Tonga Trip Report|
Tonga Trip Report – 2010
Getting from California to Tonga was remarkably uneventful. Air New Zealand continues to be my favorite airline. One change they’ve made in the last few years is that they now have individual entertainment screens for each seat. This includes a USB port so that passengers can use a limited amount of their own media in the system. Had I known this ahead of time, I would have come prepared. I hope to take advantage of this opportunity on the trip back!
I chose Julie and Julia as my movie. It did an excellent job of interweaving the two stories—the origins of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, et al, and a young woman who, in 2002, decided to make every recipe in the book over the course of one year and blog about it. While I’m sure that in real life the two stories did not parallel each other quite as much as they did in the film, the way in which they were interwoven allowed each storyline to comment on and reinforce the other. I also enjoyed all of the cooking scenes, as I enjoy cooking and Julie’s project is something that I could easily see myself seriously contemplating, if not actually doing.
When we arrived in Tonga, Tupou’s sisters, Sepi and Lini were there to meet us at the airport. They whisked us home where we were greeted by the rest of the family and had tea and a little breakfast. After breakfast I slept. Then I slept some more. The airplane had not been restful.
In the evening, Tupou and I went out to dinner at the little Italian restaurant next door. Just as we had been seated, Elizabeth and her cousin, Mounu showed up. We ordered them some food to go, and then sent them back to the house. Our romantic evening out was not supposed to include teenagers!
On Friday morning, Sepi drove me over to Centenary Church for the Annual Conference (Konifelinisi) of The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga. The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga is the major denomination in the islands to which about 70% of the population belongs, including the royal family. It is the legacy of 19th Century British Methodist missionaries, but its relationship with the government is somewhat similar to that of the Anglican Church in the United Kingdom.
I picked up name badges for both myself and Tupou and found a seat near the back of the sanctuary. I introduced myself to the person sitting next to me who turned out to be the pastor of a small church on one of the islands farther to the north. He was quite surprised when it came time to sing a hymn and I pulled out my Tongan hymnal opened to the correct page and began singing in Tongan! I explained that I had served congregations with significant Tongan membership and that I had a Tongan wife. He and I stuck together through the morning meal and then I took a quick tour of the seller’s booths, making note of some books to buy before the Conference is over.
The afternoon session was the “Pastor’s Conference,” similar to the Executive Session of Annual Conferences in The United Methodist Church. The pastors vote on Conference Relations, including approvals for ministry candidates, persons to be ordained, and retirements. This is necessary business of any Conference in the Methodist traditions and it is nearly impossible for it to not be somewhat boring. Not having a vote and only understanding about 1/3 of what was said increased my boredom factor a little, but I did hear them read the name and the credentials of the student I am mentoring in California. Eventually he will have a dual ordination in both the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga and The United Methodist Church.
Following the Pastor’s Conference I was approached by one of the other palangi (non-Tongan) persons present. Rev. Dr. Anthony Floyd is the Director of Multicultural and Cross cultural Ministries for The Uniting Church in Australia. As we chatted about our respective ministries in California and Australia he told me about the Tongan clergywomen’s retreat that had been held the week before. Clergywomen of Tongan heritage from the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere had come together to celebrate the anniversary of full ordination for women in the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga. There were also a couple of books on Tongan women in ministry that were published in connection with this event that were for sale at the Conference.
At the morning session, Tony had delivered the official greetings from The Uniting Church to the Conference and he had emphasized the anniversary and the contributions of Tongan women clergy in Australia. I told him that I had wondered if there had been some subtext to his remarks. He acknowledged that there was, and I smiled. While The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga does ordain women, they are never appointed as pastors of congregations on the islands. The women clergy either have to take another kind of appointment, such as teaching, or serve as pastors elsewhere in the world.
Later in the afternoon, I was talking with a friend of mine, Katai’i Tapa, who is the pastor of the United Methodist Tongan congregation in Sacramento. She said that she had attended the retreat and had requested permission from our Bishop to be excused from our Annual Conference last week in order to do so. She told me that it had taken her twenty years, but that she was happy to be in ministry. It also took a move from Tonga to California.
