June 17, 2019
Greetings from Tonga. It feels like we have been here a long time and not seen much outside of Neiafu, the main city on Vava’u. Tully even said, “Are we at this place AGAIN?”
The ARC schedule and other constraints have kept us on the mooring ball more than some of us would like but we are making the best of it.
It seems like a good time for an overview of Tonga, or at least the very little we have seen of it. It is the Kingdom of Tonga and apparently the king is well-liked and the people are happy with having a monarchy. There is a parliament but they need the king’s approval to make laws so he has the final say.
Most of the people around the main part of town speak good English although we have tried to learn a few words of Tongan (malo apito means thank you very much). Joe and I have gone running a few times and most of the little kids in the yards run out and say, “Bye!” as we are actively saying, “Hello!” Someone told us that it is difficult to explain because their greetings don’t translate well but that their leaving words (our “Goodbye”) are two parts with one said by the person going away and the other by the person staying behind. So the kids are saying their part – we just don’t know what our part is – maybe “Hello”?
It’s not a rich country and any wealth that exists is apparently concentrated in the hands of the royal family. Some houses look very comfortable with well-tended yards full of beautiful plants. But we have been told that outside the town, most habitations have dirt floors and outhouses. Nikitoo went south and said that the people were very, very poor but very happy. Tongans enjoy family and church and, from expat sources we have heard that they aren’t motivated by money. Most grocery businesses are run by Chinese immigrants and other businesses (mostly restaurants or tourist ventures) are run by expats from S. Africa, the US, Canada, Italy, New Zealand and other countries. I would say that only 50% of the businesses are Tongan-run while 90% of the population is Tongan.
There is a fair amount of trash on the streets and pigs, dogs and chickens wander at will. The pigs are adorable and quite skittish. They seem to belong to their yards and will go running if you take a step towards them. Some are quite large!
The Tongan males have wear skirt-like bottoms with woven grass mats tied around their waists. As far as I know, these have little practical purpose although they could make a nice individual picnic blanket. I have been trying to get a good photo but so far I haven’t worked up the courage to ask anyone to pose for me. School uniforms for girls involve the same sort of woven material worn around the waist but in more of a belt shape. They wear standard schoolgirl dresses or skirts.
The folks at the library told us there is no free education and we participated in a fundraiser for the library to give scholarships to deserving kids to go to secondary school.
The big story is the singing. We went to mass on Sunday morning at the local Catholic church specifically to hear the famed choir and were not disappointed. Apparently most, if not all, churches have very talented a cappella singers. Everything also shuts down on Sunday so going to church is the only option. Other activities, games, frivolity, are frowned upon.
This morning, Jo from Tintin and I went on a run. At the tail end, we passed a Catholic school that was starting out the day with a service of some sort. They started singing as we passed and we stopped to listen. I am willing to bet that this population has a much higher number of singers with talent than most others. I’ve heard that other island groups have similarly strong church music but there must be some genetic aspect to it because I don’t think you would find the same level of talent in a similar population size in the US.
We have enjoyed some great meals here but I can’t say our meal horizons have been expanded. We have primarily eaten at the Italian restaurant, the Spanish restaurant, the “western” restaurant, or other expat-owned places.
Last night we went to the Hideaway which is a tiny, one-room floating bar that makes delicious beer-batter dipped fish and French fries to go with it. It is run by a Canadian couple who will feed you in the bar or in your dinghy (tied up to the bar) if they run out of space. Sort of like Sonic but without the roller skates.
Tonight we ate at Hepi Pizza, run by an American named Charles and his girlfriend Hepi. Just as we arrived, someone told Charles that the electricity would be shut off from 6:30-10:30 pm. Sure enough, about 5 minutes after we sat down, all the lights went out. Undaunted, Charles brought out candles and said he thought his oven was hot enough to cook the pizzas even without power. So we sat in candlelight on a deck overlooking the water while the kids played with Charles’ kitten named Monkey. The pizza was exquisite and we think Charles and Hepi will continue to do very well. If Charles cooks that well in the dark, I can only imagine what he could do with electricity! The power came back on just as we were leaving but the candlelight was so nice that we were happy it didn’t come on sooner.
We will do a little more provisioning tomorrow- there is a local market with fresh produce and the Chinese stores have products imported from the US (Honey Nut Cheerios and Cheez-Its) and China. They appear to be randomly selected items and it almost seems like someone has a relative at Costco that goes shopping and then sends vast loads of goods over. All of the packaging and brands (Kirkland) are exactly what you would find in Costco. There are only about two aisles of groceries in each store – think basic items and only 1-3 choices of each kind. So, there is spaghetti and two other types of pasta, one type of rice, etc.
Whew – there’s a lot to tell about Tonga! But I need to get to bed. Poor Tully’s dinner didn’t sit well with her last night and it ended up all over Marin and their bed so I was up rinsing children and sheets. Tully asked what the recipe was for French fries and I told her, “Grease.Fat.Oil.” She said, “I think they put in too much grease. And fat. And everything else in the recipe.” She got up happy and has been fine all day so it was just a case of the wrong recipe for her little tummy!
Tully has been bugging me for a week to give her a haircut. She wanted it very, very short on one side (“but not bald”) and long on the other. I told her I would start at war length and go shorter if she wanted. She was happy with that and is very pleased with her new haircut!
Everyone else is fine. Cobin has used our internet access to find new gadgets to escape reality (not sure why), Marin has been playing on our boat with the other girls, and Joe has been fixing other people’s’ boats.
I love that some of you thought Joe was stealing wristwatches! I forgot to explain that when we do overnight passages, someone is always on watch! But it makes a great story!