things I don't want you to do:
Don't use me.
Don't leave me.
And please don't forget me.
I'm counting on you Tonga.
Please make room.