The graduation service for Sia’atoutai Theological College, the seminary in Tonga, took place after the afternoon break. I was in the midst of my conversation with several of the representatives of The Uniting Church in Australia when someone came to fetch them to take them to their seats for the service. I was told, “You are supposed to come, too.” That is how I ended up with special seating near the front of the sanctuary during the graduation.
There were a small number of students receiving certificates, Bachelors, and Masters degrees. I was heartened to see that some of them were women. The speaker for the afternoon was Her Majesty, the Queen (wife of the late King; mother of the present King) who kept her remarks quite short. I didn’t time anything, but it felt like the speech thanking her for her speech might have been longer than the speech itself.
Following the service, the graduates lined up for pictures. Someone came to where we were sitting and told us that as Special Guests of the Conference we were supposed to be in the picture, also. I didn’t know if this should include me or not, but the wife of one of the Australians encouraged me to go down. This is how I ended up in the front row of the pictures of the Theological College graduates.
The evening meal followed the graduation. When I was finished eating I called Tupou to see when she might be coming. Earlier in the day, she had said that she wanted to come in the evening to hear the various choirs perform. I had consistently told everyone who had asked about her that she would be there in the evening. Alas, her plans had changed and she had decided to stay home. I thought that home sounded like a good idea as I was starting to feel a little tired. The last remnants of jetlag had begun to make themselves known in my eyes and body. Sepi offered to pick me up, but I decided to walk. It was a very nice walk along the beach and I was soon home for an evening of relaxation, feeling very satisfied with the day.
We awoke to rain on Saturday morning. Thankfully, it had begun to taper off a bit by the time we had to head out to the 9:00a.m. worship service. We took an umbrella with us just in case we needed it. The morning worship was a service of dedication and blessing for a newly constructed hall in Tofoa for the use of the whole church and community of that district. When Tupou and I arrived we were greeted by Tevita Havea, the Secretary of the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga who is an old friend of Tupou’s and who asked us to be seated on the raised platform with all the dignitaries. We were soon joined by the folks from Australia who were seated next to us. I noted that there were cameras present from T.V. Tonga, and I realized that I was sitting in a place that would keep me in the broadcast eye on a continuing basis. This would turn out to be a theme for the day.
The building was formally presented to the President of the Church who accepted on the Church’s behalf. The Queen, who was also present for this service, cut the ribbon in front of the door, accepted the key, and opened it. She entered first, followed by some other Royals, Church officials, the rest of us on the platform, then everyone else. The main part of the service took place indoors. Music was provided by two choirs, one from the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga in New Zealand and the other from the Methodist Church of New Zealand. The service concluded with everyone singing the National Anthem of Tonga. This happens each time there are Royals present at a service and it’s a bit of civil religion that never ceases to bother me.
Following the service we walked to a nearby open field for lunch and celebration. There were many presentations and speeches and each of the groups represented danced for the assembly. When they announced the dance for the people from the churches of North America, Tupou and I went out to join the group. I never feel as though I get the Polynesian style of dancing quite right—after all, I grew up with square dances and polkas instead—but native-born Tongans always seem to appreciate my willingness to try. On this occasion, the result of this appreciation was that they kept pushing me farther to the front of the dancers until I was standing there all by myself moving my arms and feet around in some approximation of Tongan style right in front of the Queen, the presiding chief (hou ‘eiki), and the television cameras.
One good side-effect of this kind of exposure was that it allowed many of our friends to see where Tupou and I were sitting. We had several joyful mini-reunions and conversations for catching up on people’s personal news. I met several of Tupou’s former schoolmates for the first time.
We skipped the afternoon session of the Conference. Tupou’s cousin, Lupe Ha’amoa and her son Polutele, came by for a visit and stayed for much of the afternoon.
I went to the neighbor’s house to log onto the internet to check my e-mail. We were hoping to get some temporary internet service at the house beginning on Monday. Alas, for some reason that never happened. We logged onto the internet in three ways: going to the neighbor’s house, using an internet café, and logging on via the internet service from the Italian restaurant next door. None of these plans were ever a sure thing. I find that I am oddly uncomfortable when I am unconnected. Elizabeth, being of the Internet Generation, seemed even more uncomfortable without it. What have we come to?
Sunday morning was the primary worship gathering for the Conference. All of the congregations in the Nuku’alofa District were worshiping at the Conference, so with those congregations and all of the Conference members the sanctuary was quite full. Mounu and Elizabeth went with us, but most of the time they were on their own. Tupou introduced me to Dr. ‘Ahio, the Church President, even though he and I had talked a bit more informally a couple of days earlier.
The main event for Sunday afternoon was the ordination service. One of the persons being ordained was ‘Ikani Fakasi’i’eiki for whom I am the candidacy mentor in the California-Nevada Conference. As in The United Methodist Church, each ordinand kneels while several clergy place their hands on his or her head. The head of the Conference (a Bishop in The United Methodist Church and the President in the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga) also places a hand on the ordinand’s head and says the words of ordination. Most of the persons participating in the laying on of hands are Conference officials, but the ordinand can also choose one of the pastors who will take part. Somewhat accidentally, this task fell to me. It was a very proud moment for me, and I was very proud of ‘Ikani.
In the flurry of picture-taking following the ordination service we somehow managed to misplace Tupou. I joined Maile Koloto, a United Methodist pastor from Oakland, for the evening meal in the meal tents outside the church. Maile and I had our longest conversation so far in the Conference and I finally learned how to cut a hole into the end of a coconut in order to insert a straw! Since we were near the head table, Tupou was able to find us after the meal.
The evening program consisted of a set of concerts with speakers taking place in several churches around Tongatapu. Tupou and I stayed for the event at Centenary Church. Seven choirs from different congregations sang and there were four speakers, including one of the palangi from Australia. The evening was only marred by a thirty-five minute fakamalo (thanking speech) delivered by the Chair (Master of Ceremonies) of the program at the very end.
On Monday morning I stayed home to do laundry and catch up on my writing and reading. We were also concerned about the status of the 44”x44”x88” wooden box that we had shipped in May and were hoping would arrive before we did. At this point it was nearly the end of June and it had not yet shown up. Tupou made several telephone calls and learned that a ship had arrived over the weekend and hopefully it would include our box. It didn’t. The box did not arrive until a couple of days after we left Tonga.
I attended the afternoon session of the Conference. They had now gotten to the mundane, but necessary business that all Conferences must do. Attendance was rather sparse as many folks had found more interesting activities. The first part of the afternoon consisted of reports from each District. The second part of the afternoon featured reports from Tongan ministries from other churches that weren’t directly connected to the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga. These included reports from the Uniting Church in Australia, the Methodist Church of New Zealand, and the California-Pacific and California-Nevada Conferences of The United Methodist Church. Maile Koloto gave the report from the California-Nevada Conference.
For the evening meal I was completely unable to avoid sitting at the head table. I was seated between ‘Ahio’s wife and the wife of Alan Morrison, an Australian professor who teaches at Sia’atoutaia. Alan had retired from pastoring churches in Australia ten years ago and now teaches the occasional semester in Tonga. I thought it sounded like a great way to spend retirement!
Following the meal, I chatted briefly with Sandy Yule of the Christian Unity Working Group of the Uniting Church in Australia, ‘Ikani, and Maile about ‘Ikani’s ordination and about multicultural ministry in both Australia and California. ‘Ikani and his family had hosted Sandy and his wife during the Tonga Research Association meeting in Oakland last year. Maile gave me a ride home and we had more visitors at the house that evening.
Since the Conference was now down to the giving and receiving of reports, I felt it was okay to skip the many of the sessions. On Tuesday morning, Tupou, Elizabeth, Tupou’s sister Lini, two of Lini’s kids, and I visited Tupou’s father’s grave at the cemetery. We tended the gravesite, spent a little time, and I offered a prayer. I occurred to me that it had been exactly six years and one day before that we had laid him to rest in that place.
I went to the Conference in the afternoon and shared the evening meal with Rev. Tava Tupou, a retired pastor in Tonga. Tava and I knew each other from a visit he had made to California several years ago. He had spent a couple of weeks at the Hayward church teaching and preaching. I came to greatly appreciate his wisdom and his manner of working with the people, especially the kids. He told me that he might be coming to California next month, so I gave him my phone number so that we can be in touch. I’m hoping that it can work out so that he can speak at St. Luke’s at some point.
We had a quiet evening at home. Elizabeth was out with some of the other teenagers. Tupou and I got to spend some time standing on the beach looking out at the ocean.
On Wednesday morning Tupou and I went into downtown to an Internet Café. Three pa’anga for an hour of internet service seemed very reasonable. Unfortunately, the café lost its outside connection about halfway through our hour. Luckily, I had already checked my more important e-mail before that and had sent some draft e-mails that I had been unable to send earlier due to uncertain service.
From the internet café we walked to the market where Tupou bought a hand fan and I got a gift for my parents. We bought some fruit to take back to the house and had some time to simply sit and eat ice cream cones. It was a very nice morning for the two of us to be together. As I thought about the things I had seen for sale in the market I found myself pondering the question of why I would want an “I Love New York” hat if I were in Tonga.
In the afternoon I went back to the Conference. Following the evening meal, Tupou joined me and we walked to the hall at Queen Salote College where one of the four evening programs was taking place. Queen Salote College was where Tupou had attended High School, but the hall where the program was held was built much more recently. There were three speakers, talking about the importance of higher education, and seven choirs, including groups from Kolomotu’a, Nukunuku, the Theological College, and Hawai’i. Each choir performed twice. The program ended around eleven o’clock. We went home tired and happy.
Thursday was the last day of Conference. I managed to skip out. There would be more reports, more choirs singing (which I was sorry to miss), and the reading and fixing of the appointments that I understood would go on until about one o’clock in the morning. The fixing of appointments was going to be carried live on Radio Tonga. I had visions of families all over the islands gathered around their radios listening intently to find out who their pastor would be for the coming year.
Tupou, whose legs were badly eaten up with mosquito bites, had a theory that soaking her feet and legs in the ocean would help. We walked across the street to the ocean, taking several small children with us. Tupou soaked her feet, the kids had a good time playing in the water, and I did some exploring. In the end, Tupou wasn’t sure whether or not the ocean helped her itchy feet, but we all had a good time, which might have been even more important.
That afternoon we went for a drive with Malia, our next door neighbor. We saw several parts of Tongatapu I hadn’t visited before and around dusk we went to see one of the sights I was sorry to have missed the last time we were in Tonga: the flying foxes. These are a particular breed of large bats that are native to Tonga. They sleep in the tops of trees during the day and fly about hunting at night. We were there just in time to see them starting to wake up and make their rounds. Many of the flying foxes have begun to migrate to a different part of the island from where they have traditionally lived. People have begun hunting them for food. This is tragic as they truly are one of Tonga’s national treasures.
Sepi was leading the early morning Fai Lotu (prayer service) at Sopu church on Friday. Tupou, Sepi, their mother, and I left the house around 4:30a.m. to go to the service. Sepi did very well. After the service I was able to meet with the pastor at Sopu and I also watched the sun rise over the ocean. It was a cloudy morning, but it was still wonderful to see the light appearing over the water.
Tupou and I took a boat to one of the smaller islands later in the morning. We walked along the beach for a while and hoped to eat lunch at the little café on the island before going back in the afternoon. Alas, the short night had begun to catch up with Tupou and I watched her drifting off to sleep in her chair at the café. When we learned that the next boat back to Tongatapu wouldn’t be until 4:30 we decided to skip lunch and head back on The Boat That Was Leaving Right Then for an afternoon rest. It was a short trip, but I was glad that I had gotten to a different island for at least a little while. I still very much want to go to Vava’u on one of our trips to Tonga.
In the evening, Malia took us to a resort at Kolovai. This would be one of the few times on the trip that I would see a typical tourist area. As we walked in a choir was singing and Tupou and I recognized the kids in the choir as having been part of the same group from Hawai’i that had sung for the Conference at Queen Salote on Wednesday night. They were from a United Methodist Church in Hawai’i that goes on a summer tour to some part of the Pacific Rim each year. This was their second trip to Tonga. Most of their program consisted of the Hawai’ian kids performing dances from a number of different island traditions—Tongan, Samoan, Hawai’ian, Fijian, etc. The program closed with a dancer from the resort doing a Maori Fire Dance, which is one of the programs that this particular resort uses to promote itself.
Tupou and I stayed home on Saturday. We did laundry, and I caught up on some of my writing and reading. Elizabeth attended a Tongan version of a Gay Pride parade. According to her, “They only allow them to do it because they’re promoting AIDS awareness.”
Sunday was, of course, a busy day. We attended worship at Sopu in the morning. The service was followed by a special dinner for the choir. I noted with some amusement that the knife I was using proclaimed itself to be the property of United Airlines.
Later that afternoon was a special service for hearing the report to the congregation from Conference. The pastor, Saia Westoni, had asked me to share some of my impressions of Conference as well. When I first walked into the sanctuary I thought that it was a pretty good attendance for people coming to hear about the Conference. As the service went along I realized that nearly everyone there was a part of one of three small groups that the pastor had asked to sing during the service. If people hadn’t been singing, the attendance would have fit into a closet. Some things are the same everywhere.
Several of the laypersons who had attended the Conference told about this issues they had thought were signifIn my speech, I talked about my experience working with Tongans, my appreciation for the choirs that sang, and my joy at being able to take part in ‘Ikani’s ordination. I also talked at some length about how impressed I was with the leadership of President ‘Ahio and Secretary Havea, including their ability to work together, to keep the business of the Conference moving, and to be forward-thinking in their leadership of the church. Pastor Westoni closed the service with his own impressions of the Conference. In all, the service took about three hours.
On Monday, Tupou left to have lunch with one of her long-time friends whom she hadn’t seen in many years. They called me to join them and Lini drove me to the café. After lunch, Tupou and I took a short walk around the neighborhood, stopping to buy some dinner roles to take home for the evening.
Lini and Sepi, along with some of the younger kids, picked us up later in the afternoon. We drove to Houma to see the Blowholes, one of Tonga’s more popular tourist attractions. The blowholes are part of a long series of low coral cliffs. When the tides push into the cliffs, some of the water is pushed through holes in the coral and then comes out holes in the top, causing water to spout like small geysers from the surface. It struck me that even without the blowholes, the tides striking the cliffs were pretty impressive. Two years ago, the Ministry of Tourism had built a concrete platform so that visitors could stand on something other than coral for viewing the tides and taking pictures.
We left the blowholes and drove to near Kolovai where some of Tupou’s cousins live. They are fairly close to the original home of the flying foxes and a large group has now taken up residence in the trees in their front yard. I took several pictures of the bats in the trees, but was never quite quick enough to catch one in flight. We came home for the evening where, once again, we had visitors.
Tuesday was our last day in Tonga and it was mostly devoted to packing. Once we had all of our bags assembled, we weighed them, then moved stuff from bag to bag, then weighed them again. Weight limitations per bag are 50 pounds or 23 kilograms. At one point doing the day it seemed that every time we had the weight properly distributed between bags, someone would bring us something to take back to the United States for a gift for someone else. Finally, it was time to head to the airport of the flight home.
Oh, frabjous joy! One of the July in-seat entertainment selections on Air New Zealand was Dr. Who! Specifically, it was the first episode with Matt Smith as The Doctor. This was the first chance I’d had to see the new Doctor and I decided that I’m really going to like him. There was also a nice tribute to the previous ten Doctors near the end of what was an extraordinarily good episode.
Before we left, I had transferred some fanzines over to a thumb drive so that I could read them on the in-seat screen using the USB port. The documentation on the screen said that it could be used for reading .pdf files. Alas, the screen didn’t have enough processing power to effectively scroll through them. When I asked one of the flight attendants about it he said that those ports were mostly so that people could use their ipods. This is exactly was Elizabeth was doing through the entire flight and she was having a great time!
Security at the airport in Samoa was tighter going back than it had been going over. On the way to Tonga, they simply had us put our bags through the x-ray machine and waved us through the metal detectors. Going back, we had to take off our shoes, empty our pockets, and receive a pat-down search. They seem to be more concerned about someone blowing up the Hollywood sign than about someone blowing up the palace in Tonga.
Our layover in Los Angeles was only two hours. This was only barely enough time to get through customs, take the shuttle to the domestic terminal, and clear security yet again (our third time that day). Tupou and I decided that if we fly this particular route again we will make sure that we have at least three hours leeway in LAX.
By the time we arrived back to the house it was after dark. We didn’t bother unpacking. We simply went straight to bed. I noted on my Facebook page the next day that we were “tired and happy.” That pretty well summed it up.
Current Location: Home in Richmond, California
Current Mood: calm
Current Music: All Is Quiet
Tags: elizabeth, tonga, travel, tupou